You can almost feel the thesis running through the final film in the Skywalker saga. Make Star Wars great again… Much like the election campaign of the President of the United States, the simple message of returning things to a simpler time and in effect fixing what many saw as the mistakes of The Last Jedi is a valid way to approach the movie. The problem is that fixing or overriding everything from the middle film in a trilogy leads to more issues. Naturally, some SPOILERS follow.
The big central plot point deals with the sudden and unexplained removal of Supreme Commander Snoke in the previous film. Many people thought this new version of the Emperor needed more exposition and explanation. This is resolved in the opening five minutes of The Rise of Skywalker when it is revealed that Palpatine is somehow still alive and had genetically manufactured Snoke while he gathered his forces on the Sith homeworld. Kylo Ren, now the Supreme Commander discovers this with an ancient Sith artefact that acts as a compass to make it to this world. This is one of the better story beats and gives the film purpose as the fleet of assembled Star Destroyers are going to crush the galaxy once and for all. The problem as with much of the film comes with the breakneck pace events are presented to us and resolved on-screen. No sooner has Kylo discovered this legendary character then he has made up his mind to remove him and rule the galaxy with Rey at his side. We are meant to think he isn’t tempted to rule at Palpatine’s side? Or at least have a swing at the husk of a Sith that stands before him.
Rey is being trained by Princess Leia, Poe and Finn are flying the falcon and trying to get information about the mysterious broadcast that revealed Palpatine’s survival. All normal and comfortable Star Wars plot points. In fact, more happens to advance the story in the first 20 minutes than has happened in any of the films previously. For people who thought The Last Jedi pondered on aimlessly, this will be welcome, for those of us who are trying to piece a coherent thread through all 9 films it becomes troublesome.
It really feels that any complaint about the previous film is addressed as soon as feasibly possible. There is a distinct increase in action and our heroes being involved even if it is not necessary. The reintroduction of Palpatine is a stroke of genius that manages to give the film purpose and keep its head above water as the frantic planet-hopping and pursuit by Kylo and the frankly useless Knights of Ren threatens to overwhelm even the most dedicated fan. You didn’t like the way Luke was treated in the previous film, he appears more in this one as a ghost, you didn’t like the perceived diversity for diversities sake? There are a few new characters introduced. You didn’t believe Rey was a nobody? Here the film pulls one out of the bag.
SPOILER – Rey is Emporer Palpatine’s Granddaughter. When you get over that shock a lot of the foreshadowing and her unexplained power begins to make some sense. It would have been better to introduce it in the middle film but, like we said this is ‘Make Star Wars Great Again.
The simple juxtaposition of Rey discovering this and realising she has to go to the Sith homeworld at the same time as the remains of the rebel fleet have to go falls squarely into Return of The Jedi territory. In fact, that’s all we need to say about it as it plays out in a similar if spectacular fashion.
My own main problems come with the handling of Kylo Ren and the abandonment of the character traits the other characters had been building. There are the beginnings of a love triangle between Rey Finn and Poe as both men vie for her affections in the early stages. However, once she finds out her true lineage and any chance she is related to Kylo is out of the audience’s minds there is only one couple on screen. It is such an obvious and jarring snap that they have to invent two other characters to keep Finn and Poe amused.
Kylo himself, the best character in the new trilogy, has the most frustrating journey. He is every bit the stereotypical Vader of this film. Despite all he has done you know he is going to redeem himself and sure enough, he does in the final act. Any lingering hope that he isn’t one-dimensional leaves us in a strange scene that spells the end of Leia. She distracts him using the same technique Luke used, then she dies as well. Another loose end tied up in record speed. After this Kylo or Ben, as he is back to being, just appears in the final battle at the right time to save the day before succumbing to his own wounds or lack of leaving Rey the last one standing at the end of the film. There’s still time for a sickly final 10 minutes where my main issue with the film and its title rears its head.
Rey returns with the lightsabers of the fallen to Tatooine, in fact she returns to the Skywalker homestead. An old woman asks her what her name is and after seeing CGI ghosts of Luke and Leia replies ‘Skywalker’. I get that this was the safe thing for her to say but she is a Palpatine. She didn’t marry a Skywalker, she has no relation to them in any way and because of this the title of the film also has no context. The Rise of Palpatine would have been a much better title and would have cleverly subverted the formulaic and breakneck plot we were treated to.
In all the film is still enjoyable and even more Star Wars than before. It is a real shame that the Last Jedi exists. It was a film that could standalone and introduced many directions for the final film to go to. Unfortunately, the backlash has led to this being the equivalent of films 2 and 3 of JJ Abrams trilogy squeezed into one running time. It was impossible for the quality of the storyline not to suffer as a result. In conclusion, it isn’t as bad as you will hear people say and there are genuine moments of quality, just don’t be expecting a coherent and well thought out plot from A to B.