Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has become a divisive movie, with some believing its garbage that kills their interest in Star Wars while some others had a fun time.
The one undisputable thing about the film is that it's being billed as the end of The Skywalker Saga, a 9-film, 3-trilogy epic about, well, the Skywalker family. That means that The Rise of Skywalker has a couple things it needs to do.
One, it needs to wrap up the Sequel Trilogy. Two, it needs to wrap up this trilogy of trilogies. Three, it needs to be a good movie.
That third bit is the least interesting part to me. The Rise of Skywalker is a fun movie that has some problems. It's got that signature propulsion that JJ Abrams is so good at. Things move so fast and there's so much being thrown at you that you just kind of hold on and go for a ride. You don't really question why things are happening or what they're happening for. You're having fun! Then you begin poking and prodding and things start unraveling a bit.
You wonder why Rose Tico takes a sudden back seat. You realize the movie is essentially a big chase movie. Rey is looking for a Wayfinder to make her way to the Emperor, while Kylo Ren is on the chase trying to turn her to take down the Emperor. They both want to take down the Emperor, and there are a number of doodads and objects and characters that drop in to help them on their way.
The bigger question is whether this movie adequately wraps up the Sequel Trilogy and the overall Saga. That's a bit of a mixed bag.
Be warned, spoilers follow.
The Sequel Trilogy
What is the Sequel Trilogy actually about? The Force Awakens leaned heavily on the Original Trilogy to tell us a story about a new generation that is coming face to face with a generation they grew up idolizing.
There are many instances in The Force Awakens when a character will stop dead in his or her tracks and fanboy a little. We see Rey do this quite a bit, for instance, especially with Han Solo. We see her put on a Rebel helmet and stare off into the sky, hoping to be part of the adventure.
She also may be holding out hope that the family that abandoned her is someone out there in the galaxy who did something important. We see this reflected when Kylo Ren points out that Rey looks to Han as a father she never had.
Ah yes, Kylo's obsession with the past comes in the form of an almost religious-like worship of his grandfather, Darth Vader. He even prays out to Vader's crusty helmet for strength. On the other hand, Snoke uses this past and this inter-generational idoltry to poke and prod Kylo a bit.
In The Last Jedi, we see this turned on its head slightly. The characters start to figure out how to grapple with all this generational weight that was hoisted upon them.
Kylo decides to abandon his family, killing his father and proclaiming that it's time for the past to die. The only way to become what he needs to become is erase all of it and be whoever he wants to be.
On the flip side, Rey was abandoned and looking to find a family. For those without family, the first instinct is often that tracing your blood family can instantly give you the connections you crave.
But Rey quickly learns that those answers aren't going to come easy. Her parents weren't important in the grand schemes of the galaxy. They were just people, and knowing who they are won't help her find her own purpose and give her a family again.
In The Rise of Skywalker, we ultimately see Kylo and Rey's arcs converge. Kylo sees an opportunity for Rey to follow in his steps and abandon her family, Emperor Palpatine, to create something new.
For a bit, this seems to work. Rey is driven by hatred of Palpatine to find that Wayfinder and end him. So much so that she kills Kylo Ren, someone she believed still had light inside them. Leia reaching out to Ben and then dying, however, opened her eyes just like it opened Ben's eyes.
Kylo keeps trying to abandon his family, using hate to put a distance between them. But the loving outreach of his mother breaks through for a moment, with Rey's act to save him cementing things. These people won't abandon him no matter what he does, and it brings him back to the light.
Rey meets Palpatine with a resolve. She has figured out that knowing who her family is isn't going to give her purpose or the family she craves. She has a family, the Resistance, and that draw to her Palpatine bloodline doesn't do anything for her. It's why it takes Palpatine threatening to kill her new family for her to give in to his demand to kill him and become Empress.
So what is this Sequel Trilogy about? It's about a generation that is coming to terms with the actions of the previous generation and how that affects who they can be. The pressure of being part of a legendary family or the shame of being part of one that committed atrocities doesn't have to define you. You define who you are.
The Skywalker Saga
For better or worse, the mainline Star Wars movies are about a family. It starts with the Prequel Trilogy, a story about Anakin Skywalker's descent to the Dark Side.
We continue with the Original Trilogy, the tale of how his children and their friends redeem him. The Sequel Trilogy wants to run with the idea that the Skywalker legacy is one of hope.
We see this in The Force Awakens when finding Luke to bring hope to the Resistance is the goal. We see this in The Last Jedi when Broom Boy and his buds are telling the story of Luke, looking off as Luke did and dreaming of fighting for freedoom. We see this in The Rise of Skywalker when Ben is redeemed by people's hope in him.
And then there's Rey, who adopts the Skywalker name to honor the family that gave her hope.
The Skywalker Saga is about the Skywalkers, and for the most part this tracks through all 9 movies. The Sequel Trilogy, unlike the first two, don't take a direct path there, they take an indirect path, but they get there.
However, things aren't all smooth. We all know the problems with the Prequel Trilogy. The Sequel Trilogy is an improvement, but it's not near the Original Trilogy.
For one, the Sequel Trilogy misses out on some interesting storytelling opportunities. It acts like the First Order is the Empire from the jump, rather than a Neo Nazi-like fringe group growing in power. We don't get to see any of the New Republic and how it falls.
We also don't get many new vehicles and ideas. The Prequels had Clones, Droids and no X-Wings or TIE Fighters. The Sequels recycles everything except Force powers, which it does a good job of expanding upon.
A big new idea in The Last Jedi, arms dealers selling to both the First Order and Resistance, is pretty much dropped immediately and never considered again.
There are some good moments of rhyming and, as George Lucas famously explained, Star Wars is like poetry - it rhymes. We see Rey and Kylo fighting over water, a mirror of how Obi-Wan and Anakin fought over fire. The structure of much of The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens mirrors Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope, changing things up just enough to not feel like straight remakes (well, maybe not totally the case with The Force Awakens).
And of course, the Emperor returns - pulling the strings in a seemingly never-ending battle against the Skywalkers. While the Emperor's return brings some questions, I'm willing to overlook them because it brings about my favorite bit of rhyming in this entire Sequel Trilogy.
In the Prequels, a Palpatine spends two movies trying to bring a Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force. In the Sequels, a Palpatine spends two movies trying to bring a Skywalker to the Light Side of the Force.
The Skywalker Saga is far from perfect. There are arguably more bad movies than good in this thing, but this is the story we have. I'm glad we have it, as I've spent decades now obsessing over it and wondering what's next.
And now the Skywalker Saga is over. I can only hope that what comes next is Lucasfilm breaking open this universe and telling us stories far in the past and far into the future about a whole host of likable rogues just trying to make their way through this crazy, crazy galaxy.