Note: This post has spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Last night, I watched The Rise of Skywalker. It marks the end of the latest trilogy of Star Wars movies and supposedly the end of the Skywalker Saga. As a life-long fan of Star Wars, I have mixed feelings about it and the whole sequel trilogy.
I don’t remember when I first saw the original trilogy. My family had all three films on VHS and they were some of my favorites growing up, but I saw them young enough and often enough that I have no recollection of watching them without knowing the whole story. It makes it hard for me to think of them as distinct movies rather than a single story, and it also puts them firmly in my heart as my favorite of the trilogies. Looking back with a critical eye I can point out things that are silly or don’t make sense like the cannibalistic murder bears of Endor or how the Millenium Falcon makes it from Hoth to Bespin with a broken hyperdrive, but its easy to forgive and overlook those and just love the movies that I grew up with.
The prequel trilogy started when I was in high school and finished while I was in college, so they were the first Star Wars movies that I saw for the first time in movie theaters and had to wait longer than the rewind time on a VHS after finishing a movie before starting the next one up. The Phantom Menace had its silly parts – Jar Jar’s lucky clumsiness, Jedi being okay with cheating a dice roll but not just liberating slaves, Anakin learning to fly a starfighter just in time to make the decisive strike in a space battle – but it also did things I loved – the Battle of Naboo being split across its different locations and making the galaxy seem bigger by highlighting entirely new worlds, aliens, and factions. The Attack of the Clones was my least favorite of the prequels due mostly to the romance scenes between Anakin and Padme feeling agonizing to sit through. The climactic battle on Geonosis was a rewarding and fun spectacle for sitting through the first part of the movie though, and again the movie left the galaxy feeling like it grew. Revenge of the Sith was my favorite of the prequels. It had great battles and left me satisfied with the story of Anakin’s fall and the rise of the Empire. The whole prequel trilogy felt like a very different story from the original trilogy while still fitting into and expanding the same galaxy.
The sequel trilogy has been my least favorite of the three. I had high hopes going into The Force Awakens and overall thought it was a fun movie that left too many questions about what had happened to the galaxy since The Return of the Jedi. Seeing the laser of Starkiller Base across the galaxy was a bizarre step away from physics, and I disliked the resistance planning meeting because it felt like it was poking fun at itself, but overall it was a fun movie that I saw multiple times in the theater. The Last Jedi was an entirely different viewing experience – the entire movie is visually striking, but it is also the only Star Wars movie that I didn’t enjoy watching. From the initial crank call, through back-and-forth fake outs, heroes causing disasters but being treated as heroes anyways, and my eyes rolling so hard at broom boy’s final scene, it was a viewing experience that left me feeling unexcited for the trilogy’s next movie. Where I had seen The Force Awakens several times, I didn’t watch The Last Jedi again until last week. It was less grating on second viewing, but I still can’t say its a movie that I like.
The Rise of Skywalker is my favorite movie from my least favorite of the trilogies. It was fun and does a good job of wrapping up the current trilogy, but it also felt like it was cramming too much into one movie and lacked the emotional buildup to make some of the scenes feel meaningful. Palpatine as the ultimate villain of the Skywalker Saga makes sense given his role in the original and prequel trilogies, but I feel like there should have at least been hints of a puppetmaster behind Snoke in the earlier films. Palpatine being Rey’s grandfather also feels a bit off since it seems like there should be another generation between them and it runs counter to one of the themes in The Last Jedi where the movie seemed to be stressing that Rey’s lineage wasn’t important. The final battle scene where all hope seems lost and then the Resistance’s allies finally arrive felt reminiscent of the similar scene in Avengers: Endgame, but lacked the emotion of that scene since it was just a mass of nameless ships arriving rather than faces we recognize returning to the fight. Things like that make me feel like The Rise of Skywalker could have been such a better movie if the previous two movies had actually built up to it rather than it having to do so much of the buildup itself.
As a whole, the sequel trilogy has a new generation of characters, but it didn’t really go anywhere new. Each film mirrored the corresponding film from the original trilogy. The Force Awakens follows an unlikely hero on a backwater planet who stumbles upon a droid with a secret message that must reach the Resistance and ends with the destruction of a planet-killing weapon. The Last Jedi starts with the Resistance on the run from the First Order and sees the villain attempt to seduce the hero to the dark side with a narrow escape at the end. Rise of Skywalker sees the threat of a new planet-killing weapon as the Emperor lays a trap for the Resistance and attempts to seduce the hero who is conflicted due to their ancestry while the Emperor’s former ally turns to the light to save the hero. There are twists and turns, but the overarching story arc feels like it is just retreading the ground of the original trilogy with new actors and better visual effects. Then the trilogy ends with the galaxy exactly where it was at the end of the original trilogy – the Emperor has been killed by Skywalker who is now able to re-establish the Jedi order while a new Republic replaces the tyranny of the Empire.
In choosing to re-tell the same general stories, the sequel trilogy also in a lot of ways undid the victories of the original trilogy – the death of Palpatine, the fall of the Empire, the New Republic, and the return of the Jedi.
In the end, the sequel trilogy feels like such a missed opportunity. I really enjoyed the main characters of the sequel trilogy and I’m a fan of the actors, I just wish they had been given a set of stories that would have felt fresher and less focused on being a nostalgic reflection of the original trilogy. My hopes now turn to new extended universe stories following these characters into new and daring adventures in the uncharted future of a galaxy far, far away. After all, I still love Star Wars.