There are spoilers for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in this review.
No, really. I’m going to be discussing TROS in depth, including plot points you don’t want to know going into the film.
Last warning. I swear on Baby Yoda’s coffee mug you won’t want to read on if you haven’t seen the latest “Star Wars” film.
Then again, there’s also a good chance you won’t like what I say even if you have seen the new film. I’ll start with one caveat: “Star Wars” fandom is incredibly fractured, and TROS was doomed before it ever hit the big screen.
“The Last Jedi” was a divisive entry when it came out a couple of years ago, but the new trilogy was arguably doomed from the get-go when the decision was made that three different captains would helm the three parts of the new trilogy. The original plan didn’t work out, and J.J. Abrams ended up in the director’s chair for the first and third installments while Rian Johnson helmed the second film.
Both Abrams and Johnson had very different visions of where this story was headed. Abrams got the ball rolling, and Johnson kicked it the other way. With these warring takes, there was no way TROS was going to please everyone.
The plot is a bit convoluted — still not as bad as “Cats,” though — so I won’t try to go into that too heavily but rather focus on some bits that are a bit troublesome. To be honest, I’m pretty conflicted about this one. I loved “The Force Awakens (TFA),” hated “The Last Jedi” (TLJ) — although I’ve only seen it once so take that with a grain of salt — and I wasn’t sure how I felt about TROS. The film ticked off all the boxes I needed. I laughed. I cried. I felt thrills. I cheered characters on. There were a lot of high points, but there were a lot of low points, too.
The storyline had holes big enough to fly the Millennium Falcon through, and the creative team seemed to simply make up plot points because “why not?” Abrams tried to continue the story he began in TFA, threw in some TLJ bits and then made up things that were completely new to the trilogy because, of course, it makes sense to introduce entirely new characters, villains and other crucial details in the final installment.
For example, we discover the source of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) power, and it’s nothing you would have considered unless you follow plot leaks. She’s the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who isn’t actually dead and has been kept alive for 40 years by being plugged into an outlet, for lack of a better word, on a mythical planet no one can find without super rare maps. While plugged into this outlet, he’s also the mastermind behind the previous films’ big bad Snoke — apparently he created him — and his team of henchman have built a fleet of star destroyers, each complete with an inappropriately placed planet-killing cannon.
Actually, Rey’s power is tied to both Palpatine and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver), whose arc basically ends in the most ridiculous way. In TFA, he was the antagonist with a temper, but we were curious to see how far he would go. In TLJ, he was the shirtless wonder who was a star-crossed lover with Rey and told her so in many, many person-to-person calls. His character arc dies — quite literally — in TROS. There are weird moments that get us there, and none of them seem organic, but Han Solo (Harrison Ford) makes an appearance to let Kylo Ben (not a typo) know it’s totally cool he stabbed him two movies ago. Considering how much Ford hates “Star Wars,” I imagine that check must have been pretty hefty. Or, he’s really doing his best to get “Indiana Jones 5” made.
Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who had a fairly decent-sized role in TLJ, is relegated to a few speaking lines and what might as well be a cameo. When Finn (John Boyega) asks her to come along on a huge adventure, she says no because she has to study. Since Tran was harassed after TLJ by internet trolls to the point she left social media, it appears the franchise bowed to the pressure of fanboys barely out of diapers because Rose might as well have not even been in the movie.
Speaking of Finn, he’s back to being lame and whiny here. That seems to be the only consistent element of this trilogy. And, it’s a shame, too. The character was introduced in TFA as a force sensitive stormtrooper who was so apprehensive about violence that he deserted his post. Two movies later, his force sensitivity has been given barely any more attention. In fact, he runs around all movie telling Rey that he has a secret to tell her. Guess what? The movie never gets around to it.
On the other hand, Poe (Oscar Isaac) is a cool, flat character. He has always been cocky and doubtful about the Resistance, serving as the poor man’s Solo. His arc here is similar to TFA, except he has a potential love interest — Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) — whose entire purpose is to give us a little more of his backstory. (He was a former spice runner who knew a lot of shady people.) Bliss has no agency, no interior life, no motivation for anything she does, like all of the characters in this entry who are mere pawns to be moved as Abrams and Co. see fit.
Two of the brightest moments this time are tiny droidsmith Babu Frik and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Frik is a scene stealer, and he rivals Baby Yoda in the awesome department. Fisher, who passed away before TROS, appears in this installment thanks to unused scenes from TFA and TLJ. She was incorporated into this one in an admirable way, and it gives her a proper send-off, albeit one that wasn’t planned this way.
A lot of this sequel trilogy wasn’t planned well, though. I’m not sure what or who is to blame. George Lucas had an idea for these three films, and Disney apparently passed on it. Recent reporting pokes holes in that narrative and suggests that Johnson’s picture followed Lucas’ original plan for Episode VII. Cast interviews, explicitly with Driver, suggest that Abrams and Co. knew where Kylo Ren’s arc was headed. After seeing these movies, I’m not sure what to believe anymore. It’s hard to believe this was where the story was headed, and there wasn’t a creative tug-of-war between Abrams and Johnson. The finished product doesn’t really show these guys were working toward the same end.
All of these quibbles might seem silly to some of you. Maybe we should all see these movies with childlike wonder like Steve Wildsmith. Maybe we should shut off the critical eye and soak up these space operas like we would any good melodrama.
A film experience is subjective, so I can’t say whether this was a fitting end to a 42-year-old science fantasy franchise. That depends on you. All I can say is that these characters, movies and stories have been a part of my entire life, and I wasn’t expecting to see them ever again. So, all of this was one big victory lap, a chance to live a couple hours longer in a galaxy far, far away. Maybe all I should have hoped and wished for were cheers, smiles, tears and thrills. For like those children in C.S. Lewis’ novels, my time has come to an end in this magical land. It was good while it lasted.