Four years ago, I sat next to my father as we watched a new Star Wars film, the first in ten years. I grew up watching the films, and they have been so ingrained in my life as the daughter of an OG fan (Yes, Dad, we know you stood in line for six hours in 1977!) that I do not even remember the first time I saw the original trilogy (it is likely that my first word was an impression of a Wookiee roar). Tonight, I sat next to my father again as we watched what may very well be the last new Star Wars film that we will see together, and, to be quite honest, I don’t know how I feel about it.
I have done my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, however, some plot points are integral to my response to the film. All potential spoiler will be tagged with **. Ye be warned.
In the two years since The Last Jedi hit theaters, the Star Wars fandom has been bitterly divided over it (at best), and downright hostile about it (at worst). You either loved it, or you hated it, and there are very few passionate SW fans who fall in between. To my mind, TLJ took Star Wars somewhere it had never been before, and set up for an absolutely epic conclusion to a story we have loved for 42 years. Did The Rise of Skywalker give the fans the explosive adventure they were looking for while keeping true to what the story stands for?
I’m not so sure. Maybe? This film is a lot to take in, and kind of makes Avengers: Endgame feel like a narratively cohesive masterpiece. The simplest summary of the plot that I can give is this: **the dead are not so dead, and Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is once again out to terrorize the galaxy. Kylo Ren/Ben Solo/The-Biggest-Disappointment-To-His-Parents (Adam Driver) finds a map to the Sith planet, where Palpatine promises him that he will rule the galaxy, but only if he kills Rey (Daisy Ridley) to prevent her becoming a Jedi. Rey has been training under the supervision of General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher, who received top billing for this film), but sets out on a quest with
space husbandsFinn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) to find Palpatine first, and stop him from destroying the galaxy with his new fleet of Super Star Destroyers that have, you know, Death Star weapons.
For all that its plot is sometimes over-reached and occasionally ridiculous, the film does deliver on the promise of the traditional Star Wars action-packed adventure. We see the Millennium Falcon in action nearly every other scene, and while Stormtroopers still don’t seem to be able to hit the broad side of anything, Rey, Finn, Poe, and Chewie are the Rebel kick-asses that we love to watch onscreen. It’s a fun film to watch, especially with my dad sitting next to me, yelling “She should have slapped him!” at the screen during an extremely crucial and emotionally fraught moment between Kylo and Rey.
Truly it is the chemistry between the characters that really shines in this film. Finn and Poe’s banter is something I’ll never tire of, and every scene with Kylo and Rey had my heart in my throat. It may be bold of me to say, but Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley completely stole the film from everyone else, and how could they not? Their onscreen chemistry is nearly palpable, and when they’re painted in hues of light and dark, blue and red, it’s hard not to notice how strongly these opposites have attracted. The technical aspects of the film emphasize this connection, with everything from the lighting to the music to the costuming exhibiting that Rey and Kylo are connected. This connection or, Force Bond if you will, is by far the most interesting aspect of the newest SW film.
**While some fans may be disappointed that Rey’s parentage was essentially retconned from what we were told in The Last Jedi, I choose to think of it as an intentional commentary on overcoming one’s familial heritage; much like how Luke and Leia had to come to terms with the fact they they were Darth Vader’s children, Rey must come to terms with her Dark Side, just as Kylo must either embrace or destroy the Light. Greatness is not predetermined by genetics, and sometimes, when your family is full of rage-y Sith Lords, you set off on your own and choose your own family.
**Other characters, however, feel side-lined while the Trio (Rey, Finn, and Poe) take the majority of the action (and credit). Some characters are written out too soon, others too late, and Leia Organa–who was a Senator at 18, a Rebellion leader at 19, an organizer of the New Republic and a Resistance General–is written out with the most feeble explanation since Han Solo tried to talk his way out of the detention level on the Death Star. (It would have, perhaps, been kinder to omit some characters entirely than include them as some sort contrived fan service.)
As the film neared its end, I found myself searching for what was missing in the script. The pieces were all there: space dogfight (CHECK), lightsaber battle (CHECK CHECK CHECK), witty banter (CHECK), C-3P0 annoying all the other characters (CHECK). On paper, The Rise of Skywalker has everything it needs to be a successful Star Wars film, except one.
Although unused-footage was able to bring Carrie Fisher onscreen one last time, Leia’s commanding presence was sometimes weakened by the awkward editing that had to be done to make those scenes fit in the film. Leia was always the person to push the other characters into helping the Rebellion, and though Poe tries to give a rousing speech to the troops before they head into battle, he’s no Leia, and he knows it. Two years ago, in my review of The Last Jedi, I wrote that Leia was the heart of Star Wars. I still find that to be true today, perhaps even more so knowing that Carrie Fisher was one of the most sought-after script doctors, and she was rumored to have worked on the dialogue of every single Star Wars movie she was a part of (and some she wasn’t).
For all that I enjoyed the film, however, when it ended and the credits began to roll, I didn’t know how to feel about it. I had no overwhelming sense of…anything. With the end of the Return of the Jedi, I felt victorious. The end of Revenge of the Sith was bittersweet, and both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi had my heart so full of emotions (good and bad) that I struggled to find the words to review them afterward. There is the nostalgia of The Force Awakens in this film, sure, and there is also plenty of Force ghosts to remind us of all the stories that came before, but still I felt nothing. Shouldn’t I be sad that the Star Wars that I grew up with is now over?
Perhaps it is Leia that is missing piece from The Rise of Skywalker, and perhaps we should do as Kylo Ren suggests and let old things fade away, or perhaps the franchise has become Palpatine and long outlived its time. Perhaps Star Wars has expended all its life force in exchange for big box office numbers. Perhaps it is right that the Skywalker saga is over.
Or, perhaps, one day, 42 years from now, I’ll be sitting with my grandchildren and saying, “Did I ever tell you that my dad and I saw Episode IX on opening night?” after which they’ll probably roll their eyes and say, “Yes, Grandma, we know.“
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now playing in U.S. cinemas.