Recently, many of my friends have flattered me by asking for my opinion on The Rise of Skywalker. Shout outs are due to Meredith, Mary, and Raeonda for their impressive appetites for my nonsense. I initially thought of making this an audio review, but I quickly realized that would infringe on the media stream that my father and I have set up with our RE-View Podcast. So I decided that my blog deserved a bit more attention than I usually give it.
Obviously, there are spoilers from here on in this piece. In addition, I do not ever purport to hold any sort of objective viewpoint. These are the thoughts of someone raised by two loving parents, a wonderful brother, and a media franchise about space wizards. My connection with Star Wars runs deeper than my connection to any other work of fiction, bar none. And we’ll start at the bottom, because from there we can only rise.
The Rise of Skywalker marks the death of an entire era of Star Wars storytelling and perhaps shatters its unique place in our popular consciousness forever. Disney completely and utterly failed in every conceivable metric except the one they care about: revenue. They wanted a quick return on their investment in George Lucas’ intellectual property. Instead of taking care of the rich field of crops he left for them, they tore up everything out of the ground in a mad dash for product and did not leave any seeds behind for next season.
Actual journalists from sites like Variety have already done excellent reporting on this topic. No doubt as the weeks and months stretch on from the conclusion of this trilogy, more fantastic journalism will come out about how Disney treated Star Wars like a piggy bank they could repeatedly break without consequence. Blame will shift from one person to the next in a mad passing of the buck. Did Bob Iger go over Kathleen Kenndy’s head and rehire JJ Abrams? Rumors say yes. But George Lucas handpicked Kathleen Kenndy as his successor at Lucasfilm and she played no small part in getting us to this point. Do I also blame Rian Johnson for his part in making The Last Jedi the most disruptive and insulting Star Wars movie in existence? Certainly. But to a small degree, I blame myself.
Just a shade over five years ago, I sat in a freezing cold Baltimore apartment hitting refresh on my laptop as quickly as I could so I could watch the first trailer for The Force Awakens. In an incredibly prescient move, I decided that I should record my reaction for posterity.
Look at him. I can scarcely recognize myself in that video. The wide-eyed hope, the exuberance, the investment in a franchise that will ultimately never know who I am because it cannot. Corporations are not people and neither are their products. They do not care about 22-year old Samuel no more than they care about this column I now write.
There exists only one moment in The Rise of Skywalker where I felt myself transported back to those days. When Wedge Antilles appears on the screen and has a single line of dialogue, I screamed in the middle of my packed theater: “Go get ‘em, Wedge!” My love of Star Wars now exists only for these characters, the misfit toys of the Star Wars universe, the little bits at the edges of the billion-dollar machine. The Jedi and the Sith and the Force itself have come so far from what they once were that I no longer recognize them. The Emperor shoots out lightning in this movie that disables a fleet of ships. Rey leaps around like a superhero. The deceased spirits of the Jedi that came before her don’t advise or guide her on her journey but instead serve as a video game powerup that helps her defeat the final boss.
The Force should not work like that. All of Star Wars can get distilled into one single line from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back (which remains the best Star Wars movie, by the way). “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter!” The strongest condemnation I can muster for The Rise of Skywalker lies in the fact that it entirely focuses on the “crude matter.” Bloodlines, superweapons, incredible Force feats, having two lightsabers instead of one, etc. These things are not what make great Star Wars storytelling for me. Does it sound too much like I want a three hour movie on what a connection to the Force does to a person’s ego? I hope not, since I don’t want that level of navel-gazing either. What I want is the sense that some sort of soul exists underneath all the action-movie trappings of this space adventure.
The Rise of Skywalker possesses no soul outside of a few select moments between Ben Solo and Rey. Even those come in undercooked. Kylo Ren reforges his mask then promptly removes it when it becomes inconvenient. Rey finally finds love and acceptance in the arms of a man she once hated and feared, only so that he can die a few seconds later. Then she takes the last name “Skywalker” as a direct affront to the connection she shared with both Ben and his father.
We’re almost a thousand words into this mess and I haven’t even gotten to the fact that apparently Palpatine had ball-slapping, baby-making sex with someone during the Prequel Trilogy and so now, whenever I watch any Star Wars movie with Ian McDiarmid’s brilliant performace as Palpatine I will exculsively think about the fact that the Emperor probably has a foot fetish. To reiterate, Palpatine’s seed went into a woman’s cervix and impregnated her. I will never forgive JJ Abrams.
This… thing has climaxed inside a woman.
The entire first act of this movie feels like it got put into a blender and someone hit “puree” on the speed settings. Things just keep happening and none of it makes any sense. We need to go to this planet to get the dodad that will lead us to the gizmo that will guide us into the Unknown Regions where we can confront Palpatine (on a planet that no one has ever heard of before, despite the plethora of planets in both the old Expanded Universe and the current Disney Canon that would work in this role). Side characters get introduced and then discarded at a rate that should have worried anyone who has ever constructed a narrative past the age of ten.
Speaking of discarded characters, let’s talk about Kelly Marie Tran and Rose Tico! As stated previously, I absolutely hated The Last Jedi. But such hatred never, ever transferred to the actors who merely did what the script and director told them. The harassment, sexism, and racism that Kelly Marie Tran faced after the release of that movie should disgust anyone. Rose Tico did not endear herself to me in that movie but I a.) still thought they could build off what happened in that film and make her more interesting and b.) would never, ever think of bullying an actress! Kelly Marie Tran has a strength, intelligence, and grace that few in this world possess and she deserved better than the two minutes of screentime this movie gave her. They made the Asian woman do tech support. Jesus H. Christ.
If you stare at this picture for two minutes, you’ll have given her more attention than JJ did.
And while we’re on the subject of negative depictions of racial minorities, how about the absolute retcon mess that JJ Abrams inflicted on Poe Dameron’s backstory? After Lucasfilm threw out all of the old Expanded Universe, they promised us that every new piece of content would count equally towards the Canon Star Wars Universe. Cracks in that thesis started forming almost immediately but The Rise of Skywalker completely threw it in the trash with Poe’s new backstory as a spice runner. From the first bits of information we ever received about him via Disney, Poe Dameron has always been a career soldier. Born on Yavin 4 by specific request of Oscar Isaac and raised by two Rebel heroes, Poe Dameron represented a new archetype in Star Wars: the in-universe fan. Poe Dameron grew up idolizing the figures of the Original Trilogy, including my aforementioned favorite, Wedge Antilles. His mother let him fly an A-Wing at eight years old. Poe Dameron dedicated his life to securing the blessings of liberty that the Rebel Alliance made possible, only leaving the New Republic when they did not acknowledge the threat of the First Order.
Oh, but he apparently also ran spice because Disney needed a new Han Solo. Nevermind the racial implications of the fact that the only Latino character in this new trilogy smuggled drugs across the galaxy. He gets in some great moments in The Rise of Skywalker but none of them add to his character in a manner that balanced out the destruction of his backstory.
This movie goes back and ruins a lot of things that came before itself, actually. Though I despise The Last Jedi for many reasons, I especially dislike the apparent unprofessionalism of Rian Johnson. He throws out nearly every tantalizing mystery of The Force Awakens and gives no regard for what might come after him. Yet even as angry as that makes me, I must apply the same standards to JJ Abrams and the creative direction of The Rise of Skywalker. JJ tosses out everything he didn’t like about The Last Jedi. He brings Luke back and directly contradicts his previous character arc. He makes Rey the granddaughter of the most powerful evil in the galaxy. Anakin’s lightsaber got shattered in the last film yet appears in this movie no worse for wear. On and on with this shit.
He even goes back and ruins major parts of the Original Trilogy! The Emperor lives! How? No explanation offered besides a Prequel meme! Anakin’s sacrifice for his son now means nothing. So much for the Chosen One. Remember how the entirety of The Empire Strikes back revolves around the Millennium Falcon making one, just one, hyperspace jump and this movie starts with Poe Dameron using the hyperdrive on the Falcon like the fast travel system in a video game? And while I will always recognize the absurdity of building a second Death Star, the fact remains that planet-killing weapons in the Star Wars universe should not grow on trees. Even Starkiller base, another massive superweapon, presumably took the First Order decades to build. But Palpatine now just has a whole fleet of manned and ready Star Destroyers that can all fire planet-killing lasers. How does he have this, I ask?
“Well Samuel, if you read the Essential Visual Guide you would know that Palpatine secretly funnelled men and material to the Unknown Regions for decades in anticipation of just this sort of thing–”
Shut up! That explanation doesn’t count because the movie never even alludes to it! This fleet of hundreds of Star Destroyers just show up like magic!
I wish this meant anything to me.
Stuff like this disrupts the scale of Star Wars. The actions of the characters possess less weight when you know that the Emperor can just return to life with no explanation after getting thrown down a bottomless pit and atomized in an explosion. A single Y-Wing can destroy a massive Star Destroyer by itself because a named character pilots it. Remember in Rogue One (the second-best Star Wars movie ever) when it took a massive investment of firepower and resources for the Rebels to destroy a single Star Destroyer? I’m not even comparing The Rise of Skywalker to some of the great Expanded Universe stories of yesteryear like the Thrawn trilogy or the Rogue Squadron comics. I can compare it to Disney’s own output and demonstrate how it fails.
The Rise of Skywalker epitomizes the worst and laziest kind of Star Wars stories: the ones that ape the imagery of the Original Trilogy without commenting on it or expanding it in interesting ways. Many people have compared this latest film to fan fiction, but I think that does a disservice to the brilliant fan fiction writers who are working like the Dickens on fix-it fics as we speak. This movie feels more like a car crash between a 10-year old’s Star Wars roleplaying game campaign and a marketing team. It lacks any originality and can’t help but dip its arms into the better movies that came before it until you can no longer see its elbows.
So ends the Skywalker saga. Disney accomplishes what legions of battle droids, platoons of stormtroopers, and several Sith could never do. They extinguish the Skywalker line and salt the earth so that nothing might come after them. Presumably, this means the end of my love for Star Wars, right? I mean, I just spent 2,000 words telling you that this movie drained me emotionally and spiritually. Surely nothing that Disney puts out could rekindle my love for Star Wars and certainly not within two weeks. Right?
“No,’ Yoda replied. ‘There is another…”
“This is the way.”