Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"There's more plot in the opening crawl of this movie than most full length Star Wars movies"
--Slashfilm podcast review

I feel sick.

I went into this movie with a blank slate, aware of the negativity but skeptical that I would hate it. I mean, I LOVED The Force Awakens when I saw it in theaters. It was an incredible spectacle film, filled with heart and humor and Star Wars warmth. I was so excited that JJ Abrams might get a chance to do that a second time. Except, the movie lost me right from the beginning with the Chewie thing. I was so shocked and angry, I was just stunned with my mouth open. Then the fake-out happened, and I was even MORE bitter. And that's not even the meat of the movie! I mean where do I even start with that?? What the FUCK were they thinking with that Palpy twist?? And the kiss......... Ew ew ew!! There's so much WTF to unpack with this movie, and not in a fun mysterious way, just "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??" If there was ever a question of “Could Disney really ruin Star Wars?”… this movie is the answer.

But hey, I thought the first half was okay! The adventure stuff is fun, even though the plotting and story were nonsensical. It's goofy, it's gimmicky, it's a rollicking good time! Yall know I LOVED the wuxia King Hu mystical leaping and jumping and acrobatics everyone kept doing! That shit was SO FREAKING COOL! Give me a trilogy of THAT! Let's get some airborne lightsaber battles!

As always, Adam Driver is the greatest element of the movie, and the most-redeeming aspect of the entire trilogy, in my opinion. His performance in this movie is phenomenal. When Ben Solo's character turn happens, he composes himself differently, he stands differently, he holds his lightsaber differently--Adam Driver becomes a wholly new character. I'm tempted to compare the transformation to Christopher Reeve switching between Clark Kent and Superman, which is easily the highest praise I can give an actor in a dual-role performance. Adam Driver single-handedly elevates this movie into something almost worthwhile.

I was actually surprised how much banter Rey had with Poe. That was fun, but it was almost contentious. They were just a bit too rough, in my opinion. Also I think it’s interesting that Finn’s character has become a bit removed from his Han Solo impression from TFA. If I had to guess, in 8 and especially here in 9, I think Boyega has gradually been making the character’s personality his own. I think that's exciting, though I’m not sure how that plays for consistency.

Speaking of character growth, they didn't do anything with Rey and Kylo that The Last Jedi didn't already do better! I mean, after yesterday's watch I was starting to understand The Last Jedi differently, and I was starting to consider it more positively, but after TROS hell do I respect it. I am so thankful for The Last Jedi for being bold and new and unpredictable. I don't like everything it does nor always how it does it, especially reconstructing the rules of a 9-movie series during the 8th movie… But as a movie set in the Star Wars world, I love what it stands for and what it strives to achieve, and it succeeds at everything it sets out to do. The Last Jedi pushes Star Wars into new territory, carefully testing it without breaking it. TROS just breaks it.

There's some criticism that "TLJ put the whole story in a corner." I guess it did? But it also reset the table. You could go anywhere, do anything after the end of TLJ. You're back to the resistance vs first order status quo, but Rey is more powerful, Ren is more powerful and Luke and Snoke are gone. It's brimming with possibilities. JJ panicked because he didn't have a traditional Big Bad, but he didn't need one in the first place? The Knights of Ren were already set up, the First Order are already set up, and both are led by a bad guy who can't commit to being bad? Their Supreme Leader is a guy who hesitates before blowing up major Resistance hideouts because his mom is there! I mean if you're doing a redemption arc, the villains were already in place--just do a mutiny storyline or something, the Knights of Ren and the First Order against the flaky leadership of Kylo Ren. Start the movie there! There's so much you could do. Yet if JJ had done 8, I'm certain we'd have gotten an entire trilogy retreading the whole OT again, and then what's the point? JJ already gave us a remake of IV and TROS is pretty damn close to remaking VI. Is this honestly why we wanted a Sequel Trilogy, just to play safe within the status quo, to give us more of the same?

I think I appreciate even the Prequels more now, because they fit within the logic, character, and vision of Star Wars while also proposing exciting new ideas, even if not presented well. TROS does does none of that.

However, I don't really think this is totally rejecting TLJ like some people are saying. TROS does some surprising twists, but TLJ did that too after TFA. I think it uses what it likes and twists what it doesn't, using TLJ to its advantage, like by taking the Force Connections even further to where they're actively passing objects to serve the plot. Rey said she thought she was nobody. That's not definitive. Kylo is obviously manipulating her, which doesn't mean he knows anything either. Rian Johnson cleverly leaves it ambiguous and open for reinterpretation, even while supporting it with the movies theme that anyone can wield the Force.

And to that point, I kind of wish we had gotten a third director for 9, someone impartial who could synthesize the ideas of 7 and 8 with their own. JJ is so firm in giving us "classic" Star Wars that he leaves out all the boldness that defined the franchise in the first place. I think Force Awakens was a safe, fun, exciting way to reboot/resurrect Star Wars and it's great. But I think sticking that close to the OT could never have worked a second time, especially after Rian took the series in such a new direction.

7 and 8 are both really solid entries, and I think they play well together BECAUSE of how different they are. I think they can stand as a very interesting sequel duology without 9. The Last Jedi ends in a way that feels so classic, so timeless, it works to end the entire saga better than the TROS mess does. 9 could have been salvaged, but none of the new stuff gels at all.

7 says "Here's a story you've seen before, isn't it great?"
8 says "Here's a story you've never seen before, isn't it great?"
And the answer both times is YES.

9 says "Here's a story you've never wanted, isn't it great?"
And the answer is NO.

And despite being the 9th movie, a lot of what happens didn't feel earned to me, at all. We see a training sequence, we know it's been a year, but it still doesn't feel right that Rey is now possibly the most powerful Jedi we've ever seen? But that's only the tip of the iceberg: Everyone here seems like they're super good at what they're doing, it doesn't feel like there's any challenge or conflict. It’s been a whole trilogy and Rey feels like she hasn’t faced any consequences or paid any price or suffered any losses on her quest, she’s only gained power and further competence. Hell, what even is her quest? To find her parents? To beat Kylo Ren in a sword fight? From TFA and TROS, JJ has taught us that whatever the heroes do, the bad guys are apparently always going to come back with a BIGGER Death Star or an ARMADA of Death Star Star Destroyers, and then what's even the point? At this point, Star Wars has been reduced to a broken system of endless conflict. The whole universe and its present dangers don't deserve our emotional investment, because we already know the next danger is going to be infinitely greater. The villainy isn't emotional or psychological anymore, it's just gunpower. This movie positions the Star War as a stupid, endless struggle and it's just not interesting anymore. It fundamentally shallows the core conceit of the series' entire premise. Basically, this movie BROKE Star Wars.

At the same time, it throws so much STAR WARS imagery at your face, straight out of IV and VI especially. It should be exciting and cathartic, but it doesn't feel like Star Wars. The characters never get a moment to sit and breathe and live, there’s never a moment of quiet or peace or a reminder of even what they’re fighting for. There’s no romance, or genuine emotion, just quick adrenaline and thin fear. It's a terrible mix of plagiarism and fan fiction, seemingly legitimized by insanely high production values.

And I mean, I'm sure from a technical point of view it's probably well made right? Though I didn't notice a thing that stood out to me though, not from sets, props, art direction, whatever. I guess that 2-second Pasaana party scene was cool? But even the music felt less interesting, just playing with the themes from all the past movies. It was nice getting the Sidious music back, but The Force Awakens? The Last Jedi? Music fucking OWNS those movies. You could film any kind of shit and it'd make me cry with those scores and how well they're used. Here, the score felt like plain old wallpaper. It was disgusting.

It's so frustrating because Force Awakens is safe but it doesn't hurt. It's tons of fun and it sets the table in a neat way that you could do anything with. It's full of possibility and excitement, but this is literally the opposite in every way.

One of my kid students is planning to see TROS with his dad soon. He’s super excited, so at the end of our class today he was talking about his predictions. He thought Rey might be the daughter of Luke and Leia, before they knew they were related. And as hilariously repulsive as that is, I think it would have fit the timeline and story logic a lot more than the actual twist here. And yeah, just let that sit for a second.

There's almost the possibility that Palpatine could have lied about Rey's parentage, except Luke confirms it and he wouldn't manipulate her with a lie like that. Luke especially wouldn't support a lie by saying "Leia, who just died, knew it too."

And yeah, it's a weird ass twist and it seems buckwild and done for pure shock value or some lazy shit like that. But something interesting to think about: If we got Empire without Return, the reveal is such a wild, inexplicable twist that it would be madly controversial, and I bet people would instantly reject it too. But then the audience got 3 years between movie releases to debate and let it sit. And finally, in Return, we get a whole movie exploring the emotional repercussions of the reveal, and justifying it for the audience. So yeah ESB is obviously great, but I think it's only able to be so great because Return supports it.

TROS tries to do something similar but in an hour. There's no time or space to explore the emotions and make it genuine and authentic for Rey and the audience.

And just try to think about the story logic too. Palp being an actual father during the Prequels, at the exact same time he created force baby Anakin? It doesn't make sense! Did he have his own secret child? And what's the point of creating Anakin, if he had his own kid, who he could have stuffed with midi-chlorians and made his apprentice? And if the child refused to be the apprentice to his father, why would Palp let them live until adulthood? Why does he care so much about Rey but not his direct descendent?

The end of TROS undoes the arcs of both Anakin AND Luke, from beginning to end. Star Wars is now a saga about Palpatine just trying to get an apprentice, but getting fucked every single time.

Yet if the dude is fucking immortal and invincible and apparently omnipotent why does he even need an apprentice??? And what's the guarantee that he's actually gone now? He's just as 'dead' as he was before, right? Nothing new was resolved! This movie makes no fucking sense!

This movie retroactively makes all of Star Wars WORSE. I feel like it's twisting every movie that came before to fit this contrived ending. So I guess yeah it's a piss on the ideas of Rian Johnson... But more than anything, I think it's a piss on the ideas of George Lucas, an absolute rejection of everything his movies meant and everything his characters fought for.

I'd really have preferred it if Rey and Ren were lost siblings. I think they set it up a bunch in 7 and 8, intentionally or not. I understand the power of her being a Nobody. But for the patterns of Star Wars and the character dynamics we see in 7 and 8, I think it would have been a good fit. It would have been like Luke and Leia, but what if one went evil. (I think this was also pursued in the EU right? I might have to check that out)

Nothing from the backstory JJ hinted at in TFA really makes sense. Obi Wan's voice saying "Rey these are your first steps" set among a series of flashbacks and Yoda quotes from past movies, implying that Obi Wan said that in her past, which doesn't make sense now.

I was wondering why would anyone care to help Rey and train her to be so powerful if they knew her lineage, but I guess it's like Ben training Luke without telling him his father was evil. And then I realized it's the exact same, actually. This movie retcons Rey's entire story into being even closer to a retread of Luke's story in the OT. Heck, in RotJ Luke even plays with the dark side a little bit, like with the force choking. Here Rey has force lightning. JJ did absolutely nothing new with these movies.

The Last Jedi introduced a really poignant and peaceful way for force users to die by over exerting themselves with the force. Luke's death in that movie works thematically and structurally, even if I think it was timed and executed a little weak and unsatisfying. But that's totally preferable to what TROS does, doing the same trick with multiple characters without the same earned thematic resolution. For the OT trio specifically, I think they wanted to conclusively end their stories across this trilogy. I get that. But for some reason they thought that had to mean death, and somehow they wanted to do it safely without angering the fans. There's no ideal way for them to die in battle, but I feel Luke and Leia still had underwhelming death scenes. Of the three, Han had the best death, and even then it was stolen from Ben Kenobi. I remember back when I thought THAT was a good decision badly executed, though after TROS, TFA seems like the most refreshing movie ever, full of great decisions for a simple, fun, safe modern Star Wars adventure.

Most of the scenes with Leia didn't add anything or make any sense. In the /Film podcast convo they talked about how the intention was probably to do a whole arc with Leia redeeming her son, mirroring Luke redeeming his father. As derivative as it might sound, I would have actually liked to see that. It's really unfortunate that Leia is basically a video game NPC or an action figure with a voicebox, spouting out generic catchphrases and random useless wisdom. With the death of Carrie Fisher, I'm not sure what the best thing to do was. There's not a lot of material they could have worked with, but the screen time she does have feels pretty useless. In this movie she's more powerful as an idea than a person, and I guess that's good enough?

This is DEFINITELY a Chris Terrio movie. The dense, overcomplicated story, the lack of subtlety, and a couple iconic and bizarre beats are straight out of the most nonsensical parts of BvS. That Han scene was basically the inexplicable Jonathan Kent scene, and Kylo’s turn is basically the Martha moment. Palpatine telling Kylo to kill Rey, only for Kylo and Rey to team up against him is basically BvS. I respect the guy for doing an insane amount of research for each of his scripts, and I'm sure that works great for political thrillers, but the man can't write a decent fantasy movie to save his life. What the hell is he doing in this genre? To be fair, his idea was apparently that the trilogy could be "thesis, antithesis, synthesis." It sounds neat on paper but this movie doesn't even fit with The Force Awakens so I don't know what the hell he was talking about. Dude's just a lucky hack.

I personally feel really bad for Chris Terrio but it seems like the guys just not a good writer. I've been trying to read what I can about him for a while. The guy goes INSANE with research for his movies, which explains why he's so great for nonfiction like Argo. But I guess that density doesn't translate well to blockbuster action films? For both BvS and TROS, why did he write an overcomplicated, season's worth of story for a 2 hour movie? That's setting yourself up for failure man, just write a simpler story and make it the best you can. I mean, of course I respect his hustle, and of course I respect that he was reading every abandoned OT draft he could get his hands on and studying how they worked and why each cut was made in the final version. Terrio and JJ made an INSANE 121-page single-spaced document of every possible permutation of cool things to do in TROS, then created the script via natural selection of the best ideas. I think that's neat for fan service moments, and that's also what the Avengers guys do. But when you don't already have a prepared story outline, it doesn't sound great for building an organic story that flows. The Avengers guys outlined Endgame first, then wrote Infinity War to support it. They carefully built a cohesive whole first, then added fan service on top, whenever it fit organically. And I'm not saying they're perfect films but I think it's a relevant example of how to sensibly plan coherent franchise films AND please fans. Don't just make a hodgepodge series of cool moments!

The Force Connection scenes are very confusing and messy. In the Last Jedi, Rian Johnson did it beautifully, framing them like traditional conversations despite the characters being in different settings. They're expertly crafted, with careful detail in the blocking, visual style, self-referential dialogue, sound design, and more -- simply phenomenal sequences of filmmaking, even if you don’t like the movie. In contrast, in TROS it feels like we’re rapid cutting between two completely unrelated scenes that somehow become the same scene. It's AWFUL.

It's so dumb that in the last movie, Kylo said "Join me, forget the sides, we can rule together and forge a new path", then he becomes the Supreme Leader... And apparently does nothing with that position? This whole movie treats The Last Jedi that way, fundamentally misunderstanding the arcs and themes, paying tribute to the movie only superficially when it aids the plot.

Palpatine coming back is explained in III. Like I pointed out in my review from November, Sidious mocks Plagueis for dying. At the same time, he mentions that midi-chlorians can create life AND that the dark side can lead to unnatural abilities. Put those all together and Sidious seems very confident that he can use his power to avoid death, unlike Plagueis.

But if the Emperor make a galactic broadcast announcing that he was back, why did the Resistance needs spies to tell them that? This story is so stupid!

There's almost the possibility that Palpatine could have lied about Rey's parentage, except Luke confirms it and he wouldn't manipulate her with a lie like that. Luke especially wouldn't support a lie by saying "Leia knew it too" right after Leia died. I guess this is a call back to Yoda and Obi Wan being the audience confirmation that Vader wasn't lying? According to /Film, the original idea was that Rey had been force conceived by the Emperor like Anakin, though it's not explained in the movie. Also it is so shitty that Luke would keep something like this from Rey, despite being frustrated when Yoda and Obi Wan kept the truth about his father from him. It doesn't make story logic! It doesn't make character logic! It's bad!

Everyone kinda expected the Force Ghost line up.... But instead we get voice cameos? Feels a bit underwhelming. I think we got Yoda, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, Qui-Gon and a few others, but I really wish Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor had popped up as force ghosts in some way. Even old footage of Alec Guinness, just some visual callback to our favorite heroes of the past.

There are criticisms that Rose didn't have enough to do in this movie. I think it's fine, because side characters come and go between any franchise movies, especially between directors. For purely Asian representation, it would have been nice to see Rose have a significant role again in this one (especially since JJ's new side characters are pretty useless) but I don't think the movie needed more of her presence specifically to tell this story. Rewriting a movie because of racist internet trolls sounds like a dangerous slippery slope. She's a minor character with an arc that's been completed… it's fine.

Threepio's programming didn't let him translate the dagger. But wasn't he was programmed by a ten year old at the edge of the galaxy? Why would he have that kind of inhibition? I guess we could assume the Republic programmed a kind of censorship into him during the Prequels, though it still seems more like a contrived plot obstacle than something organic within the story.

Inexplicably, I think Artoo has even less to do in this movie than the last two, an achievement I thought impossible. What an absolute waste.

Undoing the arcs of TLJ is probably its most apparent when Kylo Ren puts his mask back on after seemingly being inspired by Palpatine. But the retcon is also reflected in Rey's appearance: In the Last Jedi, Rey's hairstyle evolves and she wears darker colors. In TROS she's right back to her TFA look, but now with a collar. White outfit, 3 buns in her hair, everything. She's right back where she started, and I think it's a bit of a disappointing way to waste the powerful potential of the character in costume design. Also Finn is wearing Poe's jacket again, but it's now a vest? It looks cool but makes no continuity sense? Unless…. Did Poe start his own clothing line?

The dagger was so stupid! And it lines up perfectly with the landscape, which can change with time?! What the heck?? That's not how you use Indiana Jones!

This movie leaves such a sour taste in my mouth. It really didn't need to! They didn't need to double down on such a bad twist! The ending is so weak and forced, it’s embarrassing to even think about. Just a terrible way to end this movie, never mind the trilogy or even Star Wars as a saga. I can’t believe this garbage is canon! YEESH.

Oh and if yall want some MORE bullshit…
Jannah really was Landos daughter but they just forgot to mention it in the movie!?

And another gut punch of something that could have been awesome: The planet from the opening is Mustafar, and Kylo Ren finds the Wayfinder in Vader's Castle. From the exterior planet shot I instantly thought it might be Mustafar and I got really excited right from the jump, but when I saw the forest I figured I had made a mistake... But nope! I was right! Except the movie simply forgot to tell us that AWESOME piece of information!? I get the neat development of having an iron forest 40 years later, but they could have thrown in some lava or other visual iconography so maybe we could actually RECOGNIZE one of the most impactful, iconic, emotionally powerful planets of the whole series??

I’ve only read through a few friend reviews, but I really agreed with a ton of fantastic criticisms in the reviews by Nolan O’Kane, Brandon Habes, Matt Polen, Michael Eternity, Zach Macias, Demi Adejuyigbe, Dirk H, and I wish I had thought of even half of their points myself. Give them a read! They're all much more concise than I was, haha.

When I was little I had my own story that if they'd make a sequel trilogy, Episode IX could end with them restarting human civilization in a peaceful galaxy far far away, without Sith, without Jedi, without Force. And they'd settle on an uninhabited planet and start a new world and it'd be the origin of our own Earth, from a long time ago. It's dumb! But I really think that would have been a much better resolution than this convoluted mess.

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