I feel myself almost angry at the fact that I’m still thinking about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker almost a month after its release, especially considering how much brainspace it took up in the months leading up to it hitting theaters. (Most of that, admittedly, was related to my job, but still.) Still, I’ve found myself reading a bunch of the complaints about the movie in the last few weeks, and… not necessarily disagreeing, per se — they’re opinions and what’s the point of arguing with those? — but thinking, oh, but wait…! a lot.
To wit: The return of the Emperor is held up as a move that is entirely flawed and irredeemable by many of those complaining, and… it’s not, surely…? The killing off of the previous Uber Villain in The Last Jedi surely made it necessary that a replacement shadowy figure would be brought in to try and explain what the endgame of the First Order was — and, if possible, what Supreme Leader Snoke’s plan was before he got offed — and, making that bad guy the Emperor seems like a fine idea on paper, when you consider Rise of Skywalker is intended as the final chapter of a series where the Emperor has been the villain for… what, five of those earlier chapters…?
(There’s also something that appeals to me about the Emperor showing up in the final chapter of a trilogy having been absent for the earlier two chapters; there’s an argument to be made that he more of less does the same in the first trilogy, and he only gets outed as the villain in the final chapter of the prequel trilogy. Is this accidental symmetry?)
Also, the complaints about Rey’s heritage being retconned to be the granddaughter of the Emperor. It’s contrived, sure, but… isn’t that pretty in keeping with Star Wars, which retconned Luke to be the son of Darth Vader in its second installment, and then Luke and Leia to be siblings in its third? There’s a line of thinking that the re-write translates as making a commentary about Force users having to come from specific backgrounds, but that rings false in a franchise where there are already lots of Force users who aren’t related to either the central heroes or villains of the series. You’re closing out a grand story where everyone is already fucking related to each other? Sure, throw this in, why not.
A lot of the complaints, I think, come from an idea that The Last Jedi is this evolutionary step forward for Star Wars as a whole that makes no mistakes, and that strikes me as a really interesting, and somewhat flawed, idea. Putting aside the obvious flaws of the movie — the timeline makes no sense, character is sacrificed for Deeper Meaning on a number of occasions, it’s tonally all over the place — The Last Jedi feels like it accidentally sabotages its trilogy with the big choices it makes, leaving whatever followed to play clean up no matter what.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of fun in watching it essentially dump two of the central mysteries of the previous movie so casually. (Who are Rey’s parents and why didn’t they come back for her? They’re alcoholics who sold her for booze! What is Snoke up to? Who cares, we just killed him!) But… none of it feels additive to me. It doesn’t feel like it’s building momentum as the series heads into a final chapter, as much as it feels like those responsible are cutting what they didn’t like from the earlier movie as swiftly as they can.
I’m not going to suggest this makes The Last Jedi a bad movie, because it’s not; it’s fun and there’s some great stuff in it. But it feels as eager to undo what came before as The Rise of Skywalker is, if not more so, yet without as much complaint. (It also feels less interested in narrative cohesion for the trilogy, and the nine-movie-storyline as a whole, but that’s not necessarily a sin.) And that’s… fine…?
Star Wars has always been a messy series, a storyline full of contradictions and rewrites on the fly, and plot developments that don’t make sense but “feel” right in a childlike manner. Perhaps that’s why Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker worked for me; it sounded right at the time. Perhaps if I thought about it more, perhaps if I cared more about the minutiae, I would change my mind. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, as the song goes.