They did it.
At least, kind of.
They finished Star Wars. If we’re to believe the hype, this is the “end” of the Skywalker saga. The continuous story that began 42 years ago, took the world by storm and became the biggest pop culture zeitgeist in modern history has reached an ending. Kind of. Sure.
And if you believed Twitter or the so-called pop culture experts you’d believe it was an epic failure.
Most audiences love it.
And I happen to be on their side.
I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since before I had many other memories at all. My father raised me on the original trilogy. I knew Star Wars trivia before I knew basic arithmetic.
And I can’t think of many ways they could have ended this all better.
So let’s talk about the movie. For now, NO SPOILERS. I promise. That’s for another time.
Coming after The Last Jedi, there are two camps most fans found themselves in. Either you loved the originality and openness of infinite possibilities introduced in Rian Johnson’s entry, or you hated it, feeling that it was inherently “not Star Wars.”
I’m personally in the first camp. I felt it was a refreshing and exciting new direction. I loved mostly everything from the Holdo maneuver to a jaded Luke Skywalker. It was the most original the series had felt, for me, since the Return of the Jedi.
You may disagree with me.
Good news: Rise of Skywalker is for both of us.
One of the biggest criticisms currently leveled at Rise is that it directly addresses and undoes the new direction Last Jedi had taken. And since critics adored The Last Jedi, most of them are reviewing Rise as if it was a personal affront to them.
They aren’t wrong. But they’re missing something.
It doesn’t matter.
Rise of Skywalker isn’t perfect. There’s too much movie for 2.5 hours. In this respect, it reminds me of Spiderman 3 back in 2007.
But unlike the end of Sam Raimi’s wall-crawler trilogy, Rise of Skywalker will hold up.
Because what so many of the critics are missing is that Star Wars doesn’t need a fully realized plot in a single film.
We don’t need to know how Palpatine survived (which isn’t explained).
We don’t need to know how the reveal of Rey’s lineage makes sense.
We don’t even need to know how any of it works.
Because in a galaxy far, far away, anything can happen. So long as it’s true to the characters.
And Rise of Skywalker gives every character the honor due them.
Going back to the critics. It’s true that this movie directly confronts the most controversial aspects of The Last Jedi.
But like I said earlier. It doesn’t matter.
Because you can’t undo what mattered most about that film. The fact that it exists and is canon. That it opened up the creative future of Star Wars in a major way.
That’s what I loved about that film. And I’m very excited to see where it goes.
But we didn’t need it here.
Rise of Skywalker is exactly what it was supposed to be. It’s the end of Kylo and Rey’s story. It’s the end of the “bringing balance to the Force” prophecy that went into effect with the discovery of Anakin Skywalker.
Those most disappointed with Rise are upset that it wasn’t a sequel to The Last Jedi. What they’re missing is that it was never supposed to be.
It’s the end of Episodes I-IX.
It’s the end of 42 years of speculation and prognostication, of millions of debates and predictions.
It’s an impossible film to make.
And it works.
This is the ending we are fortunate to receive. It is full of humor, heartwarming moments, tear-jerking events…
But most importantly, it satisfies our goodbye to the characters we love. Which is exactly where Rise of Skywalker excels.
From the opening crawl Rise never stops to take a breath. The mile-a-minute pace of the movie is also full of surprises, fan service, and reveals throughout the running time, so I won’t waste any time speaking about the plot. It’s better to just be seen or spoiled by watching YouTube videos.
Despite the fullness of every scene, however, the movie feels surprisingly relaxed. Unlike the abysmal prequel trilogy– a plot-heavy vehicle with wooden characters, childish humor which rarely landed (and was often just bad), and multiple attempts at profundity that were so forced they live on as hilarious memes (“I don’t like sand…”, “I’ve got the high ground…”, “NOOOOO”)– Rise of Skywalker understands what made the original trilogy excellent. It remains about the characters.
Hanging out with Poe, Finn, and Chewie remains a joy. The relationship between Rey and Kylo remains entrancing.
From the opening scene until the end credits, these are characters you want to be with. We care about them. We like being with them. This is what Lucas had lost sight of while filming the prequels, which actually work better as a story than as films. This is why, no matter how it is spun, Rise of Skywalker is immensely superior to even Revenge of the Sith, which is largely considered to be the best of the prequel trilogy.*
J.J. Abrams understands this well and always has. It’s why, despite the criticisms of his films, they remain successful. He knows how to thrill an audience while connecting us to the characters. This is where Rise of Skywalker shines brightest.
If there is a fair criticism to be made of Rise, it’s this; there is too much going on. In the rush to bring us an ending to everything there isn’t time for the emotional weight of The Empire Strikes Back, or the myth-expanding wonder of The Last Jedi.
But, once again, we don’t need that here.
The reason this movie isn’t perfect because it never could be. Comparisons to Avengers:Endgame, arguably the greatest ending ever to a film saga (Lord of the Rings doesn’t count because of its strict adherence to the original source material, which was perfect), are unfair. The MCU planned things out from the beginning and worked hard to keep the films in concert.
Star Wars, on the other hand, has always been made up as it went along. In that way, it’s like our own lives. A living, breathing, recorded story.
And just like real life, the impromptu nature of Star Wars was unpredictable. It didn’t always make sense. It was full of surprises, good and bad.
In that respect, Rise of Skywalker is not a perfect movie. It’s not a perfect story or ending. But it’s perfectly Star Wars.
And because of that, it’s great.
*It’s my opinion that the Revenge of the Sith is a dumpster fire of bad acting, poor direction, awful dialogue, and the unforgivable cheapening of the greatest villain to ever grace a movie screen. After multiple rewatchings, I’ve come to believe that The Phantom Menace is more defensible and that only Attack of the Clones keeps Revenge from being the worst of all the Star Wars films.