Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

This will be a long one. It will definitely contain a bunch of spoilers, but not for a while and not without notice. Also below a cut, but that’s only so useful unless you’re on the front page of my site, and nobody but me ever is.

Anyway, as you may be aware, there was a final Star War that released about a week ago. I’ve seen it twice, not on purpose. After we already had the Friday morning tickets, a Saturday evening show was demanded, so I had both showings scheduled before I had seen it once. Luckily, and apparently unpopularly, I liked it well enough to not be unhappy about a twice.

The key to not hating the movie is not looking for a sequel to The Last Jedi. I know that sounds nonsensical, but it isn’t. The thing is, these are trilogies. Return of the Jedi (which I can annoyingly no longer shorthand as Jedi) was a sequel to Empire (which I can still shorthand as I please) only in that Empire ended on a cliffhanger about the fate of Han Solo. Really, it was a sequel to the entire trilogy. More, Revenge of the Sith was a sequel to that entire trilogy, not to the second movie. More still, Return of the Jedi was retroactively a conclusion to the entire series to date, all six movies. Likewise, The Rise of Skywalker (however dumb of a name it is, second only I think to Attack of the Clones on the bad title scale) is a conclusion to the entire nine movie sequence. It’s also a conclusion, more or less, to the third trilogy, but that’s definitely secondary. My point here is that it’s fulfilling a different purpose than people seem to want it to have fulfilled; it’s tying everything that has gone before together. And I really think it does this well, on the whole.

And okay, I think that’s as far as I can go without lots and lots of spoilers.

Again, spoilers proceed from here. I think two one line paragraphs is enough.

So, another thing I find useful here is that it’s basically optimal that Palpatine was the bad guy. He was always the bad guy throughout the series, and while I remember rolling my eyes hearing that his laugh was all over the early previews, it turned out to be entirely satisfying after the fact. It honestly makes more sense to me that he had contingencies, that the bad guys being so uniformly similar to how they had been in the previous trilogies, with the same ideas on how to win, that the leader was someone we never heard of who came out of nowhere with no backstory provided… all of those things make way more sense if it’s the same bad guy, and it’s on top of that emotionally satisfying to have a through line that ties the entire plot together.

There are a lot of things that I didn’t like, with various degrees of annoyance. The most important one, of course, is the tug of war between the two storytellers. It’s clear that Abrams wanted Rey to be someone “important” tied to the past. While I think he could have done a lot better than to retcon in a secret prince of the Empire to accomplish that, the basic idea is fine (and more, true to the source material); I’m most annoyed that it never even conflicted with Johnson’s “anyone can be a Jedi” message from the second movie, because Finn was obviously Force sensitive in The Force Awakens. Nobody picks up a lightsaber and uses it that well the first time; hell, even Luke was more awkward with his first experimental swings. So you have this tug of war over not only who Rey is, but who Finn is as well, since he was basically dead to the Force in the second movie. All in pursuit of a message that could have been handily fulfilled with the pieces already on the board. It was a bad look for the trilogy that they weren’t on the same page about the specifics when they (it seemed to me) very much were on the broad strokes.

The biggest sin Abrams committed here, though, was a basic lack of trust in his audience. Things were constantly spelled out. I’ve read elsewhere someone’s disgust with Leia’s final moments being telegraphed in someone’s exposition two minutes earlier. My personal low point came during a scene I would never have predicted I’d see, and that I loved every [other] moment of, and here I refer to C-3PO’s moment of true bravery and heroism when he was accepting a full mindwipe to save the galaxy[1]; even though half of it was in the preview, the context moved me. And then JJ Abrams uses his literal voice through the D-O toy droid to make sure that we, the audience, know it was “sad”. I nearly[2] screamed, because it was so bad. It’s weird that I do not remember things being so blatantly over-scripted in his first effort.

Also, not to dwell, but I’m really done with Abrams’ obsession with the whole movie taking place in one day. Come on, man. Let it go. Hyperspace is fast, but space is still big.

My only other real complaint is that Rose was pulled back so much. If she needed to be our support character for the middle acts of the movie because we lost Carrie Fisher and there had to be someone to carry the dialogue for the Resistance scenes, I get that. But in the final battle, when they have a literal cavalry charge across a star destroyer… we’ve already established that Rose leads cavalry charges with alien semi-horses. There’s just no reason to bring in a new character and new horses for that, and no reason for Finn to get away with fighting what we hate while Rose quietly agrees to not bother saving what she loves. Ugh. You want to say Abrams retconned Johnson’s thematic story in The Last Jedi? Here is where he did so.

So, that’s a lot of paragraphs explaining that the movie is not perfect. In retrospect, The Force Awakens was the best of the new movies, which is not what I hoped for going into this. Not because it was bad (it was not!), but because it was very… safe. I’ll go farther and say that if The Last Jedi had been better coordinated with the other two movies, it might have been able to be on par with Empire as one of the great genre movies of its time. In some ways, it is a better film as film than the other two, but as an entry in what is a series of movies, it pulls in too many directions that do not match what we already had in place, to the detriment of the trilogy.

“So why, Chris,” you ask, “if you have had nothing but bad to say, why is your conclusion that it’s a good movie?” And I mean, I get it. My primary response is that mediocre Star Wars is still a good movie. Hell, bad Star Wars is still entertaining, as long as I’m past my annoyance with it being bad. …well. Okay, episodes 1 and 2 are just not good. They have cool moments, but taken as a whole, I cringe.

Which is my secondary response. When I think of this movie, I’m happy. It was fun! The follow the map and find the tokens plot didn’t turn me off, there’s that Threepio the hero moment I already mentioned, there’s the “oh look, it was the same bad guy from start to finish” resonance I also mentioned, and… you know, you can call it fan service, but for me it’s a fully realized universe. I see Luke raise his trusty old X-Wing and look excited about it, and why shouldn’t he? It may have taken until the moment of his death to finally figure himself out, but he did, and being a Force ghost means getting to show off your fancy new self-confidence, even post-mortem. I see Wedge[3], and I’m excited that the writers remember he’s still around. Because of course he is! That giant fleet showing up, the bright mirror reflection of the Reavers in Serenity, and I don’t care that it’s all for spectacle, because they set it up, and they earned it.

No, they did! I don’t mean the one-liner about thinking you’re alone when you’re not. That’s Abrams telling not showing. (At least, the repeat of the line was.) I mean that it’s a universe a generation gone from the fall of the Empire. Everyone remembers how things went. I’m sad the New Republic was so weak that it didn’t want to raise real opposition for political reasons, but a) that was handed to me as part of the setting of episode 7, not actual plot of the movies, and b) they certainly paid for it. So now you have people who not only remember the Empire, but have seen that this is a real threat, not some political problem on the Outer Rim. Of course they’re going to come together and say no more. Even moreso now that the threat is Hitler, back from the dead, his brain out of the jar. It works, dammit.

Perhaps most importantly, it didn’t violate the thing that would probably have ruined the trilogy for me, which was how Kylo Ren ended up. I think I would have preferred that he not be redeemed at all, but if Ben Solo has to have a redemption arc, at least it’s a small personal one between him and Rey, and now he’s just dead and gone and not reaping the benefits. Because, and this is just me, but no true forgiveness for the murderer of Han Solo.

And so, my final point is my first point. I got a movie that brought eight prior movies and two spin-offs to a conclusion that was satisfying and that made me happy.

[1] As opposed to Lucas mindwiping him because it served the plot that he not know all this Anakin Skywalker = Darth Vader detail. How about not writing yourself into a corner, instead of killing a sentient being because it’s easier, jerk.
[2] I was in the Alamo Drafthouse, where they’ll take me out if I make noise, so this is an exaggeration. But not an exaggeration of the soul, only of the vocal chords.
[3] Okay. Like, I get the realities of actors, and I get that Poe was Wedge + Han, so having Wedge around would have undermined him. But I just cannot get behind Wedge showing up this time, but not showing up for the S.O.S. at the end of Episode 8, and if I’m being honest, I can’t get behind him not being with the Resistance all along. But I’m trying not to look at it too hard, because it was entirely awesome seeing him and knowing he was there. I instinctively said “Aww!” when he appeared, Alamo rules or not.

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