Good grief, yes, I am pretty tired about writing about The Rise of Skywalker. But, with the holidays looming I am looking at all of this as one last chance to get my The Rise of Skywalker gripes off my chest. Well, not all of them, because I could literally write a book. But, at least, my most prominent three gripes. Are you ready for some gripes? Three gripes, to be precise? All right, buckle up.
(Obviously, yes, there are spoilers ahead.)
And to be clear, the reason I don’t like this movie isn’t because it’s a different tone than The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens has a completely different tone than The Last Jedi and I like that movie quite a bit. What I don’t like is key decisions in The Rise of Skywalker to completely negate so much of what I loved about The Last Jedi. Instead of building on it, it betrays it. Sure, I could still try to watch The Last Jedi in a vacuum, but that’s not how this story works. Things we learn in The Last Jedi completely change key character interactions in The Last Jedi. I really wish it has just been a movie with a different tone.
1. Rey Palpatine
What’s funny is, I still could have somewhat gone along with this if it had been handled better. Let’s say it’s still somewhat vague, kind of like how Anakin’s virgin birth is mentioned in The Phantom Menace, even though it’s always assumed Palpatine had something to do with that. And that’s where it seemed like where it was going with Rey until Kylo Ren just, clumsily, explains to Rey that her parents were literally Cody and Susan Palpatine. (I made those names up, but as far as I’m concerned they are canon).
The reason this bugs me so much is, now, we have a character explaining basically that, oops, he misspoke in the prior film. That’s just lazy. And it’s always glossed over that in The Last Jedi it’s Rey herself who knows her parents are nobody. Except no, her dad is literally the son of the most powerful character in Star Wars history. So, definitely not “nobody.” And it’s all because some vocal fans didn’t like that plot point. That’s not a way to make a movie.
Look, even the Original Trilogy did a lot of retconning. And, yes, it changed the dynamic in some prior scenes. But the difference is twofold: George Lucas was retconning himself and most of those dynamics became much more interesting, not worse. In the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker were still two separate characters. In fact, it’s Anakin who appears as a Force Ghost on Hoth instructing Luke to train with Yoda. (Who, then, is named Minch.) But the reason the Vader reveal works, and is so shocking, is because no one was expecting to be shocked. It wasn’t some grand question set up in the first movie. It just happened. And yes, it retroactively made every conversation about Luke’s father between Luke and Ben in Star Wars much more interesting. (So, yes, maybe setting up these new movies as some grand mystery was a bad choice to begin with.)
But, guess what, with the Vader reveal, fans weren’t entirely on board. For three years Luke Skywalker was considered the epitome of “good.” Then we learn he is the spawn of pure evil. No, people were not very happy about this. To the point most people just assumed Vader was lying. Now, say what you will about George Lucas, but if he’s anything, he’s, to a fault, kind of stubborn. He does what he wants to do with these movies.
But imagine if Lucas had caved. And during Return of the Jedi Vader tells Luke, “Luke, no, what I meant to say is, after I killed your father, I didn’t realize he had a son and I felt bad. So what I meant was I would like to be your father. You know, metaphorically. What do you say?“ That right there is pretty much what we get in The Rise of Skywalker.
2. Luke and Leia knew the whole time
Yes, in Return of the Jedi Lucas also retconned Leia’s relationship with Luke. And that one is pretty lazy. When Yoda mentioned, “there is another,” that was, one day, supposed to be the protagonist of this Sequel Trilogy. Now, how cool would that have been? If that had paid off now. But Lucas decided he was never going to make those movies and had to wrap up that loose end. But, in the end, the love triangle aspect was over anyway. In Empire, Leia had chosen Han. Yes, it retroactively made a couple of scenes kind of awkward, but doesn’t fundamentally change the entire relationship.
It’s weird, in The Rise of Skywalker, Luke tells Rey that he and Leia knew the entire time that she was related to Palpatine. It’s almost a throwaway line, but it changes the entire dynamic of The Last Jedi for the worse. For me, one of my favorite aspects of The Last Jedi was the relationship between Rey and Luke. At first they just kind of keep giving each other these looks, like who is this weird person I’m spending my time with right now? They are both strangers, trying to figure each other out. Rey expected a legend, but she got something quite different. Luke wasn’t expecting anyone at all, yet here’s this young woman showing up unannounced at his sequestered house. Eventually, they start to figure each other out. And it’s Rey who, eventually breaks through to Luke. Setting Luke up to sacrifice himself one more time for the greater good.
Now, the whole thing is just a big lie. Luke knows who she is and lies and lies and lies and lies. And, yes, Jedi are known to lie. But I’m not talking about the overarching theme of what a Jedi is. I’m talking about two actors, Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill, and what they accomplished during those scenes and just how damn good both of them are conveying this story. And now it’s all interpreted differently. It’s all a grand ruse. The dynamic between Luke and Rey has been fundamentally changed for the worse.
3. Luke’s X-Wing
Admittedly, while watching, I kind of liked this scene. But I think that’s a big flaw of The Rise of Skywalker in general: it’s a collection of scenes trying to spark some sort of emotion that aren’t really that well thought out. (First of all, shouldn’t it have been Rey who levitates Luke’s X-Wing out of the ocean? Whatever, that’s just a nitpick. I digress.) In The Last Jedi, Luke had purposefully junked his X-Wing, to the point he was using one of the wings as the door to his hut. This was not a starship that could fly again. This was a large point of his exile. Luke was literally stuck there. If he could just leave anytime he wanted, this ruins the whole point of why he was there in the first place. It changes it from “exile” to “just visiting.”
And the thing is, if you are someone who didn’t like Luke’s arc in The Last Jedi (you are for sure allowed to have that opinion), this all makes it worse! The complaint was, oh, our hero from the Original Trilogy gave up and just lives on an island now. Well, at least in the old scenario, Luke experienced a trauma, then abandoned himself there so it couldn’t happen again. So, even if he changed his mind, there’s nothing he could do. At least until Rey shows up and, eventually, convinces Luke that he had to, at least in some form, confront Kylo Ren again. Now, Luke apparently could have just left anytime he wanted to and chose not to. And then when Rey shows up, Luke proceeds to lie to her for the entire time they are there. I’m sorry, even if you aren’t a fan of Luke’s arc in The Last Jedi, what you have now, retroactively, is much worse.
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