Star Wars has been all about the small screen over the past few years. Whether this is The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Book of Boba Fett, Andor or even The Batch Bad (and a whole bunch more on the horizon, such as Skeleton Crew and The Acolyte), we’ve had a lot of Star Wars since the sequel trilogy concluded back in 2019 with The Rise of Skywalker. I realized I hadn’t seen that movie since it came out all those years ago. In fact, I’ve not watched the whole of the sequel trilogy since it concluded. So I figured now that the most divisive film in the trilogy, The Last Jedi, is five years old now (and that I had some time over the break), I figured I’d strap in and watch all three movies and see how they’ve aged now that the dust has settled and the ending is made clear. This has for sure been talked about on other sites and shows, but I wanted to toss my hat into the ring. So, how does the entirety of the sequel trilogy work now? I’ll give quick reviews after I watch each movie, so it’s fresh in my mind, then give a summary at the end.
The Force Awakens
It’s been quite a while since I watched the film that relaunched Star Wars. Once upon a time, this was my third favourite Star Wars film (looks like it was Fred’s too). But upon further evaluation, I think it’s dropped a bit. Partially due to the inconsistency with the trilogy as a whole, and partially with some rougher writing that may have gone unnoticed thanks to nostalgia goggles, now that I’m watching it with a much more critical eye.
Maybe it’s due to fatigue with Marvel or a rejuvenation in the property thanks to Andor, but I found the humour in The Force Awakens to be much rougher this time around. It was never an issue before, maybe because I was 100% on the Marvel ride, but now a lot (not all) of the humour seems kind of forced (no pun intended). The original films had a few well-placed chuckles, but it was never a comedy. But Force Awakens leans heavily into the Marvel quips, sometimes to a fault.
There’s also just a lot of things that still don’t make sense in this movie. The mystery of Maz obtaining Luke’s lightsaber is still unanswered (but will probably be answered in the comics) and the whole concept of the map makes no sense the more you think of it. Since the sequels don’t elaborate on these plot issues, they stand out as lazy in this movie, as if J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan were hoping the subsequent films would answer these questions for them.
Watching it and knowing how things end is also a little weird, particularly when it comes to Snoke and Palpatine. I can’t imagine J.J. and/or Lucasfilm planned to have Palpatine return, as there’s just no signs or clues of his return. Hell, there are more than enough clues to theorize that Snoke is Darth Plageuis and we know that didn’t pan out. But at least there were hints to theorize. There was nothing, no breadcrumbs or hints at all to set up Palpatine’s return, which is baffling. This movie was stronger knowing that it was just going to be Kylo Ren and Snoke, but the addition of Palpatine down the line harms this movie I’d argue.
Tonal inconsistency is another thing that stands out with this movie…chiefly when it comes to Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux. In the later films, he’ll go on to not only being a buffoon but a traitor as well, but in The Force Awakens, he’s a fanatical space nazi. It makes his portrayal in subsequent films super jarring, as he was actually quite menacing in this one.
But the cast overall is great, offering memorable and fun performances. Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are great as Rey and Finn while Harrison Ford actually does a great job as a grizzled Han Solo. Adam Driver, one of the bright spots in the trilogy, also crushes it as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, a man in conflict. Masked for most of the movie, his voice commands those around him while giving hints about his state of being under the mask.
The lightsaber duel at the end is also great (and would totally be shot in the volume today, you know it). Knowing the forest location is a set is great, as it creates a much-needed tangibility. The lightsabers also glow for the first time, allowing the red and blue light to bounce off the snow and the actors’ faces. It’s great.
That said, Force Awakens is still a great, fun watch. It’s familiar, sometimes to a fault, but it captures that classic feel. Whether this is with John Williams’ score, great set design, and compelling leads, the movie certainly feels like Star Wars and is a great popcorn flick that works well as an introduction that unfortunately, wasn’t used as the stepping stone the movie thought it was going to be.
The Last Jedi
We’ve spoken about this one quite a few times on the site, including quite recently, so I’ll try to not be redundant. My knee-jerk reaction after watching The Last Jedi again is how wildly inconsistent it is, both as a film and as a chapter in a trilogy. The movie is simultaneously excellent and frustrating, which makes it hard to pin down.
From a technical level, The Last Jedi shines. This is the second-best Star Wars film to date (after Rogue One), with some exceptional cinematography. John Williams, once again, delivers with the score, which is arguably the best of the sequel trilogy. The duel between a temporary allied Rey and Kylo against the Praetorian guards is truly awesome, as is the Holdo maneuver.
The Last Jedi doubles down on the bizarre humour from The Force Awakens and unlike its predecessor, feels more out of place and jarring. The opening of this film is honestly great, but moments like “his mother” really take one out of the moment. Humour is something that if used right, can elevate a scene, but context and timing is key. Not only that but a lot of the humour feels forced and very modern. But the biggest sin is when Luke chucks his lightsaber over his shoulder for a laugh. Dropping it to his feet would have conveyed the same narrative beat, but treated the scene with more respect. Likewise, why the weird green milk scene that offers nothing of value to the narrative, but any sort of emotional conflict for Luke grieving his best friend Han Solo was cut for the sake of runtime. Weird call.
The movie also begins a two-movie arc of not knowing what to do with Finn and company. Finn was a fascinating character in The Force Awakens but he’s decidedly less so in this one. What’s more, the same can be said for Poe, Leia (who stars the movie off strong) and newcomers Rose and DJ. General Hux is nowhere near as compelling as he was in the last movie, with Cannedy’s brief scenes in the opening being much more compelling as a villain.
The entire arc with Finn and Rose searching for The Master Codebreaker (who doesn’t deserve a name), ultimately feels futile. The film dedicates a good chunk of screentime to this plot point but having it end in failure, while subversive, also feels anti-climactic. Holdo also has no reason to keep so many people in the dark and the whole thing felt like manufactured tension. Like the previous film, it also has no idea what to do with Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma.
Knowing that Rey is a Palpatine ultimately makes some scenes in this movie come undone, mainly when it comes to Rey’s identity. Rian Johnson worked hard to subvert expectations in this movie by making Rey nobody, a move I applauded at the time. But that sentiment is retconned and her arc of accepting who she is and forging her own path and identity is lost thanks to The Rise of Skywalker. So a lot of the core story in this movie does feel kind of pointless now, knowing the outcome and I have to critique Skywalker more than Jedi for this. I’m sure some will disagree, but I think the story of greatness not being bound by family legacy was a great story beat and a highlight of the movie.
That said, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Mark Hamill are excellent in the movie. They give it their all, offering some truly great performances. Even Andy Serkis as Snoke is great. His character is ultimately a science experiment, a puppet of Palpatine (no clues here yet again), but despite having no agency, offers a menace and a foil for Kylo Ren. I love when he tells Kylo, with disgust, to take off his helmet, knowing full well the young Force user is essentially peacocking by wearing a helmet, trying to imitate his grandfather, Vader. For all of the problems with the script, there’s also great moments, such as the Force connections, Rey and Kylo believing the other will turn based on limited biased information, “let the past die” and waxing philosophical on hubris and legacy. It all checks out.
Despite being something of an outlier in the trilogy, I actually think The Last Jedi has improved not only as a movie, but as a chapter in a trilogy. It’s still wildly inconsistent, but the movie did try something new and didn’t rely on nostalgia. It’s a shame there’s just so much that didn’t work, as it keeps the movie back from being truly exceptional. But I do think there is some great acting and storytelling here, coupled with great action scenes and stellar cinematography.
What is a great addition to the movie is the documentary that comes with the blu-ray, The Director and the Jedi, which is a candid behind-the-scenes look at the creative differences faced between Rian Johnson and Mark Hamill.
The Rise of Skywalker
And now we come to The Rise of Skywalker. Regardless of what you think of The Last Jedi, there’s no doubt that this movie, once again directed by J.J. Abrams more or less ignores the developments of that movie. It’s true that The Last Jedi almost intentionally and perhaps to a fault subverted expectations that were set up in The Force Awakens, but Rise of Skywalker decides that it would act as more of a sequel to Episode VII, keeping only a few threads intact from Johnson’s divisive sequel and there-in lines the problem.
One thing I noticed upon rewatching the movie was the pacing. Rise of Skywalker seems to be racing toward the end credits, allowing very little room for organic development. We fly through scenes, sometimes awkwardly cut too. As a result, the dialogue is incredibly lazy, full of exposition that fails to even properly exposit. Also, the forced modern humour gets in the way and comes off as cringey.
From the get-go, Rise of Skywalker marches to the beat of its own drum. Kylo Ren ends up Mustafar before being whisked to Exagol, where he learns of Palpatine’s return and that Snoke was nothing more than a creation of the Emperor. This wouldn’t be an issue if the last two films set this up, but it comes out of left field from the start of the movie, with no justification for the decision to bring Palpatine back as a character. What’s more, the most the movie gives the audience is “somehow, Palpatine returned”, which had to be one of the laziest lines ever written. Kylo Ren also is also once again wearing a mask, which undoes the character development made with his character in the last movie. Also…how did he get the mask pieces? It was on Snoke’s ship, which was destroyed during the Holdo Maneuver. A lot of plot holes in this one. I know plot holes are common in Star Wars, but they seem far more abundant and obvious this time around.
The passing of Carrie Fisher is tragic but I’m not sure the movie made the right call including Princess Leia in the movie by using old unused footage from previous films. The end result feels very choppy, as the writers work around the limited dialogue Fisher already recorded. Going the Wakanda Forever route may have been more natural and less jarring.
The Rise of Skywalker also suffers from a lack of stakes. Despite the threat of Palpatine’s new fleet, thousands of Star Destroyers in size, we never feel the “how will they win” when the movie keeps shackling the villains and removing tension. The ships, conveniently, have no shields for example until they hit the atmosphere. You’re telling me the master manipulator Palpatine didn’t install shields that work on the ground? Why? The movie also “kills Chewbacca” but reveals the fake out minutes later, killing the emotional gut punch that came moments before. Rey thinking she killed Chewie by mistake could have been a real character moment for her, but the movie does not dive into this at all, which is both unfortunate and baffling.
The movie comes off as a quest-style movie and having the trio of Rey, Finn and Poe working together for once is one of the brighter spots of the movie. But the quests feel arbitrary and convenient and once again, lack stakes. The gang need to bypass C-3P0’s memory to allow him to speak the ancient sith language, which would tell them the location of the wayfinder. Doing so could make them lose 3P0 forever, but of course, he’s fine. But there’s an awful lot of McGuffin’s in the movie, from the dagger to the coin and it creates a video game feel. The dagger, in particular, is dumb. It has a map locating the wayfinder, but Rey stumbles the map feature by accident. The dagger needs to align with the Death Star to point out the location, but there’s no mention of where the holder has to stand in order to line it up with the Death Star. Perspective would matter in this case, but Rey gets it on the first attempt. Again, lack of tension or stakes.
Speaking of no tension, the Knights of Ren, Kylo’s squad, are completely underwhelming. Why have them spoken with reverence in The Force Awakens, only to have them not only go out like chumps but do nothing in the movie. Once again, General Hux is infuriating, but Allegiant General Pryde, played by Richard Grant, is one of the bright spots of the movie. Imagine he was the co-villain throughout this series? Instead, we learn that Hux is a spy and traitor, all because he doesn’t like Kylo. Excuse me?
But there are some bright spots here. While the duel on the Death Star between Rey and Kylo is pretty ho-hum, especially after the outstanding Praetorian guard scene in The Last Jedi, the duel on Kijimi was actually fun to watch, thanks to a creative use of having the two duel each other over great distances, allowing the location to bounce back and forth. It’s not the best duel in the trilogy in terms of choreography and emotional stakes, but it’s the best one in this movie.
The narrative decision to make Rey a Palpatine is a beat that just doesn’t work for me. Palpatine bring back was already a poor decision but to undo the decision of the last movie, which said you don’t need a famous family lineage to be a hero, and made Rey the granddaughter of the Emperor (and later adopts the moniker Skywalker) feels supremely lazy and shockingly lazy. The redemption of Ben Solo also didn’t feel earned to me. Kylo has been on a rampage since his introduction and killed his own father, Han Solo, a move that didn’t win the character a lot of goodwill. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think the tragic story, where they commit to the fall of Ben Solo, would have been far more impactful. Ben becoming a last-minute hero feels… unfulfilling.
The Resistance versus the Sith Eternal also comes off as widely unrealistic. The fleet is as far as the horizon and beyond, each with a mini death Star. In The Last Jedi, no one stood with the resistance, but here, not only do countless ships show up after rejecting the call in the last movie but they also show up in the thousands, all traversing the nebula without problems and managing to win in the end. I get the David and Goliath story, but it feels like the resistance won because the script says they had to win. Also, the fleet activated at the beginning of the movie, why did it take sixteen hours to power up? The ships had already taken off. Also also, why did Palpatine advertise his return before the fleet was 100% operational? Also, also, also, you’re telling me that Ben found a functional TIE fighter inside the Death Star ruins, which have been both blown to bits and submerged for almost twenty years? There’s just so much that doesn’t make sense here. Don’t even get me started on the abrupt and unearned kiss between Rey and Ben at the end…he’s a war criminal!
The fall of the First Order just feels off. More about them below, but they had influence all over the fact and they all fell, at once, like dominoes. Even the Empire didn’t fall that fast. It took another year of war after Return of the Jedi to end the major conflict and then the survivors of that retreated and operated more like warlords, such as Gideon in The Mandalorian. The First Order falling so quickly just feels too…easy and convenient.
In the end, my enjoyment of The Rise of Skywalker has dropped significantly since I first saw it. In fact, if I were to rank them, I’d say Attack of the Clones, the old punching bag, would rank above it. It’s a messy movie that has some fun moments and is definitely designed to be a popcorn crowd-pleasing movie, but is bogged down by a nonsensical script.
Collectively as a Trilogy
Knowing the ending this time around, it’s painfully evident there was no plan for the sequel trilogy and that J.J. Abrams was given leave to make his own movie, disregarding the narrative beats that came before him. The trilogy feels uneven, unfocused and in some ways, unnecessary. But it’s still a fun watch and I’m sure like the prequels, it will find its audience in the years to come. I just can’t shake the feeling that The Rise of Skywalker hurt this trilogy more than it anticipated.
Now let’s look at the First Order. In The Force Awakens, the Imperial Remnant faction were just making their move. They were covert and no one knew of their existence until that moment. The Last Jedi took place moments later, as the First Order expand their influence, taking over systems. But once they bring out the big guns (literally), the First Order/Sith Eternal falls. They had only been operational for around one year. The Empire, for comparison, had been around for over twenty. So, what was the point? What’s the impact? Having them have so little influence or impact on the larger narrative feels pointless. The Empire ruled with an iron fist and we got to see that, from the governing aspect to the exploration and expansion. But what did the First Order accomplish? Having them exist for a mere year makes them feel anticlimactic and pointless.
I think there were some great ideas in the sequel trilogy, but the lack of a plan becomes painfully obvious now that the story is complete. Quality of the movies is wildly inconsistent. There’s tons of fun and great storytelling, along with amazing music and acting, but there’s also frustrating character beats, underwhelming narrative decisions, dumb moments and a reliance on nostalgia. So is the sequel trilogy as bad as some people say? Goodness no. But it’s not the home I think Lucasfilm and Disney were hoping for, especially as time moves on. But in the end, as long as you enjoy something, you don’t need someone online to validate what you like or don’t like. I like that my opinions have changed over the years and that I can rediscover things that I had initially dismissed.
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