Jul 1, 2020
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: A saga repeated
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skwalker had a lot to accomplish for one movie: it had to not just wrap up a trilogy, but a saga of three trilogies, and to also find a direction to go in after the previous two movies in the trilogy went in such very different ones. In the end, watching this one was a bit like being on an amusement park ride, where you thought that it was veering off in a different direction, but it turned out that was a fake out, in that the path returned right back to its original direction.
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Much like The Force Awakens mostly stuck to the formula of A New Hope, Rise of Skywalker seemed to have been similarly influenced by Return of the Jedi, returning the saga to mostly familiar ground. Most of the ways that The Last Jedi seemed to hint at the new trilogy diverging from the formula of the original were ignored or undone by the new movie. In the end, Rise of Skywalker gave viewers the return of Emperor Palpatine, another revelation of a major character of the saga being from a famous and Force-powerful bloodline, and the villain of the first two movies being turned from the Dark Side to join the novice Jedi to confront a bigger threat. If this all seems familiar, it’s because it is. Much like I wrote about The Force Awakens, I think that if you enjoyed Return of The Jedi, you’d enjoy this one too. As a movie to wrap up the saga however, while it has a lot of enjoyable nostalgia factors and does try to bring various parts together, I think that it is a missed opportunity to do something different.
It is understandable that as the movie ending not just this current trilogy but the saga that involves the original characters as well that there would be attempts to fit in a lot from the original trilogy as well. Actually, there was just a lot to fit in period with this installment, which led to some significant problems with pacing. Rise of Skywalker may have the most action of any of the Star Wars movies, or at least it seemed that way to me, as it jumped from place to place, action scene to action scene, rarely pausing to slow down.
As mentioned, Emperor Palpatine returns to be the main villain in this one, which does make a kind of sense from a creative perspective. With Snoke out of the picture, the choice would likely be to either introduce yet another major villain to this trilogy, or have Kylo Ren take over as the main villain for Rey to have to confront and defeat. I thought that second option may be the route that they were going to go after the ending of The Last Jedi, and especially with the duel between Luke and Kylo in that movie. That, however, would have meant going in a new direction, whereas they seemed to have decided to stick with the outline of the original trilogy. Also, Palpatine is revealed as the bigger villain of the original trilogy by Return of the Jedi, and is the major antagonist of the prequel trilogy as well, so there’s some symmetry in bringing the character back.
Lando was the only character of the core group of heroes from the original trilogy still around not to have yet had a part in the new trilogy, so it was great to see him back as well, and having such an important role. Han Solo returns for a brief but powerful scene, and Luke returns in a role much like Obi-Wan played in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. So on one level, there is a sense of completion, but it’s also too much of the same. It’s actually a lot of the newer and different elements to the new films that were interesting to me, and caused me to wonder where they could have gone with a less cautious creative approach. For example, the quest elements in Rise of Skywalker, and adding more mythology background for the Sith, like the dagger and Wayfinder, was something that hadn’t been tried before to this extent in Star Wars movies, and seemed like something out of the old EU books. Also, Kylo Ren’s and Rey’s relationship and Force connection wasn’t just a retread of another from one of the earlier movies.
I wrote in another article about how this movie might have shown the Jedi changing as a result of both the events of the prequel trilogy and the period of the rise of the First Order. In The Last Jedi, in one of the more intriguing scenes of that movie, Luke talks to Rey about the Jedi’s legacy of failure, how they failed to stop Palpatine’s rise, and of the Jedi’s hubris. Some of that is obviously a reflection of Luke’s bitterness and regret by this point, but I also thought that some of it was a reaction in some areas of fandom to the portrayal of the Jedi in the prequels. I wondered if maybe it was a signal that after a Resistance victory in the third film of the prequel trilogy, there might be something included about ways Rey may take the Jedi Order in a new direction, and adapt as leader to avoid the mistakes of the past. I don’t know if this was a case of dropping or reversing elements from The Last Jedi, as they did with some others, or if it was not really meant to be something pursued in the first place. Maybe they just didn’t have the time, with so much packed into this movie, but it was something I’d have liked to see. Perhaps it will be something for future books to cover, along with more backstory on other elements, like more details on the rise of the First Order.
What’s interesting to me looking over the three trilogies overall is how consistently good and enjoyable to watch all nine movies are. Sure, there’s variation in quality, but apart from The Phantom Menace, I would say that the rest are all at least three stars, going by a traditional four star maximum. The Phantom Menace is the weakest and even that one is simply okay. For such a long running series, that’s an impressive feat that many other movie series don’t match. Still, there does seem to be a kind of creative rut that this sequel trilogy has made clear. An excessive concern over reaction to certain departures from formula may mean that it’s regarded as safer to tell a familiar saga over again. I’m not sure if the excitement would be there for a potential distant movie trilogy where an embittered and reclusive Rey, after her failures with an apprentice who has turned to the Dark Side, is left to train a new hope for a resurgent Jedi Order. The formula is a winning one for the Star Wars franchise, as long as it doesn’t return to it too often.