Despite shortcomings, The Rise of Skywalker should satisfy most Star Wars franchise fans


Over forty years after the first Star Wars movie brought beloved heroes Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo to life in 1977, the curtain has finally been drawn on the long-lived legacy. The latest installment of the space saga, titled Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, directed by J.J. Abrams, was released on Dec. 20. The pressure on filmmakers was immense, as the highly-anticipated film needed to resolve nine movies’ worth of plot and deliver a satisfying ending to legions of fans. Reviews have proven to be mixed, with many viewers expressing that The Rise of Skywalker (TROS) is overall an enjoyable watch, albeit with several disappointments.  

Rotten Tomatoes granted the film a lackluster 55 percent rating. This is a significant drop from its predecessors The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, both of which scored over 90 percent. The Critics Consensus states, “The Rise of Skywalker suffers from a frustrating lack of imagination, but concludes this beloved saga with fan-focused devotion.” With an 86 percent Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes and being 74 percent “liked” by Google users, it appears that fans are more pleased than critics.

The film garnered $177 million in North America its first weekend and currently stands as the top movie in the world with total global earnings over $500 million. While this would be impressive for most other movies, it is less than what the previous two Star Wars films earned and pales in comparison to the record-breaking Avengers: Endgame that came out earlier this year. Endgame had a similar task to accomplish as TROS in that it had to tie up a decade of Marvel Cinematic Universe storylines, and seeing as it became the highest-grossing film of all time, it did this far more successfully. 

Endgame also appears to have TROS beat in terms of emotional weight. Both were set up to meet dramatic endings, but while Endgame managed to bring tears to my eyes during a few scenes, I surprisingly felt no such emotion with TROS. So, let’s delve into TROS’s various strengths and weaknesses. Warning: spoilers below!

Most of what makes TROS soar are the same things that make every Star Wars film endearing – stunning visuals, intense lightsaber fights, iconic characters, interesting relationships, and lovable droids. In this sense, the final movie delivers everything that a Star Wars fan could hope for. Characters from the original trilogy such as Leia, Lando Calrissian, and Chewbacca are present, and even dead Luke and Han make reappearances. Fans knew going into the theater that they would have to say goodbye to Leia due to actress Carrie Fisher’s untimely demise in 2016. Using previous footage, the film managed to include a decent amount of scenes in which Leia interacted with her Resistance fighters, helped Rey with her Jedi training, and reached out to her son.

Notably, the origin story and lineage of heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) is finally fully revealed. The introduction of new characters Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and Zorii (Keri Russell) elaborates on the point that the cruel First Order kidnapped children to train as stormtroopers, a concept that had been prominent since The Force Awakens when stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) rebelled against the role he was forced into. A new droid named D-O is also introduced, bringing comic relief whenever he zooms across the screen. 

But the film’s most significant achievement is the character development of Ben Solo, also known as Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). I would say Kylo Ren is one of the best characters in Star Wars. Starting off as a coldhearted villain who kills his own father, we realize over the course of the trilogy that he is actually a deeply conflicted man whose issues largely stem from being abandoned by his famous parents Han and Leia as well as being manipulated by evil forces beyond his control. The Last Jedi revealed that this antihero has a “Force bond” with Rey, connecting the seemingly opposite characters in a new and exciting way. A significant portion of fans began to “ship”, or see the potential for a relationship, between Rey and Kylo, giving rise to the so-called “Reylo” fandom.

I had concerns that TROS could destroy Ben’s character arc by not redeeming him. However, the movie follows through with his development and finally sees him and Rey standing on the same side after the countless times she rejected him. A reviewer on CNET writes, “The most completely satisfying — and satisfyingly complete — thing about the movie is Rey and Ren’s tortured relationship building to a fever pitch. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver get the most room to bring their intertwined stories to a close, and that’s what drives the film to its operatic climax.”

Now, moving on to the film’s letdowns. To begin, many characters, particularly the new ones, were underutilized or just unnecessary. For instance, it is indicated that Zorii has a romantic past with Poe, but their newly-introduced connection hits a dead-end when all they do is look and nod at each other while their comrades embrace in celebration. A great twist in the film was the revelation that General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), an important First Order officer, was acting as a mole for the Resistance. Rather than exploring this interesting development, Hux was unceremoniously killed a mere minute later. Also, the Knights of Ren, a group of elite warriors who personally served Kylo, were a mysterious presence throughout the trilogy that were never explained on-screen and were abruptly slaughtered by their leader. 

Or take Resistance member Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). The Last Jedi tried very hard to build a relationship between Finn and Rose, and seeing them have absolutely zero chemistry and barely any interaction in TROS makes the previous film’s efforts seem pointless and forced. Although Rose was originally viewed as a useless addition by many fans, she was nonetheless thrust into a pretty major role and seemed poised to become part of the main friend group; to ignore her now makes little narrative sense. The Twitter hashtag #RoseTicoDeservedBetter started trending as upset fans claimed that by limiting her screen time in the new movie, Abrams and Disney were giving in to trolls who had harassed and harshly criticized Tran.

Furthermore, there were several plot holes in the film. A noticeable one that left viewers puzzled was the secret that Finn wanted to tell Rey. He brings it up as they are sinking in quicksand, but when they survive and Rey asks what it is that he wanted to tell her, a response is not given. It is mentioned several more times, yet the question is never answered in the movie. Abrams revealed at a post-screening Q&A that Finn was actually going to admit that he is “Force sensitive.” This would explain why Finn and Rey both act on what they call “a feeling” in various scenes. However, one would think that a trait as important as this would have been clearly depicted rather than only vaguely hinted at. 

Then there is the matter of the film’s promised “LGBT representation.” Ever since The Force Awakens, there have been fans who “ship” Finn and Poe. And in all honesty, there appears to be a greater spark between these two male characters in TROS than either one has with their supposed love interests, Rose and Zorii. Isaac, who plays Poe, even said in an interview that it “could’ve been a very interesting, forward-thinking … love story, something that hadn’t quite been explored yet.” He tried to push it “a bit in that direction, but the Disney overlords were not ready to do that.” 

Abrams affirmed prior to release that there was no romance between the two men, but assured that there would still be representation in the film. And how was this first same-sex kiss in Star Wars delivered? As a very irrelevant celebratory peck between two female side characters that was over before you even noticed it. Instead of potentially building a meaningful relationship between two major characters, it seems that Disney opted to please the masses with a random lesbian kiss. A cheap move, in my opinion. 

I was mostly disappointed to see so many fascinating concepts introduced to the series that ended up leading nowhere. For one, Rey and Ben have suddenly become essentially all-powerful, with Rey being able to shoot out lightning and heal using the Force (Force-healing is apparently a power that Disney Plus recently invented in their show The Mandalorian). Rey is able to save Ben earlier in the movie by healing him, but when it comes down to him saving her life at the end, the effort kills him. Ben’s death in general does not make much sense and contradicts the point the trilogy seemed to be making. The movies had built up their bond and shown they were two halves of one whole that needed each other to balance each other out. The film even referred to this as a “Force dyad.”

Personally, I would have liked to see their “dyad” come into use as dual rulers, or perhaps as founders of a new “gray” order that is neither on the light side like the Jedi nor the dark side like the Sith. This would have been very fitting to the theme of balance. By instead having Ben die, it felt like the filmmakers took an easy way out by not having to devise a creative ending. The whole message of Rey and Ben as equals rings hollow when one survives and the other dies; it also makes their previous reassurances that they are “not alone” pretty tragic in retrospect. But the film does not even capitalize on tragedy, as Rey does not seem mournful at all and there is no real emotional impact. Naturally, “Reylo” fans were very displeased with this ending. 

In fact, nearly all of the film’s deaths were unsatisfying. Admired princess and general Leia died from sending a Force message to get through to and finally change her son. While the noble intent is clear, exhaustion is a pretty weak death for a hero, and one that we already saw when Luke died from projecting himself through the Force to fight Kylo. 

Many fans had envisioned a sendoff that paid homage to the franchise’s past Jedi such as Anakin, Yoda, and Obi-Wan by having them all appear as Force ghosts. Rey hears the voices of the Jedi who came before her, but they are not shown in the movie. The only ghosts depicted at the end are Luke and Leia, which naturally raises the question of what happened to Ben and upset fans who at least wanted to see him reunited with his family after death.

It is unclear who exactly the film was catering to, as fans of the originals tend to disapprove of the current trilogy anyway, and the newer fanbase felt somewhat let down by the movie not reaching its full potential. Regardless of criticisms, TROS is obviously still a must-see for all Star Wars fans. The ending might not have hit the mark for a film as momentous as this, but it still brings the saga to its much-awaited peaceful close. 

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