Movie Review of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

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© James Pyles

DISCLAIMER: This film review is loaded with spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to be surprised, don’t read any further!

Yes, I went to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker today with my son, my grandson, and my son’s girlfriend.

What I’m about to say will probably annoy or even anger some of my friends and acquaintances, but the movie wasn’t half bad. In fact I liked it for the most part.

This isn’t to say that it didn’t rehash the original three films from the late 1970s and early 80s, but it was better than Director Rian Johnson’s horribly failed The Last Jedi (2017).

First of all, it was visually very impressive. Just in terms of cinematic “eye candy” (no, not that kind), it’s a pleasure to watch.

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Promotional image of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from the 2019 film “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

The movie, being the third of the trilogy, has to do a wrap up, and as far as my first viewing goes, it seems to do an okay job. For instance, the mystic relationship between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver) deepens, so much so that they “encounter” each other although miles or light years apart, in strange force visions.

I was actually impressed with Finn (John Boyega). In the first two movies, he was played largely for comedy, but in the current film, he emerges as a hero in his own right. Interestingly enough, the potential for his romance with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) developed in “The Last Jedi” totally fizzles out in the current movie. She has much less screen time in this film, perhaps due to the tremendous online harassment she suffered after “Last Jedi” was released.

It wasn’t as heartbreaking as I thought to see Leia (Carrie Fisher) on the screen. I think enough time had passed since her death to offer her fans, including me, enough closure, although I did see this movie partly because it was one last time to watch Leia in Star Wars.

Because her presence was created with archive footage, she didn’t have as big of a role to play as she probably would if she had been alive for the filming, but she manages one pivotal scene.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is Poe, the heir apparent to Han Solo (Harrison Ford), though he doesn’t possess the same roguish style as Han.

We got to see the droids again, and although C-3PO does end up coming across a vital piece of information his ethical programming won’t let him reveal, the droids are there mainly for their “cute” quality. This includes a new (or old) one called D-0, basically a cone on a wheel, played by Director J.J. Abrams. His/Its one redeeming quality is that he/it speaks English.

In addition, just about every member of the old guard reprises their roles in cameos, including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and for just a split second, Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson).

Oh yes, then there’s the Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who is the big, bad guy in the movie, and who, in one fashion or the other, has been the shadow of evil behind everything that has happened in all nine Star Wars films.

I mentioned Abrams’ lack of originality in the writing and directing of this movie. There was obvious linkage to Return of the Jedi (1983), a movie of sacrifice and redemption. Same here, except it’s Kylo Ren who is saved, returning to the “light side” of the Force and bringing Rey back from the dead right before he dies.

Visions of his Dad and Leia communicating with him through the Force finally got through to him as well as a previous effort by Rey to save his life right after she stabbed him with her light saber.

There are also the “relative” connections. We all know that Kylo Ren is the child of Han and Leia and nephew to Luke, but in this movie, we discover that Rey’s Dad is the son of Palpatine, and that her parents sold her into indentured servitude as a child on Jakku rather than let her fall into the Emperor’s hands.

The Emperor, for his part, connected to some really grim looking life support tech, wants Rey to give in to her anger and hate of him, slay him, and ascend the throne as the Empress. She’s ready to do it with no savior available, Palpatine recalling for Rey how Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) saved his son Luke in a similar situation.

Kylo, having seen the “light,” follows Rey to the hidden First Order base on Exegol and helps her summon the courage to stay a Jedi, or at least to finally achieve the status.

This is all happening during yet another contrived battle between tons and tons of star destroyers and a tiny group of rebel fighters.

These star destroyers are ridiculously stuck in the planet’s atmosphere and can only get into space if a navigational beacon is operating. The Rebels, of course, must knock out the beacon, requiring Finn and a new ally Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and her band, who are also former stormtroopers, to land on the top of the main star destroyer to eliminate the beacon. Sound familiar?

Another uninspired “plot twist” is that Poe used to be a spice smuggler before joining the resistance. This fact is revealed by an old acquaintance Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) who wears some clumsy looking motorcycle helmet that completely covers he face and head. We only see her eyes during one scene, and by the end, in spite of the fact that Poe seems attached to her, she continues to refuse his gestures of romance.

By the end, Finn doesn’t hook up with either Rey or Rose, although it’s suggested that he still loves Rey. The trio, Finn, Rey, and Poe, seem to remain good friends and comrades.

I think by now, everyone has guessed that General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is the traitor in the First Order, not because he wants the resistance to win, but because he wants Kylo Ren to lose. Of course, he also dies.

In “Last Jedi,” Rey is trained under a reluctant Luke, while in the current film, she trains under Leia. Rarely in any movie has Leia displayed more than a hint of Force ability and none during the tremendously advanced Rey’s training (which looks a lot like Luke’s under Yoda).

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Promotional image of Rey (Daisy Ridley) from the 2019 film “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Given that Rey is a Palpatine, I suppose it explains why she’s such a Force adept, but ever since The Force Awakens (2015), it’s been tough to see her as anything other than a Mary Sue, a person so perfect, in this case as a Force wielder, that she is seemingly able to do anything without any training, and doesn’t struggle or suffer setbacks in achieving her goals. She’s also a spaceship pilot, having flown the Millennium Falcon without any piloting training or experience, an excellent engineer/mechanic with being a scavenger as her only “training,” and holds her own against Kylo Ren in their first encounter, in spite of her lack of combat and Force training. I mean really.

That may be somewhat overstated, and there are plenty of commentaries, including this one that come to Rey’s defense. On the other hand, it’s still pretty hard to explain away.

After the good guys win and the First Order is eliminated along with the Emperor, Rey travels to Tatooine and buries both Luke’s and Leia’s light sabers (there’s a brief flashback showing Luke completing Leia’s Force training) near Luke’s former home, now abandoned and covered in sand (but showing no signs of having been burned by stormtroopers decades ago in the original “Star Wars” from 1977). An old woman who happens to be passing by, in spite of the fact that they are literally in the middle of nowhere, asks Rey her name.

Earlier in the film, while visiting another desert planet holding a celebration that suspiciously resembled the annual Burning Man event, someone asks Rey her name. She gives her first name, but when queried, says she has no family name. At the end of the movie, answering the question under the watchfulness of Luke’s and Leia’s “Force ghosts,” she says “Rey Skywalker.”

This is pretty controversial, since she’s related to Palpatine, not Skywalker. It’s obvious J.J. Abrams wanted Rey to inherit Luke’s mantle as the central Jedi hero in Star Wars, the wide eyed idealist who restores hope to the galaxy, and perhaps, may end up training the next generation of Jedis. The comparison also shows us that both she and Luke had relatives who were Sith lords, which, I suppose in Abrams’ vision, symbolically makes her a “Skywalker.”

But this movie is touted as the end of the Luke Skywalker saga, and given the previous film’s title, I wonder if Disney doesn’t just want to bury the entire Jedi order and the very concept of Jedis and the Force.

On the other hand, it’s strongly hinted that Finn, and some of the other former stormtroopers, are Force sensitive, so there’s some possibility that would factor into future movies.

I recently watched a YouTube video called The Unmaking of Star Wars: Why Progressives Killed It and How, which is the single most cynical assessment of the Abrams/Johnson trilogy I’ve ever encountered.

Yes, “Last Jedi” suffered from some extremely obvious progressive themes/lectures (and was plodding and boring), but I didn’t see it so much in this movie. The flip side to allegations of hyper-progressiveness, is the essay Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Glorifies Abuse and Assault Against Women written by “Emily” at the Star Wars Shadow Council. This article casts Kylo and Rey as two partners in a relationship of domestic violence. Yes, I’m serious.

Their “About” page doesn’t say it as such, but it seems the site has a highly focused bias relative to Star Wars, evidenced in part, in the article Where is Finn?: The Erasure and Sidelining of a Star Wars Protagonist . Here’s a telling quote:

It’s pretty ironic in retrospect that when the Sequel Trilogy began, there was a large pushback from racists and bigots that a black man and a woman couldn’t be the protagonists in the newest trilogy of Star Wars movies. People were honestly trying to boycott it because a white guy wasn’t the protagonist.

Typically, the criticism I hear against the current trilogy has nothing to do with the race or gender of protagonists. Rather, it’s about mishandling the franchise, being overly preachy about social justice themes, and not knowing how to tell a good story.

Having said that, the above quoted article did present a very detailed analysis, with examples, of how some extremist alt-right folks really did hate Finn being a black hero. It was so long, I finally had to stop reading the commentary so I could get some sleep last night. Just keep in mind that a small group of fringe radicals doesn’t represent the rest of us.

The beat goes on.

“The Rise of Skywalker” is generally a fun film. Lots of action, several “feel good” moments, and a resolution to yet another galactic conflict. It’s also really predictable, with Abrams’ approach to Star Wars being to pull out the best parts of the original trilogy, and then pump them up with superior CGI and other special effects. I mean the crashed Death Star (number two) lying in the sea near the shore on some storm swept grasslands, and Rey and Kylo reprising the battle fought by Luke and Darth Vader in virtually the same spot. What a scene.

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Promotional image from the 2019 film “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

It was a better movie than I thought it was going to be, but then I was anticipating another “Last Jedi”. I think Abrams was trying to honor the older, more die hard fans, but frankly, I still don’t think he understands “Star Wars.” It’s a fun romp, but it suffers from the same ailment as other sequels. It tries too hard to give the fans the two or three things everyone liked in prior films without trying to do something original using good writing.

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