Musings on Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker (2019)

So here we are… forty two years after the first ever Star Wars film opened in 1977, the final chapter of the Skywalker saga is released. There was a huge anticipation for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, naturally, given its place in the franchise history as the final conclusion. In preparation for this, my hubby and I saw Return of The Jedi the night before (and we actually saw Empire Strikes Back in October as part of MN Orchestra LIVE in concert series).

When I finished watching the movie, I turned to my hubby and whispered, they might as well call this franchise SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) ‘evil space grandpas’ If you’ve seen this movie, I think you know why. Just like what I did on The Force Awakens, this post is not a review per se, more of my random thoughts about the film and the franchise as a whole, so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Unsurprisingly, I have a lot of the same quibbles with this one as the 2015 movie that JJ Abrams also directed… mainly the excessive amount of nostalgia, as some critics have rightly called ‘fan pandering,’ and lack of suspense throughout. Yes there are some fun moments, but the big moments are pretty much predictable. The key phrase ‘no one’s ever really gone’ uttered by Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi came up again in this movie. Beloved Carrie Fisher returns as General Leia Organa (via the use of repurposed unreleased footage), but she’s not the only one.

In fact, the entire movie is basically a road trip of sort to find a supposedly dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who now resides on the planet Exegol. Apparently he’s so NOT dead after all, in fact he’s been a puppet master to Snoke, Supreme Leader of The First Order. But before Rey, Poe and Fin could get to Exegol, they had to find a device called Sith Wayfinder. I feel like that plot is basically a way to reunite Rey & co. with yet another returning character Lando Calrissian. The crew looked practically giddy to be meeting Billy Dee Williams in that scene, and vice versa, that it took me out of the movie a bit. That’s what nostalgia does… while I enjoy seeing certain actors back in a certain franchise, it distracts me from the actual story that unfolds before me.

Speaking of the story… there’s a lot of ‘more of the same’ in The Rise of the Skywalker. Interesting that there were some rumbles on the interweb that JJ Abrams was subtly dissing Rian Johnson‘s The Last Jedi, saying that it was “a story that I think needed a pendulum swing in one direction in order to swing in the other.” Now, whether Abrams was throwing shade at Johnson or not, the fact of the matter is, the two filmmakers didn’t seem to see eye to eye. As a more casual fan of Star Wars, I actually like the fact that Rian had the guts to do something different and subverting the franchise. Unfortunately I’m in the minority and because many die-hard fans hated what Rian did, so naturally he’s not invited back to helm this one.

The biggest ‘twist’ of this movie is in regards to Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) identity. “People keep telling me they know me. No one does,” She quipped in frustration. But her reluctant ‘nemesis’ Kylo Ren claims he does, then he just said it blatantly who her parents really are. It’s supposed to be a gasp-inducing moment, but for some reason it was just ‘meh’… in fact, Rey’s similar lineage situation that bears such resemblance to Luke’s and Kylo’s feels like convenient (read: lazy) writing to me. The part I like most about Rey when she’s first introduced in The Force Awakens is that she’s just a scavenger with no Jedi blood in her, and that her parents are just ordinary people.

In The Last Jedi, Kylo himself told her ‘You come from nothing. You’re nothing’ which undeniably made him even more furious that she could wield as much power as he does. Then the ending that film (the scene with the young boy) also hinted that there are other ‘ordinary’ people with no prominent lineage who could use the Force. I love that message that people are more than who they’re born to be and where they come from, that we do have the power to become more than what’s been imagined for us. So by making Rey as a Palpatine obviously undermined the storyline that’s been set before and render many other plot points meaningless. I don’t know in what other cinematic franchise is that ever a good thing??

I have to say that the nostalgic moments have different degrees of impact. I said I enjoyed seeing Leia and Lando, and the final arc of General Leia Organa is a memorable moment. But the now decrepit Palpatine is mostly eye-roll inducing (especially since the scene of Vader throwing him down the space abyss is still fresh in my mind). Not only would it seem impossible that he survived that fall, but just when did he have time to have a son who later becomes Rey’s dad?? On top of that, he’s also mighty enough to build an entire armada and hides ALL of them from every single creature until the opportune time dictated by the script to reveal it.

I barely have time to ponder on that as there’s a ton of stuff going on in this movie… the crew frenetically jumped from place to place in search of that Wayfinder thing-y, which eventually leads to the main battle between Rey and Kylo. No doubt the lightsaber duel of two crucial characters, on top of the remains of the second Death Star no less, looks epic. With the waves and torrential rain, it’s an atmospheric scene to be sure.  It’s got some wow moments, but overall the scene just didn’t have as big an emotional impact as I thought it would.

SPOILER ALERT (proceed with caution as I’ll mention key plot details below)
Since Force Awakens, I’ve grown to appreciate Adam Driver more and more (you could even say he’s my current cinematic crush), but I gotta say Kylo’s got the short end of the stick here in terms of his character. Yes he’s a Darth wannabe from the start, longing to be a powerful Sith leader like his grandpa, but this final movie just renders him into nothing more than a conflicted man-child. It pains me to see Driver, who’s so excellent in Marriage Story which I saw just two months prior, barely given much to do here than looking mostly dazed and discombobulated.

Now, given how powerful Rey’s become, the outcome of the duel and what she did afterwards didn’t really surprise me. In a key moment in the movie, suddenly Han Solo turned up again… Was it a dream? A hallucination? Was Kylo delirious? Does it matter?? In another nostalgic scene, Harrison Ford revisited his most famous ad-lib in Empire Strikes Back as his prodigal son struggled to find the words to say … that part made me smile, but I find this dramatic scene more schmaltzy than genuinely moving.

Still, Driver at least still has a compelling arc and a dignified resolution… gone is Kylo Ren’s toxic power-hungry machismo, in the end he’s Ben Solo after all, and he’s got an honorary ‘death’ as a Jedi. But where is Rose Tico?? The spunky mechanic with a big heart had a big role in The Last Jedi… Kelly Marie Tran was a great addition to the Resistance crew. But here she’s hugely sidelined for most of the movie while Fin is off doing his heroic duty with a new compatriot, Jannah, a Resistance sympathizer. Now, Naomi Ackie is fine in the role, but I can’t help missing Rose in the journey with the Resistance fighters.

Now, after teasing us for four years whether Rey will finally turn to the dark side… well, the final answer is something so utterly predictable. Once again our heroine, just like the original hero of the saga, is facing a family member [yawn]. Rey matters because she’s part of an important, all-powerful family. It’s treading familiar [and familial] grounds the fact that bloodline and lineage is the key to achieving real power, that is the ability to use the Force. Perhaps the fact that we’ve seen all before, the action-packed battle of ‘all of the Sith’ VS ‘all of the Jedi’ barely holds a candle of the original battle between Luke vs Vader/Palpatine. It’s what follows that would likely be the talking points about Rise of Skywalker… yep, it’s all about Reylo.

Not satisfied with just an epic battle of good vs evil, we’ve got to have some controversial romance thrown in. I wonder how the convo goes in the Writers Room… ‘hey wouldn’t it be surreal to have Vader’s grandson making out w/ Palpatine’s granddaughter?’ I supposed Kylo’s longing look every time he sees and ‘feels’ Rey from a distance (boy that came out SO creepy) has suggested he has feelings for her from the start. And who could forget that shirtless scene during a Force-bond in The Last Jedi that bothered Rey so much she asked him to put something on? But yet, I still wasn’t prepared for the kiss… it feels like it came out of nowhere. I mean all the mutual pull between the light and dark side that haunts both these poor souls is SO massive… it took so much out of them with huge stakes on both sides that you would think romance is the last thing on their minds. Naturally plenty of fans have always wanted to ship the two of them, as Reylo has been the subject of a plethora of fan-fiction, which makes the kiss feels obligatory. There’s been a lot of shared motifs in Star Wars and Shakespeare–we’ve seen the Romeo and Juliet plot between Anakin and Padmé before, so I guess their grandson is bound to share similar fate.

All in all, The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable but also frustrating film. I was caught up in the rousing nostalgic moments and even felt emotionally moved by some of them, but as soon as the movie’s over, I was left with an overwhelming sense of meh. It’s not a bad movie per se… I mean the actors did a good job in their roles, production design & special effects are top notch, John Williams‘ music is obviously still iconic, even Abrams’ direction is enjoyable… but at the end of the day, Chris Terrio and Abrams’ script is serviceable at best.

It proves that no film, no matter how beloved the franchise it, can simply ride on nostalgia alone. At the end of the day, as a film fan, we crave innovative storytelling that sparks one’s imagination… I don’t think JJ Abrams gave us that with this one. Honestly, after nine films, I’d be hard pressed to know just what the Force is supposed to be about since the franchise’s overall narrative is so discordant and inconsistent. Perhaps it’s a good thing this is the final installment of the cinematic Skywalker saga, but of course, with Disney+, no franchise is ever really gone. Especially one as lucrative as this one.


So for those who’ve seen this one, what did you think of The Rise of Skywalker?