5 Thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker
“Tempered optimism” is the best way to describe how I felt about The Rise of Skywalker before I saw it.
As I posted last week, the act of seeing Star Wars on the big screen is always exciting; anything more than that is a bonus. As is usual with a new Star Wars film, after that midnight screening I took time to reflect on how I felt. I read the thoughts of other fans, quickly finding myself in the minority (the story of this trilogy for me) and worked through my own ideas.
This process didn’t only warm me up for the next viewing – it gave me space to recognise my genuine excitement about seeing the film again.
The trick is to go into it already knowing that these films are not “canon”, not in the true sense of the word, and to think of the “sequels” as a parallel universe spin-off (and yes, for those of you paying attention this has been apparent since The Force Awakens).
That second viewing was two nights ago. Now I’m confident enough to say that The Rise of Skywalker is nowhere near the level of quality of, say, Rogue One, or even The Force Awakens – but it is the best pure Star Wars film since Revenge of the Sith.
A bold statement, to be sure, but there are reasons. I mean, I have reasons.
Keep scrolling for reasons.
Re-Contextualisation is Not (Always) Bad
On first viewing, I found the re-contextualisation of what I “knew” about Star Wars to be jarring. The idea that all the Sith lived in Palpatine is new, as is the idea that all of the Jedi inhabited Rey. But the fact it conflicts the ideas I’d built up in my own head has nothing to do with the validity of the idea itself – and the concept works well enough for me to accept it.
This revelation gives the Sith rule of two, explained but not expanded upon in the Prequels, a more powerful meaning. It adds an extra dimension to Palpatine goading Luke to strike him down on the second Death Star.
It’s an inventive idea that, yes, changes the nature of the Force. But at least this time around Abrams has been bold enough to attempt adding to the mythos.
It’s a little more tenuous on the Jedi side of the coin, but there is still something of a line from Qui Gon Jinn learning to speak through the Force in Revenge of the Sith and Rey’s final victory.
It’s a different way of looking at the story we know… and that doesn’t mean that by definition it’s bad. On the second viewing, these ideas worked better, at least for me.
That said, Anakin’s status has become trickier.
It could be that Anakin’s part in the prophecy is to create a divergent bloodline, a Skywalker dynasty that restores balance to the Force before dying out. This makes Rey’s final choice of using the Skywalker name work – it’s to honour the family that cured the Force of her own malignant heritage.
Yet in this context Hayden Christensen’s line of dialogue about restoring balance to the Force “as [he] once did” implies that the balance is eternally vulnerable, rather than the stuff of prophecy.
I would like to know what Abrams’ intentions were with that line. At this point, it’s fair to consider that the rushed production and chaotic editing process for The Rise of Skywalker would always be as prone to oversights as it would moments of grace.
A shame, but then it applies to the Sequel Trilogy as a whole.
Palpatine’s return was a rushed and poorly thought-through choice. But that in itself doesn’t stand out in the larger story of Star Wars.
Return of the Jedi (well worth watching again as an objective comparison to The Rise of Skywalker) operates similarly by turning Luke and Leia into siblings at the halfway point. It’s a revelation that changes the dynamic of the entire saga and plays directly into Luke’s final battle with Vader, yet it comes out of nowhere.
Further, some fans believe that Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side is too rushed in Revenge of the Sith; a huge plot point of both the film and the entire saga (I don’t agree with this point because I believe there’s a lot more nuance in the prequels than people give George Lucas credit for, but that’s a different story).
These two examples alone show that there is precedent for rushed execution of major plot points in the Star Wars catalogue.
So, back to Palpatine’s return. While the execution is hardly flawless it is fun. Ian McDiarmid hams it up as the “one true Emperor”, with cringe dialogue to match. He does function better as the ghoulish spectre of the dark side he first appears to be, but then his final form is so fleeting it doesn’t really matter.
As a kid, I found my way into the original Expanded Universe via Dark Empire, the comic in which Palpatine returned for the first time thanks to his Dark Side abilities and vats of clones. It was a story I absolutely loved at the time and still regard fondly.
The Rise of Skywalker hits a lot of the same beats. In fact, it’s much the same as the way that the Marvel films hit a lot of the same beats as the original comics while still telling their own unique story.
In short, and I accept that I’m probably in the minority, but I don’t disagree with the fundamental idea of Palpatine coming back. Because of this, I can go along with the story that Abrams wanted to tell.
It Fixes Luke Skywalker
Rian Johnson’s hatchet job on Skywalker is, all things considered, probably the worst single contribution to the Star Wars film series. Yep, that’s including the Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks, midichlorians and Snoke. His fundamental misunderstanding of the character, and of the saga as a whole, was the trigger that sank both the Sequel Trilogy and Star Wars as an IP.
If Abrams was tasked with ‘fixing’ Luke Skywalker then he could not have done a better job with what he had to work with.
On first viewing, I sat there with a grin on my face from the moment Luke appeared. Second time around the entire sequence brought a tear to my eye.
From catching the lightsaber to his apology for his cowardice through to the reveal of Leia’s lightsaber and the all-too-brief flashback training scene, this was the Luke Skywalker we knew – and I loved it. That he then recreated my favourite moment in the entire Star Wars saga by lifting his X-Wing from the water was just the icing on the cake.
Is this fan service? Yes. Is that a bad thing? God no. Luke’s curtain call is the Luke Skywalker that so many of us wanted to see in a Sequel Trilogy.
Disney can take my money for that.
Abrams Should Have Done Them All
It’s debatable whether we would have seen this Luke Skywalker moment had Johnson not gotten chapter eight of a nine-part saga so very wrong, but we are where we are.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The lack of co-operation shown by The Last Jedi hampered what Abrams could do – and then he didn’t have long to do it in, either. In that respect, The Rise of Skywalker is a success.
Yet there are so many elements that suggest we could have had a much stronger story.
We know that Abrams did have an outline in mind for the Sequel Trilogy, as confirmed by both Daisy Ridley and Simon Pegg, and then by Abrams’ own roundabout admission that “Episode VIII didn’t really derail anything that we were thinking about“.
Yet the need to get that overall plot (as well as certain key characters) back on track leads to a breakneck pace of narrative expediency; albeit this time around Abrams actually has to explain and resolve things as well. It’s a combination that makes the film breathtaking and satisfying – but also makes it a lot to take in on one viewing.
More than anything, it makes me wish we had an Episode VIII worthy of the name.
I Want to Know More
As a kid, I often played out adventures of what happened after the Original Trilogy, from Luke as a Jedi to the return of Boba Fett (and even a redeemed Darth Vader, years before this existed). Both the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy generated ideas that I wanted to explore after the source narrative had closed.
A big compliment for The Rise of Skywalker is that I’m genuinely interested in the scenarios it leaves on the table.
I had hopes that the characters would be better treated by Abrams and he didn’t disappoint. The dynamic camaraderie between Rey, Finn and Poe works even if it is too little too late for the trilogy.
Finn has the most satisfying transformation through the film, becoming both a leader and Force-sensitive. It’s a strong payoff from where he starts in The Force Awakens and it’s something I wish we could have seen more of. Meanwhile, the new characters, such as Jannah, are genuinely interesting.
I want to see:
- Lando, Jannah and her squad tracing their families while learning more about the Force.
- Rey Skywalker forming a new way of the Jedi.
- Finn becoming a Jedi and working with Poe to form a (new) New Republic.
The Rise of Skywalker has left the characters in a place where I want to see or read more about them, and that’s the first time I’ve felt that about anything related to the Sequel Trilogy. It’s great to feel that way about Star Wars again.
Yes, I 100% get that Lucasfilm has simply replaced the status quo and characters that George Lucas left with their own new creations. That’s undeniably disrespectful to the characters and to Lucas.
However. Back in 2016, I called foul on The Force Awakens for disrespecting the lore, the characters and George Lucas himself. In doing so I was roundly marginalised by fans (and other, less honest, folk) on forums and social media.
From the moment that the Sequel Trilogy was announced we knew that Lucasfilm would re-open what is widely regarded as one of the best endings in Western pop culture. Criticising Abrams for attempting a similar conclusion is disingenuous – with the previous two films being what they were, what exactly did you expect him to do? And if you’re going to criticise The Force Awakens for what it set up remember that the majority of people – and statistically speaking that includes you – loved it when it was released.
It’s possible – and I’ve already seen it first-hand on forums – that the people attacking The Rise of Skywalker simply don’t understand Star Wars as well as they may like to think.
There are still nits to pick and bumps to navigate (lightspeed skipping, ion cannons used for destructive firepower rather than to disable electronics). Yet as with the prequels (R2’s rocket boosters, anyone?) it’s easier to overlook these trivial details when the overall sweep of the story works.
Disney’s addition to the saga is an example of wasted potential for the ages, and I have doubts that the franchise will ever be culturally vital again. Yet as a fan I’m just thrilled to finally get something from this era that works for me.
The Rise of Skywalker was long overdue.