It’s been a while since a written Cruncher review but Star Wars definitely warrants it. Years in the making, the Disney led Star Wars trilogy comes to a conclusion. Is it a dud or a major success? Since it has been out a couple weeks already, the internet has made their decision and the decision is…divided. I admit that I lean to a positive take on the film but it certainly has its flaws. While Couch Cruncher reviews generally stay spoiler free, this is a review that will be full of spoilers considering we are posting a few weeks after release. Be warned that major spoilers follow.
The Last Jedi was, for the most part, despised by Star Wars fans. It took the franchise in a totally new direction which some fans really appreciated but most still hold strong disdain for. It’s always fascinating to see the ire that Star Wars fans have for the films in their fandom but The Last Jedi is one that mostly warrants it due to being riddled with what many would call missteps. The Rise of Skywalker tries its darnedest to make some of those missteps right and succeeds in some and simply doesn’t for others and I can honestly forgive a lot it.
First on the docket of corrections is the addition of interesting new characters and a lack of stupid side quests. One of the biggest complaints from the last film was the poor new characters and the atrocious side quest Rose and Finn took to Canto Bight. The Rise of Skywalker added some really cool new characters with Poe’s old friend Zori Bliss and the ex storm trooper Jannah. What made these new characters the best was their interactions with the established characters and the background each helped to illuminate on their respective main cast counterparts. For instance, we learn that Poe used to be a spice runner/smuggler and Zori helped solidify this with her dialogue and interactions with Poe. While we are on the topic of cool new characters, another beautiful addition to the cast was the adorable Babu Frik. Sure, not as a cute as “The Child” from The Mandalorian but still a wonderful new Star Wars friend.
Second was Jannah and Finn’s relationship. I’m happy to report that Finn was a far better character this time around and Jannah was a big part of that. They were paired up in the second act and stayed together for the remainder of the film. Jannah’s story about herself and the other ex storm troopers dropping their weapons lit a fire in Finn that we hadn’t seen before. FN2187 got to see that there were more like him that gave up the evil cause of The First Order and we saw him realize his force sensitivity as well. Finn was far less whiny and far more fun to watch than the prior two films. Rise of Skywalker made Finn not just tolerable but extremely like-able.
A final new character that was a great additional was General Pryde. What General Hux lacked in gravitas, charisma and overall being an interesting character, General Pryde made up for in droves. Pryde is everything a Star Wars fan could want in an imperial style commander. He is ruthless, loyal to Palpatine, charismatic, and has a presence when he enters a room that Hux never had. Rather than acting as a the butt of a thousand jokes, Pryde solidified himself as a truly formidable commander capable of taking on a rebel force. It’s a shame that his character wasn’t the Hux character in the first two films but at least we got a good imperial type character.
At last we got lightsaber fights that were fun to watch. The Force Awakens was decent in its battles and The Last Jedi throne room scene was really cool but we hadn’t seen lightsabers actually clash since 2015 and it was a breath of fresh air to see it now. Some of the complaints about Kyle Ren from the first movie are remedied here as we see him as a true force to be reckoned with. I admit that I miss the prequel style choreography but this new style made each clash of the blade feel like it had impact and Kyle Ren’s style with a saber showed his brute force nature clearly inspired by his Grandfather’s Sith style as seen in the original trilogy. Vader was always a skilled fighter and he often used brute force to overpower Luke in Empire and Return of the Jedi. Kylo Ren is no different and it is fun to see. When the two force users battle it out on the wreckage of The Death Star, Rey certainly gets her licks in but it is Kylo Ren who wins the day as far as the fight is concerned. From start to finish, Kylo seems to have the upper hand and is unable to be defeated. It shows what comics and aspects of The Force Awakens have shown, Kylo Ren is a “force” to be reckoned with.
The villain of the first two films has an interesting and earned journey this time around that I truly enjoyed. Kylo Ren has always struggled with his inner demons as Ben Solo, even going as far as to call the light side a temptation. It was an interesting twist on Star Wars to show a character be tempted by the light, rather than the other way around. While the arc of Kylo Ren becoming Ben again leaves a bit to be desired, I found it to be more satisfying than Vader’s turn to the light. Don’t misunderstand me. Vader showed a progression to the light side but it wasn’t as well developed as Kylo Ren’s journey which showed a constant struggle and the overcompensation to seem as evil as possible. Luckily Ben’s redemption arc ended in his death as it would be very hard to believe that a man could kill Han Solo and entire star systems and be welcomed back with open arms by the new government that was sure to form.
What I liked best about Kylo Ren’s turn to Ben was his mother and father’s influence in that decision to turn to the light side. Carrie Fisher sadly passed before filming even began on The Rise of Skywalker but they used old footage amazingly for her and gave the character a fitting send off. It was Leia who ultimately tipped the scales for Kylo Ren to be destroyed and Ben rise in his place. Leia gave herself to the force to reach her son one last time and it was a beautiful moment. Additionally, the short scene between Ben and Han Solo was perfect. We got the same dialogue as from The Force Awakens and a confirmation that Ben always knew he needed to give up Kylo Ren but didn’t have the strength to do so then. It’s a tragic tale of regret but told gracefully.
Meanwhile, Rey is better in The Rise of Skywalker than ever before. We see her finally get some training from Leia and see her in peril on several occasions. She performs some insane feats throughout the film such as pulling a star ship down mid flight, leaping dozens of feet into the air, and doing a back flip to destroy Kylo Ren’s ship but she also gets whooped by Kylo Ren, loses faith in the force, gets shot down by storm troopers and nearly gets killed by Palpatine in the end. Of course she overcomes all as the hero should but we see her in more dire situations than before which made her character more dynamic. Her journey was a delight to watch and the redemption of Luke Skywalker was the middle finger to Rian Johnson that many fans were waiting form. When Rey throws the saber, only for Luke’s force ghost to catch it and reprimand her for not treating the weapon with respect, I smiled in sheer delight.
Where the film flusters is overcrowding and pacing. JJ Abrams introduced the idea of The Knights of Ren in The Force Awakens and then Rian Johnson did not explore them in The Last Jedi. Because of this, it would have been crazy to not include them in the finale for this trilogy. The issue however is that they were turned into faceless, voiceless, throw away villains. Not a single Knight of Ren uttered a line and we never saw them really do anything other than look cool and reconstruct Kylo Ren’s helmet. Even the fight between them and their former master turned to the light side was anti climactic. Sure, they don’t have lightsabers but neither did Snoke’s guards and they put up a good fight, almost killing Kylo Ren and Rey in The Last Jedi. After the build up for these characters it almost felt like it would have been better to leave them out entirely. With the short run time of the film, I am not sure I understand how the fight between the Knights of Ren and Ben didn’t last a little longer. I understand there was an urgency for Ben to get to Rey’s side but this could have played out much better than it did.
If you listen to the podcast regularly, you likely know that Darth Sidious is my favorite Star Wars character which meant that I was excited to have him back so that I could see more from the villainous mastermind. There are aspects of The Emperor’s return that I like and others that did not resonate with me much but mostly I loved it. While his power level leaves some shaking their head, that was one of my favorite bits. When he pulls the force out of Rey and Ben using their connection, their dyad in the force, to regain his full strength I giggled a little bit in a good way. The Emperor is then restored and proceeds to project his force lightning into the sky to devastate the rebel fleet. It was visually outstanding and an incredible display of power from the extremely powerful Sith Lord.
Likewise, some complained that The Emperor’s return should have been explained. Palpatine repeats a popular line from Revenge of the Sith when he states that the dark side is a pathway to abilities many consider to be unnatural. This statement alone is enough to explain how he returned. We don’t need details or explanation within the movie. The ability to resurrect oneself for instance or to save yourself from impending death from being dropped from the Death Star by Darth Vader could be considered an “unnatural” ability.
What I wasn’t as thrilled with was screen time honestly. With Palpatine being the big bad of the entire 9 movie saga, he got far too little screen time in this conclusion story. We see him interact with Kylo Ren in the opening scene, we see he and Ren speak through the force, a short conversation between Palpatine and General Pryce and then the final confrontation between Rey, Ben and Palpatine. I wish there would have been a bit more from our villain and I still don’t understand why the movie was as short as it was. Why not extend it by 15 minutes and give us more of The Knights of Ren and Palpatine? Perhaps we could have seen Ben flee from The Knights of Ren only for he and Rey to fight them together like they did the throne room guards. It could have been another epic team up. Or perhaps we could have seen Palpatine restored and a bit more of a fight from the two Jedi. I didn’t mind Ben being thrown to what should have been his death. That was a fitting action from Sidious considering Ben’s grandfather doing the same 30 years earlier. I simply wish there had been more.
Finally, my biggest hold up still comes from the romance. Sure, there were some inklings of it but it doesn’t really make sense to me still. Why would Rey fall for a mass murderer like Kylo Ren? Sure, he turned good at the end but that isn’t enough. Ben and Kylo Ren are not really different people. Like Vader and Anakin are separate, Ben and Ren are separate. It is still the same person who killed countless people. A few hours of good should not make up for a lifetime of horrendous deeds. I may come around some day but I do not like the kiss AT ALL. It felt shoe horned and out of place. I prefer the idea that Rey and Ben were connected via the force but not necessarily romantically.
Despite a few hiccups such as the kiss and a lack of screen time for some of the characters, Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker was a fitting end to the saga. It was held back by some terrible decisions in the middle film but it did a good job of recovering from those mistakes and turning the ship in the right direction. It’s a long shot from the best Star Wars movie but it is also far from the worst. Some great light saber action, a great small roll for Lando, outstanding visuals and more led to this being a solid Star Wars flick.
4 out of 5 Couch Cushions!!!