Extended Thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker and the Sequel Trilogy

** Spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker to follow, read at your own discretion.

November 28th, 2014 — the first trailer for “The Force Awakens” is released to YouTube. I am 14 years old.

I remember exactly where I was — in a booth with my family, eating at a restaurant during a Thanksgiving visit to my grandparents in California. I remember getting my sister’s attention and watching the trailer with her, over and over. After driving back to my grandparents’ house, I ran inside, to the dinosaur of a computer they had, and watched it again and again and again. I had never felt goosebumps for a trailer before.

While I definitely grew up watching Star Wars, I did not “grow up watching Star Wars”. As a kid, they were movies that I really enjoyed, but I was never one to deeply obsess over the series; I owned a few action figures, but that was it. And after the age of about ten, it seemed like just another thing to let fade into the back of my mind as I grew up.

Then came November 28th, 2014, and Star Wars hooked me like it never had before. Whenever the official Instagram dropped a new teaser, I would spend my entire lunch period rewatching it, analyzing it, trying to figure out the context of scenes and character personalities. I still have a photo my friend took of me, hands over my mouth, reacting to seeing Finn with a lightsaber for the first time.

When I went to Comic Con in 2015, my sister and I got into the Star Wars panel by the skin of our teeth, after waiting for well over eight hours in line. It would be the first and only time I was ever in a room with Carrie Fisher. I still have the toy lightsaber from that day.

photos from San Diego Comic Con, 2015

All this, a long-winded way to say — I love the new trilogy. It reawakened my love for Star Wars and cranked it up to 11. The new films are the only ones I saw in theaters, the only ones I could go into without decades of pop culture preceding it. I’ve spent five, going on six years completely in love with this new era. The Force Awakens and Rogue One are what I would consider perfect films, and are my two favorite out of the whole series (if you’re curious, I’ve ranked my favorite Star Wars films here).

Force Awakens, comparatively, is a stronger film than The Last Jedi, but that doesn’t deem the latter a bad movie by any means. I actually enjoy it more now than I did at the time of release; I’m not sure if that’s still a controversial opinion to have. To me, where Force Awakens was a solid foundation, it didn’t exactly push the series’ icon characters outside of their comfort zones. The Last Jedi does, and I genuinely adore what it has to say about legacy, neutrality in war, and redemption. In spite of the problems it has, I still love it.

With two films I really enjoyed under my belt, I have since spent the past two years eagerly waiting/dreading the final installment. I kept hanging on every trailer, every convention, growing more and more excited with every new bit of information that was (or purposely wasn’t) revealed.

I made a really hard effort to go into this film as blindly as possible. Once December hit, I stopped keeping up on the mini-teasers being posted and tried to stay away from interviews, and once the premiere hit, I tried my best to stay off of social media altogether. That said, it’s been completely impossible to ignore the immediate hatred that people seemed to have for The Rise of Skywalker, and that definitely instilled an anxiety in me going in.

People hated The Last Jedi before it even came out, and I like to think that reading that constant negativity didn’t impact me too terribly going into the film for the first time; after all, I still really love the movie. There was very little that could happen in The Rise of Skywalker that would lead me to completely hating it; and if I had hated it, it would’ve been the first Star Wars film I’ve ever hated, because even the worst of these films I can still find enjoyment and positive elements in.

So, anxiously optimistic, I joined a crowded theater in The Rise of Skywalker, opening night, as I have for every recent Star Wars film. Spoilers beyond this point as I try and sort my thoughts.

The Rise Of Skywalker is not a good movie, by any stretch. But that does not mean I did not have fun.

Of all the ways to describe this movie, I think describing it like a Star Wars prequel is the best way to do it.

It tries to do an obscene amount of world and character building without any of the writing or the time to back it up. It has no idea how to pace itself. It’s frustratingly coy on what could’ve been its best elements. It’s plot is overcomplicated and contrived in every sense of the word.

Like the prequels, though, I still had an absolute blast.

Again, I cannot stress this enough, this is not a good movie. But, again, the prequels aren’t inherently good movies either. That does not negate my love for them.

The Rise of Skywalker, if you decided to read ahead anyway without having seen it, takes place a year after the events of The Last Jedi; Rey is being trained by Leia, while Finn and Poe run missions for the Resistance. The three of them and the Resistance race against Kylo Ren and the First Order to find and defeat Palpatine, who has been alive all the while and pulling the strings to manipulate events. There’s character revelations, the return of old fan favorites, and the age-old Star Wars climactic battle.

I don’t know. There’s undeniably a lot to dislike about this movie. From the fact that so much of the plot is dedicated to just quickly sanding over plot holes and explaining character backstories from the previous two films, to some jarringly terrible effects, to some character twists that genuinely seem to have been created out of throwing a dart onto a spinning wheel of plot points. There are no introspective moments of character building like in Force Awakens and The Last Jedi; instead, Rise of Skywalker has the same frantic, don’t-stop don’t-think energy as what it feels like to run with a full garbage bag, hoping to get to the dumpster before the bag splits open.

(This film, notably, was not co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, as The Force Awakens had been. It was, though, written in part by the guys behind Justice League, Batman v. Superman, and the Jurassic World films, if that can give you any indication of the level of competent writing on display here.)

And at the same time, I have such a love and respect for these characters that I was having the time of my life watching this movie. But even that, though, is a double-edged blade for this movie.

Finn and Poe are both some of my favorite characters in the Star Wars franchise, and this script does them no favors. From creating a female character for the sole purpose of trying to dissuade fans from viewing Poe as gay to literally just not delivering on the promise of exploring Finn’s backstory (where was his backstory, JJ? where was it?!), Finn and Poe both get shafted by this script and it’s a shame. The film shys away from allowing Finn to use a lightsaber or the Force, only allowing the slightest technical confirmation that he is, in fact, Force-sensitive. And while I initially laughed at the inherent laziness that was just giving Poe Han’s backstory of being a space weed dealer, it later dawned on me that they just literally made the Latino character a drug dealer. Like, one of the few stereotypes that shouldn’t have been able to make its way into this franchise. Come on.

I would argue that, out of all of the main protagonists, Rise of Skywalker is Finn and Poe’s movie; and yet that still doesn’t make it any easier to watch the script recoil back from what could’ve been their best moments. A script too cowardly to let Finn use the Force, too cowardly to allow the relationship between the two to be revolutionary.

Rey, as well, never gets to be her own character outside of her family and, just generally, men. The film exploring the relevancy of family is a fine concept (“some things are stronger than blood”, ghost Luke says), but it never explores so much as it does … states? For two films, Rey had defined herself based on who her family might be and the male role models she kept acquiring. It’s unfathomably frustrating that this film just continues that trend.

Although, I do like that they ultimately worked back to making Rey a Skywalker, albeit not one by blood. Yeah it’s corny and it feels like a passive-aggressive stab at all the people who wanted Rey to be a legitimate Skywalker, but it’s still a beat I can appreciate. Rey rejects her ‘true’ family and fully adopts her found family, finally finds a sense of peace. I can’t not like the messaging there, even if it’s poorly delivered and overall handled.

And I realize that I’m being incredibly negative, so I feel the need to restate — I did like this movie.

In spite of all I’ve talked about before and all I’ve forgotten to mention, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. And I enjoyed it primarily because I’ve attached myself so firmly to these characters, I’ve spent years exploring them and enjoying casual discourse about the places they should go and the ways in which they should learn. I think this will be a popular film within fandom in the same way the prequels are popular: there’s a lot of good ideas here, but not that many explored, and so fans can come in and explore them ourselves in fan works.

In many regards, I do not mind that this movie did not push certain boundaries. Because, hey, its Star Wars, I don’t think a goofy space fantasy inherently needs to be defining current cinema. These can be interesting metaphors for war and imperialism, but their primary function is to be children's’ films.

But at the same time, it’s 2019. This series should have long grown out of its sexism, its racism, and what’s now become its homophobia. There’s nothing in the world more frustrating than watching these movies make a clear effort to progress with the times but not fully commit to it. It’s all so half-assed, all so only part-way there, that for once I do start to find myself yearning for the movies that could’ve been. The movies that might’ve followed The Force Awakens had Disney stepped down from it’s pedestal of hubris and better planned this stretch of story out.

Imagine if this movie hadn’t buried Rose Tico, like it was ashamed of her, or like it was afraid of the backlash of racists on the Internet if they gave her any larger role. Imagine if we had spent more time with Jannah, both as a solo character and as someone developing a kinship with Finn; imagine if we got to meet the various escaped Stormtroopers and got to see Finn bond with them. Imagine if Leia had died for literally any other reason than for the character motivation of her son. If Zorri had had any semblance of character outside of being the human embodiment of Poe’s totally-real heterosexuality.

Still, Rise of Skywalker is what we got. And, like all of these films, I can accept that, bad with the good. Better or worse.

With this new film now finally finished, I think I can still stand firmly solid behind this as my favorite of what are now the three Star Wars trilogies.

The Force Awakens is still what I would consider my favorite Star Wars film, outside the categorization of what era it came out during. And while I would consider The Last Jedi much more heavily flawed than the former, I still think it’s masterful in what it gets right. All the pointless discourse and debates haven’t ruined these for me, and I’d like to think that’s a testament to the power of these characters; if not, then at least to my own stubbornness.

I heard about a lot of experiences where audiences for The Rise of Skywalker were less than enthralling, to put it kindly. And I am lucky that that was not the case for me: everybody was screaming and cheering at the end, everyone applauded when Lando and Luke made their first appearances, and no one made a damn sound when Kylo and Rey kissed. It was a fun time, and I think that helped me really get into the movie as much as I did.

There’s already an opinion going around that people “miss when Star Wars was good”, and that’s just been boggling my mind ever since I heard it.

Is Rise of Skywalker the best the series has to offer? No. Not by a long shot. But is it by any stretch the worst? Of course not! That’s Attack of the Clones’ job.

I refuse to condemn any of these films into the realm of “completely irredeemably bad”, but I especially refuse to do so for the sequel trilogy. These are visually gorgeous films, with beautiful characters and actors who care so much more than they should and you can see that effort in every line they speak and every expression they make. The effects, with very specific, rare exceptions, are all marvels, on par with the original trilogy’s.

You’re more than allowed to dislike these films, nobody’s saying you can’t. But these are not worthless installations into the Star Wars canon. I believe that the good brought to us through these films far outweigh the bad and the flawed. Just on the basis of John Boyega as Finn alone — these movies were worth it for something.

I’m well aware my opinions will shift with time and as I rewatch the film again and again, but for now: this could have undeniably been so much better. And for the conclusion of a series spanning over forty years, it’s a pretty rough tumble to go out on. But I’m either an awful optimist or just painfully, naively blind, because I still deeply enjoyed this, flaws and all.

Wherever the series go from here, I’ll be following along right behind it, fool that I am. Star Wars is the friend I should’ve outgrown by now, but the fun I have with it is enough to power me through it’s roughness and occasional ugliness. I’m not looking forward to the heavy negativity that’s going to be blanketed over this movie for the next few months, but I get it; this was a bad movie, and my enjoyment is pretty conditional on surface-level things. And even then, I just wrote a few hundred words about a lot of the shit I hated and what made me so frustrated with it.

It’s complicated. And my opinion on it is not going to sway anybody, because you were either always going to see this movie or you never were, regardless of the film’s ultimate quality. So I simply say, rewatch the sequels before you go in, but also rewatch the prequels. Get yourself in the right headspace for the tone and quality that The Rise of Skywalker adopts.

20, he/him transsexual. Questions, comments or requests at kredino@gmail.com — Selected works at loganashley.contently.com

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