The Critics Must Be Crazy: ‘The Rise Of Skywalker’ Is The Best ‘Star Wars’ Movie In The New Trilogy
Star Wars critics
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker is a terrific finale to the nine-film Skywalker saga and ... [+]CREDIT: DISNEY / LUCASFILM
"Let the hate flow through you.”
Those are the words that Emperor Palpatine says to Luke Skywalker near the end of The Return Of The Jedi as Luke very nearly succumbs to the Dark Side by killing his father, Darth Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker).
The phrase may as well be the tag-line to various swaths of Star Wars fans at any given time. There seems to be a dedicated “fandom” in the Star Wars galaxy right now that simply relishes hating on anything and everything Star Wars.
For the latest film, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker, that group apparently includes the critics. Film reviewers are tearing the movie apart for a whole variety of reasons, and while there’s no accounting for taste, many of the reasons given simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. To be fair, fans gave the film a B+ on CinemaScore which is also lower than previous Star Wars movies, so it’s garnering plenty of disappointment all around.
The Rise Of Skywalker is not a perfect film, but it is not a 57% “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes, either. I enjoyed it a lot, even though I have my own complaints which I’ll get to in a separate review.
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The Critics Must Be Crazy
It feels like only yesterday I was writing a similar piece about Netflix’s The Witcher (it was in fact three days ago). Critics panned that show as well, albeit for different reasons.
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Now that I’ve seen Episode IX, I can wade into this debate as well. Why do critics hate Rise of Skywalker so much? What is it about the film—a film I found emotionally powerful and incredibly thrilling all at once—that rubs reviewers so terribly wrong?
Well, a few key ideas keep floating to the top as you peruse the reviews. These seem to be A) Too much fan-service; B) too much nostalgia; C) that the film is too much of a retread of old ideas; and D) that the film somehow goes back on what Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi.
That last one is the most interesting to me, though we’ll examine all four. Many critics who loved The Last Jedi—it was a critical darling despite some of its glaring flaws, and currently has a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes—seem to despise The Rise Of Skywalker because they believe it ruins what Johnson started, much like many fans hate The Last Jedi because it feels like it put a twist on so much of what J.J. Abrams started in The Force Awakens.
As a side-note, I think all three films can work together as a cohesive whole but it’s certainly apparent that things would have been smoother and more coherent had the new trilogy’s creators come up with a three-movie plot from the get-go and everyone had been onboard with the major details. Alas, for reasons we shall never understand, this was not the case.
Still, Abrams did a terrific job not only at tying the new trilogy together and landing a satisfying ending, he managed to weave together themes and events from the entire nine-film series. This was no simple task, and there was no way every Star Wars fan and critic would be pleased in the end, but Abrams pulled off something remarkable here—and he did it without ruining the legacy of The Last Jedi, despite many fans and critics alike thinking otherwise.
These are odd bedfellows. Detractors of The Last Jedi are gleeful over Rise because they see it as a renunciation of Johnson’s Star Wars. Critics who loved The Last Jedi seem to think the same thing.
I liked many things about The Last Jedi and soured on many others since I first saw it, but I think Abrams did a really good job at both giving the fans more of what they wanted and respecting what The Last Jedi did to change the Star Wars universe. The Last Jedi setup Rey’s dark past perfectly, showing how drawn she was to the Dark Side while training with Luke.
And while it fumbled the entire space chase sequence and casino planet, all the Luke/Rey and Kylo/Rey stuff was on point and fits perfectly with the final reveal of her true identity and the way everything plays out with Kylo Ren and Palpatine.
The Rise Of Skywalker
The Rise Of SkywalkerCREDIT: DISNEY / LUCASFILM
Still, many disagree. From The Front Row’s Matthew Lucas describes The Last Jedi as “a film that boldly reinvented Star Wars mythology in new and exciting ways, and laid the groundwork for exploring uncharted territory within the Star Wars universe.”
This caused controversy, however, and the whole “Not My Luke” movement (which I found to be the weakest critique of the film) and so with Rise, Lucas writes, “director J.J. Abrams returned to wrap the fans in a cozy blanket of familiarity, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink to remind nostalgic fans of the classic films they loved as children.”
This, as a critique, only works if you believe that Johnson truly subverted expectations as much as we gave him credit for in 2017. And it only works on top of that if you believe that Abrams really does “wrap fans in a cozy blanket of familiarity” and that in doing so, undermines The Last Jedi. The argument also relies on something very strange: The idea that giving fans the movie they want is somehow a bad thing. Familiarity, nostalgia—these become bad words in many critiques of the movie, as though fans should only ever have their expectations subverted. A little subversion goes a long way—we don’t need to abandon everything that makes Star Wars what it is in order to appease critics.
It’s a strange debate. After all, one could say that Johnson undermined Abrams to begin with, dashing all he had planned with The Force Awakens into little tiny plot fragments.
Rise Of Skywalker
Rey and LeiaCREDIT: DISNEY / LUCASFILM
In any case, many critics seem to believe that Abrams tossed Johnson’s bold new ideas for Star Wars into the trash bin of familiarity of nostalgia. So if you didn’t like The Last Jedi you’ll probably like Rise of Skywalker. I liked them both in many ways, and found each (like The Force Awakens) possessed of its own set of flaws.
The Blue Spot’s Jeff Beck writes, “There’s really no beating around the bush with it: J.J. Abrams’ conclusion to the Skywalker Saga is something of a mess. Whereas Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” had been daring, exciting, and encapsulated everything that makes “Star Wars” great, “The Rise of Skywalker” brings the trilogy to an end with a bland, dull, and very forgettable final entry.”
That’s an interesting statement. While I’m by no means a huge detractor of The Last Jedi I find myself never rewatching the film. After seeing it in theaters, once the initial glow had faded, I realized something: I didn’t want to go see it again. It was too long. Too much of the film plodded along. The stuff I really liked only composed maybe half the movie and the rest felt like wasted space.
The Rise Of Skywalker, on the other hand, has me itching for more. I want to go back and watch it again right away. Far from bland, dull and forgettable, it was constantly exciting, edge-of-your-seat entertainment and full of what makes Star Wars great. Isn’t it odd that critics seem to claim that The Last Jedi both subverted everything about Star Wars and encapsulated everything about Star Wars that makes it great? If familiarity and nostalgia are bad, what exactly does make Star Wars Star Wars?
I would argue that Star Wars has always been about repeating forms. Anyone who complains that there are too many similarities between the new films and the original trilogy must have missed how this same storytelling device was used in the prequel trilogies. When critics argue that Rise is beholden to the past or not risky enough, they’re asking for something that would defy everything about Star Wars up to this point.
There are parallels in Rise to both Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi, the films that ended the first two trilogies. But rather than simply mirror those films, these parallels tie each of them together in really exciting ways.
The parallels I’m speaking of center mostly around Kylo Ren and Rey Palpatine. Yes, we discover that Rey is the granddaughter of the Emperor who is hunting her down so that he can have her take his place as the leader of the Sith. This will allow him to inhabit her, since all the past Sith will enter her like a vessel—which also explains why he wanted Luke to strike him down in Return of the Jedi.
So Palpatine sends Kylo Ren to find Rey, telling him to kill her but knowing that he will only lead her to him on the Sith planet Exegol.
When Kylo Ren finds Rey on the wreckage of the Death Star, the two battle it out over crashing waves. It’s a direct parallel to the fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker on Mustafar at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker
MustafarCREDIT: DISNEY / LUCASFILM
That was the final moment for Anakin Skywalker. He died in the lava of Mustafar, and was reborn as Darth Vader.
The lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo Ren took place not surrounded by lava and the destructive force of fire, but surrounded by the symbol of life—water.
Rise of Skywalker
Rey and Kylo fight on the wreckage of the Death Star.CREDIT: DISNEY / LUCASFILM
While Anakin was lost and became evil at the end of his fight against his old friend and teacher Obi-Wan Kenobi, Kylo Ren was killed in his fight with Rey and became Ben Solo once again. Thanks to Leia’s intervention, Rey had a last-minute opening and stabbed Kylo through the stomach with his lightsaber. But because she had such powerful feelings for him, moments later she uses the Force to heal him. We saw her do this earlier with a sand worm, and even earlier this past week in The Mandalorian (it’s also been a thing in the Extended Universe).
This is the last straw for Kylo Ren, who is finally reclaimed from the Dark Side by this act of love and mercy, leading to a really heart-warming moment between him and his father, Han Solo. Ben Solo emerges, the same way that Anakin Skywalker submerged so long ago.
But there’s another parallel that’s even more interesting. In the end, when Rey is killed destroying her grandfather, Ben Solo drags himself over to her, badly wounded himself, and holds her in his arms. He then places his hand on her stomach and brings her back to life. She opens her eyes and sees him and they kiss and he smiles—for the very first time in three films—and it’s a glorious moment. Then his eyes close and he slumps to the floor and dies, fading away into the Force.
The important thing here is to remember why his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker, was able to be turned to the Dark Side in the first place. Palpatine convinced him that he could save Padme from death. He could save the one he loved by learning the ways of the Dark Side. His own master Darth Plagueis was able to bring back the dead, or so Palpatine told his soon-to-be pupil. Whether there was any truth to that remains a mystery.
But Ben Solo was able to do what his grandfather was not: Bring back the one he loved from death, giving all his life Force to save hers. Not only a poetic moment, and an emotionally powerful one, but a beautiful way to refute the lie Rey’s grandfather told Ben’s grandfather so many years prior.
Rise of Skywalker
Rey SkywalkerCREDIT: DISNEY / LUCASFILM
Weirdly, so many of the reviews for The Rise Of Skywalker seem to ignore all of this, instead choosing to essentially take pointless sides in a pointless war over which movie is better, this one or The Last Jedi. It’s almost as if critics are taking Episode IX personally, as though giving fans the kind of Star Wars happy ending they wanted is a rebuke of The Last Jedi’s more subversive tone. As if The Return Of The Jedi’s similar change in tone from Empire Strikes Back in any way diminished that movie.
Here’s critic Sean Burns, who writes:
“The elephant in the room here is that they accidentally made a real movie last time. Say what you will about Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” – and if you spend any time online you know people haven’t shut up about it for the past two years – the movie took some big swings at challenging a viewer’s preconceptions and the subtext carried with it a sharp level of autocritique with regard to “the sacred Jedi texts,” et al. I think it’s a great work of popular art and one of the few franchise blockbusters worth taking seriously. So of course J.J. Abrams was brought back on board to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”
“There’s a palpable petulance with which Abrams brings back that stupid “Spaceballs” helmet Kylo Ren smashed in his first scene of “The Last Jedi,” and the film’s dismissive sidelining of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico feels particularly egregious given the way racist hordes of young male “fans” chased her off social media. Worst is that Abrams fatally undoes Johnson’s most promising revelation regarding Rey’s parentage, negating his idea that the Force belongs to everyone and not just semi-incestuous members of dynastic bloodlines. Alas we’re back to the monomyth again and old, tiresome prophecies about chosen ones who will bring balance and everyone in this entire universe is fucking related.”
Before we pick at nits, I just want to ask a question: Is it fair to review a movie by comparing it the previous entry in the series? By this I mean, if The Last Jedi had been a very different film, would these critiques be the same? If the second entry in this trilogy had maintained the tone and ideas of The Force Awakens instead of subverting expectations, would critics be making these arguments or would they be judging this movie on its own merits? It’s hard to say, but worth thinking about.
Also worth asking is whether it’s fair to review a film negatively because it gives fans what they want.
It feels like many of these reviewers just dislike what makes a Star Wars movie a Star Wars movie in the first place. Ideas of the “chosen one” were there from the beginning. Why is it wrong to include them here? Nor do we know that Kylo Ren was telling the truth in The Last Jedi about Rey’s parents. He is hardly a reliable source. Perhaps Johnson really did want her to be a nobody, but is it really up to Johnson alone to make that call if Abrams, who started and ended this trilogy, had other ideas?
If you don’t like movies about prophecies, chosen ones, the hero’s journey and surprise revelations about who’s related to who, why are you watching Star Wars to begin with? That’s the question I have for all the critics whinging over fan-service and nostalgia. Why wouldn’t fans want a final trilogy that speaks to those ideas and to the clash of good and evil and all the rest?
The sidelining of Rose Tico was certainly surprising, and yes the fan reaction to her and the actress who played her was atrocious, but let’s also be realistic here: Rose was not an important character and The Last Jedi did very little to make her one. I’m not sure what she would have added to a story that’s really about the characters established in The Force Awakens. On the other hand, C-3PO and Chewbacca both had their moments in the sun, and frankly that matters a lot more to me. We also had two new female protagonists introduced in Jannah and Zorii Bliss.
Still, I would have had Rose Tico join the crew on the Millenium Falcon and help out. She wouldn’t need to be a huge focal point but was important enough in the last film to tag along and add her own unique perspective to the journey.
Rise of Skywalker
Kylo RenCREDIT: DISNEY / LUCASFILM
Critic Ian Thomas Malone writes:
“The Rise of Skywalker understandably carries the most appeal to fans who want a nice heavy helping of nostalgia to go with their space battles and laser sword fights. The biggest problem with this entire approach is that it robs the new characters of any chance to stand on their own feet. Rey may be the hero, but this isn’t really her movie. It’s not Luke’s either, or Leia’s or Han’s, or any other possible person the film may try and make you remember. It’s the past’s movie, your childhood memories brought back to life for the sake of another ticket sold.”
First of all, I would argue that most Star Wars fans want that nostalgia and laser sword fights and space battles and all the rest. Why wouldn’t we?
I still maintain that you can enjoy what The Last Jedi did with Luke and his anger and feelings of resentment and his struggle to cope with his own failures and even his flirtation with striking down Kylo Ren because he’s always been rash and impulsive (like his father) while still enjoying the fact that Force Ghost Luke has found peace, has finally been able to lift his X-Wing out of the water, and catches the lightsaber instead of tossing it over his back. Far from a dig at The Last Jedi, that moment—to me at least—spoke to Luke’s continued evolution and arc.
Bitter old Luke was just like Obi-Wan and Yoda, hiding in isolation, giving up. But his Force Ghost shouldn’t still be a bitter old man after he made such an enormous sacrifice at the end of The Last Jedi. He should be a happier Luke now, having saved the day and reconnected with the Force.
And no, this isn’t Rey’s movie, it’s Rey and Kylo Ren’s movie. Strangely enough, that was also the case with The Last Jedi. Why one is lauded here and the other panned is beyond me.
Rise Of Skywalker
C-3POCREDIT: DISNEY / LUCASFILM
The New Trilogy Could Have Been Better
As I’ve stated previously, I think this entire trilogy would have been better if they’d simply sat down and blocked it all out from the get-go. If Palpatine had been the established villain from the beginning—a fact audiences didn’t need to know right away—they could have structured all three films around his search for Rey. Maybe he even had other grandchildren he was hunting down. We could have learned more about Snoke before Palpatine revealed he simply created him, perhaps dropping some bread crumbs for fans to follow so that they could have pieced together the Palpatine theory sooner.
I also wish that the trilogy had done a better job at creating bonds between the new characters and had allowed the heroes of the original trilogy a chance to reunite on screen. Kylo could have killed Han Solo in the second movie, for instance, after he and Luke had a chance to meet up.
Mistakes were made, no doubt, but they were made in each of these three films, not just in this final one that has drawn so much ire from critics. It isn’t a perfect movie, but neither is The Last Jedi. Neither was The Force Awakens.
In the end, The Rise Of Skywalker is a powerful ending to a mythic saga that’s been with me ever since I was a child. I grew up on the original trilogy, found myself deeply apathetic toward the prequels (more in execution than in theory) and a fan of the new movies, warts and all.
Of the three, I think Rise of Skywalker is the best, but would have been better if they didn’t have to shoehorn quite so much in at the last minute. I’ll have to watch it again to see where I’d place it overall, because I still think Rogue One might be the best new Star Wars movie, but I need to watch that again as well before I can decide. Maybe it doesn’t actually matter.
I like the the final villain was the same as the first two trilogies, and that we finally put an end to him once and for all. And I like that we to see more of Luke and Han Solo and they really worked some magic with Leia.
Rise does a great job of tying everything together in the end and wrapping up the Skywalker saga in a way that respects both the lore and the audience and characters old and new.
Yes, that requires some nostalgia and some fan-service and some prophecies and the hero’s journey and all the rest.
It’s Star Wars, after all.
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My personnel opinion of the movies as a trilogy a guy's short cut gone bad that barely manages to come back to a usable but not best path for the future of star wars.
Episode 7 half hated and half like it. Then realize that it was a horrible mistake. As a example a Guy bought a famous well beloved landmark structure. He wanted to expand it but decided the best way forward was demolition. Then the new structure was bare bones and has almost none of the charm of the original. A bad starting point as it is.
Episode 8 a weird mess of a movie that added strange structures to the already shaky structure. Or a short cut led into the mud and quick sand.
Episode 9 a serious effort to fix the structure that manages to at least have some charm and usability for future usage. But if inspected still is weaker than the original in some ways while still being interesting. Or Like a short cut that finally manages to come back to half decent path.
If the best course of action was taken then maybe someone should destroy the new structure and paste the original structure back in. Then maybe animate the new trilogy using some of the pieces of the first attempt after a serious rewrite and effort.
But of course that won't happen so at least star wars is now on a usable path. Hopefully thy'll use greater wisdom and planning in the future. And no more shortcuts.