Look, I’m very confused.
The first time I saw The Rise of Skywalker, I kind of hated it. I got home from the movie theater and poured out all my confused, frustrated, disappointed feelings into a blog post, and was comforted by the fact that at least the rest of the internet seemed to agree with me.
Except I was also intrigued by a lot of the ideas I saw in Rise of Skywalker, which led to me reading lots of fanfiction, which led to me rewatching and writing about The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, which led to me heading back to the theater to give The Rise of Skywalker another chance. I’m still not 100% certain why I thought my opinion would change. My friends enjoyed the movie, but the whole rest of the internet was disappointed with it. But the first time I saw The Rise of Skywalker, I wasn’t well. The theater light above my seat was broken, so it never dimmed throughout the entire movie. I missed chunks of the beginning trying to get someone to fix that stupid light, and stewed for quite a while afterwards because I was finally seeing the new Star Wars and it was getting ruined by the fact that my seat was as well-lit as a table in a coffee shop.
I wasn’t exactly in a forgiving mood, to put it lightly. The Rise of Skywalker is full of problems, and every single one of them screamed out at me. I never fell into the world of the movie. It never convinced me. And I really did not enjoy it.
On second viewing? It convinced me. I came out of the theater giddy, wrapped up in the Star Wars world. It was such a different experience that I actually went to see it a third time yesterday before it left theaters, to puzzle out what the hell was going on with my feelings.
The Rise of Skywalker is an incredibly flawed movie. It packs in too many ideas, rushes through some moments, and drops plot threads left and right. It works far better on a second viewing as a result. Once you know where it’s going, the rush to get there isn’t as distracting. On second viewing, I fully picked up on the story that the writers were telling, the one that got lost in all the chaos the first time. I gave time to the new characters who felt like they had appeared too late in the trilogy to play an important role on first viewing. I was ready for what the movie actually is, rather than what I imagined it might be, and so I enjoyed it so much more.
Does that make it a bad movie, that it didn’t work the first time? Maybe. I’d blame it on that light and that bad cold I had, but a lot of people seem to have had the same experience as I did. And I certainly don’t think it’s a masterpiece of cinema (although, let’s be honest, that’s not ever been Star Wars). I still rolled my eyes occasionally on second viewing, and I’m basically just putting the whole “Rey is a Palpatine” thing in the corner of my brain where I don’t have to think about it too much. But honestly, among all those flaws? There’s a lot about The Rise of Skywalker to love.
And yes, 90% of that is because of Rey and Kylo Ren. I’ve been a “never Reylo” sort of person, perpetually confused by why people love Kylo Ren/Ben Solo so much, but even after that first disappointed viewing of The Rise of Skywalker, I finally got it. I get it even more now, to the point that I’m going to write a whole separate post about it, because seriously? I don’t think I can overstate how big a change of heart this was for me. And that’s already a mega point in Rise of Skywalker’s favor, regardless of anything else. It absolutely sold me on a character and a relationship that I previously disliked to the point that the one thing I wanted from Rise of Skywalker was for it to not be about the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren. Oh how the tables have turned.
Here’s what I loved about The Rise of Skywalker. I loved how Rey is an absolute badass. I loved the dramatic set-piece fight on the fallen Death Star, with the huge waves crashing around them. I loved that the exploration of Rey’s Dark Side culminated in her doing something in anger that was actually, seriously dark. The movie doesn’t just toy with temptation. She straight up stabs Kylo Ren through the chest with his own red lightsaber when he’s put down his weapon and ended the fight because he destroyed a Sith artefact she wanted to have. She has an actual crisis over what she’s capable of, and has to make an actual choice whether to let that act stand, or to use some of her own lifeforce to heal her mortal enemy.
In fact, that’s one criticism of The Rise of Skywalker I’ve seen that just doesn’t match my experience of the movie at all. That it’s all about fate and inevitability and destiny, too weighed down by the original trilogy to allow its new characters to shine. But this a movie with an army of rebel Stormtroopers. Rey faces choice. The whole “heir to the Emperor” thing is heavy-handed and unnecessary to her whole Dark Side exploration plotline, but Rey is forced to face exactly the person her fight is transforming her into. She actually chooses to embrace the Dark Side in a vital moment — not accidentally using force lightning against a transport ship, but personally stabbing Kylo Ren through the chest — and that means that her ensuing choices, to heal Ben, to run from her power, and then finally to embrace it and use it for good, carry so much more weight.
And it’s a similar story with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. I don’t really know how I feel about Leia sacrificing herself to help turn Kylo away from the Dark Side in that key moment. On the one hand, its a plot beat that lacks personality responsibility for Kylo. On the other hand, it means both Han and Leia eventually sacrifice themselves to help pull their son away from Snoke and the Emperor’s evil influence. And that moment with Leia is not the end of his arc. It is enough to distract him in a key moment when the Dark Side is driving both him and Rey. What happens, exactly? He simply hears his mother say his name through the Force, and he hesitates and looks back. Everything that happens after that is his own choice. Even on first viewing, I read his crisis on the fallen Death Star as a moment mostly driven by the fact that Rey healed him. She had finally defeated him, and she chose to take it back and let him live. And then she tells him that she did want to take his hand in The Last Jedi. She didn’t abandon him. But she wanted to be with Ben Solo, not Kylo Ren.
And so we get what’s probably my favorite scene in the entire movie, where Kylo imagines talking to his father, echoing their confrontation on the bridge on Starkiller Base, and this time making the choice he should have made all along. This scene. I’ve seen it three times now, and it kills me every time. Goddammit, Adam Driver. When he calls Han Solo dad… and, importantly, he makes a choice. He chooses to cast off the trappings of Kylo Ren and throw his lightsaber away. He chooses to travel to Exegol to support Rey with nothing but a blaster in his hand. He chooses to fight the Sith with her, and to heal her when the fight kills her, even if he knows what it might cost him. His final act is to smile, a huge, joyful grin, because he has finally made the right choices, and they have set him free.
And yes, I’m on team “Ben Solo shouldn’t have died.” But honestly, I’m not sure how the movie could have ended any other way. The redemption of a still-living Ben Solo is far too morally and emotionally complicated for the final five minutes of an adventure movie. Ask me what I think of this in ten years, if my instincts are wrong and the Star Wars universe doesn’t end up bringing Ben Solo back to life in some medium or another and exploring those issues. But for now, I’m fairly convinced that that will happen in the not too distant future. The character is too popular, and the narrative potential is too great, to leave him dead. So I’ll put a pin in that for now.
Finally, there’s the ending on Tattoine. I know a lot of people read that as Rey moving to the planet, living on Luke’s old moisture farm and becoming a hermit Jedi, but that’s an interpretation that makes no sense to me. The entire trilogy is about the pull between the past and the future. It is Luke determined that the Jedi should end, and Kylo Ren telling Rey that she has to let the past die. It is Rey spending a lifetime on Jakku, waiting for parents that will never return, and desperately hoping that learning who they are will give her her place of belonging in the world. And it is Luke, in this movie, admitting that he was wrong. That they cannot simply burn the past away or hide from it. It is Ben Solo finding the balance between letting go of the past — of his traumas, and of all the things he’s done that he thinks means he cannot redeem himself — and accepting those things as part of who he is. And it is Rey, able to move on from the past, unwilling to let herself be defined by her blood, choosing the legacy she plans to carry forward. She buries the old lightsabers in the desert, because their work is over now. She crafts herself a new lightsaber from her staff, bringing her past and her personality into her new future as a Jedi. And she chooses to take the name Skywalker, to represent the person she truly is and wants to be. Not because she’s subsumed by the Skywalker legend, but because she is taking ownership of the part that she plays in it, and defining who she wants to be. She goes to Tattoine not to become trapped in the past but to honor it, before stepping out into the future and into a brand new story.
At least, that’s how I read it. That’s how I read the golden shade of Rey’s lightsaber, a subtle mix between the hues of the Light Side and the Dark Side. That’s how I read the scene when Rey gathers the strength to stand and face the Emperor again, when shadows flicker across her face, creating a play of Light and Dark. That’s how I read Rey and BB-8 walking into the sunset on Tattoine, moving out of one story and into another.
Is The Rise of Skywalker a good movie? I don’t know. Probably not. It’s certainly got a lot of problems. But god, right now, I kind of love it. So fight me, world. I’ve become a Rise of Skywalker fan.