[Warning: The following spoiler story does in fact contain major spoilers for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” It’s intended for those who have seen the film. If you’d like to read some non-spoilery “Star Wars” content, check out this “Star Wars” project and this survey, including rankings of all 9 “Skywalker saga” titles.]
It’s an ending 42 years in the making. And while there’s no way “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is anything that George Lucas ever could have envisioned back in 1977, the Skywalker saga-capping film is now playing in theaters around the globe. And fans can judge for themselves just how fitting the ending is.
Like “Return of the Jedi” and “Revenge of the Sith” before it, “The Rise of Skywalker” also has to bring a close to its own specific trilogy, which began with the release of “The Force Awakens” in 2015.
In the end, director and co-writer J.J. Abrams’ “Skywalker” boils down to the battle between heroic Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley), whose true lineage is one of the trilogy’s central mysteries, and her frenemy tormentor Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the son of the late Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher).
So how well does “Skywalker” pay off the long-standing Rey/Ren conflict? Who gets the most (and least) satisfying sendoff? What character makes the most exciting/surprising return? And what’s the one thing that Abrams and company really should have done — but didn’t?
We asked four of our most “Star Wars"-savvy staffers for their thoughts — and feelings — about this epic conclusion.
Rey is a Palpatine! Feelings?
Christina Schoellkopf: What I care about is the message it led to at the end: recognizing that Leia and Luke were her adopted parents. I loved that it brought things back full circle on Tatooine, and now I’m craving blue milk.
Todd Martens: This was a frustrating decision, in part because it was an unnecessary one. Frustrating because it undermined one of the central story lines of the current trilogy — namely that we are more than our lineage and can transcend whatever roles have been imagined for us. Moving away from the idea that the most unique people in the galaxy must have a certain bloodline was a wise one, as it allowed the films to be about the families we choose. And ultimately, that was still the message, thus making the need to assign Rey a famous “Star Wars” lineage little more than means for settling a fan debate rather than a more thoughtful storytelling choice.
Tracy Brown: To quote everyone’s newest favorite droid D-0: “No thank you.” “Star Wars” is its most inspiring when it lets us feel like anybody can be a hero as long as we are willing to stand up and do what’s right. When the most powerful Force users are all related, it takes away some of that magic. I think the message in Rey’s arc could have been told without this “twist” and it would have been more powerful.
Jen Yamato: So many souls in the “Star Wars” universe are working through mommy, daddy and grandpa issues. More exciting is the reveal that Rey’s mom is none other than Villanelle herself (“Killing Eve” Emmy winner Jodie Comer). Is it the briefest of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos, in a film filled with celebrities hidden behind alien faces and Stormtrooper suits? Yes. Did I feel the power that lineage suggests? Absolutely — but not because Rey was born into Palpatine’s galactic dynasty, a twist that feels unnecessary and contradictory to her journey thus far.
Kylo Ren: Misunderstood or miserable bastard?
CS: Good morning to brooding Adam Driver and brooding Adam Driver only. He’s probably both “misunderstood” and “a miserable bastard” but I’m here for it. And I love those little bits of personality that sneak through — the “ouch” leading up to the final battle, when he puffs up his chest getting that coveted lightsaber and that smile he cracks in the climactic scene with Ridley’s Rey.
TM: A mix of both but closer to the latter. Driver, as well as “The Last Jedi” writer-director Rian Johnson and even Abrams here, had the difficult task of bringing nuance to a villain who offed arguably the series’ most famous character (his own father, Han Solo), and even opened “The Force Awakens” by demanding the slaughter of civilians. But by and large Driver succeeded in showing Kylo Ren’s emotional torment, so much so that his fearsome moments were routinely balanced by those in which we simply felt sorrow for him. In turn, we were able to better grasp Rey’s desire to understand him.
TB: A misunderstood, miserable bastard. It took me until this installment to really believe that Kylo Ren was a nuanced character who could be redeemed. The reasons he was drawn to the dark side were muddled so, initially, it was easy to just write him off as an angry whiny boy who got caught up in lashing out against his pedigree. But the inner conflict that Rey saw and the light Leia believed he still had was more palpable this time. And his scene with Han Solo gutted me.
JY: Definitely miserable, totally understood. Thanks to Driver’s talents we’ve always seen that there was more to Kylo Ren than purely ragey, mansplaining villainy. For better or worse, “Rise of Skywalker” washes away Kylo Ren’s toxicity to reveal the Ben Solo underneath — the hero who swashbuckles in space sweaters and longs to hold hands with a girl. The best gift the film gives him is an arc that’s not only redemptive and complete but charitably concluded … which is more than one can say about many of this trilogy’s new heroes.
Han Solo, the Ewoks, Freddie Prinze Jr.'s voice or someone else — what was the best cameo?
CS: Han Solo, of course. P.S. Han shot first.
TM: Han Solo. A little hammy but what a delight in seeing Harrison Ford show that paternal side of the former scoundrel.
TB: The Jedi voice cameos, which included Prinze and also characters like Ahsoka Tano from the animated “Star Wars” shows. It was a nice acknowledgment that even though these films have been about the Skywalkers and Palpatines, there are other heroes and stories out there in this universe far, far away.
JY: It must be said: There can never be enough Ewoks. You think you’ve got enough Ewoks in your “Star Wars” movie? I assure you, you don’t. “Rise of Skywalker,” with its paltry smattering of Ewok representation, is no exception. The best surprise appearance, however, isn’t one you see onscreen but one you hear, when the Jedi ghosts of “Star Wars” adventures past — including Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker and Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu — return in voice cameos, speaking to Rey from the beyond in her time of need.
Whose storyline had the most satisfying conclusion?
CS: Chewie! He was robbed of a medal in 1977’s “A New Hope” when he, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo walk up to Princess Leia to be recognized at a royal award ceremony but only Luke and Han received medals. My heart was full when Chewie finally received a medal of his own in “Rise of Skywalker,” long overdue for his many years of heroism ... and spirited roars.
TM: Of the new characters, Rey, as this was her trilogy and in each of the three films Ridley’s character was the most compelling. Her journey to comprehend not only herself but her place in the universe was handled by the actor with self-assured empathy. Underlying almost all of her actions was a sense of curiosity, both as to how others are responding to her and what she is capable of. And of the original trilogy characters, Luke, as the last two films showed his heroism was never not a work in progress.
TB: Despite my disappointment with the Palpatine thing, I still have to say Rey. This was her story, and we saw her go from a nobody from nowhere to the hero that saved the galaxy. She confronted her fears and uncertainties, found her family and claimed her place in the world.
JY: Rey had the most to learn, the most space to grow, and the most to overcome in these films; it’s her trilogy.
And whose was the least satisfying?
CS: I feel like C-3PO’s memory fakeout was constructed as a safe-for-the-trailer tease. Anthony Daniels deserved better.
TM: Also Rey, only because she is such a strong character that there was no need to define her as the granddaughter of someone who supposedly died three movies ago. Suddenly, what should have been Rey’s film also became about wondering how the Emperor survived.
TB: Rose Tico. Rose in “The Last Jedi” showed us that any one of the people wandering around on a Resistance base has the potential for greatness. You don’t need to have special powers to be a hero who offers people hope. It’s a shame she was sidelined in this movie.
JY: Alas, Rey’s compatriots had vastly less to sink their teeth into in this final chapter, rendering their individual journeys flat — none more so than Rose Tico, the Everywoman resistance mechanic who proved herself an instrumental part of the team in “The Last Jedi” but was inexplicably benched for most of “Rise of Skywalker.”
What was the one thing you most hoped would happen that didn’t actually happen?
CS: I wish Billie Lourd [Carrie Fisher’s real-life daughter, who plays Lieutenant Connix] had more of a moment. Building out at least a great dialogue exchange would have been special, as we say goodbye to Fisher.
Also, I feel like Naomi Ackie’s Jannah was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her character. I wish she was so much more than just Finn’s sounding board. So much time is given to him telling the fellow former Stormtrooper about the power of a “feeling,” and yet we never see Jannah act on her own feeling.
TM: I hoped that the filmmakers would resist the urge to give in to the themes of a “Reylo” romance, as popular as the memes, the fan fiction and the social media jokes may be. I thought any redemption arc was stronger if it was about the quest for understanding rather than the desire for romance, no matter how downplayed the latter. To suddenly replace drama with lust seemed too easy and obvious.
TB: My biggest hope was for Rey to not be a part of a legendary family tree. One of the lines I think about the most from “The Last Jedi” is Kylo Ren telling Rey, “You have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You’re nothing.” Rey didn’t need to come from something to be someone with a place in her own story.