Review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Spoiler alert!

Just to get it out of the way: I watched the prequels before the original. I thought the prequels were fine - at first viewing, I felt it was as much an Obi-Wan story as it was Anakin's, and I didn't fully realize how good McGregor's performance was until I watched the old trilogy: they felt like the same person to my childhood self. After seeing full picture of the story, I can see how people who grew up with the original trilogy would view the prequels as an utter blasphemy of the original. Watching the prequels first did took out some thrill of the big reveal in Empire Strikes Back, but I was no less shocked when Anakin actually turned to the dark side in the prequels.

My very first encounter with Star Wars, however, were not the prequels, but a version of Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia I found in a local book store. It was all those weird weapons (including a lightwhip that I remembered distinctively), spaceships, and costumes that first enticed me to this world. I was more than rejoiced to find out that the prequels depicted exactly such an colorful yet exotic world. The tone of the original trilogy was a lot more bleak, more "spacey" than "alieny", and as a child who just witnessed the downfall of Anakin, the transition felt natural to me.

Moving on to the sequel trilogy. I watched The Force Awakens on launch date at 19:00 with my college roommate on launch date and we spent half an hour searching for a parking spot, barely making it to the screening by the opening scroll (we still got a ticket though). As for The Last Jedi, I watched it at night a month after it launched. I went to see The Rise of Skywalker at 9:00 the day it was released, a surprisingly fitting time for the end to a trilogy. TFA was a decent start, nostalgia mixed with several intriguing leads made the experience quite enjoyable. TLJ left a really bad taste in my mouth in that it not only answered questions TFA raised in the poorest way possible, but also spent too much time trying to teach the old, established characters a lesson while neglecting the growth and development of the new characters. I still have an unpublished blog post full of my rants on TLJ (from 2018), so let's move on to TROS.

In short, I enjoyed watching TROS, despite it being a over-packed messy hodgepodge.

The beginning sequence revealing Kylo's encounter with the Emperor and the Falcon crew escaping First Order was succinct and exciting. As Finn, Rey, and Poe reunite though, the pacing dropped considerably, with meaningless arguments breaking out between the trio: I really hope team building is something the last movie of a trilogy shouldn't be worrying about, but the plots of TLJ left J. J. Abrams little choice here I guess.

Then the movie went nowhere for a good half an hour showing the trio wondering around different planets doing things, also "sacrificing" Chewbacca and C-3PO in the process. Even the revelation of Rey's healing powers seemed so intentional that they are bound to be plot devices. The only good scene out of all these is probably the Rey facing off Kylo. In fact, most of the dual scenes between the two are really enjoyable, and these are the only places I can see the slightest bit of human emotion from Rey (in contrast to Kylo, whose constant struggle and change of heart were expressed amazingly by Adam Driver). Rey being a Palpatine was interesting at first, but adds little to the her overall character: it was Kylo who felt the temptation from the dark side this whole time, and all of a sudden this becomes Rey's thing?

The dual on Death Star remains was visually stunning, but the way it ended could have been a bit less awkward: more mandatory plot device showoff, and an extra dose of Han Solo that I think was totally unnecessary given how good Adam Driver's portrayal is. Carrie Fisher's passing away was unfortunate, but I think that caused the rather rushed ending for her character. The entire self-exile sequence also felt corny, and uncharacteristic of Rey. Perhaps Leia being the one to give Rey the last guidance and her lightsaber would have worked better (either as she is passing away or as a Force ghost)?

Subsequent plot again splits Rey away from her supposed "teammates", and sets the stage of the final showdown between the Resistance and the "Final Order" based on Finn and Poe's seemingly crazy idea (which Poe was specifically told not to do in TLJ). Lando appearing early in the plot and doing pretty much nothing feels like a missed opportunity: lack of screen time with the new crew in previous films left him with little ways to interact with them. I would much prefer if he just make a one-off appearance among the thousands of starships coming to the Resistance's aid in the end. I like the do Resistance' side of story here though: characters are shown to be working together with good chemistry, and they accomplished the impossible in a sensible way.

The fight with the Emperor though was a mixed bag: everything leading up to the final face down was amazing (the lightsaber passing scene was great), until Rey had to face the Emperor alone. There seems to be simply too little emotional connections between Rey and the Emperor for any confrontation between them to have any weight. If anyone, Kylo Ren should be the one allowed to show his resolution at the end of his long journey, not Rey being the same Rey she was in TFA. Having Kylo sacrificing himself in the fight, assuming the role Vader played in Return of the Jedi, would have been a much more fitting ending to him than crawling back to heal and kiss Rey (AKA showing off the plot device we spend 15 minutes foreshadowing). The thousand Sith vs. thousand Jedi bit felt forced (pun intended) and doesn't really even tie into the story that much. By the way, the Emperor looked SCARY, and in a entertaining way: the aesthetic resembles 80's horror film, and strangely felt right here (not to mention that the movie opened with "THE DEAD SPEAK!"). It's also funny that star destroyers are finally rightfully so with their shiny new canons.

Well, looks like I didn't really enjoy the movie now, do I? I'm also surprised that I can still pull out so many things I didn't like despite remembering walking out of the movie theater with a sense of relief and fulfillment. Looking back, the whole trilogy just felt poorly planned, with throw-away characters appearing here and there whose screen time fed to some new droid or alien creature every film presumably just to sell more toys, and broken plot lines that just didn't really make sense. Perhaps The Rise of Skywalker is a valiant attempt at responding to a trick question with no suitable answer and I appreciated the effort. I wonder what the generation growing up with the sequel trilogy would think about them though: would they look back on them fondly the same way I look at the prequels (or Spider-Man 3 for that matter), or is my feeling not entirely clouded by nostalgia after all?

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