There was so much riding on The Rise of Skywalker. From picking up a lot of pieces left behind by the first two films in the new trilogy to trying to right some wrongs, and then addressing plot points that left unexplored in TLJ, Rise of Skywalker certainly had its work cut out for it. However, the biggest thing this movie needed to do was please the fans as a potential final send-off for the Skywalker arc (assuming that the movies in the future won’t be about Rey or the Skywalker legacy). But did it do that? Was it enough? No, and it never could have been.
From what we have heard in the industry, it sounded like there was never an outline for a trilogy to begin with. This meant that after JJ Abrams The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was at liberty to do pretty much anything he wanted as long as Disney and Lucasfilm approved it. This was perhaps the biggest issue with TLJ from a big-picture standpoint. Rian wanted to do something different, and it was clear that he wanted to make it his own. However, it always seemed to me that Johnson never fully understood that Star Wars was bigger than himself, and this left a massive tremor surging through the community and legions of fans that still feel it to this very day.
Because of all this, with JJ Abrams return, he needed to come back in, close all the gaps, address the plot points and plot holes, all while trying to make sure this felt like a Star Wars fan in addition to being the proper end to one of, if not the most beloved franchises in cinematic history. That is a lot to put on someone, especially when a lot of the focus ended up being spent on trying to justify some of Rian Johnson’s writing and directing choices.
When JJ Abrams was coming back to finish off the trilogy, he had to do so much to make sure fans felt they received proper closure on some of the more significant plot points that were set up in TFA but were then dismissed or ignored by Rian Johnson. However, we are here to review Rise of Skywalker, and if you care to explore my thoughts on some of the abandoned subplots of TLJ that were touched on in some way by Abrams in RoS, you can find that at the bottom of this review.
Note that a movie like this is something that I feel compelled to discuss the plot heavily, so there will be spoilers. I want to talk about it at great lengths in my own words to cover what I feel are significant moments in the film that end the era of such important films.
– SPOILER WARNING –
When reviewing The Rise of Skywalker, the most crucial thing to start with is The Last Jedi and where that film left us. This shouldn’t be the case, but unfortunately, it is, because Rise spent more than half of the film trying to course-correct the plot and deliver us home into an end that felt satisfactory. Not everyone thinks this way, but I personally find it extremely critical and necessary. So, once again, let’s talk about The Last Jedi so that we can lead into The Rise of Skywalker.
The Last Jedi had some brilliant moments, and easily some of the most stunning backdrops and cinematography in all of Star Wars, but that was simply not enough, and audiences felt that the abandonment of key elements in the story that were replaced with “nope, that isn’t important” and too much Rose Tico screen time were enough to score it exceptionally low. However, we need to be fair in pointing out that TLJ was allegedly review bombed by trolls to bring the overall score down. So, we can’t really say that 43% is an accurate score for the movie, and even though I personally did not like TLJ overall, I would score it higher for its successes. Regardless, there is a very clear stark difference between how audiences feel about TLJ and RoS when compared to critics reviewing the two.
If you look at the TLJ page for Rotten Tomatoes, it is very clear that most of the critics that positively reviewed TLJ all said some deviation of the same thing: “we liked that it was different but this will surely piss off Star Wars fans”. I personally was not under the impression that many of these reviewers were even Star Wars fans themselves, and since this movie was made for a very specific target audience (you know, the legions of Star Wars fans that exist), an objective review from non-Star Wars fans would enjoy what TLJ had to offer. But what fans didn’t like, is that it deviated away from what TFA setup and subverted expectations and delivered unsatisfactory results for what fans were hoping for. Because of this, that was something Abrams felt forced to rectify, and moviegoers saw it in nearly every scene.
I will start by saying that Rise is fun, exciting, and a delightful movie-going experience. It focused on nostalgia, a bit too much at times, and had some interesting plot direction. However, a lot of the plot seemed forced and overly complicated for no logical reason, with many of the complicated plots being solved or handled through pure luck or happenstance. Luck can exist, but when you rely so heavily on it just so you can avoid writing a better explanation of events or a solution, it tends to make people roll their eyes. Fortunately, there was a lot going on in Rise and I feel strongly that the good outweighed the bad, but that is clearly subjective.
As the plot moves forward, we see the first and only time Poe and Rey engage in conversation. They bicker back and forth like an old married couple or two hot-heads that are hot for one another but are too stubborn to admit it. This seemed weird because they didn’t engage in conversation much in the two previous films and while time had passed, we were not privy to any details of their relationship development except for this. It seemed petty and forced, which wasn’t a huge deal but it was a jarring way to start off the movie.
Elsewhere, Kylo Ren makes his way to Mustafar and slaughters a bunch of people to get his hands on a crystal that will direct him to the location of the Sith base where Palpatine is hiding. Apparently, there are only two of these crystal compasses in the galaxy, which really bothered me later in the film as this plot becomes more central to the climax of the movie.
Kylo embarks on his journey where it is very immediate that he encounters Palpatine who has allegedly been in hiding and plotting for the return of the Empire. This is where shit sort of started to go so fast that I couldn’t keep up with how rapid JJ Abrams fired off plot elements like a gatling gun.
- Snoke is a clone. He was made to lead the First Order.
- There is no further explanation, we are not told why this was necessary or what intentions this was meant to have, it just sort left the audience in a state of confusion.
- The First Order was a front for Palpatine’s real agenda, the Final Order, a legion of star destroyers with the weaponry of the Death Star.
- Like, okay. Why, though? Why create the First Order and then blow up all that military manpower and technology, when the First Order was meant to carry out the original Empire’s directives? Why not just absorb them into your military arsenal? Why create them in the first place just for the purpose of wiping them out?
- Rey is not who we think she is. Kylo can take over the Final Order after the First Order is slaughtered to make room for it.
- This was intriguing at first, but later the plot doesn’t make sense of this moment.
- Kylo wants to kill Palpatine because he poses a threat to his leadership, but Palpatine just wants Rey dead.
- Again, intriguing but later doesn’t make sense.
There is a bunch of callbacks and nostalgia and fun exciting elements filled with humor and beautiful scenery and force ghosts that help Rey along her path of self-discovery. This is about as far as Rey gets to having character development.
Speaking at great lengths with those that accompanied me to my Star Wars viewing, we all agreed that Rey never really had any growth as a character. At least none that we saw on-screen. Her Jedi Training is briefly shown to let us know that she is working on it, and that is about it. Her motivations are confusing at times because you don’t really see her making her own choices. And this isn’t something only Rise is guilty of- all three films did this. Stuff just happens to her and she reacts to it, usually by closing her eyes and asking the force for guidance. She never really seems to be independent, and instead relies so heavily on others to make her decisions for her, that it is really hard to relate to her at times. Most times, even. Daisy Ridley is a fantastic actress, and she crushed every scene that called for an intense emotional response. But the character is so one-dimensional, that you never really connect with her as you do with Luke or Anakin.
Eventually, Rey and company discover a clue as to find the whereabouts as to Palpatine’s location. They discover that Luke knew about it, never said anything (presumably because he was too busy feeling sorry for himself on an island drinking alien boob milk), which put the entire galaxy at risk. This too was never fully explained. However, we are told that Luke had clues to which Rey figures out, follows, and eventually discovers for herself by being in the wrong place at the right time.
Rey, Finn, Chewie, and Poe all embark on a journey to a desert planet that is holding a Burning Man celebration, where they encounter a sort of quicksand that they sink into. Just walking through the desert, they start sinking, and it leads them to a tunnel where they land next to a vehicle and a skeleton once belonged to a friend and ally of Luke’s. There, they find a mysterious Sith dagger with details and a map on how to find the second crystal compass that will then lead them to Palpatine. See how convoluted this sounds? And why a dagger?
After a brief encounter with Kylo, Chewie is kidnapped (and then saved) and the crew makes their way to the remains of the Death Star that landed on a nearby moon of Endor after the end of Return of the Jedi. It is there that they just so happen to be standing in exactly the right place, pulling out a metal piece from the cross guard of the dagger, that lines up perfectly with the debris of the Death Star and pinpoints the exact location to the compass. Talk about good luck.
Rey goes it alone where she finds the compass, is surprise attacked by Kylo Ren where the two fight in an epic duel of lightsabers. It is at this time that Leia reaches out to Kylo one last time with the last of her life energy in the hopes to bring him back to the light. As she passes away, Kylo drops his guard and Rey impales him through the gut.
As Kylo lay dying, Rey uses her force abilities to heal Kylo before she escapes with his tie fighter. Kylo stands up, rethinking all of his decisions and is met by the memory of Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford. Han tells Kylo that it is time to come home and return to the light, which stood out to me as one of the most powerful moments in all of Star Wars history.
With the light returning, Kylo turns to the nearby open sea and tosses his red lightsaber away, denouncing the Dark Side and returning to the light to aid his fellow friend and Jedi, Rey.
These scenes lead to be among some of the most impactful throughout the movie. Finally seeing Kylo become Ben once more was beautiful and brilliant, all while providing a proper goodbye to the late Carrie Fisher. Ben embarks on a brief journey for redemption throughout the rest of the movie, and it really made a difference. As Kylo, he is always angry and calculating, but as Ben Solo his entire demeanor changed. He takes no precaution, and jumps right in to help his allies without hesitation and hurts himself multiple times in order to do what is right. Great development for Ben from start to finish.
As for Rey, the revelation that she is related to Palpatine had no impact on her story at all. It held no significance, didn’t change or alter her course as a Jedi, and she didn’t show any signs of connection to Palpatine at all. She was the same throughout and never faltered. She never showed any signs of straying away from her path on the light, and she was constantly motivated by fear and direction from outside influences. She never made any decisions on her own, aside from deciding to do what everyone else told her. This is exacerbated by the final confrontation and its many rushed plot elements as well.
When Rey and the rest of the resistance make their way to the final stand against the Emperor, she is faced with a decision that didn’t really feel like had choices. Palpatine says that he killed his son and his son’s wife because they refused to give up Rey’s location, and likely because they chose to be nobody. Palpatine’s true motivations were not to kill Rey, even though he told Kylo to do it and every action from Palpatine and The First Order prove otherwise, but instead, he wanted to be killed by her so his Sith essence and spirit would be absorbed into her and fuse together as one. Because apparently the Sith all live on by being killed by each other which is a kind of cool way of creating an immortal Sith god, I guess. But like, why risk it by having all of your troops try and kill your heir so often?
Despite the stupid dagger thing, the dumb reveal that Palpatine is her grandfather, some of the shots in these final climactic moments were really powerful shot and looked beautiful. Ben comes to save the day, but not before he confronts his old Ren pals and defeats them all with a lightsaber and force powers- something that would have been infinitely cooler if the Knights had sabers and force powers as well. But they didn’t. Instead, they had staves and axes and no force powers, which made them super easy to beat and kind of a staller for Ben more than anything else. They didn’t even talk to each other, which I feel would have been critical since they are pretty much a platoon of war buddies who, we thought were all students of Luke once, but maybe that wasn’t actually the case.
Ben and Rey both use lightsabers to face on Palpatine, who heals himself by sucking the life force out of them and puts up a fight. Ben is knocked out of sight, seemingly killed, while Rey talks on Palpatine herself while an entire legion of black-cloaked Palpatine sympathizers watch idly by in the arena they all seem to be battling in.
These moments should have been key in a way that really helped us feel Rey’s struggle with coming to terms with who she is. No family, no real identity that she could understand, and at the center of this great war is her and the emperor, who happens to be related to her. But she didn’t hesitate in taking him down. There was no moment of hesitation, no moment of should I do this to my only blood relative? and no suggestion that she didn’t need him. She just killed him off and that was that. And then died in the process.
The more I think about this moment, I try to unpack everything that could be going through her mind. Which I shouldn’t have to do. The movie needed to show us that so we could feel what she is feeling. We needed something, anything at all to finally see her grow as a character and not just act on the events around her based on what others told her she needed to do. But maybe it really needed to be that simple? Just kill him because he is bad.
When Luke is confronted with Vader, he does not kill him. He saves him because he feels the good in him and because he loves him. Vader, by all accounts, was an awful person. But Luke still felt for him and Luke knew he could be saved, so he did not go through with the kill. Would Luke have killed the emperor if given the chance? Sure he would, and he tried. But Vader stood in the way.
When Rey is confronted with Palpatine and Kylo, the relationships there are all very different. Kyo Ren never felt like Vader did to Luke or that Darth Maul felt to Obi-Wan or Dooku felt to Anakin. Kylo was saved and he came to help. But ultimately it was Rey and her grandad, someone that was pure evil, and that never cared about her as a person or a relative. He wanted to use her as a vessel, and we have to assume that Rey sensed all of this and knew she had to kill him because it was the only choice to make. There was no taking the high ground and saving Palpatine because he could not be saved. He was who he was because he wanted to be, not because he felt he didn’t have a choice like Vader.
It just would have been nice to see this translated more for the audience rather than making us think about it. Not because we don’t want to think, but because there was no way of telling if this was the intention all along when it was written this way, and because we as fans care enough to try and connect the dots that Abrams may not have done himself. We never got any real growth from Rey, and it would have been nice to get that in the end.
Then Ben appears alive and barely hanging on, to where he transfers his energy to Rey to save her. They share a brief moment together where we, once again, are left to assume that they reflect on their undeniably close bond as their journey was over. They share a kiss, and Ben smiles and fades away to be one with the force.
This moment is something that I feel needs to be addressed as the audience felt very divided at this moment. But here is the thing- the kiss was not romantic in the way that you think. It was a brief moment of relief that their journey was over and that at the very end, they came out on top and that the good guys one. Rey had given Ben his life, a second chance to be good, and Ben returned the favor by giving up his life for hers. How would anyone on the planet not kiss under these circumstances? They were never in love, they were simply connected and that was what this kiss meant. An end to their connection. A goodbye under such extreme circumstances that could only be responded to with a farewell kiss.
As the movie came to an end to the empire, the orders, and all that bad stuff once and for all, Rey made her way to the home of Luke Skywalker on Tatooine where she buries both Luke and Leia’s lightsabers before igniting her own with a yellow glow signifying that she will continue on the legacy of the Skywalkers by adopting the name as her own and becoming a moisture farmer.
I know that there was a lot that I addressed that I didn’t like, but I think this was necessary since those are the moments that people remember and talk about for generations to come. But overall, I loved the movie. It felt like a Star Wars film to me by keeping the spirit of things and by focusing on important characters. Sure, it wasn’t done exactly how I would have done it if I was a big-time Holywood director, and there would be changes that I would make. But I am happy with what I got and unhappy with what I didn’t.
I loved the humor and the callbacks. The action was intense and the cinematography was impressive. The characters felt real in their motivations (aside from Rey) and their emotions and that served enough to keep the story afloat even though some of the plots were borderline stupid (like, there are only two compasses that show you where the emperor is and someone thought to scribe directions on a dagger and build in a map to the crossguard of the dagger yet there were literally millions of ‘Final Order’ military officers, soldiers, and Sith supporters on all those ships? You’re telling me it was easier to do all those goose-chasing rather than shake someone down for directions?).
The movie had heart and it overdid it with the nostalgia and middle fingers to TLJ, but it was fun and exciting and it left me with my mouth agape in surprise and there was so much to keep me entertained. I was not bored like I was with TLJ, and I loved the feeling after leaving the theater even though I felt like there were silly plotlines and details that were not explained as well as I hoped. Yet, I just felt satisfied somehow. And while I may not be able to speak for everyone, nor may I be in the majority, I would rather be someone who enjoyed the end than be angry about it for years to come.
There is a lot that Abrams did to set up the remainder of the trilogy with the foundation he laid out in TFA, but it has all but been confirmed that there was never a completed layout for a story that spanned across three films with the intention of getting us to a conclusion. It was written off-the-cuff, independently by each director who took over with their installment. Abrams did TLJ, set some fun stuff up, Johnson took over, wanted to do his own thing, pissed a lot of people off with some of his direction and writing decisions, then Abrams came back to sort of untangle everything that happened in those two films in an attempt to close them out with a bit of sense and magic that Star Wars is known for. Here is how some of those elements were handled that were either fitting or obnoxious with how the story ended up by the time the credits rolled with RoS.
A quick re-summary of why I didn’t Like The Last Jedi:
- Phasma was killed too quickly
- Snoke was never explored
- The Knights of Ren were never explored
- Rey’s lineage was annoyingly lip-served with a couple of sentences and then ignored for the rest of the movie.
- The Rose storyline was forced, unnecessary, and focused too much on a character that had no interesting or intriguing attributes or traits. Rose was boring. She had no personality other than being overwhelmingly naive and had no quirks or demonstrated skills that would have made her seem strong to drive her own plot.
The Rose Plot
Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran, was a character that I had issues with. And despite how the media wants to frame it up to suggest fans hated her because she was female, Asian, or both, the reasoning was far more simple. She was uninteresting. Rose was a character who felt like a sidekick to a sidekick and demonstrated absolutely nothing to make me feel for her or care about what she was doing. She had no unique skills, no fun quirks, no sense of humor, and was nothing more than a naive girl in the resistance who does her job just well enough to play security guard to a bunch of storage boxes and escape pods all by her lonesome while everyone everywhere else is doing something far more exciting. She was important to the plot because the plot involved her, and she had a lot of screen-time in the movie but her whole story arc was boring, uninteresting, and her character did nothing but distract us from the action and tensions of the other plots to the film that I cared way more about to see.
Kelly Marie Tran is a fine actor, and after multiple viewings, I can honestly say I have no problem with her or her performance. My problem lies solely with Rian Johnson and the Rose character that he created for the sake of keeping Finn busy and separating him from Poe because allegedly, Disney didn’t like the idea that the internet wanted the two to be in a relationship. No telling if that is true, but regardless, Rose’s screen time was far too generous when we had next to no reason to care about her at all.
So what does Abrams do in Rise of Skywalker? He introduces her to audiences for just a quick moment where the crew asks if Rose is coming along on their adventure, to which she replies she is staying behind. And the audience around me cheered. This could have been much better in TLJ and RoS if they just made her quirky or interesting and had her become a part of the crew. She is apparently an engineer, and you can’t have too many of those aboard the Falcon, a ship that breaks down every movie. But apparently she was written off as so insignificant, she only had a minute of screen time at best in Rise.
Snoke & Phasma
It always bothered me how Snoke and Phasma had this air of mystery about them but were both then killed off with no further explanation of their history, which would have been exciting for many reasons. Snoke was this dark, larger-than-life figure that trained Kylo. That partnership needed to be looked into and explored further to understand how they met, what their training was like, and how they developed the First Order.
Equally frustrating was Phasma, played by the impressive Gwendolyn Christie, an equally imposing figure and the first female stormtrooper that we have seen within all of the Star Wars films. Her shining chrome armor and her role in troop leadership all made for major intrigue that too, was never properly explored nor did it receive closure when she was quickly killed. And while her death was not as frustrating as Snokes by a significant margin, she was never mentioned of again, unlike Snoke whose origins were lip-served in Rise of Skywalker.
I was very angry at how Snoke was treated in TLJ. I didn’t mind that he died, I just didn’t feel as though the audience was given proper closure on what the guy was all about. He was just bad, hated Luke, and lead the First Order, in addition to being a force user. These were all interesting points that didn’t get touched on. Even his appearance was unique in a way that it felt that it served a purpose like maybe he and Luke fought before and he was left horribly disfigured as a result. But that turns out not to be the case.
If you have seen Rise of Skywalker, you would have obviously noticed that Abrams made a movie that felt like one giant middle finger to Johnson and The Last Jedi. It felt like everything Johnson did was undone in an attempt for Abrams to please fans that were irritated by it. And while I can only speak for myself, I was trying hard to forget about Snoke and move on when JJ decided to address him real quick and reveal that he was a literal puppet made by Emperor Palpatine. That’s right, Snoke was revealed to be a clone, when we get a quick glimpse of a bunch of vats filled with failed Snoke clones. But that’s all Abrams gave us. And it left me more frustrated than ever with that subplot with far more questions than I thought before.
- Why did Palpatine make Snoke clones and what were their purpose?
- Why did Palpatine make so many?
- Why did Snoke ever need to exist in the first place when Palpatine could have just revealed he was alive from the beginning?
- Was this how Abrams envisioned Snoke when he was introduced in the TFA and was this the origins he was always meant to have?
- Why address Snoke at all if you are just going to half-ass it and rush through it so quickly that it felt like even more of a disservice to the fans?
Snoke was set up in TFA to be an interesting and looming dark threat that hung over the resistance. He was killed and tossed aside in TLJ, and mentioned for five seconds with an absurd lip-served origin that did nothing but make things worse for how this character was viewed and it explained absolutely nothing. It was forced and I didn’t like that one bit.
Knights of Ren
The Knights of Ren were a group of dark force users that were not technically Sith, but sympathizers who followed Kylo Ren after he left Luke’s teachings to join the dark side. Now, we were lead to believe, at least I always thought, that the Knights were other students that left with Kylo to use their force teachings for the dark side as well, but we never got that closure.
The Knights were ignored in TLJ, but Rise gave them some screen time and some action sequences as well. However, what Abrams made up for by having them fight in Rise, he failed to deliver any story regarding who they were or what truly motivated them. In fact, they didn’t even get a single line of dialogue, which felt like it would’ve done well considering their fight against Kylo Ren, their leader.
We may not have gotten what we wanted with the Knights, but we got something. The creative choice to not give them dialogue or any other attributes, like using the force- we thought that was their whole schtick in the first place but instead, they just used bladed weapons to fight Ben Solo and got stomped since he had a lightsaber and force powers to throw them around like rag dolls. I was hoping that Ben and the Knights would hesitate for a moment to unpack their relationship now that they were on opposite sides, but it didn’t happen. Would these scenes have been better if they did? I think so. But it didn’t happen and I just have to accept it.
Abrams used TFA as a jumping-off point by copying the theme and general plot elements of A New Hope and then teed the subplots up to explore the more interesting aspects of The Force Awakens. Among them was Rey’s parents and lineage, something that would be left up to the next director to explore in TLJ. Rian Johnson came in, ignored it completely because he didn’t care about that and moved on immediately not giving it any further exploration or plot consideration.
JJ knew that his return to Star Wars meant that he had to play clean-up, and with that meant that he needed to close the chapter’s in storylines he setup for Rian, so that meant giving the fans what the wanted- Rey’s tie to a powerful force user. Unfortunately, revealing that Palpatine was Rey’s grandfather did nothing to the plot. If anything, it was so forced in on us that it was almost insulting. If you saw the movie, consider removing this reveal entirely. The movie would have played out the exact same way and Rey and Palpatine’s relationship and dynamic would have also been the same. There were no moments of hesitation between either. Palpatine never treated Rey like a grandaughter and Rey never treated Palpatine like a member of her family. It was just something that was said out loud and that was it. No character actions changed or reflected this revelation.
In The Last Jedi, it was clear that Rian Johnson wanted to make sure that there were no unique attributes or history behind Rey’s origins or family members. If there were, Luke, Leia, and Kylo Ren would have acted on it, because they all clearly knew about it. Why Kylo allowed this information to go on unexplored and left Palpatine out there planning for multiple movies is beyond me. Why Luke and Leia chose not to divulge this information (that Palpatine was alive) to the resistance is something that will ever confuse me. This was a fan service moment that was frustrating and nothing else. And I love fan service, and I enjoyed most of it in Rise of Skywalker and there was a lot of it but this was not handled in a respectful way.
The Last Jedi needed to handle the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobody in a better way. Let Rey and the audience down easy with it and help us all understand that your lineage is not what makes you unique nor what gives you force powers. We know it know, we may have known it then, but TLJ did not respect this as it was a glossed over moment that sort of came across like “this is how it is, deal with it” rather than saying it with a tone that acknowledged, aligned, and understood audience expectations and let us all down easy while giving us proper closure on that subplot. Then The Rise of Skywalker didn’t need to include a paternal connection between Rey and Palp.