Since 1977, before I was born, this story has been building to a climax. While Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi both serve as capstones for each trilogy; Rise of Skywalker serves as the culmination of the Skywalker saga. In order to serve as a proper end to the story, many plot lines necessitate closure in a short two and a half hour movie production. You may be wondering if J. J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were successful in accomplishing this and also in pleasing the Star Wars fan base, one that can be, let’s say opinionated. If you are so inclined, read on for my full review. But beware, Jedi.
Full Spoilers lie ahead.
The Last Jedi
After the credits rolled on the Last Jedi, we were left with many questions. Who are Rey’s parents? Does Kylo know them and if so, is he being truthful? Supreme Leader Snoke had been usurped by Kylo Ren. Who was controlling Snoke? Leia has force powers. How? Why? Will Rey turn to the Dark side? Will Kylo turn to the Light side? Will Luke return as a Force Ghost? Lastly, one of the last scenes we are left with from The Last Jedi is that the spark of hope that is the Resistance will literally fit onboard the Millennium Falcon. This leaves us with the question of scale. How will the Resistance manage to overcome the First Order?
The Crawl And The Reveal
The Rise of Skywalker manages to answer all of these questions. This movie is action-packed and you will not want to miss any of it. Do everything you can to not have to leave the theater. Even the crawl starting the movie is unusually revealing with Palpatine present from the start. The Dark Lord of the Sith has sent out a communications blast to the galaxy vowing revenge on the Resistance for the death of Snoke. I must admit that I was not expecting Palpatine to being present in the crawl much less so early in the movie. I did watch the teaser trailer that featured Ian McDiarmid’s villainous laugh but that was the only trailer that I viewed. I have to question how this experience came for fans who went in blind. In my opinion, I would have preferred to have this information withheld from the crawl and be experienced in the movie itself. We are limited with the time we have with post Return of the Jedi Palpatine. I would have enjoyed seeing him react to Snoke’s death and the setback it caused him.
This also applies to our heroes. I would have liked to see our heroes react to the fact that the Emperor lives. A whole war was fought to bring this Empire down. Life was lost. Friends died. Planets were ruined or destroyed by the Empire. I say all this to express the fact that I felt robbed that the arch-nemesis existence was revealed off-screen.
Palpatine Leaves his Calling Card
Kylo’s story begins with him seeking a Sith device called a Wayfinder. This device leads Kylo Ren to Palpatine and the legendary Sith planet Exogol.
Exogol lies far outside the Outer Rim in the treacherous Unkown Regions. The only way to find Exogol is to obtain and use one of the two Sith Wayfinders. Kylo Ren has a battle scene where he successfully cuts down defenders of the first Wayfinder. He then takes what looks to be a modified TIE Fighter to Exogol to confront Palpatine.
Kylo intends to eliminate Palpatine but the puppetmaster explains that he has hidden away a massive fleet of ships which are old star destroyers left over from the Empire that has been reconfigured with Death Star lasers. These ships were hoarded to the Sith planet as Palpatine’s final order to be carried out upon his death. Palpatine explains to Kylo that this massive armada will be turned over to the Supreme Leader if he will bring him, Rey, alive and use the fleet to further the Sith agenda.
These scenes are phenomenal. The film does a great job conveying the futility that is present in the Resistance rebelling against the onslaught of the First Order. The visuals are stunning showing a sky lit up with lightning and columns of Star Destroyer that does not seem to end. The film does not explain if either the First Order or Palpatine’s Sith Eternal operates the ships. I was in question as to if the deal made between Palpatine and Kylo included the Sith Eternal or not.
As these scenes are ending, I could not help but conclude that each one of these warships will need to be destroyed. Not even one of these ships could be allowed to terrorize the galaxy. It was a thought that was compelling to continue to invest time in the movie. How are they going to pull this off? I will admit there was a little apprehension towards the overall plot of the movie. Did they really need to put Death Star lasers on every ship? The presence of a fleet that large is a large enough threat. The addition of the superweapons seemed like overkill.
Leia is a Force User
The movie moves on to show Rey’s training under the supervision on Leia. I loved this notion as we learn later in the movie that Leia did undergo training with Luke sometime after the Battle of Endor. We see Leia and Luke sparring. Leia has a vision that moves her to discontinue her training fearing Ben will come under threat should she continue on this path to become a Jedi.
As we know, Ben ultimately did die a figurative death and now lives as Kylo Ren. I assume that we will see Leia regret not completing her training at some point in the expanded universe. I have always wanted to see a force-wielding Leia. I really appreciate what the Last Jedi and the Rise of Skywalker have done for Leia’s character. I hope these stories are further explored in future Star Wars endeavors.
Imagery and Nostalgia
One of my favorite Star Wars Legends stories is the Dark Empire comic series. If you haven’t read them, I encourage you to do so and look for the similarities between the Dark Empire events and Ep. IX. In this adventure Palpatine is reborn. His spirit survived the Death Star and he was reborn in his secret cloning facility. The Empire that was once reeling from their defeat at Endor is now surging buy capturing systems and rebuilding its strength. Luke eventually confronts the Emperor but in this encounter he falls to the temptation of the Dark side. Ultimately, it falls to Leia to confront and turn Luke. Before she can do so Palpatine communicates his plan to pass his spirit to Leia’s unborn third child, Anakin. Luke eventually turns and Leia and Luke face down the Sith Lord together. Below is a prophecy from a holocron that Leia intercepts in the graphic novel.
“A brother and sister born to walk the sky
But reckless brother falls into dark side’s eye
Jedi sister carries hope for future in her womb
Only SHE can save the Skywalker’s from certain doom
A Jedi-Killer wants to tame her
Now the Dark Side lord comes to claim her
She must battle join against this thief
Or the dynasty of all the Jedi come to grief”
Clearly, you can see that Luke is not the hero of the story. Neither is Kylo Ren the hero of The Rise of Skywalker. Rey is and always has been our protagonist. That brings us the question of Rey’s lineage.
The Skywalker Bloodline
Fans have had many theories as to who Rey’s parents are. I enjoyed the way The Rise of Skywalker answers this question. The reveal also harkens back to the start of the movie where Sidious warns Kylo that Rey is more than she seems to be. From the start of the movie, we know that we are going to receive an answer about Rey’s lineage. Most of us were not inclined to believe that Rey’s parents were scavengers who sold her for money. Although, we have been teased with Rey’s lineage since the Force Awakens.
With Kylo being knowledgeable about Rey before we are; I did not feel like the reveal was overly surprising. In The Empire Strikes Back we have an impressive lightsaber battle along with the tension of Vader just cutting off his son’s hand and the loss of the Anakin/Luke saber. We had no idea that Vader was Anakin Skywalker. The audience had not been teased with the lineage question. It is hard to capture lightning in a bottle a second time. I enjoy the fact that Rey now has to deal with the fact that her lineage directly ties her to Palpatine and struggles with the notion of destiny and her place in the galaxy.
Ultimately, I just wish the reveal had the level of suspense that occurred in Empire Strikes Back. I also wish the movie went into more detail about Palpatine’s son. Obviously, there is not much time for this. Anytime spent here detracts from the time of our heroes. Still, I would have like to have known if the son was force sensitive. Was he a good or evil character? Did he know his father as Sidious or as Palpatine?
Rey has been struggling with her emotions and rage since the Last Jedi. That becomes apparent when she strikes Luke with her staff while he has his back to her. Rey’s inner turmoil is explored in the Rise of Skywalker as she goes through periods where she performs deeds of good and then there are borderline dark side actions.
For example, we have Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, and C-3PO embark on the quest of finding the Sith Wayfinder. During their quest there is a chase scene on another desert planet except this one has sinking sand fields. Our heroes are searching for Ochi, a Sith loyalist who had been searching for the second Wayfinder. Luke had been tracking down Ochi, but the trail had gone cold when he found his ship abandoned near these sinking sand fields.
Our heroes discover Ochi dead in a cave near an old speeder. He did not have the Wayfinder but he did have a Sith dagger that contained an inscription that would lead them to Endor and the ruins of the second Death Star. In order to escape this cave Rey had to confront a huge injured snake. Rey climbs into its coils, slowly. She then uses the force and her life energy to heal the snake’s wound. The snake repays her by leaving, revealing a burrow out of the cave.
Soon afterward we are presented with a scene where Rey’s struggle with the dark side is manifested. Chewbacca had gone out to get Rey. The rest of the crew has readied Ochi’s old ship for departure. Rey is about to face down Kylo, who is inbound in his TIE. Unfortunately, Chewie is captured by the First Order troopers and loaded on a transport. As the transport takes off, Rey and Kylo begin a tug of war using the Force over the ship. Rey becomes angered and lightning shoots out from her hand and destroys the ship. This is the most powerful moment in the movie for me. It was completely unexpected. Daisy Ridley’s acting is phenomenal here and in the scenes that follow where she is distraught over what she thinks she did to Chewie.
We have all wondered about the Dark Rey images from the trailer and floating around the internet. This scene is reminiscent of the cave on Dagobah was Luke faces Dark Luke. We see Rey face the dark version of herself on the second Death Star. She wields a double-bladed lightsaber and a dark hood. She is told that she should not be afraid of her power and ascend the throne as the Sith Empress.
The Death of Kylo Ren
After Kylo reveals the lineage of Rey, a lightsaber battle between the two kicks off amidst the ruins of the battle station. The two fight and leap around and on submerged sections of the old wreck. This stands out against the Mustafar setting of Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The lava symbolized the death of Anakin and the rise of Vader. Here, the water symbolizes life. The life of Ben Solo. As the two are fighting, Leia reaches out in the Force as the last act with her life force to her son calling him by Ben. Kylo senses his mother weakening and at this moment is distracted and Rey lands the killing blow into his abdomen. He is fading fast and Rey, conflicted, reaches out and heals him in a similar way to how she did the snake. She then leaves him abandoned and commandeers his TIE fighter, which has the only remaining Wayfinder.
Kylo is then confronted in his mind by Han Solo. I refuse to believe this a force ghost. Also, Harrison Ford is presented without the shimmer or apparition of a ghost. Han was not a force wielder. That does not eliminate the possibility of a vision of Han by Kylo in his mind. Han begs his son to turn to form the dark side calling him by Ben and reminding him that his mother will always be with him. Kylo throws his lightsaber into the ocean and the scene ends.
I absolutely loved this whole section of the movie, from Carrie Fisher’s character’s send off to the showdown between Rey and Kylo, to the imagery of the Death Star and the thematic elements from Return of the Jedi, to Harrison Ford’s cameo, and Chewbacca’s reaction to Leia’s death. Chewie even finally receives his medal! In my opinion, the movie could have ended here and the second half of the story could have been told in another installment, 9.5 perhaps or Ep. X. That would have been quite the surprise for the fan base! The Internet would burn down and I would never be allowed near another Star Wars story.
The Return To Ach To
In all seriousness, it really feels like the climax of the movie is in these moments and leading through Rey’s retreat to Ach To. Rey does not immediately realize that the Wayfinder is hooked up to the TIE she has just stolen. She goes into hiding, briefly, on Ach To. This is the same place Luke Skywalker lived out his final days. She burns the tie and is seen throwing wood on to the fire in a passionate rage. She feels fear and failure. She does not want to confront her grandfather. She fears she is destined for evil so she goes into hiding. She is about to throw her lightsaber into the fire. Actually, she does throw it but Luke, as a force ghost, catches the saber and proceeds to bring some hope to Rey.
Skywalker Knew Rey’s Lineage
Luke explains to her that he failed her by not training her better. He failed her and he failed Ben at the moment he thought to kill him in his sleep. He walks her through the reasoning that she needs. Rey fears that she can never return to the Resistance or her friends lest she is judged as a Palpatine. Luke explains to her that Leia already knew that she was a Palpatine but had seen the good in her. I really like this revelation as it fits with Leia’s character. Who else would be better equipped to deliver this grace and mercy than the daughter of Vader? My only question is how did Luke and Leia know that she was a Palpatine? There was no indication that Luke had any idea who she was when she arrived on Ach To. He had certainly begun to suspect something. If he did somehow put the pieces together then how did Leia find out? The scene serves to provide closure to the relationship of Master and Apprentice but it somehow leaves us with more questions.
A T65 X-Wing And Exogol
Rey goes on to lead the Resistance to Exogol by broadcasting her location from Luke’s starfighter. She arrives and confronts Darth Sidious. He explains to her that he is the embodiment of all the Sith. He desires that she should strike him down and take his place. Then all the Sith will live on inside of her. This is a new concept for Star Wars. There has always been the rule of two for the Sith, a master and an apprentice. It always seemed that the apprentice overthrew the master for the greed of power. This mechanic is interesting because they would have assumed the power their master possessed.
In the Clone Wars, Yoda confronts the ghost of Darth Bane. He describes that he is an illusion that cannot be killed when Bane tempts him with his power. The apparition then dissolves in angst. It seemed at this point that Bane was willing to pass on this power and corruption from beyond the grave. Should not his power be encapsulated in Palpatine, at this time? Maybe Bane is falsely tempting Yoda to strike in anger. I conclude that he would not have gained this Sith summation of power. A dark side wielding Yoda would have been a force all its own.
Rey and Sidious
Rey resists the temptation to strike down the Emperor in hate. She has stalled long enough for Ben Solo to arrive but he is blocked by the Knights of Ren. He is weaponless. Rey had obtained Leia’s lightsaber from luke so she now possesses two. In another scene, of force-time, Rey transfers Luke’s saber to Kylo and a brief lightsaber battle occurs. Kylo easily dispatches the knights and he and Rey face down the Emperor.
The Emperor explains that the two share a great bond in the force, a Dyad that has not been see in generations. This too is a new mechanic. There have been bonds in the force such as Luke’s and Leia’s bond to each other and their ability to sense each other’s presence. The Dyad is used to create the power necessary for the events about to occur. It allows the two to accomplish tasks that they would not have been able to do alone. Sidious seizes the opportunity to take advantage of this power and uses a Life Steal, to rejuvenate himself and reassume his role. He no longer needs life support and throws Ben into a pit. Rey is knocked unconscious.
The Force is Unleashed
Sidious uses an epic demonstration of Force Lightning to disable the Resistance fleet that has answered the call and been lead to the battle by Lando. We even see Wedge Antilles in the gunner seat of the Millennium Falcon. This was a huge treat for me! I have really wanted to see some Rogue Squadron spin-offs in either era.
I have to question some of these powerful demonstrations of the force in use. At what point is power creep a cause for concern? I realize that in each sequel we have seen an exponential use of force powers. In the original trilogy, we only had things like the Jedi mind trick, lightsaber throws, and force ghosts. These were built upon in the prequels with Yoda’s epic use of the force in Attack of the Clones. Still, these powers seemed to be mostly defensive or a slightly more powerful use of powers that already existed in the universe. Some of the force powers that are displayed in the RoS are so over the top that they harken back to a video game called the Force Unleashed. This game explored force powers unshackled from the movies and an alternate storyline that took inspiration from some of Lucas’s early notes on the story line. We even see a whole star destroyer pulled out of orbit in this game.
If each trilogy goes for extreme displays of power prioritized over story than I feel that the success of the movies will be negated. Also, the next trilogy would continue to make powerful Jedi like Yoda and Sith like Vader seem less powerful and less impactful. I do not mean to say that the films should be limited to the powers used in the original trilogy. I do think that there is a large part of the fan base that appreciates the more practical effects and the intimacy that is introduced in a lightsaber battle versus a lightning storm.
Light Side Versus Dark Side
Rey begins to come around and calls upon the Jedi of old to aid her. This leads to the voices of so many fallen Jedi to lend her support. Some of these are Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jin, Ashoka Tanno, and many others. It was a great way to show that the dark side and the light side were equal parts in a cosmic battle for good and evil. It was a great way to tie the sagas together in conclusion. Rey arises and pushes Palpatine to confront her, freeing up the disabled ships.
In a similar way to how Mace Windu disables Sidious in the Senate chamber, Rey redirects Sidious’s rage and electricity back onto himself causing him to be burned away. Rey drops to the ground lifeless. She has used up all of her energy. Shortly after, Ben Solo emerges from the pit. He runs to Rey and holds her. He seems exhausted and stressed. He meditates and then it becomes apparent that he is passing his life force to her. He heals Rey in the same way that she did for him. Rey regains consciousness and realizes that Ben has gifted her life. They kiss briefly as Ben is fading. He then collapses and becomes one with the Force. As all this is happening as the Sith fleet is being destroyed and falling to the ground.
The shots in this sequence are visually stunning. Having the Duel of Fates return was an epic idea. The shot of the Millenium Falcon leading the charge and coming to the rescue of Poe and the rest of our heroes is spectacular. There are so many ships packed into one shot. It really is a remarkable sequence of events but it seemed so fantastical. It was kind of hard to take it all in because the pace is so fast going back and forth between Poe, Rey, Kylo, and Finn. Finn leads the ground forces against the capital starship and is responsible for taking down the navigation array that cripples the fleet. I believe that he gets the least amount of time between the aerial battle and the confrontation of Palpatine.
The Sith Are No More
The scenes that follow are a celebration of the saga in that they are very reminiscent of the celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi. However, in my opinion, these scenes did not capture the spirit of the end of Return of the Jedi. The music and the imagery at the end of that episode are phenomenal. Also, it has been supplemented with the new material that Lucas made. Rise of Skywalker did not devote as much time in this area and it felt rushed. I still enjoyed seeing the Wicket Endor scene and the Bespin scene, and Jaku all of which featured a star destroyer being taken down by the new uprisings.
Lastly, Rey returns to Tatooine and visits the Beru farm to ceremoniously bury Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers in the sand. We have a recreation of the Luke shot staring at the twin suns and Luke and Leia both appear as force ghosts smiling at her. In my opinion, this was a missed opportunity to visually see some of the voices that we heard earlier. I would have loved to see Luke and Leia appear as they did with an entourage of force ghosts to follow shortly after. Who knows? Disney may even add this later. The current Return of the Jedi force ghost scene has been updated from its original.
Meditate On This, I Will
The credits rolled and I had enjoyed the movie but I also wanted more. Why two hours and thirty minutes? I really feel like a solid three-hour movie would have been nice to spend time with our characters and tie up some loose ends. For the most part, all of our big questions from prior were answered. Star Wars does as it does and leaves us with more questions.
I believe that they do this intentionally and in some cases unintentionally. Most fans know that the direction of this movie has not been consistent in the trilogy. We had Abrams for VII, then Johnson for VIII, and Abrams again for IX. So there is a sense of discontinuity at least for now. Some fans are sectioning off in Abrams vs. Johnson camps. They defend their maker’s movies with vehement passion. I refuse to go there. I have loved every Star Wars movie in its own way, even the prequels. For some reason though, I find myself with less patience for the number of questions that we are left with.
Always In Motion, Is the Force
Let me go back to intentionality versus un-intentionality when the fans are left with questions after a Star Wars movie. We have always been left with questions after a Star Wars movie. This is the end of the Skywalker Saga. It is not the end of Star Wars. Also, Star Wars is a business that makes billions in merchandise, video games, books, and television. For every question that we have now there is an opportunity for additional storytelling and with that for more money to be made to further the brand.
Also, these questions are opportunities for discussion. When I arrived in the office on Monday several grown-ass men were standing around geeking out over the movie and discussing cameos, Easter eggs, and bouncing questions off each other as we explored our questions. This is exactly what we were doing at the end of Return of the Jedi too. I remember as a kid playing with another girl and she wanted to role play Leia and Han post-ROTJ. They were married exploring the galaxy together. We were not of the age that we were reading the books to know that. We were just imagining the continuation of the story.
Star Wars intentionally leave us with these questions to pique our interest until the next big star fall occurs. For now, that seems to be the Disney Plus shows but there is sure to be an Episode X. There will be revelations through the television series. By the way, if you aren’t current on the Mandalorian then you are in for a few shockers there as well. Some of the questions we have may also be due to time allotment for the production of the movie and maybe even the reshoots and logistics that occurred with the movie after Carrie Fisher passed.
Reshoots And The Loss Of Carrie Fisher
I have no doubt that Carrie Fisher would have played a bigger part in her son’s return to the light. However, I think the way that it was handled was beautiful. It does leave us to wonder how it could have occurred in the original writing. Would Leia confront Kylo in person? Maybe Leia would have been the one to heal her son. I doubt that she would have engaged him in a lightsaber battle the way she engages Palpatine in Dark Forces. Perhaps she would have been there after his fight with Rey to deliver a speech similar to Harrison Ford’s. I do feel that she would have a larger role. She and Rey are, in my opinion, the largest heroes of this story. I have no doubt that Carrie Fisher would have had some more screen time.
My overall impression of the Rise of Skywalker is that it is huge but it could have been just a bit longer. Many of the questions that fans are walking away from the movie with are being answered through interviews with J. J. Abrams or in the visual dictionary for the movie. I am doing the SMH emote here. If we can all watch three hours of hobbits walking around New Zealand then give me a three hour Star Wars adventure. I think we can handle it. We should have had confirmation that Finn is force sensitive in the movie, especially if we are going to be teased with this at multiple points.
Next, I do not know if I just missed the reference in the movie to Mustafar but apparently, the first Sith Wayfinder is recovered from there and had belonged to Vader. That makes sense but why was this not explained in the movie? The planet could have been identified easily enough with text on the screen similar to how Rogue One does this. The reason the planet looks different is a group of Vader worshippers has taken over his old palace and planted a forest around it. All of this is described in the visual dictionary.
Small Roles in Star Wars
I love the movie in the way that it presents us with our heroes in their final battle with evil and the First Order. After all, that is what we are here for right? I would critique the movie for the addition of some of the newest characters. I am a sucker for new characters. Boba Fett is one of my favorites and he hardly speaks and he is killed off quickly. The same goes for Phasma. I love seeing all the new aliens and new planets. However, we were so short on time for this movie that maybe, just maybe Star Wars could have planned for less time around new character creation and more time around the plot and developing the characters we already know and love. It comes to me as a shock that I feel this way, but hey! I only received a two and a half hour movie, ok?
Abrams Versus Johnson
I have no qualms with the direction of J. J. Abrams or Rian Johnson. I actually really looking forward to Rian Johnson’s promised Star Wars trilogy. I think that would be a great addition to the franchise, a trilogy totally manned by one director. Heck. Give Abrams one too if you like. I think the movie’s faults mostly lie in the fact that they were building on top of each other but they were not necessarily planned from the beginning. When Star Wars was launched, the episode markers did not exist. Now we come to expect a certain level of continuity from trilogies. A huge improvement would be for the screenwriters to write out the next trilogy from beginning to end rather than handle the movies as a project or a building block. I do not want to necessarily limited artistic freedom in these movies. I really enjoy how each adventure has a different feel to it.
In conclusion, I think you would be doing yourself a disservice to not go see this film in theaters. It is visually stunning but I hold out that the Last Jedi is superior in the visual department. I do not agree with the current state of the score on Rotten Tomatoes. That is way too low and overly critical. Besides, how are we to know these days that bots are not driving that score into the ground? I do feel that the movie is not perfect but it is a Star Wars movie. There has never been a Star Wars movie that I have not enjoyed. The movie really excels at providing a conclusion to the stories around Rey, Ben, and Leia; the Skywalkers. The imagery and nostalgia present in this movie are top-notch. There are so many Easter Eggs and wow moments. Yes, we are left with questions and asking for more but that is what Star Wars is. It is a constant exploration of characters on and off the screen. There are even some areas that I think that we fill in the gaps with our imaginations and fan fiction. This is what makes Star Wars fun and I absolutely love being engrossed in this universe.
The future of Star Wars is bright. Let us not forget that. This has been a great year to be a Star Wars fan. From a new movie to the launch of Star Wars: Fallen Order and The Mandolorian to the upcoming revival of The Clone Wars and new Star Wars movies on the horizon; these are great times for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in this universe. I can not wait to see what our heroes will encounter in their next adventures. May the force be with you, always.