by Rob DiCristino
Warning: This whole damn thing is a Rise of Skywalker spoiler.
For much of its running time, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is less a narrative than it is a collection of highlights, a rip-roaring, cotton candy ode to joy that sends the sequel trilogy (and, indeed, the entire Skywalker Saga) out with everyone feeling all warm and fuzzy: Ben Solo is finally redeemed, sacrificing himself to save Rey from the reincarnated Emperor Palpatine. BB-8 makes a new best friend in the cone-headed D-0. General Leia passes peacefully into the Force, allowing Poe and Finn to come into their own as leaders of the Rebellion (or the Resistance, or whatever). Rey confronts and overcomes the dark influences inside of herself, harnessing the legacy of countless Jedi Masters to obliterate the Sith once and for all. Burying her mentors’ lightsabers in the Tatooine desert, Rey takes on the surname Skywalker and strides boldly into an unknown future. That leaves only the mighty Chewbacca, who gets, well, a medal.
And no, of course I’m not going to spend a thousand words obsessing over a Wookie getting a medal. The medal isn’t the problem, not really. But it is a symptom of a larger issue with the way The Rise of Skywalker presents its vision for Star Wars: “Give everyone want they want,” it seems to say. Give everyone what feels good. Tap into that adolescent joy we all felt when we saw Star Wars for the first time. Rian Johnson (Yup, I’m bringing him into this!) wanted to have a conversation about what Star Wars means. The Last Jedi reflects on our shared history with the franchise. It offers constructive criticism as well as effusive praise. It endeavors to improve it for future generations. Not The Rise of Skywalker. No, this film just wants us to remember how much we love it! It wants us to live in that warm, cozy blur so badly that it’s willing to sacrifice a character’s genuine narrative and symbolic efficacy in favor of a moment of empty nostalgia. I’m talking, of course, about the prison shuttle fake-out: Overwhelmed by the dark energy brewing inside of her, Rey inadvertently lets out a bolt of Force lightning that destroys the First Order ship we’re led to believe is carrying Chewie. It wasn’t, though. There Was Another.
Ultimately, these are quibbles. It’s okay when things are fun and easy. But maybe, just maybe, they mean a little more to us when they’re hard.