The Rise of Skywalker Succeeds As A Legacy Film But Illustrates The Flaws Of Disney Era Star Wars
The Rise of Skywalker is the culmination of Disney and Lucasfilm’s Sequel Trilogy. The 2019 film, which concludes the “Skywalker Saga” (the new names given to the nine main line Star Wars films) completes a journey that has its origins in the early 2010s, when Disney purchased Lucasfilm for a massive four billion dollars. Disney quickly began to work on plans for new Star Wars films after purchasing the franchise, which included plans for the creation of long awaited sequels to the original Star Wars trilogy.
In the years since Disney’s purchase, Lucasfilm and Star Wars have been the subject of immense monetary success but also become embroiled in seemingly endless controversy and criticisms from both fans and critics. The mix of success and controversy that has become the trademark of Disney’s tenure is perfectly represented in The Rise of Skywalker, a polarizing film that has deeply divided fans and critics. Forbes.com’s Scott Mendelson asserted that The Rise of Skywalker had the potential to bethe first “$1 billion disappointment”, a statement that demonstrate on how high the expectations are for any Star Wars film. 1
For better or worse, The Rise of Skywalker closes an important chapter in Star Wars history. The film was intended to be a clear conclusion to the first forty years of Star Wars. The impact of this film, both negative and positive, will have a ripple effect on the future of the franchise. Many debates about the film centered arounds the complex relationship between Star Wars‘s past and its present and how much these forces should be represented and addressed within the film. It’s a debate that the tortured Ben Solo would most likely appreciate.
In many ways, The Rise of Skywalker succeeds at being a “Legacy” film, a movie that successfully celebrates the forty year history of Star Wars. The film is a heartfelt and nostalgic look at a series that has millions of fans across several generations. In contrast, the film could be argued to be a failure as a satisfying conclusion to The Sequel Trilogy. Additionally, the film also demonstrates many of the flaws of Lucasfilm and Disney’s approach to Star Wars in this new era.
This article contains spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker.
Part I: The Rise of Skywalker Succeeds As A “Legacy Film”
The Rise of Skywalker honors Carrie Fisher And Her Star Wars Legacy
One of the most positive aspects of The Rise of Skywalker is the film’s generous treatment of Princess Leia, portrayed by the late Carrie Fisher. Fisher died in December 2016 after completing her scenes in The Last Jedi. Fisher death was a clear obstacle for The Rise of Skywalker‘s writers, producers, and director to overcome. The previous film, The Last Jedi, ended with Leia as the the last living member of the original three heroes. The creative team on The Rise of Skywalker had to find a way to appropriately portray the iconic Alderaan Princess in a way that worked with the limited options the team had available to them after Fisher’s death.
While Star Wars had brought Grand Moff Tarkin back for Rogue One. The event occurred long after Peter Cushing death, rather than months after the death of an actor. Rogue One used impressive CGI and voice and motion capture performance by actor Guy Henry to resurrect the Grand Moff, but the techniques and results divided many fans and critics. Ultimately, the company decided not to take this route for Leia’s role in The Rise of Skywalker. In an interview for Vanity Fair, director J.J. Abrams assert that the filmmakers found a way to honor “Carrie’s legacy and role as Leia in Episode IX by using unseen footage we shot together in Episode VII”. 2 This unused footage allowed filmmakers to finish the story though it required some heavy adjustments to Leia’s overall role. While the limitations of this method is visible in the film, the footage used by filmmakers serves as a final tribute to the actress who helped make Star Wars a phenomenon
The clear respect for Fisher and her legacy is also seen in the handling of Leia’s death. Leia’s death, which is one of the most emotional moments of the film, is handled with reverence. After Leia’s death, a shroud is placed over the princess’s body for the remainder of the film. The white sheet covering the character is a reminder of the lose that the in-universe characters, filmmakers, and fans have experiences with the passing of Fisher, an actress who helped define Star Wars in its infancy.
The Film Connects To The Wider Star Wars Lore That Lucasfilm Has Been Developing In Books and Comics
The Rise of Skywalker also successfully connects to the wider Star Wars Universe that Lucasfilm and Disney have been developing in books, comics, and television shows. In this new era of Star Wars, the output of comics, books, and television has been an exciting explosion of content for fans. The company has been keen to connect content throughout the year to its upcoming films and story, symbolized by the “Journey To” line. Overall, this has been a successful approach that has primed fans for each successive film while also producing memorable content that can stand on its own. Books like Rogue One: Catalyst and The Aftermath Trilogy (Journey to The Force Awakens) were successful in filling in background and backstory that adds nuance to their respective films. Two main ideas that received payoff in The Rise of Skywalker is the importance of The Unknown Region as well as wider Sith/Jedi lore found in the Extended Universe.
Episode IX pays off on Lucasfilm’s increased focus on The Unknown Region. Since the release of The Aftermath Trilogy (2015-2017), there has been strong hints towards significant secrets hidden within the Unknown Region, an area beyond The Outer Rim. This area was the birthplace of The First Order with Imperial ships escaping to the area after The Battle of Jakku ended in disaster. In the new Thrawn Trilogy, characters repeatedly alluded to Emperor Palpatine’s interest in the area beyond the known Galaxy. This interest was part of the reason that the Emperor allowed Thrawn to become part of the Empire. The fore-mentioned trilogies have been steady building up The Unknown Region as an area of importance within the new Star Wars canon, which bears fruit in The Rise of Skywalker.
The final film in The Skywalker Saga rewards fans who have followed Lucasfilms stories with the film reveal of the hidden Sith planet of Exogol. Exogol is hidden deep in The Unknown Regions, a region that is perilous to navigate. The barren planet is nearly impossible to find without a mysterious tool known as a Sith Wayfinder, maps the dangerous area surrounding the planet. Exogol acts as a sanctuary for Palpatine, as well as a staging ground for his massive and mysterious Sith Fleet. The existence of Exegol cements the importance of The Unknown Region and the film could potentially act as a springboard for future stories that could further flesh out the region. Fans should look forward to Rae Carson’s novelization of The Rise of Skywalker, which could potentially flesh out Exogol or The Unknown Regions.
The Rise of Skywalker Is A Love Letter To All Eras of Star Wars
The Rise of Skywalker serves as a suitable “Legacy” film that celebrates the forty year history of Star Wars films, television, books, and games. The two hours and twenty two minute runtime is filled with nostalgic and heartfelt connections to many of the characters and moments that have made Star Wars a global phenomenon.
The Rise of Skywalker is especially reverent to the original Star Wars trilogy released from 1977 to 1983. Many of the actors from the original film were brought back to reprise their iconic screen roles. Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill both returned for short but significant cameo within the final film. Harrison Ford, who has had a complex relationship with the franchise through its forty year history, provided one of the most emotional moments in the film. Hamill returned as Luke Skywalker in a final exchange with his spiritual successor, a moment that provided one of the most impact lines in the franchise.
In addition to the trio of original heroes that first debuted in 1977, other characters from the original trilogy returned in some form. Billy Dee Williams reprised his role as Lando, even arriving in the same disguise that the character previously used in Return Of The Jedi. Lando took a role as a Resistance General, rallying people across the Galaxy for the final battle against The First Order. Anthony Daniels role as 3CPO was another highlight, one used in many advertisements and trailers for the film. Even Actor Denis Lawson, who previously declined an offer to return as Wedge Antilles in Episode VII, returned in a small cameo role.
Another intriguing connection to the Extended Universe was Rey’s gold/yellow lightsaber. The color has been featured in the old and new canon. In “Legends”, the pre-Disney Extended Universe, yellow lightsabers were a part of the ancient Jedi order. In Bioware’s acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the Jedi Bastilla wielded a double bladed yellow lightsaber. The character was iconically featured on the cover of the game and plays a crucial role in the narrative. In the new canon, Asajj Ventress wielded a gold lightsaber in Dark Disciple, a novel that was build off unfinished arcs of The Clone Wars television shows after its cancellation. Finally, in Star Wars Rebels, Kanan and The Inquisitors experience visions where they are confronted by The Jedi Temple Guards. These masked spirits wield double bladed Yellow/Gold lightsabers.
Finally, one of the significant “Legacy” moments occurs when the Jedi speak to Rey during her final confrontation with The Emperor. One critical theme of The Rise of Skywalker is that the generation of Jedi and Sith “live in” Rey and Darth Sidious respectively. Luke asserts that the generations of Jedi have “passed on” their knowledge to Rey, who must fulfill her destiny as a Jedi. As Rey battles the last Sith Lord, she hears the voices of many of the Jedi from across film and television from the past forty years. This includes inconic characters like Luke, Leia, Yoda, Mace Windu, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn. In addition to these film characters, animated characters like Ashoka Tano and Kanan Jarrus are also included. For fans of the series, this was a emotional and powerful way to end the conflict between the Jedi and Sith, as well as a unique opportunity to bring together actors and actresses from forty years of Star Wars history.
Part II: The Rise of Skywalker Fails To Provide A Satisfying Conclusion To The Sequel Trilogy And Demonstrates The Flaws Of Disney Era Star Wars
Episode IX Takes The Focus Off Sequel Trilogy Characters
One consequence of the inclusion of so many characters from across Star Wars history is a reduction of focus on sequel trilogy characters. This can mostly clearly be seen in absurdly small screen time that Rose Tico appears on screen within The Rise of Skywalker. Tico, who is played by Kelly Marie Tran, was a integral part of The Last Jedi. Along with Finn, Rose helmed one of three arcs within the middle chapter of the sequel trilogy. According to Violet Kim’s article on Slate.com, the characters only appears in The Rise of Skywalker for a scant 1 minute and sixteen seconds. This is a reduction of “90%” from The Last Jedi. 3 This is especially concerning since Kelly Marie Tran was a victim of ruthless and often unwarranted criticism on many social media sites. While few would accuse Lucasfilm of giving in to online harassment, Kim asserts that Rose’s limited role in The Rise of Skywalker makes it feel like like the writers and director pushed Rose to the side without bringing any “closure to her character”. Overall, it is disappointing that Rose received such limited screen time and relevance after playing such a crucial role in The Last Jedi.
General Hux also receives a severely reduced role in The Rise of Skywalker. Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson, was introduced in The Force Awakens as a rival to Kylo Ren. Hux represented the more structured military arm of The First Order compared to Ren’s more occult role. Unlike Tarkin and Vader, who worked side by side in A New Hope, the relationship between Hux and Kylo Ren was overtly hostile throughout the sequel trilogy. This set up interesting stages as these two young rivals vied for power, a struggle that seems to be won by Ren in The Last Jedi. This set up intriguing questions for the final act of the sequel trilogy. How would General Hux survive or maintain a role with his hated rival at the head of The First Order?
Unfortunately, The Rise of Skywalker constructed a visibly shallow storyline for General Hux, one that did not effectively build off Hux’s previous appearances. For much of the early film, Hux is superseded by Richard E. Grant’s Enric Pryde. The film leaves Hux with little to do and reveals him to be a rebel informant part way through the film. This leads to some excellent humor between Hux and Finn, but the entire sequence doesn’t feel adequately set up or explained in. This fast moving arc ends with General Pryde unceremoniously killing Hux shortly. This conclusion provides a dissatisfying end to a character that had been a major force in the previous two films.
Another character whose role was significantly changed with the return of previous character was Adam Driver’s Ben Solo (Within this article, I will use the names Ben Solo and Kylo Ren interchangeably to refer to the same character). The abrupt reintroduction of Emperor Palpatine completely changed the focus of the final film, changing identity of the main antagonist from Ben Solo to the resurrected Sith Lord. In The Rise of Skywalker, the haunted Solo becomes relegated to a strange role as one of many secondary antagonists and before he becomes an ally with Rey in the final battle against the Emperor.
More importantly, Ben’s acceptance of a new master feels painfully similar to his role with Supreme Leader Snoke. While Kylo Ren seems to feel confident that he can dispatch Palpatine like Snoke, the events of The Last Jedi seem to demonstrate that Ben has no more desire to serve any master, let alone one that is clearly identified with his family’s past. It’s a poor storytelling decision, perfectly symbolized within The Rise of Skywalker by the bizarre moment in which Kylo Ren’s helmet is reforged and redoned by Ben Solo after he deliberately obliterated it in the previous film. The choice to have Kylo Ren kill his master in The Last Jedi only to receive a new master immediately following these events altered Ben Solo’s arc and destroyed much Solo’s character progression within The Last Jedi.
The Film Ignores Critical Character Developments That Rey and Ben Experience In The Last Jedi
Rey and Ben Solo are arguably the two most important and most hotly debated character in the sequel trilogy. The two characters, both gifted with extraordinary power, are similar enough that they serve as fascinating foils for each other. Ben Solo, the heir to the Skywalker legacy, is torn apart by his family legacy. Ben seeks to change his identity and conquer his internal demons by becoming Kylo Ren. In contrast, the orphaned Rey desperately searches for the truth about her own lineage and her role in the larger narrative that she stumbles into. Both characters are haunted by their pasts and both character seek mentors in the attempts to understand and exorcise their internal pain.
After The Force Awakens introduced these two critical new characters, director Rian Johnson puts a huge emphasis on the relationship between Rey and Ben in The Last Jedi. The film used a force connection between the two characters, allowing these two rivals to communicate in an intimate way. This was a convenient but effective storytelling technique that allowed the two characters to communicate across the galaxy, developing a deeper bond. As the characters are finally reunited in Snoke’s Star Destroyer, both characters believed that they could turn the other to their point of view. Each character sees a “vision” of their desired outcome. Their relationship reaches its zenith in Snoke’s Throne Room where Ben defends Rey by slaying his master and the two battled together against the Snoke’s Praetorian Guards.
At the end of the conflict, Rey asks Ben to end the battle between The First Order and Resistance (that includes Princess Leia) but Ben refuses. Understanding that both characters are haunted by their past, Ben desires to “let the past die…kill it if you have to”. Ben asks Rey to join him and rule the galaxy and define the future together, but Rey refuses. This refusal results in a battle for Luke’s lightsaber, a symbol of the character’s shared destiny. The mental conflict between the two foils rips the lightsaber to pieces, symbolically representing the divergence of Rey and Ben’s paths. In their final scene, Ben watches Rey leave on the Millenium Falcon, severing the bond between them and fundamentally ending their relationship.
With this dramatic and powerful closing, The Last Jedi teases an Episode IX where Rey and Ben Solo, both firmly set upon their divided path, battle for the future of the Force. Despite this clear set up, The Rise of Skywalker completely reshapes the final act by reintroducing Emperor Palpatine as the final villain. This addition feels incredibly rushed, with little to no clear evidence of the Darth Sidious in the previous two films. While some fans hinted that Snoke was related to Palpatine in some way, there is very little clear evidence of that in the films. This decision radically changed the role of Ben Solo in the final film. Where The Last Jedi teases Ben Solo as Rey’s final antagonist as antagonist, The Rise of Skywalker rephrases him as a secondary antagonist and eventual ally.
The Rise of Skywalker Revelations About Rey’s Parentage Ignores Her Growth In The Last Jedi
The Rise of Skywalker also revised The Last Jedi by making startling revelations about Rey’s lineage. Rey’s parentage had been a topic of controversy since her introduction in The Force Awakens. Despite many fans theories about Rey being related to famous Star Wars characters, The Last Jedi seemed to make a definitive statement about Rey’s lineage: she was an orphan with no connections to any other Star Wars characters. This was a clear choice by writer director Rian Johnson who asserted that if Rey had a legendary heritage it would “the easiest thing she can hear”. 4 For Rey, the real challenge is for the abandoned girl from Jakku to her own “choice to find… [her] identity in this story”. This is the challenge that is most difficult for Rey, just as Darth Vader’s revelation is the most challenging for Luke to confront.
Throughout The Last Jedi, Ben is keenly aware of Rey’s insecurities and designs his final argument to make Rey feel like she has to “lean on him for your identity”. Ben Solo cruelly uses the “truth” about Rey’s past to draw her closer to him, saying that Rey is “nothing… but not to me”. In this painful verbal confrontation, Rey accepts the truth about her past, but denies Ben the ability to define and control her identity going forward. By confronting and accepting her origins and lack of lineage, Rey closes The Last Jedi prepared to define her own identity going forward, rather than desperately questioning and seeking answers in the past.
From a character perspective, The Rise of Skywalker undos much of the growth that Rey has undergone in The Last Jedi. At the start of the final film of the trilogy, Rey finds herself once again worrying about her “lineage”. With the abrupt and somewhat contrived revelation of her parents and grandparents could have worked if more clearly hinted at or build up to in the past two films. The Rey’s character growth from The Force Awakens to the Last Jedi, her acceptance of her past, is completely undone with the revelation of her Palpatine bloodline. This poorly planned revelation forces Rey to once again confront her past, something that she has already done in the previous film. This makes much of her arc within The Rise of Skywalker feels incredibly inconsistent with the direction of The Last Jedi and Rey’s overall character arc.
The Rise of Skywalker Illustrates Disney and Lucasfilm’s Lack of Overall Planning And Clear Vision For The Sequel Trilogy
Overall, the inconsistencies with the sequel trilogy illustrate a lack of overarcing planning and the lack of a clear vision for the sequel trilogy. The lack of planning is especially curious as Disney and Lucasfilm had no real deadlines for creating their new trilogy. History had already shown that Star Wars is a steady, reliable winner at the box office across four decades and 6 separate release. There seemed to be no need to rush through development of the sequel trilogy.
A clear plan from Lucasfilm’s Story Group or another guiding voice could have helped the sequel trilogy feel cohesive. An overall outline would have been beneficial for Rey’s Parentage and Palpatine’s return. If these arcs were planned at a process early in development of the trilogy, hints and ideas could have been inserted in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi that paved the way for key revelations in The Rise of Skywalker. Writing for Forbes.com, Paul Tassi asserts that all three sequel trilogy films have merits separately, but the films don’t make sense “together, and the series really only works narratively if you cut out The Last Jedi and cut and paste some of its spare parts in a way that make The Force Awakens/Rise of Skywalkerduology work”. 5 This comments epitomizes much of the frustration that many fans and critics express about the sequel trilogy as a whole. While each film is enjoyable the overall arcs from The Force Awakens to The Rise of Skywalker feels extremely inconsistent and poorly planned.
While all trilogies, including the original Star Wars trilogy, go through various changes during their existence, it is important to remember that the Star Wars franchise always had creator George Lucas providing the guiding vision for the first two trilogies. For the animated universe, Dave Filoni seemed to play a major role in defining the direction of Clone Wars and Rebels, shows that have characters whose arcs and storylines feel consistent and authentic. It is not unreasonable to think that the overall cohesion of the trilogy would have benefitted from writing cohesion across all three films.
The overall lack of planning also hints at the overall creative conflicts that have plagued Lucasfilm in the past few years. Colin Trevorrow, the original writer and director hired for Episode IX, agree “mutually chosen to part ways” without the company using any of the script proposed by Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly. The decision to fire Trevorrow and not use any of his script ultimately changed Lucasfilm’s original plan for the trilogy, which seemed to be three different directors for three different films within the trilogy. The return of J. J. Abrams further exacerbates dissonance between The Last Jedi and the other Sequel trilogy films because both The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker now had the same director and similar identities, where the original intention seemed to be three films with three different identities.
This lack of planning can also be seen in the reintroduction of The Emperor in The Rise of Skywalker. After teasing Snoke as the key villain in The Force Awakens, then transitioning to Ben Solo as the key villain in The Last Jedi, Lucasfilm opted to introduce a third villain into the final film: The Emperor. This decision did not feel natural from a storytelling perspective as The Emperor has very little presence in any aspects of the sequel trilogy leading up to The Rise of Skywalker‘s release and is presumed dead at the end of The Return of The Jedi. In an interview for Empire.com, Trevorrow acknowledge that his version of Episode IX did not seem to include the resurrection of Emperor Palpatine. Trevorrow stated that the return of the Emperor was an “idea JJ brought to the table when he came on board”. 6 Overall, the lack of consistency across the three films can be placed at the feet of Lucasfilm and Disney, who had the option to create a more consistent trilogy.
From A Certain Point Of View
The conversation around The Rise of Skywalker is most clearly defined by the viewers expectations going into the film and their perspectives on its crucial narrative decisions. Movies goers looking for a love letter to the entire history of Star Wars, one filled with dramatic lightsaber duels and epic battles, found much to enjoy in the film. In contrast, fans following the trilogy and characters with great skepticism were treated to a film that further exacerbated issues with the previous two sequel trilogy films and ultimately failing to conclude some characters’ stories in satisfying ways. In the end, the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi ring especially true; each person’s beliefs about The Rise of Skywalker depend greatly on “our ownpoint of view”.
- Mendelson, Scott. “Box Office: ‘Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker’ Is The First $1 Billion Disappointment.”Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 12 Jan. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2020/01/12/box-office-star-wars-rise-of-skywalker-is-the-first-1-billion-disappointment/#d42126a1308a. ↩
- Robinson, Joanna. “Star Wars: How ‘Princess Leia Lives’ in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.” Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, 12 Apr. 2019, www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/04/star-wars-episode-ix-rise-of-skywalker-princess-leia-carrie-fisher. ↩
- Kim, Violet. “Kelly Marie Tran Is in Even Less of The Rise of Skywalker Than We Thought.”Slate Magazine, Slate, 24 Dec. 2019, slate.com/culture/2019/12/the-rise-of-skywalker-kelly-marie-tran-rose-tico-time-onscreen.html. ↩
- White, James. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi – 10 Revelations From Director Rian Johnson.”Empire, Empire, www.empireonline.com/movies/features/star-wars-last-jedi-10-revelations-director-rian-johnson/. ↩
- Tassi, Paul. “’Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker’ Didn’t Just ‘Fix’ The Last Jedi, It Erased It.”Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 2 Jan. 2020. ↩
- Semlyen, Nick De. “Star Wars: Colin Trevorrow On His Rise Of Skywalker Writing Credit And His Last Jedi Contribution – Exclusive.”Empire, Empire, 22 Nov. 2019, www.empireonline.com/movies/news/colin-trevorrow-star-wars-rise-skywalker-last-jedi/. ↩
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