Star Wars fans, we need to talk.
Warning: Here be spoilers
Sure, we need to talk about the kiss between Kylo Ren and Rey, we need to talk about where the Star Wars story goes now that they’ve defeated the Empire (again), and we really need to talk about the Ewoks, but most of all we need to talk about one thing.
Chewbacca gets a medal.
There were times in The Rise of Skywalker that almost made me cry; when Kylo Ren realises who he ought to have been all along, when the armada of rebellion ships turns up (even though we knew they would), and Kylo Ren’s sacrifice to save Rey. But nothing made the ol’ tear ducts well up when, in the battle’s aftermath, Chewbacca is handed over a bequeath from Princess Leia. He unwraps it to find a medal.
Long time Star Wars fans would know it as one of the great injustices from the original films, when Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are presented with medals from Princess Leia at the end of A New Hope. Chewbacca, despite his excellent contributions to saving the galaxy, is left standing on a podium without a medal while his human allies are celebrated.
The Rise of Skywalker corrects this “wookieeist” injustice.
Now that I’ve had my rant about the medal, what did I think of the rest of the film?
At its heart, The Rise of Skywalker is a film about the enduring power of friendship in the face of adversity. As someone who lives far away from family, this was powerful for me, because my friends too have become my family. One of the major weaknesses of the second film was the separation of Finn and Rey as friends – their undeniable joy together on screen made the first film a delight to watch – so I was glad to see them reunite for one last adventure.
For me, Rey will be one of the most enduring Star Wars characters because of the joy I feel when seeing a woman as a Jedi, fighting for good. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face while watching The Rise of Skywalker, the same goofy grin I had when watching The Force Awakens. It’s a fun movie that hits all the right notes in wrapping up a solid trilogy.
Moments that stood out for me: the nostalgia punch of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing rising from the sea, the battle between Rey and Kylo Ren on a decaying Death Star in the middle of the ocean. Yet I felt that The Rise of Skywalker was missing a little of the stark artistic direction that came with The Last Jedi.
While The Last Jedi had more extreme moments of greatness and weakness, it still contains one of the greatest Star Wars lightsabre duels between Snoke, Kylo Ren and Rey. And that’s partly because there was great attention paid to the aesthetic of the duel, and the turns in motivation. In The Rise of Skywalker, I would have liked more time on the progression of these battles, often happening too quickly to process.
Given Star Wars was significantly inspired by the work of Akira Kurosawa, it deserves to spend minutes on the pauses before violence and the moments between, just like the classic samurai films. J.J. Abrams has a reputation for delivering entertaining blockbusters. But in making mile-a-minute adventures, he sometimes forgets to slow down in the quiet moments, leaving them feel a little rushed. I would have liked a few more quiet minutes on the ship between friends, a couple more pauses in the space between Kylo Ren and Rey.
It is this relationship at the heart of The Rise of Skywalker, and Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver give great performances as the two leads. So much so, that when Kylo Ren makes the ultimate sacrifice to give his life force to Rey, who dies in the fight against Palpatine, it’s a beautiful moment, despite never being on the Kylo/Rey bandwagon. It’s an appropriate ending for Kylo Ren, whose only character destination could be death to atone for his responsibility in the deaths of millions.
And there were surprises; I certainly didn’t see Palpatine coming as Rey’s grandfather (my money was on Obi Wan Kenobi having an illicit Jedi child on Tatooine). I made the noob mistake of assuming good people are the descendants of good people, which was a great twist making a good Jedi the granddaughter of pure evil.
I’m satisfied with the ending of the latest trilogy – it wraps up the big bad from the last nine films. But in defeating Palpatine a final time, I wonder where the Star Wars series goes next. How many times can you defeat the Empire? Who is the next big bad in the Star Wars universe? How do you make an exciting movie about good governance and restoring order to worlds ravaged by war? In this way, franchises like Star Trek have an advantage for ongoing storytelling; they’re about exploration and the clash of cultures, rather than the battle between good and evil.
While I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker, there will be arguments and fan theories galore, because in a series with such a massive fan base as Star Wars, you’ll never find a consensus on which is the best movie since The Empire Strikes Back. At least we can all agree on one thing.
Chewbacca finally gets what he deserves.