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The Rise of Skywalker: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

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I recently watched Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker. This is my review.

There’s that famous cliché of parents telling their children “I’m not mad – I’m disappointed.” It supposedly stings more than anger, but that’s not always the point. The point is that the expectation of good behaviour wasn’t met.

Now I’m not trying to say that Star Wars films are like children to me – the consumer’s feeling of ‘ownership’ over intellectual property is a topic for another day. But the latest episode, The Rise of Skywalker, definitely left me the most disappointed I’d ever been by a Star Wars movie.

Maybe only because my expectations were sky-high after I fell in love with the previous episode in the series, The Last Jedi. It’s not like I think The Rise of Skywalker is a bad movie – it succeeds on most quantifiable levels, and my subjective experience means very little in the broad scope of things. But generally, my reaction to the film can mostly be split into three categories: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

If you haven’t watched the film yet, STOP READING now, there are major spoilers ahead…

The Rise of Skywalker
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The Good about The Rise of Skywalker

1. The opening sequence on spooky planet Exegol

Although I was slightly sad that the planet wasn’t Malachor, which had been seen previously in other media. How cool would it have been if this movie featured the same location as the epic Ahsoka/Vader duel from Rebels?

2. The Knights of Ren

Their appearance and use in this film might feel slightly too similar to the Red Throne room guards in The Last Jedi, and I wish we knew more about their goals/philosophies/relationship to Ren and the First Order, but what we did get was a cool enough mysterious presence to let that slide.

3. New Force Powers

It’s almost tradition to do SOMETHING brand new with the Force in every subsequent movie, and this film’s Force Skype 2.0 is a great continuation of the scenes in the last movie. The way the physical transfer of objects builds off of Kylo feeling the rain from Ahch-To on his glove in The Last Jedi is the kind of continuity and expanding of lore that I love.

4. Babu Frik!

Star Wars has always been great at being cute and funny, and miniscule droid mechanic Baby Frik excels at both.

5. Okay, I loved Zorri Bliss

But maybe I would’ve loved her even a bit more if she never even lifted her visor.

6. Hux being a mole

Although I had hoped for some proper “sibling rivalry” scenes between General Hux and Kylo Ren, I think him being a mole out of spite is a close enough second choice.

7. C-3PO’s story

The character (and only actor to have appeared in all nine films in the “Skywalker Saga”, Anthony Daniels) really shines here, with more of a mission than ever before, and a ton of funny moments. I also loved Threepio’s look on Kijimi – shrouded by a heavy hooded cloak or jacket, which is slightly reminiscent of his appearance in the oft-forgotten, original 2D animated Clone Wars series by Genndy Tartakovsky.

8. Chewbacca has some great moments in The Rise of Skywalker

Probably better than in The Last Jedi. I loved the close-ups of him pondering his next move on the holo-chess/Dejarik table, but the best must be his emotional reaction to Leia’s death.

9. The Rise of Skywalker is squarely a JJ Abrams film

Where The Force Awakens felt like he was doing his best to tell a George Lucas/Lawrence Kasdan story, this has the non-stop pace of something like Super 8, Star Trek, or Mission Impossible III.

Yes, it could be argued that it feels like the Star Wars version of an Indiana Jones movie, but it’s still undeniable and pretty cool that JJ had the opportunity to really do his idea of Star Wars. Steven Spielberg’s influence has always been a big part of JJ Abrams’ cinematic voice, after all.

10. Jannah’s backstory being the same as Finn’s

Her explanation came sooo close to “We did it because we had heard your story,” which would’ve been a lovely finish to Finn’s character arc, but then it rather gave us some vague ideas about the Force maybe inspiring rebellion.

11. Han’s appearance

In anticipation of the new movie I rewatched The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and wondered about Han’s death scene all over again. What exactly did their dialogue exchange mean? What exactly was Han hoping to help Kylo with?

Now we know. Plus, on a rewatch I realised that Han saying “I know” to Ben struggling to find his words, hides an exquisitely beautiful wordless “I love you” in plain sight. For a scene that probably only exists because of Carrie Fisher’s death, this one knocks it out of the park.

12. Kijimi’s destruction looked amazing

We’ve seen planets being blown up in Star Wars before, but it’s never looked like this, with fragments of the planet’s crust coming loose, looking like a physically photographed model.

13. Rey using Luke’s X-wing and helmet beautifully follows up on her wearing an old helmet

In case you forgot, that was in the first act of The Force Awakens on Jakku. It shows how much she’s grown, and the dreams & wishes she had achieved along the way.

14. The movie does a great job of presenting a space battle with a difference

This is a couple of aspects we haven’t seen in Star Wars before, including new ways of visualising things. Palpatine’s ultimatum to Rey is pretty identical to what he told Luke in Return of the Jedi, but here it’s more tangible – do as I say and you can literally just tell the fleet to stop, thereby saving your friends. Add to that the direct interaction of Palpatine’s fingertip lightning with the ships fighting above.

15. I also really loved the presentation of Kylo & Rey as a Force Dyad

It’s the prophesised “balance in the force”, where the trilogy’s main bad guy and good “guy” turns out to have been dual protagonists all along.

16. The thrill of lightspeed skipping

Such a cool way to have an instantly-thrilling action sequence, and see three cool locations in 30 seconds.

The Rise of Skywalker - Lightspeed Skipping
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The Bad about The Rise of Skywalker

1. The logic behind lightspeed skipping

Surely you’d just crash into things at light speed, thereby destroying your ship Holdo-style? If they had treated it slightly differently, with the ship ending up in deep space after each jump, I’d be more okay with it. But how do you do a lightspeed jump and end up BETWEEN TOWERS?

2. “The Dead Speak!”

Okay, Palpatine went Millenial and started a podcast. But wouldn’t this have been a cool thing to SEE instead of BE TOLD? This aspect has me convinced that Palpatine’s return was revealed later in the original shooting script, and these lines were added to trim down Kylo’s first meeting with him.

3. Speaking of which, HOW DID HE SURVIVE?

Hints are given in The Rise of Skywalker, but nothing nearly concrete enough for my taste.

4. Kylo Ren repairing his helmet

Yes, it looks cool and has some symbolic meaning, but can the kid please make up his mind about showing his face?

5. Something felt completely out of place

Right after the Falcon lands on Not-Quite-Endor Kef Bir there’s one really weird, really 70’s old-school zoom shot.

6. How does the ancient Sith dagger even work?

Pointing out a location based on perspective of a broken part of a space station that’s resting in a constantly-moving ocean that’ll only work when you’re standing on a very specific spot?

7. Luke & Leia knew about Rey’s heritage?

That just feels weird and inconsistent, and raises too many questions. When did they find out? Why didn’t they tell her?

8. My NUMBER ONE COMPLAINT (and retcon, in my subjective view) is Luke lifting his X-wing out of the water for Rey to use

This means he was actually able to fly himself to Crait in the previous film and help his friends, but he chose not to. WHAT?!

9. And why would he have a hidden lightsaber?

He got rid of his own but kept his sister’s behind a brick to never use again?

10. The “flashback” to Luke and Leia’s training was unnecessary

Especially to see their CGI’d-in faces – but forgivable.

11. Mini-retcons/explanations

Lines like “Why don’t we just Holdo Manoeuvre them?” and “A Jedi’s weapon deserves respect” and even the revelation that Palpatine ‘made’ Snoke is on the okay-side of the line, but it feels awfully close to directly addressing specific online fan complaints.

12. Leia’s death was… unfortunate

Yes, you can clearly tell that her character’s appearance was Frankensteined together from tiny fragments they had left over from the previous films, but the character’s death – over which they had more control, since the scene played in silhouette and Maz Kanata provided context – was still a little weird and confusing. Why she died, exactly how she communicated with Ben, why she took so long to fade away, are all questions left unanswered in typical JJ Abrams Mystery Box style.

13. Planet-destroying laser cannons – again?!!

Also, a whole fleet of a gajillion Death Star Star Destroyers? If The Mandalorian presents the best outcome of people just coming up with new stories by playing with their familiar toybox, this aspect of The Rise of Skywalker feels like the opposite: Toddlers shouting “OKAY BUT THESE STAR DESTROYERS HAVE DEATH STAR LASERS…. AND THERE’S A MILLION OF THEM… AND MY GRANDFATHER IS STRONGER THAT YOUR GRANDFATHER!”

14. Surprises spoiled

For the franchise that’s famously super serious about preserving surprises, I felt really disappointed at two moments featured in the Rise of Skywalker trailers, that diminished the in-theater effect:

14.1 “They’re not using speeders” – Jannah’s Space Horses riding on the surface of a Star Destroyer was presented as a big surprise, but shown prominently in one of the trailers.

14.2 The whole Dunkirk-style ragtag civilian fleet showing up behind the Millenium Falcon.

15. And where did that fleet come from?

Yes, Poe explained that ‘if you build it, they will come,’ – that everyday galactic citizens will join their cause if someone is there to lead them. But what about in the last movie when nobody heeded the Resistance’s call for help? Not even Luke’s appearance at Crait did the trick, because at the start of this movie they still don’t have a fleet.

The fact that Lando and Chewie were miraculously able to assemble a giant fleet in a couple of hours (keeping in mind, of course, that Star Wars space-time doesn’t stick to the real-world rules) completely diminished Leia and her attempt in the previous film.

16. And most of the surprises that weren’t given away in the marketing campaign felt completely predictable to me

Obviously they wouldn’t kill Chewie like that – it must be some kind of bait-and-switch or misdirection. Ben dies by simply falling down a hole? Obviously he’ll reappear at the opportune dramatic moment.

17. Speaking of surprises, the revelation of Rey being Palpatine’s granddaughter is so… boring

Acceptable, yes, but it feels like the laziest way to colour into the lines that had been previously established.

18. The film’s pace

Yes, the constant forward motion has its benefits (like not giving the audience adequate time to question the plot), but certain moments – specifically Ben’s death scene – could probably have lingered a few seconds longer, to allow the audience to breathe and take it all in.

19. Chewie’s medal

Seeing a shot of the Battle of Yavin medals in the trailer, I anticipated a great little moment where Han’s medal had been recovered, and given to Leia, Chewbacca, or Ben. Instead, we got an overly sentimental, yet very rushed scene.

It almost feels like they deleted an exchange that followed the gift-giving, where Chewbacca asks “Hey thanks but where did you find this?” and Maz says “A good question – for another time.”

20. Finn is Force Sensitive

I have no problem with that as a fact. But that plot thread just dangles in the end? I mean, I always knew endings weren’t JJ Abrams’ strong suit, but I somehow thought the team would help him guide things home this time.

Rose Tico
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The Ugly about The Rise of Skywalker

1. Rose Tico gets pushed to the sidelines

Especially after actress Kelly Marie Tran was bullied off social media by “fans” and racists who didn’t approve of her character’s existence.

And in pushing the character into a minor role (‘Sorry, I have to stay here and study something’), the filmmakers actually – but hopefully inadvertently – pandered to the angry racist internet-mob.

Besides being excluded from the main adventure, a new character played by Dominic Monaghan is introduced to deliver a couple of plot-forwarding lines in The Rise of Skywalker. These lines easily could’ve come from Rose’s mouth.

During the final battle, the film feels like it’s about to present part two of Rose’s crucial interaction with Finn when he tells her to retreat and leave him in harm’s way, but she simply listens to the man shouting instructions instead of telling him “No – Let’s save what we love.”

2. Rey needs to get rescued by a man

From her first appearances in these films, I loved Rey’s independence, resourcefulness, and most importantly – her rejection of Finn’s pathetic attempts at rescue.

She stood her ground against droid scavengers and Unkar Plutt’s attempt to buy BB-8, physically defended herself from Stormtroopers, and repeatedly told Finn to let go of her hand, as she’s no helpless damsel. Until The Rise of Skywalker, where she’s dependant on Luke’s spiritual guidance and Ben’s physical rescue.

3. For a film trilogy that’s largely about identity and coming-of-age, it sucks that the main character’s journey ends with her hiding her genealogical identity

She even takes on someone else’s surname, instead of being happy with her own identity.

Couldn’t she just have answered the woman on Tatooine, “Just Rey”? What weirdo desert woman pushes a stranger to reveal her last name, anyway?

This scene also greatly diminishes Ben’s reclaimed identity as a Skywalker. Though he doesn’t use the name himself, he does turn back to the light, to his (Skywalker) mother, and Palpatine calls him the “Last Skywalker”. I love the idea of the film’s title referring to Ben’s redemption.

Also why does she go to Tatooine? That homestead means nothing to her or Ben or Leia. Maaaaybe something to Luke, but he desperately wanted to leave that place in the original film.
And why bury lightsabers?

That seems like a really odd and possibly irresponsible way of getting rid of them. What if some kid finds them 50 years later. WHAT IF MAZ KANATA FINDS THEM AND DECLINES TO EXPLAIN WHERE AND HOW?

Conclusion

This isn’t a bad or ugly or disrespectful or bigoted or insensitive movie. I’d definitely and firmly classify it as a good movie – but a disappointing one, based on my expectations.

I believe that The Rise of Skywlker probably functions best as a standalone movie, where logical inconsistencies can be ignored, and implications of TIE Fighters with active trackers and “lightspeed skipping” won’t make future narratives harder to crack. But that’s not what this film is.

As Episode 9 of a series spanning 42 years, I wanted The Rise of Skywalker to be more conclusive, connecting, and continuous. It doesn’t ruin my childhood – or even the previous movies – but it doesn’t quite create the full-circle, last-puzzle-piece-clicking-into-place feeling I was hoping for.

Of course, these things are very subjective and your mileage may vary. I see plenty of people sincerely and completely loving this movie, and I find genuine joy in those reactions. And I guess that’s where the summary of my response comes in: Not anger; just disappointment.

What do you think of my review? What did you think of The Rise of Skywalker? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Watch this space for updates in the Movies category on Running Wolf’s Rant.

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