Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars sequel trilogy.
One of the most disappointing things about the Star Wars sequel trilogy was that it didn’t actually advance the overall story of the saga in a meaningful way. Think about where it began and ended: a Dark Side, authoritarian power had been defeated in battle, but the war was still to be won. Palpatine had been killed. The galactic government had been destroyed and democracy would have to be restored. One young Jedi survived and hoped to rebuild the Jedi Order. Questions that we had all the way back in the ’80s about what would come next after Return of the Jedi weren’t answered; they were given a new lick of paint and asked again.
All of which is to say that there’s a lot of potential in a story set after the sequel trilogy and the “final” defeat of Palpatine. Seeing what will come next for the Star Wars galaxy as it takes steps toward a restoration of democracy and a recreation of the Jedi Order – in some form, at least – is something I’ve been genuinely interested in seeing since I first watched Return of the Jedi all those years ago.
I confess that I’m surprised to see Disney and Lucasfilm creating a “sequel sequel” so soon after The Rise of Skywalker. The trilogy proved divisive overall, and regardless of which part fans consider to be the worst, the general consensus is that these films weren’t as strong or enjoyable as they could and should have been. Returning to the sequels’ principal character is, therefore, a bold move.
I felt that there was a ton of potential in Rey as a character. The idea of a Force diad – light rising to meet the darkness – was an interesting one that the sequels, sadly, didn’t do justice to. However, as a young, inspirational character that others could look to for leadership, Rey had a lot going for her. Far from being just a “female Luke Skywalker,” as some dismissively suggested, there were nuances in Rey’s characterisation that took her to different thematic places – at least in the first two parts of the sequel trilogy.
Although we’ve caught a glimpse of Luke Skywalker and his attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order, those sequences in both the sequel films and the Disney+ spin-off shows are impacted by the knowledge of the tragedy that will ultimately befall Luke and his new generation of Jedi. He tried his best, but ultimately all Luke could do was pass the torch to Rey – and the task of creating a new and improved Light Side order now falls to her.
That idea holds genuine appeal, as does seeing the galaxy recovering from decades of oppression and civil war. There’s the possibility of telling an inspiring and uplifting story all about finding hope in dark times, and rebuilding from a fascistic dystopia. These are things that have real-world parallels that could prove incredibly timely!
Is Rey the right character to take the lead in such a story, though? After a disappointingly regressive and arguably quite bland arc across the sequel trilogy, Rey ended in a pretty uninteresting place. As the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, Rey’s story seems to continue Star Wars’ disappointing trend of seeing the Force as a kind of metaphor for aristocracy; that those who are entrusted with power must derive that power from their bloodline, instead of discovering it on their own.
There’s also the question of whether the Jedi Order deserves to be reconstructed. In The Last Jedi, Luke was acutely aware of the failures of the old Jedi Order – and that’s also one of the key themes of the prequel trilogy: that the Order had grown complacent and arrogant to such an extent that its members couldn’t fathom the idea of somebody like Palpatine operating right under their noses. This is Star Wars, though, and the Jedi are an unshakable part of the franchise, so surely the name won’t be dropped!
The Rise of Skywalker ended in such a way as to tee up future stories, just as Return of the Jedi had done four decades earlier. The question on my mind, though, is this: is it too soon? It took more than thirty years for Return of the Jedi to get a sequel, and with the disappointment of the sequels still fresh in the minds of many fans, I’m struggling to see how this new film could hope to find success.
At best, a new story featuring Rey will prove to be divisive, continuing the divisions in the Star Wars fan community that have persisted for the past few years at least. Doubling-down on a character that many fans were unimpressed with at best is admirable in some ways… but it doesn’t strike me as being a particularly smart business or storytelling decision. The simple fact is that Rey’s presence in the story is a challenge; a hurdle that the new film will have to overcome.
Again, this is something that the passage of time would almost certainly damp down. Look at the reputation the prequel trilogy has today: it’s held in high regard by many fans, especially younger ones, and while there are still grumpy old holdouts like myself who remain unimpressed… the prequels on the whole have gone through somewhat of a renaissance. As fans who watched and loved those films as kids have grown up and continued to participate in the Star Wars fan community, the prequels have been – to an extent – rehabilitated.
The same is true of Return of the Jedi. Though never as controversial as the prequels, when I first encountered Star Wars in the early ’90s, Return of the Jedi was considered its weakest part by far. And it’s easy to see why: “from a certain point of view” is patent nonsense, Luke and Leia being retconned to be brother and sister was just silly, and the Ewoks were an army of teddy bears who defeated the Empire and ruined Palpatine’s carefully-laid plan! Yet you just don’t hear those criticisms any more outside of a small subset of Star Wars fans; Return of the Jedi has been rehabilitated by the passage of time.
In time, many of the most divisive and heavily-criticised aspects of the sequel trilogy will be absorbed into Star Wars’ broader canon. We’ve already seen moves in shows like The Mandalorian and films like Rogue One to flesh out story points and new additions like cloning or hyperspace tracking, and as Star Wars continues to expand – both on the screen and beyond, with books, comics, games, and so on – Rey’s status as the grandchild of Palpatine and other controversial (and silly) elements of the sequels will likewise become more broadly accepted.
But this process takes time.
With the sequel trilogy still fresh in the minds of most fans, and with the general consensus being that either The Last Jedi or The Rise of Skywalker are among the worst films in the entire franchise, building a new story atop that so soon feels like it’s asking for trouble. Return to Rey by all means – expanding her story might go some way to making up for its deficiencies in the sequel trilogy. But not yet. It’s too soon.
There’s also the point that I’ve made before a dozen times or more: Star Wars has only ever told one real story. Despite existing for more than 45 years, with nine mainline films, two major spin-offs, several live-action TV shows, animated series, books, games, and more… Star Wars has still only told one real story: the “Palpatine saga,” focusing on the rise, fall, rise again, and fall again of Emperor Palpatine. A new story focusing on Rey wouldn’t do the one thing that I’ve been calling on Star Wars to do for years: move on.
The Star Wars galaxy is one of the finest fictional settings ever created, in my view. It has millions of inhabited planets, thousands of alien races, space magic and sci-fi technology, dozens of named factions, and tens of thousands of years of galactic history. But every mainline Star Wars project has been denied access to the vast majority of this sandbox, being forced to return to the same time period, the same planets, the same factions, and even the same handful of characters and families time and again. Surely it’s time to knock it off now and try something genuinely new and different. Because of her involvement in the sequels, and because she’s been retconned to be a member of Palpatine’s family, Rey can’t achieve that objective on two counts.
Can we have any confidence that Lucasfilm has learned the lessons of the sequel trilogy? Not only was the decision to split up the writing and directing of the trilogy a catastrophic mistake, but allowing someone like J.J. Abrams to essentially re-tell large parts of the original trilogy with a different coat of paint was poor. With Star Wars so intent on doubling-down on the only story it’s ever told, and a lack of boldness in the Disney boardroom seemingly refusing to consider other options, there’s a very real danger that a new sequel will repeat many of the mistakes that the franchise has made in recent years.
Several recent Star Wars projects have been little more than fan-servicey mess, with the utterly illogical or regressive inclusions of characters for no reason other than to compensate for a weak story. Some of these – like Obi-Wan Kenobi – actually ended up damaging the original films and the characters they included. So I feel more than a little concerned that a sequel featuring Rey – and thus continuing, in some form, the “Skywalker saga” – will do the same.
So I guess that’s where I’m at when it comes to this “sequel sequel.” My main message isn’t “never do this, it’s a terrible idea,” but rather “now isn’t the right time.” As the dust settles on the sequels, and upcoming projects – both on screen and off – incorporate that story into the broader landscape of Star Wars, passions will surely settle. As younger fans who first came to Star Wars with the sequels grow up and come of age, the fan community as a whole will shift to becoming more supportive of those films. When that’s happened – say in fifteen to twenty years time – then it might finally be the right time to return to Rey. But not yet.
If I was in charge of planning the next steps for Star Wars over at Disney and Lucasfilm, I wouldn’t have given the green light to this project. My focus would be on diversifying Star Wars – stepping back in time to the days of the Old Republic, taking a look at new characters, and shining a spotlight on the denizens of the galaxy who aren’t blessed with space magic! Rey will undoubtedly have her moment to return to Star Wars… but for me, it feels incredibly premature to even be considering bringing her back now.
The Star Wars sequel trilogy (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker) is available to stream now on Disney+. The films are also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles discussed above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, including the prequels, original trilogy, and sequels.
Happy Star Wars Day! Today is the 4th of May – or as they say in America, May the 4th. So May the 4th be with you! Today is a day for positivity in the Star Wars fan community, so I thought it could be fun to take a look at a few of my favourite things from The Last Jedi. It goes without saying that The Last Jedi was a divisive film among Star Wars fans. However, it was one I generally enjoyed. It wasn’t “perfect,” and I don’t think it hit all of the high notes that it was aiming for, but I found it to be enjoyable.
This article isn’t an attack on anyone else’s position or opinion! If you don’t like The Last Jedi or some of the things we’re going to discuss, that’s totally okay. Practically everything in cinema is subjective, not objective, and there’s a range of opinions on practically every film. Because today is about celebrating Star Wars, I wanted to pick out some of the things that I liked from the film and talk about why they worked well for me. If you want to see how critical I can be of Star Wars… check out my reviews of The Rise of Skywalker or The Mandalorian Season 2!
With all of that out of the way, a brief introduction is in order, I think! Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released theatrically in the UK on the 14th of December 2017 – but I didn’t see it until a few months later in the Spring of 2018. My health is poor, and things like trips to the cinema are no longer practical for me, unfortunately. By the time I got around to seeing the film I’d already heard the outcry from some in the Star Wars fandom, and I set my expectations pretty low for what seemed to be a divisive film. Suffice to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that I enjoyed a lot more than I’d been expecting.
After The Force Awakens had played it very safe two years earlier, The Last Jedi attempted to take Star Wars in a very different direction. Rather than repeating what the original trilogy had done, the film took its characters to completely different thematic places, introduced new sub-plots, and potentially set up the sequel trilogy for a radically different ending. The Rise of Skywalker tried to undo some of the most significant points from The Last Jedi, which was a real shame, but taken on their own merit many of these points succeed. For me, The Last Jedi is the high-water mark of the sequel trilogy, and it’s a film that I firmly believe will be considered much more favourably in years to come. Just look at how a new generation of fans has come to celebrate the once-panned prequel trilogy; The Last Jedi’s best days may lie ahead.
So let’s get started on my list! I’ve picked ten things that I admire about The Last Jedi or feel that the film did well. They’re listed below in no particular order.
Number 1: A subtle and unexpected Rogue One connection.
How was the First Order able to track the Resistance’s fleet while they were in hyperspace? This was a story point that some fans who weren’t paying very close attention didn’t like – but it was actually something that had been set up a year earlier. Rogue One, which was released in 2016, saw Jyn Erso and a rag-tag crew steal the plans to the Death Star in the days immediately prior to A New Hope. Part of their mission saw them travel to the planet of Scarif, where the plans were kept at an Imperial facility.
While looking for the Death Star plans in amongst other Imperial data tapes, Jyn found a record of the Empire’s research into hyperspace tracking. The scene was very brief, with the data tape quickly being discarded in the rush to secure the Death Star plans – but it was a great moment of connection between two disparate parts of the Star Wars franchise!
Considering that Rogue One and The Last Jedi were set decades apart, these moments of connection are incredibly helpful to bind modern Star Wars together. Far from being just a throwaway line, the scene in Rogue One established that hyperspace tracking technology was something being actively researched by the Empire – while the destruction of the Imperial facility on Scarif provides a convenient narrative excuse for why it wasn’t successfully rolled out during the era of the original films.
It can be an incredibly difficult task to thread the needle like this; to insert a story element in between the pieces of the story that we already know. But Rogue One and The Last Jedi did this perfectly. If only other story beats in the sequel trilogy had this much forethought and this much setup!
Number 2: Rey is related to nobody.
For two years leading up to The Last Jedi, speculation was rife in the Star Wars fan community about who Rey was. Many fans concocted elaborate theories suggesting that she was the daughter or granddaughter of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Emperor Palpatine, and other Force-wielding characters. But when it was revealed in The Last Jedi that none of those things were true, it was a perfectly-executed twist.
Rey being “no one” isn’t just great because it’s a subversion or because it ignores some pretty mediocre fan theories – it works because it has something important to say. The Force can manifest in anyone, and just because that person comes from a humble background it doesn’t mean that they can’t be important. This is the story that the original Star Wars film tried to tell: Luke was the farm boy from an unimportant backwater world who went on to save the galaxy. That story was muddied by the decision to create a connection to Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, and completely erased by the time talk of prophecy and “chosen ones” entered the equation.
In that sense, Rey’s parents being no one important and no one familiar took Star Wars back to a narrative space that it hadn’t occupied since 1977. It established that its hero truly could be anybody, that destiny and ancestry don’t matter half as much as we might’ve thought. I found that message to be incredibly uplifting and inspiring, and the idea that anyone could be a hero or do great things without needing to be related to someone important is a message that resonated. In a franchise that has been so thoroughly dominated by a handful of individuals and a single family, it was a narrative worth including.
It also presented Rey in stark contrast to Kylo Ren. Both characters were defined by their family, but in different ways. Rey waited for her parents believing they’d come back for her, only to learn that they didn’t care about her at all – they sold her at the first opportunity. Kylo was both proud of his relationship to Darth Vader and ashamed of the role that his parents played in the Rebellion. Kylo came from Rebel royalty as the son of Han and Leia, but had succumbed to the temptation of the Dark Side and wanted to dominate the galaxy. In contrast, Rey came from nowhere and wanted to save it.
Rey’s struggle wasn’t to live up to some legacy from Luke or Obi-Wan, nor to rebel against a darker ancestor like Palpatine, but to chart her own path – a new path for herself, for the Resistance, for the Jedi, and for the Star Wars franchise. Rey represented the new against the old, the people against the aristocratic elite, and an unexpected journey for the protagonist of the latest chapter of the long-running saga.
I adored this about Rey. It took her on an unpredictable and open-ended journey, threw out of the window outdated notions of legacy and destiny, but at the same time it returned Star Wars to a familiar place; a place it hadn’t been since Darth Vader and Luke were retconned to be father and son. Had this aspect of Rey’s character been retained, I think the sequel trilogy as a whole could’ve been far more interesting.
Number 3: Hyperspace ramming.
In the very first Star Wars film, Han Solo gave us a decent explanation for why travelling through hyperspace was so dangerous. “Without precise calculations,” he told Luke, “we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova.” Hyperspace, at least according to Han Solo, did not somehow transport ships to another dimension; they could still interact with the rest of the galaxy – with potentially deadly consequences!
This was elaborated on by the old Expanded Universe which explained that charting new hyperspace routes was incredibly dangerous for precisely the same reason: it’s very easy to crash into a star, a planet, or even another starship. So hyperspace ramming has always been possible in Star Wars – even if no one thought of it before Admiral Holdo!
Hyperspace ramming is the kind of desperate, last-ditch manoeuvre that no one would dare to try unless there weren’t any other options. Here in the real world, aircraft had been around for decades before anyone thought of inventing the kamikaze suicide attack, so I can absolutely believe that hyperspace ramming was either totally new in the Star Wars universe or hadn’t been attempted in hundreds or thousands of years. Nothing about it “broke” continuity, and as stated it was perfectly in line with what Han Solo had told us about travelling through hyperspace all the way back at the beginning of the franchise!
The criticisms of hyperspace ramming felt very nitpicky to me, and I think it’s something that came about because of how other aspects of the film landed for some fans. If hyperspace ramming had made its debut in The Mandalorian, for example, where most fans seem to have been having a good time, I think it would’ve generated a lot less anger!
I’m always a sucker for the “doomed last stand” concept in fiction, and the entire hyperspace ramming sequence was executed incredibly well. Admiral Holdo managed to be stoic and brave in the face of death, making the ultimate sacrifice to allow her friends to escape and to give the Resistance a fighting chance.
The cinematography and visual effects used to bring it to life were outstanding, too, and the hyperspace ramming sequence has to be one of the absolute best in all of Star Wars for me. The use of silence at the moment of impact was so incredibly poignant – in part because silence is used so sparingly across the franchise. The CGI animation used to bring to life the crash and its aftermath was likewise fantastic.
Number 4: Kylo Ren seizes power.
The Force Awakens seemed to be setting up Kylo Ren as the “new Darth Vader” – an evil but ultimately redeemable villain. The Last Jedi chose to avoid recycling that character trope and set Kylo on his own path, a path that would lead him to become the Supreme Leader of the First Order. By embracing the darkness within him and extinguishing the pull to the light that he’d been feeling, Kylo Ren cemented his position as the primary antagonist of the sequel trilogy.
After being bullied and belittled by Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo’s hatred for his master had been building. Blamed unfairly for the loss of Starkiller Base and Rey’s escape, Kylo nursed a grudge against Snoke for practically the whole film, culminating in him killing him in one of the film’s most shocking sequences.
Kylo killing Snoke was not an empty subversion, designed for shock value and nothing else. It was a masterstroke of writing, one that sought to take Star Wars and the film’s main characters to entirely different thematic places than either the prequels or original trilogy had. In the span of a few minutes it seemed that Rey had been able to get through to Kylo, convincing him to betray the First Order… but then that idea was pulled away as Kylo saw his chance to seize power.
Turning the idea of “reaching out” on its head, it was Kylo who asked Rey to join him, to rule the galaxy at his side. Rather than returning to the light, Kylo had taken a massive leap further into the dark – going so far, surely, as to never be able to come back. With Snoke out of the picture, only Kylo and Hux would remain as major antagonists going into the final act of the trilogy, so it seemed like the idea of “Darth Vader 2.0” was well and truly gone.
Again, this was a moment with a message. Part of that message was epitomised by Luke’s line: “this is not going to go the way you think!” and that’s kind of built into the film’s entire philosophy. But beyond that, the concept that someone like Kylo Ren could be irredeemable has merit. There are some people – some fascist leaders, which is what Kylo Ren is at this point – who go “full Dark Side.” There’s no way back for some people, and we shouldn’t want to see a redemption arc for people who have done unspeakably evil things.
It’s also connected to the point above about destiny and ancestry. Kylo came from Rebel royalty as the son of Han Solo and Leia, but instead of using that legacy and power in a positive way he became corrupted, trying to rule the galaxy instead of fighting for freedom. The lure of power can corrupt even the most well-meaning of individuals, and Kylo’s arrogance, elitism, and belief in his own special place led him down a dark path.
Number 5: The presentation of Luke Skywalker.
This is a point I’ve tackled before in a standalone essay, but I found what The Last Jedi did with Luke to be absolutely incredible. It was a powerful and relatable mental health story, one that showed how anyone – even heroes – can fall into melancholy and depression. Maybe that story isn’t what some viewers wanted, but I firmly believe it’s a story that was needed – and worth telling.
Not only that, but Luke’s story was a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of mental health; one of the better depictions of depression that I’ve seen in fiction in recent years. Having tried to rebuild the Jedi Order, Luke ultimately failed – and failed in such a catastrophic way that he got people killed. He allowed that failure to fester and turn into depression, ultimately secluding himself and merely waiting around to die, totally uninterested in the galaxy around him.
Anyone who’s suffered from depression – regardless of whether there was a cause – can relate to that. The idea of cutting oneself off from everything and everyone, of being unable to face the world outside a small bubble of safety – these are things that people suffering from mental health issues can recognise. And the fact that it happened to someone as powerful, virtuous, and heroic as Luke Skywalker has an incredibly powerful point to make: this is something that can happen to anyone.
As mental health issues – particularly in men – continue to be ignored and stigmatised, this is something that people need to see and hear. The depiction of one of the main protagonists in one of the biggest cinematic franchises around suffering from depression in a realistic and relatable way has done so much to raise awareness of the problem. To me, this is sci-fi at its best: using a fantasy setting to consider real-world issues.
As always in these kinds of stories, how Luke was feeling at the beginning is not as important as where he ended up, and the arc he goes through in The Last Jedi provides a genuine feeling of hope. Thanks to Rey’s intervention, Luke found a way to believe in a cause again, and found a way to become a symbol of hope for the entire galaxy. Luke being depressed at the beginning was incredibly important for people to see, but what was just as important is how he found a pathway out of it.
Depression isn’t something easily cured. Luke couldn’t just “snap out of it,” but he came to realise that, despite his failings, despite his flaws, and despite the way he’d been feeling, there was still something he could do to contribute. He could still be a Jedi – and thanks to his intervention, not the titular Last Jedi!
Number 6: Recognising the massive failings of the old Jedi Order.
The prequel trilogy touched on the idea that the Jedi Order had grown arrogant and complacent over centuries of peace and after being unchallenged by the Sith and the Dark Side in a major way. But at the same time, characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Mace Windu were presented as the heroes – the paragons of virtue who we were rooting for. The Last Jedi takes a much more critical lens to its examination of the Jedi Order, particularly in the prequel era.
Luke explained to Rey that the hubris of the Jedi is what allowed Palpatine to rise to power in the first place, and that the Jedi Order failed not only at keeping the peace but at preserving the Republic itself. Though this wasn’t something that the film spent a huge amount of time on, I think it was an important acknowledgement to recognise that the Jedi Order – by the time of the prequel films, at least – was not the irreproachable organisation that some considered it to be.
This is also something that could inform Star Wars’ future. We don’t know what will become of the Jedi in the aftermath of the sequel trilogy, but it seems to me that one of the lessons Rey learned from Luke is that simply trying to reconstruct the Jedi Order exactly as it was before the Empire is not only impossible, but undesirable as well. What comes next for the Light Side of the Force has to be different – it has to be better.
This potentially opens up the future of Star Wars to go in some very different storytelling directions. Rather than simply a return to the pre-Empire status quo, in which the era of the Galactic Civil War may end up looking like little more than a blip in the grand scale of galactic history, what happened to Luke and Rey could be a turning point for the Light Side of the Force, with a new organisation bound by different rules rising in the Jedi’s stead. Perhaps the name “Jedi” will survive (it’s an integral part of Star Wars, after all), but maybe what comes next will be significantly different from the prequel-era Jedi Order, setting the stage for some genuinely different and unpredictable stories in the years ahead.
Number 7: Timely social commentary.
How often have we felt that, no matter what we do, the rich always manage to get richer while we stay poor? The Last Jedi took Finn and Rose to one of the meeting places of the galactic elite, showing us how the mega-rich of the galaxy gamble and play both sides in the conflict. To them, who wins the war isn’t important – because they know that either way, they’re going to come out on top.
This isn’t just about the arms dealers who were selling weapons to both sides – although that was a very in-your-face analogy – but really the entire gaggle of the super-rich that Finn and Rose encountered on Canto Bight. Just like the 1% here in the real world, the problems of the galaxy don’t affect them at all. It was, in a sense, a glimpse behind a curtain that we rarely get to see – and the fact that the people of Canto Bight were laughing, joking, gambling, and greedily stuffing their faces seemed to spit in the face of our heroes and their war effort.
This was a side of the Star Wars galaxy that we’d never really seen. We’d been introduced to bounty hunters in shady cantinas before, as well as seeing the corrupt decadence of Coruscant’s politicians in the prequels, but it makes sense that a society as complex as the Star Wars galaxy would have these kinds of places inhabited by these kinds of people. They’re the Wall Street gamblers, the bankers, the financiers who survived the Republic, the Empire, the New Republic, and the First Order all by owning and controlling the vast majority of the galaxy’s money.
One of the themes that I took from this side-story is that, in a sense, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses in the struggle for power. Either a new Republic or the First Order will eventually have to cut deals with these people; they’re the real powerbrokers in the galaxy. Their money can shift the tide of the war – it can literally see states rise or fall.
Perhaps Canto Bight hit too close to home for some folks, or perhaps this look behind the curtain was a little too bleak! But there was something powerful about it nonetheless, particularly in the aftermath of some turbulent political times here in the western world. As above, when sci-fi turns a spotlight on real-world issues, what results can be powerful storytelling if it’s done right.
From an in-universe point of view, Star Wars stories have generally focused on underdogs – scrappy groups of rebels fighting against the powers that be. Even the prequels didn’t explore much of this side of the galaxy – so it was something new, something interesting, and something that could be ripe for further exploration one day.
Number 8: Porgs!
The Last Jedi introduced us to porgs – beakless bird-like critters that inhabited Luke’s island on the isolated Jedi planet of Ahch-To. Porgs are adorable and they made an excellent addition to the Star Wars galaxy. Was their pretty sizeable appearance in the film purely a merchandising ploy that did nothing whatsoever to service the plot? Well, probably. But Star Wars has always been about the merch!
I had the porg variant of the film’s poster on display for a long time and I also bought a porg plushie, so I guess I’m a sucker for cute merchandise. Paul the porg is now a permanent fixture in my living room, and I have The Last Jedi to thank for that!
Number 9: General Leia’s leadership.
The film’s release was bittersweet due to the death of Carrie Fisher a year earlier, making her posthumous role in The Last Jedi all the more poignant. Having had limited screen time in The Force Awakens, which focused more on Han Solo, The Last Jedi became a strong film for Leia’s character, showing her leadership skills and expanding on her role in the aftermath of the events of the original films.
There was a clash between the “hot-headed” Poe Dameron and the cooler, calmer Leia and Holdo at the head of the Resistance. Unfortunately Leia was sidelined for part of that, but her return just in time to stop Poe from sabotaging a carefully-laid out plan was one of the film’s strongest moments – and one that showed Leia’s no-nonsense attitude!
Leia also got a sweet moment with Luke shortly before his last stand against the First Order’s forces, and considering that the sequel trilogy didn’t have many moments where it put the original characters back together, this was all the more significant. Fans needed to see Luke and Leia back together one final time – it was certainly one of the things I wanted from the sequels.
Even in the original trilogy, Leia was no “damsel in distress.” She helped Luke and Han escape from the Death Star, saved Luke’s life on Cloud City, killed Jabba the Hutt, and led the mission to take down the second Death Star’s shield! Seeing her continuing the fight against evil – even when it meant standing against her own son – was incredibly powerful.
Number 10: Taking Star Wars to new thematic places.
I talked about this above when discussing Kylo and Rey in particular, but The Last Jedi did more than any film in the franchise before or since to try to take Star Wars to different thematic and narrative places. That’s incredibly important, because without changing with the times and adapting, Star Wars as a whole will remain stuck in place.
Star Wars hasn’t yet been able to successfully move on from the one story that has been told. Palpatine, Anakin, Luke, Leia, Kylo, Rey, and the other main characters have come to utterly dominate Star Wars in every cinematic and television adaptation so far, even appearing in the likes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. The Last Jedi, as a sequel, obviously had to include many of those same characters, but the way it framed them was as close as Star Wars has got so far to going to different places.
If the franchise is to survive long-term, it will have to find a way to leave Luke, Leia, Anakin, and the others behind; to branch out into different eras with wholly different casts of characters to whom names like “Skywalker” or “Palpatine” mean nothing. There’s a limit to how many different ways the same few characters can save the galaxy over the span of a few short years, and by making massive decisions such as killing off Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi tried to guide the franchise to a new destination.
The board at the Walt Disney Company is now pushing back hard against that, and we’ve seen the results not only in The Rise of Skywalker, but also through decisions to include characters like Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian or to bring back Obi-Wan Kenobi for his own miniseries. Partly that’s corporate cowardice – Disney wants to retreat to what it sees as safe, comfortable ground. But that ground is getting overtrodden, and there’s a danger that Star Wars could get bogged down. The Last Jedi, for whatever faults you may think it has, tried to do something genuinely different – and trying new things is how a franchise grows and comes to learn what works.
As the dust settles and the film’s divisiveness abates, I think we’ll start to see a reevaluation of this aspect of The Last Jedi in particular. It may not have succeeded at taking the sequel trilogy to a very different end point, but it stands as a piece of the franchise’s cinematic canon that wasn’t afraid to try different things with its characters and storylines. Perhaps, in time, fans will come to appreciate that – particularly if Star Wars continues to double-down on recycling characters and shining spotlights on increasingly irrelevant chapters of its only real story.
Killing off its main villain early in the story, setting his apprentice on a dark path instead of the path to redemption, tearing down the arrogance of the old Jedi Order, reflecting real-world issues like mental health and the gilded indifference of the super-rich… these are all things that Star Wars had never even considered. The Last Jedi tried them for the first time. Did it all work perfectly? Probably not. But in a franchise that is in serious danger of becoming stale and fixated on its own past, trying new things, exploring new themes, dealing with new character types, and making an effort to stay grounded and relatable are all deserving of praise in my view.
So that’s it!
Those are ten things that I think are pretty great about The Last Jedi. Despite the controversy the film generated, there are signs that the Star Wars fan community is coming back together. Shows like The Mandalorian have gone a long way to bringing back into the fold fans who’d been ready to give up on modern Star Wars. And just like the prequels – which are being revisited by a new generation of fans who were kids when they were released – in a few years’ time I think we’ll see a similar reappraisal of The Last Jedi by newer and younger fans who first came to Star Wars during the sequel era.
Although The Rise of Skywalker did what it could to overwrite or ignore some of what I consider to be The Last Jedi’s highlights, I still find it an enjoyable experience to go back and re-watch it. In a way, it’s a time capsule of where the franchise was in 2017 – or a window into an alternate timeline where Star Wars continued on this trajectory instead of panicking and trying to course-correct.
As we celebrate Star Wars day, don’t forget The Last Jedi.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is available to stream now on Disney+ and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Wars franchise – including The Last Jedi and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Skywalker Saga, including The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.
I’ve made it clear more than once that I didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. The film failed for a number of reasons, but the most egregious for me was its narrative – one which betrayed established characters, overwrote others, and tried to re-tell Return of the Jedi using characters and story threads that were simply not suited for that purpose.
It’s easy to criticise a story that someone else has written, to pick apart story beats and character moments and say they don’t work. What isn’t as easy is creating a new story – hopefully a better one. That’s the task I’ve assigned myself on this occasion.
Here are some basic ground rules:
Everything up to and including The Last Jedi happened exactly as shown on screen. We aren’t going back and undoing anything from previous films. The task at hand is to rewrite the final chapter of The Skywalker Saga assuming that the first eight films unfolded the way they did in the real world.
No dei ex machina. The story has to be brought to a conclusion using characters and elements already in play; no adding new pieces to the chessboard at this late stage!
No Palpatine. Palpatine’s inclusion was a deus ex machina in The Rise of Skywalker, and even if everything else wrong with the film went away his inclusion would still have ruined it.
Characters must stay true to their established personalities. In The Rise of Skywalker, General Hux’s betrayal was an out-of-character moment so truly awful that I don’t even know what to say about it.
Characters’ established backgrounds can’t be overwritten. Rey isn’t going to be a descendant of Palpatine any more than Kylo is suddenly going to learn he’s actually the result of an affair Leia had with Chewbacca.
Real-world events must be taken into account. This means that Leia’s role can’t be expanded – the actress who portrayed her, Carrie Fisher, had passed away before the film entered production.
As with The Rise of Skywalker, a reasonable time-jump of 1-2 years has taken place since the end of The Last Jedi.
Obviously I’m not going to write an entire script! This is just going to be a basic outline, a story treatment highlighting the broad strokes of the plot and how things would go. I feel no obligation to include anything from The Rise of Skywalker, as this is my own take on how the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga would have unfolded.
It goes without saying that this is fan fiction. Nothing about this story outline will ever make its way into actual Star Wars, nor should anyone interpret it in that manner. Everything in this article is also entirely subjective. If you liked The Rise of Skywalker and wouldn’t want to see it remade, that’s great. If you hate all of my ideas, that’s fine too. The Star Wars fandom is big enough for people with different ideas to peacefully coexist, and getting mad at one another over fan fiction that will never be anything more than text on an obscure website will accomplish precisely nothing.
Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s get started.
As the film begins, Kylo Ren has declared himself Supreme Leader of the First Order, succeeding the deceased Snoke. With the New Republic’s capital system destroyed, and the Resistance having been reduced to a handful of individuals, the First Order had a clear shot at taking over large parts of the galaxy. Systems like Coruscant, Corellia, and even Tatooine have fallen under the First Order’s sway.
Kylo’s wavering commitment to the Dark Side has solidified in the wake of his power grab, and the pull to the Light that he felt in earlier films has been all but extinguished. His arc across the final chapter will see him descend further into darkness, culminating in his embrace of the Sith ideology of Palpatine and his beloved Vader.
General Hux despises Kylo, but has managed to distance himself from the Supreme Leader by taking command of First Order forces in different parts of the galaxy. The exact power structure of the First Order is left ambiguous, but it seems that Hux is a senior commander in the First Order. In this version of the story, he remains loyal to the cause.
Early in the film, perhaps even in the opening crawl, we learn that General Leia has been killed fighting the First Order. Her brave sacrifice allowed thousands of new Resistance recruits to escape the planet, laying the groundwork for the Resistance’s comeback and making her an icon and a martyr to the cause. Though killing her off in this fashion may be controversial, when the only alternative is ham-fistedly using cut footage from The Force Awakens that isn’t fit for purpose it’s pretty much the only option. Recasting Leia or using CGI wouldn’t feel right, so the next best thing is making her sacrifice meaningful. By saving thousands of Resistance fighters, Leia laid the groundwork for the Resistance’s ultimate victory.
Rey has been training as a Jedi, with the Force ghosts of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Qui-Gon Jinn supervising and advising her. She begins the film on Ahch-To, where she relocated to train in private.
Poe has taken over from Leia as the leader of the Resistance, having taken to heart the lessons he learned in The Last Jedi. Inspired by the sacrifices of both Luke and Leia, citizens from all across the galaxy have joined or aided the Resistance, bringing it back up to strength. One of the people who’s joined up is Lando Calrissian, who saw Cloud City taken over by the First Order. He expresses regret at not helping sooner.
Finn begins the film as Poe’s right-hand man, using his knowledge of the inner workings of the First Order to coordinate strikes and attacks. He’s Force-sensitive, and has done some training with a lightsaber, but broke off his training to help the Resistance. He’s also in a relationship with Rose Tico, continuing a theme established in The Last Jedi and taking it to its logical conclusion.
The opening act of the film sees Finn and Rose receiving a message from a group of Stormtroopers who want to defect. Along with Poe, they undertake a mission to a new planet to help get the Stormtroopers to safety. In the course of this mission, a small space battle occurs between a handful of Resistance ships and starfighters and the First Order forces in control of the new planet. During this mission, General Hux is killed – his death is necessary for the story of the trilogy to feel complete, and having him die trying to stop more Stormtroopers defecting to the Resistance feels somewhat like an arc in light of Finn’s story. Finn could be the one to fire the killing shot.
The Stormtroopers bring with them knowledge of a Sith superweapon that Kylo Ren has found and plans to use to secure the First Order’s dominance. The superweapon is essentially a macguffin that uses the Dark Side of the Force to send out a powerful shockwave across the galaxy, killing all who oppose the Supreme Leader.
The superweapon is an existential threat to the Resistance, and if Kylo is able to use it it will mean the end of all our heroes and establish Kylo and the Sith as the rulers of the galaxy permanently. Unlike the Death Star, Starkiller Base, or Snoke’s command ship, the macguffin is small – handheld – and thus can’t be destroyed in a conventional battle.
Despite her asking to be left alone so that she could focus on her training and become a Jedi, Poe decides that the only option is to contact Rey. Finn is the only one who knows where Rey is (as he had visited her on several occasions to further his own training in the Force) so he sets out alone to track her down.
On Ahch-To, Rey is initially reluctant to leave her training incomplete, and cites what happened to Luke on Cloud City when he tried to face Vader before he was ready. Finn tells her that without her, their planned mission to Kylo’s fortress to retrieve the macguffin won’t succeed; they need her skills if they’re to have any hope of destroying the macguffin before Kylo can use it.
While Finn waits for an answer, Rey has a heart-to-heart with Luke. He admits that he made mistakes when he was younger, acting too rashly. But he also says that he and the other Force ghosts will be with her, offering their guidance along the way. Rey is concerned about having to go to a place so strong in the Dark Side, and Luke acknowledges that concern. But ultimately, he says, there is no other way.
Rey consults the ancient Jedi texts and learns that the macguffin was actually created by the Jedi, not the Sith, but the Sith corrupted it with Dark Side sorcery millennia ago. The macguffin was considered lost, but Luke says that Vader or Palpatine may have found it during their years in power. Regardless, Kylo has it now and it’s an existential threat.
Finn spends a little time with the Force ghosts on Ahch-To, and as the two prepare to leave Rey presents him with his own lightsaber.
At the Resistance base, Poe, Rey, Finn, and Rose debate how best to undertake the mission. Kylo’s fortress is on Mustafar – he converted Darth Vader’s castle into his personal headquarters and base of operations. It’s perhaps the best-defended location in the galaxy, according to one Resistance pilot who pipes up.
Attacking Kylo’s base head-on would be a suicide mission, especially given the disparity between the First Order fleet and the cobbled-together band of Resistance starships. Lando has been working to bring in more people and ships to the Resistance cause, so Poe dispatches him to assemble as many ships as he can. The plan is set in motion – a Resistance attack in a neighbouring star system will lure the First Order fleet away from Kylo’s fortress long enough for Rey and Finn to infiltrate the base and destroy the macguffin. Poe will lead the Resistance fleet in person, and Rose will also stay behind on the fleet as her mechanic skills are more likely to be needed there.
At his fortress, Kylo is laughing at the death of General Hux. He had considered Hux to be one of his few remaining rivals for power; the loyalty Hux commanded from his troops posed a potential threat to Kylo’s leadership. With Hux out of the way, Kylo can appoint a loyalist to his position, further cementing himself as the Supreme Leader of the First Order.
Resistance forces led by Poe arrive in the neighbouring system, and frightened First Order admirals choose not to tell Kylo right away, hoping they could defeat the Resistance before having to tell him that they were able to launch a strike close to the heart of his territory. The battle in space begins.
With First Order ships moving out of position to join the battle, the Millennium Falcon – piloted by Rey – is able to make it to Kylo’s fortress. However, during the landing stage the ship is targeted by ground troops. Rey and Finn are able to bail out at the last moment, but the Millennium Falcon is destroyed.
The destruction of a ship that’s been at the heart of Star Wars since the beginning is emblematic of this film bringing the Skywalker Saga to an end. Like Hedwig’s death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it marks the end of an era for the characters and the franchise, and in lieu of having any major characters left to kill off, the destruction of the ship fills that role.
Rey and Finn are on the ground on Mustafar, but have to trek for miles to reach Kylo’s fortress from the crash site. Meanwhile, the space battle is not going well. First Order ships have arrived from all sides, and are using a special kind of hyperspace jammer to prevent Poe and Rose’s Resistance forces from escaping.
After reaching the fortress, Rey senses that Kylo is inside. He knows that they’re coming, and he’s close to activating the magical Sith macguffin. They will have to move quickly. But standing in their way are Kylo’s personal guards – the Knights of Ren. Armed with red lightsabers, the dozen or so Dark Side knights try to stop Rey and Finn, who draw their own sabers and engage in a duel in Kylo’s palace.
It seems like the Knights of Ren have Rey and Finn on the ropes, and the action cuts back to the space battle. Poe’s forces are losing too, and it appears for a moment like the mission – and the Resistance itself – is doomed.
In the duel at the palace, Finn and Rey are able to get the upper hand long enough to jump through a blast door or forcefield, trapping the Knights of Ren in a part of the palace where they can’t reach them. As Kylo continues to work on the macguffin and Poe’s forces fight a last stand in space, Rey and Finn rush to Kylo’s throne room to confront him.
In the second duel of the film, Rey and Finn work together against Kylo, who has gone “full Dark Side” despite Rey’s pleas to come back to the Light. After defeating him in the duel, Rey hesitates, unwilling to kill him. She turns to Finn and tells him that he was able to break his own indoctrination and leave the First Order, so maybe Kylo can too. In that moment, Kylo uses the Force to send his lightsaber into Finn’s chest.
Rey has no choice now but to kill Kylo, and as she grieves for Finn she finds the macguffin. Before she can destroy it, the Force ghosts appear beside her. They believe they can use their energy to turn the macguffin back into a tool of the Light, and then Rey will be able to use it to spread Finn’s story to every indoctrinated soldier and trooper in the First Order. Luke, Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon join with the macguffin, sacrificing their ghostly forms in order to restore the corrupted artefact.
Rey picks up the macguffin, and while holding Finn’s hand activates it. A shockwave of bright white light eminates from Kylo’s palace and shoots out into space. In the nearby space battle, thousands of First Order soldiers and troopers switch sides, turning on each other. Several dozen First Order ships turn on the rest of the fleet, and in the unfolding chaos, Poe’s survivors are able to escape.
In Kylo’s palace, his guards turn on each other and Rey is able to make it to a shuttle and escape in the chaos, bringing Finn’s body with her. She returns to Resistance HQ. After mourning Finn’s loss, Poe explains that with Lando’s new reinforcements and millions of soldiers and troopers fighting alongside them, the Resistance has been able to defeat the bulk of the First Order’s forces.
An epilogue shows Rey training young children – including “broom boy” – on Ahch-To, where she has established a small, out-of-the-way Jedi base. Pictures of Finn and Luke are displayed prominently. The Republic has been re-established, and Senator Rose names Poe as Admiral of the Republic fleet.
The Skywalker Saga is over; the line of Skywalkers from Anakin to Luke and Leia to Ben having been finally broken. The Sith, too, appear to be finally defeated, with no known Sith remaining to reclaim the mantle of Sith Lord or Supreme Leader. Rey has proven that destiny and ancestry are no guide as to how one’s life will turn out. She came from nowhere to save the galaxy, while Kylo came from Jedi and Rebel royalty and almost conquered it. Poe showed how to be brave in the face of insurmountable odds, and Finn made the ultimate sacrifice to save the galaxy from the people that once considered him nothing but a disposable footsoldier.
By removing Palpatine and simplifying the story into one connected sequence of events, I think a film following this outline would have been easier to follow and more enjoyable. It would have also drawn a line under Star Wars’ first story, allowing the franchise to step away from the characters and themes it included to chart a new path in future.
Where The Rise of Skywalker failed for me was the time it wasted trying to undo events from The Last Jedi in favour of fan theories. Rey’s parents remain no one of consequence in my story outline, and I think that allows her character to shine. Instead of her power being drawn from an important man she’s related to, her power is her own. There’s no destiny, aristocracy, or ancestry involved; Rey’s successes are her own, her victories her own, and by defeating Kylo Ren, the character who defined himself by his lineage, the story makes a point. Heroes can come from anywhere, even the most humble origins.
The destruction of the Millennium Falcon, as mentioned, underlines the idea that this film is the final entry in the series. Whatever Star Wars may be in future, it won’t be more jaunts in the Falcon with Chewbacca, looking backward at the “good old days!” The ship’s destruction is a symbol of the franchise leaving its past behind and looking ahead to different stories.
Finn’s death is a rarity in the Star Wars franchise, the loss of a hero. Though the sequel trilogy killed off Han and Luke, it did so at a point where the baton had already been passed to a new generation of heroes. Finn was one of those heroes, and his story could have continued. He could have trained hard and become a Jedi, but instead he was cut down by Kylo right when he was on the cusp of victory.
This version of the story brings into play elements that have been part of Star Wars films in the past, and would assemble them into what I feel could be an action-packed and exciting film. We get two big lightsaber fights and a giant space battle, a magical Force macguffin with the power to destroy the Resistance, Sith Lords, Jedi Knights, starfighter pilots, and a desperate, last-ditch mission to save the galaxy.
My objective here was to show that it would have been possible to pick up where The Last Jedi left off and tell a different kind of story, one which didn’t try to overwrite everything that film did. At the same time, I wanted the ending to feel conclusive, and not like the Resistance had a huge amount of work left to do to convert victory in one battle into victory in the overall war. The magical Sith macguffin managed to play a double role, both by setting up the main story and by providing that conclusion. I tried to connect the main parts of the story so points felt like they naturally flowed, and I tried to use each character where they seemed to fit best.
It’s been a while since I tried my hand at creative writing, and more than anything I was curious to see how the ideas I’ve had in my head would look on the page. Maybe one day I’ll revisit this and see if I can flesh it out a little more. It was a bit of fun, at any rate!
The Star Wars franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker premiered in December 2019, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2020 that I was able to see it. As I’ve explained on a few occasions, my health now prevents me from taking trips to the cinema, so I had to wait until it was available to watch digitally. It’s now been a year since I published my review (or should that be tear-down?) of the film, so I thought I’d revisit it and see what, if anything, has changed in that time.
Attitudes can soften with the passage of time, and a film or series that was once considered dire can find a new audience later on. The Star Wars franchise itself contains great examples of this: not only can we point to the growing popularity of the prequel trilogy, especially among fans who first saw those films when they were children, but even Return of the Jedi, which was once considered the weak link in the trilogy, is now held up alongside the original film and The Empire Strikes Back, with most fans not differentiating between any parts of the Original Trilogy.
Part of this is to do with age and when fans first encountered Star Wars, of course. And one year isn’t a lot of time to allow passions to settle, so perhaps I’m entering this with too high hopes! But despite that, I hadn’t re-watched The Rise of Skywalker since I first reviewed it until a couple of days ago, and if nothing else I was curious to see if I still found the film to be as bad as I did then.
Here’s my basic summary from last time: The Rise of Skywalker has problems with pacing and editing, with the film rushing from story beat to story beat never allowing the audience to catch a breath and process anything that’s happened. That makes it feel like nothing more than a mindless action film on par with the worst parts of series like Transformers or Sharknado. Then the film went out of its way to overwrite basically everything that happened in The Last Jedi.
Whether you like The Last Jedi or not – and I do respect that there are strong feelings on this – you have to accept that, in a three-part trilogy, the third film simply cannot waste time doing this. By trying to overwrite The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker ended up having to condense two films’ worth of story into one title – something which goes some way to explaining the awful pacing issue noted above.
Then there were story beats left unexplained or unseen. Palpatine’s message to the galaxy informing them of his (incredibly dumb) plan. Where was it? Surely we needed to see that on screen for ourselves instead of just seeing the reactions of other characters or reading it in the opening crawl. Oh, that’s right: Palpatine’s incredibly important message that set up the entire story of The Rise of Skywalker was only available to players of battle royale video game Fortnite. You read that right – Palpatine’s message was recorded, but thanks to a marketing tie-in with Fortnite it could only be heard in that game.
How did Lando Calrissian, making his return to the franchise two films too late, manage to recruit literally the entire galaxy for a mission to attack Palpatine? He just turns up at the end with the biggest fleet the film franchise has ever seen at his back, with no explanation given and not even a single frame dedicated to how he managed to convince everyone to join him. That might be a film worth watching.
The decision to get rid of the backstory established for Rey in The Last Jedi was fan-servicey and dumb. It was as if writer/director JJ Abrams spent twenty minutes looking at fan-fiction online and said “that’ll do,” then ham-fistedly inserted it into the script. Palpatine’s plan to launch a huge fleet of starships from his hidden base might make sense… but announcing it to the galaxy before the ships are in position and while they’re still vulnerable to attack doesn’t survive any degree of scrutiny.
I could go on, but this summary is already too long. In short, I considered The Rise of Skywalker to be an irredeemably bad film, the worst film I saw in all of 2020. So have I changed my mind now I’ve seen it again? Spoiler alert: no.
I won’t be all cliché and tell you it was worse this time around, but as I re-watched the film that was supposed to conclude the “Skywalker Saga,” the disappointment I felt a year ago is still there. The passage of time has not magically made bad storytelling good.
To provide some context, I also put myself through the torrid chore of re-watching The Phantom Menace, the film I considered Star Wars’ worst prior to The Rise of Skywalker. It’s been a while since I saw The Phantom Menace, and I likewise wondered if my attitude had shifted any. Both films are unenjoyable, but they fail for fundamentally different reasons. The Phantom Menace has a story that was carefully designed from the ground up. The problem was that story was disappointing and unnecessary fluff. The Rise of Skywalker has no real story, with the plot being made up of a cobbled-together mix of side-quests, failed twists, and fan-fiction.
Having re-watched both films, the one thing I would say has probably changed since last time is this: as much as I don’t enjoy The Phantom Menace, and indeed the prequel trilogy overall, The Rise of Skywalker is probably worse.
One thing I commented on last time that I definitely want to bring up again is the Sith dagger maguffin. This one prop is arguably the most important in the entire film, being the driving force behind a significant portion of what we’ll generously call the “plot.” But it just looks awful. The blade looks nothing like metal at all, not even old rusted metal. It’s made of some kind of plastic or foam rubber, and that’s incredibly obvious every time it’s shown on screen. In a film which otherwise manages to nail the visual effects, this prop should have been done better. And when it became apparent to the producers how bad it looked, some digital effects could have been added in post-production to smarten it up, at least in frames where it’s clearly visible on screen.
I have a second monitor which is a different make to my primary display, and I tried looking at the dagger there to see if it looked any better; perhaps it looked uniquely bad on my screen for some reason. I also tracked down still images and photos of the dagger to see if the Disney+ version of the film had some kind of weird visual quirk. But having investigated as much as I can (or can be bothered for a film this crap) I have to conclude that the Sith dagger, a maguffin integral to the story of the film, for whatever reason looks bad on screen. Other weapons in Star Wars look fine, and even in The Rise of Skywalker practically all of the other props were inoffensive. But this one, the most important one, manages to look like a cheap child’s toy; something you’d pick up in the bargain bin of a discount supermarket to keep a kid entertained for a few minutes.
Finn and Rose were both unceremoniously dumped by The Rise of Skywalker as its focus shifted to trying to mimic Luke and Vader using Rey and Kylo Ren. Both characters had potential in their first appearances, yet nothing ever came of that. Rose was the mechanic who lost her sister to the war and wanted nothing more than to do her bit to fight for freedom, yet she was insultingly given a few seconds’ worth of screen time and chose not to accompany Finn and Rey on their series of side-quests.
Finn was the first Stormtrooper we’ve spent much time with in Star Wars’ main canon. There was scope for his story of overcoming indoctrination and fighting back to turn into something genuinely inspirational, but he was relegated to a minor role that seemed to mostly consist of shouting at Rey – so much so that it became a meme. Finn was one of the “big three” – the three main characters of the trilogy, or so we were told. Yet while Poe and Rey got some attention in The Rise of Skywalker, Finn was essentially sidelined for the entire film. He played third fiddle to Rey and Poe, never really able to come into his own. It was a waste of a character – but that could be said of many characters across the sequel trilogy, really.
John Boyega, who plays Finn, has been vocal about this, suggesting that Star Wars wasn’t sure what to do with his character. And I sympathise with that, because while Finn had some degree of character development, it all happened in the first few minutes of The Force Awakens, much of it wordlessly, and after that he just felt like a spare part.
The treatment of Rose was frankly just offensive, though, and it’s this decision that deserves the most criticism. Kelly Marie Tran, who plays the character, had been subjected to an absolutely vile torrent of abuse online in the weeks after The Last Jedi premiered, all of which came from complete morons who are incapable of separating their feelings about a fictional character from the actress who plays her. Though director Rian Johnson stuck up for Tran, as did some of her co-stars, Star Wars as a whole was largely silent. The decision to give Rose such a minor role was clearly the franchise pandering to those sexists and racists who went after the actress, and honestly that’s just appalling. Almost everything else wrong with The Rise of Skywalker concerns plot, characterisation, and so on. But this is something that actually affected a real person, and whatever you may think of Rose’s character in The Last Jedi, the decent thing for Star Wars and its producers to do would have been to take a stand in support of their actress. Cutting her from The Rise of Skywalker is nothing more than pandering.
For some reason, The Rise of Skywalker needed to have a “shocking twist.” And this played out in perhaps the dumbest, most obvious way possible. General Hux was the First Order zealot we met in The Force Awakens. He works alongside new character General Pryde, and the film clumsily sets up that there’s a spy in the First Order. Naturally, the audience are supposed to think it’s Pryde. But no! In a truly stunning turn of events, Hux is the mole, feeding information to the Resistance because of his hatred of Kylo Ren.
Not only was the setup for this poorly handled in a jam-packed film that simply didn’t have enough time to set up a “mystery” of this nature, but the absolute stupidity of Hux being the traitor leaves me at a genuine loss for words. Seriously – ever since I first saw the film I’ve had a piece in my writing pile tentatively titled “General Hux,” with a vague plan to talk about how truly bizarre and stupid this character betrayal was. But every time I start it I genuinely cannot get more than a few lines in. The decision to go down this route is staggeringly dumb in a film that’s already overflowing with ridiculous character and storytelling decisions. I don’t even know where to start or how to unpack this utter nonsense.
Hux, more than any other character in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, was steadfastly loyal to his cause. Even if we can accept the premise that his personal dispute with Kylo Ren had soured him, surely the arrival on the scene of Palpatine offered a better way out for Hux than betraying the entire First Order. And betraying the organisation to which he had dedicated his life when it was on the brink of victory makes no sense. It’s a “lesser of two evils” situation, from his perspective. Kylo might be someone he viscerally hates, but the First Order is more than just one man, and Hux’s desire to impose “order” on a chaotic galaxy is his driving force.
And so we come, inevitably, to Palpatine.
Even if everything else that was wrong with The Rise of Skywalker went away – and that would be no mean feat considering how much of an abject failure practically every aspect of the story was – Palpatine’s insertion into a story that was clearly never meant to have anything to do with him would ruin whatever remained. There’s no getting away from that.
Palpatine was not part of The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, and the sole reference to him in the latter film was a throwaway line. JJ Abrams and others involved with the production of The Rise of Skywalker absurdly tried to claim that Palpatine’s return was “always the plan,” but that simply is not true. If it was the case, it was set up so badly across the previous two titles that everyone involved with writing, directing, and managing Star Wars should resign in shame and never try to tell another story again. But it wasn’t true. JJ Abrams arrived on the scene after The Last Jedi, and with Snoke dead and Kylo at the head of the First Order he clearly had no idea what to do or where to take the narrative.
Abrams was obviously in love with the idea of re-telling the basic story of Return of the Jedi, just as he’d re-told A New Hope four years previously. Rey was substituted in for Luke, Kylo Ren for Vader, but there needed to be a “big bad,” another villain at the top to make Kylo’s redemption and return to the light possible. In Abrams’ original vision for the trilogy – if such a vision existed, which is debatable – that villain was Snoke. But with Snoke dead and Kylo having assumed the mantle of Supreme Leader, the sequel trilogy’s story had already gone in a radically different direction. This was not something that could be halted or renegotiated; it had already happened.
Instead of trying to tell a new story, or adapting the existing one to make it work with new or existing characters, the disastrous decision was made to bring back Palpatine. I can’t emphasise enough how utterly stupid this is. The one thing any fictional universe needs to have is internal consistency. It’s fine to have the Force, a magical power to move objects, perform mind tricks, etc., but when it’s been established roughly what’s possible, internal consistency kicks in and future stories have to be constrained by what’s already been established. This is a basic tenet of storytelling and of fiction in general.
Palpatine died. At the end of Return of the Jedi he was absolutely 100% dead. Not only that, but his absence in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, coupled with the rise of Snoke and the First Order instead of some continuation of the Empire, emphatically and solidly confirmed that Palpatine was dead. Say it with me folks: “Palpatine was dead.”
Not only does The Rise of Skywalker bring him back, his return is not explained. Did he survive the Death Star’s explosion? Was he reborn? Is he a clone? All we got is an ambiguous line that isn’t even new for The Rise of Skywalker – it’s a word-for-word copy of a line spoken by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith: “the dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” The Rise of Skywalker can’t even be original with its shitty dialogue.
The worst line in relation to the Palpatine clusterfuck was spoken by Poe: “Somehow, Palpatine returned.” That line encapsulates how The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t care one bit about the detail of its story, and how the film is content to treat its audience like idiots. Rather than lingering over this point, the film skips ahead and then races through the rest of the plot. Perhaps the writers and producers knew that no explanation for Palpatine’s return could ever make even the tiniest modicum of sense, so they just opted not to add one. I would say that’s bold, but actually it just compounds how dumb the original decision was. If even the writers can’t find a way to explain or defend this awful story point, then it’s an awful story point.
As I mentioned earlier, Rey’s backstory had been established in The Last Jedi. It wasn’t to everyone’s liking, perhaps, but considering the other sources of controversy that film generated, I think most fans were at least tolerant of it as the first stage of explaining her power and origin. The idea of the Force trying to balance itself by elevating Rey to match the growing power of Kylo was a theme present in both prior parts of the trilogy, and when Kylo explained Rey’s parents were “nobody” in The Last Jedi, that settled things.
That explanation worked very well, and it meant that Rey was in a unique position in Star Wars. Though we’ve known many Jedi characters, the main ones we met were Anakin and Luke, and the familial relationship between them demonstrated that the Force can be passed down from parent to child. But not every Jedi has to be the offspring of another Jedi, and there was something powerful in “Rey the nobody” that The Rise of Skywalker trampled in its mad rush to fetishise and copy the Original Trilogy.
Rey’s background as the daughter of nobody special meant her rise and her skills were her own. She achieved the position she was in – and her status as a Jedi – on merit. By removing this key part of her character, The Rise of Skywalker throws away something incredibly valuable: the message that anyone can be a hero. For young people – and especially young girls – sitting down to watch the film, the idea of Rey as a heroine to aspire to, someone who came from nowhere and saved the galaxy, was stripped away, replaced with the laziest and most clichéd of all fantasy tropes: destiny.
Rey’s inheritance as a descendant of Palpatine explained her power. That was it. The Force in Star Wars’ cinematic canon functions like an aristocracy, with power passed from Anakin to Luke and Leia, then from Leia to Ben Solo, and from Palpatine to Rey. Gone is the concept, embodied in the “broom boy” scene at the end of The Last Jedi, that the Force can be present in even the most lowly individuals. What replaced it was fate, destiny, and the power of bloodlines – an amazing and powerful message cast aside for a cheap fan-fiction theory.
The climactic battle involving Palpatine’s fleet and Finn and Poe’s Resistance forces is incredibly dumb and makes no sense. Not only was the idea of fighting on the exterior hull of a starship so phenomenally stupid, but the very concept of a fleet that doesn’t “know which way is up” and has such a patently obvious weakness was ridiculously poorly handled.
Star Wars has previously introduced us to forces and machines that seem overwhelming, only to offer a “million-to-one shot” way to destroy them; at this point it’s almost a trope of the franchise, being present in two of the three original films and The Force Awakens. But in all prior cases – even with The Force Awakens’ Starkiller Base, which was a patent rip-off of the Death Star – it was handled so much better and made more sense in-universe.
Palpatine’s fleet is the only fleet ever seen in Star Wars to require some kind of external navigation aid; this concept is just plain dumb for a technological civilisation. Not only that, but the idea that without this maguffin the ships will be trapped and unable to move is awful. Really, irredeemably awful.
What this all means is that Palpatine’s fleet looked superficially large and intimidating, especially in the film’s trailer and other marketing material, but was ultimately incredibly easy to defeat; cardboard cut-out opposition for our heroes. What could have been a satisfying victory over seemingly overwhelming odds felt incredibly cheap and hollow as a result.
As mentioned above, Lando’s last-second arrival with half the ships in the galaxy at his back was designed to be a feel-good moment; “we the people” rising up against tyranny. But because we didn’t get to see any of Lando’s recruitment efforts, nor understand why the galaxy would turn out to help him when they ignored Leia at the end of The Last Jedi, it was nothing but an incredibly hollow moment that felt more like a deus ex machina than a rousing victory.
Given the lukewarm reaction to the sequel trilogy, Disney’s roadmap for upcoming Star Wars projects seems to be putting this era on hold. But if they ever do choose to revisit the sequel era in future, one story I think would be absolutely worth exploring is Lando’s mad rush to bring the galaxy together and lead them to Exegol – of all the things in The Rise of Skywalker, that might be the one story worth digging into.
I’ve already written far more than I intended to for what was supposed to be a short revisit to a crap film, so I think we’ll wrap things up. I didn’t even touch on the ridiculous Force healing power that Rey developed, nor how the plot seemed to take our heroes precisely where they needed to go by completely random chance. We also could talk about the dumb limitation imposed on C3PO and how he couldn’t translate the dagger, Palpatine growing Snoke-clones in a tank, and the fake-outs of Chewbacca’s death and C3PO’s memory wipe. There are so many ridiculously poor elements of The Rise of Skywalker that they don’t all fit in a single essay.
In summary, then, the film is still just as bad as it was first time around. Though visually impressive most of the time, especially when compared to the shoddy CGI of the prequel trilogy, and with a couple of successful moments of comedy, the film is a complete and total narrative failure. It was an appalling and disappointing end to the so-called “Skywalker Saga” – which should really be called the “Palpatine Saga,” apparently, since he’s been manipulating everything from behind the scenes and is thus the only character who has been able to act of his own volition.
In 2017-18, when some Star Wars fans were vocal about their hatred of The Last Jedi, I was pleased that I was still enjoying Star Wars. But The Rise of Skywalker threw a wrench into the whole sequel trilogy, and was so bad in the way some of its storylines unfolded and concluded that it makes both of its predecessors – and to an extent the Original Trilogy as well – significantly worse and less enjoyable to go back and watch.
Even though I’m not a big fan of The Mandalorian, there are some Star Wars projects on the horizon that seem to have potential, despite the fact that the franchise is still very much living in the shadow of its Original Trilogy. I’ve expressed on a number of occasions my wish to see Star Wars break away from that and try something new, and I remain hopeful that it will happen one day. Even though The Rise of Skywalker was a disappointment and a complete narrative failure, there’s still life in Star Wars as a franchise. I recently enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order, for example, and I’m very much looking forward to its sequel. And at Christmas last year, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was good fun on Disney+.
Despite the failure of The Rise of Skywalker and my disappointment in the film, I remain a Star Wars fan. Having returned to the film to give it a second look, I’m now content to put it back on the shelf and concentrate on what comes next for the franchise. There’s no need to revisit this film again, and this will probably be the last time I ever watch it.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is available to stream now on Disney+. The film is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. The Star Wars franchise – including The Rise of Skywalker and all other titles listed above – is the copyright of LucasFilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for the whole Star Wars franchise, including The Rise of Skywalker.
The Star Wars sequel trilogy accomplished absolutely nothing. Okay, maybe that strictly isn’t true. I can think of a lot of things it accomplished, from modernising the aesthetic of the franchise to helping fans disappointed in the prequels move on. The sequels also helped make the franchise far more mainstream today than it has ever been, with a larger and more diverse fanbase. But that isn’t what I meant.
In terms of the overarching narrative of the franchise, Star Wars is in exactly the same position as it was in 1983 after Return of the Jedi – and for the most part, that’s actually intentional.
In my review/tear-down of The Rise of Skywalker, I went into detail about how JJ Abrams seems to have been desperate to use that film to try to remake Return of the Jedi – using story elements that were simply not suited for that purpose. Setting aside my plot complaints – notably the return of Palpatine – The Rise of Skywalker ended in identical fashion, and has left the Star Wars galaxy in basically the same place it was almost forty years ago.
One thing fans of the original trilogy (like myself) were so keen to see in the sequels is what happened to the galaxy in the aftermath of the Emperor’s death. Did a New Republic ultimately take control, as depicted in the (awful) Expanded Universe? Did Luke succeed in setting up a new Jedi Order? What happened to Han and Leia – did they get together? There were many questions of this kind, and the sequel trilogy set out to answer them.
The answers we got in The Force Awakens were at least potentially interesting. After the incredible disappointment of the prequels, which were released between 1999 and 2005, I was content for The Force Awakens to re-tell some of Star Wars’ “greatest hits”. Even though, in retrospect, I would absolutely argue that it crossed the line between paying homage and ripping off many aspects of the originals – A New Hope in particular – in 2015 I was fine with that.
But if we look back at The Force Awakens today, in 2020, the groundwork for what would be a cheap recycling of the Star Wars story, ultimately taking the franchise nowhere but back to where it was, are on full display. We have a hidden and secluded old Jedi master, paralleling Ben Kenobi from A New Hope. We have an authoritarian state with a planet-killing superweapon, which of course parallels the Empire and the Death Star. We have a mysterious old dark side user who has a helmet-wearing apprentice, blatantly paralleling the Emperor and Vader. We have a rag-tag group of Resistance fighters – led by Princess Leia. And we have Han and Chewie regressing to their pre-A New Hope roles as non-caring smugglers.
However derivative that setup may have been, even by the end of The Force Awakens there was scope for Star Wars to go in a different direction and end up in a different place by the end of the trilogy. The Last Jedi tried to pull the franchise to a different point – most significantly by taking Kylo Ren away from the copycat-Vader path toward redemption and making him, not Snoke, the ultimate evil villain of the story.
The Rise of Skywalker, to my surprise, I must admit, spent a significant amount of time undoing what had been set up in The Last Jedi and tried – unsuccessfully – to remake Return of the Jedi from a very different starting point, cramming unsuitable story elements into that mould and relying on the deus ex machina of Palpatine’s inexplicable return to allow Kylo to follow Vader’s path to redemption.
The Rise of Skywalker established that the First Order was in control of almost all of the galaxy by this point in the story – akin to the Empire’s powerful position in Return of the Jedi. Just like in that film, the Resistance’s destruction of one fleet and the death of one leader does not, in itself, constitute overall victory – there is still a war to be won against the remaining forces of the First Order, just as the Rebels after Return of the Jedi had to continue the war against the Empire. The resolution to this war was not seen on screen and, frankly, victory cannot be guaranteed. The destruction of the Sith fleet at Exegol didn’t do anything to the First Order’s other fleets and forces, and while Palpatine may have been a “power behind the throne” for much of the First Order’s rise, his death is far less meaningful to the average First Order soldier or supporter than his fake-death was to Imperial officers after Return of the Jedi.
With the galaxy still under First Order control, the Resistance have their work cut out if they’re to follow Leia’s example and try to recreate the Republic for a second time. Even without a Supreme Leader, the First Order poses a significant challenge.
The First Order’s two potential leadership figures – Palpatine and Kylo Ren – both died in The Rise of Skywalker. Palpatine’s second death – if indeed it is a death and not another ruse – obviously copies his death in Return of the Jedi. And Kylo’s was also a copy of Vader’s death in Return of the Jedi – dying in Rey’s arms as Vader had died in Luke’s.
With her Jedi masters – Luke and Leia – dead, Rey is the sole survivor, as Luke had been at the end of Return of the Jedi. The Jedi Order must now be recreated from this one remaining young person, and Rey’s task is now identical to the one Luke faced all those years ago. Where will she go to establish her Jedi temple? How will she find force-sensitive children (or adults) to train? How long will it take for the Jedi to be restored? All of these questions were faced by Luke, and now they fall to Rey.
The Sith have been finally defeated. As they should have been after Return of the Jedi. With no remaining dark side devotees following the deaths of Snoke, Kylo, and Palpatine, the question of what happens to the Sith and the dark side rears its head. Will that knowledge be forever lost? Will someone new find out about the Sith and try to recreate their teachings? And of course the burning question: is Palpatine really dead? All of these questions existed in 1983 too.
In some circumstances, a cyclical story can feel good. It can make sense and it can have a powerful message, saying something like the rise of evil is a problem we always need to be on guard against. But it doesn’t feel good with Star Wars. In the aftermath of The Rise of Skywalker, three major storylines have taken a circular, copycat path and landed right back where they started: the state of the galaxy and who governs it, the future of the Jedi Order and how it may be rebuilt, and the demise of the Sith and the dark side. In all three of these cases, Star Wars is in exactly the same place as it was after Return of the Jedi.
This feels cheap and lazy. The creators of the sequel trilogy – and I’m looking at JJ Abrams in particular – didn’t actually answer any of the questions posed by the ending of Return of the Jedi. Instead they pulled a bait-and-switch, remaking the original trilogy with a different trio of main characters and a few minor spot-the-difference story threads. With The Rise of Skywalker overwriting key points from The Last Jedi, we can almost disregard that film entirely from the trilogy. It tried to be different, but the differences it brought to the table didn’t last. Instead we have two copycats, and by remaking those same stories and putting the new characters into situations that are repeats of what came before but with a slightly different veneer, the trilogy ends with the same questions as before. What will happen to the galaxy? What will happen to the Jedi?
We didn’t get real answers to those questions in the sequels. We got a pretend set of answers that simply lifted all the same elements present in the original trilogy, gave them a new coat of paint, and plopped them down in the answer column.
What happened to the galaxy after the Empire? A new Empire, called the First Order, showed up. Oh and it was being controlled by the old Emperor who only pretended to have died.
What happened to the Jedi Order? Luke made a new one and then it got destroyed again! And that happened almost entirely off-screen, so the only part we got to see was Luke being a hermit like Old Ben Kenobi.
What happened to the Sith and the dark side? Well remember how there was an ancient, scarred dark side user who had a helmet-wearing apprentice? Yeah, well there’s two more guys like that. Oh and one of them, in a shocking plot twist, is related to other main characters!
Okay… so what will happen to these storylines? Surely something different that what we saw in 1983, right? Nope! The First Order will have a fleet of planet-killing ships destroyed and Palpatine and Kylo and Snoke will all die! But the rest of their forces are intact and probably still in charge of the whole galaxy. The Jedi Masters will all die leaving only one Jedi left! And the dark side is… I dunno. Gone, maybe? Or maybe it’ll come back when we need another villain. Who knows?
The future of the Star Wars galaxy is as unclear today as it was in 1983. Not only are the questions that we have identical to those that we asked after Return of the Jedi, but the “answers” to those questions the first time we asked them has been to simply re-tell the same story in a worse way, dragging it full-circle right back to the same point.
Considering where it started and where it ended up, the whole sequel trilogy has been a waste of time. The first two films may be enjoyable as standalone pieces of cinema, but in the broader context of a large, ongoing story set in a massive fictional universe, it accomplished absolutely nothing. The three new films could’ve not been made and nothing would have changed.
The Star Wars franchise is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.