Have you seen the TV show Arrested Development? The first three seasons aired on Fox and was canceled after the 3rd season, encountering fan outrage. The first three seasons were so good. Netflix decided to revive the show and created a season four, which was horrible. They then released the fifth season on Netflix a few years after the fourth, where they tried to right the wrongs, listen to fans complaints and bring the show back to what it was. It was better, but not by much.
This is how the Sequel Trilogy has felt for me. I thought The Force Awakens started strongly. It took it’s time, it was carefully done, the characters were fleshed out and it was a solid movie. It had faults, but overall it was good, one of my favorites. The Last Jedi felt like the revived Netflix version of Arrested Development. It was a train wreck and frustrating to watch such potential crash and burn. The Rise of Skywalker attempted to pull together the mess that was left and make sense of it as best it could, similar to the fifth season of Arrested Development. It worked, it’s fine, but it was time to end after the chaos was created by TLJ. My feelings for these past three movies pretty much mirrors how my emotions played out with Arrested Development.
What Disney has done with the Sequel Trilogy looked great on paper when they first bought Star Wars. They thought creating a trilogy with different directors at the helm of each movie would provide different perspectives and a Star Wars for a new generation, but still acknowledging the older fans. I will gladly admit I thought it was a great idea too. Where I was misled, or didn’t understand completely, is that they didn’t have an overarching storyline to guide these directors. The original trilogy had a different director for each movie, but Lucas was there guiding it and had a story that he knew would run through the movies. This was the (obvious) key missing in this new trilogy. With each director coming in with a new story, it’s plays out like the old EU novels, which is acceptable in books – but not in a billion dollar movie franchise. This was a huge opportunity that Disney wasted; they should have kept JJ Abrams (or another director) signed on for all three movies. At the very least, the story wouldn’t feel rushed and disjointed. If anything, it may have even been able to hold up to the other trilogies. Imagine that!
I knew going into this movie that Abrams was left with the huge task of taking scattered pieces and plots of TLJ and creating an ending that remained true to the characters he formed in TFA, try to right the wrongs that fans felt Johnson created with TLJ, and make a movie that flowed…somehow. I also knew this was an impossible task.
The Rise of Skywalker started out fast and choppy. You jumped right into action with Kylo Ren finding the Emperor (wow, that was fast, especially as we hadn’t heard one thing about the emperor in the previous two movies) who was not dead, somehow. Palpatine is, uh, indescribable. Not a zombie, barely alive, but yet seems quite fully alive at the same time. Yeah, beats me. He sets Kylo on the task of killing Rey, but knows that it probably won’t happen as he predicts later in the movie that Rey will eventually seek him out and lead the Resistance to this planet Exegol.
If you’ve been following any of the books that have been coming out since TLJ, or even before TLJ, there have been a lot of references to the Unknown Regions, of something happening “out there” in the fringes of the galaxy where no one can get to. It’s explained now – the Emperor had a backup Empire there, which he called the Final Order. Tons of Star Destroyers and also a weird lab where he himself is waiting and where he created Snoke.
Rey, meanwhile, is training under Leia to become a Jedi. She decides to pickup the quest that Luke deserted – finding Exegol. The movie then becomes a mysterious quest, with Poe and Finn who go along with Rey for a bit to find clues along the way. It reminded me strongly of Lord of the Rings. This feeling that everyone is on a quest to find a solution to the mystery, but swear to remain together until the end. The only time we’ve seen something even slightly similar is in Attack of the Clones, where Obi-Wan’s plot is to figure out who is trying to assassinate Padmé and goes on a hunt with little clues taking him around the galaxy, eventually finding Jango Fett at Kamino. However, that was more a secondary or concurrent plot, so it mostly worked. To make it the main plot of this movie was harder because in order to be invested in this quest, you had to care. And I felt like I didn’t care. The emperor was thrown so randomly into this movie with Rey trying to figure out clues and I was, for lack of a better phrase, “over it”.
The rest of the movie falls into Kylo Ren chasing Rey, Leia being somehow Force connected to Ben (Disney loves this; watch Frozen II) and dying when Kylo gets stabbed by Rey, but then Rey heals Kylo Ren with Phoenix tears (kidding, with the Force), which somehow Ben is able to do later on?
In the midst of this, we have a new annoying Imperial officer, because for some reason Hux wasn’t good enough (I loved Hux, one of my favorite characters) so they had to kill Hux. (Are you scratching your head yet?)
Rose is completely forgotten as a character. Yup, Rose has almost no role in this movie. I didn’t love Rose, I didn’t love that they used her as a love storyline for Finn, but after having her kiss him and save his life, she seemed like a strong power player in this series. No. Nope. Not at all. She gets shunted to the side and a new ex-stormtrooper like Finn, Jannah, gets to play Finn’s female sidekick. Why does Finn always need a female sidekick? With Rey in TFA, it seemed important and it drove the story. But in TLJ and TROS, it feels like the directors don’t know what Finn’s role is or why he’s in the movie. Is he there for diversity? Is he there because they want three heroes like the OT? To shed light on the First Order as a defector? (You’re bewildered at this point, right? Me too.)
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – Rey is a Palpatine (I’m not going to go into how that is possible in this post because it would make it longer than it is. But if you want more speculation and info, this article could whet your appetite). Here’s what I will say about this, and I have a lot of mixed feelings: this entire trilogy created Rey to be one of my favorite characters, and they did not let me down with TROS. I thought after finding out she was a Palpatine, they would have her fall to the dark side. But she didn’t. She may have edged toward it, but she never fell. At the end of the movie, when Rey confronts Palpatine and it’s eerily similar to the throne room scene in ROTJ, does she agree to become empress? She nods, but was she just stalling? I don’t think she gave into the dark side like Luke did with his anger. And I was so, so, so happy about that. She did what Luke could not. I always felt a stab of pang when Luke gave into the Emperor’s manipulation and used his lightsaber against him and turned on Vader in a rage. I knew he was better than that, but he cared for his friends too much. Rey was able to hold her own conviction, see the larger picture, and not be tempted to the dark side. It makes you wonder – if Luke had held firm, would he have destroyed the Emperor completely and thoroughly?
I love that Rey still was working through her feelings in this movie, coming to and understanding of her role in the galaxy and how she was going to move forward. I like that she tested boundaries of her power, felt the consequences, but never gave up. She pushed through even though she had the hardest role in the galaxy to play. I liked seeing this realness, watching her internal and external struggle between what may not a good choice, but the right one. When she heals Kylo Ren after stabbing him, I think she’s an idiot. But by doing so, she plays a huge role in his redemption so that he can turn back to the light side and in turn, repay the favor at the end of the movie. Yes, after she healed him, his storyline was predictable, but I still liked it.
I am happy that Rey is still a character I love and adore…I just wish I could say the same about everyone else. Poe’s role was still necessary as the Resistance did need a new leader. Finn, as I said before, seemed superfluous and his only function was as Rey’s friend but we never did find out what he was going to say as he fell into the quicksand. Maybe he loved her. Who knows? We’ll never know because the directors didn’t know what to do with him (again). Chewie was, well, Chewie. No complaints. Threepio had a wonderful role and I enjoyed his comic relief. Artoo and BB-8 were shunted to the side a bit and the new droid, D-0, has a small role and clue that keeps the plot going but we could have found that out in another way. As I mentioned, Rose is shoved aside, Jannah is brought in (why?) and even Poe gets a random love interest in Zorii. But again, why? Why did Poe need Zorii? Her role was important, in a way, but the bombardment of underdeveloped new characters was not thought out well. Again, this scrambling to make a movie was too much and frustrating.
In terms of Leia, I appreciate what they did to keep her essence living on in this movie. I am trying to figure out if I was watching the movie with no knowledge of Fisher’s death, would I notice how awkward it seemed at times? She was very stiff because of how they had to edit. I will not cast stones on Leia because that was one of the hardest pieces of the puzzle to work out and Abrams did an excellent job. Her role was expanded in some ways and we learn that she did try to learn the Force and become a Jedi, which was interesting (and seeing younger Luke and Leia made me smile).
I honestly, truly believe that if JJ had been at the helm for all three movies, this may have played out much better. He would have had more time to delve into the characters and the plot and flesh it out. Introducing new characters in a trilogy doesn’t feel as cumbersome when the main ones have a firm foundation. Instead, this felt rushed and like Disney and Abrams had a cluttered movie. I wish they hadn’t introduced any new characters but instead focused on the ones they had, given us more to feel and understand with them.
I will, of course, see this movie again in the theaters to come to a better understanding. And maybe a few more times. But did it entertain and delight me? No. Not with the first viewing. Other than Rey, I felt this movie was a disappointment. Not as bad as The Last Jedi, which I still feel like was a travesty. Yet I also know that I was uncomfortable with The Force Awakens the first time I saw it but grew to love it with a passion. However, I do believe that TFA was handled a lot more carefully and thought out a lot better. This movie doesn’t give me that feeling.
Time will tell, but for now, the Force was not with The Rise of Skywalker.