Now that it has been out more than a week, it’s time to have an in-depth discussion about what worked, and what didn’t, in the conclusion to the Skywalker saga. Alex and I are joined today by Jacob Johnson. Let’s get to the questions.
Overall impression of the film:
Alex: Once again, Twitter blew things totally out of proportion. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely had my issues with this film. But there were some redeeming qualities. I can actually point to a few things that I really did enjoy.
Jacob: Unfortunately, even as a huge Star Wars fan, I walked away from The Rise of Skywalker mostly disappointed. This is coming from some one who voraciously devoured anything Star Wars as a kid, someone who defends The Last Jedi, and someone who has Disney Plus just to watch The Mandalorian.
Nate: It’s a messy and at times insulting product of the make-this-shit-up as we go along approach Lucasfilm, Disney and pretty much everyone involved has taken with this trilogy. I found it fitting that Dominic Monaghan has a small role in this film, because it, and the entire sequel trilogy, is Lost…in space. It has a great cast, awesome visual effects, goes nowhere and at the end makes us wonder why we wasted so many years on it.
What did you like?
Alex: One of the main things that I really liked was the dynamic between Kylo Ren and Rey. In general, I think the relationships in this film were the strongest part and I wish the first half of the film had focused more on that. I liked that they were able to include Leia and give her the send off she deserved even if it felt a little forced. I also really liked the scene with Han and Kylo Ren. It really showed depth in the character and facilitated the end of Ben’s arc. And let’s be real no one is going to complain about Harrison Ford being in a movie. There were a couple new characters that were introduced as well. I just wish they had been utilized in a better fashion. Zorri (Kerri Russell) had the potential to be a really interesting character but her introduction was swift and underdeveloped and her quick departure from the story was the same way. However, Babu Frik was the cutest damn thing since our introduction to Porgs.
Jacob: I enjoyed the performances, especially from the core three of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. And Adam Driver, who is having a hell of a year, gives his ultimate turn some heft in his performance, even if it feels rushed plot-wise. His scene with a surprising to see Harrison Ford and the death of Leia was the only real emotional moment of the whole movie for me. The action set pieces were spectacularly done as well. And though, as you’ll see later, the fan service overload was a big turn-off for me, I was still super happy to see Lando and Wedge Antilles show up for a minute.
Nate: I was very satisfied with the conclusion of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s story. I think he is one of only a handful of characters in this trilogy who had a complete and compelling arc. The appearance by Harrison Ford was also great, and the conclusion of Leia’s story was fitting. I loved Babu Frik. I will be seeking out a Babu Frik FunkoPop ASAP. It was nice to finally see a yellow/orange (?) lightsaber. Yeah, it was only for like five seconds, but it was cool.
Poe could have used more of an arc (ditto for Finn) but I did like how his scenes with Leia (and those following her death) built upon everything his character went through in The Last Jedi.
What did you find disappointing?
Oh where do I begin? Let’s just start at the beginning because it was boring as fuck. The first forty minutes of this film are a scavenger hunt that in the end amounts to nothing. It is a ploy to keep the characters together in the narrative but they just jump from planet to planet achieving absolutely nothing. When they do get to the good stuff finally, mainly Palpatine, you are given no explanation as to how he resurrected himself, how he created the massive fleet he has, or how he has gone undetected for so long. In theory, this was a good idea. In execution though it fell so incredibly short I don’t even have the proper language to describe it. This is the film’s biggest overarching problem. They had about twelve ideas and couldn’t decide which one to run with so they tried to stuff as many of them into two hours as they could.
Now let’s talk about the opportunities that they squandered because there were a lot. First of all, why was Rey’s back story kept a secret for so long? I think it really hindered her character development. And by finally revealing what they did in the final installment of the trilogy made it feel rushed and messy. I just don’t understand why all of this was a secret? Oh yes I do. It’s because J.J. Abrams clearly had this idea from the beginning and then pretended like The Last Jedi was never made. This could very easily be Rian Johnson’s fault too. It’s hard to tell. But, either way, having two people direct this trilogy turned out to be a tragic mess. Second, the fight and chase scenes were just flat out boring. Abrams proved himself more than capable of creating an engaging action sequence in The Force Awakens. I am not sure how he lost those skills in just a few years.
Okay, let’s move on now to the things that just flat out pissed me off. Lando did not need to be in this film. He just didn’t. He was unnecessary. They fumbled his introduction and it was just plain fan service. If anyone has an argument as to why he was needed I would be happy to listen. The screenplay for this film was just plain terrible. Everything was so on the nose. The story was so convoluted that characters spent a great deal of time giving us exposition and explaining things so we could follow along. There is more but I just feel my blood pressure rising.
Jacob: The film did an excellent job of erasing everything that I liked about The Last Jedi. Turning Rey into another person with a destined lineage was a mistake, and undermined the whole”anyone can be a hero” message of that much better movie. On top of that the pacing was all over the place, especially in that frantic first half; plot points were established and resolved within five minutes of each other, and potentially emotional moments, like C-3PO’s sacrifice of his memories, ended up resolved super easily and he was just fine. It also went out of its way to have fan service just for the sake of fan service, and to elicit cheers from an audience. Why did Chewbacca get a medal? Cause him not getting one in the original movie was a meme. My brother and I laughed out loud at the stupidity of that.
Nate: Palpatine. As I mentioned in my initial review, they didn’t even explain how he returned. Yes, there is a quick shot of a cloning chamber in his hideout in the opening scene, but it was so quick I missed it in the first viewing. How can you have such a big plot twist and not even attempt to explain how it occurred? If he’s a clone, how do we know there aren’t more Palpatine clones out there? If he was not a clone, but just managed to survive Vader’s betrayal, then that makes Anakin seem inept and weakens the arc of the first six films.
I also hated the scavenger hunt plot of the first half of the film and how badly paced it was. The fan service and lame callbacks were also too much. I forget the name of that festival they run into on the desert planet (I don’t care what the planet was called at this point) but I rolled my eyes when C-3PO said the festival happens every 42 years. Gee, what happened 42 years ago. I know, I know! A New Hope came out. Abrams and Chris Terrio actually thought that joke/callback, whatever you want to call that, needed to be in the script. Wow.
Now that the sequel trilogy is complete, was it necessary?
Jacob: As a Star Wars fan, I’m glad it exists, and The Last Jedi proved that you could mess with the formula and make a good movie. And nothing beats seeing that opening crawl and hearing that music in a theater.
Nate: No. Two of the films are essentially remakes of the original trilogy. One showed a little more creativity, but was at odds with what the installments before and after it did. This was ultimately an unnecessary, if sporadically enjoyable, way for Disney to make some easy money and promote new attractions at their theme parks.
Where would you rank The Rise of Skywalker in this trilogy?
Alex: It was by far the weakest in my opinion. While there were things about the first two that I had issues with, they at least had a coherent story arc, engaging action sequences and good character development.
Jacob: The Rise of Skywalker is clearly the worst of the trilogy. It’s funny, the third movie is always either the undisputed worst of a trilogy (a la Return of the Jedi) or the best (Revenge of the Sith). They also all center around a still quite good Ian Mcdiarmid as the Emperor, even if his plan makes absolutely no sense if you think about it at all. If he had fleets ships with Death Star lasers this whole time, why did he even bother with the First Order stuff in the first place? What was even the point of Snoke? Did he create that force bond between Rey and Kyle on purpose so he could be revived randomly later? Cause he seemed surprised that that worked in the moment and it’s a huge coincidence. Also, how did he even come back? There are a lot of questions.
Nate: It’s the weakest of the three.
Where would you rank this trilogy in the Skywalker saga as a whole?
Alex: Find the bottom and just keep going.
Jacob: I think it’s in the lower half of the middle. My overall ranking goes like this:
Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: A New Hope
The Last Jedi
Return of the Jedi
The Force Awakens
The Rise of Skywalker
Revenge of the Sith
Attack of the Clones
The prequel trilogy is clearly the worst.
Nate: It’s the least essential from a plot standpoint. It doesn’t really advance the story, and when it does, it contradicts the other six films. The prequels had major continuity issues too, but at least they contributed to an overall arc that made sense.
Are you still interested in more Star Wars movies or have you had enough?
Alex: I have had enough, especially if they are going to keep phoning it in like this. Star Wars is something that is nostalgic for a lot of us. Each time a new installment is released, fans of the original films get more and more pissed off. Why keep putting ourselves through that?
Jacob: I would like to see stories in this universe that don’t revolve around a destined, familiar soap opera. It’s such a wide, lived-in world with great potential for all kinds of stories. I really want to see that Old Republic story that has been teased for a while.
Nate: I need a break. I will probably watch The Mandalorian, but that’s all for now. It will take a lot to convince me to see another Star Wars film in theaters, or even on a streaming platform.
What would you like to see from future Star Wars films?
Alex: After this, I don’t even know. A good screenplay and a good story arc would be start.
Jacob: I want to see the films go the way of the fantastic The Mandalorian, which proves that you can tell interesting stories within this universe without Skywalkers by taking on the form of another genre entirely (the western in this case). Plus, Baby Yoda finally achieves what Disney wanted to with the Porgs: an adorable sensation.
Nate: A consistent vision from either a single director, or a group of directors that share the same road map for how a story should unfold.
Rian Johnson or J.J. Abrams?
Alex: This is like having to choose the shiniest turd. I guess Rian Johnson because he has a higher average?
Jacob: Rian Johnson all the way. I saw Knives Out the night that this movie premiered, and The Rise of Skywalker the next day, and it was clear to me who the superior filmmaker was.
Nate: Johnson, but only by a Porg’s hair. He should still run from this franchise and do more of his own brilliant things. If you haven’t seen Knives Out yet, you should.
Jacob: I’m glad the Skywalker saga is being put to rest. I believe the future of Star Wars is what Kylo Ren said in The Last Jedi: “We must let the past die; kill it if you have to.” The only way this works is coming up with original stories set in this expansive world, and I am all for that.
Nate: I’m disappointed, but the anticipation for the start of this trilogy in 2015 did provide me with a wonderful 2 a.m. lightsaber battle with friends during finals week. Star Wars isn’t just about the quality of the films. It’s about the debates we have with our friends, the memories we make that are connected to this fantasy universe and the hope we have that the next adventure will live up to our expectations.