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Be with Me

I’m sitting down to write this a few hours after my second viewing of The Rise of Skywalker, even more satisfied than the first time. In the last eleven days – eleven days – the Star Wars internet has been torn asunder by this film. I thought the discourse over The Last Jedi brought fans to the pinnacle of disagreement, but man, did reactions to this film prove me wrong.

But that first wonderful viewing, guys – it was such a golden time, me and my roommates basking in the afterglow. And then, I got on the internet. I was afraid the arguments would ruin my second viewing this afternoon but thank God they didn’t. I understand where most of the conflicting opinions about The Rise of Skywalker come from. I understand that so many of us have emotionally invested in this saga since we were children, so every feeling or thought is amplified to the max.

But guys, I just plain loved this movie. Yes, it has issues. Yes, it’s imperfect. But I’ve never been a fan of perfect.

Let’s start with the pacing. The first viewing left me a little breathless and a little overwhelmed. We moved through so many planets so quickly. Palpatine is revealed in the very beginning, which threw me off. I could have used a few moments that let the audience breathe. The first time I remember slowing down is during Poe and Zori’s talk as they kept watch outside on Kijimi. Then we get some relief in the second half, which feels a lot more evenly paced.

Upon the second viewing, however, I found myself taking it all in stride. Probably because I knew what was coming and what the point of each scene was. This allowed me to enjoy more subtle emotional beats in each scene and appreciate the characters more. I recommend multiple viewings if pacing was a huge deal-breaker for you.

And yes, there were many characters and plot points that were underdeveloped due to the sheer amount of content we got. Some claim that Abrams and Terrio had to cover extra ground because The Last Jedi didn’t cover much at all. Others chalk it up to plain bad writing. I personally believe we added too many new characters late in the game. But, honestly, with so much outside media in the galaxy these days – books, comics, what have you – we’ll get our back stories and deeper characterizations. I can live without them in this film.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s talk characters. Four of our main characters got some great attention to their development. We see Poe continue to struggle in his leadership, definitely still carrying shame from the events of TLJ. He fights with the pressure he puts on himself to lead like Leia. He almost loses hope. But in the end, with a little pep talk from Lando, he accepts that in order to win, he needs to lean on his friends and on the faith that good people will fight.

Sweet, wonderful Finn begins to flourish in the Force. It’s a wonderful, satisfying thing to watch. It feels so natural, and he’s truly come into his own: trusting his feelings and providing a balance between Rey and Poe. The commitment to the Resistance he shows at the end of TLJ has only grown stronger. And if Finn had any doubts about his connection to the Force, meeting Jannah, another ex-Stormtrooper, was all the reassurance he needed. An entire squadron of troopers felt the same pull to the Light that Finn did. Finn accepts the influence of the Force throughout his destiny.

And then there are the more controversial character arcs of the film.

Going into my first viewing, I was scared. I was scared Rey would become a redemption device and lose her autonomy. I was scared her story would get lost in the tide that was Ben Solo. And I’ll be honest, folks – when Kylo Ren tells her she’s a Palpatine, my heart sank just a bit. Rey being from no one and nowhere was so effective for me. Hearing she’s a Palpatine dredged up my worst fear – that it was all she would ever be. Fans would write off her power as belonging to him, and she would be reduced to her family name. I didn’t want to believe it.

And neither did Rey. She grapples with her bloodline and with her identity, terrified of her own destiny. But she doesn’t let it define her in the end. Rey knows where her true power lies. She knows the source of her strength – the thousands of Jedi who have come before her and the found family who mentored her and loved her. She refuses to let her blood define her. In one of the most breathtaking scenes of the movie, the voices of all those who have come before her help Rey find the strength to rise.

This is what saved the movie for me. She could have easily relied on her new-found Dark ability – what’s up Force lightning – to try and best Palpatine. They could have written a scene where Rey does delve into her Darkness, but Ben pulls her back. But Rey chooses her family, her strength, and her legacy. Thank goodness.

And last but not least, Ben Solo. What a character! What a story! What tender moments between Ben and his parents! His scene with Han was like a redo, a chance to fix his mistake and truly do what he needed to do. And Leia reaching to him in the Force is the only thing that stops him from striking Rey down. I don’t believe he was redeemed by Rey, but rather, Han and Leia, and that’s a redemption I can get behind. Rey killed Kylo Ren, sure. But Ben needed his dad to bring him back.

I know so many are hurt by his death but remember – he chose it. It was on his own terms. Besides, as Luke told us before, no one is ever really gone. I believe Ben lives on in Rey and within the Force. Besides, what would he have done had he lived? The Resistance wouldn’t take well to him, and rightly so – he caused many, many deaths, fired upon innocent villagers, and helped run a fascist government. The best he could have done would be to live in exile, and people wouldn’t be happy about that either. Ultimately, I think his sacrifice was an apt ending, completing the work his grandfather couldn’t, and saving the person he loved.

This was undoubtedly the best performance for both Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver of the trilogy. They both had me crying with just their facial expressions at different points in my second viewing. Everyone in the cast did a wonderful job, but these two truly shine.

I would be remiss to exclude the roles of Luke, Han, Lando, and, of course, Leia. Han’s appearance, as discussed before, was poignant, perfect. Lando, our favorite rascal, made me grin every time he was on screen. His joy was infectious. Luke’s appearance on Ach-To, gently guiding Rey the way Yoda guided him, caught my heart. During my first viewing, the only moment that choked me up was Luke lifting his X-Wing out of the water. Yoda’s theme was underscoring his triumph, a perfect call back to Empire.

There was never going to be a perfect way to incorporate Leia, but I think they did the best job they could. Some of the scenes centered around Carrie’s footage had awkward dialogue, but what else could be done? Her scenes with Rey were the most effective, and their hug had me in tears on my second viewing. Some argue that it would have been better to leave her out. Maybe it would have been less awkward, but I couldn’t begin to imagine this film without her presence, her voice. It meant the world to me.

This review could go on forever. Were there story points that didn’t line up with canon? Yes. Were some characters, items, and moments unnecessary? Absolutely. Of course, I have my grievances. I didn’t need Rey to be a Palpatine. I wish Hux had more time. I’m not sure I needed Zorri Bliss. And, I cannot emphasize this enough, Rose Tico deserved more screen time. The film was, at different points, ridiculous, funny, overwhelming, stupid, and tense. But it was also breathtaking, tender, emotional, and epic – this movie contained multitudes.

Who knows how we’ll feel ten, twenty years from now? Time heals many wounds and dims many passions. As a whole, the trilogy did feel disjointed, with certain themes and lessons not quite matching up. But I still very much enjoyed it as a whole. We all have our favorite. To be honest, I haven’t chosen mine. My heart is so full of the Skywalker saga right now that it’s hard to settle on just one. I do know this – this galaxy, these characters, and this legacy will always hold my heart. The ones who have come before will always be with me.

The future is wide open for Star Wars. We’re standing on Tatooine, looking to the horizon with Luke and with Rey. The Skywalker saga is done, but the adventures are only just beginning. Buckle up, folks – this is where the fun begins.

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Jamie Binegar
"You cannot stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting.” — Shmi Skywalker

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