Now that it’s been more than two months since its release date, I feel like enough time has passed to fully digest the ramifications of the highly anticipated conclusion to the third Star Wars Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker. There will be spoilers moving forward in case you haven’t watched it already.
First I’d like to say that I enjoyed this movie on the whole, as I have with the other instalments of the trilogy. However, I would be lying if I said that there weren’t flaws within the narrative. After the divisive events of The Last Jedi, fans have been debating back and forth about what makes a good Star Wars movie as well as a good movie in general. Needless to say, there were many doubts and expectations riding on its sequel. The Rise of Skywalker reveals that Emperor Palpatine, the primary antagonist of the first two trilogies, has returned from the dead. Naturally this news angers Kylo Ren who proceeds to scour the galaxy to find his location and eliminate him. This was a plot point that I quite enjoyed seeing unravel on screen as I liked the idea of Kylo taking steps to cement his position as ‘the Bad Guy’ within the story, especially as it seemed like the natural evolution of his character. We learn that Palpatine created Snoke and is responsible for Kylo’s turn to the dark side. Admittedly, this came off as a rushed explanation but disbelief can be suspended for a while initially as ‘the Dark Side is a pathway to abilities that some consider to be unnatural.’ We also learn in this movie that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Despite the revelation in The Last Jedi that Rey’s parents were ‘nobodies’, there was still a general consensus amongst the fans that this would be proven untrue once JJ Abrams took back the directorial reigns of the franchise. Even so, the new information comes off as convenient and repetitive, especially given previous revelations of bloodlines in the original trilogy. I personally believe that if Rey was supposed to be the Emperor’s granddaughter, then the revelation should have happened in The Last Jedi, back when she was neither truly in the Light or Dark Side. This would have set up an interesting moral dilemma throughout The Rise of Skywalker, where we would have had a great philosophical clash between Rey (a Palpatine trained by a Jedi) VS Kylo Ren (a Skywalker who turned to the Dark Side) This coupled with the revelation that the duo formed a dyad would have made for very interesting viewing and could have provided a fresh perspective on the nature of the Force. Of course in this version of the movie, Palpatine wouldn’t be a main villain. Instead I would have made him a lingering voice in Rey’s head or possibly even a Force ghost who is trying to turn her to the Dark Side. I also would have made Luke attempt the same for Kylo Ren. This way, there would be an equal amount of inner and outer conflict between the two main characters.
Back to the real movie, we see Kylo Ren complete an arc of redemption and once again assume his previous name of Ben Solo. I admit that this was done well on screen, especially when looking back on the whole trilogy. However, deep down there was a part of me that wished for Kylo to remain on the Dark Side, partly because we’ve already seen a redemption story done before with Darth Vader. It’s nice that this trilogy continues with themes from the original movies but in this case it almost felt like it was copying it too much. There are a few other options that I would have preferred to see on screen. One would be that Kylo Ren remain evil and serve as the opposite to Rey. The second would be that Kylo Ren be redeemed but he would have been positioned as the main character throughout the whole trilogy instead of Rey. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Rey’s character, but I find it strange that in a trilogy that links so much back to the previous movies, they chose a non Skywalker as the main character while a Skywalker still exists and undergoes a redemption arc. It almost feels like the two storylines could be their own movies, or possibly suited better to a long running live action TV series, rather than a movie trilogy. Imagine the possibility of observing two characters over the course of two or three seasons, coming to terms with who they are, exploring their mysterious connection to each other, and then finally coming face to face with the true mastermind behind everything in a dramatic final confrontation.
Speaking of final confrontations, the one we see in the movie was lacking in my opinion. The newly redeemed Ben Solo fights his way over to Rey’s side, finally uniting the dyad against their common enemy. Palpatine absorbs some of their energy to rejuvenate himself, thus leading to a wasted opportunity as instead of him engaging in a climatic lightsaber battle with the pair, he simply throws Ben down a hole and is eventually defeated when Rey summons the strength of the previous Jedi to reflect his lightning back at him. This moment is reminiscent of when Luke and Kylo Ren fight during The Last Jedi, only for it be revealed that Luke was just projecting himself as an image the whole time. I understand the symbolism that the movies are trying to achieve but I honestly think it would be better to show action in these cases. A part of me almost feels cheated at these moments. Similarly, I feel like we missed a great opportunity when Rey gathers all of her strength. She does so by reaching out to the Jedi who came before her, and hears their voices in her head, lending their strength and encouragement. If they had appeared as Force ghosts, even if just to her, it would have made for a much more impactful scene and could have tied the trilogies together in a greater way.
The final topic that I wish to discuss is the concept of ‘Force healing’ which had never been shown before in any of the Star Wars movies. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this being introduced so late in the game, but it would have been great to get a bit more clarity regarding its limitations and what is required to use it. Rey uses this technique a few times in the movie, most notably to save Kylo Ren after she stabs him during one of their battles. He then goes on to use it at the end of the movie to restore her life after she defeats Palpatine. It can be argued that he learnt how to do it simply by observing her. Another perspective would be that due to their dyad connection, it’s something that they both had the capability of doing anyway. Unfortunately, Ben dies after giving his energy to Rey. This has been regarded as a controversial move as he was quite a popular character and people wanted him to have a life after his redemption. While I can empathise with that, I do feel that it would have been too convenient for him to turn good and simply walk off into the sunset. If he had survived, there should have been consequences for his previous actions, even if it was as simple as a self imposed exile with the promise of a return once he felt he had served his time.
I suppose my biggest critique of The Rise of Skywalker, and even the trilogy in general, is that so much effort has been made in to departing from the norm, while also keeping the same spirit of the previous movies, that the narrative almost feels like a mish-mash of ideas and themes that don’t really fit well all the time. As I previously mentioned, I feel like the story would have been properly done justice through a TV series. When all is said and done, The Rise of Skywalker provides and enjoyable wrap up to the Skywalker Saga. I understand that they will be making Star Wars movies unrelated to previous events and I hope they take the time to truly establish what it is they are trying to get across on screen. Until then...May the Force be with you!