Yesterday was May the Fourth, and today we celebrate the Revenge of the Fifth. So it seems like a good time for me to share my definitive conclusion about the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. Also, Tim Hepburn (my drummer) just asked me what I thought about it, and I figured he’d want it in writing.
I saw the movie four, maybe five times in the theater. I purchased the Visual Dictionary which was supposed to answer some of the many unanswered questions that lingered after the final questions. I paid attention to interviews with the creative team behind the movie to see if I might glean more information about the story they were trying to tell. I just finished the novelization of the movie yesterday.
I feel like I’ve seen and read everything there is to learn about Rise of Skywalker and have come to this conclusion: The Rise of Skywalker is the worst Star Wars movie ever made.
It was actually hard for me to come to that conclusion. I’m a huge Star Wars nerd and, by default, I usually love everything that comes after that trumpet fanfare and opening logo. I’m also a generally optimistic person and look for the good in everything. So I kept thinking it would get better if I watched it a few more times, or thought about it more, or read the book.
But the more I read and the more I watched, the worse it got. Perhaps there is more information out there, but at this point, it would not make it any better. I have no doubt it is the worst Star Wars movie that has ever been made.
However, I don’t think that it is the worst movie with the name of Star Wars attached to it that was ever made. That distinction goes to Attack of the Clones. From a cinematic perspective, Rise is a better film: it looks better, has great pace, and the actors give some great performances. However, Attack of the Clones, with all its faults, at least advances the storyline. Obi-Wan finds the clone army. Anakin and Padme fall in love and get married. The Clone Wars begin.
The only storyline that Rise attempts to advance is nonsensical gibberish that hits the nostalgia button any time your brain attempts rational thought. It is a type of pornography in that it only provides the briefest plot necessary to get to the action scene.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the novelization. I’ve read the novels for all the new trilogy, and I really enjoyed The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi books. They added depth to the characters and the story. But Rise read like a desperate attempt to explain away plot holes so big you could fly the Death Star through them, and by doing so revealed just how poorly written the movie actually was.
Let’s take one example, perhaps it’s most egregious. In The Force Awakens we encounter Ray, a woman has incredible power in the force but doesn’t know who her parents are. In The Last Jedi we learn that her parents were “nobodies”, and you don’t have to have a “bloodline” to be active in the force (which is what the “dark side” kept saying you needed). Personally, I thought that message was one of the best things about the movie.
The Rise of Skywalker awkwardly backtracks on that narrative and instead, Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine! There were a lot of questions about this, the most obvious being, “who would sleep with this guy?” We were told to wait for the novel, it will explain everything!
Here is what happened, according to the book. The body of Palpatine you see in the movie is actually a clone that he sent his mind to as he was falling down the shaft in Return of the Jedi. But the clone wasn’t ready (darn!). So his followers kept trying to create a clone strand off the faulty Palpatine clone that might survive. One strand was promising, and this was his “son”. However, his “son” couldn’t use the force. At some point, his son had a child (with a non-clone?), Rey. But they didn’t want the Emperor to have her, so they left her on Jakku so the Emperor wouldn’t get her because, obviously, she would be a great human body for the Emperor to take over when she got older.
Of course, none of this was in the movie… or even makes sense. How does the human child of a force-impotent father become so strong in the force? How did her parents meet and have a child in the first place? Why did they not want the Emperor to have her (she would be the Empress, after all)? How did they escape from the Emperor’s grasp in the first place? Remember, this “son” was the only hope for the Sith existence, so you’d like to think they were, I don’t know, paying attention to him?
It feels like for every question that Rise brings up the writing team provides an even more complicated answer, hoping you’ll get tired and give up asking. There is so much about the movie you have to read a book (or books) to understand… and then you still don’t.
For example, what was Finn trying to tell Rey before he thought he was going to die? Not that he loved her, of course. That he was “force-senstive”! It is in the book! Silly audience, why would you think Finn loved Rey just because it was alluded to in the previous two movies?
Oh, and that kiss between Rey and Ben at the end of Rise? Did you think that was romantic? Foolish viewer. According to the book, and this is a direct quote, “And then, wonder of wonders, she leaned forward and kissed him. A kiss of gratitude, acknowledgement of their connection, celebration that they’d found each other at last.”
A kiss of gratitude! Of course! So, is that what the two women were giving each other in the final celebration? (Actually, no. The book also informs you they were married but didn’t like public shows of affection, which is why you didn’t know it until just then.)
There are just so many problems with the movie. How did the Emperor build ten thousand Star Destroyers, with an estimated compliment of about 50,000 people in them each (so that would be half a billion people just to run them, let alone build them) in a part of the Universe that was inaccessible (don’t get me started on the red “maze” they had to fly through… this is space, right? You can’t fly around it?). Since when was C-3PO’s memory backed up by R2D2… and why would that be a thing? Does some other droid back up R2’s memory? And what happened for those many years when R2 shut down because Luke went into hiding?
The first movie of the trilogy, The Force Awakens, left a lot of unanswered questions. I was okay with that… it was the first movie of the trilogy. The last movie is supposed to answer questions, not raise new ones. It is supposed to resolve lingering storylines, not rehash previous plot points that had already been told, like the Emperor on a throne trying to get a young Jedi to turn while a battle rages in the distance. It was done better 35 years ago—a fitting epitaph for almost everything Star Wars (except the Mandalorian?).
I thought Force Awakens was a bit too much like A New Hope, but at the time I was happy to see an enjoyable Star Wars movie and really liked the potential of the new characters. I thought The Last Jedi did some really intriguing things and had some incredible moments, so I was excited to see what happened next. Rise was poorly written nonsense that seemed to try to cater to those who didn’t like The Last Jedi and in doing so pleased nobody.
I have friends who hated The Last Jedi and enjoyed Rise. I think it would be hard to find someone who likes both since the storylines, and even philosophy, are at odds with each other. Perhaps a reader might say, “The Last Jedi was the worst Star Wars movie, and Rise tried to redeem it!” Well, did it? No.
The movie isn’t without its good moments—I was happy to see Ren become Ben Solo (one thing everyone can agree on: Adam Driver’s performance was the best thing about the sequel trilogy). I suppose if you want to eat popcorn and watch a sci-fi movie that reminds you of Star Wars, you might enjoy it.
But even a part of your brain starts asking… does this make sense? Perhaps you assume that it would make more sense if you were a more avid fan.
Let me tell you, as an avid fan, it doesn’t. In fact, it makes things worse. That is why, for me, The Rise of Skywalker is the worst Star Wars movie ever made.
Happy belated Star Wars day, everyone.