The Star Wars sequel trilogy has been divisive from the very beginning. First, critics accused J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens of being too similar to A New Hope. Then The Last Jedi aggravated the already-divided fan base by purportedly straying too far from the Star Wars formula.
Now Abrams has returned for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and — surprise, surprise — its efforts to split the difference are incurring fans’ wrath all over again. In fact, many critics pinpoint Abrams’ refusal to accept The Last Jedi‘s creative decisions as perhaps The Rise of Skywalker‘s greatest flaw. But is that fair to the latest Star Wars film?
[Spoiler alert: This article contains MAJOR spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Read at your own risk.]
Does the film honor ‘The Last Jedi’?
The Last Jedi‘s ending indicates Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) sacrifice has inspired others to believe in the Force. Yet, The Rise of Skywalker — in the eyes of many — reverts back to the lineage element of it all. Rather than being a Force-powered “nobody,” Rey (Daisy Ridley) learns she is a Palpatine.
But the film’s co-writer, Chris Terrio, told The Hollywood Reporter he doesn’t believe The Rise of Skywalker negates its predecessor.
Of course, the galaxy is full of Force users, and you don’t have to be a Skywalker or a Palpatine in order to be strong with the Force. But Luke does say very explicitly in Return of the Jedi, “The Force is strong in my family,” and we know that there is an inherited element to Force power. … What we discover in this movie, and hopefully in retrospect, is that [Rey’s] essentially a princess who’s being raised as an orphan. The idea that this royalty of the Dark Side would be found as a scavenger in the middle of nowhere, literally living off the ruins of the old war that was created by her ancestors, felt really strong to us. … In the end, the film asserts that there are things stronger than blood because she chooses a different family for herself.
Terrio’s comments do play into the importance of family lines within the Star Wars saga. It’s why “destiny” has always been such a common theme. Even the prequel trilogy’s concept of midichlorians indicates a genetic aspect of being Force-sensitive. Others might still develop Force abilities, but Skywalkers and Palpatines, for instance, could more innately possess that capability.
How ‘Star Wars’ all hinges on Finn
The Rise of Skywalker does hinge on the epic connection between the Skywalker and Palpatine families. After all, we learn Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are a dyad in the Force. Terrio and Abrams also include a subplot illustrating the ramifications of The Last Jedi‘s final shot, Terrio told THR.
Hopefully, the film also suggests that Finn is discovering that he is a Force user and is Force strong. Finn feels the death of Rey, and in a crucial moment during the battle, Finn senses the command ship where the navigation signal was coming from. So, we wanted to begin to plant the idea that Finn is Force strong and that there are other people in the galaxy who are Force strong.
While the seeds of Finn’s (John Boyega) Force discovery are there, the finished film also handles his story pretty sloppily. The Rise of Skywalker never allows the character the chance to tell Rey about his Force sensitivity. Instead, it pins the emotions of this revelation on Jannah (Naomi Ackie), a character we’ve just met. Perhaps other Star Wars projects will build on what this film barely introduces.
How Luke Skywalker’s arc continues
Another major point of contention among Star Wars fans has been how The Last Jedi handled Luke’s story. Far removed from the original trilogy’s optimistic hero, the embittered Luke exiles himself rather than fighting for the Resistance.
But Terrio maintains a key moment in The Rise of Skywalker — in which Luke playfully scolds Rey from mistreating his lightsaber — isn’t meant as a rebuke of The Last Jedi. Rather, it honors how Luke’s character changes by the end of that film.
When Luke says, “A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect” in Episode IX, that’s Luke speaking. That’s his own character. He’s making fun of himself. He’s saying to Rey, “Please don’t make the same mistake that I did.” … I think it would be a bad misreading to think that that was somehow me and J.J. [Abrams] having an argument with [The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson]. It was more like we were in dialogue with Rian by using what Luke did at the beginning of The Last Jedi to now say that history will not repeat itself and all these characters have grown.
Given the sensitivity surrounding The Last Jedi, it’s understandable how some fans and critics might misread it. Yet, Terrio’s logic holds up regarding Luke’s mentorship of Rey during, arguably, her lowest point. He appears to her as a guiding spirit, so that she may finally end the cycle. As for The Rise of Skywalker‘s cheesy X-wing-lifting callback, that’s another discussion altogether.