Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and the Sequel Trilogy

Considering the last time I reviewed a Star Wars film, it ended up being as long as a thesis, I decided to take a different approach. This isn’t as much a review of The Rise of Skywalker as it is my thoughts on this sequel trilogy as a whole.

There are minor spoilers from The Rise of Skywalker included from the first five minutes of the film.

I’m a Star Wars lifer. Since I was very young up until now, I’ve been largely entrenched in the Star Wars universe. It’s not just that I had watched the movies 30+ times each, but I’ve read the books, comics, played the video games, bought the LEGO sets and so much more. Star Wars has meant something to me for a long time, but The Rise of Skywalker has caused me to take a step back.

Trying to figure out how to view The Rise of Skywalker has been difficult. Should I look at it as a film that can stand on its own two feet, as the closing of a three film arc or as the finale to 40+ years of the Skywalker Saga? Disney has been pushing the latter, a decision I feel was a mistake.

After seeing The Rise of Skywalker for the first time, I turned to my wife when the credits started rolling and said “That was a f#!king mess.” I’ve since seen it a second time, and admit that I felt less negative towards it, but the large issues are still there.

The main problem with The Rise of Skywalker, and how it fails as a closing to a trilogy or saga, is that there was no plan or road map for any of it.

J.J. Abrams largely came in with a re-telling of A New Hope, something that the fan base had mostly forgave because the new characters had a great footing to jump off of in the next two films, past characters such as Leia and Han were respected and done well and it re-invigorated Star Wars fans after many had felt disappointed with the prequels.

Questions were rampant after The Force Awakens. Who is Rey? Why is she so powerful with the force? Who is Snoke? Where did he come from? Why did Ben Solo turn? What’s Luke been doing on that island? It was fun to be a Star Wars fan in that moment.

The Last Jedi came two years later, and we all know what happened. Rian Johnson took over for J.J. Abrams and made the Star Wars movie that he wanted to make. New force powers were introduced, Luke is a hermit, we find out that Rey does not have a connected familial bloodline and more. Half of the fan base hated these developments on their own, but also as a sequel to The Force Awakens. It just seemed detached.

I loved The Last Jedi. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been entrenched in Star Wars for most of my life, living with lightsabers, the Skywalkers, the Jedi and the Sith for the duration. I’ve been ready for something new. The thought of Luke trying and failing to start a Jedi academy felt human to me. His astral projection, the connection between Kylo Ren and Rey, the elimination of Snoke in favor for Kylo Ren ascending to become Supreme Leader, all good for me. I was even more excited to see how they would continue these threads in The Rise of Skywalker. Turns out the way they continued it, was to largely pretend it just didn’t happen.

I was upset starting from the beginning of the crawl. The Dead Speak! Palpatine is back and his transmissions are all around the galaxy. Both Resistance and First Order are trying to figure out what’s going on. Within the first five minutes, Kylo Ren is face to face with Emperor Palpatine. Without going beat by beat through the first hour, it became apparent that J.J. was packing in his version of Episode VIII into the first hour of this film.

I can’t remember another crawl that required such a drastic narrative pill that the audience had to swallow. The way that Emperor Palpatine, the main antagonist of Episodes I – VI, who was ceremoniously destroyed by Darth Vader in the biggest emotional climax of the franchise, is given back to us, in an opening crawl and the first five minutes of the third film in a trilogy that gave no indication or remote mention of the possibility of his involvement. I couldn’t believe it.

After that realization, it didn’t feel like a Star Wars film, but rather a one off animated TV show where the villain of the week is brought forward for your protagonists to confront. The weight of watching the finale of the Skywalker Saga just sputtered away like a balloon not tied together properly.

I keep coming to the conclusion that there was no plan for this. Palpatine coming back seems like a reaction to Snoke no longer being around. Instead of doubling down on Supreme Leader Kylo Ren and making the complete focus on he and Rey’s relationship and his own arc (failing to become as powerful as Darth Vader), we get Palpatine who is now hailed as the string puller of the sequel trilogy who physically created Snoke and was presumably the voice of Darth Vader in Kylo Ren’s head. It’s sloppy and feels insulting.

As much as I love The Last Jedi, I would have preferred that J.J. Abrams directed all three films in the trilogy. If Palpatine was the end he saw, enough mystery was introduced into The Force Awakens and there was enough time to lay threads in Episode VIII for a return that made sense in Episode IX.

I want to talk about the balance. I thought that Luke’s feelings of the Jedi and Sith in The Last Jedi were spot on, and something I’ve been thinking about for years before. ‘Balance’ in the force does not mean that the good guys prevail over the bad guys. Balance should mean that the scales aren’t tipped in either direction. I thought in this regard, The Last Jedi even helped this point from Return of the Jedi.

Anakin kills the prevailing darkness in the galaxy, Emperor Palpatine, leaving Luke Skywalker as the remaining Jedi and no Sith. There wasn’t a balance here, the scales have tipped in the direction of the light. I felt that learning of Luke’s failure at his Jedi academy and subsequent detachment from the force was the real balance. Extreme darkness was destroyed, and extreme light had opted out. It wasn’t until Ben Solo’s turning and increased power in the darkness that led to Rey’s awakening as the opposing force. In a way, Anakin did bring balance to the force as prophecy indicated. Not anymore. Palpatine was never removed from the equation, which nulls Anakin’s fulfilled prophecy.

What’s more frustrating is how well the film is made given the sub-par story direction. The actors are all great, the set pieces are fun, the comedy a joy, cinematography fantastic and it’s overall entertaining. I could see myself enjoying this as a stand-alone film, just not as the closing to a trilogy of films, or the Skywalker Saga.

To close, I really didn’t hate The Rise of Skywalker. If anything, it made me highly dislike the way that Disney has approached Star Wars since taking over. It feels like they thought they could do whatever they wanted and money would be printed. It’s true to a degree, but the decreased positive reaction across all three of these films, and I’d imagine decreased profits, really should be the catalyst to a learning experience for them.

Maybe I’ll feel differently in the future, but seeing how poorly things were done with the story of The Rise of Skywalker, it makes me enjoy The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi a bit less. It’s time that I take a step back from Star Wars.

The reality is, I want Disney to re-group. I have a daughter coming in January, and one of the joys in life that I’ve thought a lot about, is how and when to introduce Star Wars to her. I want there to be Star Wars films for her and I to go to and bond over. I want her to be excited. I want her to be consumed in the story. I want her to have questions. I want her to feel, just as I did growing up with Star Wars. I want Star Wars to help her to believe there is something more out there… a long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away.

 

Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire Book Review

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron Book Review

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice Book Review

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