The high and low points of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Lucasfilm Ltd.

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?

Lucasfilm

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.

Jonathan Olley /Lucasfilm Ltd.

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.

Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.

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.

Comments

There were some solid moments, but the film is such a goddamn mess, and it’s so, so loud. There’s no time for a single moment of rest, it’s just going 100mph for two hours and twenty minutes.

Does anyone know if the "All the Jedi/Sith live in you" thing has been established somewhere else? I’ve read one or two Star Wars books but I’m not super deep in the expanded lore. It just felt like a weird thing to bring out of nowhere, very Avatar-like.

Sounds more like a script page from The Lion King got mixed in at the production offices…

Hadn’t even made the Lion King connection (because seriously, the Avatar (the show, not the James Cameron film) connections are so obvious that it looks like it directly inspired TRoS), but yeah, that too.

Does anyone know if the "All the Jedi/Sith live in you" thing has been established somewhere else?

I don’t know. I’m just waiting for the edits to come out where Rey just starts singing "I’m Every Woman" to the Emperor instead during the final confrontation.
That movie… gosh…

In a universe with space magic, laser swords, FTL travel and aliens that look like wee little bat people; heavens forbid that there be a female main character! My fragile masculinity cannot fathom having a protagonist that isn’t an exact mirror image of me!

Don’t be like that. The lyrics of I’m Every Woman are absolutely about how the spirit of every woman lives in the singer, so it’s an amusing reference that doesn’t necessarily mean mxmgodin is one of those "Star Wars was rubbish since women started running around killing the baddies (i.e. about 3 seconds after Leia appeared onscreen 5 minutes into the 1977 original)" people.

Oh yeah, I was simply making a humorous parallel between the song’s lyrics and the movie’s dialog. Sorry if that came out wrong.
I absolutely loved Rey as the protagonist of the new trilogy (though I have lots of feelings regarding what they’ve ultimately decided to do with her character in TROS…)

Grey Jedi walk the line between light and darkside but they’re non-cannon now. Qui-Gon was likely a Grey Jedi but never confirmed from memory.

This "I am all the Sith" idea along with an apparent army of Sith acolytes completely steps on previous canon. The ancient Sith destroyed themselves because each one was evil and thirsty for power. To save the themselves from extinction the Sith established "The Rule of Two". Yoda even mentions this in the prequels. There’s always two of them, a master and an apprentice.
Anyone who considers themselves a Star Wars nerd or claims knowledge about lore knows this and would see this discrepancy a mile away.

I knew I was in for a rough ride within the first 2 minutes of the film. As soon as they had a physical embodiment of the Emperor I knew it wasn’t going to be for me. So disappointed.

There were some excellent scenes, and some utter garbage. "We have to attack this ship on foot… for reasons…"

Same. I went in thinking "maybe the trailers were just some smart misdirection to keep the actual plot a mystery". But nope. Within 5 minutes, it is revealed to be very literal, and very dumb.

Agree with you 100%. Highlights for me was the Rey/Ben fight and Han appearance – I thought this was all well done and very emotional. The other highlight was Ben kicking ass against the KoR.

Everything else was a convoluted mess of a film. Nothing really makes sense. The Emperor is a cheap plot device and nothing more, as he’s killed in a laughable manner as quickly as he’s brought back. I maybe could have looked past most of this had Ben lived, but they had to kill him off too.

Such an empty and pointless trilogy.

Physical Emperor, Force Teleporting (introduced in TLJ I think), the huge armada, that fact that their weakness was being shot on the laser barrel, the Knights of Ren immediately betraying Kylo and them being faceless goons with less skill than Snoke’s guard, attacking the ship on foot.

They could have had manipulating Emperor force ghost with a loyal following who have been manipulating behind the scenes trying to get Rey to turn. But I guess that isn’t Star Wars enough, they had to have the space battle.

bro so many chances to be great, kylo finally have a sith squad just like how the jedi roll and they didnt do anything ….ray kills a man who is bringing down every good plane in the sky with a lacrosse check….really….things that would have been a better ending ray finally loses someone that pushes her to the dark side leading her and kylo the ruled the sith together like 2 mad kings (my personal favorite)….they have 2 kids one good one evil (the classic story continues)….ray takes the sith and ben goes to the jedi in some crazy ex lover battle type mess..like they both crazy and clearly shouldnt be together but they love each other and show it by trying to kill one another over and over lol

I would have actually been OK with it if they would have given SOME sort of explanation.

Hey – the Emperor is here! How’d he get here? I dunno. But apparently he engineered snoke!…. somehow. Look STOP ASKING QUESTIONS!

So I guess the real reason no one showed up to help the resistance at the end of The last Jedi was because it wasn’t Billy Dee Williams doin’ the askin’.

I mean, if this legend asked me to help, I’d definitely get off my ass and go help lol.

Billy Dee Williams. It works every time.

Fans: "I hate that JJ made everything that happened in TLJ inconsequential"
Also fans: completely miss the entire point of the film, Luke’s sacrifice to spark the spirit of rebellion & becoming legend (along with Rey, as literally stated by Zuri)

Not everything, but it was obvious TLJ set her up to be nobody. Which is fine. And then this movie does a 180 on that, because that’s what Abram’s wanted. Wish all three were on the same page.

Not everything, but it was obvious TLJ set her up to be nobody. Which is fine. And then this movie does a 180 on that, because that’s what Abram’s wanted. Wish all three were on the same page.

I disagree.

Ben wasn’t wrong, we just didn’t hear the full extent of it. Was Rian trying to set up something more interesting? Sure. Would it have been? eh. I dunno. Its thematically more interesting sure. But this film also shuts a lot of bad actors with regards to Rey’s abilities. That they are loving it is just ironic icing.

At any rate, regardless of whether or not that was the intent, at the end of the day, I always felt like the Rey reveal as a no one could always work both ways, all they had to do was echo the ‘certain point of view’ mantra, which they def did.

It worked for me. I can see how it didn’t work for others.

Idk, he said they were nobody, when they were actually one of them was Palpatine’s child. In Star Wars, that’s like being a celebrity really. I guarantee if Abrams made TLJ, that part would have been cut because it makes no sense with RoS. And if Johnson made RoS, she really would have been the child of nobody important. I felt like the whole point of the ending of TLJ was that anyone could be a hero, and RoS goes back to the old lineage is everything part of Star Wars.

Basically, I don’t think the movies are on the same page personally. But I respect people who don’t feel the same way.

I’m not a huge Star Wars fan so how important are bloodlines supposed to be?

Anakin was supposed to be conceived by the Force (or some such nonsense) but that did at least explain why he was so powerful yet if we’re following through with bloodlines being important shouldn’t that have made Luke and Leia extremely/most powerful too?

It’s a little unfortunate really, a poor theme for a scifi that your potential depends on you having the right lineage.

Luke, for someone who didn’t have much training, was pretty damn powerful.

It’s always had a lineage focus, but maybe that’s done with in the next trilogy that starts from scratch?

I think what Rian Johnson was trying to do in The Last Jedi was take the title of The Force Awakens literally: that the Force was somehow dormant but the rise of Snoke and the Knights of Ren caused an awakening. Rey being a nobody works because it shows the Force working through average people, not just Force "royalty". This is further reinforced with the child at the end of the film using the Force. It also plays into the Force always wanting to be in balance; there’s an imbalance towards the Dark Side, so there’s an awakening of the Light to balance it out.

I loved The Last Jedi because it wasn’t afraid to take risks. I loved how Luke was raised on Jedi dogma, and when he tried to apply that like so many before him, it cost him his academy, his students, and most importantly his nephew. So he does like so many before him and goes into exile, and on Acht-to he realizes that this cycle has been going on for millennia. So what does he do? He decides that he’s going end the Jedi and break the cycle. That is the only way to bring actual balance and stop these pendulum swings between Light and Dark that keep putting the galaxy in turmoil. When he starts training Rey, it’s from the perspective of the whole Force, not just the Light side as he was taught.

My main gripe with The Rise of Skywalker is that it takes this really interesting concept and just goes "nah". Luke’s speech to Rey basically destroys all of that with Luke suddenly caring about the Jedi again. He does state that he was wrong, but I think that was only about his self-imposed exile and not his train of thought on the nature of the Force.

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