The conclusion to the newest Star Wars trilogy and the entire saga has been out for about a month now. There have been many reviews, analyses, and online arguments, but now let’s look at how the entire trilogy stands up to the original and prequel trilogies. To do so – we must look at each movie respectively and talk about where it succeeds, where it falls short, and what it adds to the saga as a whole.
The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens had arguably the most laborious task of any of the three movies in this new trilogy. It not only had to feel like Star Wars again, but it also had to introduce new characters and storylines for future films, and it had to bridge the thirty- or so-year gap story-wise. It did an incredible job at the first two but is more hit or miss with the last one.
From a storytelling perspective, there seems a lot to be desired. We don’t know what the shape of the galaxy is politically. We aren’t sure what the exact role of The First Order is. We also don’t understand the ramifications of the destruction of the Hosnian System. You can gripe about the prequels all you want, but we never doubted what the political landscape was like, and with the originals, we knew exactly the role of the Empire. With The Force Awakens, all this information on the landscape of the galaxy seems very surface level and brushed over.
I am somebody that more or less likes this first installment of the new trilogy; all of these are smaller issues in the grand scheme of things. You can call them nit-picks admittedly; that is what they are. In the end, though, they sacrificed more descriptive galaxy building to create something that has the feel of something more familiar. As mentioned before, The Force Awakens succeeds in making this feel like a true Star Wars movie. Part of the reason is it hits a lot of the same notes as A New Hope. While I am not one that thinks it is a carbon copy of that movie, there are a ton of similarities and it’s why this movie works in so many ways for so many people, myself included; it feels familiar. While the intro movies to the original trilogy and the prequels were bold and new, this intro feels very familiar, and for it to be successful, I feel like it had to go that route. At the end of the day, going this safe route meant securing one of the most successful runs at the box office of all time and the second-highest Metacritic rating of the sequel films.
The last point to be made on The Force Awakens is it established new characters that many fans grew to care about. This allowed their stories to continue past the movies. The two protagonists of the trilogy, Rey and Kylo Ren, became the two favorites for the next generation of fans. Rey is somebody that many little girls and grown women alike have found comfort within. She acts as a role model for fans and her genuine kindness and compassion for those around her is similar to Leia. Plus, she is a fierce warrior, and that is always a plus. Kylo Ren was a Vaderesque villain that many identified with throughout this trilogy. Many saw his vulnerability and broken spirit on the inside as something relatable on a personal level.
The Force Awakens also added minority characters, like Finn and Poe, that many felt finally represented them in Star Wars after not being represented for the longest time. I’ve written about this time and time again, but representation will always matter, in not only Star Wars, but all of the stories we hold near and dear to our hearts. To have an African American and Latin male lead in this movie showed that fans old and new shared similar backgrounds as they can play a bigger role in this galaxy.
So, overall The Force Awakens does a great job of introducing new characters and stories while balancing the old and making it feel like a Star Wars movie. It struggles with making the audience realize the larger scope of the galaxy, but it nails every other aspect of Star Wars. It is a perfect set up for the rest of the trilogy.
The Last Jedi
Ah, The Last Jedi. Some people adore this movie, some despise it, and some are on the fence about it. I’m not going to try and convince you one way or the other, but there are three things I do want to focus on for it. There are three aspects to The Last Jedi that represent what the movie is about at its core, and they are the cinematography, the writing, and the character dynamics.
For the cinematography – this is pretty straight forward. This movie is stunning to look at; it might be the best-looking Star Wars movie and is the best looking one of this trilogy. I could write pages about how great this movie looks, but I’ve narrowed it down to two. First, the Holdo Maneuver looks and sounds gorgeous. I get it, a lot of you don’t like her, and that’s okay. In the theater and every subsequent rewatch since then, I’ve loved how there is this absence sound followed by one of the most stunning visuals in all of Star Wars.
The second visual that comes to mind is everything that happens on Crait. Specifically, the battle that occurs and how the planet looks like it is bleeding as the speeders for the Resistance go on by. This felt like a fully immersive experience that a war movie would have, but in the middle of a Star War. It felt differently shot and was beautiful in every way, and when I think of the cinematography of The Last Jedi, it is typically one of the shots on Crait.
The last piece of cinematography in The Last Jedi comes with the set design of the throne room sequence. With the red curtains surrounding everything, it is designed to represent hell from an aesthetic perspective. It is unique to Kylo Ren’s story as he is trapped in this embodiment of hell with his nemesis, Snoke. Then as the fight rages on and red burns with a fire created from the conflict with Snoke’s guard. After the battle, there is still debris falling behind Ren as he gives his speech about letting the past die. With this visual, I think it symbolizes what Ren is trying to say by having stuff fall behind him because he wants all of the institutions to fall as well. While I think the fight is often overrated, the visuals during this scene are what help make this movie so great.
Now on to the writing and character dynamics. These two ideas go together as the character interactions are part of the great writing in this movie. The three main characters that benefit the most from this movie are Poe, Finn, and Rey. Interestingly, their interactions are the ones I am focusing on as together they share so little screen time with one another. With each character, we are going to look at their want or desire and what their need is to change throughout the movie.
With Poe Dameron, his biggest motive from the get-go is he wants to win the war: to do this, he must adapt into the leader Leia sees in him and learn when to fight and when to retreat. His internal conflict is at its core, learning how to fight that will benefit the masses. Throughout his character growth in The Last Jedi, we see this character tug of war where Poe is the rope, and Leia and Holdo are the teams pulling at him. With Leia, it is more about getting on him about his shortcomings and pushing him in the direction that she believes he should be pushed. Her discipline isn’t taking away leadership privileges, but blatantly telling him that he needs to do better. Then with Holdo, the growth between the characters is Poe feeling that he doesn’t have the respect for the next in command as he should, and he doesn’t react well to her saying she doesn’t like trigger happy flyboys. Holdo and Leia are both challenging Poe to change and adapt into the functional leader he can be, which over time, develops him into the leader he is at the end. In doing so, he is a crucial part of saving the Resistance.
With Finn, his desire or want is to save Rey and his internal conflict boils down to where he should go. He doesn’t view himself as this hero that folks like Rose Tico see him as, and it leads him down the path of running away from the fight again. His tug of war includes him as the rope and Rose on one side and DJ on the other. Rose embodies the idea of fighting for each other through the Resistance, and DJ is all about making him not join a side because both don’t have any type of moral center. Even though DJ backstabs them, you know that’s not the point here. In the end, Finn chooses to fight in the big fight of good versus evil and becomes a rebel. Even though he becomes a rebel, it results in a decision where it almost costs him his own life and the Resistance as a whole.
With Rey, her desire above everything else, and outside of knowing her parents, is some sort of external validation. She wants to feel that she belongs to something bigger than herself. Her need is to find her place in all of this, and she seeks that in a tug of war between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. This is the focal point of The Last Jedi and the entirety of the sequel trilogy. She goes to Luke for training to pull him back into the fight. She then goes to Kylo for comfort and to try and turn him one last time. She believes that she can pull him back into the light even if she is conflicted herself. Weirdly, it is almost like she is the rope and simultaneously playing tug a war with Luke and Ren as she tries to pull them in different directions than where they currently are. By the end, Rey realizes that her morale center lies within the light side of the force and more or less becomes a Jedi and plays a part in saving the Resistance on Crait.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoy The Last Jedi. In my eyes, it is the strongest part of the sequel trilogy. Now, I get that there are a lot of people out there that don’t see it how I do, and that is fine. If you don’t like it, I wish you could see what I adore in this movie, maybe one day you will, and maybe one day I’ll see a film I once disliked in a different light. I think it has some of the most dynamic character development in any single Star Wars film. It does the opposite of The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker and goes deep into the themes of what makes Star Wars great. It felt new and didn’t pander to what the fans necessarily wanted. It challenges what fans think a Star Wars movie should look and feel like, which if we remember back to 1977, that’s what made Star Wars, well, Star Wars.
The Rise of Skywalker
I don’t want to spend too much time on The Rise of Skywalker since both myself and the rest of the people on the site have written about its ad nauseam. In short – I think the movie is a hot mess with some really good, if not great, moments. Let’s start with the hot mess aspect first. This movie suffers from what a lot of JJ Abrams movies suffer from: a ton of plot, but a lack of scenes. What I mean by this is this movie, as well as a lot of his other films, have a ton of story too it, but they lack the emotions that fully lived scenes might have. The Rise of Skywalker spends a lot of its time having the characters tell you what is about to happen next instead of moments with characters that its two predecessors did so well at. This movie has a lot of time setting up this big plot with a ton of story, but it lacks some emotion. There are many moments that, if you gave the characters and audience some time to take it in, would potentially be top tier Star Wars moments. This makes the whole movie feel rushed. If it just slowed everything down, it would instantly generate a better film.
Now this movie is not entirely void of emotion. Some emotional beats do resonate with the audience. The three that stick out the most for me are when we first think Chewie dies, the moment with Ben and Han, and when the fleet shows up during the battle on Exegol. These are the moments I’ll remember when I think of The Rise of Skywalker, or at least when I’m thinking of what it did well. Don’t get me wrong; I do enjoy this movie even if I am critical of it. It has some very good moments. I just think that it could have been significantly improved in other parts of the movie.
Now that we have looked at each movie in this trilogy, it is time to assess where to rank the sequel trilogy. The sequel trilogy is challenging to assess, with it being so fresh in new. With that being said – I think I have this as the weakest trilogy. While each movie has its various strengths and weaknesses, and on their own are overall good movies, the story as a whole seems a tad messy. With the originals, whether you like them or love them, they were all new stories with technical achievements, and it was a story that could stand on its own. With the prequels, they have their issues, but again it seems like a coherent story, and it all felt new. The sequels though lack depth. As a cohesive story and as a whole, it feels like a greatest hit’s CD of Star Wars. There are so many similar beats to the other trilogies in this, and as a fan, I wanted something new, which is what I had got previously. This story of movies feels like it’s trying to tell many different stories all at one time, and I think it suffers because of that. I’m not here to assign blame for the lack of consistency from movie one to movie three, but it is prevalent in these stories that they didn’t have an ironed-out plan from the jump. Now to be fair, the originals probably didn’t either. However, they ended with a better story told. In my opinion, as I mentioned before, I still like all of these new movies to a certain extent, and they made me fall in love with this franchise all over again. I am forever thankful for their role in my life, and I’m grateful for the Star Wars we get in the future. For now, though, it takes the bronze medal when compared to the prequels and originals, but by no means does that mean I don’t adore these movies for what they contribute to the story of Star Wars.