When describing two Star Wars films echoing each other, George Lucas famously said, “it’s like poetry, they rhyme.” J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio clearly took this to heart when they were writing The Rise of Skywalker, a film that is deeply aware of everything that came before it. It isn’t only aware of other Star Wars films, it’s aware of every conversation that’s been had around them in the nearly 43 years since the saga started. It’s as if the film is looking at every member of the audience and saying, “do you like this? Because it’s for you!” It’s at the core of why so many fans love the film–but it’s also its biggest problem.
The Rise of Skywalker goes out of its way to meet all of your expectations, at the expense of the characters, the writing, and the saga as a whole. It’s not that it’s a flat-out bad movie; it’s far from being the worst Star Wars film. It’s beautifully shot, with some imagery that will stick with me forever. The core sequel characters all feel like they’re in their prime and many of the actors are the most comfortable they’ve ever been in their roles. The little character moments the actors work into their performances make them feel lived in and truly fleshed out. I don’t know that I’ve ever loved Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo more. Unfortunately, the movie lets them down in some big ways–burning many of their arcs in an attempt to bring a satisfying end to the saga as a whole.
The film’s imagery definitely has a rhythm to it. Skywalker understands the heart and energy that is essential to making Star Wars work. On the surface, I can see the appeal of bringing back the binary suns to add some visual symmetry to the ending of this epic fairytale. But since these movies have become infinitely more complex over the years, ending it on that note feels hollow. It is in every sense of the word, easy. It makes sense as a visual bookend, but it means nothing to the characters involved. Rey has no attachment to this moment, but the audience does. It feels like a cheap trick: an attempt at mapping emotion onto something familiar rather than building something new and important. It feels especially contrived after the perfect use of the binary sunset in The Last Jedi. That moment feels special because it’s important to Luke. He’s grown so much since he first looked out towards the horizon. He’s a new man who just saved the galaxy for the third time and has finally reached true enlightenment. He’s also made it off of Tatooine, a planet he never liked in the first place. Anakin also had his fair share of qualms with it. His mother died there and his entire life there was one of slavery–much like Leia, whose only time on the planet was spent chained to a giant slug. But in order to give the audience a shallow sense of closure, this is where the lightsabers are buried–a place nobody ever liked but a place the audience remembers.
After building so much of itself upon things we remember, The Rise of Skywalker’s ending expects us to forget about Ben Solo. He has one of the most interesting arcs in the saga, but ultimately gets left out in the cold. In the end, he is “redeemed” and turns into a pile of clothes (shorthand for becoming one with the Force), but every other time this has happened, the character comes back as a Force Ghost because they’ve found inner peace and because it gives closure to the audience. After all the legwork the sequels have done to give Ben Solo pathos, he is left out of the Skywalker family line up on Tatooine. It’s an immensely strange omission: not only is he one of the main characters of this trilogy, but he is also the most important person to our protagonist. Rey has spent this trilogy looking for family only to ultimately be left alone, staring at a sunset that means nothing to her.
There are readings of this ending that feel less lonely. But there’s not enough in the film textually to support anything other than what we see, which is a lot of hanging threads and shades of better ideas. These are as follows: Finn’s whole plot involving the First Order stealing children is mostly left unaddressed, undercutting Rey’s power as an individual to give her familial ties for the sake making her “fit” into the lore, and the convenient sidelining of Kelly Marie Tran, the overall sense that the movie’s best ideas are suffocated by a series of box-checking moments of fan service and overediting. The creators of The Rise of Skywalker rob it from having any deep cinematic value in order to make something they think everybody wants. The story of these characters is likely to continue in books, comics, animation, and more, but we are denied the opportunity to give them a fitting ending that will live on in the mythos of cinema. I hope whatever we get next from Star Wars distances itself from the Skywalker Saga because at this point, what’s best for everybody would be to move on.
Overall Score: 5.5/10