In Defense of The Rise of Skywalker: WATCH

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has gotten a ton of hate directed at it for failing to properly close out the world’s biggest franchise. But did it actually fail? Or is this giant mess of a film actually a ton of fun? GAYNRD’S Jessie Earl argues the latter in her latest video.

Right from the beginning of Disney’s first sequel to the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens, Rey and Kylo Ren and their relationship quickly becomes the one of most import.

Earl begins the video by proudly proclaiming she liked the Force Awakens. “Sure,” she says, “It was a rehash of A New Hope, but I loved the new characters and setup, plus after the disaster that was the prequels, this showed that Disney knew what they were doing with Star Wars.”

She then breakdowns the numerous reasons she’s disliked Disney’s subsequent handling of the franchise, and touches on the obvious: the nostalgia porn, the terrible segues that are scored by John Williams to be emotional but ring hollow as they rely on the overwhelming love and zeal of Star Wars fans to work.

In fact, Earl says one of the main problems with the films aren’t the films at all but the fandom. Dustin Pinney concurred in a recent post on Comic Book Resources (CBR). Pinney says, “There are many legitimate reasons for not liking the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy. How you feel about a story is a matter of taste. The Star Wars franchise has existed for more than 40 years, and it means different things to different people. Therefore, any new installment is virtually guaranteed to face criticism, because it’s impossible to please everyone. Where Star Wars fans run into problems, however, is in their extreme reactions to the new films. Fans lash out, not because the movies didn’t suit their personal tastes, but because they offend their sense of identity. From review-bombing to outright hate speech, the negativity swirling around Star Wars isn’t coming from objectively bad filmmaking, it’s coming from the fans themselves.”

Interestingly Disney seems to have solved that problem by reverse engineering the algorithm that is Star Wars in the Plus series The Mandalorian and summed up in this meme.

The majority of Star Wars fans have long agreed the original trilogy is excellent. Since then, there have been prequels, sequels and spinoffs. While a significant portion of the audience finds common ground in the view that the prequels —The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith — are disappointing, there are many fans who love them. However, both of those previous trilogies were released at a time before the ubiquity of social media.

Earl notes that while the sequels may revel in their nostalgia, and have been criticized for it, the prequels, although awful in their execution did attempt to push the series into new territory, yet they were at the time and still are referred to derisively. Earl says in the video, while she enthusiatiscally embraced the themes, she had to “temper my enjoyment to say that this was not the movie that I had hoped it would be, going into the Disney Star Wars trilogy all the way back when it began. What I wanted was  an expanding of the universe, to immerse myself in a world that I love and expand it in a way that feels both natural and new, but also still firmly grounded in the universe. That’s what I feel the prequels did, for all of their many faults. They are not good movies, but at their core, were not repetitions of the original trilogy. It still spoke to Star Wars themes of good versus evil and the corrupting influence of power. Yet, it tried to show us how fascism rises out of the ashes of a democracy that has grown complacent and ignorant of the plight of others on a macro scale, and tried to mirror that on a personal micro scale with a good man who becomes evil. It failed to do that in it’s execution, but it’s themes were solid.”

Interestingly in 2014, Mike Kilmo came up with the fascinatingStar Wars ring theory” joking right in the beginning that “You must unlearn what you have learned about a galaxy far, far away.”

Screen Rant did a Cliff Notes version of the long essay saying, “The kernel of the idea is Lucas’ likening of the Star Wars saga to poetry; as he famously said during the production of Episode I, “It’s like poetry, they rhyme. Every stanza kinda rhymes with the last one.”

There he was talking about how each prequel movie echoes its corresponding original trilogy counterpart –Anakin destroys the droid control ship the same way Luke does the Death Star – with the core distinction being that in Episodes I-III we see the temptation of the Dark Side of the Force win out. There are a lot of shared elements and imagery between the movies, ranging from the granular (Obi-Wan and Han both evade destruction by attaching to a space body) to the galactic (Anakin’s showdown with Dooku in Episode III and Luke’s final fight with Vader). Beyond just poetic-esque storytelling, this allows the series to comment on generations and the ills of parents.”

Which sounds like the opposite of what Earl believes but also what the sequels have done prima facie. 

Earl underscores this when she says, “The Disney sequels are an inverse of the original trilogy and a trilogy that has bent over backwards to give us the same exact thing again and again, even if it made zero logical sense. The First Order is just the Empire, Kylo Ren is just Vader, and Snoke was just Palaptine, until we quite literally got Palpatine. Even The Last Jedi, which at least tried to explode some of that, was still using the same structure of the original trilogy. I wish this franchise had evolved and done something new, but it just tried to give me more of the same, and as a result just left me feeling numb. And Rise of the Skywalker is just the epitome of all of that, just a rehashing and revisit to everything that Star Wars has done before.”

Kilmo says something astonishingly similar about the prequels but arrives at different conclusion. “The prequels are filled with frequent callbacks to the original films, to be sure, but this seems particularly odd.”

He notes, “Assuming it was intentional, why would the opening of Episode I reflect the opening of Episode VI (and at such an incredible level of detail, no less)? It definitely doesn’t feel like the usual, run-of-the-mill fanservice that’s so common in movies nowadays. Nor does it feel like a traditional framing device, since the beginning of Menace reflects the beginning, rather than the end, of Jedi.”

So, is there something going on here? Or is this just a really strange coincidence and I’m reading too much into things?

The overall purpose of the Ring Theory is twofold. On a simple level, it gives the narrative a stronger synchronicity, but beyond that, it ties into the themes (both morally and politically) and spiritually of Star Wars that have been the subject of many a pop-philosophy book. We have a complete story where the duality of its main character and ideology are reflected directly in the structure. With that all in mind, it’s hard to not get sucked in.

And it applies to both the sequels and the prequels.

Polygon said, “The most notable effect is … in [that] characters, conflicts, and plot beats, Episode IX closely mirrors 1983’s Return of the Jedi, to the point where savvy fans could easily call out half the locales, enemies, and story turns well in advance. It’s a remarkably safe and timid approach, one that consciously reflects viewers’ cinematic pasts back at them, with a ‘You loved this last time, right? Here’s more of it!’ attitude. It’s the rom-com method of storytelling, essentially cinema as comfort food: The story is pat and predictable enough to be soothing, and the surprises exist only in the details that mix up the story… it frequently feels as if no one really cares what the characters are pursuing, as long as they’re doing it loudly, quickly, and with plenty of callbacks to the original trilogy, from characters to situations to specific lines.”

The Rise of Skywalker is almost a meta-movie about how Star Wars is cool, and people’s memories of it are cool, and their ability to follow an endless string of references is cool.

Ultimately what makes Rise and the sequels work is the relationship between Rey and Kylo. Which both Ridley and Driver make work, evoking an emotional connection,  despite the shallow narrative.

Polygon says of their relationship, “The relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey in the Star Wars sequel trilogy has been thorny from the start. On the one hand, the movies have always made it clear that they care about each other, in one way or another, but the connection is shaded by Kylo’s cruelty and penchant for doing evil things. Anything deeper between the hero and her First Order adversary might require redemption — and maybe some suspension of disbelief — if the events of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were to be believed.”

Earl counters that one of the biggest arguments leveled at this film is that it retcons The Last Jedi. “But,” she argues, “This film only works because of The Last Jedi.”

For example, she points out, “People look at the scene where Luke catches the lightsaber when Rey attempts to throw it away as a fuck you to director  Rian Johnson and his film. Yet, it forgets that the Luke we got at the start of The Last Jedi, the one who threw away the lightsaber, was not the same Luke at the end of the movie.”

This film is not a thematic rejection of The Last Jedi she says in the video but a direct continuation of it. Without an identity defined by adherence to or explicit rejection of the past, what are we? We are ourselves. We carry the legacy of the past, but we are not defined by it. Instead, we define what it means to us. 

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren gets the most satifactory redemptive and greatest character arc in the Star Wars sequels.

“This thematic idea is also reflected in the film as a whole. People have complained that this film is all just fan service, and normally I hate nostalgia for nostalgia sake. It’s why I hated the first few episodes of The Mandalorian, as so much of it was just pale echoes of what I had seen before. But here in Rise of Skywalker, it works better then most because it’s both a wonderful homage to everything that has come before, satisfying its goal as an end to the trilogy, as well as a great recontextualization of other events.

 

The Emperor’s “unnatural” line from Revenge of the Sith is a highlight, turning its ugly manipulation of trust into a line showcasing the pure eldritch horror of the Emperor being back.”

When Lando shows up, it feels like a bit more than a cameo because he talks about how no matter what, he fought his war, reminding our characters that their struggle against evil isn’t pointless, even if it is a repeating cycle. Nostalgia is being used here to discuss the present. The destroyed Death Star, once a technological marvel, becomes a hulk corpse, a fitting place for Rey to learn the horrors of her true lineage amidst the scar, a blight upon the moon of Endor, left behind by her grandfather.

When Kylo Ren and Han discuss Ben coming back into to the light, it reuses the dialogue from Han’s death scene in Force Awakens, yet now with a new context of actually having Ben choose the light.

“I know what i have to do, but i don’t know if i have the strength to do it.” Kylo Rea
“You do.” Han Solo
“Dad…,” Ren
“I know.” Solo

It also parallels Han and Leia’s famous moment in Empire Strikes Back before he’s frozen in carbonite. It kills me that in this scene Ben turns around to his father, and almost says I love you, but can’t and Han just says I know. 

 

“It’s not just referencing that scene to be like, Oh remember this thing you LOVED, but to actually remind you of where these characters come from, and how that legacy now informs the present.  And there are so many of these moments throughout the movie, all leading to the moment where Rey looks up at the sky and hears the voices of the Jedis past. We feel that moment because, through all these references throughout the film, we know that that legacy actually still plays a tangible role in the lives of these characters. It’s not just a walk down memory lane for us, but something that has left its mark on all of these characters, for better or worse. And the narrative makes us feel that weight and makes this film a fitting ending to a story spanning 42 years and nine films.”

 

Polygon reinforces this notion saying, “These brief moments all lead up to the climactic confrontation between Rey, Ben, and the very much alive Emperor Palpatine. The Emperor reveals that the two are part of a Force Dyad, an abstract Force power that connected them from birth. They float through life as two parts of a significantly more powerful whole. The movie never really pays off that idea, except for when Palpatine sucks the life out of them when they stand right next to each other, but it sounds heavy. Palpatine eventually throws Ben into a pit, and Rey kills the emperor herself, possibly dying in the process. Ben crawls out of the pit and, grieving over her body, sacrifices himself — we think? — to save her. But in the brief moment that they’re both alive, the Jedi and the ex-Sith acolyte share a kiss, canonizing an online ship forever.”

“When we look at Palpatine, we see a similar arc played out. By bringing Palpatine back here, you realize that he has been the driving evil throughout all nine films. And by doing so, he moves beyond a simple character, but to become the avatar and embodiment of everything this franchise has fought against:  Fascism, hatred, anger.

I love the call back when the Emperor says that by killing him, his spirit will live on in Rey. Anger and hate will perpetuate itself if we give into it, if we keep feeding it. We can’t see any other choices, so we just continue this cycle. It also explains to me why the Sith were always just kinda cool with their apprentices always killing each other. Like, that’s in the lore, Sith always understand that they’ll be killed by their apprentices, which is so weird, but having it explained that their spirit of hatred lives on when they are killed makes so much sense. And also mirrors how hope works too, just as Obi-Wan said in A New Hope.

Because you see, hope also continues on too. But unlike the Sith and hatred, which his passed on individually, solely, and is inherently destructive, hope spreads out, it infects others, it is something that is spread, slowly yet powerfully.  It’s why I love that the film tells us that there are always more of us then there are of them. Because that is so true, there is always always more love then hate, that is what Star Wars has always tried to say. But sometimes we don’t see it because hate feels so insurmountable, yet is so easily defeated if we try hard enough.

There’s always more love than hate, that’s what Star Wars has always been about.”

Yet Rey and Kylo still bring some freshness to this narrative and that alternately undermines and supports the “Ring Theory.”

As Polygon says, “In a series that so often sees morality as a black-and-white issue, or at least one where characters can flip at a moment’s notice without repercussions, the Rey-Kylo Ren relationship challenged Star Wars fandom to grapple with a complicated issue. Perhaps it’s fitting that in a trilogy that’s been so divisive, even Reylo coming true didn’t happen in a way that could make the whole Reylo community happy.”

“Yet that is Rise of Skywalker’s greatest strength. This is not the movie that I would have asked for nor wanted. And I hope to God that we don’t get another film or trilogy in this franchise that just tries to emulate everything that came before. But given what it had to work with, and given the Sisyphean task of capping off over 40 years  of Star Wars history, it did so admirably. It reminded me of everything I loved about this franchise, as well as everything that I hated about it. 

 

And isn’t that what Star Wars has always been about? Acknowledging both the good and the bad, but always aiming to do good? To find your balance? And that’s what Rise of Skywalker did for me, it brought balance to this franchise, gave us a close to this highly problematic segment of the narrative, and gave me a new hope that we can now finally move forward. Maybe we as fans should be trying to find that balance between the light and dark side as well.”

Watch the video below and let us know if you agree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *