I saw Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. Like everyone else on the Internet, I have opinions that no one asked for, so here they are.
I started writing a whole essay about this, then realized that I was going to say pretty much the same thing I said about The Last Jedi.
Rise of Skywalker was dumb. It was dumb for lots of reasons, but what really annoyed me about it was all the ways that JJ Abrams just doesn't give a fuck about continuity, previous history, or universe-breaking changes in Force powers and technology.
For me, one of the worst parts of The Last Jedi was the "Holdo maneuver."
I know this is a very Comic Book Guy complaint, but I'm still That Guy who cares about details that break a story, and this broke Star Wars. Sorry, but it did. I know there are No Prize explanations all over the Internet about why no one ever used the "Holdo maneuver" before — like, against the frakking Death Star(s) — but none of them really hold water. If you can wipe out a fleet by hyperspacing a ship through it, that's gonna be a weapon that gets used. If there are defenses against it, then they would have been used. You can't give me a single reason Why Not that I can't knock down easily. If you want to set up a very specific situation in which it can be used and the defenses aren't in play, then you need to set up that situation. Not just give us some spectacular Kubrickian visuals to make us switch off our brains.
But I know, most movie-goers don't care about that shit. As a writer, I do.
This is why Literary SFF > Cinematic SFF. When a single writer, or a writing team, is responsible for an entire series, they will usually stick to the rules they've created, and if they break one, it will be noticed. J.K. Rowling's worldbuilding was far from perfect, but there are more examples of "rule-breaking" in any one of the last three Star Wars films than you'll find in the entire Harry Potter series.
So, Rise of Skywalker. Just off the top of my head:
Voldemort had a more convincing comeback than me.
Emperor Palpatine is back. We last saw the Emperor flaming out in a storm of Force lightning after being thrown down a shaft in the Death Star, which soon thereafter blew up. He's supposed to be dead, but here he is decades later. Apparently when not jacking off on some lost planet, he's been building the most immense space fleet the galaxy has ever seen, because this is Star Wars and economics don't exist. Death Stars never made sense, so neither does magicking a space fleet into existence, so whatever. I guess you can come up with all kinds of explanations for how Palpatine survived and no other Force master (like Luke) had a clue all this time, but each one requires a whole lot of story patches. Most importantly, though, it invalidates Vader's entire redemption arc, which is a huge fuck you to the entire epic.
My family line has many midichlorians.
Rey is Palpatine's granddaughter. Like, what?
When Rey was first introduced, I was convinced she would turn out to be Luke's daughter. That was the most obvious explanation. Then she's told in The Last Jedi that she's a nobody with nobodies for parents. That actually would have been kind of cool.
David Brin, one of my favorite SF authors, has long had a beef with Star Wars's mythology, and one of his most infamous essays is "Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists. In short, he argues that Star Wars perpetuates the idea of a superior class of elites who are born to power and rule by, essentially, divine right. I am not saying everything Brin says about Star Wars is right — you can pick holes in his arguments, and Star Wars fans have entire forums dedicated to tearing apart Brin's arguments. But I think he's essentially right here, and making Rey out of the blue turn out to be Palpatine's granddaughter seems like a random twist introduced for no other reason than to say "Yeah, of course the Force runs in families, Jedis and Sith are hereditary."
I am not terribly troubled by the implications of a universe where
But, back to Rey Palpatine, the really annoying part about this reveal is that it came from nowhere. Who were Palpatine's kids? Who was Rey's grandmother? Who cares? Not the writers, apparently. Rey is Palpatine's granddaughter just to make her temptation to the Dark Side more compelling. If I were to credit JJ Abrams with literary allusions (which I don't), I would note all the ways in which Rey is a sort of Christ figure in this film. Except here, Satan is her grandfather. That's also kind of cool (again, if I believed Abrams did it deliberately), but there was no set up for it, nothing to make me believe that the writers didn't just pull it out of their asses while working on the third film.
What a coincidence that I am standing in exactly the right spot and facing exactly the right direction.... ah, fuck it, it's the Force.
Most of the story just careens from one MacGuffin to another. The Force Awakens was much like this as well, but it was painfully noticeable in Rise of Skywalker. Kylo Ren and the Resistance are both looking for "Sith Wayfinders." Why? Because the Emperor planted them with little clues to find him. Why? Reasons. C3PO can read the Sith inscriptions, but can't tell anyone what they say without going to some other planet to get his memory wiped. Why? Reasons, and also because it lets him have spooky red glowing eyes for one scene, and gives us some touching moments. Okay, I'll forgive that one. But really, this felt like a video game. Find the MacGuffin at the next station of your quest which will lead you to the next MacGuffin, which will eventually lead you to Emperor Palpatine and the big space battle.
None of it was organic. It just felt like the writers had a linear set sequence of scenes and wrote a MacGuffin to connect each dot. From my own writing experience, I know the difficulty of needing to figure out a way to get a character from point A to point B without looking like the writer is just jerking her along. In Rise of Skywalker, the strings were very visible.
Whenever you need a cool moment or a solution to a plot hole, just make up a new Force power. This is a petty complaint, since I don't expect that much consistency with Star Wars magic, but it was still annoying how often we see new Force abilities that.... would have been game changers in a lot of scenes in previous movies. So now Force masters can actually teleport physical objects to each other across interplanetary distances. And Force healing is a thing. It's not that I think these new powers are OP, like the Holdo Maneuver, but like Leia levitating through vacuum and Kylo and Rey Force-Skyping each other, when you introduce new abilities, the more detail-oriented members of your audience are going to wonder why no one ever used those abilities in previous movies. Magic is tricky like this, and it's another example of how Rowling, having worked out a mostly consistent set of rules beforehand, avoided breaking her own world too much by having Harry suddenly pull new powers out of his ass in the last book. The Star Wars writers had a more difficult task, but given their budget and the time they had to do it, there really isn't an excuse for not showing more respect to the canon.
Reylo shippers, you crazy.
I suppose I am obligated to talk about Space Snape and Lily.
What Alan Rickman did for Snape, Adam Driver did for Kylo Ren, making a broody incel war criminal sexy. Like Snape, Kylo Ren is redeemed by dying in the end. David Brin had some comments on this too, with regards to Darth Vader, and it's the same message here.
I do like a good redemption arc, and I think Darth Vader's worked (before this movie shat on it), but mostly because we got to see the long process by which he succumbed to the Dark Side. Although I am not a Christian, I do believe that any human being, no matter how much of a monster, is capable of regretting their choices and thus becoming a better person. But even Christians say that divine forgiveness doesn't mean you get to escape earthly justice. Star Wars has been pretty muddled about how we're supposed to see the redeemed bad guys — Darth Vader becomes a fatherly Force ghost, and Kylo Ren gets a kiss before dying. Awwwww. Never mind that both of them literally committed planetary genocide.
Rey's entire character arc just fell flat to me. Is she a Mary Sue? There is some justification for that. Luke took months of training under Yoda before he could levitate an X-wing, but we see Rey, with less training, dragging a spaceship under full acceleration backwards. I don't think the fans complaining that she ramps up far too quickly with less training are entirely wrong, but that doesn't really bother me that much. So she's a prodigy. So was Harry. So are most leading protagonists. The real problem with Rey is that she's bounced from nobody to granddaughter of the Emperor, she had romantic tension with Finn and then with Kylo Ren, and she's still the same flat character she always was. In fairness, Luke was a pretty flat character too, and really, Star Wars has never been about characterization. It's about telling a grand epic on a grand scale. It's about the special effects. Rise of Skywalker certainly does that. The space battles are unequaled, the lightsaber duels are awesome. It's a very pretty film. But not a damn thing in it makes sense.
Fuck you, Rian Johnson.
There are "fuck yous" to Rian Johnson — "A Jedi's weapon deserves more respect," and half the galaxy showing up in a matter of hours to fight a final battle against the Final Order, in direct response to nobody answering the call in the last movie — but there is no explanation given for these turnabouts. Then there are the moments that look like crackfic, like a freaking cavalry charge across a Star Destroyer.
If you're going to make your final battle look like a crack dream, do it right.
So, Rise of Skywalker was pretty, epic, and epically dumb. It showed no respect for continuity or storytelling, it was science fiction for people who don't care about science fiction, and for all the Easter Eggs shouting out to previous movies, it was barely Star Wars. The entire last trilogy burned through all the capital that a generation of Stars Wars has built up, and now it has burnt out. There's no reason to see any more Star Wars films unless you just have to see Star Wars.
I'll still probably watch the next one on Netflix.