I’ve never been much of a Star Wars guy. It’s something that’s baffled many of my friends who see me as a geek and figure I must be into the adventures of a band of rebels from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
That’s not to say I don’t like Star Wars. I’ve seen all the movies (except for Solo), and I know a good chunk of the canon thanks to friends who are into it and like to talk about it. And most Star Wars fans like to talk about it a lot. Plus, there’s the internet, so information is always readily available. If I ever got curious about something I saw or heard, I could always look it up.
I usually enjoy watching Star Wars films, especially in theaters. The space battles and light saber duals are made for the big screen, and if I have the chance to go to the theater to see one, I’ll take it. When George Lucas re-released the original trilogy back in the late-1990s, I was there. The changes he made to the films didn’t bother me. I’m not even sure I could point out what they were at the time, in my mid-teens.
In 1999, when Episode I came out, I was in a packed theater in Lake Placid on opening night. That summer, I think I ended up seeing the Will Smith disaster Wild, Wild West more times than I saw Episode I. Given how dull and doofy The Phantom Menace was, either way it would have been lose-lose.
By the time Episode III was released, though, I had lost all interest in continuing to follow along. It was a couple of years before I actually saw it. The same was true for The Last Jedi. Released just eight months after my daughter was born, I tried to go see it around Christmas, but forces (The Force?) conspired to keep me from making to a movie theater. I finally saw it months later when it came to Netflix.
Unsure if I would get a chance to see Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, I didn’t even bother to shield myself from the stream of spoilers that flowed forth into the internet. As much as I read about the final installment of the Skywalker Saga, I felt like I had managed to see the film, without paying the ridiculous price of going to a movie theater. But with my brother-in-law in town this week, it presented a good opportunity to head out to see Episode IX with a true Star Wars fan.
It was a pretty enjoyable experience.
Knowing I was going to see the movie this week, I made a point of watching The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, since they really made no lasting impression on me. It was a good refresher on the slate of new characters, but it really did nothing to present a coherent story that ran through the sequel trilogy.
Yes, the main through line of the rivalry between the great Jedi hope Rey and the villainous Kylo Ren – the son of General Leia and Han Solo who was turned to the Dark Side – was a compelling story that sustained much of Episode IX’s best scenes. When the focus turned to others – headstrong pilot Poe Dameron, former Stormtrooper Finn or most of the members of the evil First Order – the movie was a lot less enjoyable. The Star Wars films have always relied on an ensemble cast to tell an epic story across three films, but outside of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, none of the new cast members ever drew me in.
Both Episodes VII and IX director J.J. Abrams and Episode VIII director Rian Johnson put a lot of work into creating a intriguing story arcs for the other new cast members, but they always just felt like they were there either for exposition or be put in dangerous situations, most of the time simply to create extra drama. Episode IX continued this, throwing Poe and Finn across the galaxy, searching for mystical MacGuffins that would help further the entwined fates of Rey and Kylo Ren.
Perhaps as a way to boost the stories of these new characters, Abrams (who also wrote the screenplay with Chris Terrio), made sure to pack the film with guest appearances and Easter eggs to keep fans of the series (and people who know of Abrams’ past properties) going, “oh, hey look at that!” It was nice to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian and Denis Lawson returning as Wedge Antilles from the original trilogy was a nice touch. But did we really need Dominic Monaghan, former Hobbit and co-star of Abrams’ ABC series LOST? His appearance in the film honestly pulled me out of the moment on more than one occasion. And despite being in all three of the sequel trilogy movies, Greg Grunberg kind of felt out of place as a Resistance pilot.
Thankfully, Ridley and Driver more than do their parts to carry the movie, alongside the old footage of Carrie Fisher and small cameos from Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. It was clear from their first interactions in The Force Awakens that they would become allies instead of adversaries, in the same way that Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader would join forces to take down Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. That coms through in The Rise of Skywalker. Surprisingly, Rey and Kylo Ren eventually team up to once again take down Palpatine, brought back as the big bad of the sequel trilogy seemingly out of nowhere.
Palpatine’s plan – have Kylo lure his granddaughter Rey to Palpatine so she can strike him down so his spirit could inhabit Rey as Empress Palpatine – is a little out there, but it’s probably the most intriguing plot point of any of the sequels. Much like how I wished the prequel trilogy started the story somewhere around Episode II, it would have been interesting to start the new trilogy with Palpatine luring Rey to the Dark Side, driving the son of Han Solo and General Leia to bring the new empress to some sort of redemption. Alas, ’twas not to be.
The original Star Wars trilogy kicked off a worldwide phenomenon that people still talk about 42 years later, and none of the theatrical additions to the film’s canon have really been all that great, or memorable. Unfortunately, Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker finishes off that trend with a third act to a largely forgettable – and somewhat disjointed – trilogy. There are fun moments, yes, and the visuals continue to be awe-inspiring when seen on the big screen, but it doesn’t have the same special feel to it as the original trilogy did.