Dear 100 Hour Board + Alumni,
Honest thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker? I know it came out a while ago but it wasn’t alumni week then and I didn’t know I’d still care about it this much now.
Dear Auto Surf,
I thought I was going to watch it.
I was wrong.
Dear Auto Surf,
I love Rey, BB-8, and Finn!
But all I have to say, the kiss at the end was the worst! Carl and I groaned as we totally called it and it came into fruition. It was just a boatload of awkward.
Dear Auto Skysurfer,
I hold two different opinions that are diametrically opposed, not unlike the light side and dark side of the force.
My first opinion is that it totally jumped the shark. It felt so thrown together, and nothing gets explained, and it's just so random. You end up with wonderful stuff like riding horses on Star Destroyers, and Rey giving her life force to a snake so they can use a dagger as a GPS. Why? Who knows? The whole thing seems like a hot mess.
Okay but also, it was so cool. It has amazing music, sets, action scenes, and super cool force stuff. Physically interacting with objects in other places in a force vision? Force bringing people back from the dead? Like this is so cool why didn't anyone do this before? It was a very fun way to spend a few hours.
My main qualm with the movie though is *spoiler alert* that Palpatine didn't say "UNLIMITED POWER" when he did the crazy force lightening thing. Such a good meme opportunity wasted. Tragic.
Dearest Auto Surf,
I don't think The Rise of Skywalker is a bad movie. Buried under all of the rushed and underdeveloped plot points is an action-packed and engaging movie with strong performances and incredible visuals. But it's a really disappointing one. What bogs it down is the fact that it decided to jettison The Last Jedi almost entirely and spend the majority of its runtime giving its own answers to the questions raised by The Force Awakens. It's like watching two movies packed into one, and it's exhausting.
It frustrates me that this is the direction they went with, because nobody is happy. I'm not in the camp that liked Rian Johnson's subversion of expectations and surprise twists on the Star Wars formula in The Last Jedi (except that Rey being a nobody was interesting), but I'm not impressed by how reactionary and thrown together The Rise of Skywalker was, either. And while there's no way to please everyone, I'm personally of the opinion that if Abrams had helmed the full trilogy or at least given Disney a sketch of the story he seemingly wanted to tell, it would have been amazing.
Not everybody was happy with the return of Palpatine, but I personally really liked that the movie used his return to give us a look into the weird and esoteric with Sith science and religion; this is all stuff we haven't seen before in mainstream Star Wars, but it's right at home in the expanded universe. Yet somehow despite how completely integral cloning and Force dyads and the Sith Eternal are to the plot, every single one of these concepts is almost entirely glossed over. There's no time to explain why they're there or how they work because neither of the last two movies were concerned with this stuff at all, but the plot needs them to be there. So it is that a massive Final Order fleet is built, a secret Sith cult on a dead planet works tirelessly to build a suitable clone body for the Emperor's spirit, and he survives his apparent death--all completely off-screen with virtually no explanation. Sigh. The movie is fun, but with almost no real worldbuilding from the last two movies backing its decisions, it's ultimately superficial, even cheap.
Honestly, though? I still like it, personally, solely because I enjoy Ian McDiarmid's performance so much. It may not seem like it because I'm quite critical of everything else, but what can I say? I guess good villainous performances are a favorite of mine. The first and last twenty minutes of the movie are genuinely great scenes stapled to a whole lot of uninteresting filler, with some bright spots in between.
A couple other less-developed thoughts:
- One fakeout death is sort of lame. Two is annoying. But this movie? I lost count of how many it had. It makes for a strangely enervated, low-stakes, boring atmosphere as the movie plods along unthreateningly to the finale and every single death pulls the rug out from under you five minutes later. Yawn.
- Rey Palpatine is one of the worst "written by Reddit" twists of all time. Rey Skywalker is so thinly justified in the narrative it's almost worse.
- Kylo Ren should have died after being tossed into the abyss, and Rey should have survived (albeit narrowly) without recourse to more magic Force powers. The finale already stretched my suspense of disbelief to the breaking point with a predictable, low-energy, boring defeat from Palpatine, and the fact that Ben somehow climbs all the way back up a lightning shaft off-screen after being as beaten as he was--just to save Rey from another fakeout death and then die himself--strikes me as a little ridiculous. The kiss was just the bafflingly weird icing on the cake of disappointment.
- Lots of plot twists and revelations that deserve more screentime--Luke changing his mind, Palpatine's revival, Snoke being a science experiment, Force dyads, the Sith Eternal--get one or two throwaway lines that explain nothing, if they get any acknowledgement at all. It's fun to sit and watch mindlessly, but it's not so fun to actually engage with.
- Palpatine's temptations with Rey fall flat because we have no reason to believe she's corruptible. It's abundantly clear that she's not struggling with anger or hatred as she faces him, and the whole thing feels a little awkward. I liked the vague hints that she was, however briefly, tempted by visions of the Sith Throne and Kylo Ren--but then, as usual, they go nowhere. I don't know what Rey's weakness is, but striking down Palpatine in a fit of rage like Luke struck Vader is not it.
- How does Palpatine go from an overwhelming threat, even as a decrepit zombie, to virtually powerless in five minutes of screen time? Even before rejuvenating himself, he throws Rey and Ben around like ragdolls. After absorbing the power of the dyadic bond, he launches a lightning storm that singlehandedly disables an entire fleet of ships, then throws the incapacitated Ben down a pit. We have no reason whatever to believe our heroes even stand a chance. This is the one thing I resent most. Return of the Jedi gets this one absolutely right: Luke doesn't even touch the Emperor, and he would have died if his father had been irredeemable and not intervened to save him. In this movie, Rey and Ben don't lay a hand on the Emperor, either. So far, so good. But then he loses because the lightning storm that disables an entire fleet of ships suddenly can't get past a single lightsaber, and rather than changing his strategy, he just stands there powerlessly as Rey reenacts the scene with Mace Windu from Revenge of the Sith, only Anakin isn't there to cut her hands off and stop her from winning. This is not a compelling final fight with a villain who far outmatches our heroes. Rey wins because the movie says so and for no other reason. Don't even get me started on how an entire fleet of planet-destroying terrors is somehow taken out by a single command tower and a bunch of regular old people hyped up on morale. A single star destroyer ought to have decimated the resistance, let alone an entire fleet.
By the time I saw it in theaters I had low expectations going in. I came away feeling like I had fun but that was about it, whereas other Star Wars movies made me feel something deeper.
When it came out on Disney+ I watched it with my Star Wars-obsessed three-year-old. She had a ton of questions about basic plot elements and the more I had to try to explain the movie the less I liked it, an experience I have not had with other Star Wars movies when Baby Z asked questions.
Dear auto surf,
I liked it.
Dear Auto Surf,
Rise of Skywalker felt like when you go get frozen yogurt, but can't pick just one flavor palette, so you overload it with toppings that don't work together and it ends up being gross.
First off, I should point out that Star Wars is nearly synonymous with my childhood. I grew up on the prequels, read over 100 of the novels in middle school, played most of the video games, and I continue to quote the movies constantly to this day. The stories, lore, and characters captivate me. I didn't care too much for The Force Awakens, but always said it will be best reviewed in the context of the whole trilogy. I actually quite enjoyed The Last Jedi. Sure, it's messy, but it's bold and beautiful too. With the finale of a 40-year franchise coming up, I did a big marathon to watch movies 1-8 and was understandably excited to see how it would all end.
Obviously, those expectations were far too high and I was let down. The beginning of the movie was so rushed. I felt like I was being talked down to, like I couldn't be expected to pay attention if someone wasn't running around onscreen. Then trepidation set in as I realized the movie was just a bunch of fetch quests. No time was left for anything of substance. The most interesting part was Kylo and Rey each dealing with their identities, discovering more about the Force and each other along the way. But even that wasn't given enough time. Whenever the movie pretended that The Last Jedi was a mistake I got a little more upset, especially since it didn't really improve anything. And at the end, the day was saved by...Lando? Having it be Rose or Finn to finally get the galaxy to rise up would have been so much more satisfying. As it stands, there weren't any strong character arcs at all.
On top of all my story complaints, I also thought the visuals were bland. In the last movie we had some absolutely stunning visuals, like Luke facing down AT-AT's on Crait's red salt fields, or the infamous Holdo maneuver. Rise of Skywalker gave us STROBE LIGHTS.
So, not content to leave things as they were, I read the novelization. There's no resolving fundamental story issues, but it fixed a lot of my nitpicks. The pacing was much better since it didn't have to rush the beginning. A lot of strange plot details were given reasonable explanations. Overall, it's a stronger version of the story, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a better go at this finale. While I'll always be disappointed that the story didn't achieve more, as I spend more time with it I might be able to eventually come to peace with it, at least somewhat. It's still Star Wars, it has its good points, and it's a fun time.
A few scattered thoughts:
- Palpatine returning, though somewhat boring, kind of was the only choice here if Kylo was to be redeemed. The #2 villain of the galaxy can be redeemed, but not the #1 villain, you're just too accountable for your evil actions in the #1 spot. Palpatine was the only one who could show up and upstage Kylo at that point, even if he had to come back from the dead to do it. And well, stories of clones of Palpatine returning are almost as old as Return of the Jedi itself, so it's really not that strange, though making the sequel trilogy be about defeating the echo of the villain already defeated feels a little hollow.
- Too bad Palpatine's clone was too dumb to keep his secret plan secret. For DECADES, he had been trying to get a powerful Force user to strike him down in anger to inhabit their body. Out of context, saying "Strike me down!" is suspicious, but straight-up telling them why? How does that help? Now everyone knows definitely not to strike you down. Luckily, Rey had spent the last year training to hear the voices of past Jedi. It's two sides of a coin, the Sith seeking to live forever by inhabiting bodies of clones and apprentices, and the Jedi wanting to bless future generations by returning as Force ghosts. So, filled as she was with spirits of the Jedi past, Palpatine's own spirit couldn't enter her body. Or something.
- At least it makes sense why Kylo never saw Anakin's force ghost. This story reinforces that it takes a lot of training, connection, and necessity for a force ghost to be able to show themselves—they can't just appear to whoever they want whenever.
- Finn should have been more clearly Force sensitive. It's frustratingly vague as it is. In the novelization he was quite explicitly Force sensitive, so it's silly that most of that didn't make it into the movie.
- Babu Frik was pretty great. Not as great as porgs, but still pretty great.
- Lightspeed skipping. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Hyperspace is hard magic, you can't use it like soft magic.
- All the fake deaths were annoying. Like, what's the point? If you wanted me to feel something, it worked, but it's mostly just irritation.
- Rey Palpatine. Rey Skywalker. Neither of those hit right. There was power in her grappling with being a nobody. Now it turns out one of Palpatine's failed clones had a daughter, so Rey is Palpatine's "granddaughter?" It could have worked if they explored it more, how much it truly frightened her. Maybe if we got to see the vision she told Finn about with her on the throne. Dissatisfied with that heritage, she decides to steal the Skywalker name. Like, you just kissed a Skywalker. Now you want to be his adopted cousin? At least we can still call it the Skywalker Saga, since Rey is a Skywalker. Or something.
- I can overlook some things, but not this one. THE SACRED JEDI TEXTS! They were supposed to contain ancient religious wisdom, not Luke's personal treasure map. This is a huge missed opportunity to explore more of the philosophy of the Jedi and the nature of the Force, which is what I really love about Star Wars. Why was Luke writing on the only surviving copy of his religion's sacred texts anyway?
- Rey and Kylo knew about connecting through the Force after all their Force Skype calls, powered by their dyad bond. So for Rey it was a natural step to go beyond just connecting with the Force and learn to give, thus learning Force Heal. That's what I'm going with at least, to explain why the ability isn't more common. Though she first used it on a giant snake for some reason, despite having no connection to it, so I don't know.
- Ever since her unplanned Force-assisted spaceflight a year before, Leia had been slowly dying from the stress on her body. So she chose to reach out to Kylo with the last of her strength, proving to him that he could still come back home. Her body didn't fade away until Ben himself died, so it seems like her spirit was with him, supporting him. Between Leia's presence and Rey's healing life force swirling inside him, Kylo Ren died when stabbed through the chest and he was able to be Ben again. So while that's not the most compelling redemption arc ever written, it's not too inconsistent with Star Wars morality either. Anakin died when he became Darth Vader, who died to become Anakin again. Who then died.
- THE KISS. I don't know, this one doesn't bother me too much. Yeah, it was fairly meaningless, romantically. By that point they had shared so much life force with each other that they were practically the same person, and they got caught up in the moment. But really, it was the last proof Ben needed that he could be accepted, even after all he'd done, even with his parents gone. Who then died.
There are rumors out there about an extended cut of the movie that may or may not be released sometime in the future. I don't know how much to trust rumors, but it is curious that the Blu-ray has zero deleted scenes. That's right, zero. So maybe they really are saving everything for an extended cut someday. That wouldn't save the movie, but it still would be a better experience if it had a bit more time to breathe throughout.
Where does that leave me as a Star Wars fan? It's getting harder and harder for me to expect quality Star Wars content. The Mandalorian is refreshingly well-done, but despite all its excellent qualities, it's a bit too safe of a story for my liking. I miss the genius vision that George Lucas brought to Star Wars, telling stories about the nature of the Force and an entire galaxy beyond my imagination. Hopefully one of these future Star Wars projects can harness that vision and couple it with expert storytelling and filmmaking. That would really be something. Maybe Taika Waititi's upcoming Star Wars film could be just that. I'll keep hoping.
I watched it with my 5yo on my lap and my 7yo sitting next to me and they loved it so much.
That colors my opinion greatly.
I think in a vacuum, I would say it was a mediocre film (maybe sliding down below that), but because I saw it through my kids' eyes I say it was an alright film (maybe sliding up above that).
Dear Auto Surf,
I'm jumping on this train rather late because I watched Rise of Skywalker for the first time when this question was already 30 hours overdue. I should say that I've done a pretty good job of avoiding spoilers or even really talking to people about it, and while I love the original Star Wars movies and grew up on the prequels, I haven't been very invested in this new trilogy. So while I knew that reception of the film had been largely negative, I went into it relatively bias-free.
So honest thoughts? It was a terrible movie. Maybe the worst Star Wars film yet, and that includes Attack of the Clones, which features the worst dialogue ever written and this whole absurd sequence:
The film was a totally un-self-critical nostalgia-fest, every bit as bad as the recent rash of Disney remakes. Rather than setting out to craft a movie, the makers set out to bring back everything people have loved about the Star Wars franchise, including its old actors and plot lines. The result is a film driven not by plot or character or interesting ideas but by an absurd degree of pandering self-referentiality. The epitome of this problem was how they handled the Carrie Fisher question. Because she had passed away and they couldn't shoot more Leia scenes without her, they rewrote every one of her scenes to work around unused footage from earlier in the trilogy. Of course, I understand the impulse behind this—what do you do when one of your main actors dies before finishing the series?—but the choice to keep her in manifests the filmmakers' willingness to sacrifice story- and character-building to bring back everything we loved from 1977. Rather than the powerful mentor for Rey that Leia is meant to be, every one of her scenes felt weird and incomplete.*
The result? This film literally felt like a fanfiction. It felt like something I would have written when I was 14, because that was my impulse back then: I didn't care that much about building a cohesive, powerful story, I just wanted to bring back all of my favorite things about a film or book.** Other than the Leia scenes, things that felt fan-fiction-y include the return of Palpatine, Han Solo and Luke walking around as if they never died, all the dead Jedi voices speaking to Rey at the end,*** and the totally unwarranted kiss, obviously.****
Other than that, my main complaints are
- that the ending was basically the same as the ending of Return of the Jedi: main character confronts Palpatine, who encourages her/him to embrace her/his anger and casting it as an opportunity to save her/his friends fighting a space battle outside, but the main character is too smart for that and then gets saved by a Skywalker, who is redeemed just before he dies. Only this one wasn't as good because of the weird expansion of force-lightning capabilities and because (as 9S mentions above) Rey doesn't seem at all corruptible.
- that the settings didn't feel sharp and well-defined. The originality and concreteness of the gritty civilizations in the original Star Wars are one of my favorite things about it, and while Rise of Skywalker gets the high-tech-junkyard feel right, a lot of the spaces in the film lack concrete boundaries or a real sense of place. This was particularly true of Palpatine's arena filled with gazillions of faceless inhabitants. At that moment I felt myself wondering, "How did I get tricked into watching another Marvel movie?"
- that the whole plot was a hot mess. Absurd and directionless and not at all in keeping with the previous films of the trilogy. It felt like they were making it up as they went.
- Lando? I mean, wtf?
*They should have ended The Last Jedi with Leia's death rather than Luke's. I mean, seriously—they had a full year between Carrie Fisher's passing and the film's release, and they even had a fakeout Leia death, right? So why not just make it a real death instead and free Rise of Skywalker from the need to cobble in unrelated Leia footage?
**Trust me, I wrote my own 375-page version of the 7th Harry Potter book just to bring Sirius Black back from the dead.
***Although I admit I fell for that a little bit because 11-year-old me was in love with both Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson.
****The kiss was just Adam Driver eye candy, for those who dig his weird-looking attractiveness, including me. It served exactly no other purpose.