Thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker poster

My review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Spoiler-Free Review

The Rise of Skywalker felt like a well produced fever dream filled with a distracting amount of fan service and with frustrating thematic breaks from the prior movies. I’m sure a 10 year old version of me would have loved it, but current me finds it to just too self-aware and simple minded to like it.

If you are a hardcore Star Wars fan, you’ve probably already seen it and have your own impression. I do genuinely hope you enjoyed it. However, I can’t recommend it to anyone else who might be interested. Go and re-watch the Original Trilogy or The Clone Wars TV series. If that doesn’t slake your thirst, try some of the old Star Wars Legends book series (The Thrawn Trilogy and the X-wing series are highly recommend).

Spoiler Review

Overview

I don’t intend this to be as long as My Thoughts on The Last Jedi. That’s for two reasons. 1. The Last Jedi left me with much more complicated feelings. It was striving to create a new direction for Star Wars, but didn’t have the best execution. On the other hand, I have a much clearer impression of The Rise of Skywalker. 2. I gave my thoughts on The Force Awakens at the same time, in order to contrast it with The Last Jedi. I will do far less of that in this review.

If you’ve read my spoiler free section, you’ll know I was very disappointed with the movie that was the final (although with Star Wars, who knows) episode in the main Star Wars saga. I’ll open up with some positive things first. The cinematography, visual effects, and sound were all great. That is sort of expected given how much money is spent on a movie like this, but those aspects certainly didn’t disappoint.

Though at times the editing was normal, it had a tendency to present information way too fast with too many quick cuts. That information overload makes things confusing, especially to someone less familiar with the series. Only a few times did it let you sit and feel an emotion. I had the same issue with J.J. Abrams and The Force Awakens, so it appears he hasn’t moved away from that style.

I felt a similar way about the acting. One of the common directions George Lucas gave was to do a scene “Faster with more intensity”! That gave the original Star Wars movie a lot more energy and urgency than many contemporary movies. However, times have changed, and that level of energy is much more common in mainstream films. It seemed that a lot of the direction the actors got was to turn that intensity up a notch or two more than what is expected now-a-days. I personally feel this is too much and when combined with the it’s jarring editing, contributes to the frantic-ness of the movie. That would be fine if the intent of the movie was to convey that, but thematically the movie is about underdogs having enough hope to triumph over a force of overwhelming evil (which I will discuss more in a moment). I just don’t think frantic-ness really jives with the intent of the movie.

The writing and plot are just too over the top. They hit their message as hard as Dora the Explorer does. Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars has never been subtle. But between The Last Jedi making a point about how important it was to save the horse-things from the awful greedy rich people who torture them (do note they didn’t try to rescue the enslaved children, but you know…) and the number of lines about not giving up on hope in this one, I almost started ripping my hair out (fortunately my body has beat me to the punch on that one). There were also several frustrating thematic breaks. For instance, Finn’s whole arc in the last films was to learn to not run away from his fears, but to also not meaninglessly sacrifice himself (which is running away, from a certain point of view). But this movie is happy to repeat the whole “no don’t sacrifice yourself even though hundreds of people are fighting and dying around you” thing. Or how in The Last Jedi, Rey learned that her lineage didn’t matter and that was fine. In The Rise of Skywalker, not only does her linage matter a lot, she totally rejects it and claims another for herself. Though I wouldn’t have an issue with her being “adopted” by those who trained and cared for her, I don’t like how blatantly it ignores the message from the previous movies. I would be remiss to not point out the original trilogy does this to some extent too. In Empire Strikes Back, Luke ignores Yoda and Obi-Wan’s advice to continue training and not save his friends, and looses an arm because of it. However in Return of the Jedi ignoring Obi-Wan’s advice about giving up on his father enabled Luke to save and redeem Anakin. Those movies go from saying you should always listen to your teachers to saying it’s okay to ignore them. In part this is because a student should outgrow their teacher and not be locked into all the teachers biases. I believe the optimistic interpretation of that theme, coupled with it’s less heavy handed delivery, makes this thematic break acceptable, where the sequel trilogy’s breaks feel frustrating. When Disney first announced this new trilogy, I had hoped at least their controlling nature would mean that there was a solid plan for the sequel trilogy. They have proven that assumption wrong.

Now for the fan service (“material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience” according to Wikipedia). I don’t want to come off as a prude, after all I do appreciate a subtle Easter egg (something the Mandalorian TV show does very well). However, The Rise of Skywalker uses the strategy of calling all attention to something and shouting “Hey, you know this thing! We know this thing too! Love this thing! Love it!!!”. It is abrasive and takes away from the story they should be trying to tell. The epitome of this was the the Resistance celebration at the end of the film. It kept doing the “And one more thing!” and went on far too long. One of the scenes there has Chewbacca receive the same medal that Luke and Han are awarded for destroying the first Death Star. For those not in the know, Chewie was there with Han during the attack and it has long been a fan joke that he should of been given a medal as well. While that probably should of happened in the original film, it has been a running gag long enough it should be treated as such. So when Maz Kanata (who has the same medal for whatever reasons) gives it to Chewbacca it’s 1. confusing for people who don’t know the context (which is most people) 2. makes little sense in-universe 3. turns these two relatively serious characters having a sincere moment into a weird joke. I did not like the level of fan service in The Force Awakens and this feels even worse.

Details

Star Wars fans are known to be nit-picky about things no reasonable person would care about and I’d hate to disappoint. So here are all the things I can remember that warrant a comment.

  • I do like the idea of Palpatine continuing to be manipulating things well after he looses power. I’d like it even more if he was to have so much control even after being dead. That would have shown the level of his power, without detracting from Anakin’s sacrifice.
  • I find it irritating that most movies and shows can’t commit to killing someone. Why do we have to do a fake out where Chewbacca or Poe’s old friends might be dead, but really they’re fine. It’s boring and lazy and I’m just tired of the trope.
    • Yes, Kylo and Leia died. But the former was trying to be like Darth Vader (so you know, dies after defeating Palpatine) and the latter was expected given the passing of Carrie Fisher.
  • Speaking of tropes I don’t like, I also find it really boring when the protagonist is stuck being lightninged (or whatever the equivalent is) and just need to use their will power to overcome their foe. It removes the stakes in an encounter and doesn’t do a good job showing someone’s struggle to win.
  • One of my criticisms of The Force Awakens was that it used humor at emotionally inappropriate moments. I felt that The Rise of Skywalker was a noticeable improvement in this regard! I enjoyed it without feeling like it detracted from what was going on.
  • The kiss between Rey and Kylo at the end was super weird. Also what’s the deal with Finn bringing up wanting to tell Rey something (presumably he has feelings for her) and then never addressing it again?
  • I wish the Knights of Ren, you know, mattered. They seemed like a cool idea that was dropped then half heartily picked back up. All they really did was be a mini boss fight for Kylo, which honesty could of been cut.
  • The crew has said Rose being sidelined was because they wanted to have someone with Leia throughout the film. Though that’s probably true, I still find it disappointing that we weren’t able to explore her character more.
  • I did like Kylo’s struggle between light and dark. It was one of the things that carried over well from the previous two movies.
  • Lando felt a little misplaced and shoehorned in. In the old expanded universe, he was always trying to get some new business scheme working. I sort of wish they had shown his growth, being a reluctant supporter of the Rebellion in the original trilogy, and wish they had him do something like try to convince business partners to support the Resistance or be working on a scheme to drain the First Order’s coffers dry.
  • Things I found distractingly stupid:
    • Palpatine’s lightning being able to affect every Resistance ship felt a bit much, even for the Force.
    • The Sith planet having the weird anchor system to keep their ships safe. I get that this is Star Wars and their always needs to be some major weakness, but the fact that it’s function could just be moved to a ship feels like it was never really a weakness to begin with.
  • They did not over use having the Force Ghosts. That was one of my concerns going into the film. It would have been very easy to have Luke or Leia come in at the last moment and be the “real” hero. So I appreciate their restraint.
  • Han coming back in Kylo’s mind (it’s sort of being a Force Ghost, but I’ll allow it) is one of the most touching scenes in the film and was very well done.
  • I wish there was more to Leia’s role and death in the film, but given the situation with Carrie Fisher, I think they did the best they could.
  • I was thrilled that the big bad thing was not another Death Star, but in fact many smaller Death Stars-ish things. Glad to see them branching out!
    • Post-sarcasm label

Conclusion

I expected to have stronger feelings seeing that this is the end of the main Star Wars saga. But after a little rant (okay, maybe more than a little), I just feel indifferent. The fact is there is plenty of Star Wars already out there and Disney has only shown minor signs of slowing. If you didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker, there are hundreds of books, comics, and video games from both the old and new cannon to go through. A lot of them aren’t very good either, but hey, this is a really expansive universe with a ton of stories to explore. As fans, we’ve already dealt with bad movies and recovered, so I don’t put as much stock in a single movie anymore. I’m going to keep enjoying the parts of this galaxy that I do like and might even try my hand at re-imagining the parts I don’t. I hope you can still find enjoyment from Star Wars too. May the Force be with you!

Till next time,
- Matthew Booe