All right, so we went and saw Rise of Skywalker. And then we turned around the next day and went back to see it again.
Because why not? It’s Christmas break.
So what’s my take? Spoiler alert…
No, seriously—SPOILER ALERT.
All right, I warned ya.
The Star Wars Experience
As I hinted at before we saw the movie, one of my favorite things about Star Wars movies is just the nerdy fan experience. Wearing our Star Wars T-shirts, watching the lights go down and the fanfare come up, being in a crowd of people who will enthusiastically cheer at the title screen—I love that feeling.
And doing it with my kids is pretty special. They’re into Star Wars as much as I am, and that makes it something fun we can share together.
Lexi kept saying that her “childhood was on the line,” and with the downright awfulness of the prequels, I get it. (And yes, we all get how over-the-top ridiculous that is—it’s just a movie. But we have fun with it.)
So I don’t really care about the reviews. I don’t really care if it’s amazing cinema or if it’s predicable schlock designed to sell some merchandize (because I will buy that merchandise).
It’s got a special place in my heart, and while I do recognize flaws in it, I’m also pretty biased and set up to just love these movies. I mean, I walked out of The Phantom Menace liking it.
So all that to say, did we like it?
The kids loved it.
I’m not so sure.
First of all, like I said above, I love the experience. The first five minutes of the movie, from the crawl through Kylo Ren’s encounter with the reanimated Emperor, I was freaking out. I kept exchanging glances with my kids, gesturing wildly—I think Lexi motioned for me to calm down at one point.
There were surprises and fist bumps and quiet cries of “Chewie? No…” Milo shielded his eyes at one point, even on the second viewing (“It’s creepy!” he whispered to me).
Lexi said her mouth dropped open at one point, and stayed that way.
So as a movie going experience, I absolutely love it. Let’s do it again (and yeah, we probably will go see it a third time… if only because the next Star Wars movie is a long way off, so let’s see it in the theater while we can).
But in terms of how good the movie is? Eh.
I’m well aware of how my feelings change over time, so I’m reluctant to make a bold statement. But I don’t like the Emperor plot line. There are some amazing moments in this movie, but there are also some weird, ridiculous things and some missed opportunities. On the first viewing I found the Emperor reveal to be so wacky that it put me off. I swallowed it better on the second viewing, but it raises a lot of perplexing questions. I get why the movie is getting bad reviews. I wouldn’t say it’s bad. But it’s not going to be one of my favorites.
It’s hard for me to rag on Star Wars (this isn’t the prequels after all), so let’s talk about what worked.
- Rey and Kylo Ren – I just love these two. The battle between the light and the dark is embodied so thoroughly with them, and their interactions are just so good. The force connection they have is just cool. There’s depth and surprise and anger and wonder—it’s good stuff. Rey dealing the killing blow to Kylo and then turning around and healing him? Wow. She brought Ben Solo back! And then when they join forces? And the end? I’ve heard people complaining about the kiss (especially Milo—”Ug, they’re face mashing!”), but I love it. This sequel trilogy has had very little romance and hardly any kissing, though plenty of potential romantic tension, so it’s nice to finally see a glimpse of it. Lexi pointed out that this is the first time we see Kylo Ren/Ben Solo smile in the entire series.
- Han Solo and Ben Solo – I was so happy to see Han Solo make an appearance, even if it was just a figment of Ben’s memory. That was a moment. I love the “Dad…”/”I know” line. I loved the repeat of their final moments in The Force Awakens. This was a great moment of redemption. And the pay off: Lexi pointed out in those final scenes with Ben Solo, he has a Han Solo-esque swagger about him. He runs into the Emperor’s big cube stadium thing with a blaster in his hand—just like his dad. He fires over his shoulder (just like his dad). And there’s a moment when he’s facing off with his Knights of Ren, after he gets the lightsaber, where he kind of shrugs—just like Han Solo.
- Leia – And all that Han and Ben magic happens because of Leia and whatever force sacrifice she made to, I don’t know, turn Ben or distract him or whatever happened (this is where this movie is kind of frustrating). I’ll forgive anything related to Leia because of Carrie Fisher’s untimely death. There just wasn’t much they could do. They couldn’t give her the ending she deserved, and so they had to cobble it together with old footage, and throw in Han, Maz, and Lando to make it work. And I don’t know if it worked very well, but the sentiment is there, and I’ll take that. Also, Leia’s Jedi training scene with Luke is wonderful. She kicked his butt and then hung it up. That’s crazy.
- Luke – Luke Skywalker as a force ghost. I’m here for that. I wanted to see force ghosts in the prequels. I wanted to see them in The Force Awakens. I was thrilled to see Yoda in Last of the Jedi, and high on my list for Rise of Skywalker was seeing Luke as a force ghost. And then we go back to his X-wing and he gets to raise it out of the water, a makeup for Dagobah (though I was kind of hoping Rey would raise it).
- Lots of little things – Rise of Skywalker had lots of little moments that were great: D-O, Babu Frick, the endless Star Wars banter, the space chess scene, the return to Luke’s Tattooine home, Rey’s new lightsaber, Wedge!, Lando!, Admiral Ackbar Junior! (sure, he has a name, but Poe called him Junior, so I’m sticking with that), Rey’s face-off with Ren’s Tie-fighter (that seemed ludicrous in the trailer, but I liked it in the movie), Rey and Ren’s force battle over what we thought was the transport with Chewie, the Zorri/Poe back and forth (“Can I kiss you?”), Rey’s healing scene with the big worm thing that recalled Baby Yoda (in the episode that came out two days earlier no less!)… there were some great moments.
What Didn’t Work
There were also some things that didn’t work so well.
- Emperor – My biggest issue by far is the entire plot line of Emperor Palpatine coming back from the dead. I get that this is a way to unite all three trilogies into one whole, but it’s not exactly a cohesive whole. It really undoes Anakin Skywalker’s great redeeming sacrifice. It also calls everything into question. I get that comic books are always bringing people back from the dead (Darth Maul) and no one is truly gone, but it just undermines so many things. And dumping all of that on us in the opening crawl and the first five minutes of the movie? It all came in such a blur and was too much. The creepy stadium full of Sith? The weird Snoke in a jar? So did Palpatine have a horcrux? It transforms Star Wars from an epic battle of good vs. evil to an epic battle against the Emperor. He’s the only evil. And sure, Rey defeated him, but did she really? Finally, the idea of Rey as Palpatine’s granddaughter is also a bit much. It raises too many questions and is just meh. I could enjoy the ultimate showdown between Rey and Palpatine, but the whole idea of it being necessary just doesn’t jive for me. I’m not sure what I was expecting with the Emperor coming back, how I thought that could work, but I think it’s kind of a weak way to go.
- Sith artifacts – I’ve never been a big fan of all the weird Sith and dark side backstory, or even the Jedi lore. Objects that have special powers and all that? It gets a little too fantasy and not enough sci-fi for my taste. So setting up a whole plot line where they chase down one of these artifacts, and then it turns out not to matter, is pretty lame. And the knife matching up with the Death Star ruins? What is this, National Treasure? Good thing Rey was standing in the exact right spot without knowing how to find that spot. Sheesh.
- Lightspeed skipping – This whole scene bothered me the first time around. What were they doing? How could the Tie fighters follow them through hyperspace? Was this like the tracking from Last Jedi? And if they could still do that, why hadn’t the First Order found the Resistance base? Often Rise of Skywalker felt rushed, and this was a good example of something that should either have been better explained or left out.
- Lando – While it was amazing to see Lando come back, I think his scenes fell flat. I don’t know if it’s Billy Dee Williams’ acting or the material they gave him or the fact that Donald Glover did it better, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I think part of it might be that Lando’s character works the best when he’s playing off Han. And he had no one to play off. Poe could be that person, but the age difference means there’s respect and not competition between the two. They kind of set up a Lando spin-off movie with Jannah (there’s a deleted plot line where she is his long-lost daughter), and unless they sort out this offness with Billy Dee Williams, that won’t work.
- Maz – Likewise with Maz Kanata. While I love seeing her again—she’s one of my favorite new characters—her role was little more than exposition. I think she was there because Carrie Fisher couldn’t be there. (And the Resistance Reborn novel kind of set up that Maz would help but not join the Resistance, so this felt like a weird switch.)
- Hux – His role as a mole was a big surprise, but it didn’t feel very true to his character (I guess the anti-Kylo Ren part, but not compared to his Nazi leader role in The Force Awakens). And they just killed him. That was another big surprise, but it didn’t felt like it meant anything. The bad guy leaders are always pretty disposable, but he was set up to not be disposable, so it felt like a weird move.
- Final Order fleet – Well, at least they didn’t create a third Death Star. But putting that power on an unending fleet of ships was a bit much.
- Rebel fleet – And the size of the fleet that came to support the Resistance was too much. Reminded me of the digital excess of the prequel and Special Edition days.
- The trailers – I think they gave away all the good surprises in the trailer. I’m usually not that critical of the trailers, but this time around nearly every surprise was teased ahead of time—the Emperor (and OK, I guess you had to do that one), Leia, Lando, the Death Star, how the Emperor had deceived Kylo Ren, Maz (not sure if she was in the trailer, but Lupita Nyong’o was doing press), and Dark Rey (I liked how this was a mirror of Luke’s Dagobah cave experience and not a real character—but sheesh, don’t mislead people and let them endlessly speculate like that, make it a surprise).
- Rose – Why did they give Rose the shaft?! I really liked Rose in Last Jedi, and I can’t believe how much they pushed her off to the side in Rise of Skywalker. It’s like J.J. Abrams just gave in to the negative reaction to Last Jedi and decided to take it out on Rose. While I like Jannah’s character, she basically replaces Rose. They could have dumped Jannah and let Rose be in those scenes and it would have been a better way to give Rose a role in this one.
So I’m conflicted about it. It’s certainly not as bad as the prequels, and I do enjoy watching it. It’s just not what I hoped it would be.
Maybe the series was backed into a corner with Snoke being killed off and there had to be a bigger bad. Without the Emperor, the movie’s main conflict would be between Rey and Kylo Ren, and it seems likely that would end with someone’s death and no real sense of redemption. The Luke and Vader conflict needed the Emperor for them to side with each other. Seems like a similar thing needed to happen here. I don’t know. Maybe it was inevitable and there is a nice unity to the entire 9-movie series now, but it just doesn’t feel right to me.
I’ll just have to cling to the wonderful Rey and Kylo Ren moments, the Star Wars banter, those incredible lightsaber duels, and the heart-tugging cameos from Leia, Luke, and Han (the three of them never did get to be together again, did they?).