Well, it’s time to talk about Star Wars again. And, unfortunately, it’s not time to discuss something fun like the Mandalorian, instead it’s time to dig into the supposed finale of the Skywalker saga, the definitive ending of the Star Wars franchise as we know it, the Rise of Skywalker. And, if you’ve seen it, you probably realize that that’s not exactly an appealing concept. I really like Star Wars, and I’ve generally been a fan of what has been going on with the franchise in this new Disney era. Solo is a little slow and weak, but it’s grown on me more than I would have expected, and I genuinely really like Episode’s Seven and Eight. The Force Awakens was a genuine surprise, a fun and breezy retelling of the New Hope myth that certainly played things safe, but ended up doing it all quite nicely. And, I’m of the opinion that the Last Jedi is a masterpiece, hands down the most interesting Star Wars films ever made, and one that legitimately gets better and more engaging every time I rewatch it, finding new things to love about it. But, sadly, that opinion wasn’t shared by the loudest of people, and seemingly the person who ended up saddled with finishing this trilogy up, JJ Abrams. The whole story of how this film got made, everything that went wrong with it, and why it ended up the way it did, with important elements not included, some of which were only even possible to experience when playing Fortnite, could become its own fascinating book. But, we aren’t here to talk about the logistics of how and why the movie ended up the way it did. We’re here to actually talk about the movie. And folks? It’s a goddamn mess.
The film begins making little sense from the very opening crawl, informing us that from when we last saw our heroes it’s been revealed that Emperor Palpatine, the insidious leader of the Galactic Empire last seen being thrown down the reactor shaft of the second Death Star, is alive and well, and has been broadcasting messages to Kylo Ren, who is now in charge of the First Order. Ren has completed a complicated mission to retrieve a device known as a Wayfinder which takes him to a hidden planet, the home of the Sith, where the Emperor is awaiting him, complete with a ready-made army to take over the galaxy. He just needs Ren to help him destroy the last of the Jedi, Rey. Who has become quite skilled with the Force since we last saw her, living in a forest with the rest of the Resistance, constantly fighting the First Order and training under General Leia. And, after a mole in the First Order informs them of what’s going on with Ren and Palpatine, Rey begins researching and finds information about a second Wayfinder which could get them to Palpatine’s hidden planet. So, she and the rest of the crew, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, and C-3PO, head out to the planet where Luke believed the Wayfinder to be. They search the planet, which is having a massive festival, and end up encountering former Rebel General Lando Calrissian there, having helped Luke look for the Wayfinder years prior. He points them in the direction of an abandoned spaceship in the middle of the desert, which belonged to a Jedi-hunter. And, after a chase with some First Order soldiers, and a trip into a sunken cavern, they end up discovering the Jedi-hunter’s corpse, along with a dagger inscribed with the location of the Wayfinder. But, it’s in the language of the Sith, which C-3PO is able to read, but unable to translate for them. And, while wondering how they’re going to get the location out of the droid, they’re attacked by some First Order soldiers, who manage to capture Chewbacca and the dagger, fleeing back to their ship.
Chewbacca seemingly dies when Rey gets into a Force battle with Kylo Ren, but the crew manage to flee and track down some old colleagues of Poe’s who may be able to help. They head to a First Order occupied planet where Poe finds Zorii and Babu, two criminals he used to work with, who help reboot C-3PO and get the location of the Wayfinder from him. They also learn that Chewbacca is still alive, and on a ship that has arrived at the planet. So, they sneak aboard, free Chewbacca, and Rey ends up getting into a confrontation with Kylo Ren. Which is when he tells her that he has learned the truth. Her parents were nobody, but she’s actually the granddaughter of Palpatine, and the Jedi-hunter from earlier killed her parents. Ren wants to betray Palpatien and kill him, leaving he and Rey to take over the galaxy together. But, Rey and the Resistance members flee, and head to the planet where C-3PO says the Wayfinder is. They find the ruins of the Second Death Star, along with a group of mutineer First Order soldiers lead by a woman named Jannah, and Rey heads into the station to find the Wayfinder. She does locate the device, and also gets into a heated battle with Kylo Ren, who has followed here there. They battle, and in the process General Leia uses the last of her strength to send a message to Ren, causing him to let down his guard and get killed by Rey. She however uses a newfound ability to transfer life-force into him, bringing him back to life, and seemingly causing him to return to his old sense of self. Rey considers giving up at this point, but a talk with ghost Luke Skywalker convinces her to head to the Emperor’s hidden planet and confront him. Meanwhile, the Resistance come up with a plant to destroy the Emperor’s fleet of ships, and send Lando out to rally the rest of the galaxy. Rey confronts her evil grandfather, and learns that he wants her to kill him so that he can possess her and become immortal, but before she’s forced to make that decision Kylo Ren returns, having become Ben Solo once more. The two attempt to fight the Emperor, but he learns he’s somehow able to drain their life-force, rejuvenating himself. So, he abandons his other plans, and just tries to kill them, but Rey is eventually able to channel the Force, killing Palpatine, at the expense of her own life. However, Ben uses the same technique Rey used, and saves her life, dying in the process. At the same time the galaxy arrives to destroy the First Order, and everything works out nicely. Rey then heads to Tatooine to bury Luke and Leia’s lightsabers, putting an end to the story of the Skywalkers.
Did any of that make sense? Did it seem like I was trying to explain the plot of like, a television series, or maybe an entire series of books? Because that’s what it felt like watching the movie. This is a film that entirely feels like you’re watching a synopsis, and that’s somehow cutting out a lot of pertinent information. It’s just a series of fetch-quests, where our heroes look for a McGuffin which will take them to a second McGuffin, which will take them to a magic planet, which they just get to without the McGuffins in the first place. We see Chewbacca seemingly killed, only for it to be fixed minutes later. We spend twenty minutes getting C-3PO’s brain wiped, only for that information to then not end up mattering that much, and his brain to just be re-uploaded. And yet, while the movie we ended up getting is absolutely bogged down with information that we didn’t need, and ends up feeling completely superfluous, we somehow just breeze through incredibly complicated and convoluted aspects of the film, some of which are just not included. There are a whole slew of things that people are only understanding about the movie after they’ve seen it, learning that they were apparently supposed to have read books and comics, and played completely unrelated video games to understand. And that’s absolutely ludicrous. Which, isn’t to say the movie is a complete abomination or anything. I still feel like I enjoyed myself more than watching any of the Prequels, since it at least had pleasant moments, it was just a colossal disappointment in regards to the rest of the series, and the trilogy specifically. The central cast is still a lot of fun, both in terms of the performances and the characters themselves, and there are quite a few fun set-pieces, they just feel devoid of any real meaning. If you took individual moments of the film, devoid of context, you’d probably think they were fun, it just becomes tiring when you get dozens of them sprinkled throughout the movie, and no real connective tissue between them.
After watching the Last Jedi, I was more excited for Star Wars than I’d been in years. It was a movie that was all about growth and change, both in the story and meta-textually. The film didn’t pull its punches, and it seemed to prime the rest of the story to go in some interesting places. But, obviously, things got complicated. JJ Abrams was put back in creative control after having previously had no interest in doing so, and most importantly, the death of Carrie Fisher certainly dampened a lot of emotional arcs, since it’s pretty clear that the third film was always intended to be Leia focused. And, those two elements really seemed to seal the fate of this film. Because, without Fisher we were never going to get the real emotional pay off that seemed to make sense, and because JJ Abrams seems to have felt personally slighted by what Rian Johnson did with the Last Jedi, we basically just cut every thread he created, and did everything as differently as possible. Which, certainly makes for a tonally mismatched series, and a surprisingly bad sequel. The Last Jedi is a movie that divided people, but that I love. It’s story that ends up saying that destiny doesn’t matter, that we don’t have to be shackled to the past, and that we can make anything of ourselves. Rey was a nobody from nowhere, but she found herself in the position to change the galaxy. Our characters found a cause worth fighting for, and didn’t let destiny tell them that they couldn’t be the protagonists in this story. And this film looks at all of that, and emphatically rejects it. Suddenly destiny comes back in a big way, we give Rey some truly baffling parentage, and it all just come back down to magic bloodlines being the most important thing in the world. Characters are pushed back into positions of being one-note jokes, and interesting new ideas like Rose are blatantly ignored. When I walked out of the Last Jedi, I was excited, and full of hope. It seemed like Star Wars was ready to change, to evolve, and become something new and powerful. But, because some people were terrified and furious of that change, and apparently we now cater to the loudest people, that hope has been snuffed. Because when this movie had the chance to do something bold and exciting, it chose to buckle, and do the most rote and boring things possible. I don’t know what Star Wars is anymore, and the answer may be nothing at this point. But, it’ll never change the fact that we still have several movies that are a lot of fun, and one new movie that has become one of my favorite of all time. The Rise of Skywalker is a movie that I personally did not like. And, I’m now going to move on with my life. We don’t need to be hyperbolic children, screaming at faceless corporations because they made something that didn’t connect with us. I’ve said my peace, and now I can just go on to better things.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was written by JJ Abrams and Chris Terrio, directed by JJ Abrams, and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2019.
Categories: Reel Talk