• Zach Youngs

Movie Review: Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

There will be "spoilers." There will also be an analogy about current politics, so if that's something that's not your thing, skip to the third paragraph after reading the first.

Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the "final" (I'll believe that when I see it) installment in what is known as the Skywalker saga of the 40+ year Star Wars franchise. In this one, Rey, Finn, Poe, and the gang are off to find out how to strike the final blow to the dreaded First Order. Hot on their heels and with his own agenda is Kylo Ren who seeks to solidify his power and ascend to the throne after the last remaining obstacle in his path has been taken care of. The film stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver with too many other cameos, one offs, and bit parts to name. It is directed by J.J. Abrams. It is written by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio with story by credits for Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow.

You can sum up this latest trilogy like the last twelve years of American politics. The Force Awakens was a welcome change and a hope for the future of the franchise. It was a little tepid. It felt like things we'd seen before with a few new bells and whistles on it with a strikingly more diverse cast with a few old players thrown in for fun. Then, with The Last Jedi, we learned to be surprised again, rocked from our complacency. Our ideas about what a Star Wars movie could be or "should" be were tossed out and something new emerged that gave us hope that this franchise may evolve beyond fan service and a cash grab, that unique storytelling could enter this corporate juggernaut. Then came The Rise of Skywalker. After a loud group of people decided that The Last Jedi wasn't what they'd hoped, the studio listened. As a film, The Rise of Skywalker is a fix, a course correction, an attempt to "Make Star Wars Great Again," to apologize to "true fans" and remove the memory of the unfamiliar and return to the safety of nostalgia over substance.

This review will not be entirely negative. If you'll indulge me for two paragraphs, I will tell you things I like. First and foremost, though, where was Rose Tico? The abuse, the horrifying and shocking abuse, that actress Kelly Marie Tran suffered at the online communities reaction to Rose Tico's storyline in The Last Jedi was unconscionable and inhumane. Nearly writing her out of the entirety of The Rise of Skywalker is cowardly. There were no lines to explain it, no character development, nothing. That bit of history, that really humane subplot of The Last Jedi gets completely erased here and Finn is shoved harder toward Rey, then later, super hard into new character Janna. Rose is sidelined and ignored. It's an insult to what that actress went through, what she's still going through. Cowards, utter fucking cowards.

My next point of contention is Rey's story arc. She's Palpatine's granddaughter? Fine, whatever, connect every single dot that's ever been thrown at the screen, who cares, but to a confusing rehash/correction of her connection with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo? That's the real point of contention. What an incredible plot point it was in the last film to have Rey and Kylo connected by the Force. It was so intriguing to the relationship she has with light and dark and how she could, as she seems to at the end of the film, embrace the gray nature of the force. That's what I thought we were on the same page on, but the motivation seemed to shift and change and her energy is far too focused on the ancestry and not what her relationship to the Force actually is. It's like the midichlorian stuff from the prequel trilogy or the fact that Anakin was immaculately conceived. It's heaping explanations on explanations in order to make everything connect with everything else and it's a mess, which shifts the motivations of the character in weird ways.

O.K., what I loved about this trilogy and what I like about this film's addition to it is the journey of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. It ends in a strange way, but I'm only being positive here. I love that he's conflicted, that while he's chosen a dark path, while he's wanted power and to rule the galaxy, he's also been raised by three generous and, mostly, good people who still influence him. My favorite scene in this whole film is after Kylo Ren dies and Rey has healed Ben Solo. He has a moment with the memory of his father that mirrors the moment when Kylo killed Han. They have a heart to heart that feels earned. The whole of the arc is complete and while it gets a little muddled here, it is the most intriguing arc of redemption in the film.

The other thing I like about this film in particular is that the space battles are still personal. Poe and his crew aren't just hotshot aces out for a good time. They're sacrificing their lives doing what they can to save trillions of lives. We see their faces and hear their cries of anguish (RIP Snap Wexley). Yet, we know that their cause is just and we're happy when many familiar faces land safely. The space battles are exciting and daunting as we watch people zip in and out, but it's so good that they have that human touch.

The Rise of Skywalker is not my favorite Star Wars, but it's not terribly made or acted. It's the studio mandate and the changes made after "fan" outcry that made it not work. I think I need a break from Star Wars and I hope with enough tepid response, maybe Disney will cool it on their grand plans. My hope is something new and original will rise to fill the void. That's just a pipe dream, though. They want our money and they'll get it. You've already made your mind up over whether you'll see it or not, so my recommendation is likely useless me saying, it, but I think you can skip this one. It is a snowball rolling down a hill catching what it can and ending in a heap of finality.

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