HEAT VISION

Why 'Rise of Skywalker' Quibbles Shouldn't Surprise 'Star Wars' Fans

Don't be too disappointed in the latest movie; it's just following in the footsteps of earlier installments.
'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'   |   Courtesy of Lucasfilm
Don't be too disappointed in the latest movie; it's just following in the footsteps of earlier installments.

[This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker]

There’s a strange sense of disappointment surrounding Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker from fans. It comes in different flavors — some are upset at what they believe is too much of a course correction from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, others simply that the movie is too muddled and fragmented to actually make sense — but no matter the reason, there’s certainly a belief amongst a large portion of fandom that Rise should have been… well, better.

There is, however, one problem with this way of thinking: Star Wars has never been able to do endings well, at least on the big screen.

While much has been made of The Rise of Skywalker being the final chapter in the nine-part Skywalker saga, it’s far from the first time we’ve seen a final chapter in Star Wars history; 1983 saw the release of Return of the Jedi, which closed out the original trilogy of movies. Twenty-two years later, Revenge of the Sith hit theaters, bringing the prequel trilogy to a close. And, it’s worth remembering, both of these movies were not particularly good.

Sith, admittedly, somewhat skews the curve by being arguably the best of the prequel trilogy, or at least the most filled with elements that are familiar from the original trilogy. (The distinction for some is barely present, to be fair.) But it’s still a movie with poor dialogue, a plot that feels more like checking boxes than anything organic and some memorably ropey performances, from both real and CGI actors.

Jedi, meanwhile, is guilty of exactly the sins The Rise of Skywalker is accused of now: Shying away from the moral complexities of the previous chapter and instead pushing back into nostalgia in an attempt to wrap up the story, while offering pat emotional epiphanies for characters, inventing familial bonds from out of nowhere and redeeming a character who, for all intents and purposes, didn’t really deserve such redemption. Almost everything in Rise is present in Jedi, bar Babu Frik and repeatedly pretending that characters are dead before pulling the ball away just as Charlie Brown’s about to kick it, because who wants Chewbacca to be dead, really?

If anything, Rise leans into patterns set by Sith and Jedi a little too much. Both of those movies place the Emperor into the center of the narrative after two installments where they’re in the background, and the same is true of Rise, if you substitute “the background” for “entirely absent because he was believed to be dead and there was no foreshadowing otherwise.” (“The dead speak,” indeed, but only in Fortnite, apparently.)

For that matter, both Sith and Jedi introduce characters and concepts that they have no time to use properly — hi, General Greivous or Admiral Ackbar — and Rise embraces this approach: What is the point of Richard E. Grant or Dominic Monaghan’s characters? Why don’t Naomi Ackie or Keri Russell have anything to do? Knowing that the Knights of Ren are just as wasted an opportunity as Jabba the Hutt and Jabba’s court doesn’t really lessen the frustration felt around their pointlessness onscreen.

All of which is to say: Sure, The Rise of Skywalker is far from perfect, but it’s also curiously keeping with the tradition of a disappointing final chapter — or, if you think about Return of the Jedi, a tradition of opting for a crowd-pleasing finale because these are kids’ adventure movies at heart and things are supposed to end happily in those kinds of things. Which makes it a perfect holiday movie, if nothing else, because what else are the holidays about, if not traditions that many people would rather weren’t respected?

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