The Rise of Skywalker (spoilers within!)

The Rise of Skywalker

So folks, I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, last night. The finale to the nine-movie saga of the Skywalker series, there was a lot of hype for this film in the run up, and I was getting a bit concerned that it might not live up to that, when it came down to it.

The story of the film picks up around a year following the last movie. There have been reports of the return of Emperor Palpatine, and Kylo Ren has obtained a Sith wayfinder device that he uses to travel to the planet Exegol, and finds the weirdly reanimated Sith Lord, who reveals that the whole First Order has been part of his plan, and that he created Snoke as a puppet to lure Ren to the dark side. Palpatine has an entire Sith fleet in orbit around the planet, and he promises to turn over the whole of his Final Order to Ren in exchange for the death of Rey.

Poe, Finn and Chewie gain intel from a spy in the First Order that confirms Palpatine has returned, and return to the Resistance with the news. Rey has read of a device within the Jedi texts she had from Luke, which can lead to the lost Sith world of Exegol. Luke had traced such a device to Pasaana with the help of a mysterious contact, and so Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewie travel there to pick up the trail. There, they meet Lando Calrissian, who helps them escape a First Order patrol, but through their Force bond, Kylo Ren discovers Rey’s location and travels there to confront her. Poe and Finn discover a Sith dagger on the that C-3PO translates, although he is forbidden from speaking the words due to his programming. However, the First Order captures the Falcon, and Chewie with the dagger – while attempting to bring the prison transport back to the surface, Rey accidentally destroys the ship with Force lightning. The Resistance heroes escape on the ship left behind by Luke’s contact.

Poe suggests they travel to Kijimi, where they can get the text out of Threepio’s memory. Unfortunately, this will come at the cost of wiping his memory completely. They go through with it, and while there Rey senses Chewie is alive on the First Order ship in orbit, which arrived following the Knights of Ren having tracked them. While Kylo Ren travels to the surface to find Rey, the Resistance fighters travel to the ship with the help of an old contact of Poe’s, Zorii Bliss. While Finn and Poe rescue Chewie, Rey recovers the Sith dagger and receives a vision of Luke’s contact killing her parents with it. The First Order discovers Finn, Poe and Chewie, but they are aided by General Hux, who reveals himself as the spy. Kylo Ren reveals to Rey that she is the granddaughter of Palpatine, who had ordered her killed as a child as he feared her power. He asks her to join him, and together they can defeat Palpatine, but she escapes with Finn, Poe and Chewie. Hux is executed by Allegiant General Pryde, who speaks to his former master, the Emperor, and orders the destruction of Kijimi.

Threepio’s memory banks have given the location of the Sith wayfinder device as Kef Bir, a moon in the Endor system. There, Rey uses the dagger to discover the location of the device in the remains of the second Death Star, but upon finding it, she is confronted by Kylo Ren once more. The two duel, and at a critical moment Kylo feels Leia calling to him through the Force as she dies. Rey impales him on his own lightsaber, but then manages to heal him through the Force before fleeing the planet in his ship. She returns to Ahch-To, and attempts to exile herself, but the Force ghost of Luke encourages her to face Palpatine and her destiny, and she leaves in his old X-Wing and with Leia’s lightsaber, using the wayfinder from Kylo’s ship to travel to Exegol. Kylo Ren realizes the errors of his ways, and after a hallucination of his father Han Solo, he throws away his lightsaber. The Resistance tracks her through the call sign on Luke’s X-Wing and follows her there, to be confronted with the massed Sith fleet headed up by General Pryde.

Rey confronts Palpatine on the surface, and the Emperor demands that she kill him, to allow him to transfer his consciousness into her and live anew. While the Resistance fleet attempts to battle the full might of the Sith, aiming to knock out a navigation tower to prevent the fleet from leaving orbit, Ben arrives to aid her and is confronted by the Knights of Ren. Through their Force bond, Rey manages to give Ben her lightsaber and he defeats them all. He joins Rey to confront Palpatine, but he manages to drain their essence to empower himself back to full health. While he Force-pushes Ben away, Rey is galvanised by the combined strength of previous Jedi (including Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi-Wan) and, using both Leia’s and Luke’s lightsabers, deflects Palpatine’s Force lightning back at him, and defeats him.

The effort of doing so is too much and she seemingly dies, but Ben returns and manages to heal her through the Force. The two kiss, and Ben becomes one with the Force. As he does so, Leia’s body follows. When all seems lost, Lando arrives in-system with a massive, rag-tag fleet of reinforcements and they manage to destroy the Sith armada, finally eliminating the threat of the First Order. While the galaxy celebrates freedom once more, Rey travels to the Lars homestead on Tatooine, and buries both Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers in the sand, having now built her own. A passing local asks who she is, and she reveals her name as “Rey Skywalker”.

As I said at the start, I was prepared to feel let down by this film, after the sheer amount of hype that it had received. On my way out of the movie theatre, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, but we had a 2 hour car ride home after meeting up with some friends, and talking it through really helped me to think about that. After sleeping on it, I’m pretty much convinced that it is a satisfying conclusion, but only to the sequel trilogy.

Let me explain.

I grew up with the original trilogy, but was in high school when the prequels started coming out. So I hadn’t quite formed that sort of opinion about things, but rather I was just enjoying the fact that there were more Star Wars movies being made, and I was around this time to see them. I think the fact that their numerical order helped: having always had IV, V and VI, it felt right that we were finally getting I, II and III. When the sequel trilogy was announced, I think it just felt like, “Oh, Disney has just spent a lot of money acquiring this IP, and they want to start playing in that sandbox”. I have never felt like the sequel trilogy needed to be made, in the same way that making the prequel trilogy made some amount of sense.

These films were originally about Luke Skywalker – he is the hero whose journey we are on. Vader is the villain who, in one of the most shocking plot twists in movie history, turns out to be Luke’s father and is eventually redeemed, but I don’t think anybody thought that the movies were about Vader until George Lucas started to make the prequels, and told us that, actually, these movies are about Anakin Skywalker, his fall and eventual redemption by his son. It was an interesting way of looking at things, and I guess I was suckered into that because, since the early 2000s, it’s been really nice to have that six-part film series that tells the whole story of Anakin Skywalker.

Now, we have the sequel trilogy, and the main protagonist is the granddaughter of the Emperor, but we’re being told that these films continue the saga of the Skywalker family. I’ve got to say – no, they don’t. If Rey had turned out to be the hidden twin of Ben Solo, then maybe. But she’s not, so the only way that these films can logically be said to continue the Skywalker saga is insofar as they kill off the Big Three from the original trilogy, providing that sense of closure while passing the torch to the next generation. Suddenly, the nine-part film series is mostly about Anakin, but is more about… what? There is now a lack of focus if we’re to look at these as one long saga. There is no central protagonist, because Anakin/Vader only lives through two-thirds of the movies, just like Luke is only present for two-thirds of the movies.

To my mind, the sequel trilogy did not need to be made, as it blurs those boundaries of a family soap opera that Lucas had intended all along. In his own ideas for the sequel trilogy – a pretty fascinating topic that I want to save for another blog – we’d get the grandchildren of Anakin Skywalker, making each trilogy about him, his children, and then his grandchildren. As it stands, while Ben/Kylo Ren is certainly a grandchild of Anakin, he is most certainly put into the antagonist camp, and I don’t think anybody could really say the trilogy has been about him, in the way that it has quite blatantly focused instead on Rey.

However.

When viewed as a film that wraps up the most recent trilogy, this works really nicely. There is so much that can be said about The Last Jedi having ruined Star Wars – again, I think I want to talk about this more in another blog – but seeing The Rise of Skywalker now, and thinking about how it fits into the third act of the trilogy, it seems pretty clear that JJ Abrams should have been in the director’s chair for all three. Things that we had seen in The Force Awakens should have continued into The Last Jedi, meaning that The Rise of Skywalker could then have maybe paused a little to actually explore some of these things in greater depth. As it is, there is a lot of story crammed into that 142 minutes. A lot. The first half of the film deals with some pretty frenetic searches for maguffins, and I think some of that could perhaps have been dealt with better if it had been set up in The Last Jedi, rather than JJ having to set things up and then resolve them in the same movie.

I suppose that is nowhere more apparent than with the reveal of who Rey really is. This, I feel, should have been explored further in The Last Jedi – a lot of the first part of the film should, I think, have been in that movie, especially her use of Force lightning on Pasaana, before we finally learn of her heritage here. I think more explanation of how, in fact, she is related to Palpatine is needed, as well – I’m no prude, but I don’t think the Sith Lord is the sort to go sleeping around, and while Darth Plagueis does paint him as something of a dapper senator, we’re still at the theory stage right now. For my own theory, I think it will either be a case of Palpatine having used the Force to create life again, or else some form of cloning experiment. I just hope that we’ll get to see something of that explored further soon, because it’s one of those niggling plot points for a huge nerd like myself, who will obsess over it until the shaaks come home…

Something else that I’d like to mention is how impressed I was with Leia’s inclusion. Considering the pledge was made to use nothing but deleted scenes, she actually has a much more substantial role in the film than I’d been expecting. Just when I thought we might have seen the last of her, she turns up again for more! Sure, some clever use of stand-ins has been made, but it was really nicely done, and I think it forms a fitting end for her character, as she passes the baton to the last generation.

It’s a busy movie, but it does have the time for some really nice sequences. JJ’s love of practical effects and real sets comes through once more, and I absolutely love it for that. Much like what we’re seeing with The Mandalorian right now, it’s stuff like this that helps give the show or the film that veracity that allows you to immerse yourself in the universe.

There are some incredibly wonderful little details that we see throughout the movie, I felt myself again getting sucked into the world, and wanting to know more about, for example, the Emperor’s creepy robed minions, or the denizens of Kijimi, or the “Sith assassin” contact Luke had been working with, etc etc etc. It’s such a real, lived-in universe feel, which is exactly the same feeling that we get when we watch the cantina scene of A New Hope, or the Jabba’s Palace scenes of Return of the Jedi.

It was a pretty good ending to the sequel trilogy, and I don’t think it’s going to come under anywhere near as much fire as The Last Jedi has. I don’t think of it as being a conclusion to the entire Star Wars saga, though, but it functions perfectly well as the capstone to the new sequel trilogy.

And I just can’t wait to see where we go in the Star Wars universe next!