New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Reylo shipping and action-packed fan service can’t replace character in ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

By Andrea Thompson

Just when you thought it was safe to see a “Star Wars” movie…well, it gets sold to Disney like everything else. Then things really get weird, online harassment happens, people are driven off social media, and the fandom explodes when a director actually tries to do something different.

So what does that mean for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, the film that will (supposedly) bring the new trilogy to a conclusion? The short answer is, it’s complicated. The long answer? Keep reading. While the good that’s already been established won’t be completely undone, there’s still plenty of room to regress, and at nearly two and a half hours, “The Rise of Skywalker” has time.

We already knew Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) was set to return, and sure enough the opening credits inform us that he’s alerted the whole frigging galaxy to his presence. Leia (the late great Carrie Fisher, RIP), has dispatched Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to investigate, while still running the Rebellion and also training Rey (Daisey Ridley) to be a Jedi. Does this woman ever relax?

Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios

Anyway, they aren’t the only ones looking of course. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is now the firmly established Supreme Leader of the First Order. He’s still got that tormented look that’s melted many a fan’s heart though, only this time it’s while he’s surrounded by the bodies of his freshly murdered victims in his quest to end Palpatine and the threat to his power. Only it turns out Palpatine’s got a cult of followers who worship him, and most importantly, a fleet of ships, each of which is capable of blowing up a planet. And since Kylo never seems to have gotten over those daddy issues, he decides to accept Palpatine’s offer of help, even if he doesn’t intend to obey his order to kill Rey.

Yes, Reylo fans will have a lot to like. The relationship between Rey and Kylo, and their increasingly romantic tension, isn’t just a major plot point in “The Rise of Skywalker”, it’s pretty much the focus of it. In better times, it would be its heart, but the movie crams so much into a pace that soon becomes breakneck rather than brisk, the emotional core becomes somewhat lost. Instead, Rey and Kylo circle each other as Kylo attempts to track Rey down and bring her to the dark side. The timing for this was never going to be good, but it’s worse than usual, since Rey might not just be nobody after all, and is having some very disturbing visions of her past and future.

Needless to say, fans are catered to. “Rise of Skywalker” keeps the action coming, which is at times enjoyable, other times not so much. Plot point after plot point is rushed through, from Leia briefly training Rey, a group of former stormtroopers who were stolen as children, to Poe’s shady background, none of it is given the time and attention it deserves, and would’ve been possible too, over the course of, say, a trilogy. As for the Force itself, it’s pretty much reduced to a lazy screenwriting shortcut. By the time the climactic confrontation arrives, there’ve been so many baffling plot turns full of holes that effects take over where characters and emotional stakes should’ve been at their height.

Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios

Most insidious of all is how much the female characters get cheated. To the movie’s credit, Rey’s vision of herself as a Sith isn’t due to gender, which is refreshing in an era where powerful female characters seem obligated to have some sort of mental breakdown. Rather, it’s because Rey must face the same temptations every Jedi has. Yet she and most of the other women are mostly shoved aside, or have a distressing habit of continuing the “Star Wars” legacy of great female characters dying on behalf of their men. This would be disappointing under the best of circumstances, but it’s pretty disturbing when it’s coupled with a fandom with such a history of toxicity towards women.

And like all negativity that goes unaddressed, it ends up wreaking havoc on everyone. Throughout “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, you’ll keep waiting for that moment. The one where your favorite characters are fighting evil, battling to overcome impossible odds, or just together, whether they’re fresh from victory or defeat. But that lump in your throat, that ache in your heart that could only result from such beloved fictions becoming something more real, it never comes. Even if the new characters are the focus, they simply aren’t given the same care as their predecessors. They were worthy successors to take over a franchise hungry for new faces, more hope in a world that seems to become more frightening by the day, but they simply never got the chance to really come into their own. Perhaps we simply have to look elsewhere for that.

Grade: C+

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