By Jason Delgado
“Guess who’s back, guess who’s back? Guess who’s back? ‘Cause it feels so empty without me.” No, not Slim Shady, Emperor Palpatine is back. In a move that defies all logic, with no real explanation, the baddest man in the galaxy has returned. There’s a speculative line in the film about possible cloning or the dark arts of the Sith, but nothing concrete for a guy killed by Anakin Skywalker 36 years ago.
Logic be damned, Ian McDiarmid is a joy to watch. That evil cackle is almost as iconic as Darth Vader’s breathing. His return is a move to cater to the old-school, hardcore fans, which is a camp in which I count myself (you can read about it in my no-spoilers review here).
The other main character on the dark side is Kylo Ren (aka Ben Solo, played by Adam Driver), who is on a warpath to kill the Emperor himself so that he can sit on the iron throne a la Game of Thrones, while pining for Rey to be by his side. Ren, the murderer of his father, Han Solo, in The Force Awakens, and an obsessive superfan of his grandfather, Darth Vader, is once again the brooding bad boy over which girls in the audience swoon over. His path in these films can best be described by the Yoda saying from The Phantom Menace: ““Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.” We saw from a flashback in The Last Jedi that Kylo Ren feared being killed by Luke Skywalker during his training, amid a moment of fear and weakness by Luke, which in turn led to a whole lot of hate by Ren. You can see the conflict within Kylo Ren throughout these films, and especially in The Rise of Skywalker, because Adam Driver does an excellent job of emoting that internal struggle through his talented acting chops.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) is the Luke Skywalker of this trilogy, the nowhere girl scavenger from the desert planet of Jakku. Strong in the Force, she is, as Yoda would say. The movie starts out with her training to sharpen her Jedi skills, just as a young Luke did so long ago.
A compelling element of The Rise of Skywalker, and this whole trilogy in general, has to be the sexual tension between Ridley and Driver. He calls to her through the Force, with a psychic connection that can link them, no matter the physical distance, as he longs to turn her to the dark side, while she struggles to resist. Some girls eat that bad boy stuff up, either wanting to be bad themselves, or to try to change him, and Rey certainly contemplates both of those scenarios. You can feel the chemistry between the pair, making for arguably the strongest love connection in the whole nine-film saga. Luke and Leia started off hot and heavy, but then, you know, incest put a damper on that. There’s Han Solo and Princess Leia, but he played it cool with “I know,” when she said that she loved him right before he was frozen in carbonite. Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala were doomed by stiff acting and a complete lack of chemistry. Finn and Rey almost had a thing, but it never fully blossomed like it did with Kylo Ren.
Finn (John Boyega), the former stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter, had something he wanted to tell Rey right before they were pulled into the quicksand in The Rise of Skywalker. Poe asks him later what he was going to say, but Finn plays coy and rebuffs his request. I think the most obvious response was that he was finally going to spill his affection for Rey. On Twitter, Boyega said, “No…Finn wasn’t going to say, ‘I love you’ before sinking!” It should be noted however that Boyega is not one of the writers of the movie.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has a romantic connection of his own in this film, with his former flame from his spice running days, Zorii Bliss (Kerri Russell). It’s a contentious reunion at first, but the love grows back and she gives him her special board any ship chip, much like the Casablanca letters of transit. Zorii turns down his request for a kiss, but she’s there for him when he really needs her.
Poe and Finn also have their own bromance, while they take jestful shots at each other. The biggest criticism of those two characters is that they’re carbon copies of the brash, outspoken, and daring Han Solo, and I have to agree. I don’t feel that they were fleshed out enough, but at the same time it’s a tall order when you’re trying to cram so many characters into a single film (or three).
The original trilogy characters all have their moments too, although it’s a shame that Disney didn’t plan out one last adventure with all of them together, while they were still part of the land of the living. The late Carrie Fisher was added to this movie using outtake scenes from The Force Awakens, and it’s done creatively with mainly reactions and knowing glances. General Leia Organa displays a quiet strength, and we finally get to see Leia with a lightsaber (through the magic of CGI) in a flashback scene where young, post-Return-of-the-Jedi Luke and Leia are training together. The most poignant moment of The Rise of Skywalker comes when Leia uses the Force to call out to her son, distracting him in his battle with Rey just enough for Rey to stab Kylo in the stomach with her lightsaber, while Leia falls to her death, clutching the medal that she gave to Han Solo at the end of A New Hope. We, the audience, get to mourn the character, as well as the late, great actress and writer, Carrie Fisher.This scene is done beautifully, and I commend writer/director J.J. Abrams for being able to pull it off through archival footage.
I had an issue with Luke dying in The Last Jedi by over-exerting himself with Force projection, because he appeared to be in good health and was such a powerful Jedi master. His death seemed to come out of nowhere, like the Force projection trick itself. Leia, on the other hand, was frail looking in this film for obvious reasons, so it wasn’t a stretch. Speaking of new Force powers, Rey can now heal, as evidenced by her fixing the wound she inflicted on Ren after she stabbed him with the saber, and early on in the movie when she heals a giant worm-like creature. It would be nice if there were some kind of explanation for so many random, new Force powers popping up suddenly in this film and The Last Jedi.
Anthony Daniels gets to shine as human-cyborg relations droid C-3P0. The Resistance gang of Rey, Finn, and Poe find a dagger that can lead them to Emperor Palpatine, but the dilemma is that it’s written in the Sith language. That’s a simple task for C-3PO, right? Wrong. His programming prevents him from translating anything from the Sith. C-3PO spills the beans that the only way around it is if someone illegally bypasses his wiring, and Poe says that he knows somebody for the job. Enter cute and cuddly Babu Frik, this film’s answer to “the Child” from the Mandalorian. He can rewire the droid, but it comes at the cost of 3PO’s memory bank. His memory was wiped previously at the end of Revenge of the Sith, when Bail Organa ordered it to protect the twins from their father, Darth Vader. Poe asks C-3PO what he’s doing as he looks around, and the droid gives the emotional line, “Taking one last look, sir, at my friends.” Frik does the deed just as 3PO says, “Wait, there’s another way!” Oops, too late. C-3PO translates the Sith text with glowing red eyes and an evil voice, reminiscent to me of the bizarro version of 3PO called Triple Zero in the Darth Vader comics. That comic character takes delight in others’ pain, while being humorously subversive. Hopefully, that breaking bad Triple Zero character will eventually see the film universe light of day. I’ve always enjoyed the light, comic levity that Anthony Daniels brings to the table throughout the entire saga, so it was fun to see him have one last hurrah in the spotlight.
Chewbacca, the fuzzball Wookie warrior, is once again perturbed at any suggestion of him cheating at Millennium Falcon hologram chess. There’s a chase sequence relatively early on that brings back memories of podracing from The Phantom Menace, except with blasters and flying stormtroopers. After that action piece, Chewbacca is captured by troopers. Finn yells to Rey that Chewie is onboard a large ship that’s being piloted away, so she uses her Force powers to try to pull it back. Kylo Ren shows up and uses his Force power in a tug of war with Rey, until the ship crashes violently to the ground and explodes. Rey calls out for Chewie, thinking he’s dead, and the audience is left pondering what the heck just happened. Shortly after, we see that Chewbacca is still alive on another spaceship, but it’s an annoying plot hole. No other ships were shown in the vicinity when all of this went down, before or after. Also, why not let his supposed demise linger with the audience longer, in order to leave an impact? His whole fake death was handled sloppily.
Just before the spaceship crashed without any Wookies on it, Rey unexpectedly shot Force lightning out of her hands to the ship, surprising even herself. Gee, I wonder who else has that power? Yeah, you guessed it, Emperor Palpatine! The big twist is that Rey’s parents were actually somebody, because her grandfather is evil incarnate.
Some critics are up in arms over the reveal by contending that this twist is sending a bad message to children of broken homes and troubled families. Come again? They’re upset in their belief that the The Rise of Skywalker is in effect telling the audience that you can’t be special unless you come from a royal bloodline, like the Palpatines and Skywalkers did. This seems like a reach to me. Are kids really going to take a Star Wars movie to heart in that personal kind of way? Rey and Luke actually transcend their bloodlines by fighting the dark side that is strong in their heritage. That’s the message I got out of the movie anyways.
These hidden bloodlines didn’t change Luke’s and Rey’s experience of growing up with nothing, as nerf-herders and scavengers, only finding out later in life that their ancestors were kind of a big deal. Additionally, it was teased in The Last Jedi that one of the slave kids in the film will grow up later to become a Jedi, and with Rian Johnson signed on for future Star Wars films last I read, I doubt that he and Disney will let a cheesy, heart-warming set-up like that go to waste. Now if that kid later turns out to be a Skywalker or Palpatine, critics and upset Rey parent truther fans will really lose their minds!
As far as action in The Rise of Skywalker goes, besides the finale, Rey and Kylo Ren’s epic lightsaber battle on top of a ship in a stormy ocean takes the cake. I wish that it were longer, and choreographed to have more original battle maneuvers, like a modern version of the Dread Pirate Roberts sword-duel with the six-fingered man in The Princess Bride, but it was still pretty cool as is.
A pivotal moment takes place when Kylo Ren has a vision of his father, Han Solo, where they exchange the same lines as they did in The Force Awakens, but with a heart-warming addition. Kylo Ren calls Han, ‘Dad’, and Han replies, “I know,” his version of “I love you” that was established in The Empire Strikes Back. Kylo once again says that he knows what he has to do, but doesn’t know if he has the strength to do it. Yet instead of stabbing Han this time, he throws his lightsaber into the ocean, becoming Ben Solo in the process. A bit far-fetched, yes, but at the same time he was coming to terms with his mother Leia’s death, the wise and haunting words of his dead father, and his love for Rey. It was fun to see Harrison Ford one last time in a Star Wars film, after so many years before The Force Awakens of him seemingly being salty towards the franchise that set him on the path to stardom.
Luke Skywalker gets a sendoff of his own when Rey goes to the planet of Ahch-To, the site of the first Jedi temple and where Skywalker resided in The Last Jedi. Force ghost Luke gets to give some pearls of his wisdom of his own to Rey, while she’s dealing with the death of Leia and being torn about fighting the dark side within her. At the end of the scene, after the successful pep talk, Luke raises his old X-wing out of the water and high into the sky, while having a good chuckle, since he’s probably recalling how much of a struggle he had trying to lift that same ship during his training with Yoda on planet Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.
A lot of kids growing up were all about Han Solo (Indiana Jones certainly helped Harrison Ford’s popularity), but Luke was always my guy. Luke was the innocent farm boy, who after going through some tough family drama, was still willing to give his life to save his father from the dark side in Return of the Jedi. A big reason why I didn’t like The Last Jedi was because I felt like Rian Johnson didn’t stay true to Luke’s character. Mark Hamill famously proclaimed about his role in that film that “He’s not my Luke Skywalker,” before later walking that back. People do get older and make mistakes, but you’re telling me that the character who was willing to die for his dad to save him from evil, is going to think about murdering his nephew Ben Solo in cold blood, because he might be bad? I didn’t buy it, and Johnson never clearly set a motive that would explain such a monumental turn for the purest hero in Star Wars lore. There’s sloppiness for sure in The Rise of Skywalker, but nothing blatantly disrespectful to established characters like that, because J.J. Abrams is such a fanboy himself.
I loved the finale of The Rise of Skywalker, even as cheesy as moments of it admittedly were. The large-scale space battle happening at the same time as grand-pappy Palpatine telling Rey to strike him down, and take his place, amid a dark world of an army of Sith in robes on the ground, with the massive fleet of Star Destroyers in the sky that are each capable of the planet destroying power of the Death Star, are all part of the grand Final Order.
Ben Solo joins the fray of the final battle, by fighting the Knights of Ren with his bare hands, until he’s Force-gifted the extra his-and-hers lightsaber that Rey brought along, originally belonging to Luke and Leia. Ben tag teams with Rey to take on the Emperor, and although deformed, Palpatine still trumps them all in terms of sheer power. The Emperor starts draining Ben and Rey’s power, and his fingers grow back, as well as his strength. Meanwhile, up in space, Finn rides along with creatures on top of a ship with his new friend Jannah, a former stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-fighter herself. Earlier, during the Resistance plan meeting, Poe suggested that they send out a distress call to anyone who wanted to come and help the cause. He got a groan and an eye roll from the others because last time they did that, nobody came, but his girl Zorii had already planted the seed in his mind by telling him that he needed to trust people more.
It looks as if all is lost in space, until the John Williams iconic Star Wars musical score swells, Lando Calrissian says this film’s version of “On your left,” and the sky is filled with fighters that answered the call to help the Resistance! It was a super cheesy moment about the power of everyone banding together, yes, but I loved it. TIE fighters are dropping like flies, until the Emperor seemingly kills Ben by Force-throwing him down a pit, then he shoots a massive amount of Force lightning into space, disabling Resistance ships. Rey somehow summons the spirits of all of the former Jedi, we hear the voices of: Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windo, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Luke, Leia, and even Ahsoka Tano from the animated Clone Wars. Rey gets up as the Emperor is shooting her with lightning, but she absorbs it with Leia’s lightsaber and goes head-to-head with Emperor Palpatine. Rey has all the power of the Jedi, while the Emperor with all the power of the Sith. Rey then grabs Luke’s saber and uses both powers to push forward, causing the lightning to tear up the Emperor’s face, until he’s obliterated into nothing. The whole sequence reminded me of WWF (back when it was called that), when in every match Hulk Hogan had, there was always a point where he started shaking his head no, his eyes would get wide, and he then became impervious to pain. Like that Hogan move, it’s laughable, yet entertaining enough if you can suspend your disbelief.
It took everything she had, and Force-sensitive Finn was able to sense that Rey was dying, but Ben crawled out of the pit and used the same healing power that Rey used on him earlier. Ben and Rey finally kiss, and the imaginary fireworks go off for everyone who has been waiting for this since The Force Awakens. Then Ben Solo dies, but at least he gained redemption, much like his grandfather Anakin did in Return of the Jedi.
We get to see cloud city Bespin, as well as Endor with Ewoks on it, and then the Resistance celebration, where Maz Kanata gives Chewie the same medal that Han Solo was given at the end of A New Hope. Fans have been complaining since that first film in 1977 that Chewbacca deserved to get a medal too with all of the other heroes, and now he finally gets one. Jannah meets Lando, who happens to be her father, but they don’t know that yet (it was revealed in the comics). Rey, Finn, Poe, and the droids all reunite and get to celebrate saving the galaxy. Rey then flies to Tatooine, where this whole saga started for Luke Skywalker back in A New Hope. She goes to his home, and buries Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers there. An old lady comes by and asks Rey what her name is. She says Rey. The lady asks “Rey what?” Rey responds with “Rey Skywalker” with a smile, as we see the Force ghosts of Luke and Leia, and then the twin suns that were in a famously beautiful shot from A New Hope. Cue the John Williams music.
I believe that J.J. Abrams was put in a Kobayashi Maru, the Star Trek no-win scenario. Rian Johnson had already divided fans with The Last Jedi, so he could either stay on that course, or reverse it and do his own thing, angering fans of The Last Jedi. He chose the latter, which isn’t that surprising since he kicked off this trilogy in the first place, and Johnson obviously did not go with what J.J. had planned, so Abrams was just finishing what he started. What Abrams lacks in originality, he makes up for in pure spectacle and passion for entertaining the fans. The Rise of Skywalker is far from perfect, but at least it’s fun, if you can get past the plot holes. I had mixed feelings the first time I saw it, but definitely enjoyed it more the second time around.
I give The Rise Skywalker three out of five hot sauce packets. It’s spicy enough to have a good time, if you let the Force flow through you. I have spoken.
P.S. – I was lucky enough to attend The Force Awakens panel at San Diego Comic Con in 2015, where they surprised all of the attendees in Hall H with an epic party afterwards with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill in attendance. All of Hall H walked together to the park behind the Convention Center by the bay, where they gave us lightsabers, free food, and had an orchestra playing the Star Wars scores, while scenes from all the films where shown on big screens. Afterward, the most amazing fireworks show I have ever seen happened above us, while fans in attendance chanted, “Thank you!” with their lightsabers held up in the air! It was a night I’ll never forget. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, all of the cast and crew, and everyone involved in making my childhood better for Star Wars being a part of it, up until now, and hopefully for many more years to come.
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