Early in The Rise of Skywalker, our brave heroes fall into quicksand and begin being sucked down to their doom. Characters struggle and panic. They think it’s the end. At the final moment, Finn begins to tell Rey something he says he should have told her before, but he doesn’t manage to get the words out before they all go under the surface.
Classic action movie sequence. Except that all of this happens in a few seconds. They fall. They panic. And then they’re gone. A scene that is probably the greatest cliche of the ticking time bomb situation flies past in an instant, without any chance to build up tension.
Turns out, this scene is a pretty good summary of The Rise of Skywalker as a whole. There’s a hell of a lot going on. A lot of it might even be good. But it all happens too fast. It feels like the writers had a brainstorming session and then just threw absolutely everything they came up with into the final version, no matter how much sense it made. The result is a movie with a lot of action and no emotional impact, because there’s just too much, and no room to breathe.
I might be crazy on this one. I certainly felt crazy, when the ending credits rolled and every other person I watched the movie with declared how much they loved it. I want to watch it again and see what they saw. Because with the exception of a couple of scenes, the movie just left me increasingly exasperated.
In this quicksand scene, Finn says there’s something he wanted to tell Rey. Once it turns out they don’t die, he demurs, refusing to say it in front of Poe. Typical moving-opening plot-establishing stuff. Except that Finn never delivers his message. It doesn’t come up again. I kept expecting him to throw out a cheesy “I love you” moment, but… nothing. And honestly, as cheesy and unearned as that plotline would have felt at the end of this movie, it would be preferable to just leaving that whole thread hanging. What did he want to say in his dying moments? It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it.
But so much of this movie is just “don’t worry about it.” And from now on will come the more specific spoilers, so be warned.
How on earth did everyone travel about so much in their fixed time-limit? How did Kylo Ren get to the Sith planet from the wreckage of the Death Star? Where did Rey’s new lightsaber come from at the end of the movie, when she symbolically buried Luke and Leia’s ones? And what about Emperor Palpatine? What has he been doing all this time?
What about healing people with the Force? The movie suggests it uses some of your life force to do it, and that Ben used all of his to save Rey. Which raises two questions. First, how come Rey seemingly wasn’t weakened after saving him from a mortal lightsaber wound earlier in the movie? And secondly, why was Rey dead? What killed her? As far as I could tell, she just deflected the Emperor’s force lightning back at himself using the two lightsabers. And that… killed her? I didn’t follow it. Just as I didn’t follow how Chewie ended up getting captured. Everything was blink and you miss it.
Which meant that, by the end, I was too disengaged from the story to buy into its big final choice. The Emperor mocks Rey, telling her that the only way to save her friends is to kill him, but killing him means giving in to hate, which means she will become a Sith. Cool. Except that she and Ben kill plenty of other people in that room to protect themselves. I was expecting her to kill the Emperor while declaring that he’s wrong, she’s a Jedi, and she’s killing him out of love for everyone else, not hatred for him… but it seems his words were true. In this case, and this case only, Rey cannot kill. It felt like such a strangely black and white approach to morality, when Rey’s refusal to act would literally kill everyone else in the world.
So many things just felt incredibly unearned. I can’t remember it being mentioned before, in main movie canon, that Leia actually trained as a Jedi. Yet suddenly the fact that she did became an important plot point. The payoff of her quitting Jedi training was revealed in the exact same scene as the revelation that she ever trained at all. Characters suddenly appear, and we’re supposed to care about them, without any time for us to get to know them or grow to care.
It was just All Too Much.
And it sucks, because under it all, there was a pretty good story. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Rey and Kylo Ren, but there was solid, interesting stuff under here. If they had cut out all the noise and the confusion, and really focussed on telling one solid story, it could have been excellent.
Unfortunately, I think the one thing needed to make this work as a movie was to go back in time, and do something different with The Last Jedi. Whether you loved or hated The Last Jedi, it didn’t lead into this movie. If we could go back in time to make The Rise of Skywalker work, we’d introduce the Emperor earlier. Maybe Kylo Ren kills Snoke for the Emperor. I don’t know. But give Kylo Ren a tie to him earlier, so him turning on the dark side and working with Rey has more weight. Introduce the fact that Leia can’t train Rey, because she never completed her own Jedi training, so she needs to go find Luke. Then get rid of the magical maguffin chasing in The Rise of Skywalker, and create a threat that actually feels like a threat.
And if time-travel isn’t possible, then I think Rise of Skywalker needed to be smaller. It needed to not have the Emperor at all. It needed to just be focussed on Rey and Kylo Ren, on whether she will turn to the Dark Side or whether he will finally return to the light. I hate to sacrifice Chewie, but perhaps he actually should have died as a result of Rey’s powers, so that she was actually on a potential Dark Side path. I don’t know. I just know that these were the moments that actually resonated with me in the movie — Rey thinking she was responsible for killing Chewie while trying to save him. Rey killing Kylo Ren, and choosing to save him. Ben saving Rey and kissing her. Those were the elements of a compelling, emotional story, and I say that as someone who really would not have wanted a Rey/Kylo Ren ship before walking into the movie theater today.
But it didn’t work out. There was just too much in this movie, and almost none of it felt earned. Maybe I’ll feel differently after a rewatch. I hope I feel differently. I want to write long essays fangirling over Rey’s character arc and feel the same complete obsessive joy that I felt after seeing The Force Awakens for the first time. But right now, it seems like it’s not to be.
Now someone guide me to some excellent fanfic.