PG-13 for the scariest version of Emperor Palpantine imaginable. There's violence and probably Star Wars swearing if I thought about it. But the big pull is that I can't imagine being my brother-in-law. He took his entire family to go see this movie opening night and I just remember being terrified by how scary looking Emperor Palpatine was in this movie. I actually leaned over to my wife and said, "Teddy took his family to this?" PG-13.
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
I wrote an article about the value of the entire Skywalker Saga for Catholic News Agency. I don't know if it will see the light of day or what. I liked what I wrote, but I also don't really feel like fighting tooth and nail for articles anymore. I don't know if I have it in me. I saw The Rise of Skywalker opening night. Okay, Friday night. Thursday night apparently is the new opening night somehow. I won't complain about that one iota because I love Thursday night opening nights...assuming I wasn't employed.
If this entire thing has a thesis, it's that it really doesn't really earn the title of the film. It wants to so badly, but The Rise of Skywalker is potentially the least earned name in the franchise. Okay, The Phantom Menace doesn't really gel either, but I knew that Lucas was probably aiming to call back to the glory days of the serial with that bombastic name. I suppose that The Rise of Skywalker was an ambitious name.
When I was a kid, I remember hearing rumors pre-commonplace Internet that George Lucas was always going to do a prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy, which is why the films were redubbed Episodes IV-VI. I'm sitting in a time where that has finally come to fruition. I know that Lucas had little to nothing to do with The Rise of Skywalker. There's an article saying that he was consulted before the script was written. I'm sure that was a gesture, more than anything. But it has happened. The thing I wanted to so desperately as a kid has happened. There are three trilogies, all tied to the destiny of Luke Skywalker and how he impacted the galaxy. No wonder that the film is named The Rise of Skywalker.
But is the movie really about Rey embracing the title of Skywalker. From a J.J. Abrams having the characters say the words, yes, that's what it is about. But much of the film is about quite the opposite than the rise of a real resistance. The Last Jedi ended with a call being put forth to the galaxy to rise up and oppose the evil First Order. That seed was planted, among others, to lead to the birth of a new Resistance. I get the vibe that J.J. Abrams said that he really liked The Last Jedi, but really loathed it like many other Star Wars fans. He kind of hides that light under a bushel basket because the movie starts off with business-as-usual for the Resistance. The decimation of their ranks at the end of The Last Jedi isn't as dire as the movie made it out to be. There's a line that I think that Poe says revealing that no one stepped up when they were needed. This is where The Rise of Skywalker seems like a terrible title.
The Rise of Skywalker, as a title, evokes a sense of hope. Ironically, with Episode IV being labelled A New Hope, The Rise of Skywalker almost should have paralleled that feeling. If the movie stepped off on the wrong foot, it was the fact that it tried to lightly undo the events of The Last Jedi. Yeah, Rian Johnson gave Abrams quite a hole to dig his way out of. I had no idea that Johnson was so free to do whatever he wanted with the franchise. It's very confusing. In my mind, the trilogy was laid out very clearly. There were certain beats that every film had to hit and that would ultimately lead to a very well-planned resolution. But if Abrams is actively backtracking the events of the previous movie, maybe things were about triage and repair rather than sticking to a tightly woven plan. Johnson actually opens the door to this being a world of hope. If the First Order was a second rise of the Empire, why couldn't we see the seeds of a new Rebellion?
Having The Rise of Skywalker referring to primarily Rey and slightly to Ben Solo is a really weird choice. It makes the whole thing smaller. Rey, when asked point blank what her last name is, thinks about it, and says "Skywalker." Part of that comes from the fact that she had a sit down with her old mentor's ghost, Luke, and makes peace with him. Great. But the two of them were never really close. I love that Leia is Rey's mentor for the beginning of the film, but Leia too never embraced the name Skywalker. When I hear that Rey is continuing on the legacy of Luke Skywalker, I like the idea on paper, but it feels wildly unearned. Similarly, where is that feeling with Leia? It's just said, not actually believed. Rey is kind of a jerk throughout the film.
I understand that she's going through stuff. I like that Rey doesn't necessarily come across as a traditional hero and that's something that's cool. But just to say that everything now works because Force Ghosts talked to you doesn't really sit well with me. Ben Solo, as a continuation of the Skywalker legacy, kind of works. It's just that Ben is very much a lightswitch like Anakin was a lightswitch. At least the new trilogy teases Ben's redemption a little better than the prequels did with Anakin's turn to the dark side. But Ben never feels real remorse for what he's done. He's just ready to be a good guy and fight for the home team. Rey's attraction to Ben is similarly kind of creepy. She knows the crimes he has committed. While she can sympathize with his torment, she also has to hold him accountable for the actions he did. There's a wide gap between forgiving someone and madly loving them for saying sorry...kinda.
But the Rise of Skywalker should have been about everyone. There's all this stuff out there about Rose Tico not getting her time in the sun. I was one of the people shouting for more of her character. People be terrible and Rose has all the elements of being this great Star Wars character. How cool would it have been if Rose recruited a new resistance in the name of Luke and Leia Skywalker? By having people hear the story of a farm boy who smashed a Death Star and an orphaned princess who built an army, that Rise of Skywalker could give the title some validity. Instead, we have to just kind of believe what J.J. Abrams is telling us about what it means to be a Skywalker. He promised that the word "Skywalker" was going to mean something different and new, but really it was just more of the same.
In terms of quality movie, the biggest bummer in the world is that it is just "fine". I think I honestly would have been happy if The Rise of Skywalker was a hot mess. When I first saw The Last Jedi, I thought it was a hot mess. It forced me to come back to it with different eyes. But most people who are leaving the movie said that they had a good time. I don't want to think of it as something as "just a good time." Star Wars, somehow, deserves to be better than that. I love Trek, but I also know that I don't go into Trek movies knowing that they are going to change the cultural zeitgeist.
An okay movie means that Star Wars has kind of just become forgettable. That's a real bummer. Star Wars used to mean something in this town! Part of me wishes, despite the fact that my 8-10 year old self would slap me silly right now, that Star Wars was always Parts IV-VI. Most of me is glad that these movies exist. It's fun seeing Star Wars done by people who really seem to care about the franchise. But it used to be perfect. I know that some Return of the Jedi haters are probably up in arms about that, but it just seemed so untouchable. Now, I have these movies, one of the trilogies is an abomination. (Please, if you like these movies, continue liking them. I have tried to watch them so many times and I can find very little joy in them.) One of the trilogies just seems like a good time with a lot of mistakes. But Star Wars probably deserves better than what we got. It tried really hard to be good and I enjoyed what I got, but a lot of the shine is now gone.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.