Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker changes the overall message of the sequel trilogy and it isn’t for the better.
Warning: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ahead.
The final chapter in Star Wars’ Skywalker Saga is now complete. Over the course of nine films, we saw how one family came from the force, dropped the Galaxy into a state of turmoil, redeemed it, before failing to secure its future and seeing Imperial rule rise once more.
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It is a story of how one man manipulated governments, bloodlines, and the force itself, in pursuit of absolute rule, and how the was, ultimately, defeated. The Skywalkers were born of the force, and were accepted into the force in death, and were directly responsible for the fate of the Galaxy for the best part of 80 years.
With the sequel trilogy, however, the focus wasn’t on a Skywalker. The Skywalker bloodline was present, occupied by predominantly by Leia’s son, Ben Solo. Ben, under the guise of Kylo Ren, was positioned as the primary antagonist of the trilogy, following his exile to the dark side of the force.
Rey from Nowhere
The role of protagonist was taken by a girl named Rey. Rey was a scavenger, from the Inner Rim planet of Jakku. A planet that is repeatedly referred to as “pretty much nowhere”. Rey lived alone, fending for herself after her family gave her to Unkar Plutt. Rey was insignificant, who dreamt of leaving Jakku forever, whilst absolutely petrified of doing so when the opportunity arose.
Rey’s story served as the vehicle in which we were exposed to the galaxy post-Battle of Endor. Over the course of The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi, we met Finn (a First Order deserter), Poe (a Resistance pilot), and Rose (a Resistance engineer). Through these four, in particular, both Episodes 7 and 8 expressed their individual themes and messages.
In The Force Awakens, we were told a story of how the smallest force can have the biggest impact, of how friendship can come from the most unlikely of places. Ultimately, of acceptance of who you are, and of belonging.
The Last Jedi took these messages and added its own. That success can only be measured by those who are left to measure it. That both the forces of good and bad are defined by your point of view. And that failure shouldn’t be mourned, but learned from.
A single message
While each film has its own message, they’re tied together by a larger message that runs through the entire trilogy. This isn’t a new idea; Episodes 1-3, for example, are connected by the collective message of destiny, and how one handles what others expect of you.
A connective thread is often woven through a story told over multiple iterations. With the sequel trilogy, we are given a singular theme to stretch across the three films.
Except we didn’t.
The message The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi explore is how you aren’t defined by where you come from, only you can define you. While a handful of strings are dangled in front of the audience suggesting Rey being something more than just Rey, the images and dialogue we are shown suggest the complete opposite.
The Force Awakens shows us a girl who learned to fight and survive because that is who she needed to be. The Last Jedi shows us Rey explicitly ask to see her parents, only to be shown her reflection.
Following the death of Snoke, Kylo Ren says that she knew all along who her parents were. Rey confirms that they were nobody. Ultimately, she is defined by herself. She made herself who she needed to be. The message could not be clearer; Rey is Rey. If the message wasn’t clear enough, a final scene at the end of The Last Jedi showing us an enslaved stable hand pull a broom towards him using the Force amplified it.
All it needed was “ANYONE CAN BE A HERO” plastered across the bottom of the shot.
The Rise of Skywalker opts not to continue this path, but to change lanes altogether. Following a set up of Rey shooting lightning from her fingers, Kylo Ren explains to Rey that, while her parents were technically no one (from a certain point of view), it was because they made themselves that way, and that, in reality, she is the Granddaughter of Emperor Sheev Palpatine.
Cue audible groans from basically everyone on my row in the cinema screen. When faced with the prospect of striking down Palpatine in anger, and taking his place as the galaxy’s Empress, she elects to defeat him only in defence. Rey defeats the Emperor, and the galaxy is saved from his tyranny.
By making Rey a direct descendent of Palpatine, her story is changed completely. No longer is the story of Rey one of overcoming circumstance, and becoming great despite the hand you’ve been dealt.
It is now a story of how your bloodline does not define you, and that you can become better than those who came before you. Don’t get me wrong, this is a perfectly noble and valid message to convey.
The problem is it was already said. In the Original Trilogy.
The original message
Luke repeatedly saw more of himself in his father, Darth Vader. The Lightsaber he wielded in their first dual, the robotic hand he earned following that fight, and the harnessing of his rage against Vader to defeat him in battle were all ways he began to reflect Anakin.
Luke stepped down, vowing he was a Jedi, like his father before him, and broke the mirror between them. Unlike his father, he did not turn to the darkness when hope feels lost. He became better than his father. He did not allow his family name to define him, and in the process, redeemed his father and helped bring balance to the force.
The new message
While Luke’s journey was clear and natural from beginning to end, Rey’s is less so. By making Rey of the Palpatine family tree, her journey over the previous two films is effectively nullified. Rey didn’t make Rey. She isn’t so strong or powerful because she needs to be, it’s because of genetics. Rey isn’t Rey.
She’s Rey Palpatine, constantly connected to her past, regardless of if she rejects it or not. And her growth in The Rise of Skywalker is, in essence, accepting who she is, which is a journey she travelled in The Last Jedi.
It’s a decision that completely pivots the message of the trilogy, and, ultimately, changes it for the worse. Again, while it is a very noble message to convey, it brings some caveats with it. In a world where our world leaders are where they are thanks to “small” loans, private education, and social connections as a result of their family, a message of “even those who come from nothing can achieve greatness” would be pretty powerful and inspiring. Instead, we’re told that you can be anyone you want to be. Just as long as you’re related to an old white man.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theatres now.