“THE DEAD SPEAK!” viewers read with excitement as the traditional opening crawl of “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” premiered on movie screens on Dec. 20, 2019. Decades after Emperor Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious, the Dark Lord of the Sith, was defeated by the father-son duo of Anakin Skywalker a.k.a. Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker, the galaxy trembles in fear at his supposed return. Through the power of the Dark Side and the science of the galaxy, Palpatine has managed to stay alive but broken, and promises the new Supreme Leader of the First Order, Kylo Ren a.k.a. Ben Solo the power of an enormous fleet of star destroyers he can use to conquer the galaxy and squash General Leia Organa’s Resistance. Meanwhile, after struggling with her own training with Gen. Organa, Rey is reunited with her friends Finn and Poe Dameron, and discovers a way to reach the Emperor’s hidden planet and stop the launch of his fleet before it begins. The stakes have never been higher for these heroes as the fate of the galaxy rests in their hands and the allies they make along the way.
“I liked the movie. I think it had a lot going on. I really liked the battle scenes. I think what they did for Carrie Fisher was amazing,” says longtime “Star Wars” fan Hillary Dupont, speaking of the digital addition of the late Carrie Fisher’s Gen. Leia after her abrupt passing in Dec. 2016. “I think I like this arc better than I liked the prequel arc. I have a soft spot for this trilogy as ‘The Force Awakens’ was the first date I had with my now husband.”
“Rise of Skywalker” has plenty of features working in its favor. As DuPont said, the action scenes were fantastic, whether it was Finn and Poe blasting through hallways full of First Order stormtroopers aboard a star destroyer, to the clashing of lightsabers during Rey and Kylo Ren’s confrontations. These scenes were exciting to watch and looked fantastic on the big screen. The chemistry of the trio of heroes is also another point in the film’s favor. In “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” Rey, Finn, and Poe were separated as they tackled their own obstacles. Now that they’re together, their friendship really shines as they bicker like old friends and deliver snarky comments that gave even some of the darkest scenes some brief humor. The reintroduction of Billy Dee Williams’ gambler turned freedom fighter Lando Calrissian, whose origin story was revealed in May 2018’s “Solo” and wonderfully played by Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino, manages to bring back some of the classic love of the original trilogy, and even had me choked up when he flies into battle piloting my beloved Millenium Falcon. On the surface, this final installment in the “Skywalker Saga” (for now) is a fun sci-fi adventure through a galaxy we’ve come to love over forty years. However, when looking under the hood of the film is where cracks begin to shine through.
The actual pacing of this movie is so fast it’s initially difficult to follow the story. The reemergence of Emperor Palpatine feels like a Hail Mary after the divisive reactions to the previous film, “The Last Jedi.” While Palpatine’s return does link the prequel, original, and new trilogies together with the Emperor’s manipulations, having literally no reference in the previous two films makes this villain feel like they wedged him into the trilogy’s finale in hopes to recapture some of the popularity of the original trilogy.
“Rise of Skywalker” also nearly completely removed the character of Rose Tico, the Resistance engineer played by Kelly Marie Tran who transformed from resistance grunt to resistance hero in “The Last Jedi.” The decision to remove this character feels like a response to a number of fans who not only despised her character but literally harassed and bullied her off of social media in 2018. Instead of standing up for Tran and her character, director J.J. Abrams and the “Star Wars” producers seemed to think practically removing her altogether was the right choice.
The final slap in the face was the redemption of Ben Solo, the powerful neo-imperialist, neo-sith, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. Don’t get me wrong; I think Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren has been a great character, and I even enjoyed the shift in attitude from Kylo to Ben when he rushes to aid Rey in the final battle with Palpatine. However, this character has been offered redemption over and over, to the point of there being a literal line for him to cross, and each time he has chosen the Dark Side, first by killing his father, Han Solo, in cold blood, then by slaughtering the Resistance and billions of people as he destroyed their planets. But, once again, Kylo Ren was offered redemption, despite his actions, and he finally sheds the moniker of Kylo Ren and takes up his name, Ben Solo. With these decisions, Abrams and Disney have set a dangerous precedent of giving in to the demands of a toxic fanbase who have chosen to bully, harass, and slander actors and other fans because they feel “The Last Jedi” was too much in line with the “social justice warrior” agenda of standing up to neo-nazis and giving women and people of color prominent roles.
To put it simply, “The Rise of Skywalker” is a fun film, full of exciting battles, emotional moments, and a goodbye to a saga that has lived for over a generation. This new trilogy let us return to the galaxy far, far away to be reunited with our original heroes Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Lando Calrissian, and gave them a fond farewell. But, the behind-the-scene decisions to give in to the demands of toxic fans throwing tantrums give cause to worry over any future “Star Wars” movies, or the film making industry in general.