Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

Not even going to bother to summarise the story this time. xD

Spoiler-free opinion: I thought it was better than The Force Awakens, had a tighter story than The Last Jedi but still has some issues.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A very spoiler-filled opinion follows below…

The Light Side

  • They finally gave their new trio – Rey, Finn, and Poe – a reasonable amount of screentime together. At least they all now feel like friends. Finn and Poe especially share the screen a good deal, and there’s quite a bit of fun banter between the two of them.
  • Considering the unplanned messiness of this sequel trilogy overall, this movie did well to close the story arc in a relatively logical manner. That’s definitely something. It could have been a much bigger mess.
  • Rey addresses Leia as her Master once, which means that Leia was “qualified” enough or experienced enough to be able to train her as a Jedi. That’s borne out by a later flashback (courtesy of Force ghost Luke) to Leia’s training with him. The explanation of why she stopped was a bit hollow but Abrams wrote himself into a corner there. She quit because she had a vision that her son would die…? Uh, okay.
  • Leia has a lightsaber! I liked that. :D
  • I really like that there is mention of and even a brief flashback to Leia’s Jedi training with Luke. The face replacement and the CGI-ed faces of a younger Luke and Leia work extremely well here because (1) you only see their faces for a brief moment when their helmet faceplates come up, and (2) they’re doing lightsaber training in a dark forest somewhere so the faces are half in shadow.
  • It is to the credit of the writers as well as the acting skills of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver that I felt the latent attraction between Rey and Kylo Ren from their odd Force-based telepathic conversations in TLJ and ROS. So that one charged moment when they kiss didn’t blindside me or feel undeserved. The emotion was plausible.
  • I will also give them credit for having Ben Solo die seconds after that. I did think he might die in this movie, but I didn’t expect that exact sequence of events. So they managed a plot twist that surprised me and didn’t completely annoy me. hahah
  • The vision/memory Ben has of his father was quite nicely done. I feel like they must’ve done some CGI work on Harrison Ford‘s face though because I’m under the impression that he doesn’t look that young now, nor did he look that way in The Force Awakens. I’ll need to go compare screenshots and photos…
  • The flirtation between Poe and his old friend Zorii was mildly amusing. If only that woman had actually taken off her helmet properly, I would have liked her better. Her perpetually having her whole head covered by her helmet (except that one scene where we see her eyes) was distracting and reminded me of a combination of that useless Phasma from the previous two movies, and the bounty hunter, Zam Wesell, from Attack of the Clones.
  • General Hux leaking information in an attempt to topple Supreme Leader Kylo Ren was pretty good and made a lot of sense. It also made a lot of sense that General Pryde saw right through him and shot him dead. This trilogy has no qualms about introducing and killing off their villains abruptly apart from Kylo Ren. See also: Captain Phasma, Snoke. hahaha
  • Adam Driver really does give one heck of a good performance. Not just in this movie, but in all the three. I may not find him visually believable as the son of Leia and Han, but he conveyed the complicated psychology of the character very well indeed.
    Also, that little “Well? Bring it on” shrug when he gets the lightsaber during his fight with the Knights of Ren was a nice touch. Very Han Solo-esque.
  • I liked the little Wedge Antilles cameo. They should’ve included him and Lando far more to make up for lack of Leia.
  • Poe Dameron, pilot of the Falcon? It worked. He had the Han Solo feel here, more than in the previous two movies. But he really didn’t need the similar background (spice runner, smuggler; same thing) to make him more interesting.

The Dark Side

  • The movie runtime is 2 hours 22 minutes. I felt it.
    Yes, the story is tighter than TLJ but it still drags, especially in the first half. The hunt for the Sith Wayfinder (which I keep wanting to call a Holocron because that’s a term I’m more used to seeing in the Legends books) was not enthralling.
    Rey’s training sequence also didn’t do much for me. She had that long run through the “obstacle course” which didn’t demonstrate a whole lot apart from being intercut with shots of Kylo Ren and some memory flashes for her. I suppose it showed her Force skills but it felt too drawn out and was ultimately not much use since she’s able to do a whole bunch of other things without apparently no guidance – like transference of life force.
  • This movie succumbed to the all-too common modern problem of having scenes that were so dark that I struggled to make things out. Dark caves, dark ruins, dark interiors, whatever. Lots of shadow and dim blue lighting. I’m not a fan of this look, especially when it occurs so frequently in a movie.
  • You feel the impact of Carrie Fisher‘s untimely death on the way they told the story. There’s a significant lack of Leia where it matters.
    When Leia staggers away and whats-her-name (played by Lupita Nyongo) remarks that Leia knows what she needs to do to save her son even if it takes all her remaining strength… That’s the last we see of Carrie Fisher proper. (And I bet that was an alternative scene showing Leia sensing Han’s death in TFA.) After that, we don’t really see Leia anymore. When she lies down on the bed, presumably reaching out to her son, we don’t see her face. Then there’s close-up of her hand falling limp. That’s it. We are told she dies by the reactions of her son, of Rey, and of Artoo. We don’t ever hear what she says to her son; you just barely her say his name.
    This isn’t the sort of thing that works better when merely implied. I think we needed to hear and see more of Leia for the closing of her story to feel at all satisfactory. What did Ben sense of her right before she dies? Just his name? Palpatine even says that the “Princess of Alderaan” has thwarted part of his plan. It’s evident that she reached out to her son and that he sensed her call – it stops him in his tracks long enough for Rey to disarm and wound him almost fatally. But not ever seeing Leia’s face at that moment, not hearing more than his name… That took something away from the scene.
    I think I only felt the weight of Leia’s death when Chewie learns of it and breaks down, howling. No other moment in the movie made me feel even close to tears.
  • Not knowing what Leia says to Ben means that his return to the light side of the Force is also undermined. I couldn’t fully understand it. It could be said that the kernel of good in him was always nagging at the back of his mind, and that having to kill his father also haunted him, so he ultimately turned back because he was good after all. But it isn’t justified in a satisfactory way in the narrative.
  • I am not very keen on how the mythos of the Force has been portrayed in or affected by the sequel trilogy’s events. Why was Palpatine still alive? How is it that Rey and Kylo Ren can have those telepathic conversations but at the same time have physical objects transfer themselves through those telepathic conversations? In TLJ when Luke (or rather his Force-projected self) brought Han’s silly golden dice to Leia, the dice vanished later – they weren’t real. But also in TLJ, Kylo Ren felt the water droplets from where Rey was. In this movie, he snatches a necklace right off her, and Vader’s smashed-up helmet rolls to his feet when she knocks it from the pedestal in his quarters. (I did find his cool, unhurried, “So that’s where you are” line very effective though.) She even passes him a lightsaber that way! While the lightsaber thing was rather clever as a story device, it drove me nuts because how does that even work?! And shouldn’t it have fallen in front of him instead of appearing in his hand behind his back? The physicality of that scene didn’t make sense. Looked great, but was illogical.
    In TLJ it was suggested that Snoke was the one inducing those telepathic conversations between Rey and Kylo Ren. But here, it’s as though Kylo Ren is starting them himself? Or it’s just happening randomly, as the Force wills it?
    The odd amplification of Force powers also showed through Force ghost Yoda in the last movie and Force ghost Luke here. Force ghost Yoda could call lightning down to burn a tree, and Force ghost Luke catches his own lightsaber and then lifts his X-wing out of the sea for Rey. Why don’t the Force ghost Jedi just do everything then? What are the rules for what they can and cannot do?
  • There were a lot of things that lacked explanation or even logical extrapolation. The number one question would be: “How is Palpatine still alive?” It’s never explained. How did he survive that fall down the Death Star’s shaft?? How did he get to that Sith planet? Who took care of him? Is there more than just one or two Sith after all? Despite what Sidious kept saying in the prequels? I couldn’t figure out whether the hordes of hooded Sith acolytes were real or a part of a vision in Rey’s head, since Palpatine kept saying that all the Sith of the past are contained in him.

    How did Ben Solo get off that Endor moon or planet? Rey left in his ship. Did he just commandeer some random ship? Did he find a working vessel in the wreckage of the Death Star?

    How have the Sith been managing to build that massive fleet? Where’d they get the money and resources?

    How did Lando Calrissian convince what seems like every other battle-worthy ship in the galaxy to come to the aid of the tiny Resistance at Exel… I can’t even remember the name of the Sith planet now. Exelor? Exegol? Oh well. But Leia Organa Solo sent out a call for help at Crait in TLJ and no one responded (as Poe Dameron rightly points out). Why, then, did they suddenly decide to help just because Lando and Chewie go to get help? And they came extremely quickly. It did not make sense. Why wasn’t Wedge Antilles with the Resistance in the first place? Why wasn’t Lando with them in the first place?

    Finn and that other ex-Stormtrooper lead their group onto a star destroyer… on horseback. Well, not literal horses, but some sort of large horse-like beasts. That destroyer is in the air. Yes, it’s still within a planet’s atmosphere but are you telling me that humans and normally ground-based animals can dash around on the outside of a flying vehicle way up in the sky without needing any sort of breathing apparatus? Imagine having cavalry riders on horseback on the wing of a Boeing 747 while it’s in the air. Where is the logic?! This was the #1 Stupid Thing in the whole movie.

    The fleet itself makes less and less sense the more I think about it. There were hundreds of star destroyers lined up at Exegol/Exelor/whatever. And they’re all equipped with Death Star-level firepower. One was sent to blast Kirinji… Kijiri… The other planet. So they’re clearly large full-size star destroyers, if not the extra large super star destroyers. But. But… How do so many of them fit within a planet’s atmosphere? The Resistance ships are miniscule in comparison – especially since they don’t have any flagships – but I suspect there are some points of visual scale and size that were not fully thought through here. I could be wrong, but aren’t star destroyers massive things that have to be built off-planet in orbital shipyards? I need to check the Wookieepedia.
  • The final battle wasn’t much. There was a lot happening but again, it’s inconceivable that this tiny group of Resistance fighters did not immediately get gunned down by laser fire from several hundred star destroyers shooting at them at the same time. The Force was with them, I guess. John Williams’ soaring main title music cue at that point didn’t land as well as it could have because the victory didn’t feel deserved.
    Rogue One did a much better job of staging a battle with multiple threads of action happening at once. This one was just like “chaos in the air”, “Finn is doing something”, and “Palpatine vs Rey and Ben”. The latter was the clearest and easiest to follow but the other two threads were not clear and not very exciting.
  • Rey’s last fight with Palpatine was underwhelming. She appears to just reflect his Force lighting back at him with two lightsabers? I’m not sure why Palpatine looked alarmed when she summoned the second one. Darth Sidious once had an apprentice who wielded a double-bladed lightsaber and Mace Windu reflected his own lightning back at him with one lightsaber. Why the shock here? Was it just because he realised she embodied “all the Jedi”?
  • One thing I appreciated greatly about the prequels was the sheer variety in costume and set design. The sequel trilogy have, for the most part, just been echoing the original trilogy. The OT, though strong in story, did not have a great variety of costumes or sets. This was explained away by the basic scenarios (the more practical needs of Rebellion fighters and the military-based Empire mean that you see less variety) and by the fact that they planet-hop a lot less. The prequels showed us different characters at different levels of society on vastly different planets. A visual feast.
    The sequels have reverted to OT levels of costume and set design while planet-hopping like the PT did. This makes the sequels irritatingly dull from a visual standpoint. Crait was the most inventive of the new locations, and Rogue One‘s Scarif was another breath of fresh air. Apart from that it’s been mostly desert and forest and seedy places. Why do they never go anywhere else?
  • Poe Dameron, leader of the Resistance? Meh. I didn’t feel the character was convincing as a leader. Nor Finn, for that matter. I get that Leia was supposed to have chosen Poe to deputise but he, like Han Solo, does a lot better when not in the administrative chair. The pilot’s seat suits Han and Poe just fine, and they can command small groups – under someone else’s leadership. Wedge Antilles should have come in to work with and then replace Leia. I would’ve been able to believe Wedge’s leadership more. But then… Perhaps the point was for the Resistance to feel as hopeless as possible?
  • (This one started out in the “Ambiguous” section below but by the time I finished writing it, I decided it was a definite negative so here it is.)
    It is too sad that Ben Solo dies at the end of this movie. It makes narrative sense, and I appreciate that J.J. Abrams dared to go there. But it’s also depressing in how none of the Skywalkers had good ends to their lives. Shmi Skywalker dies after being captured by Tusken Raiders. Padmé dies in childbirth and in anguish over Anakin. Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side and dies almost right after turning back to the light side and saving his son. Han Solo (technically related to the Skywalkers by marriage) and Leia end up separating, and Han dies at the hand of his own son. Luke exiles himself out of fear and guilty and eventually dies after exhausting himself in a fight with his nephew. Leia dies, exhausting herself to reach out to her son in a last-ditch attempt to save him. Ben is saved because of his mother and Rey, but he himself dies after exhausting himself by transferring his life force to Rey. So they all die sad deaths?! (Owen and Beru Lars, related by marriage, were murdered in cold blood so there’s that too…) Come on, after giving Han, Luke, and Leia that sort of end, Ben Solo couldn’t have that? Sigh.
    It would have been a happier ending to have Ben Solo live and be the natural continuation of the Skywalker line, since he’s half Skywalker. But of course, I recognise that thematically, it makes sense for Rey to be that continuation since she represents the new generation of Jedi. It’s simply not emotionally satisfying when I consider the misery of the real Skywalkers and their immediate relations.

The Ambiguous Side

  • Lando’s purpose in this movie was little more than fan service. I don’t think they gave him enough to do to warrant his inclusion in the story. They should have given him a moment of mourning for Leia onscreen. Could’ve been Lando and Chewie together maybe. If they’d included Wedge, even better.
  • I couldn’t help wondering if Allegiant General Pryde was supposed to be a clone of Tarkin or a relative. He did have a Tarkin-like look and he mentioned serving Palpatine long before…
  • Parts of this movie felt like they were just trying to address fan complaints. People said the new trio didn’t have enough time together. This movie puts them together a lot more and has them reiterate time and time again that they’re going to do this together.
    People said Holdo’s move in TLJ (slicing right into a star destroyer with a hyperspace jump) was silly and why wasn’t it done more often, if such a move worked? Someone here remarks that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of move (or something to that effect).
    People didn’t like Rey’s parents being just nobodies. Problem solved – she’s Palpatine’s granddaughter. Pretty sure there were fan theories floating around that proposed this.
    People said Rey succeeded too easily without training. Here we see that she kinda struggles in training and doesn’t complete the obstacle course. (But then she turns right around and somehow knows how to transfer her life force to another being to heal wounds. She can also stop a transport dead in its tracks and strike it with Force lightning too. So was she really struggling?)
  • Not sure what to make of Finn’s having Something to tell Rey. Seemed like a confession, maybe? But what about poor Rose?
  • Kylo Ren’s lightsaber design with the blade crossguards seems terribly inconvenient. Does he never accidentally cut himself or his clothes with it?
  • Dominic Monaghan plays some minor character here but it was a nice surprise to see and hear Merry again.
  • I think it says something that I cannot remember the name of Lupita Nyongo’s character (though she has appeared in all the sequel movies) and struggle to recall the name of the Sith planet in this movie but I can remember the name of a bounty hunter that from Attack of the Clones in 2002 (Zam Wesell).
  • For all that people say Return of the Jedi‘s Ewoks were designed to appeal to kids only, or for toy sales, you cannot tell me that the sequels are not doing the same thing. BB-8 in TFA, Porgs in TLJ, and now BB-8’s new friend, D-O. They’re all cute. There’s no way these are/were not going to end up as toys.
  • Last week I said to Vinly that there’s no way any of the new trio will die in this movie because one’s a woman, one’s a black man and the other’s a Hispanic man. “Only the old white guys will die. And maybe Kylo Ren. Because he’s white and represents the dominant white male stereotype thing.”
    I was right. Hux dies, Kylo Ren dies, Palpatine dies. Rey lives, as do Poe and Finn. And Rose.
  • So in the end, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren did follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. Good turned dark turned good again, finding redemption at the end – saved by love – and dying to save someone he loves(?). From a pure narrative standpoint, that works and I think it works well. Thematically, emotionally? Still irritating because why make Vader’s sacrifice irrelevant just for this?
  • I’m not sure I like Rey claiming the name Skywalker at the end. It makes sense, but I don’t know if I really like that.
    Rey didn’t need a new name. Characters just kept asking her about it so that we’d be reminded that she doesn’t have a last name. It does sort of represent the fact that she’s rejecting her grandfather’s Sith ways and embracing the way of the Jedi instead but her parents were also clearly not Sith. Which parent was Palpatine’s child – her mother or her father? If it was her father, what was his last name? Palpatine? Or was he an illegitimate child and so carried his mother’s last name instead of Palpatine? If that was the case, Rey could’ve just stuck with whatever her name originally was. She didn’t need the Skywalker name.
    You know what it is? It is a way of “rebooting” the franchise.

So do I like the movie? Did I find it satisfying? Yes and no. It’s like The Last Jedi for me. It is a competent film. There are things I like, and things I don’t like. It closes what it means to close. Rationally satisfying in that the narrative is tied up fairly neatly. But emotionally satisfying? No.

Many of the things I find unsatisfying are problems that began in The Force Awakens and these are irreversible. These are problems such as the apparent reversion to square one – First Order vs Resistance is exactly like Empire vs Rebellion – and the negative character arcs for the beloved trio (Luke’s self-exile due to fear of his nephew, Han and Leia’s long separation), all of which undermine the victory achieved at Endor in Return of the Jedi.

I think Terry said it best: the sequel trilogy had problems right from the start with TFA and nothing can really fully fix it all.

Got anything to add or say? :D