--==MovieHabit.com==--

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

**

by Matt Anderson

published April 19, 2020

Editor’s Note: The author of this review first saw Episode IX while on an adventure of his own. It was opening day. It was in IMAX. But it was also in Gurugram, India. Bollywood. Amidst politically charged riots, simply getting to the theatre was an adventure in itself. That’s a story for another time, but that’s why his thoughts on Episode IX are only now being shared. Beware: the following contains spoilers.

In Episode IX, the Skywalker saga ends with a disappointing whimper.

#WeAreSkywalker

This is the weakest of the nine episodes.

Sure, Episodes I-III are ripe for criticism: stilted dialogue and poor casting of a couple key roles top the list of grievances. But at least there’s an honest story being told.

With the third trilogy, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm custodian Kathleen Kennedy have botched it big time — and they did it to themselves by casting aside Lucas’ own plans for the final chapters of the Skywalker saga (more on that in a bit). Instead, they’ve boasted of having dissected Episodes IV-VI in order to understand their enduring appeal. Their ambition was no more grandiose than to mimic that “it” factor.

While The Force Awakens “felt” good, it was still, at its core, a highlights reel of the middle trilogy. Even so, it was a setup holding the promise for some compelling future chapters based on the introduction of several new characters.

Turns out, this trilogy is nothing more than Abrams’ Lost all over again; Abrams and Kennedy didn’t have a destination in mind for Rey when they started her journey in Episode VII and it’s painfully clear they struggled to find that end point in The Rise of Skywalker. Key possibilities in The Last Jedi — including a nascent youth rebellion on Canto Bight — were completely cast aside. Even Luke Skywalker himself is no longer a force to be reckoned with in Episode IX. Luke doesn’t even spiritually guide Rey; instead, footage of Leia left on the Force Awakens cutting room floor supports Rey’s training activities. Ultimately, this trilogy stopped being about the Skywalker clan as Rey’s murky narrative became the driving (and misguided) force.

As a result, the series has devolved into a nine-part saga that’s slightly less than eight parts about the Skywalker clan. It’s a saga that ends without a single member of the Skywalker gene pool still alive and yet the title is The Rise of Skywalker. What a cheap cheat. This episode actually undermines the goodwill established in all that preceded it.

It’s as if the end game all along was to undo the damage Lucas caused in Episode I by way of the clumsy introduction of midi-chlorians, essentially convoluting the Force with a genetic component. In Episode IX, genes and names no longer have any meaning.

Now, we are all Skywalkers. And, astonishingly, we are also underwhelmed and left uninspired by a conclusion that reeks of Saturday morning cartoon simplicity. That’s not how this should’ve ended. Not by a long shot.

#SkywalkerStrong

Of all the people Kennedy could’ve hired to write Episode IX (after firing Colin Trevorrow), she went to Chris Terrio. He’s not the right guy. Argo? It was good. Until the movie — based on a true story — wrapped up with an unnecessary, silly Hollywood ending. Batman v Superman and The Justice League featured some atrocious, laughable plot points. Be thankful for small favors: at least Terrio didn’t introduce a character named Martha Skywalker.

Together, Terrio and Abrams (while also recycling some ideas from Derek Connolly and Trevorrow’s draft) paint themselves into a corner. And voila. Lando Calrissian’s back on the scene and flitting around the galaxy marshaling support. Ludicrous. Silly. Simplistic. And so very, very lazy.

At the very least, “lazy” is one word that can’t be used to describe Lucas’ ambitions.

While flying stormtroopers serve as one of the final episode’s few exciting innovations, the relationships set up with so much promise in Episode VII all fall flat. None of them arrive at something remotely satisfying. Instead, Poe Dameron hits on a rogue female from his deep, dark past who knows better than to entertain his advances. Finn makes allusions to feeling the Force. Rose is left in the dust as a mere after thought. Ben Solo? Well, at least he gets a dramatic turn. Rey... Heck. Rey is now Rey Skywalker. Because Rey Palpatine simply ain’t gonna leave ’em walking out the theatre humming John Williams’ music. That’s it. That sums up the extent of Episode IX’s limited vision.

The Dark Side

With The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson went down the dark path, very much akin to the trajectory of The Empire Strikes Back — considered by many to be the best of the series — and Johnson sent the characters in unexpected directions.

Unfortunately, many fans were somehow — in some way — offended by the proceedings. Luke Skywalker casting aside his beloved lightsaber? The one that went tumbling down a Cloud City shaft with his cold dead hand still attached? Sacre bleu! (By the way, Maz Kanata never explained how the heck the lightsaber was recovered in the first place. That storyline has been relegated to an unimaginative and poorly written comic book. Another disappointment.)

Johnson put all the pieces in place for a rousing finale. With better planning by Abrams and Kennedy back in the early days of crafting this trilogy, there could’ve been a fantastic story arc and a breathtaking conclusion in Episode IX. Imagine Luke’s ultimate sacrifice scooched over from Episode VIII to Episode IX, a dramatic act to bring an end to the tortured Skywalker gene pool while also launching an inspired, energized collective that’s determined to never, ever let another evil Empire or Order happen again.

Instead, by the time of Episode IX, the Skywalker blood line has already petered out. Luke? Dead. Leia? Well, unfortunately, Carrie Fisher passed away before production started. Short of going the CGI route, her story impact was certain to be limited. That leaves Ben Solo as the only character carrying the Skywalker bloodline, by way of his mother. And things don’t end well for Ben.

The Skywalker Arc

Let’s backup. Let’s stop and consider Luke’s character arc.

Luke was always a rather bratty hero. Innocent at first, but his inner cockiness (it’s in the blood, thanks to papa Anakin) was enough to make even Han Solo look risk-averse in comparison. Whining about not being able to spend time with his friends in Episode IV. Whining about the challenges of Jedi training in Episode V. And then, BOOM, declaring himself a Jedi in front of Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. Yoda called him out on his ambitions: “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience. Much anger in him, like his father.” Even Palpatine knew better; “I’m looking forward to completing your training.” Who knows what was going through that kid’s head? Based on what’s presented in the movies, for all we know, he was doing it for the girl. And, well, when that motivation was taken off the table in Episode VI... Oh, perish the thought.

How altruistic was Luke, really? Did he ever truly get a handle on his anger management? Can it be said he completed his training in full and was steady enough to train others? Certainly Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi know it’s not a task to be taken lightly and failure has serious consequences.

The entire character arc of Luke has been one of the flawed hero. So much so that it wasn’t until his death in Episode VIII that he finally realized his ultimate salvation — certainly his most impactful effort since destroying the Death Star in Episode IV (the resurrection of Emperor Palpatine (or his clone) effectively negates the success of Luke's efforts in Episode VI).

Rian Johnson held tightly the concept of the hero’s journey. Success, after all, is a journey, not a destination. Luke’s journey was fraught with personal challenges and it took a nosedive. Johnson dialed into this aspect, breaking down the whole notion of the hero’s journey and turning it into a compelling internal drama. Any thoughts Luke Skywalker, Jedi, should be the mortal equivalent of Superman is wrongheaded. And, actually, quite boring.

Ultimately, this third trilogy should’ve been the atonement trilogy, the redemption of the Skywalker family name. Even success has its price and triumph can still lead to self-doubt, just as Luke was experiencing off-screen between Episodes VI and VII. The Force Awakens should’ve focused on many of the events in The Last Jedi, with Luke restoring his faith in the penultimate episode and acting upon it in IX — maybe even as the father of a character... like Rey... to move the lineage forward.

Instead, this third trilogy — thanks to Episode IX — has, thematically, turned into a remarkably tone-deaf mess.

The Lucas Back Story

Subsequent to Lucas selling Lucasfilm to Disney, he revealed he had been working on a third trilogy, but Disney rejected his story ideas and went off in this what-was-old-is-new-again direction.

In interviews around the time of the sale, Lucas revealed an interesting creative process — one revelation being the trilogy now known as Episodes IV-VI originally featured one Death Star, a looming presence of impending doom that hung heavy in the background of Episodes IV and V, leading up to a final battle in Episode VI, but those plans changed and Lucas crammed it all into a movie called Star Wars (remember, it was originally released as a standalone feature, Episode IV: A New Hope was added for the movie’s theatrical re-release after Star Wars soared to the top of the box office record books). Back in the early days, Lucas didn’t think he had a realistic chance of making more than one space fantasy.

Episodes I-III by design took on a completely different look and feel. Lucas didn’t want to give audiences more of the same. And his version of Episodes VII-IX would’ve been yet another change in tone, a different experience yet again. Unfortunately, instead, Disney struck gold by providing more of the same. But that pandering is a disservice to the saga’s range of creativity and imagination.

Look back on the nine movies — The Skywalker Saga — as a whole. The two best are the two most challenging: The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi. Those are the movies that took the characters in new, unexpected directions, down darker paths. They challenged the status quo of the Star Wars universe. They took the familiar into uncharted territory; they weren’t simply more of the same. And they were the only two of the final six episodes without a Death Star or Death Star-like threat.

Ultimately, that also reveals the underlying appeal of Star Wars: it’s in the characters and the relationships. That’s the main attraction — along with the mysticism of the Force and the humming of lightsabers — that guides audiences through the repetitiveness of the Death Stars and their successors. But in Episode IX, as previously mentioned, all those relationships end with a bad aftertaste. The “it” factor was betrayed.

After behind-the-scenes meddling with the standalone Han Solo feature brought the franchise’s popularity to a previously inconceivable low, the whole Star Wars Cinematic Universe — a plan to mimic another Disney powerhouse, the Marvel Cinematic Universe — has been put on hold. Efforts to stand up whole new series (including one conceived by Rian Johnson) have hit turbulence as creative teams come and go amid the turmoil of inner sanctum politics and the dread of contending with a needlessly vitriolic fanbase.

It’s a dark time for the Star Wars universe. But, recently, a child was born and a new hope has risen again.