As Tyrion Lannister, lover of “stories,” might tell you himself: Endings aren’t easy. And with the release of Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker this past weekend, one of the most iconic sagas in the history of film has ended—and it was not easy. Faced with the weight of 40 years of storytelling and the wrath of J.J. Abrams, The Ringer staff attempted to summarize their feelings about this ninth and last installment.
1. What is your tweet-length review of The Rise of Skywalker?
Zach Kram: Surprise! This website has been secretly operated by Emperor Palpatine THIS WHOLE TIME. How? You don’t know. Why? It doesn’t matter. But he’s back now, and controlling everything!
it started so high (with a closeup of adam driver) and then sank so low..........— Alison Herman (@aherman2006) December 21, 2019
Shaker Samman: You know those ClickHole choose-your-own-adventures where every poor decision ends up piling on top of the other until you’ve learned every possible way to lose the game? This was that, and J.J. Abrams is the Dreaded Laramie.
Andrew Gruttadaro: A week before this movie came out, I tweeted this:
The Last Jedi is great. The Rise of Skywalker may make it legendary in retrospect.— Andrew Gruttadaro (@andrewgrutt) December 11, 2019
Unfortunately it holds up.
Chris Almeida: Dear J.J. Abrams:
Miles Surrey: At least we still have The Mandalorian!
Michael Baumann: I’m glad the reviews were so bad because they lowered my expectations so far that I genuinely enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker on first viewing, even as a rabid Team Rian Johnson partisan.
Claire McNear: As a person who likes Star Wars but is emphatically not a Star Wars Person, I mostly enjoyed it. But I have some questions.
Ben Lindbergh: It lost me at the first two sentences of the opening crawl. I disliked it slightly less the second time I saw it—it was more comprehensible on a basic plot level, at least—so maybe if I see it several more times it will stop seeming like a creatively bankrupt remake of Episode VI?
2. What was the best moment of the film?
Samman: The Kylo-Rey moments, as they’ve been for the entirety of this new trilogy, were superb. As was true with The Last Jedi, the ForceTime moments between the duo were wonderful, and the saber duels they partake in were some of the best in memory. I’ll be rewatching clips of the battle in Ren’s chamber and on the ocean wreck for a while.
Lindbergh: Chewie’s reaction to losing Leia.
Herman: It was a little on the nose, but an old man sucking the life force from a promising new generation to revive himself captures the spirit of this whole thing pretty well, so points for self-awareness!
Baumann: I would die and/or kill for Babu Frik. Star Wars’ greatest legacy is cute mechanics.
Kram: Nothing from this movie reached the majesty of the throne room scene or the Holdo maneuver from The Last Jedi—but Rey’s surprise Force lightning attack on the ship we thought was carrying Chewie came close. It’s too bad the film undercut those stakes almost immediately.
Almeida: When Rey thought she had killed Chewie, because it felt like the movie might have been willing to actually take some risks.
McNear: All the Kylo Ren–Rey chats from afar were excellent.
Surrey: The Rey-Kylo dynamic remains the single most interesting part of this new trilogy, and I think it’s one of the few things J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson seemed to agree on. Their relationship is fascinating, complex, and ultimately, tragic. Also, Babu Frik is my new best friend, and I appreciate how Palpatine’s scenes looked like they were from the director’s cut of Event Horizon.
Gruttadaro: I absolutely loved how one of the major changes Kylo Ren made after turning good was just … rocking streetwear? Like, “Yeah I’m a good guy now. Call me Ben. Also? I only wear Yeezy.” (There’s a larger discussion to be had about how the good guys wear no fucking armor, though. What’s up with that? What’s so evil about putting on some protection from LITERAL SKY LASERS?)
3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?
Almeida: I guess when the movie’s main antagonist was revealed in the crawl with “The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE,” I knew we were really in for it.
Herman: They really turned Star Wars into Avengers: Endgame. Star Wars has always stood apart for being one of the most powerfully simplistic and tactile stories in a landscape otherwise filled with convoluted CGI. Rise of Skywalker caves to the pressure and devolves from a movie into a checklist, with every character serviced and every thread tied off until there’s no space left where the actual story should be. I expected to be put off by this movie’s themes. I didn’t expect it to be so irritated by its structure and style.
Gruttadaro: How aggressively the movie went out of its way to shade The Last Jedi. Like, I can get that there’s some disagreement or—even if I philosophically loathe it—that Disney may have wanted to course-correct in the face of fan criticism. But The Rise of Skywalker actually has a line disrespecting the Holdo maneuver, one of the most stunning sequences in Star Wars history. It reeked of jealousy and pettiness, and made me completely quit on the movie.
Surrey: All the moments that read like a transparent rebuke to Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi? It should go without saying but as long as your argument isn’t rooted in racism or misogyny, it’s totally fine to not like The Last Jedi. But trying to retcon most of that film in service of, I don’t know, J.J. Abrams’s bruised ego and the whims of a few loud fans on Reddit isn’t just a huge waste of time—it sets a ridiculous precedent. I would love to know what went into Rose suddenly becoming a nonexistent character, Kylo feeling the need to repair his dumb helmet, and Rey being a Palpatine.
Kram: Beyond the actual plot issues (and hoo boy were there actual plot issues), the frenetic pace was discomfiting. The best entries in the series mixed the loud scenes with quieter moments, allowing their stories and character arcs to breathe—but every scene in this movie was big and bombastic and full of gunshots and yelling.
Baumann: “OK so we have the climactic final battle and the enemy is … ummmm … A MILLION STAR DESTROYERS AND THEY ALL HAVE DEATH STAR WEAPONS!”
The big-picture stuff is what it is. I can live with it. And the dialogue and visuals were all broadly competent. But everything in between—from pacing to determining the scope of major action set pieces—seems to have been constructed with all the care of “Well, I brought my dinosaur who eats force-field dogs.” We ought to expect a greater degree of imagination from billion-dollar sci-fi screenwriters.
Samman: From the opening scroll, which attempts to shoehorn in an aggressive plot turn, to clunky dialogue, to actions without stakes and an unearned ending, this was the most disappointed I’ve ever been leaving a Star Wars movie.
McNear: This point has been made about Star Wars a million times, but I was bummed by the total absence of gray area: You’re either a good guy or a fascist who wants to explode worlds all the time and fondle people’s throats, and there’s no in between. Given how great so much of the Kylo Ren–Rey buildup was, it felt surprising that his pitch for her to join him was still just to say “the dark side” over and over. I want to hear some substantive discussion of policy, OK?!
4. Let’s get it out of the way: What’s your take on the reveal about Rey?
Gruttadaro: The problem isn’t the reveal—the problem is the lack of work done to set up and explain the reveal.
Almeida: We didn’t know that the Emperor was alive until the crawl of the final movie, we didn’t know that he’d had kids, and none of this was really explained AT ALL.
Lindbergh: Any time you have a chance to make your trilogy’s central twist a completely predictable repeat of a previous trilogy’s central twist, you have to take it, even if means retconning much of the middle movie.
Baumann: The forces of righteousness lost this battle years ago and I’m just tired now. It’s fine for what it was.
Kram: I’ll let Rian Johnson take this one. In 2017, the Last Jedi director said of Rey’s parentage, “I really believe that it has to be rooted in something that has an emotional impact, and that’s the only thing that matters. Surprise is fine, but surprise by itself is cheap ... you better damn well make sure that it also means something and is satisfying beyond just the ‘Oh, it was this’ reveal.”
Luke and Vader enjoyed a preexisting connection that amplified the emotional impact of the famous “I am your father” reveal. Rey and Palpatine, who had never met or interacted, did not—and that’s to say nothing of the reveal’s reversal of a welcome theme from The Last Jedi: That anyone can be a hero regardless of bloodline or family legacy.
McNear: That reveal, plus the weird hints that Finn was maybe-kinda-sorta Force-sensitive, gave me the feeling that there were approximately 12 total people in this world, and all (OK, most) of them just happen to be blessed with absurd magical powers. The odds of this seem unlikely! Fundamentally, the story of two family trees has much less interest for me here than the story of, well, just a plain old world and the people in it. Forgive the comparison, but it’s like if Harry Potter had secretly been Voldemort’s grandson—it would have made his survival in infancy, and the fact that Dumbledore et al. were always so invested in him, that much less interesting, because of course they would be. It’s a better story when Harry is just some kid whose mother loved him.
Samman: One of the most exciting parts of The Last Jedi was the idea that not everything in the Star Wars universe had to be dynastic. Rey coming from nothing was inspiring, and could’ve set the stage for a movie focused on the power of self and teamwork. Instead, the twist resurrected a long-forgotten name in hopes fans would consider the plot twist worthwhile.
Herman: Star Wars—a story about a populist crew of idealistic rebels rising up against an autocratic regime—is an aristocracy. Making Rey a Palpatine, and implicitly arguing that being a Palpatine is the only reason she matters, doesn’t just fly in the face of Rian Johnson’s brilliant contribution to the franchise—it’s a bizarre reversal of the themes that contribution was ultimately in service of. What good is a story about people asserting their right to agency and autonomy if there really are some who are more important than others? That the revelation is handled in such slapdash, half-baked fashion only adds insult to injury.
Surrey: I swear this isn’t a bit, but I got distracted by two things: Jodie Comer is Rey’s mom, and it is now canon that the Emperor fucked.
5. In many ways, Emperor Palpatine looms over Rise of Skywalker—and retroactively, this entire new trilogy. Was he a worthy final villain?
Kram: Yes, he was—in 1983, in Return of the Jedi, when he fell down a reactor shaft, he exploded, and the moon-sized weapon he was on exploded thereafter.
Baumann: I think putting a major point of exposition in a Fortnite Easter egg tells you all you need to know.
Samman: The addition of Palpatine was almost absurd. Palpatine wasn’t a clone. He wasn’t a ghost. He somehow survived being thrown down a shaft and also a planet-sized space station explosion with only some minor appendage damage? And then he spent the next few decades in self-exile building ships manned by God knows who and propping up puppets instead of returning to power for … reasons?
Gruttadaro: My guy was strapped to a crane.
Surrey: I love Ian McDiarmid and you can tell he’s really having fun here, but if Rise of Skywalker can’t even bring itself to explain how exactly the Emperor came back—while most of the film is overexplained to the point of exhaustion—then maybe it was a bad idea to begin with.
Herman: Palpatine has always been a nothingburger of an archnemesis, lacking any of the complexity or mystery that’s made Darth Vader such an icon. Rise of Skywalker does nothing to make him interesting, and in fact takes our interest in him distressingly for granted. Think of the Grand Canyon–sized gap between “I am your father” (gasp!) and the offhand reveal Palpatine had a son (shrug). No thanks!
6. Speaking of villains, let’s talk about Kylo Ren’s arc …
Herman: Ben Solo left behind a promising career as a menswear influencer to join the dark side. Sad!
Gruttadaro: There were bits of his redemption arc that bothered me—the return of the mask, Han Solo’s unnecessary cameo—but I’m perfectly OK with Kylo’s story ending with him truly becoming his grandfather’s grandson by sacrificing himself to defeat an old pale guy.
Surrey: Genuinely compelling, though it’s absolutely devastating we didn’t get more of Ben Solo, since all he wears are oversized sweaters. Dude looks like a cool yoga instructor from Seattle.
McNear: It worked for me until the very end. I think I might have had a harder time buying it had our boy ever explained his affinity for the dark side in more depth than it being a waypoint to more power, but it’s not like it was a betrayal of our emo king to reveal that he’s been conflicted all this time.
Almeida: I was fine with his redemption. The movie didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Seeing Ben with a blue lightsaber was cool. I’m glad he finally ditched the cape.
Lindbergh: I found Kylo more compelling when he was conflicted than I did after he went back to being Ben. On the whole, though, he’s a top-tier character in the history of Star Wars.
Samman: Kylo’s arc from Ren to Ben, his internal conflict, clear love of Rey, and final sacrifice make him the most compelling character from the new trilogy, and the conclusion of his narrative makes me that much angrier that we didn’t get a film with him as the central piece. The strongest parts of this new saga have centered on his relationship with Rey, and instead of highlighting that, Abrams chose to focus on a wild goose hunt for a decrepit grandfather who probably inspired that MGMT song.
Baumann: This I’m actually really happy with. We got redemption for Ben without having him saunter into the Resistance base arm-in-arm with Rey while suffering no consequences for genociding the New Republic government. Not only would that have been narratively lazy but it’s a genuinely dangerous social message to send nowadays. Well done to the Disney goons for threading the needle.
7. … and that kiss!
Herman: Some things are better left as subtext!
Samman: Good kissing, IMO.
McNear: I laughed out loud in the theater.
Lindbergh: If you’re going to bring back the Emperor, Lando, and Wedge, you might as well throw in another indelible sight from the first trilogy: a first and last kiss between Skywalkers. But if you’re Rey, do you take it as an insult or a compliment that your kiss made your crush immediately die and disappear?
Baumann: Gross. I think you can read further into the immediate revulsion than “Why are the two least horny, hot 20-somethings in the history of narrative fiction making out?” But I don’t need to.
Surrey: Seriously, was this movie written by the internet? Just kidding—if it had been written by the internet, he and General Hux would’ve made out. (Justice for Hux!)
Gruttadaro: I’m less on board with this, but I take a bit of solace in knowing that Ben Solo’s last thought before he disintegrated was, “Wow, OK, so you’re telling me that girls would’ve liked me if I was friendly and dressed cool? I definitely went about life wrong.”
8. How does The Rise of Skywalker affect your feelings about The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi?
Kram: I already cherished The Last Jedi. Its successor may have sullied it with respect to the canon, but considering the respective theater-going experiences alone, my initial feelings are only reinforced. And frankly, I’m now surprised in retrospect that The Force Awakens was as delightfully entertaining as it was.
Herman: It makes The Last Jedi look like a miracle, and The Force Awakens a useful counterpoint. Obviously, it’s remarkable and rare for a major franchise to entrust so many major decisions to a single auteur, and for said auteur to reward that trust with a singular achievement. But Force still goes to show that even within a more rote and dutiful version of Star Wars, there’s still room for far better—and more focused—than Rise of Skywalker.
Surrey: It ruins any sense of cohesion, thematically and narratively. Last Jedi detractors are going to say Rian Johnson put J.J. Abrams in a tough position, but it speaks to a larger issue about this trilogy—a lack of oversight over major details like Rey’s parentage, and what these films were supposed to represent. This is the only time you’ll catch me advocating for this, but Star Wars could’ve used some Marvel synergy.
Almeida: Rise of Skywalker definitely taints both of its predecessors. I didn’t love Episode VII or Episode VIII as much as many others, but they were coherent movies that made me curious. To see now that all their mysteries and arcs were leading to this mars the whole trilogy for me.
Samman: It’s wild how a film made to undo The Last Jedi actually makes me appreciate it more. Rian Johnson’s installment wasn’t perfect—seriously, what the hell was up with Canto Bight?—but it at least built on old ideas and introduced new and exciting ones. And The Force Awakens, while not my favorite Star Wars movie, was a genuinely enjoyable table-setting for a new trilogy. Rise does its best to undermine what I thought was one of the better entries to the canon, and choices made therein often—and once even directly—neg it. The Last Jedi will be remembered as a star entry in the saga. The same can’t be said for Rise.
Gruttadaro: I’m really trying not to be dramatic—these are just movies, and ending things is always hard—but The Rise of Skywalker is a massive bummer, and a complete waste of two very competent, compelling films.
Lindbergh: On the one hand, my disappointment in The Rise of Skywalker makes me appreciate them more (especially The Last Jedi). On the other hand, knowing how the trilogy ends makes me less likely to rewatch them.
McNear: Look, I get that people don’t come to these stories for nuance, but I did really love the earlier suggestion that the Skywalkers (and, by extension, Palpatines) didn’t have a monopoly on the Force, and I didn’t love seeing that work undone. Also, does this mean that the broom kid on the casino planet from the ending of The Last Jedi is someone’s (cough cough, Luke’s or Emperor Palpatine’s) long-lost child? Much to think about.
9. With the Skywalker saga finished (allegedly), what are your final thoughts on these nine films as a whole?
Kram: Star Wars is one of the most important cultural touchstones in my life, which is a rather disproportionate outcome for a series that has four and a half good movies out of the nine main films. (Rogue One rocks, though.)
Herman: Star Wars is a giant mess that should never have worked in the first place, mashing together woo-woo mysticism with martial rigor and one-on-one wizard duels with massive military battles. It’s remarkable it ever clicks, often lovably camp when it doesn’t, and depressingly joyless when its beautiful idiosyncrasies get micromanaged by Disney.
Lindbergh: More than half of them are good, and even the bad ones are burned into my brain more deeply than the best entries in any other film franchise.
Surrey: Most are good (Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope, Last Jedi), some are bad (Attack of the Clones, Rise of Skywalker), but that won’t prevent me from watching each of them 30 more times. It’s also worth mentioning, George Lucas aside, there’s no one more important to the franchise than John Williams. His scores are the heartbeat of Star Wars—and I don’t mean this in a bleak way, but given the fact Disney claims this is the “end” of the Skywalker films and Williams is 87 years old, we’ve probably heard his last contribution to a galaxy far, far away. A sincere thank you for everything; I still listen to “Duel of the Fates” to hype myself up.
Almeida: Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars movie. Make Hayden Christensen a Force ghost next time, cowards.
10. Where should Star Wars go next?
Baumann: As far from the Skywalkers as possible. It’s a big galaxy far, far away.
Herman: To the corner, to think about what it’s done.
Surrey: Help us, Rian Johnson, you’re our only hope (along with other artists willing to take Star Wars into bold and meaningful directions).
McNear: Some breaking news here: Star Wars remains great at world-building; the first third of the movie, when Rey and pals were jumping between different planets, was my favorite by far. So I believe in the Star Wars brain trust that almost anywhere could be great—provided it’s somewhere we haven’t been before, and the people there aren’t related (secretly or otherwise) to all the people we’ve been watching.
Lindbergh: The small screen. (Thank goodness we get more Mandalorian this week—Baby Yoda, heal our wounds.) Movie-wise, it may be time to pivot away from trilogies for a few years, but Lucasfilm shouldn’t shy away from distinctive storytellers. Playing it safe isn’t the strategy Star Wars took to the top.
Almeida: Let’s pretend this trilogy never happened and mine the Legends timeline for stories. Wherever Star Wars goes next, it shouldn’t be without a map.
Kram: Either far into the future or far into the past. If the lesson from The Rise of Skywalker is that the series is too wedded to its established, well-worn tropes, then The Mandalorian and other in-motion projects (the Obi-Wan and Cassian Andor spinoff series) will face the same challenges that felled The Rise of Skywalker in terms of weaving new, exciting stories amid the familiar. Bring me the Knights of the Old Republic.
Gruttadaro: Wherever it goes, I just hope they have a meeting about the overarching plot beforehand.