Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was designed to answer big questions about the entire Skywalker Saga. But it also raised a lot of new ones, including how well director J.J. Abrams handled its breakneck pacing and huge plot reveals. We offered our spoiler-free impressions earlier this week. But with the film now in theaters, it’s time to take a closer (and, it should go without saying, spoiler-heavy) look at what worked and what didn’t.
Final warning: we’ll be talking about specific plot points throughout The Rise of Skywalker below.
Adi Robertson, Senior Reporter: I had to corner you with a few dozen lore-related questions about this movie, Chaim, so I might as well start with Rise of Skywalker’s big spoiler-y reveals. Rey is a Palpatine! Palpatine is chilling in a spooky lab full of Snoke clones! The spooky lab is on a secret Sith planet! Also Poe was a drug runner at some point, I guess! How well did you think all these twists worked?
Chaim Gartenberg, News Editor: So many twists. If anyone was worried going in that J.J. wasn’t going to try and wrap up or address any of the outstanding questions from The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, don’t worry: he does. The movie even answers stuff that I don’t think anyone was asking — were there really folks wondering “How did Poe learn to fly so well?”
But to the main point, the Palpatine reveal(s) mostly worked for me. Is it a little too neat that Rey is the granddaughter of the uber-villain? Sure. But the symmetry — bad guy daughter is good; good guy son is bad — is cool, and “is it cool?” is basically the Star Wars guiding... star (something that felt especially true for this movie in particular). What did you think of the parade of plot-twists?
Adi Robertson: I fully expected Abrams to retcon The Last Jedi for a more impressive resolution to big questions like Rey’s lineage and Snoke’s backstory. But I’m surprised that I seemed more interested in the answers than he did.
”Rey is a Palpatine” implies Emperor Palpatine fathered a secret child on top of being a galactic power broker and Sith lord, murdered that child a couple decades later, and started a massive long con to lure his granddaughter into being the heir that a string of surrogate sons had failed to become. This could be an amazing soap opera plot and Rise of Skywalker just abandons it after using it to establish that Rey has a dark side.
I feel like I could have watched the entire final conflict between her and Palpatine without knowing they were related, and virtually nothing would change — something I absolutely couldn’t say about Darth Vader turning out to be Luke’s father, for example.
I’m curious how you felt about Snoke’s origin too. We’ve finally learned where he comes from, resolving years of fan theories. Was it satisfying to find out that he was (as far as I understand it) a Palpatine puppet?
Chaim: Palpatine got around, apparently. But I agree 100 percent that the Palpatine reveal wasn’t really necessary to the plot of the movie at all. Maybe that’s why everyone else in the film seems so nonchalant about the whole thing. (Luke’s throwaway line about how Leia knew, but just didn’t really care is certainly.... a way to do things.)
The Snoke origin is one of the areas I wish the movie had just taken a tiny bit more time to explain. He was one of The Force Awaken’s biggest black boxes that I’m glad we got some sort of answer. And he was enough of a generic evil Sith blank slate that the explanation tracks. But is he a clone? Some weird failed experiment? Was Palpatine literally just sitting in his GLaDOS-chair remote controlling him from Exogal? It’s another case where Abrams seemed more interested in just giving an answer rather than exploring the ramifications of what it means.
On that subject, I still haven’t decided how I felt about the handwaving of Palpatine’s return in the first 10 minutes of the film. Do you have thoughts on the “dark science, clones and/or secrets known only to the Sith” that brought back the series’ big bad?
Adi: One of my favorite Star Wars universe reveals was “Darth Maul survived being chopped in half by getting super angry and finding metal spider legs,” so I can’t knock the narrative audacity. Dropping that reveal right at the beginning and sending everybody rushing after Palpatine felt like a mistake, though.
It required the film to spin a new trilogy arc out of thin air, and it derailed one of The Last Jedi’s less divisive and most promising ideas: that Kylo Ren wanted to build something new with the First Order, rather than becoming another Sith lord. But when your undead sugar daddy offers you a fleet of Death Stars, thematic resonance probably isn’t the first thing on your mind.
I actually came out of Rise of Skywalker wanting more from a different villain: General Hux. Not to fan any Kylux/Reylo ship war flames here, but there’s another great soap opera plot in Hux and Kylo Ren starting as rival Snoke proteges and then betraying both their respective causes and each other. Unfortunately, given the film’s pacing, it got pretty short shrift.
Were there other side characters you wish had gotten more screen time? I was intrigued by Poe’s old partner Zorii Bliss — or at the very least, by her cool “Daft Punk meets Power Rangers” outfit.
Chaim: I, for one, would have loved to see Kylo’s attempts at running a functional governing body. Although given how well the last attempt at diving into the fascinating world of senatorial governance went when Star Wars tried to address the topic, perhaps it’s for the better.
Zorii Bliss (a perfect Star Wars name) felt like the Boba Fett of this movie — shows up, looks cool, sells toys. I was more disappointed by the sidelining of Rose Tico, who The Last Jedi set up to be a big part of the new crew only to make a few short appearances in favor of newer characters like Zorii, Jannah, and even the not-nearly-as-cute-as-Baby-Yoda Babu Frik.
To flip the conversation a bit, what parts of Rise of Skywalker did work for you?
Adi: I was very into the lightsaber duels. As much as I’ve talked about Abrams walking back parts of The Last Jedi, I like that he expanded its Force-mind-bridging trick into a useful and cool-looking mechanic for Rey and Kylo Ren’s fights. Leia turning out to have gotten Jedi training was another of those basically unnecessary plot additions, but it gave us Adam Driver pulling a lightsaber out of nowhere with that great little shrug-flourish near the end.
I also just generally love the actors involved in the sequel trilogy. Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley made a great heroic trio, and Adam Driver and Domnhall Gleeson struck a perfect balance between being menacing, petty, and vulnerable. I wouldn’t want to see the current storyline get dragged out any longer (and RIP, Hux and Kylo), but I’ll be a little sad to see them gone.
Chaim: The lightsaber duels were excellent across the board here (shameless plug for my deeper dive at how the sequels in general got lightsabers right), and I’m in full agreement with the actors here. For Boyega and Ridley in particular, there’s a sense of competence here — they’re not muttering “you can do this, you can do this” to themselves anymore. They’re full grown heroes in their own right. And the main trio really do feel like friends here, with banter that feels right at home alongside the Luke/Leia/Han adventures from the original trilogy.
Because I am an unapologetic Star Wars nerd, I also do want to call out the particularly fan service-y moments that just landed well with me: namely, the whole “be with me” sequence toward the end, when Lucasfilm flexes its check-cutting machine to bring back the actors for all the heroes of Star Wars films past for a final Jedi hype montage. It’s over the top, but it’s also the most successful part of the film when it comes to bringing the last eight movies full circle.
The real question I have left though: is this really the end of the Skywalker Saga? All the marketing claims that this was the final piece of the puzzle, but I suspect we’ll see these characters — if not the “Episode X” branding — again. What do you think is next for Star Wars?
Adi: Reopening the saga with a “technically not a sequel” sequel would be pretty unsatisfying to me, and Ridley, Isaac, and Boyega have emphatically said they’re done with Star Wars. So it doesn’t seem inevitable that we’ll see their characters on the big screen again. (More spinoff comics and novels do seem inevitable, of course, particularly with new hooks like Poe’s spice-running past.)
That said, we’ve got several upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows on the slate — some are clearly unrelated, but others are more ambiguous. I could see Rey, Finn, and Poe reappearing in some future trilogy the way that Han, Luke, and Leia showed up in these sequels: as seasoned veterans passing the baton to a new generation. After everything that just happened in The Rise of Skywalker, though, I think we could all use a break.