Essays · Movies

The Lost Jedi

‘The Rise of Skywalker’ is showing across the galaxy, but exactly how does it treat the controversial previous episode?
By  · Published on December 31st, 2019

The STAR WARS saga is over. Following THE FORCE AWAKENS and THE LAST JEDI, director J.J. Abrams and writer Chris Terrio have delivered the final chapter of the saga and brought closure to the billion-dollar franchise that began 42 years ago.

However, all is not well. Following from press tour comments, audiences have become divided over what many see as retcons of elements from Rian Johnson’s film after the reaction to that film from a small band of “fans”, especially concerning the parentage of the character Rey.

As moviegoers continue to flock to say goodbye to Luke Skywalker and co., fans and critics alike have begun to deconstruct this final episode to debate on whether or not it has acquiesced to the wishes of a small minority of the internet…

To much rejoicing or endless whining, The Rise of Skywalker is here, and it’s already more divisive than The Last Jedi, which is ironic considering how much it tries to apologize for that film. Perhaps the divisiveness is due to viewers that aren’t happy with the treatment of Rian Johnson‘s picture, which we’ve been constantly told since 2017 that everybody hates it and it’s the worst Star Wars movie ever. But exactly how and why does The Rise of Skywalker shout a great big “Maclunkey!” at Episode VIII?

It’s important to establish how this trilogy has been created in terms of story structure and cohesion. Much has been made of this in the discourse, where the lack of an overall arc for the three films led to much of the criticism about The Last Jedi, arguing that Johnson took what J.J. Abrams had done in The Force Awakens and torn it all up. It’s worth noting that George Lucas and friends did the same for the original trilogy, where Darth Vader wasn’t Luke’s dad until a couple of drafts into The Empire Strikes Back, and Leia wasn’t a Skywalker until the writing of Return of the Jedi, but it’s easy to see that perhaps having a singular voice (even if that’s made up of several people) overseeing the three films might have helped, and probably wouldn’t have hindered.

Because of that lack of oversight, what this means is that Abrams has basically picked up on the threads he created for The Force Awakens, while presumably listening to cast members who grumbled about their arcs in the previous films. One such change in The Rise of Skywalker is for Finn, played by John Boyega. Much has been made of comments he has made about not being happy at being split up in The Last Jedi for the Canto Bight subplot, so here he and Poe and Rey are back together for their space shenanigans. Except, Finn has transitioned back to the person he was in The Force Awakens, obsessed with Rey and following her everywhere. Finn’s arc did in The Last Jedi made him an independent fully-fledged member of the Resistance and finally gave him his own motivation for why he was fighting against the First Order, along with a hint at a relationship with Rose. In The Rise of Skywalker, Finn abandons her so he can get to know Jannah, who happens to also be a previous stormtrooper, as well as pine for Rey again.

As for Rose… well, she’s in the film for maybe five minutes. This is where the choices of the film seem to suddenly veer into something more insidious, given the abhorrent treatment Kelly Marie Tran received from “fans” over Rose’s character, much of it based on racism, which eventually saw Tran leaving social media based on the abuse. Rose was unique in Star Wars as she was a character that mirrored us – She wasn’t a crack pilot or a handy warrior, she was a mechanic, a lowly grease monkey who showed in The Last Jedi that the ability to save the universe wasn’t limited to people with lightsabers, and the fact that her appearance was so limited could easily be seen as submitting to that vocal minority, whatever Abrams and Lucasfilm’s intention.

Of course, the democratization of heroism was a central theme of Johnson’s film, especially where Rey was concerned. After The Force Awakens had suggested that there may be a super-mystery about the identity of Rey’s parents, The Last Jedi explored that further before concluding that they were nobodies, which was a refreshing viewpoint in a series dominated by bloodlines. That an orphan scavenger from a faraway desolate world could rise to be a powerful Jedi without needing to have someone equally powerful as a parent was inspiring and felt like a throwback to the original Star Wars: A New Hope, where despite having a Jedi for a father, it still felt like Luke was being driven by his own agency rather than his heritage.

This is ripped apart by Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio deciding that not only should she have a family strong in the Force, but it should be the seemingly most powerful Sith ever, Emperor Palpatine. So now this turns again into Vader 2.0, right down to a repeat of “strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey to the dark side will be complete”, which not only makes Return of the Jedi meaningless but also turns Rey nobody into Rey granddaughter of the most powerful guy ever, less missing the point of The Last Jedi but more annihilating it in favor of a repeat of the bit in Revenge of the Sith when Mace Windu reflects lightning into Palpatine’s face, only more extreme. So we can forget about wanting to be anyone of note, we’ll just sit in our cubicle watching the world go by while someone with a famous parent takes over the world. If you want a real-world example of this, just google a chap named Fred Trump.

A further consequence of this is Rey deciding that, instead of keeping the Palpatine name, she decides to be Rey Skywalker. This is revealed in a hilariously contrived scene where an old woman pops up to ask her name just after she moves into the old Lars homestead to live alone as an old hermit (I thought only Jedi going into exile did that). There’s your rise of Skywalker. It’s not about kindness, it’s not about ability, it’s about your name. Presumably, no one ever told Madonna this.

There are a couple of other weird moments that seem to exist purely to piss off fans of The Last Jedi. There’s a moment when all the Resistance crews are gathered together talking about ideas to knock out the new Sith Fleet, and Dominic Monaghan‘s character pipes up saying they should carry out some “Holdo maneuvers,” only to be ridiculed by Poe. You’ll remember the scene in The Last Jedi where Laura Dern‘s character Admiral Holdo takes out Snoke’s giant star destroyer by going to lightspeed, an event that took flak from some quarters, not least because Holdo was a woman. Snoke himself was always a contentious figure, with fans again upset because we didn’t learn about him before he was sliced in two by Kylo Ren. Well, don’t worry because it’s immediately explained in The Rise of Skywalker that he was created by Palpatine.

There’s one more moment that again feels like a direct response to The Last Jedi, and it was something that some people really hated. Remember when Rey gave the lightsaber to Luke on Ahch-To, and he threw it away? This caused outrage on message boards, with people saying it disrespected Luke’s character and was something he would never do. Well in The Rise of Skywalker, Rey returns to Ahch-To wanting to exile herself and attempts to throw the lightsaber into a fire only to be stopped by the Jedi spirit of Luke. His resulting line: “A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect.”

The overall result of Abrams’ attitude to The Last Jedi results in a film that feels like it wants to tip the balance in an attempt to win back the “fans” who hated Johnson’s film. The problem is that it not only creates a precedent for the potential of all kinds of groups rioting if they don’t like something in the franchise, but it spoils the trilogy and feels like the wrong people are being rewarded, especially where the absence of Kelly Marie Tran comes into play. And where Rey is concerned, it feels like a big contrivance designed to tie the film into the saga as a whole, especially given the final sequence, which is presented as an echo of the most famous scene in the saga but feels empty and somewhat nonsensical. Thus, instead of having a coherent ending with actual meaning, it just feels like a sequel to The Force Awakens, with a seeming last-minute decision to bring back the villain of the first six episodes in an attempt to connect it all, therefore ignoring the real villain, Kylo Ren.

Maybe it’s a good thing it’s all over.

Related Topics: , , , , , ,

Charlie Brigden is the author of many fine soundtrack liner notes and Blu-ray booklet essays and some call him a film music expert. He also recorded a commentary for Howard the Duck. You can find him on Twitter here: @brigdenwriter. (He/Him)