Star Wars is good. Maybe that seems like an understatement, or an oversimplification, or even just a boring adjective to use. But it isn?t, because Star Wars is always good, even when it?s bad. Even when it maybe goes too much into galactic tax policy. To quote one of my favorite movies Fanboys on Star Wars: ?You gotta keep the flaws. Crappy effects. Real puppets. That?s what makes it so good, you know?? I do know, and that?s why going forward, no matter what I say about any of the films in the Star Wars universe, no matter what I say about The Rise of Skywalker, just know that it?s all good. All of it. I?ve never wasted a second of my time with the Skywalkers, or the Solos, or even the? Palpatines.
Star Wars and the Skywalker Saga have been a part of my life for literally as long as I can remember. I played with the toys, I wore the merch, and the very first bedsheets I ever remember were themed to Empire Strikes Back. I grew up in the 90?s so I grew up with the prequels, and I?m prepared to admit they may even be my favorite movies of the whole bunch, no matter their many, many, many flaws. There?s just an incredibly specific surge of nostalgia that they inject into my veins that makes me feel like I?m floating in the clouds on Bespin. Revenge of the Sith especially makes me feel joy like not a lot of other movies can, and I?ll defend Hayden Christensen with my life if I have to. To show you I?m not all talk, when I went to buy a copy of Entertainment Weekly covering the new movie, I was presented with the three different sagas as options on the cover. Here?s the one I went with:
With all my love for the prequels, I still remember the day I was home alone as a kid and decided on my own to pop in the VHS tape of A New Hope and watched it for the very first time. Even decades after its release, watching that movie, the start of everything, felt different. It felt like I needed to watch the next two movies of the original trilogy, which I did. I devoured all three films in one sitting, while the VHS player mercifully didn?t devour the tapes first. I already knew that Darth Vader was Luke?s father, because I was a human being on Earth, but that didn?t make the reveal any less thrilling. Right after that marathon, I knew I was hooked for life.
Many years later I?m a 27-year-old adult and I?m still just as much in love with Star Wars as I was that day. I still play with the toys, still wear the merch, the only difference is I don?t have Star Wars bedsheets? for now. I?m still hooked, and I just got out of my showing of The Rise of Skywalker the 9th and final installment in the Skywalker Saga Star Wars films. A friend texted me right after and asked for a one word review of the movie because he didn?t want any spoilers. My response was: ?Good!? But now that I?ve sat with it, and thought about it, I think my response now would break the one word rule and be ?It was? a Star Wars movie!? Which is to say it was good, by default, but maybe it left a bad taste in my mouth. TROS is flawed in some ways that are fun, some ways that are confounding, and finally in ways that are deeply upsetting to me. I take no pleasure in being negative about this thing that I hold dear to my heart, so I?ll start with what I loved about this movie, because there are obviously things that I loved.
The Rey and Kylo Ren relationship is still one of the most compelling of any of the Star Wars films, and Kylo Ren is the best movie villain created this century. This trilogy took its time and crafted characters that are deep and dealing with real internal struggle. These movies and especially The Last Jedi showed us that not everything is black and white. There are gray areas that can be explored, in fact, that are imperative we explore. It was always possible for Rey to turn to the dark, just like it was always possible for Ben Solo to come back to the light. Anakin set that precedent himself, both sides of it. Ultimately it was Ben Solo who switched sides, being redeemed at the end, sacrificing himself to save Rey. For someone who always wanted to be Darth Vader, it was the most Vader thing he could do. Bendemption wasn?t something I was rooting for, but it felt earned and I?m good with it. It actually felt like one of the most powerful moments of the entire franchise for me. I don?t know how much thought JJ Abrams actually put into this, but Anakin?s fall to the dark was fueled by his desire to save Padme, the one he loved, from death. In his hubris, and with nudges from Palpatine, Anakin thought the only way to save Padme was from the power of the dark side. What TROS showed us with Ben Solo was that Anakin possessed the power to save Padme all along, he just would have to have been willing to let go, and give his life for hers. The Shakespearean tragedy of it all worked perfectly for me. The more I think about this movie, the more satisfied I am with the Kylo Ren/Ben Solo arc. (On a subsequent re-watch I realized that Ben Solo?s last word was ?Ow.? and that kind of makes me want to set myself on fire). The only thing I don?t think we needed was the Reylo kiss to solidify for the audience that they loved each other, but in a film full of nods to the fans, it was always going to happen. Speaking of Reylo, this entire sequel trilogy couldn?t have worked without Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, who did so much with, sometimes, so little. I will be forever grateful for what they brought to the franchise.
There was also plenty of fun stuff with Poe and Finn. They had great dialogue and it was nice to see them spend a whole film working together. Unfortunately they didn?t make out, because everyone at Disney and Lucasfilm have as much courage as a bag full of wet sand, apparently. But I digress, after all, this is supposed to be the positive section of the review.
So, let?s talk about something positive like how I?ve never felt more relatable to a droid than I do with D-O, a new character who, when Rey tries to touch him says ?no, thank you? which is my exact response to any human interaction as well. I love him. I also love C-3PO who gets more work in this film than perhaps any of the others. Some may argue too much work, when it came at the detriment of BB-8 screen time, but I enjoyed a lot of the jokes around the protocol droid.
Actually, you know what, it?s time to examine some of the stuff in The Rise of Skywalker that just didn?t work for me. Let?s go back to Poe and Finn not making out. It sucks. For a film that promised LGBTQ representation, and two characters/actors that had incredible chemistry on screen like Poe and Finn did, it seemed like an easy way to finally have that representation by main characters in a major franchise. Unfortunately, as always, we put too much faith in a company that cares about the bottom line more than anything else. Instead, they gave fans a quick celebratory lesbian kiss at the very end of the film. Truly a blink and you?ll miss it moment. While still more than any Disney film has ever given fans who would like to see themselves represented in the fictional universes they love, it wasn?t anywhere near enough.
Let Poe and Finn fuck, you cowards.
There are plenty of other flaws in this movie. Palpatine is back I guess? They don?t explain how and also no one seems particularly surprised? Poe lets everyone in the Resistance know that unfortunately the most evil Sith lord the galaxy has ever seen has seemingly come back from the dead and everyone?s response is ?Oh gosh, that kind of sucks, huh?? It?s bizarre. There are also just a shit ton of macGuffins throughout the whole movie. It feels like JJ Abrams got some kind of bonus for every unnecessary plot forwarding item he introduced. ?Oh no we need the Wayfinder to find the Sith homeworld, but we need to decipher the dagger to find the Wayfinder, but we need to find a way to hack C-3PO to decipher the dagger.? It was a lot. All of it was a lot. But that?s ok, sometimes Star Wars is a lot, and I still loved some of the stuff they did along the trail of macGuffins.
What I can?t excuse, and what left the worst taste in my mouth after my viewing of TROS was all of the clearly intentional retconning of many of the things Rian Johnson accomplished in The Last Jedi, a masterpiece that I love dearly. Rian?s film faced some criticism from incels in a small subset of the fan community. If you post anything positive about TLJ anywhere on the internet, you?re sure to have some trolls jump in your mentions to tell you that Rose Tico is a terrible character, or Rey is too powerful, or that it ruined the legendary Luke Skywalker, when what they really mean is they?re racist, sexist, and would rather have a God-like Luke Skywalker lead the film than have someone try to actually incorporate good storytelling. In its retconning, TROS feels like JJ went on to the most toxic Star Wars subreddits, and crafted his story accordingly.
Didn?t like when Luke threw is lightsaber away in TLJ? That?s cool, he very dramatically catches one in this movie.
Hated Rose Tico with such passion you threatened Kelly Marie Tran on the internet so much that she deactivated her social media profiles? Great, she has almost exactly zero screen time in TROS.
Didn?t enjoy Kylo Ren getting some character development? Wonderful, he has his helmet rebuilt and wears it for the majority of this movie, because reasons.
The biggest sin The Rise of Skywalker commits is what it does to Rey. Rian Johnson did a truly inspired thing when he made the choice to have Rey?s parents be nobodies. Kylo Ren tells her they were just ?filthy junk traders who pawned her off for drinking money.? He tells her she has no place in the story. It was such a genius subverting of expectations that just because she was strong in the force she had to come from some famous bloodline. Rey was going to forge her own place in the story, write her own name down in the annals of Jedi history. It was quintessential fantasy storytelling, where the main character finds their own way to heroism, and doesn?t have it handed to them through a powerful bloodline.
Well, JJ said ?fuck interesting storytelling in Star Wars, let?s make her a Palpatine? because apparently the Emperor fucks? Or at least fucked? I don?t know, but he has a granddaughter, and they don?t explain it, and it?s dumb. Also, Palpatine wants her dead, then alive, then dead again? He really couldn?t make up his mind. Finally, Rey adopts the name Skywalker, which was emotional and made my eyes a little moist, but in retrospect still feels less powerful after her original familial reveal. It would?ve been much more emotional for her to be a nobody who takes the name Skywalker out of pride for those who came before her, rather than as a refutation of the name Palpatine.
All of those choices felt not only cowardly, but like JJ and Lucasfilm were catering specifically to the very worst of the fan community. I wonder what JJ?s burner reddit username is. Probably u/RianJohnsonRuinedMyChildhood or something. Already, many of those toxic fans are rushing to their keyboards to evangelize this film as the best of the sequel trilogy, definitely better than The Last Jedi, and maybe one of the best of the whole saga. It?s just another form of trolling.
Despite the flaws I mentioned, I still really liked the movie, and I won?t be rushing to shit all over it just because I love TLJ.
Star Wars is still good. I just mourn what The Rise of Skywalker could?ve been.