It’s been a while since in December 2019 the ninth and final entry in the so-called Skywalker Saga blasted into cinemas all over the globe. This is my review, and it is late, because not only did I not really find the time to write it down I also wasn’t really sure what to make of the movie. As a long time Star Wars fan I maybe tend to be overly critical or emotionally involved in the franchise, but on the other hand, movies just like everything else evolve and changes are to be expected. So are spoilers by the way, because it’s been half a year plus a global pandemic. So be warned!
Older readers may still remember: After George Lucas created the beloved first three Star Wars Movies (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi) between 1977 and 1983 (before this author was even born), he decided in 1997 not only to bring them back to cinemas as Special Editions, but also extended the Saga into the past with the story of how Anakin Skywalker turned into Darth Vader, one of or even the main character of the classic trilogy. And thus the prequel trilogy was created between 1999 and 2005 (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith). There always were rumours that plans and stories existed for 9 movies in total, but instead of making those final three movies himself, George Lucas decided to sell his company and all of Star Wars to Disney in 2012 for a whopping $4.05 billion dollars. It was announced soon, that Disney and Lucasfilm intended to make new Star Wars movies, the core would be a final trilogy taking place after the classic trilogy to finish the Skywalker story arc (because this wasn’t finished with Vader being redeemed by his son apparently) and even more movies and tv shows losely scattered around the existing canon, or the redefinition of that.
And so in 2015 we got J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars – The Force Awakens (review in German) and it was followed in 2017 by Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi (review). While the first film of the new trilogy was very reminiscent of A New Hope in many ways and while J.J. Abrams, a huge Star Wars fan, very much tried to stick to the source material, Johnson tried to establish a new voice for Star Wars at least in part. Commercially both films were pretty successful and only time will tell, which place they will take in Star Wars history. But the final movie was handed around for some time before again J.J. Abrams came back to finish what he had started. And thus we got The Rise of Skywalker.
The movie starts off with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, son to Princess Leia and the belated scoundrel Han Solo, sabering his way to an artifact that leads him to the planet Exegol where he encounters (within the first five minutes of the movie) the apparently not deceased Emperor Palpatine. He is still somewhat alive and evil after he was thrown down a shaft on the second Death Star by no other than Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. He hands Kylo a huge fleet of refurbished Star Destroyers and instructs him to kill Rey, so they can rule the galaxy (again). But Rey is busy learning the ways of the Force and she learns them from Leia. Meanwhile Poe and Finn bring word back to the Rebel leftovers about the undead emperor and his whereabouts. So to stop him from taking over the universe (again) they all form a plan to find a wayfinder Luke had made notes about that could lead them to Exegol. So Rey, Poe, Finn, Chewie and C3PO go off in the Falcon to get that.
They hunt for clues on two different planets, first they get a dagger with ancient Sith text on Pasaana which leads them to Kijimi, where somebody might help them to translate said Sith text. Kylo and the Knights of Ren are after them though, and they manages to capture poor Chewbacca and take him on a transport ship. When Rey realizes it starting, she tries to force-pull it out of the sky but accidentally destroys it with force lightning.
But of course he’s actually on a another transport and brought to the flagship while his friends not knowing that go on to have C-3PO rebooted so he can translate the sith inscription. This leads them to a wayfinder on the remains of the second Death Star. But first Rey senses Chewy is still alive and they rescue him which leads to the traitor in Kylo’s team (Suprise! it’s General Hux!) helping them get off the ship and being killed mere minutes later. Rey also learns that she’s allegedly Palpatines granddaughter (Da-dumm). Still she goes to find the wayfinder and when she finds it in the ruins of the Death Star surrounded by the ocean, Kylo finds her and they battle it out for good. Only because of Leia’s intervention in distracting Kylo, Rey can fatally wound him. Realizing that Leia died by doing this Rey heals Kylo and then goes off to Luke’s exile planet Ahch-To. There Luke talks some sense into her and sends her off to confront Palpatine and hands her Leia’s lightsaber. She shares her position with the Resistance so they can follow her to Exegol for the final battle. Kylo, realizing Rey saved him, has a very neat scene talking to his dad and cementing his ultimate change of heart.
There Rey learns that Emperor Palpatine fully intends for her to kill him so she can go on continue the legacy of ruling the galaxy. At the same time the Resistance made up a plan to keep the Last Order fleet from leaving the planet, at least for long enough that Lando and Chewie can spread the word for everybody to come help them fight it. Meanwhile Kylo (somehow) has found a way to get to Exegol too, where he ventures to help Rey. When Rey is supposed to strike Palpatine down she force-transfers one of her lightsabers to Kylo/Ben, who then fights his former Knights of Ren. Up in space the Resistance seems to fight a loosing battle until finally Lando arrives with reinforcements. The battle between Palpatine and the young ones turns out to be rather one-sided and Palpatine takes Rey’s and Ben’s force connection to restore himself, then throws Kylo down a rift and attacks the Resistance fleet. Ultimately the power of all Sith that ever existed inside Palpatine and the power of all Jedi in Rey fight it out. Rey deflects Palpatine’s lightning and it kills them both (apparently). Kylo who crawled back from the rift, heals Rey and dies in the process. Rey kisses him then leaves the scene with the lightsabers while the Resistance fleet gets the better of the Final Order and they return to celebrate. The movie ends with Rey burying both Skywalker lightsabers near Lars Homestead on Tatooine. When a random lady passing by asks her for her name, she replies that she is Rey… Skywalker (Da-Da-Da-Daaa-Daaaaa-Daa-Da-Dumm-Daa-Da).
Now isn’t that a long storyline… Seriously, this is also is how the movie feels. Apparently for reasons of not planning ahead, a lot had to happen during this last ninth of the Skywalker Saga as it is named now. It doesn’t just feel a bit crammed, like Episode III, where the whole of the twist of Anakin and the destruction of the Jedi had to happen in the last act for some reason. It feels way more crammed. And with the prequels there was a plan all along and it all felt somewhat cohesive.
Episode IX apparently wasn’t really planned ahead though. Or if it was, it was planned differently. But because of Rian Johnson’s The last Jedi and without at least a story scaffold for the last trilogy arc, it seems a lot had to be taken care of in this final movie. And it just feels messy. I mean it’s not like Lucas didn’t use MacGuffins and obscure characters and plot twists out of nowhere. Anybody remember Jedi Master Sifo Dyas from Episode II? Or the Camino dart? Or Darth Plagueis from EP III? Or Lando and Cloud City? Those all filled plot holes in a less than elegant way and lead to more questions than they answered. And made for extended universe entries or vast amounts of fan fiction. But bringing Palpatine back with no explanation in the first minute of the movie (actually in the trailer to the movie to be exact, see below) just feels lazy. Where did he get that fleet from? And the resources to create the First AND the Final Order? Why did he need Snoke as a proxy? And all this after having been fried and exploded with the 2nd Death Star?? It’s all a bit much. The hunt for the wayfinder seems too random, we hardly spend enough time on each step of the journey to appreciate the surroundings. Considering that The Last Jedi had the Resistance reduced to one ship they have grown back quite quickly, they even have a base and a fleet again. It doesn’t seem like even weeks have passed since the last movie. Why did nobody help the Resistance last time when the First Order seemed rather decimated and now with a full fleet of kick-ass Star Destroyers apparently they feel like they got this? Was it just Lando’s charm?
As you can see, I’m very much on the fence when it comes to the story. There are a few good moments. Harrison Ford coming back is great. So is Billie Dee Williams. But why do we need to introduce more new characters? It’s been nine films, do we really need those in the last one? I also found the final battle quite disappointing. I mean the space battle is ok, although once the backup arrives it feels crowded and I miss the David-vs.-Goliath-feel we had in Return of the Jedi or The Force Awakens (or the Last Jedi for that matter). But Palpatine harnessing the Sith power and Rey harnessing the Jedi could have been more visually interesting and better prepared. I’d have loved to see all (or at least some) of the Jedi coming back as projections or some form to actually fight. A way for Yoda to redeem his losing battle in Revenge of the Sith. They all get to talk to Rey for a quick bit but given the amazing stuff Jedi and Sith seem to be able to do (and expecially Rey) I felt it was not worth a climax of a story spanning nine movies and 42 years in the making. And yes, that’s what they put on themselves by making this an extension of six very successfull movies. Nobody said they had to.
I rewatched the first trilogies in 4k over the past months and while the style and designs are very different (and the technology) it’s amazing how coherent the storytelling is compared to the latest trilogy. There elements like Vader constantly talking about Obi-Wan to Luke, which totally makes sense if you’ve learned how close Obi-Wan and Anakin were in the prequels (and the Clone Wars serials). Everybody frowned at the Noooo!-scene in Revenge of the Sith, but it really only references Vader’s reaction when saving Luke in Return of the Jedi. It’s one story told by the same storyteller. it’s (mostly) coherent and the vision of one (independent) film maker. The same can not be said for the Disney trilogy and especially it’s latest entry.
Yes it’s a feast for the eyes and ears, yes it’s an entertaining movie, yes having John Williams compose the music for Star Wars probably for the last time is pretty impressive. But it’s not the ultimate ending. And it wasn’t as surprising as I hoped it would be. And although it was pretty successful in numbers, I kinda feel that at least I can do without more Star Wars movies for the forseeable future. Which apparently also Disney has realized. It’s sad, because I feel like I was rooting for this to create a new universe and now I’m not sure whether I am too old for this or they just messed it up. In fact, if you watch the Behind-the-Scenes-documentary, you feel like a lot of ambition went into this and they really stress how this ties in with the original trilogy and the prequels. It’s just not really what the film felt like to me when I first watched it.
However, it’s not going to hurt the legacy, because there’s still some good in there. The old movies are only made better imho. Rogue One fits perfectly in between the first trilogies. The Mandalorian is interesting and really well made. I think if they had given one person the power of a trilogy it would have been better. I’d still like to see Johnson’s trilogy or can imagine Abrams going at it with full fan power. Just don’t cross the streams. Whatever you do. In fact that’s what the movie toys with in the end: The last “real” Skywalker has to die in order for Rey to live and keep the spirit of the Skywalkers alive. Or something like that. There can be different kinds of Star Wars going forward. Not everything has to be for everyone.
All Images taken from https://www.moviestillsdb.com/