Scientists agree that the leading cause of climate change is carbon dioxide emitted by people offering their opinions about Star Wars movies. I am sad to say that we are only making the problem worse today. The Rise of Skywalker is out today, a big weird mess of a movie that we aren’t sure what to do with.
Jason Schreier and Chris Kohler got together today to talk it through. Also, just like in Rise of Skywalker, there’s a random cameo appearance from another fan favorite Kotaku staffer that doesn’t advance the plot and is purely for fanservice.
Jason Schreier: Let me start with this: At least it wasn’t as bad as the last season of Game of Thrones.
Chris Kohler: Well, I was going to say, let’s get our priors out in the open first, and then we can come back to Game of Thrones. What do you think of Star Wars one through eight?
Jason: On the scale of Star Wars fandom, I’m probably somewhere in the middle—I’m enough of a fan to see them all on opening weekend, and I’ve generally liked all of them so far, even the prequels (which are bad but at least watchable), but I’m not as emotionally invested as I am in a lot of other series. I also loved The Last Jedi—sorry, haters!—in large part because it challenged the status quo and asked interesting questions, which is what I like to see in big epic narratives. What about you?
Chris: Basically the same. Wasn’t old enough to see the first three movies in the theater, but watched them on TV, cared enough to see all the Special Editions in theaters, saw all the prequels, although I hadn’t actually watched the prequels a second time in the intervening 20 years. We watched them this week and they were, you know, not great. I was happy to see The Force Awakens basically save the Star Wars series by being interesting and watchable, and The Last Jedi is brilliant. One of the great things about The Last Jedi is, as you say, that it takes all the assumptions about Star Wars and starts poking at them, giving us a new way to think about these long-established archetypes and plot points. Rise of Skywalker pretty much pretends that didn’t happen.
Jason: Yeah, and even more recently, Jedi: Fallen Order did the same exact thing in some really interesting ways. I won’t spoil the story at all, but the first good single-player Star Wars in ages also happens to ask some great questions about the nature of Jedi and whether interventionism does more harm than good.
So here we have two thoughtful Star Wars stories that really leave you wondering, and then Rise of Skywalker comes along to say “Fuck that, we’re going back to the status quo.” It was a bad movie for many reasons—the plot holes, the whiplash pacing, the way it completely failed characters like Rose and Finn—but the worst thing about it, in my opinion, is how it decided that actually, Jedi Are Perfect. Whereas The Last Jedi stood out in its declaration that living well in the present means respecting but not unabashedly revering the past, Rise of Skywalker tells moviegoers that the past is all that matters. From the evil mastermind being Palpatine (COME ON) to the climax requiring Rey to call upon the ghosts of Jedi past, the takeaway here is that Star Wars will never change.
Chris: Yeah, let’s talk about Palpatine. I’m not opposed to the idea of bringing him back here, considering his prominence in both previous trilogies. We’ve clearly been moving towards the redemption of Kylo Ren, but in order to do that he had to help defeat, you know, something. And insofar as Snoke was unceremoniously offed during Last Jedi with nobody else to replace him, that sort of put whoever was going to be in charge of Rise of Skywalker between a rock and a hard place.
With those constraints, why not undead Palpatine?
Jason: For starters, because Palpatine is the least interesting villain in the whole damn series! But even beyond that, bringing homeboy back to life completely undercuts Vader’s sacrifice and the whole gang’s accomplishments in the original trilogy. Explaining his return as “dark Sith stuff” is not satisfying at all. And... who the HELL did he have a child with??? What were the mechanics of that? Did he find a woman who consensually had a child with him? Why did nobody stop to even ask which one of Rey’s parents was Palpatine’s kid? There are so many questions here.
Gita Jackson: Hi, I haven’t seen this movie, but you cannot ever convince me that Palpatine has fucked. Thank you.
Chris: It’s canon now, like Elan Sleazebaggano.
Jason: If they wanted to do the Kylo redemption story with another villain, why not create someone new? There’s certainly no shortage of lore to draw from in the Star Wars universe. Bringing back Palpatine shows sheer lack of creativity... but hey, I guess that’s the running theme of this movie.
Chris: Well, because to create someone entirely new in the third film of a trilogy would be strange—where have they been, then? I’d have a harder time wrapping my head around a total new person showing up in the 11th hour, like Zeromus in Final Fantasy IV, than I did believing that Palpatine had a Horcrux stashed away that let him drag himself back for one last failure. That said, his presence here is clearly born out of the same desire to bring back literally everyone who was ever in a Star Wars movie. Putting Warwick Davis back into the Wicket costume for a two-second clip that came out of nowhere, for instance. The film felt less like an ending to this trilogy and more of a reunion special.
Jason: There’s no better way to undercut the emotional resonance of Ghost Han Solo than to do the same thing with Ghost Luke Skywalker roughly 30 seconds later. “Star Wars: The Reunion” is a good way to sum up this movie.
I keep thinking: as flawed as the prequels were, at least they were creative? For every wooden Hayden Christensen pout or awful line about midichlorians there were also big, exciting set pieces and interesting pieces of worldbuilding. Pod racing, clones, Order 66... there were things in those movies that we hadn’t seen before.
The Rise of Skywalker, though? In a few months I can’t imagine I’ll even remember a single scene. There were no memorable moments, no creative new planets or interesting additions to what we know about Star Wars. The coolest artistic decision was the Kylo-Rey psychic connection, and even that was an innovation from The Last Jedi. It was just rehash after rehash, culminating in a big wet thud. Did your theater also laugh when Kylo and Rey kissed and then Kylo disappeared? I can’t imagine a less emotionally moving scene.
Actually, I take that back - Babu Frik owned. That’s all, though!
Chris: I was kind of weirded out when they kissed because I did not feel in any way that that was where their relationship was going???? mods????
But no, I agree. I will remember Babu Frik. I also liked whatever that new droid was. The cone on a wheel that has emotions.
Jason: Yes, droid thing.
Jason: Even Babu Frik is a reminder of how cowardly the storytelling in Rise of Skywalker is, though. They set up these great emotional stakes for C-3PO, who has to sacrifice his entire memory to help save the universe, only to take it all back an hour later because R2-D2 can just magically restore him. What was the point?
“Stakes are for Peter Luger.” —Rise of Skywalker’s creative team, probably.
Chris: Yeah, it’s like they didn’t know if they wanted to make us laugh or cry or what with C-3PO’s story—first it’s maudlin, then he jokes about having another solution right before Babu friks his memory, and then it’s cheap amnesia jokes, and then R2-D2 restores from an old backup. If it had all just been comic relief that would have made more sense.
But yeah, I felt like Rey would have been, you know, happy to have redeemed this lost soul, but not “let’s make out” happy.
Jason: I actually bought the kiss because they have great chemistry, but yeah, it was weird. I almost feel like the writers decided she’d be Palpatine’s granddaughter rather than Luke’s or Leia’s just so they could do that? Weird either way.
Chris: She really didn’t need to be anybody, which was the point of The Last Jedi.
Jason: Yeah, what an absurd retcon! Here’s The Last Jedi trying to portray this strong message about how greatness can come from anyone, not just dynasties, and Rise of Skywalker shits all over it. I half-expected Ghost Luke to end his little monologue with “By the way, fuck the last movie.”
Chris: Or how perhaps the Jedi-Sith duality, the idea that if a person is not perfectly good they have to become all evil to compensate, the idea that if you use the Force you either join a celibate clan of robed wizards or you join Evil Company, might be a bad idea?
But no, Skywalker slams the brakes on that and we’re back to “the Jedi finally destroy the Sith once and for all” as the conclusion. And, again, that is not per se an unsatisfying conclusion, but it is strange to append that to The Last Jedi which sought a more nuanced and human denouement to the whole thing. I think it respected Star Wars enough to ask questions about it, whereas Rise of Skywalker idolizes Star Wars too much to truly deal with it with anything other than kid gloves.
The final middle finger to The Last Jedi was not only pushing Rose Tico to the sidelines, but making sure to lampshade it with explicit dialogue. “Rose, are you coming on this adventure?” “No, I have to stay here and wash the landspeeders. General’s orders.”
Like, okay, I get it, you want to take the film in a different direction, but it’s so weird that it’s done so obviously to the point that it’s explicitly written into the dialogue. It’s jarring.
Jason: It’s especially discomfiting knowing what Kelly Marie Tran had to deal with online, facing so many threats and nasty messages from fans when The Last Jedi launched that she had to delete her social media presence. I really want to read the behind-the-scenes piece about this movie’s development, because it’s inexplicable to me that the creators decided to bury Rose like that yet introduce a brand new partner for Finn in the movie’s final hour. I read some old Rise of Skywalker leaks that included a scene in which Lando says his daughter was kidnapped by the First Order—I guess that was supposed to be Jannah? But by cutting that scene and leaving in the final interaction between the two of them, they just made things confusing.
Chris: Oh! Huh. Yes, that last scene sure did make absolutely zero sense.
Jason: Side note: I could rant for an hour about how they wasted John Boyega in this trilogy! Finn was ultimately such a disappointing character, which is too bad, because Boyega is great and did his best.
Chris: So, all these odd choices aside, I feel like the film taken as a whole just felt so... I think the word is rushed. They went to so many places, introduced so many characters, and gave nothing any room to breathe.
Jason: Yeah, like why was Charlie from Lost in there???
Chris: I feel like they either should have done a brand new story with the new characters, or they should have tried to wrap up the pieces already on the board, but they tried to do both and even at two and a half hours there simply wasn’t enough time to do all of that without going at a weird breakneck pace.
Jason: It was, without a doubt, a mess. I’ll need to give it some more time before I can say this for sure, but right now it feels to me like the worst film in the entire trilogy of trilogies. Even Attack of the Clones (my previous least favorite) had some special moments—I’ll never, ever forget how the crowd flipped out when Yoda came out of the shadows with a lightsaber to take on Count Dooku. Sure, that was pandering, but at least it was unlike anything we’d seen before. Rise of Skywalker felt like it was created in a lab by AI bots picking out random old Star Wars characters and plot points and then stringing them all together with no sense of theme, pace, or structure.
Chris: And feeling like they needed to give Chewbacca a medal, which again feels like a plot point you’d see in a Christmas special or a parody.
What did you think about Leia? I felt like the use of cut footage was smart, but they way overdid it in an attempt to show how clever they could be by writing new dialogue around random interjections by Carrie Fisher. They could have had maybe half the Leia scenes and it might have worked a lot better—why not just leave Leia out of it after the trio take off in the Falcon?—but they had to keep cutting back to her so she could ham it up with Greg Grunberg, unnecessarily for the plot.
Jason: I think that if you’re making a movie and the actor behind one of your principal characters dies, you have to know that your audience will be thinking about that the entire time they’re watching. As a result, any scene involving that character will immediately distract the audience from the plot as they start wondering how it was done and whether it’s all CGI (a la Rogue One’s weird Grand Moff Tarkin stuff) or what. There’s also going to be no real weight to that character’s death, since we all know it has to happen sooner or later. In other words, they should have killed her off-screen in a sentimental way and been done with it.
Chris: I’m not sure what I expected out of Rise of Skywalker, but it wasn’t this. In the end, I guess this was how Star Wars had to end, with something that fans can fight over until the heat death of the universe. And I did promise to get back to Game of Thrones, and I’m going to give the advantage here to... season 8 of Game of Thrones. That moved way too quickly, too, but it at least felt like an ending to the show we’d been watching. Rise of Skywalker tried to be an ending to not just the previous two films, but of the previous eight, which in the end was too much of a job, and probably not necessary.
Jason: The last season of Game of Thrones left me way angrier, but that’s probably because I’m more emotionally attached to that series (started reading the books in, like, 2000) than I ever have been to Star Wars. (In fact, I think I took a day off while working for you at Wired when Dance with Dragons came out so I could devour it immediately.)
Overall, though, it was a bad year for franchise endings. Avengers: Endgame wasn’t perfect but I liked it a lot, so credit to those folks for sticking the landing in a way that felt mostly satisfying. And, hey, Watchmen’s ending was pretty great.
Here’s hoping that, unshackled from the Skywalker saga, a bunch of cool creative people can do some cool creative things with Star Wars that make us forget this all happened. And here’s hoping we never see a Skywalker movie again.
Chris: Don’t worry, Jason, the Ice and Fire books will do a better job of it. Look forward to the final volume debuting the same year as Star Wars Episode X starring Rey Skywalker.