I really wasn’t planning on writing something about The Rise Of Skywalker so quickly. In fact, I had a totally different Star Wars-related post planned for this weekend. But sometimes a movie hits and I, inexplicably, find myself with something to say right away. The Rise Of Skywalker was one of those films. The first trilogy of the Disney Canon has come to a close and the journey Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren began in 2015’s The Force Awakens has ended. It left me with lots of thoughts, feelings, and questions. So let’s talk about it, huh?
Note, there will be spoilers but that section of the post will be clearly marked. If you don’t want to know anything at all before you see it, stop reading now. But if you’re fine with overall-type comments, I’ll speak generally first and then give a clear warning before any plot spoilers happen. Ready? Ready.
Hannah texted me Thursday afternoon asking, “What if this is our last Star Wars opening night?” She tweeted a similar sentiment as we prepared to venture off to the theatre.
Her question made sense. We’ve had a long, complicated relationship with the Disney Canon. A few cathartic and epiphany-filled conversations this week helped us realize The Last Jedi left a far deeper scar on us than we realized (but that’s the story for a different post). So our relationship to the Disney Canon of Star Wars was in a tenuous place. The end of Disney’s first trilogy felt like a watershed moment. We were going because we had to see this through. But, when all was said and done, would be going anymore?
All we wanted going in was to not hate it. That was our goal.
As the credits started to roll, Hannah and I looked at each other and she said, “I didn’t hate it.” I agreed. Goal achieved! But we struggled to figure anything else out. What exactly did we feel? What did we think of The Rise of Skywalker? As the credits continued to roll, Kalie and David rose from their seats on my right just as Hannah’s husband, daughter, and a friend of theirs rose on her left, ready to leave. But we stayed seated. We were still processing, only uttering half sentences as we struggled to find the elusive words to describe the mixed feelings we were trying to manage. This continued as we left the theatre, walked down the hall, and stood by the doors, unwilling to leave as we were still processing. Finally we agreed to sit with our feelings and pick it up again Friday at work.
Kalie and I went out to grab something to eat after the movie and during the car ride and our meal, I found more concrete thoughts coming into focus, loosened and set free by Kalie’s comments on the film. Kalie and I talked about it for a good hour that night. On Friday morning, Hannah and I texted about it and we spent at least a half hour at work processing it. Then Hannah, her husband, and I went to see it again Friday night. The second showing helped bring more clarity. So where am I with The Rise Of Skywalker? What do I think about the film?
I thought it had some brilliant moments. In fact, I’d go so far as to say The Rise Of Skywalker had moments that felt the most “like Star Wars” since Disney bought Lucasfilm. The humor, the excitement, the thrills, the musical scoring, the cinematography, all felt very Star Wars-like. I’d even go so far as to say, because of this, it’s the best film in the Disney Canon so far (I love Rogue One but sorting that is the story for another post too). I really enjoyed watching much of this film unfold and there were plenty of moments that hit me hard in the feels.
But…but there were still some serious problems with it, many of them illustrating the recurring issue since Disney started making their own Star Wars movies. They want the movies released on a very specific schedule and won’t allow the necessary time needed to write a coherent film let alone a trilogy that feels like a coherent story with a defined, thought-out message. So while The Rise Of Skywalker had these great moments I really liked and it certainly hit me in the feels (as Hannah said as we left the theatre after our first showing, “He did callbacks in all the right places.”), I don’t think I really cared for the overall story. They just couldn’t tie it all together in a way that mattered, made sense, or felt important at all.
As we got in the car after the movie, Kalie’s very first observation captured a lot. I appreciate Kalie’s view because she’s brilliant and makes for an informed/intelligent moviegoer but she’s also a more casual Star Wars fan. She watches them with me and she enjoys them but she hasn’t lived her whole life invested in and analyzing this series like I have. So Kalie’s is an informed yet not emotionally compromised/overthought vantage point. She said, “It was alright. I felt largely ambivalent about the plot and a lot of it felt like pandering. I know I am influenced by how you read these films but I get what you and Hannah are always talking about. George Lucas created something so nuanced with the Force and this movie did nothing like that. The Force was just a weird, magical ability they had.” YES – a thousand times, yes. Kalie was absolutely right.
So now, fair warning, below the following big picture of The Rise Of Skywalker movie poster I’ve put in this post so you don’t accidentally glimpse a spoiler you don’t want to see, I’m going to start talking about what I liked and what I had problems with. I’m going to be specific so, if you don’t want anything spoiled – and, as always, I encourage you not to spoil the story for yourself! – I suggest you click away. The final paragraphs of the piece, following the big picture of the teaser movie poster, won’t have spoilers either if you want to read the end of this post before you see it but, really, you can leave now. It’s fine.
What did I like? The first act/first hour was perfect. When I talked about how much this felt like Star Wars this part of the film was hitting all those notes. From the opening of Kylo Ren “raging across the galaxy” looking for the Emperor up until the events on Kijimi start to unfold (because that’s when we start running into some of the major problems I had with the film), I really enjoyed it. This was the vibe I was hoping to find back in 2015!
I loved everyone being together! If we saw more of Rey, Finn, and Poe fighting and bantering alongside each other in the whole trilogy I might feel very differently about these characters and this trilogy as a whole. I might feel far more connected to them then I do, as I was to Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie in the Original Trilogy and Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padmé in the Prequel Trilogy. I could feel their comradery as characters and I could see how much the actors enjoyed working with each other. We finally got to see Finn become the hero he was setup to be in The Force Awakens. And Poe?? Oscar Isaac was wasted in both The Force Awakens (where he was presumed dead for much of the action) and in The Last Jedi (where he was forced to sulk, whine, and brood on a ship for almost the entire film). We needed more of Poe like this! And I loved how they introduced Rey here. Seeing her trying to manage her role in the Resistance, balancing her Jedi training (under Leia! yay!) with fighting alongside her friends was great. This was the natural, organic progression for her character from The Force Awakens.
Also, I’ve been very critical of the new Chewbacca. It’s not that I have anything against Joonas Suotamo per se but I loved Chewie as a kid. I still do. And I’ve always resented Disney just recasting him. For me, Chewie is and will always be Peter Mayhew. Just because he’s wearing a full body costume doesn’t mean you can put anyone tall enough in it anymore than you can put some random actor in a vest or jacket and expect them to be Han Solo. Harrison Ford is Han Solo – period. In the same way, Peter Mayhew is Chewbacca – period. Chewie deserved his sendoff just like Han, Luke, and Leia got. Anyway, the Chewbacca suit looked so generic in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, like they just picked it up at Party City or something. But in The Rise of Skywalker the costume finally looks like Chewie did in the Original Trilogy. So yay!
On that note, the scene where Chewie learns of Leia’s death was powerful. J.J. Abrams was obviously looking to correct his oversight of the non-interaction between Chewie and Leia after Han’s death in The Force Awakens but this still worked. I kept thinking of what Chewie must be feeling in that scene. Han’s gone. Luke’s gone. Now Leia’s gone too. He is so alone. The grief and pain were masterfully captured. I rescind some of my resentments about Joonas Suotamo now too…even if I maintain Peter Mayhew will always be the only Chewbacca for me.
The other thing I mean when I talk about how it felt like Star Wars is, to quote Hannah, how they handled “our old heroes.” Again, I think J.J. was trying to make-up for his decision – which was beyond comprehension – to not have the original cast together in The Force Awakens. But those moments with our heroes hit me in the feels. This was what I always imagined The Force Awakens would be – the original cast handing off the torch to a new generation of heroes who’d see things through in this new trilogy. Instead of seeing that happen in the first film, we got it all in one, with the newbies finally coming into their own here. But I’m still happy we got to see it :).
The way J.J. used Carrie Fisher’s footage from The Force Awakens to make Leia present in this film was also well done and so appreciated. I loved that she got top billing in the cast! Also, I love, love, love, LOVE that it was Leia who brought Ben back to the Light Side! Yes! Leia giving her life to save her son was so much more meaningful than having her die offscreen or in a spaceship explosion or something. Ben seeing the memory of his father was moving too. It actually brought tears to my eyes. I wasn’t crying outright, but my eyes were wet. I loved Han’s “I know” to Ben’s unspoken “I love you.” That was one of those great callbacks Hannah mentioned. And I know we shouldn’t see a “ghost” of a non-Jedi but I really think it was because we’d already lost Carrie Fisher and this was a way to have Ben’s parents there, for someone to speak for his mother when Carrie herself couldn’t.
I liked that we got to see a Luke Skywalker – even if it was all too brief – who felt like a continuation of who he was in the Original Trilogy and not the disappointing caricature Rian Johnson created in The Last Jedi. To that end too, I loved how this film was so clear about symbolically “undoing” some of the mistakes of that film. We see Kylo Ren rebuilding his helmet; Luke’s Force ghost telling Rey outright that he was wrong; and Luke catching the lightsaber Rey carelessly throws away, telling her a Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect. Boom!
It was great to (FINALLY) see Billy Dee Williams back as Lando Calrissian (yay!) and seeing Lando and Chewie pilot the Millennium Falcon together made me feel warm and fuzzy. And Wedge Antilles baby!!! I also love how they addressed Leia’s training and why she wasn’t an outright Jedi. Seeing the digitally created young Luke and Leia, even if only for an instant, was powerful. It made me want to go reread the Expanded Universe’s Dark Empire. I liked seeing the new cast with Chewie in the Falcon too, that was one of those “handing off” moments I found powerful.
Lastly, Rey hearing the voices of all the Jedi as she prayed, “Be with me” and gathered her strength to face the Emperor in their final battle also brought a tear to my eye. As Hannah said, “It was like hearing all the voices of our childhood again – Obi-Wan, Yoda, everyone.” Our heroes were with her as they’ve always been with us, in our hearts. I grant having Kanan as a part of that vocal medley was some of the overt pandering Kalie mentioned (sooooooo many other Jedi from The Clone Wars should’ve been included over him but people inexplicably love Rebels so…) but the good still outweighed the bad in this scene for me.
On the subject of “the bad” (he wrote, impressed at his own unintentional segue), I have three significant problems with this movie. These are the UNFORGIVABLE SINS there’s no way around for me. When I saw The Rise Of Skywalker a second time, the parts I liked the first time through, I loved even more the second time. But these parts? I was even more frustrated by them. These were just…ugh…how do you even call something like this a Star Wars movie?
My biggest complaint about the film crystalized in my conversation with Kalie. As soon as she started talking about the Force, so many of the feelings I was struggling to understand in the theatre now made sense. This is one of my biggest issues with the Disney Canon in general too. It is SO CLEAR that no one understands anything about the Force. George Lucas read over fifty books on world religions as well as delving into Joseph Campbell’s work on comparative mythology before he wrote Star Wars to make his story authentically function as a modern myth. He introduced the Force in Star Wars to get kids thinking about what the Divine could be. Who or what is God? What does/can God do? Where do we find God? The Force was never intended to be God but rather to get people – especially children – speculating about the nature of the Divine. And, as Kalie so rightly observed as we left the theatre, Lucas succeeded in creating something so nuanced in his vision of the Force. Even the midichlorians, as imperfect as their execution may’ve been, were an attempt to explore the connection and communication between living beings and the infinite transcendence around us.
In A New Hope, in his home on Tatooine, Obi-Wan tells Luke, “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us. It penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” In The Empire Strikes Back, while training on Dagobah, Yoda tells Luke, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. It’s energy surrounds us binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere.” Then in The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon reminds Obi-Wan of the difference between the Living Force and the Cosmic Force. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the theological work Lucas does over the course of his six films. It’s brilliance in scope and execution is unique in modern cinema.
But there is absolutely nothing sacred of mystical about the Force in The Rise Of Skywalker. Again, as Kalie said after we left our first showing, “It’s just some weird magical ability they have.” And she’s absolutely right! The entire film makes the Force nothing more than an ill-defined superpower. She and I spent a lot of time talking about this after the movie.
So Rey and Kylo Ren form a dyad in the Force, something that hasn’t been seen in generations. Okay, coolio…buuuuuuuut what the hell is a “dyad in the Force.” What does that even mean? And, because of it, the Emperor can suck their lifeforce away to heal himself? How? The Emperor is also apparently every Sith now and Rey is every Jedi…because somehow? How did this happen? Why did this happen? They just say it and all of a sudden it’s a thing? This isn’t Highlander. Jedi and Sith don’t gain the power and memories of their fallen foes in a Quickening. But we’re just supposed to accept this happens without any explanation about it? Also, now the Emperor can, all of a sudden, generate enough Force lightening to bring down every ship in the galaxy? Ben can survive being blown into a MASSIVE chasm erupting with Force lightning? And they can heal people now? That seems like something that would have been useful in just about every other movie. Don’t worry Qui-Gon; Obi-Wan can just zap you with some of his lifeforce! Don’t worry Anakin; Luke can just zap you with some of his lifeforce! Everyone lives…until they don’t. And, AND, Rey explains to BB-8 she gave that snake thing some of her lifeforce to heal it’s wound. But then she mortally wounds Kylo Ren on one of Endor’s moons and she heals him? Doesn’t logic dictate that should kill her? If it’s a lifeforce transfer to heal a mortal wound, it seems the proportionate amount of lifeforce should leave the other person dead, having sacrificed themselves to save the other. But Rey lives when she saves Ben. But then Ben saves her…and he dies…because….uh….???
So the powers don’t make any sense. But even worse than that, they have stripped the Force of any semblance of it’s mystical, sacred nature. For all I hate about The Last Jedi, I will give Rian Johnson credit for trying to explore some theological dimensions to the Force. But the divine has been stripped from Star Wars here. No longer is the Force leading viewers to question the nature of divinity in the world around them. Now it’s just leading them to question how/why Rey, the Emperor, and Ben have the powers and abilities they do. This is unacceptable.
My second biggest complaint is the whole Rey-is-Palpatine’s-granddaughter thing. I mean, what the fuck? What in the actual fuck?? After Kylo Ren revealed this to Rey I turned to Hannah and said, “He’s lying to manipulate her. There’s no way they’d do something so stupid.” Hannah replied, “If that’s true I will burn this fucking theatre to the ground.” After Luke confirms this truth to Rey on Ahch-To we both rolled our eyes so hard it hurt but, thankfully, neither of us were arrested for arson…yet.
Not only was that a stupid plot twist, it’s also 100% out of character with the Emperor. Everything we’ve seen over the course of six films (let alone everything written about him in novels, comics, games, etc.) shows Palpatine is entirely driven by preserving his life and ruling forever. Everything we’ve seen illustrates this end. This is what the Sith do. There is no way Palpatine would have an heir who could possible kill/overthrow him and take his place. It’s completely incongruous with his entire character. If he had sex with someone and if they became pregnant, he’d kill the child immediately. Or, at the very least, keep the child under lock and key, always within his realm of influence. On the same note, he’s just cool letting his energy transfer into Rey so she can become the new Empress?? Again, incongruous. This is another shining example of the people making these movies having no understanding of and/or respect for the source material Lucas so brilliantly and painstakingly created. This isn’t the Emperor. If you’re going to use Palpatine, you damn well better study and understand his character. Using him like this is also unacceptable.
Third on the list of unforgivable since was the kiss – the fucking “Reylo” kiss. They’ve now canonically endorsed a textbook example of an abusive relationship for no other reason than to make some hyper-tweeting fans who can’t accept a conclusion without kissing happy. I won’t go back over all that but if you want to read about how “Reylo” is unequivocally an abusive relationship, you can click here. As Hannah’s daughter said, “The only part I didn’t like was the kiss. Ugh. Why would they do that? It ruined everything. A hug would have been so much better.” Yes! Yes! She is COMPLETELY RIGHT. As Kalie observed after we left the theatre, “It was just pandering. It didn’t fit in the story at all. It was completely unnecessary. It was clearly just there to pander to ‘Reylo’ fans.” And that’s true!!! This was by far the worst example of pandering in this film. With Ben dying there was NO NEED to do that. And what about Finn?? What does it say about Rey’s character that if she’s falling for/kissing anyone at all (and she didn’t need to kiss anyone at all – she can be a hero without a romantic interest) she kisses the guy who spent the majority of the trilogy trying to kill her as opposed to the guy she knows, who she’s built a real relationship with – a relationship with a foundation of mutual trust and support – who has done everything he can for her over the course of that same trilogy? It’s illogical nature aside, it says something about Rey that cheapens her character. She deserves better. This is completely unacceptable too.
But those were just my major complaints. There were also sooooooooo many little things that didn’t make sense and/or left unexplained. I’m not trying to be nit-picky here but this laundry list illustrates how much more time was needed in writing and revision for this film – time the Disney production schedule doesn’t allow for. Trying to figure these things out were a major part of my conversation with Kalie during our post-movie dinner too.
The Emperor survived the destruction of the second Death Star…somehow. Members of the Resistance make vague mentions to “dark magic” and “clone bodies” (*cough* they’re stealing directly from the EU again *cough*) okay. But the Emperor never says ANYTHING about how he’s still alive outside of quoting the line from Revenge Of The Sith about the Dark Side being a path to abilities many consider unnatural. So WHY/HOW IS HE ALIVE?? And if he can survive this long, why does he need Rey at all?
Where the hell did that fleet Lando and Chewie arrive with come from anyway? The whole drama at the end of The Last Jedi was that NO ONE IN THE GALAXY would return Leia’s call. But now, when an insanely bigger and more dangerous fleet has amassed in the Unknown Regions then all of a sudden everyone with a ship decides to follow Lando into the fray? And wasn’t the flight to Exegol difficult/dangerous/near-impossible? But now every fighter, freighter, and capital ship in the galaxy has no problem following Lando and Chewie in?
On the Chewie note, Rey believes Chewie died when she accidentally blasts the troop transport out of the sky on Pasaana. But then she can totally sense Chewie’s alive on the Star Destroyer above Kijimi? From thousands of kilometers further away? When she wasn’t even looking for him? Shouldn’t she have been able to a) sense he didn’t die and b) sense where he really was the first time around then? Especially if she could so easily find him later?
And what the hell was up with that little rolly droid, D-O? It knew where Exegol was THE ENTIRE TIME?!? And it just told Finn! Just like that! So what was the point of the whole “sacrifice” of Threepio’s memories? That entire section of the movie could’ve been cut out. They didn’t need to go to Kijimi. Threepio didn’t have to risk himself. Maybe those twenty minutes could’ve been spent addressing some of these inconsistencies.
The film opens with this incredibly badass scene of Kylo Ren hunting the Emperor across the galaxy. As soon as Palpatine’s message goes out, Ren wants to kill him so there’s no threat to his power. Then he finds Palpatine, just hanging from some weird fishhook chair thing…but he doesn’t immediately kill him? Why?
Also, the Emperor delivers this fascinating line where he tells Kylo Ren he’s been all the voices in his head – Snoke, Vader, everyone. It was all designed to draw Kylo Ren there to become what Darth Vader couldn’t for Palpatine. And then they say NOTHING ELSE ABOUT THIS EVER. How did Palpatine do that? What the heck was Snoke? Because Snoke was clearly “real” enough to be cut in half. But there were also weird tubes with Snokes in them in the Emperor’s hideout on Exegol? Was Snoke a Palpatine puppet? What was going on?
We finally got to see the Knights of Ren here! The mysterious order Kylo Ren leads, the black-clad warriors who helped him destroy Luke’s Jedi Temple in the vision we saw in The Force Awakens, play a far more central role in this movie…except WHAT THE HELL ARE THE KNIGHTS OF REN?? I still have no idea! Do they have the Force? Don’t they? What role do the play in any of this? They just stalk around in black armor holding bladed weapons in a galaxy of blasters and lightsabers.
On a somewhat related note, does Finn have the Force? It sure seems like they were building to some sort of reveal like that. He tells Jannah several times he can “feel” things, including once when he quotes Leia’s exact line from the end of The Empire Strikes Back when we first learn she can use the Force too. But…what does that mean? They never say anything definitive.
Also, what the hell was going on with Lando’s conversation with Jannah at the end?? What did his last line even mean? It felt like it was either a) an allusion to the fact that Lando was trying to hook up with Jannah (which is a little uncomfortable) or b) an allusion to the fact that Lando may be Jannah’s father (which feels a wee bit racist given the size of the galaxy and how few people of color play prominent roles in Star Wars).
All this is to say there was sooooooo much in this movie that was rushed. Had Disney allowed J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio to take more time on the script, maybe they could have crafted a more coherent story. Plus so, so, SO many of the above issues reflect poor character development – something else that could have been fixed with more time to write and being willing to wait so the trilogy could be handled by the same person and shaped by the same creative vision. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said, “[J.J.]’s a huge fan, incredibly passionate about Star Wars, and has been from the moment he and I sat down and started talking about this. And the more he got involved, the more excited he became. So I think if you asked him today, he probably wishes he’d been in a situation where he could have done all three — but as I said, these are huge projects. So it’s very difficult unless there’s three or four years in between. It’s not really physically possible.”
YOU CAN CONTROL THAT KATHLEEN KENNEDY. There’s NO REASON outside of Disney’s desire to roll out product they couldn’t take that much time between films. George Lucas took three years between each film in the Original Trilogy and Prequel Trilogy and then he took sixteen years between the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy. It’s one of many, many, many reasons those films work so well while there are so many problems, big and small, with Disney’s Sequel Trilogy. As I watched The Rise Of Skywalker, as I thought about all those moments that felt like Star Wars, as I saw some potential really and finally start to unfold in our new cast I kept thinking about what a missed opportunity this was. If The Force Awakens had come out in 2015 and then Disney waited to let J.J. give us Episode VIII now, in 2019, I think my relationship with the Disney Canon may’ve been very different.
To end on a positive note though, I did really enjoy the conclusion of the film. I like Rey returning to Tatooine. I loved seeing Luke and Leia looking on at her as she buries their lightsabers and then ignites her own. And I loved her taking the name, “Rey Skywalker” at the end! It was a powerful note to end on. However, I think the whole Rey-is-a-Palpatine thing totally undercuts that. It would have been far more significant, and less convoluted, if she wasn’t tied to an established character – especially THE major villain – to have her take the name up at the end. If they weren’t going to make Rey a Skywalker outright then yes, I liked Johson’s idea of her being a “nobody” far better than this. Then it would have been a clear vision of her carrying on Leia and Luke’s work and not be clouded by the whole I-hate-my-family-so-I’m-going-to-pick-a-new-name thing.
All this being said, The Rise Of Skywalker was still 1,000x better than the pretentious mess that was The Last Jedi. For all it’s problems, this at least felt like a Star Wars movie and it handled the heroes of the Original Trilogy with the love and respect the deserved and in a way that felt connected to who they were.
For better or worse, this is the trilogy Disney’s given us. I didn’t hate The Rise Of Skywalker, as I had hoped I wouldn’t. And I do think, complications aside, it’s left me with enough goodwill towards Disney to try another Star Wars movie. The question of whether or not opening night for the next one will be in my future remains unanswered. In the Disney Era, Star Wars is no longer a must-see guarantee for me. I’ll see the trailers. I’ll see how excited I am. And if I’m excited to go see it, I will and if I’m excited enough to go on opening night, then I will. We’ll see. I can at least give the ever-growing Disney Canon that much, because they’ve given me something I didn’t totally hate.
As I went into this film, I tried to take Kiri’s advice, as I discussed in my “What I Look For In A Star Wars Story” post. I tried to take a step back and keep my hopes in check, which I think I did. I still need to see how time affects my relationship to this film though. And at the end of the day, The Rise Of Skywalker had a lot of moments that I liked. But I didn’t like the movie as a whole. It just didn’t come together for me in that it certainly didn’t hold to and honor George Lucas’ vision of the Force, the Skywalkers, and the Star Wars Saga. But Disney has been clearly demonstrating they couldn’t care less about that for four years. So why would I expect it now? But at least I didn’t hate it.
UPDATE: Hannah and I went for a third showing Monday night, as a Christmas Eve Eve present to ourselves. Our response to the film grew worse. With the second viewing, as I wrote above, all the things we liked, we loved more and what frustrated us was also more frustrating. With the third viewing we found the good had plateaued. Nothing got more exciting than it was in viewing two. However what we first found troubling keeps getting worse. We were more upset leaving the theatre Monday night than we were on Thursday or Friday. If this holds true for future viewings, I can see The Rise Of Skywalker becoming more and more of a thorn in my experience of the Disney Canon over time. I still don’t hate it but I’m finding the shine on this apple dulls quickly.
 Laurent Bouzereau, Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, (New York: Ballantine, 1997), 35.
 Bill Moyers and George Lucas, “Of Myth and Men: A conversation between Bill Moyers and George Lucas on the meaning of the Force and the true theology of Star Wars,” Time, April 26, 1999, 90.
 Ibid., 92.
 Brian Hiatt, “Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy on ‘Rise of Skywalker’ and the Future of ‘Star War,’” Rolling Stone, Published November 19, 2019. Accessed December 22, 2019. https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/lucasfilm-president-kathleen-kennedy-interview-rise-skywalker-future-star-wars-912393/
27 thoughts on “The Rise Of Skywalker – Excitement and Ambiguity in the Disney Era of Star Wars”
I think in order to be a trilogy first the movies should have coherence among them, is like the characters are translated from a universe to another.
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I absolutely agree. I keep thinking of what these films could have been if Disney had waited and let J.J. do his thing, working on the movies at the pace he would have liked to. This film was far from perfect but it was promising. If he could have built a coherent trilogy with a natural and organic progression to these characters, I think Disney’s entire Sequel Trilogy could have been better across the board.
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Well, good, now I don’t have to write a review because you’ve already done mine for me.
But seriously, I spent about half the time thinking “this is cool” and half the time thinking “this is so dumb.” I’m not sure which half will ultimately come out on top in my reflections. I agree that my ultimate frustration is the lack of coherence in the trilogy.
A bunch of people in my theater booed during the kiss, it was hilarious.
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Yay for your theatre! We didn’t get any booing during the kiss BUT we also didn’t get any cheering either. So I’ll choose to believe most people were hardcore rolling their eyes and sighing in frustration at it as I was.
I like the way you phrased that though – I’m not sure what will come out on top in my reflections, either. I think this is a film – and the Sequel Trilogy as a whole – that I’ll continue to have a complicated, shifting relationship with.
I know it’s asking for trouble, given how this one played out, but there’s a little part of me that would like to see Rey, Finn, and Poe face another threat – something completely disconnected from the Sith and the Original Trilogy. Something like the Yuuzahn Vong from the EU, some threat from the Unknown Reigons could arrive. I’d like to see what those characters could do in a more unified story.
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You know, I was really hoping all the “mysterious threat in the Unknown Regions” stuff was leading up to something like the Yuuzahn Vong (though I never really liked that story line, too sci-fi/horror to feel like Star Wars). I was pretty disappointed that it was just Palpatine, again.
I love the new trio of characters, and I’d love to see them in new adventures. Hopefully, the books will step in to fill the gap there. Because I’m not sure I trust them to make more movies with them 🤣
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Ummm, hahahaha, YEAH, I see what you mean. That’s part of what made me love the EU as a kid – it filled in the gaps and kept the story going. I’d love to see a bunch of solid, well crafted novels about Rey, Finn, and Poe after TROS.
Palpatine was disappointing, in the reveal and the execution. I’m with you on the Vong too. I never finished reading their story. In fact, as a kid, that’s when I drifted away from the EU. A few years ago I returned to it and I’ve been working through it again, hoping to make it to the end this time!
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YES, to all your points! I enjoyed TFA but absolutely hated TLJ, so I was apprehensive going in but I came out mostly satisfied. I was happy with how they were able to incorporate Leia into the movie and gave her an excellent concluding arc. Lando, Chewie & the droids were great too. Luke’s role was much too small (I shall hate director Rian Johnson forever for what he did to Luke in the last movie) and seeing Han was a nice surprise. I like the new trio of Rey, Finn & Poe but the kiss between Rey & Kylo was horrible! Rey is too strong a woman to want to be with an abuser (and let’s not forget mass murderer) than Finn. They left enough narrative threads for future movies, cause you know Disney won’t let this cash cow die.
But I really think the most glaring omission (besides my beloved Luke) was the lack of religious or mystical depth regarding the Jedis and The Force like you mentioned. There was no consistency with their powers and the healing power came out of left field. Jedis are not superheroes who can gain and lose powers like they do in Marvel or DC universes, it is THE FORCE, and must be respected! And speaking of Marvel universes, Disney seems to have an overall plan for their hero movies, with each movie fitting into the Marvel universe, so why, oh why, were the Star Wars movies not given the same type of planning and framework? I believe the JJ did the best he could with course corrections with the time he was given, but more time would have improved the narrative. If only he had directed all three…
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On the Marvel note, I was just having a conversation about this with Kiri and she suggested I turn it into a post. So I’m working on that now! I know when Disney bought Marvel Studios, they’d already made ‘Iron Man.’ They had existing characters and a loose flow to where they were going was already planned. Kevin Feige was already there and Disney just paid the bills. So I think the real issue is George Lucas and Kevin Feige make telling a large, coherent, connected story look easy. In reality, look at how WB/DC have struggled with their superheroes. Or how Universal can’t even get their Monster Universe off the ground. Even Blumhouse seems to have abandoned their idea to tie their Insidious Universe to their Sinister one, after ‘Sinister 2’ did so poorly at the box office. So I’m not sure Disney deserves the credit for the MCU. I think it’s more they saw the talent/potential and bankrolled the project.
As soon as I saw Luke’s Force ghost scene, I thought of you! After the joy of seeing a Luke who felt like the character we left in ROTJ I just kept thinking, “Why oh why couldn’t we have had an entire movie with THIS Luke training Rey??” Although, I did appreciate how they had Leia step in as her Jedi mentor.
I’m with you on Rey being too strong a character for how they handled her in the end. That’s partially why – and I KNOW I’m treading on dangerous ground here, given how this trilogy turned out – I’d kind of like to see Rey, Finn, and Poe in another film(s). I’d like to see them deal with a threat, something like the Yuuzahn Vong from the EU, that doesn’t tie to the Sith or the OT at all. I’d like to see what happens with them in the hands of a more coherent, connected story. Because I think the characters – especially Rey! – have so much potential.
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You bring up some good points about other franchises- its obviously not easy. I look forward to your post about it.
I’d be up for more Rey, Finn & Poe movies too- but years from now once they have a good story and the dust has settled.
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I just have to say I was also SUPER pumped about Leia. I know we talked about it a little while ago on your other post, but I was just so satisfied with how she was able to still be such a big part of such a big moment. Also- I completely agree about the kiss. After reading your article, and really thinking about their story together, I would have been MUCH more satisfied with a hug at that point in the movie. I think that the Rey/Finn relationship would have been more fun and a better focus than Reylo. But those things (and the glaring problems with the Force) I did actually mostly enjoy the movie. I see where you get frustrated about Palpatine, it actually doesnt make much sense at all, but I was still able to enjoy the movie (upon my first viewing) without it being a big deal for me, you know?
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Oh, I totally get that. And I grant it’s a far healthier approach than mine XD. I’ve laughed all through the Christmas/Star Wars season as I’ve seen family and friends and they all ask some version of, “What did you think of the new movie?? Did you love it?!?” and I offer some version of. “It’s complicated. I wrote like a seven page blog post on it but let me try to give you the bullet points…” But frustrations aside, it was fun. And I did appreciate it didn’t feel as heavy as TLJ did.
I wonder if we’ll ever learn – like in some behind the scenes book about the making of the Sequel Trilogy years from now – what the original plan was with Leia. I’d LOVE to read that! They did handle her well and treat her with respect in this movie which I loved. But I’d also like to know what the original story was to be, at least the rough sketch version I’m sure they had/have.
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As always, 100% agree with your commentary (only cause it’s Star Wars – Marvel, we’ve had our disagreements – Go Team Cap!! – LOL) now that I have seen it for the first time. I was sad when I left the theater because it didn’t captivate me like the original Star Wars movies. The stakes in this were, for me, too contrived and not realistic. I also agree that it was far better than the Last Jedi. The character arcs were awful and the whole “hey we can do whatever we want as force users” thing was preposterous. We never get the explanation of things nor do we re-visit other things. Like, what happened to the force sensitive kid in Last Jedi? They have left so many un-answered questions that it’s almost a given (depending on how much money this film brings in) that Disney will build new movies to pick up pieces or give more backstory we’ve missed. Though, I’m not sure, as you are, if I’ll ever go back to see a Disney version of Star Wars in the theater.
When it was announced JJ Abrams would be doing the sequels, I was genuinely excited. I loved what he did with the Star Trek reboot – though not many agree with my assessment. I thought Force Awakens was good and got excited for the rest. Rian destroyed the franchise for me. It was if he said “Hmm, how can I repeat Empire and make it more dark.” With any type of writing (fiction, screenwriting, etc), you need to keep a balance for the main character(s). The Last Jedi was too tragedy and left the main characters with no hope. At least with Empire, you had hope of things to get better.
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Hey Dan! Thanks for the comment! It’s fun to chat with you here, on the piece, as opposed to just on the Facebook post. Our online nerd-outs have taken their first steps into a larger world :).
Your point about it not “captivating” you like the Original Trilogy did is something I’ve been thinking about A LOT. The reason we have a Sequel Trilogy, hell, the reason Disney bought Lucasfilm from George Lucas for $4 billion is because the Original Trilogy captivated us all so much. The Original Trilogy spawned countless novels, comic books, role playing games, video games, a few cartoon series, and even the Prequel Trilogy itself. There have also been allllllll sorts of academic explorations of what Lucas did in his work as well. That all grew because the story George Lucas told captivated the hearts and minds of generations of fans.
Thinking about this point of “captivation” further, I wonder what the future will hold for the Sequel Trilogy. Will it seer itself on the hearts and minds of fans like the Original Trilogy did? Even the Prequels, I know they were divisive but they were an important part of my young adulthood and a big part of why I’m the huge Star Wars fan I am today. Will the Sequels have that effect? Will they even be remembered and talked about in five, ten, twenty years? In this age of major blockbusters and saga storytelling, will the Sequel Trilogy become more than just a footnote in the story of Star Wars? Can it? I don’t know…
You bring up really good points about the mystical Force. That hit the sweet spot when I became obsessed with star wars as a child and its been years since I’ve given it deeper thoughts and now I’m wondering if it’s Disney’s treatment of it as a superpower. That’s what it is on the surface but it’s so, so, so much more.
I really will have to watch it again to see if my tired feelings change. I know I did like it better than TLJ, for sure, but it was just way too rushed. And I actually disliked the beginning as I thought it was way too choppy! I thought it got its groove when they all left together for the festival. The snake scene reminded me too much of star wars rebels tbh and that annoyed me.
I totally agree about the healing and how ridiculous it was. There was a lot that was ridiculous but not as bad as TLJ’s Canto Bight fathier chase hahaha. However, that is some of my favorite music of John Williams so without Canto Bight there would be no track called Canto Bight sooooo… Everything happens for a reason? Ha!
The kiss… Omg it just reinforces for young girls that you should fall in love with people who are bad for you. Which is a huge problem in chick flicks and YA novels and now… Star wars. Boo. That was the only part I couldn’t stand about Reys character arc. I was very pleased with everything else, but that.
Anyway, looking forward to your post when you set the internet straight about Disney + marvel.
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The fact that there is so much more to the Force is the reason, or one of the biggest reasons at least, I continue to be such a huge Star Wars fan and to grow in my love of the films. There’s always more there to explore, to consider, to learn and grow from. I love that! The films I respect the most (with the exception of ‘Dumb and Dumber’ but we all have our inexplicable guilty pleasures (except I don’t even feel guilty for it because it’s hilarious)) are the ones that offer me more and more when I return to them, I wonder if Disney just chose to ignore that in their stories (I haven’t seen much done with the mystical reality of the Force in the Disney Canon novels, comics, or cartoons I’ve watched either) or if they are hiring people who don’t/can’t get it or would rather just ignore it all together.
I know it’s my own personal bias, but I’d rather they attempt to explore the mystical nature of the Force even if it becomes clunky and weird (like that EU novel where Luke finds the Star Destroyer “haunted” by a Force presence (‘Darksaber,’ I think)) than abandon it all together. I mean, I’d most prefer they hire writers and directors who understand what Lucas was doing and build on that in a way that’s consistent buuuuuuuut I think that ship’s sailed.
I was mostly pleased with Rey too. And God knows she deserved better after TLJ. One of the (many) problems I have with that film is how Rian Johnson chose to sideline Rey. After her brilliant battle with Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base, TLJ ends with a faux-battle between Luke and Kylo Ren while all Rey does is fire the quad cannons on the Falcon and lift some rocks? That’s always bothered me. So I really enjoyed her being in the center again here. And, whether in future movies or in novels or whatever, I’ll be interested to see what they do with her character from here on out.
I know you’re going to hate to hear this but… Dave Filoni knows a lot about the Force. A lot. He talked with Lucas about it and there’s an interesting recorded session in the bonus discs of TCW where Lucas goes into this great description of the dark side vs light side.
And on that note, if you really do love and want to explore the mystery of the Force, check out TCW. It’s got a lot of great episodes devoted to it which didn’t go too much into woowoo world like SWR did. It was more contained. And some of me really does believe that’s because Georgie was overseeing so much of it.
I think right now it might not be the right time to explore the Force for Disney because they are already tampering with it and when you go into the mystical, it’s a lot deeper and harder to undo in terms of “canon/continuity” which they love to talk about. It’s easier to make the Force a superpower and entice us with flashy things the Force can do than seriously think about it. I think Disney needs to take a chill pill and settle back with some tea before they can invest in anything seriously Force related as right now they are too busy churning.
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I’d agree with Disney needing to relax and take a few steps back before they do any more Star Wars stories – especially ones exploring the Force. I hope they reground and refocus themselves.
And I DO agree with you on Dave Filoni! At least sort of :). I think Filoni’s time with Lucas and his understanding of the source material is clear in a lot of his work. You can feel Lucas’ hand on the wheel, or at least his spirit in the house, with TCW. But I think where Filoni starts to struggle is when he’s completely on his own. I think he sort of buys into the hype around him as “Lucas’ heir apparent” but he doesn’t really have the overall vision/knowledge to do what Lucas did.
As you said, ‘Rebels’ gets into some really murky water with the Force. And if you look at Filoni’s track record, ‘The Clone Wars’ ran for five/six seasons. Then we had ‘Rebels’ which ran for four. Then ‘Resistance’ stopped after two. So he seems to sort of stumble and/or tag out sooner and sooner with each show.
That’s not to say he didn’t have a hand in telling some really great stories! I adore ‘The Clone Wars’! Hannah and I always teach at least two arcs from that show in our Star Wars class. And when I think of “real Star Wars” for me, it’s the OT, PT, the Expanded Universe novels, and TCW. It’s near and dear to my heart. But I never finished ‘Rebels’ and didn’t care to even try ‘Resistance.’
I think you’re right about Lucas overseeing it too. I never got the sense that Lucas was writing or directing everything. He certainly empowered other artists to tell the stories they wanted to. But he could always toss something out or tell them to do something if he wanted. And I think we see that, or rather the influence of that, in much of TCW.
Yes, there are a lot of pieces that don’t fit. I liked it, but yes, there was lots fan service. Lots to chew on,
I really enjoyed reading your post about this film. For me, there was so much in it that needs unpacking that it felt like two films squashed into one. I haven’t really processed it all yet. That said, I did thoroughly enjoy it. I feel the same as you though, about the Force and the lore that surrounds it. I needed more of that and for the new stuff to be properly woven into the original premise. I wonder if JJ simply didn’t have time to do that? I am really hoping that Marvel Comics and the Star Wars novelists will get into this and fill out the missing connections. Personally I think Matthew Stover would be able to do this brilliantly.
Now I’ve only seen “Rise of Skywalker” once but I think I’ve found a way to view the Ben / Rey healing thing which fits with previous lore on the Force.
I think it does take from a Force user when they heal, but if they are deep in the Force at the time and are aligned with the Light side then the spirits of previous Jedi can help (whereas previous Sith are less able because the Sith paradigm is not orientated towards healing) . In lore I see the previous Jedi simply as part of the Cosmic Force since they merged with it when they died. So when they work through a current Jedi it’s really just another way of saying that the Force is a Jedi’s ally. This is why Rey was able to heal Ben and remain alive whereas Ben had to give up his life to do it. He had only just returned to the light and wasn’t yet fully in touch with the light-side balanced Force so he could only give of himself. It also explains why Rey becomes a Skywalker – in healing her he gave her all of the strength and goodness of his own true Skywalker nature. His Jedi being flowed into her and she became Rey Skywalker.
Now this is not all sorted out in my head yet, it’s more like an understanding that is just beginning to germinate. I haven’t thought through all of the consequences of it yet so please take it with a pinch of salt! (For instance I haven’t thought through how previous dead Sith affect the Cosmic Force.)
(Also apologies for any spelling, grammatical errors – am in bed with a virus that was going around school at the end of last term so I’m typing this on my tablet with a window the size of a postage stamp to read what I’m writing!)
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Matthew Stover!!!! Oh my goodness, YES!!! I love, love, love, looooooove that you just referenced him! ‘Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor’ is one of my ALL TIME favorite Star Wars novels! It is a perfect example of how to balance what’s come before while adding a story that is simultaneously new and thematically and tonally connected to what exists. He GETS what George Lucas was doing and I would be completely down for any Star Wars story he’s writing. Ahhhhhhh, yes!!!
I can see what you’re doing with the Force healing and it makes sense. In that vein, I’ve thought too, the idea of the Jedi being able to heal with the Force certainly has theological implications. It’s an allusion to Jesus’ ability to heal as well as to all mystic healers across time and traditions. So there’s a lot they could’ve done with it…if they were developing (or even thinking about) the sacred reality of the Force beyond it just being a power. But I can also see a future Star Wars author, be it in a novel or a comic, coming along and trying to connect those threads in a more detailed way – not unlike what you’ve just done in your comment :). So I bet you’re right there too.
I hope you’re feeling better now too :/. Working with kids is so rewarding BUT the constant exposure to 8,000,000 different viruses can be trying. Take care of yourself and feel better.
Stover, Zahn and Luceno are my favourite Star Wars authors. I would love it if Disney brought any one of them in to plot the next trilogy, or even all three working in collaboration. I would chew my own arm off to see films written by them. 😁
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ABSOLUTELY!!! They’ve proven, over so many novels too, they can write within the Star Wars narrative – they understand that universe and the theology/philosophy behind it – while still creating something fresh and new. Forget Rian Johnson’s trilogy – I want these authors on board. I’ve also always liked Christie Golden and Kevin J. Anderson too.
Well it’s good you didn’t hate it at least! And I’m glad to hear it had some brilliant moments and hit you hard in the feels at times- that’s promising. But yeah, I’m hearing there are a lot of problems with it- so it doesn’t surprise me you had problems with the overall story. It’s a pity the force has been so butchered in this new trilogy- but I get what you mean. A lot of the powers seem to have no rules and (having seen some of the spoilers) make very little sense. I’m less bothered by Rey being Palpatine’s granddaughter (yeah I really don’t care about spoilers at this point, since I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it tbh) even if it is totally out of character- the thing that bugs me the most is that he came back at all (and thus made the sacrifices of the original trilogy null and void). Ridiculous to have the Reylo kiss as well. Really great review!
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Thank you – I’m glad you appreciated the review and I’m happy you can share my angst :).
Now I’m wondering now how the Rey Palpatine reveal would have worked it the Emperor stayed dead… That’s a very interesting prospect! Because you’re absolutely right – in having Palpatine survive it undercuts Anakin’s redemption and sacrifice as well as changing the fact that Anakin balanced the Force. Because if Palpatine survives, he didn’t! He, as a Sith, helped wipe our a Jedi order that had grown complacent and corrupted in their arrogance. And then he kills the Emperor and dies himself, ending the Sith line as both master and apprentice die. Thus, he leaves Luke, who’s thrown away his lightsaber in faith and love, to go on as a very different sort of Jedi in a balanced universe. Buuuuuuut if the Emperor survives that doesn’t work and it even negates Anakin as the Chosen One which is Star Wars sacrilege..
And I think you’re right…while the Rey-is-a-Palpatine thing REALLY bugs me, I don’t think it would have been as frustrated if the overall story didn’t undercut or disregard all of ROTJ.
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Yeah I don’t think I’d have had a huge problem with it if he wasn’t in the movie (although I wouldn’t have minded her being a nobody, if JJ hadn’t done his whole mystery box “who are the parents?” thing. Especially since I’ve seen someone pointing out that apart from the Skywalker line, there aren’t really jedi bloodlines… So I think not having her be anybody would’ve been a better story if TFA didn’t exist, but I needed something a bit more than *haha subverted your expectations by having there be no satisfying answer to any of the questions posed in the first film*) I completely get why it would bug you (cos I don’t think it’s a great outcome/story), but yeah, Palpatine surviving is both ridiculous and frustrating from a narrative perspective. It basically ruins all the other movies (with a not-very-good movie)
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I’d been hoping they were going to do a Hindu/avatar thing. In the PT and OT it was clear Anakin was the Chosen One and, in that, Lucas used a very Christian approach to salvation (splitting the Christological role of redeemer and savior between Luke and Anakin). While Jesus is unique in Christianity as an incarnation of God, in Hinduism the gods can incarnate whenever the situation calls for them. So I was hoping Rey would just be a “new” incarnation of the Force, as Anakin was, but called to face a new threat.
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Yes, I do get what you mean, because that was what I originally hoped for the trilogy. Sadly there was too much of an emphasis on nostalgia and linking it to the original trilogy (in a way that made it hugely unsatisfying )
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