The final installment in the “Skywalker Saga” in the Star Wars universe premiered last week as The Rise of Skywalker made its way to movie theaters across the country. The reviews of the film have been decidedly mixed with the bulk of the criticisms levied at the film being that the film hued a more formulaic and fan service-y path, pushing back against the big subversions of The Last Jedi.
Now I am someone who really liked The Last Jedi (and I’ve written about it here) and the things it did differently but… I still thought The Rise of Skywalker was a film that was by and large a success. It was an entertaining ending to this saga that was faithful to the series itself and the kind of story it had been telling across these many decades (and it did not actively ruin things, like the prequels did)(I think if you really lived through the debacle of the prequels, you were able to appreciate Rise of Skywalker because it was at least good).
But I want to go a little bit deeper, both in terms of my thinking about how the film worked as well as some of the interesting themes and ideas that the film explores. I don’t think Rise of Skywalker is just “a fun time/turn your brain off” kind of film. There’s interesting stuff to think about, particularly as it relates to spiritual and religious ideas. And that’s what I want to talk about.
So I’m going to be talking about things that happened in Rise of Skywalker. That means… SPOILERS ARE COMING! SPOILER WARNING! If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to stop and come back to this. You’ve been warned! But if you have seen it, please continue!
OK I’ll Pick Some Nits
I’m not really interested in doing a real, proper “review” review of Rise of Skywalker. As I said in the opening, my thoughts on the film are mainly positive ones and I think it’s a good Star Wars film. It wrapped up this long narrative that (yes) is very important to me in a faithful way that didn’t, you know, ruin everything that came before. But there were some things in the film that I didn’t like or had issues with that I do want to note.
Those things are:
- The pacing of the film isn’t great. There’s A LOT happening very quickly, whether hitting plot points and traveling to different worlds. I understand that Star Wars films are exciting and about the action and adventure but… moments to breathe and take things in would have been nice. Slowing things down a little bit in that regard might have helped the film be more successful.
- This isn’t so much a criticism but I do wish the circumstances surrounding Leia and her parts of the film had been different. They were obviously hamstrung by real life with the sad and untimely death of Carrie Fisher. JJ Abrams and co. did as well as they could in the situation they were put in. But had the second film “been” Leia’s and the third been Luke’s (and thus the character was able to do more/be more present), it just might have worked better. Again, they were in a no-win situation there, but it still warrants mentioning
Beyond that… yeah, it did feel a bit overly fan service-y and there were some things included that felt like real shade directed towards The Last Jedi (which was a great film in its own right), I didn’t like how Rose was used in the film, I felt like Rey’s progression in Jedi training and the Force felt… rushed? Like she’d made these HUGE leaps but it all happened off-screen. I understand we can’t see all of it but at least some of that would have been useful. Other than those things… it was good! It was a good Star Wars film! As someone who lived through the prequels, that was all I wanted and it succeeded in that regard. So well done, everyone!
Now, to think a little bit more about the film and what I took away from it that was interesting…
First Palpatine, then Rey
One of my favorite parts of The Last Jedi was the idea that Rey was not someone’s child, not the descendant of a major Force-sensitive bloodline in the Star Wars universe. She was just “Rey from nowhere” and yet she had all this power and access to mystical and spiritual knowledge. It was profoundly liberating and something that felt really appropriate for this story. Rise of Skywalker went a different way, reversing course (perhaps because of the backlash to this revelation) and placing Rey firmly in a lineage as the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine.
While that’s an unfortunate reversal from what was so interesting about The Last Jedi and takes an interesting female character and then redefines her importance only as being someone’s offspring, I still think there are interesting lessons and themes to be picked up on especially with my own interesting in Christian/Catholic theology and their presence in Star Wars. What making Rey a part of Palpatine’s line did was to engage with the idea of original sin (and sin in general) and how we can overcome it even if its somehow in our nature.
By making Rey a descendent of Palpatine, the implication is that somehow the Dark Side is always with her, it is who she is and born with it (or into it). In Christian theology, because of The Fall man is born into the world with Original Sin, which is removed through baptism. But there is still that inclination towards sin, what in Catholic theology is called concupiscence, that we must struggle to overcome with help from the Church and the sacraments.
Force Ghost Luke tells Rey that Leia still wanted to train Rey even though she could see that bloodline in her. As Luke says, Leia “saw her spirit,” the thing that is “more than blood.” This resonates with the idea that we are not doomed to sin and death, that there is the possibility of grace and redemption even if our very existence begins with the Fall.
I also thought it was interesting that Rey, coming from Palpatine’s bloodline also contains in her “all the Jedi.” In that regard… is she the one who brings balance to the Force? Also that she defeats Palpatine by pushing his Force Lightning back at him rather than striking him down, living up to Yoda’s claim that “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” These aren’t things that relate directly to the point I was making about Rey but still seemed relevant.
Even though Rey gets placed in this “royal” bloodline, I still think we get some of the “anyone can access the Force/it’s not just the ‘elites'” story with Finn, who proves to be Force-sensitive throughout the movie. In fact, that was what Finn wanted to tell Rey when they were trapped in the sinking fields. Finn can feel the Force and he’s someone who was raised to be a Stormtrooper, to be a part of those enacting the will of the Dark Side of the Force. If he can be a part of it, then who can’t? So while we didn’t get that with Rey, we still got a little bit of it with Finn.
Ben Solo’s Redemption
While I’ve become a big fan of Adam Driver (he’s GREAT in Silence), I was worried that Kylo Ren/Ben Solo would get too easy of a path too redemption path in this film because Driver is such a magnetic actor and often times that’s the way these narratives go. Do not get it twisted: Driver does a GREAT job with this character. I saw this bouncing around on the internet but… if they’d made the prequels but with Driver as Anakin, they might have been outstanding. Returning to my initial point, Kylo had a lot to come back from (in addition to being responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of people… HE KILLED HIS OWN FATHER) and I didn’t think that was going to be possible to do that in just one film.
However, I thought Rise of Skywalker did the right thing with his character. First, having Kylo “die” and then be brought back to life through Rey’s Force healing (thus Kylo dies and Ben Solo lives/is resurrected) on Kef Bir after she stabs him with his lightsaber was a good way to do that and show that shift/progression in his narrative. I also figured that for Ben to be redeemed he was going to have to give up his (physical) life and thus giving himself and his life Force to save Rey (who somewhat brings balance to the Force) was a worthy sacrifice. I could have done without the kiss at the end/too many Romeo and Juliet vibes but, you know what, you can’t win ’em all.
I do wish there was a way to better reconcile Ben to his father (since Han’s appearance on Kef Bir was “just a memory”). Also I would have liked some kind of reconciliation between Ben and Luke, I don’t know what or how that would look but I would have liked to have seen it (and perhaps with Chewie as well, since he did kill Han, his best friend). But I thought what Abrams did to end Ben’s story was good and the redemption was earned. You also got the sense that he had made some kind of shift back towards the light. In his final fight with the Knights of Ren, he’s not the same aggressive swordsman, so clearly driven by the Dark Side and anger and aggression. He’s fighting but trying to be restrained as possible (there’s that moment where he stops to take a breath, almost to keep himself in control).
Yes, the conflict within him could have been elaborated on in even greater detail in these films. But they only have a finite amount of time so I understand they can only show so much. But what they did with Kylo/Ben was one of the things I was most worried about with this film and I thought they handled it about as good as they could.
Well, those are my major Rise of Skywalker thoughts and the things I really picked up on after watching the film. I’m sure I’ll have more as I think about the film more and its place within the Star Wars universe but this is where I’m going to stop, for now…