When I was seated for The Rise of Skywalker, it was the first time that I’ve ever felt uneasy before a Star Wars movie. After two years of build-up, I wasn’t sure what to expect; it felt like so much of my life had been leading up to this, so what would happen once it was over? Star Wars has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. These characters were people I’d grown up with — alongside their stories, their action figures and, of course, those Halloween costumes.
But it wasn’t until late-2015 that I finally felt like it was all mine. If not for The Force Awakens, I doubt I’d have started writing about film in the first place. I certainly wouldn’t have joined Star Wars Twitter, and I wouldn’t be preparing to fly across the country for Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in 2020 to meet up with some of the amazing friends I’ve made through this online community. Although my opinion on The Last Jedi was a little more complicated, I still deeply enjoyed the film and appreciated Rian Johnson’s fresh and ambitious perspective on the series. Given the surrounding controversy, though, the pressure only seemed to build for this final installment — which marks the end of a 42-year journey with the Skywalkers.
The Rise of Skywalker was certainly not an easy feat to pull off. Nevertheless, I was excited for the sequel trilogy to end where it began — with J.J. Abrams finishing the story he had started 4 years ago.
(Warning: mild spoilers to follow.)
Two and a half hours later, I left the theater unsure of my own emotions. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at what felt like a rushed amalgam of fan theories and course correction in response to The Last Jedi — with a U-turn over Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) parentage being the most obvious offender. Central to Episode VIII was the notion of identity and finding yourself: Rey spends so much of her time wanting to know where she came from, who her parents were, what her place is; and The Last Jedi reinforces the idea that it doesn’t matter what your bloodline is –– anyone can be a Jedi, anyone can bring about change.
To my dismay, however, The Rise of Skywalker reaches a different conclusion. While I won’t go into specific details regarding Rey’s ancestry, it couldn’t help but feel like a slap in the face after the core message of The Last Jedi. This wasn’t the only moment that felt like that, either –– the film is peppered with jokes at the expense of its predecessor, and corrections of its supposed wrongdoings. Regardless of your opinion on Johnson’s film, the tone of The Rise of Skywalker only highlights the lack of foresight that took place when the sequel trilogy was first conceptualized. Directors should, of course, make their own decisions and not be forced to follow a strict plan, but this only works with a certain level of communication across films and shared respect for the resulting storytelling. It doesn’t seem like J.J. Abrams had all that much respect for the story that Rian Johnson told — and it really shows.
The other striking issue with The Rise of Skywalker is how rushed it all feels. A lot was made about the 3h runtime of Avengers: Endgame, but I almost wish this was closer to it in length. This is a story that needs much more room to breathe; the film undoubtedly tries to accomplish a lot in 140 minutes, and while some of it absolutely lands, that which doesn’t really doesn’t. The first act particularly suffers from these pacing issues, frequently stumbling over itself in its attempt to introduce the story and its various MacGuffins. While it eventually evens out and slows down to a degree as the film progresses, the audience rarely has a moment to process any of the events: as soon as one thing happens, so does another — often with little regard to what had literally just occurred.
To maximize enjoyment, it’s better not to focus too much on the plot itself, so let’s talk positives. The heart of Star Wars always lies in its central trio, and there were some genuinely great moments of love, fighting, understanding, and sacrifice on display between our main heroes. The time that we do spend with Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) brings such joy and chemistry to the screen, as well as some of my favorite moments from the entire trilogy (that hug had me sobbing!). Adam Driver is allowed the chance to flex his acting chops in what is certainly his best performance as Kylo Ren, while Kelly Marie Tran charms as Rose once again — though her character plays a significantly smaller role this time around.
Of course, The Rise of Skywalker would be nothing without Leia. The sequel trilogy has focused on a different member of the original trio with each movie — Han’s being The Force Awakens and Luke’s The Last Jedi. Although Carrie Fisher passed away in late-2016, unused footage from The Force Awakens allowed for The Rise of Skywalker to give Leia a proper send-off. Some of the dialogue inevitably feels stiff (it is repurposed footage, after all), but it does feel like one last goodbye to the princess we’ve known and loved for so long. Leia has always been the strongest member of the original trio, and we are reminded of that here — standing as Rey’s true Jedi Master, rather than Luke (a point emphasized by Rey wielding her saber in the final battle instead of Luke’s). I can’t help but wonder what the story might have looked like if Carrie were still here, but she nevertheless embodies the heart and soul of Star Wars in the Skywalker Saga’s final installment.
(End of spoilers.)
Ultimately, the biggest failing of The Rise of Skywalker is its attempt to be everything for everyone, when it should have instead focused on its own visions and themes. When it soars, it really soars — and the best moments are those where the genuine love of Star Wars shines through, the moments where the trio feels like a family, where Rey chooses her own path, where no one is alone. Those are the moments that make Star Wars, the ones that ultimately stay with us long after the credits have rolled.
I’m so glad I got the chance to say goodbye to the characters that have meant so much to me for so long, and I would always advise any Star Wars fan to do the same. After all, despite all its flaws, there is something incredibly special about having one final ride with our Star Wars family.