Let’s start with a GIF of
my son Ben Solo smiling, shall we?
Okay. So if you were here around May of 2018, you know I absolutely adore The Last Jedi with my whole heart (here is my post about it. I think it’s a ranty mess but if you’d like to read it go ahead). I saw The Rise of Skywalker just over a week ago and feel the need to detail my feelings about it here. Before we get started, let’s clarify a few things.
First of all, this will undoubtedly be full of all of the spoilers so if you haven’t seen The Rise of Skywalker I would probably run the other direction. You’ve been warned.
- Ben Solo is my favorite character in this entire franchise. He is my literal son and all I have wanted for the past year and a half from this franchise is his happiness.
- When I am reading a book/watching a movie/watching a play/consuming any sort of storytelling art form, character development is the single most important thing to me. I will ignore a terrible plotline if the characters are good. As such, the characters in the sequel trilogy are 95% why I like it.
- The Last Jedi set up a lot of really awesome potential plotlines and is forever and always my favorite Star Wars film.
- My relationship with the sequel trilogy has been a bit of a rollercoaster. I didn’t like The Force Awakens the first time I saw it (but I watched it last night and thoroughly enjoyed it) because it was too similar to A New Hope. The Last Jedi is what made me fall in love with the sequel trilogy because of how completely different it was from anything I had seen or expected from Star Wars.
- I ship Reylo. A lot. You don’t have to, and I’m not about to try to force you to agree with me, but I have been fascinated by that relationship for the past couple of years. I believe it is a complex relationship between two broken people trying to change their lives for the better.
Now that all that groundwork has been laid, let’s talk about The Rise of Skywalker.
I went into this movie with low expectations due to the reviews. I was still excited and hopeful about it, though, because I’d been anticipating it for a year and a half. I wanted to love it. I wanted it to be the best one of the trilogy.
I hated it.
Ok, so while I was watching it, I didn’t hate it. But I didn’t love it either. I was just…meh about the whole thing. It was entertaining to watch and like its predecessors, it is visually stunning, but I didn’t feel much by way of a strong reaction. So is it an entertaining movie? Yes. Would I recommend watching it in the theater on the big screen? Yeah; it’s a cool experience. But do I actually like the movie? Not at all.
This movie left me wondering if JJ Abrams ever watched The Last Jedi. So much of Rise felt like it was trying to “fix” Rian Johnson’s work and by doing so it felt disrespectful.
Johnson gave us a fantastic, character-driven movie. He (beautifully) made Rey a nobody and made her even more powerful of a character. He made us connect with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo in ways so few of us had in TFA. He gave us Rose Tico, an Asian, female character that while I didn’t like all that much at first, was still a wonderful addition to the series. He made every single character feel very human and real. He left JJ Abrams with the perfect villain for Episode IX– General Armitage Hux.
So to begin with, the return of Palpatine was an issue for me. I was curious about it when I saw the trailers, but…Hux literally started to draw his blaster on an unconscious Kylo Ren at the end of TLJ. Hux had the potential to be a magnificent villain. We were never told why he hated Kylo Ren so much; that could have been brought up and discussed. He could have staged a coup against Kylo Ren and taken over as Supreme Leader of the First Order, forcing Kylo/Ben to flee (preferably to Rey because they trust each other, as established in TLJ).
Instead, Hux’s character was completely thrown away. He was treated horribly in this movie, made to be a cheesy spy within the First Order simply because he wanted Kylo Ren to lose. All this after his Hitler-esque speech in TFA. After he was set up as so much more than some cartoon-ish villain sidekick. And yet that was what TROS made him.
Because we had to have Palpatine back.
One of the biggest issues with JJ Abrams’s Star Wars movies is the nostalgia of them. People, including myself, had issues with TFA because it was so similar to Episode IV. Because the nostalgia, the desire to repeat the past (à la The Great Gatsby, anyone?) was too strong. And it didn’t work well in TFA, but it was even worse in TROS. We did not need Palpatine to return. In fact, that was the last thing we needed.
Another plot-specific issue I had involved Leia. Believe me, I am sad that Carrie Fisher passed away. I get that JJ wanted to give Leia a part of this movie, partly as a farewell to Carrie.
But. And this is probably a super controversial thought process. But I felt like keeping Leia in TROS was a hindrance to the story that could have been. There is a time jump between TLJ and TROS. Leia could have died during this time jump, which would have created no need for difficult CGI work (and made it easier for Rose to have an actual part in this story instead of being blindsided the way she was) and it would have just worked better with the story. If Carrie was still here, this could have been Leia’s movie, like TFA was Han’s and TLJ was Luke’s. But Carrie couldn’t play Leia and that wasn’t possible.
Believe me, I wanted a conversation between Leia and Ben. I wanted Leia to be a major part of Ben’s return to the light. But she couldn’t be, and the creators should have been able to see that and let her character go.
The way she died also bothered me. Think about how Luke died in TLJ. The man straight up sent a Force projection and took a kajillion bullets and then proceeded to duel Kylo Ren. Only then did he die.
Leia, on the other hand, sent *one* Force message to her son. And died. After surviving the explosion in TLJ with the Force.
Do you see my problem here?
Aside from Hux and Leia, there were a ton of character arcs that were thrown away. What in the world is up with Finn? In TFA, he seems in love with Rey. In TLJ, he and Rose kiss. (Rose’s character is a whole other issue in this movie that I’ll get into later.) And then, in TROS, there’s Jannah, another runaway storm trooper. Honestly, Jannah and Zorii both felt like useless characters to me. Finn didn’t seem to go anywhere in this movie; no one knew what was up with his romantic arc (which he didn’t even need) and it was just a mess.
And now onto Rose Tico. She deserved better. She played a major part in TLJ. And yet, for some reason, it was acceptable to give her less than 2 minutes of screentime in TROS ? I get that it’s blamed on the CGI work with Carrie Fisher (and yes, I know there is some thought about racism/sexism on part of the creators but I don’t want to get into that) but consider: could she not have gone with Finn and Poe and Rey? Also consider my earlier points about Leia. Rose deserved a part in this movie and she didn’t get it. She’s not even one of my favorite characters; to be honest, she kinda annoyed me a little. But I still think she deserved more than she got. She had a lot of potential for a really nice character arc and she was just…nonexistent.
Now. My biggest issues: this whole concept of Rey Palpatine and Ben Solo. We’ll start with Rey.
Rian Johnson gave us a beautiful movie with a beautiful message: you don’t have to come from a powerful family to be a powerful person. You can be a supposed “nobody” and still be extremely powerful. And JJ took that message, that beautiful, positive message we needed from modern storytelling, and raked it through the mud. By making Rey a Palpatine, we are also left with the underlying message that a woman cannot be powerful unless she is related to a powerful man. Which is far from true.
Aside from this *revelation* about her parentage, Rey’s arc in this movie is also a bit of a mess.
She goes right back to the animosity between her and Kylo Ren from TFA, almost like the events of TLJ didn’t happen (which is a trend in the entirety of TROS). Rey grew to trust Ben Solo. He is quite literally the other half of her soul. And instead of talking out their issues, Rey starts attacking Ben with her lightsaber during the Force bond scenes. TLJ left them in a place that needed conversation, not fighting, and this revert to intense animosity was a step backward.
And then there is the ending. She is alone on a desert planet– exactly where she began (so it was Tatooine instead of Jakku, but the fact remains). Rey grew so much during TLJ and I felt like TROS undid 90% of her development.
And now we shall talk about Ben Solo.
This man is my son. I care about Ben Solo in a way I had never cared about any character before TLJ. I don’t necessarily relate to him in a lot of ways, but there is something about him that just touches me to my very core. He became very important to me when I watched TLJ and his redemption was what I needed from this movie.
And I got it. He was redeemed. But he was not redeemed well.
Here’s the thing. Redemption is not a one-and-done process. It is a slow path that takes a lot of time. And a redemption arc, done well, should be satisfying. Ben Solo’s redemption arc in TROS is absolutely horrific and it is what I am the angriest about.
It took one scene for him to change his mind. It should have taken more than that. The scenes that led him to redemption should have been the Force bond scenes with Rey, where they should have talked through things. It was sweet to have a vision of Han change him and all, but Rey should have nurtured him back to the light the rest of the way, like she started in TLJ. We should have had more time with Ben Solo. Instead, we had maybe 20 minutes out of a two and a half hour movie.
And then, before his arc is finished, he is killed. Killed. I should have cried watching the movie, but I didn’t because of how mad I was. For one thing, he is my favorite character. For another, it was poor writing. There was so much more that needed to be done with his character. By killing him, any further opportunity for growth was crushed. We could have also had a lesson in forgiveness as he went with the Resistance and gained the trust/friendship of Finn, Poe, and the rest of the Resistance.
Also, he is literally half of Rey’s soul and you’re just going to kill him off like that? After finally giving Rey a sense of belonging. After giving Ben a sense of belonging. Killing him was wrong not only to the audience, but it was wrong to both of the characters. We are left unsatisfied and, for those of us who loved Ben Solo, somewhat of a gaping hole in our hearts. People get attached to fictional characters and it hurts to lose them. Especially when it feels wrong to kill them.
I would have been okay with it, from a storytelling standpoint, had Ben’s arc been complete. But it wasn’t, and therein lies my problem.
Also, there is a message sent in killing him. The message is this: even if you turn your life around after doing terrible things, it’s still better for you to die. And I don’t think that’s a message we want anyone to hear. I especially don’t want any abuse survivors to hear that, because those people could relate to Ben in ways the rest of us don’t. Ben Solo was an abuse survivor who wanted to change and killing him sent an extremely wrong, negative message.
Okay. Now I’m going to be somewhat positive and tell you what I liked (in bullet points because this is too long already).
- Adam Driver’s phenomenal acting, as usual
- Daisy Ridley’s phenomenal acting, as usual
- Adam and Daisy’s chemistry
- Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley. That’s all I liked.
In conclusion, I think I might try my hand at fanfiction so I can write what could have been.
All I can think is, imagine how amazing Episode IX would have been if Rian Johnson had done it.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this movie, but please be sure to be kind and courteous in any comments. I know this movie has become very controversial since its release. No matter your opinions, be respectful of others.
Thank you so much for reading all of this; I know it’s a lot. I needed to type out my feelings about this movie and I really appreciate you for listening.