Quick reminder…I love The Last Jedi. In fact, I am still baffled every time I have to defend the film to anyone. I’ll concede that I love it as a film first and a Star Wars movie second. However, I love how Rian Johnson subverted our expectations and did not craft a story solely to please the fans. The biggest reason for that second part of my statement is to point out that it’s nearly impossible for any movie to please everyone completely. Trying to do so often creates a chaotic nightmare plagued with dozens of loose ends, far too many new characters, former characters we enjoyed in the past having to take a back seat, opportunities for more merchandising, and a lack of closure…I’m talking about you, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
I’ve heard other film critics and academics say that they could see the seams of the construction of films in the past – and while I often can agree, I’ve rarely felt that way on my initial viewing. J.J. Abrams’s newest and final entry into the Skywalker Saga – which originates with the Colin Trevorrow-guided story before he was dismissed from directing the film – has visible stitches throughout. It is easy to see what changes were made because of the backlash of the fandom, or which new characters are ripe for Disney+ spin-offs, or which pieces seem simply placed to boost toy sales. That’s not to say there isn’t substance to be enjoyed in this film, but you’ve got to wade through a lot of excess in order to get it. Unfortunately, not all of the characters we would want to see thrive in this final chapter get the opportunity to do so.
While I will avoid spoilers, please note that this initial plot point – which is in the opening crawl of the film – may be considered a spoiler to those who want to go in with no knowledge of the film. In other words, stop reading this until you’ve seen the film…unless you don’t care about the opening of the movie. Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has apparently returned from the dead, as a radio broadcast of him has been sent out around the galaxy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is searching for a Sith Wayfinder that will take him to where he believes Palpatine has hidden away. Rey (Daisy Riddley) and the Resistance continue to fight the First Order and are concerned about what this returning threat may entail.
Fortunately, the Kylo Ren and Rey story is extremely compelling and mostly well done. I have a few complaints with their arcs (which I’ll refrain from describing for now), but for the most part, I enjoyed watching their scenes throughout the film. However, the treatment of Finn (John Boyega) in this film is noticeably laughable. Boyega’s comedic charm has always shined in the franchise and is absolutely one of the reasons I was so quickly a fan of the character. However, his main role in RoS seems to be screaming other characters’ names far too often – so much so to that at one point I mockingly screamed a character’s name, and – sure enough – so did Finn. This character who seemed so important in The Force Awakens took a slightly lesser role in Last Jedi and is ultimately an errand boy in this installment. That’s not to say there aren’t good scenes – but clearly, his arc became unimportant.
Poe (Oscar Isaac), who I feel had one of the best arcs in the entire saga in Last Jedi, gets a little more development here – but ultimately, it feels like the lesson he learned about leadership in The Last Jedi was forgotten. Not that he is as masculine a hero figure as he was depicted at the beginning of The Last Jedi – but he also doesn’t appear to be the man Leia let lead them to safety at the end. He’s somewhere in the middle, implying that either someone in power didn’t get how Johnson subverted the role of the male hero in The Last Jedi, or this was a direct response to some of the backlash. Either way, I was disappointed that Poe didn’t feel like the strong leader he had been groomed to be after the last film.
Probably the worse offense of fan service – or at least a reaction to the “fans” – was Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). From what I recall after The Last Jedi, Tran left social media because of the constant barrage of insults and abuse from the “fans”, and apparently Rose suffered from this as well. Brief spoiler for The Last Jedi here…but she saves Finn’s life and is dragged in by Finn in bad shape. Before she passed out, she says “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!” then kisses him. This is literally not mentioned in any way throughout this last film. Her character is benched, and her role in this film feels purposely minuscule. There are two new female characters introduced in this film, and one of them definitely seems to be a replacement for what Rose could have been doing.
The idea of forced story elements to help sell merchandise comes primarily in the form of the new droid: D-O. Granted, I think many people thought that when BB-8 was nothing more than a potential toy when he was first shown before The Force Awakens came out. However, BB-8 immediately demonstrates how important he is, basically taking the R2-D2 role of significance. D-O fails to even live up to C-3PO importance. D-O could have just as easily been a computer that BB-8 hacks into to get the information, but instead is a cute droid that serves absolutely no function in this film. I’m sure the toys will benefit – and if you complained about the Porgs, you should definitely complain about D-O.
Despite the many issues that I have – some of which I am not bringing up here because they would be spoilers – I still enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. It is not completely satisfying, and it feels a bit overstuffed…which I kind of expected. Ending a story is never easy, and ending one that so many people have such high expectations for has to be harder than shooting womp rats in your T-16 back home. So, while it didn’t scratch every itch, I’m still happy to have this entry in the franchise which I rank above the prequels – but below the other films. The Rise of Skywalker earns the Decent Watch rating.