Warning: Major spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker.
The Rise of Skywalker was a feeble attempt to make up for the fan backlash against its trilogy predecessor, The Last Jedi. The movie tried to satisfy too broad of an audience, leading to an action-only, jam-packed and badly-written ending to the trilogy.
In 2012, George Lucas sold the rights of Star Wars to Disney for approximately four billion dollars. Since then, Disney has revived the franchise with the creation of a new trilogy: The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017), and The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
After teaser trailers which featured the ruins of the Death Star and Palpatine’s voice led to a plethora of fan theories, many were excited over the prospect of seeing Palpatine return for another, final film.
On December 20, 2019, The Rise of Skywalker was officially released in theaters. The way I see it, the movie could’ve taken two paths: emulating old Star Wars movies, providing homage to the old franchise while exploring some new avenues. On the other hand, it could’ve followed the example of The Last Jedi, continuing the development of the current characters created in the newer two films. Unfortunately, Director J.J. Abrams decided to combine elements from both styles in an attempt to appease every audience; this choice resulted in a movie that does not seem to know what it wants to say beyond the old “good trumps evil” platitudes.
Acting: Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Adam Driver (Kylo) delivered incredible performances within the movie. Their rivalry was the most engaging part of the film. Both managed to perfectly exemplify the roles their characters were meant to take. Action sequences were intense and emotional, and their motives were clear. Rey had continuous faith that Kylo Ren was able to be turned back from the Dark Side, while Kylo Ren believed that he would be able to turn Rey to the Dark Side and overthrow Palpatine. When considering the large limitations of the script, which will be addressed later, the main actors did an excellent job throughout the movie.
Princess Leia: One of the highlights of the movie was the send-off of Princess Leia. Due to Carrie Fisher’s unfortunate death in late 2016, Abrams had to find a way to have her pass away in the movie. I believe that he handled it in the best way possible, keeping her death not only peaceful but impactful to the story.
Cinematics and Score: Purely from a cinematic standpoint, the Rise of Skywalker was very well done. The shots were hyper-realistic, and the editing was timely. This includes scenes in space, planets, hyperspace jumping, landscapes, characters and their emotions, as well as weaponry such as blasters, lasers, lightsabers, etc.. What really tied together the cinematics of TROS, however, was the score. As usual, John Williams, one of the greatest film-composers of all time, delivered an excellent score, much like those of the previous movies. The traditional Star Wars that we know and love is defined by the works of John Williams, such as “The Throne Room and Imperial March”. The score in this film was able to perfectly convey emotion and mood in any particular scene, whether it be the menacing music playing along with Kylo Ren’s rampage or the hopeful/mystical music playing along with Rey learning the ways of the force.
Writing: Arguably one of the worst parts about TROS was the writing. One of the major plot-holes within the story was the re-introduction of Palpatine. In the final movie of the original Star Wars trilogy (Return of the Jedi), Palpatine was famously defeated by Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), saving Luke’s life, and seemingly ending the threat of the Sith. However, at the beginning of TROS, Kylo Ren is able to locate Palpatine on the planet of Exogol, revealing that he is not only alive, but was the one controlling Kylo’s dead master Snoke from The Last Jedi. This essentially means that Palpatine was the one who trained Kylo Ren in the ways of the force and has been the voice inside of his head since he was compelled to the Dark Side. It is also revealed that Palpatine has built a massive fleet of Star Destroyers, ready to be given to the First Order, and that Rey is in fact Palpatine’s granddaughter. There are several problems with the events that occurred. Palpatine’s death in the Return of the Jedi is essentially rendered meaningless, quite literally ruining the entire arc of the original trilogy and making every callback feel like a weak reference to a major failure (rather than the powerful nostalgia that could have been). If you can somehow manage to get past that, the creation of the Star Destroyers, as well as the fact that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, also go unexplained. Rey’s status as Palpatine’s granddaughter seems purposeless, like it was solely driven by a need to appease fans who were angry that she was, as the last film said, a nobody. Of course, her being a nobody was an empowering message about how what your last name is doesn’t determine- oh, nevermind.
Personally, I believe all of these mistakes can be tied back to a phenomenon known as “plot convenience”. There is absolutely no way that the original intention of the sequels was to lead up to the revival of Palpatine. The director and writers were at a loss for ideas when writing the story, leading to the decision to bring back Palpatine as a sort of “homage” to the original trilogy. Their intentions were to draw in the traditional Star Wars fans with a villain of the past, which ultimately backfired. The characterization of Palpatine throughout the movie was much different from the original trilogy. Instead of being portrayed as a dark, powerful, and mystical person, he was portrayed similarly to that of a horror movie villain. Palpatine is not supposed to be scary in a literal sense; rather, the audience is supposed to be fearful of his immense power and role in the Dark Side. Rey’s status as Palpatine’s granddaughter was used to explain the role of her parents and the origin of her force sensitivity, which was another instance of plot convenience. Similarly, the Star Destroyers conveniently allowed for the First Order to once again be a menacing threat to the Resistance.
Another issue with the movie was the general flow of the plot. It lacked cohesiveness, and it felt extremely rushed when compared to the previous movies. At the beginning of the movie, we are shown many different planets over the course of about 10 minutes, which is very overwhelming to the viewer. If you think about the plot of the movie from an objective standpoint, you would realize that all it was was a bunch of side-quests with only one goal. The team, Rey, Poe, Finn, Chewbacca, and C-3PO, jumped around from planet to planet, first looking for the Sith Dagger. This dagger contained text that could only be read by C-3PO. However, due to plot convenience, C-3PO reveals that while he is able to read the text, he is unable to read it out loud to the crew because it is “forbidden in his programming”. He reveals that the only way to have him read the text aloud would to reprogram him, which would wipe his memory. This conveniently leads to another side quest to locate someone to reprogram him. When the text is finally revealed, it points in the direction of another artifact, known as a “Sith Wayfinder”. Yet again, the characters go on another quest to find the wayfinder.
Plot convenience is not the only tool used by the movie to hold the story together; there is also the phenomenon known as “plot armor”. Plot armor is essentially the “invincibility” of a character or characters because they are too important to the story. To a certain degree, plot armor is ok to use, especially because without it, most underdog movies wouldn’t exist. However, Disney definitely abused the idea of plot armor in order to give the movie a happy ending. This is shown through several examples, such as force healing, Chewbacca’s survival of the ship explosion, and the return of C-3PO’s memory. An important element of any good action movie is tragedy. While no one wants to see their favorite characters die, it adds to the sophistication of the plot, showing that sacrifices had to be made in order for the characters to get to their end goal. For instance, one of the worst offenses of the movie was the abuse of force healing as a way to prevent character deaths. When Kylo Ren and Rey were fighting above the ocean, Rey is able to stab him and win the fight. Immediately after this, she feels bad and decides to force heal him, which essentially gives some of her life force to him in order to heal the wound. Although the idea of force healing exists throughout the Star Wars universe, it was never seen in previous movies, and seemed to have no impact on the character’s physical strength. You would think that because Rey gave away some of her life force, that she would be weakened in some way, but that was not the case. Contradictory to this, at the end of the movie, Rey has exerted all of her life force and is presumed dead. However, Kylo Ren is able to magically “force heal” her in order to save her life. As she is revived, they both share a completely unwarranted kiss, not reflected or implied by their interactions in the movies prior. They were constantly fighting and opposing each other, yet somehow Disney managed to have them appear to love each other. In relation to the final action of force healing, although just speculation, who’s to say that Rey couldn’t have transferred some of her life force back into Kylo Ren to revive him after he revived her? Rey is depicted as an altruistic hero, and it is likely that she would have sacrificed her life for Kylo Ren in order to revive him. This is a major problem with inserting some random Star Wars mysticism into the plot with zero explanation. When talking about C-3PO and Chewbacca, each character was either presented as dead or suffered a tragedy. In the end, the conflict created with both of these characters was nullified, with no repercussions for the sacrifices they made. As a whole, very minor losses were suffered in the movie, and none of the protagonists died.
Although less talked about amongst critics, character neglect was another issue throughout the movie. Some of my favorite characters, Finn and Poe, who were arguably just as much of the protagonists as Rey, were severely neglected in their roles throughout the movie. While it is completely fine that the movie placed an emphasis on the opposition of Kylo and Rey, I think they could have better used Finn and Poe to add to the story. The entire plot revolves around Rey seeking Palpatine, while Finn and Poe are just following along, but not without actually doing anything. For example, when Rey sails the ship onto the ruins of the Death Star, Finn follows suit because he doesn’t want her to go alone. The audience is set up to believe that he plays a role in the duel between Kylo and Rey, but he just stands in the background yelling “REY!” while she fights. Finn was definitely not utilized to his full potential, especially because of the scene where the crew members were sinking in the sand. Finn was going to tell Rey something (thinking he was going to die), but changed his mind once they lived. Although not stated, it is heavily speculated, even by John Boyega himself, that he was going to tell Rey that he was in fact force-sensitive. Despite this, there are no instances of Finn using the force throughout the movie, essentially making that inclusion entirely unnecessary. Perhaps a scene, even just one, of Finn using the force would have been enough to show off his character to his full potential.
Finally, one of the most personal issues I have with TROS, and Disney as a whole, is the nature of the movie. Disney is known for their happy go-lucky, playful, and comedic style. While this is completely fine for some movies, it doesn’t fit into Star Wars. Watch any of the first 6 Star Wars movies, and you will see that they are very serious. Star Wars is meant to be very mystical and lore-like, where the force is deeply respected and taken seriously. Banter between characters is sparing (but important), and there is little to no use of swear words. In contrast, TROS, much like the previous two sequels, has constant banter between characters, jokes, and mild swears that disrupt the serious nature of the movies. Again, I am not saying that these things are bad to have. They make certain movies a lot more enjoyable. However, because Star Wars has historically been very serious, I don’t think that Disney should have altered the language choices and interactions in the way that they did.
Overall, while the Rise of Skywalker has its moments, the movie was ultimately a failure and a letdown as a finale. While the actors and cinematics were very engaging, the story largely detracted from the movie. In general, The Rise of Skywalker tried to do too much in just one movie, leading to many plot armor, conveniences, and holes.