This is a spoiler-heavy article.
Long have we waited for the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga and here it is! I came into the film expecting an epic finale with plenty of exciting action set-pieces and strong character moments. This was the one to unite fans together. All will be revealed and made whole, yes? Unfortunately, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has failed to live up to the hype fully. To be fair, neither Dashran or I hate the film. In fact, I think somewhere in this mess is a great film. Especially when it focuses on the franchise’s strengths, that being its more grounded elements. Seeing the Resistance’s struggle against the First Order and the Old Empire was an absolute thrill ride. It is when the film decides to focus in on the conflict between Rey, Kylo Ren and Palpatine that the whole thing falls apart. Honestly, they should call this “Rise of the Contrivances and Questions” because there are plenty of those here.
To quote the current Supreme Leader of the First Order: Let the past die. Clearly, the folks up at Disney HQ didn’t get the memo. It is with a heavy heart that we must discuss the many let-downs that hindered what could have easily been the best film of the year. Let’s get this over with. It goes without saying, massive spoilers ahead.
1. Palpatine’s Return
Surprise, he’s back! Well, not really, seeing that the trailer pretty much told us that he would return. By what means does this Dark Lord of the Sith cheat death? Did he transfer his essence like that seen in the Dark Empire comics of Star Wars: Legends canon? Was Palpatine somehow able to teleport away from certain death at the last minute? The answer to that all your burning questions are…he’s back. If you’re hoping to find out how Sidious managed to return in Rise of Skywalker, you ain’t gonna find shit. Zero explanation. Nada. In the opening text crawl, the film simply mentions that ‘the dead speak’ and Palpatine has returned. For some reason, Disney thought that would be enough to explain away his return. No, it isn’t.
I don’t necessarily have an issue with Palpatine coming back to plague the galaxy as long as there is proper set-up. His reveal on the secret Sith world, Exegol has him mentioned that he had died before. Perhaps, this was meant to infer that Palpatine did actually have his physical body destroyed. We do see him use an ability similar to the Life-Force essence transfer seen in Dark Empire. I suppose we could piece together the means in which he returned but the point is…I shouldn’t bloody have to! That’s your job screenwriters. This gives me the impression that his return was merely there to fill the void left by Snoke. Why though? I’m sure Kylo Ren could have carried the film as the big baddie but no. They just had to drag a familiar face back into the mix for the sake of “fan service”. Speaking of Snoke…
2. Snoke was just a puppet?!
In The Force Awakens, the audience was introduced to the enigmatic, powerful leader of the First Order, Snoke. He was depicted as a larger-than-life being. I mean he was literally projected via hologram as a gigantic figure. Only later in Last Jedi was it revealed that he is of average height. Nonetheless, I had high hopes for the character. This was the guy who turned Ben Solo to the Dark Side of the Force. The creature that reformed the old guard of the Galactic Empire into the First Order. And while he did meet his untimely end in Last Jedi, I still believe we deserve to know his origins at the very least. Disney didn’t think so though. The truth behind Snoke was silly at best and disrespectful at worst, namely towards motion-capture artist and actor, Andy Serkis.
The man had poured so much dedication and passion into the character and all we’re given is some throwaway line from Palpatine that he made Snoke. We also see clones of Snoke in containers on the Exegol base. Beyond that, nothing else is said and shown. He is nothing more than a puppet for Palpatine to control, which immediately makes the character feel irrelevant. As if he’s a budget stand-in till the true Dark Lord arrives! It would have been far more dignified to have Kylo take after Snoke. At the very least, it would make thematic sense with Ren following the ancient Sith Code of the Rule of Two. The student has become the master. Here, however, Snoke was never even a master. He’s just one of the Emperor’s countless, disposable drones.
3. The Knights of Ren
Remember those intimidating masked figures we saw alongside Kylo Ren in Rey’s vision in Force Awakens? The formidable and deadly Knights of Ren. In Force Awakens, we are told that these elite squad of warriors belong to Snoke’s apprentice. He’s even named Master of the Knights of Ren. I figured since Rise of Skywalker would see Kylo take a more prominent role in the film, so would the Knights of Ren. We’d finally get to see them in action and truly kick some Rebel ass. I thought they’d be even more badass than Snoke’s Praetorian Guards. Nope, I was completely and utterly wrong. Throughout the film, they don’t do shit except stand around and look menacing. All they do is stand in the shadows and occasionally glance at something.
When it’s time for them to actually throw down and do something useful, they’re shown to be completely incompetent. There’s a scene in which they turn on Kylo Ren and try to kill him, only for him to hack through them with relative ease. The same way he would have with any other random grunt soldier. Also, aren’t they suppose to be loyal to the guy? I mean, they are called the Knights of REN, named after KYLO REN. So not only are these glorified Dark Side groupies depicted as useless eye-candy, but they’re also wholly disloyal. In an in-universe encyclopedia released by Disney called Ultimate Star Wars New Edition, the Knights are described as “Kylo Ren’s most deadly servants.” We’re told that “their fighting skills and martial prowess are without equal”. So, when and why did they join Palpatine’s Sith army?!
4. Rey’s True Lineage
When I first saw the theory on Reddit about Rey being related to Palpatine, I laughed. “Surely, J.J. Abrams wouldn’t so something as contrived as to reveal Rey’s parentage to be that of Darth Sidious?” I thought to myself. “That would be profoundly uncreative and lazy.” Turns out that they were mostly right except for one little detail, Rey is actually Palpatine’s granddaughter. Yes, apparently, Palpatine made a kid and his kid married someone and thus Rey was born! Who did Palpatine do the space-nasty with? Nobody knows. Were there clues in the previous films that he had children? You bet your ass that the answer is no. Rian Johnson’s point about Rey’s parents being nobody was completely ruined. I disagree a lot with Last Jedi but I certainly appreciated the idea that greatness can come from anywhere. That it isn’t confined to bloodlines.
This revelation is nothing sort of a contrived, rushed mess. I know Disney’s risk-averse but holy shit, they didn’t even try to do something new here. They ran straight back to the Luke-Vader reveal of Empire Strikes Back without a second thought. If they were hoping to recapture the shock and awe of one of the greatest moments in the original trilogy, then they failed abysmally. That had set-up, dramatic stakes and emotional resonance. All this has is hollow nostalgia points that will barely get a rise out of the most diehard of fans. Next thing we know, Poe Dameron is actually Jar Jar Binks secret love child!
5. The Redemption of Kylo Ren
We always knew there was a struggle within Kylo, the Light and Dark inside him fighting for control. In Last Jedi, we saw Ren for the briefest of moments reach out for the Light before returning back to his darker desires and ambition. It seemed like all the good in Ren was snuffed out in that moment as he ascended to the position of Supreme Leader. Still, we held out some secret hope for him to return to the Light. In Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren does ultimately give in to the Light and together with Rey, they team up to defeat Palpatine. Regardless of how pleased I am with Ren’s redemption, I must admit that his whole transition, much like a lot of things in this film, felt rushed and sloppy. After Rey refuses to kill Kylo during their duel and instead chooses to heal the Supreme Leader, Ren has a change of heart.
He has a brief encounter with his father via Force vision and races off to aid Rey. That’s all it took? One act of mercy to change this genocidal maniac back into a sweet conflicted boy looking to make things right again? Man, that is some weak sauce bullshit. The guy killed millions of people without a second thought. Granted, the death of his mum played some part in his conversion. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think it contrived. Maybe a conversation or two more with Rey or insight into Ren’s psychological state would have helped flesh out his redemption. So in summary: great idea, shit execution.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is currently playing in Malaysian cinemas.