– By J.W. Fox –
WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW!
Disney’s contribution to the franchise of franchises is complete, allowing us to have a full and fair perspective on what the entertainment behemoth has wrought. They desired to complete the Skywalker saga, or, complete an already complete story. To do that, they had to fabricate entirely new elements to George Lucas’s masterpiece in order to convince audiences there was more to it after Return of the Jedi.
This was a bad idea, both in theory and practice. The first trilogy is the seduction and fall of Anakin, the second trilogy is the redemption of the father through the son. The great evil of the six movies is defeated. The epic story arc complete. Rise of Skywalker felt like someone trying to rewrite history to justify a new movie. The motivation for such an act is easy to guess: money.
Force Awakens introduced us to a galaxy in the midst of a nearly identical conflict, this time the First Order versus the Republic/Resistance. Same roles, only different names. The story structure similar to A New Hope in so many ways, with the faint promise of new the heroes facing new challenges ahead. The Last Jedi moved into some new narrative territory. The big villain is slain, Luke Skywalker does not train Rey like Yoda did with him, and we see a unique connection, possibly romantic, grow between the protagonist and antagonist.
There were new questions to be answered, and potential for the trilogy to truly show us something innovative in Rise of Skywalker.
Tragically, Rise of Skywalker tries to show us something new by changing the past, retreating to the conflict of the original trilogy. We return back to places we’ve already been and meet up with old friends, all in ways that felt forced. The newness of the middle movie was utterly abandoned, due to conflicting creative visions of the directors and the incompetent management by the brand manager, Kathleen Kennedy. You don’t need to be a Disney insider to see it, the evidence is right on screen.
This trilogy ends as a train wreck, with only a handful of redeeming features to make the finale watchable.
The Last Jedi ended with the death of Snoke, the near annihilation of the Resistance, and the death of Luke Skywalker. We learned Rey is not of any of the force-wielding bloodlines and that Kylo Ren had no desire to play Sith apprentice anymore. None of these major events have much relevance in the third movie.
Within the first fifteen minutes, we learn Snoke was just a pawn of the resurrected Emperor Palpatine. His origins dismissed as unimportant and a major villain thrown on a fresh pile of irrelevant features of the first two movies.
The resistance is not annihilated at all but appears to be regenerated into something equivalent to the rebel alliance. So much for all those big battles in the first two movies. The battle of Crait, in particular, ended up serving no strategic significance. Nothing was really at stake except for the survival of the main characters, with the rest being expendable. Leia, in a cold, tone-deaf manner, tells Rey they have everything they need as the heroes all socialize on the Millenium Falcon. There is no mourning for all the faceless and nameless Resistance fighters that were slaughtered through the course of the movie.
Luke’s epic sacrifice is ignored. No one mentions what he did on Crait. He is the last Jedi Master and an icon Rey attempts to live up to, at least she says as much. His guidance from the previous movie is of no significance once we learn Rey’s ancestry. You get the general impression Luke is not speaking to Rey as the future of the Jedi, but as a mere father figure.
Then there is the big reveal after the previous big reveal: Rey isn’t a nobody, she is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. There is exactly zero reference or mention of the Emperor ever having a family, let alone seeking to have them become his successors. Perhaps somewhere in the Expanded Universe, there was more mention of Sith family and relationships but it is absent from the movies.
Kylo Ren plays apprentice once again, this time to Palpatine, and then betrays him as well.
All of this proves what many suspected: Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams had distinctly different visions for this trilogy and had no interest in reconciling them into a coherent story. In fact, Abrams actively undermined Johnson’s movie. His pettiness was on full display: altering Rey’s origins and eliminating Holdo’s kamikaze hyperspace maneuver as a thing in the SW universe.
Someone should have intervened. Someone like Kathleen Kennedy. In the aftermath of the Solo debacle and the creative conflicts in the triology, it is obvious she does not have what it takes to manage this great franchise.
To do his post hoc rewrite of the trilogy narrative, Abrams had to deliver a lot of exposition in Rise of Skywalker. That usually spells trouble for storytelling, but Abrams demonstrated an ability to pack it all in and rush through plot points at breakneck speed.
He also clearly believes action is more important than everything else in Star Wars. That is truly unfortunate. Watch the original trilogy again and you’ll find plenty of scenes without blasters or lightsabers blazing. Lucas and Co. shot numerous cut scenes with character development and setup. Apparently, Abrams believes his audience has intense ADD and wants to skip past those cut scenes as quickly as possible. There are at least a half dozen action sequences, with a few minutes in between to drop some heavy plot points. Consider how many new plot inventions he had to add due to his conflict with Johnson:
- Palpatine is alive and has a cult
- They have all survived in hiding on a secret Sith world called Exegol
- Luke was looking for it with help from Lando, but gave up for some reason
- The Sith cult built a massive fleet somehow
- Each ship in this fleet has its own planet killer
- The Sith forged a short sword with the coordinates where you could find one of the Sith Wayfinders
- There are Sith Wayfinders
- You can use the force to heal rapidly
- You can use the force to teleport stuff
- Ghost Jedi can interact with reality (Luke lifts X-Wing out of water)
- The Knights of Ren matter and they carry medieval melee weapons
- Rey is a Palpatine!
- Rey has a temper
- Palpatine had kids, then killed them
- The Holdo Maneuver is not really a thing. It is only successful 1-in-1,000,000 tries.
- Fin is somehow force sensitive
- Hux is a resistance spy
- Poe has a shady past and an old flame
None of this has any basis or even a subtle hint in the previous movies. All of these are inventions of the writers for this one movie, and all of it had to be explained and accepted by the audience in 150 minutes. Some enjoy this hyperspeed pacing, but after both viewings I felt it was too much to process in one movie.
Ending the Trilogy and the Saga
Perhaps the writers thought there would be something poetic in having a descendant of Darth Sidious become a Jedi heroine who takes him down then takes the name of his greatest enemy. It is, but its elegance is lost in all the laser battles and lightsaber duels. Rey’s connection to her family is awkwardly portrayed, in particular her bizarre dialogue with grandpa. There is no sense they are relatives at all. There is some development of Rey’s affection for the Skywalkers and the actual handing of the torch(lightsaber). It kind of works, in a way, but the ironic twist just isn’t that satisfying overall.
In the end, what is the Skywalker legacy? Skywalkers helped destroy the Jedi Order, build the empire, then tear it down, then fought against its successor. The legacy is cyclical, if anything. Perhaps they destroyed the last Sith when Palpatine was destroyed. One has to ask, how is that balance? The prophecy foretold the chosen one would bring balance to the force. Only, none of them did. If balance is just the maintaining of a permanent war between darkness and light, then yeah, Anakin kind of did that. Luke and Leia too for a while. not exactly a compelling fulfillment of the prophecy.
I also am left wondering if Skywalker really rose in this movie. It would seem Skywalker rose to prominence with Anakin becoming Darth Vader, followed by Luke’s defeat of the Death Star and turning his father back to good. In reality, the Skywalker name had been held high for generations, so exactly what “rose” in this movie? Is it that it is being taken as a family name by Rey, moving it from bloodline to the title given to great heroes? That would be a good, plausible answer but the movie doesn’t seem to bother exploring it.
What is Next for Star Wars?
We probably won’t see an Episode X for a while. Possibly a decade. So, what will Disney do until then? Probably a lot of TV shows taking place prior to the new trilogy. There are rumors of new movies and the possibility of a Knights of the Old Republic spinoff. Kennedy hinted at using the characters from the new trilogy and exploring events that are at much different points in the timeline.
Looking at different points in the timeline might be a good idea. One issue writers will face in moving forward is the fractures in the worldbuilding. The growing prevalence of planet killers presents some serious narrative issues for sequels. These are the new nuclear weapons and shrink the significance of starships, blasters, and laser sword wielding wizards. What made it work from a worldbuilding (no pun intended) standpoint in previous movies is that they were extremely difficult to construct. Abrams blew that up completely. If the Sith could figure out how to put them on ships, someone else will figure it out as well. The future of galactic conflict will be a planet shooting gallery.
There is also the Holdo maneuver, tracking through hyperspace and the growing array of force powers. The passing of force sensitivity in progeny is becoming a new favorite, as I do not recall many Jedi Knights or Sith Lords being related, or even of the same species. If it was a family trait, you’d see clans of Knights and Lords within each Order. The movies have also played fast and loose with the philosophical foundations of the Jedi and Sith religions. I’d also note they’ve failed to develop any new ones either.
The SW Universe was created long ago, largely ignoring attempts at plausibility, which means it relies on its own rules, not on science. It has always been a “lived in” future, not one of innovation or progress. One has to decide if it is best to maintain it as is or begin making alterations. Both come with risk, as we now have many speculative universes in the mainstream. Lucas did not have to contend with the fierce speculative fiction competition that Disney faces today.
Overall, Disney’s trilogy is a failure in storytelling, and a gross indictment of the dysfunction in the company. Abrams demonstrated he cannot be trusted with any great science fiction franchise. It is astounding the Marvel movies is owned and run by the same company. While the Avenger movies grew in popularity (and ticket sales) over time, Star Wars has shrunk. Force Awakens reached an epic $2 billion worldwide, The Last Jedi regressed to $1.3 billion. Rise of Skywalker is on track to full short of both.
The message to Disney is clear. Star Wars needs a new direction.
J.W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls under the pen name Jacob Foxx. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works for a small biotech company in Raleigh, North Carolina.