I walked out of the theater feeling good about the final installment in the new Star Wars trilogy, and came home to a bombardment of bad reviews, people whining about how awful it is on every media platform I follow, and saying how it has ruined Star Wars. I can’t accuse people of being unfair in how they feel about something, because… how you feel is how you feel. But I have seen far worse cinematic dumpster fires (Fantastic Beasts 2 comes to mind). I had fun and applauded during the credits along with everyone else in my screening. But then, I didn’t expect the most mind-blowing cinematic experience of the decade, either. This is Star Wars, after all. Not Oscar-bait.
Obviously, there will be spoilers below the cut.
Could The Rise of Skywalker have been better? Yes. Do I wish it had been better? Yes, in some ways. Do I hate the movie as it is now? No, I don’t, because it delivered what I wanted, and a whole lot more.
We got Force battles in which Rey shot lightening from her fingertips and Force-controlled ships! She and Kylo Ren Force-duelled in two separate places, at the same time! We got an epic light saber duel in the middle of a freaking hurricane. She discovered she can heal people with the Force. We saw her face down Emperor Palpatine on what is possibly the coolest planet in the galaxy (all the lightning and darkness and the creep factor due to the tanks of Snoke clones all over the place). We got to see her find out the truth about her past, face it, and own it, before she chose her OWN family name.
And she won. She, and Leia and Han’s ghost, broke through to Ben. Kylo Ren died. Ben Solo woke up. She healed him. She was kind, and good, and pure enough to heal the man she had just run through with a light saber, and it changed his life. And then he went on to make the ultimate sacrifice. He loved her so much, he gave his life so SHE could live. He turned back to the Light. He fought Palpatine at her side. He fulfilled his vision, when he predicted that one day, she would be at his side. He woke her from death, kissed her, smiled for the first time in the trilogy… and passed into the Force alongside his mother. I shed a single tear in the theater, but had a proper cry in the car, because that’s all I ever wanted for Ben Solo. For his father’s death not to have been for nothing. For the Skywalker legend not to end with him un-redeemed.
Narrative-wise, Ben had to die. No amount of atonement can amend for his genocides, his mass murder of hundreds of people, or his abuses of power. Because this is Star Wars, and meant to engage and entertain and not to be realistic, there was no time to devote to his full-on redemption. If Ben had lived, he would have faced a trial for his role in war crimes. He would have spent the rest of his life, if they for some reason pardoned him, attempting to make up for it, and being negatively recognized. Choosing to save Rey does not erase his crimes out in the real world. Had he lived, he would have had to pay for them. Possibly with his life. They would not just go away. He redeemed himself, by allowing Rey to live.
Rey… the girl who inherited the Dark Side of the Force… and chose to not fear it, but fight it. Even ignore it. Rey… the girl who from the start has been pure, and good, and kind, despite the lousy life handed to her on a desert planet. Rey… the girl who has fought for Ben to come to the light side, for two movies now. Who “wanted to take his hand,” but chose not to, because of what he represented. Rey. The heroine of the new Star Wars.
Did I find the plot needlessly complicated? Yes. As a writer who edits her books down to the essentials, I think they could have tightened this massive project considerably. Do I think they needed Rey’s back story explained? Eh… yes and no. It made no difference to me, whether she was a nobody or a Palpatine. In my mind, the “but it’s important she be a nobody” arguments fall flat, because Rey is still Rey, regardless of who her grandfather was – she still CHOOSES to be good. Life is full of conscious choices, after all. My mother likes to say, “You can CHOOSE to have joy. Or not.” Each time Rey faced down something that tempted her to the Dark Side, she said no. Even when she wanted to say yes.
Did I feel some of it was forced just to use the Fisher footage? Yes. I think a second or third viewing might smooth that over a bit, but for awhile I was preoccupied thinking about Carrie’s death, and being surprised they had as much footage as they did, and wondering what the original context of the scenes were, and I think that hurt the film a little bit. But I really loved the idea of Leia as a strong Force user, as someone who trained with Luke (that flashback was beautiful, and made me tear up), and who waited just for the right moment, to reach out to her son, and have him stay his hand. To tell him that he could find his way back, that it is never too late.
My biggest complaint is… it was too much. It overloaded me, because it felt like this was two movies crammed into one. I walked out with my head spinning, since there was so much to unpack, from Rey’s training sessions to the return of the Emperor to the final few minutes. (I love Rey’s new light saber. I was rooting for purple, but the gold is so, so pretty and so… Rey. It’s cheerful, and pure, and powerful, just like she is. It is Rey, personified.)
And it’s nice that Rey ends the films as she started – alone. Not lonely, because she has a “family” to return to, but not romantically entangled, either. It suits her.