One year later, The Rise of Skywalker is a powerful symbol of redemption for all things Star Wars and a new hope for the future of the franchise.
When The Rise of Skywalker released one year ago, it wasn’t as divisive as The Last Jedi, but it wasn’t universally loved by fans either. Of course, as the announced final film in the Skywalker Saga, it faced the impossible challenge of satisfying a fan base that is widely diverse in its opinions of all things Star Wars. Even J.J. Abrams, who wrote and directed The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, recognized the impossibility of pleasing everyone. In a conversation with Vanity Fair shortly after the film’s release, he said, “We knew starting this that any decision we made — a design decision, a musical decision, a narrative decision — would please someone and infuriate someone else.” It’s the nature of making entertainment that you simply can’t make everyone happy.
I saw The Rise of Skywalker both the day before it released and on opening day, and like many fans, it felt like a moment I’d been waiting for my entire life. I grew up watching and re-watching all of the Star Wars films, loving the epic story of good versus evil and the power of redemption in Luke’s belief that there was still good in his father. And I was thrilled when Disney announced that they would be continuing the story of the Skywalkers after they purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. I loved The Force Awakens and learned to appreciate some things about The Last Jedi, even if I didn’t entirely love it.
The redemption of all things Star Wars
The Rise of Skywalker was something altogether different. While many fans decreed it as the worst Star Wars film, I saw it as a powerful symbol of the redemption of all things Star Wars. From redeeming the Skywalker name to countering the idea that your blood defines you to acting as a thread tying the somewhat disjointed sequel trilogy together, The Rise of Skywalker provided a satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.
A new beginning
Well, that’s not entirely true. The film provided a satisfying conclusion to the sequel trilogy, but as a conclusion to the Skywalker Saga, The Rise of Skywalker ended more like a new beginning to the Skywalker Saga than an end. Rey adopts the name Skywalker in the film’s closing scene, and since it seems like we can assume that the Jedi Order will be rebuilt by her, we know her story isn’t actually over. If anything, the end of The Rise of Skywalker seemed to suggest that Disney/Lucasfilm jumped the gun on marketing the film as the final installment of the Skywalker Saga.
A different fate for Ben Solo
One thing I wish would have been different about the film was Ben Solo’s death at the end of the film. A villain’s redemption immediately followed by death is a common trope in Star Wars stories, the most well-known being Darth Vader’s redemption and death at the end of Return of the Jedi. While I understand why Star Wars storytellers kill off villains after they demonstrate a clear redemption, I’d argue it’s often taking the easy way out.
What would have happened if Ben Solo had survived? How would the galaxy perceive him? Would his redemption last? Could he earn the respect of the people he terrorized for so long? Could he help restore the Jedi Order? How would his relationship with Rey evolve over time?
Those questions would have made an intriguing further exploration of the Skywalker Saga post-Episode IX, but Disney seemed to force themselves into killing Ben off by making The Rise of Skywalker the end of the Skywalker Saga.
The light in the dark of the sequel trilogy
Overall, however, The Rise of Skywalker delivered on the character of Rey in a beautiful way. In a lot of ways, she is the light in the dark of the sequel trilogy. Considering the revelation that she’s a Palpatine, her genuine care for people and her unflinching belief that Kylo Ren could be turned were a refreshing reminder that evil doesn’t have to have the last word. Some people complained about the return of Palpatine and Rey’s connection to him, but not only did it tie the entire Skywalker together with a common villain, but it made Rey more believable because of the stark contrast between who she should be and who she actually is.
Echoes of earlier moments
The Rise of Skywalker also included one of my favorite moments in the entire saga. Kylo Ren murdered his father, Han Solo, in The Force Awakens to prove his commitment to the Dark Side of the Force, and the action haunted him throughout The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. After Rey stabbed Kylo Ren with his own lightsaber and then used the Force to heal him in The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo was left stunned by the realization that he should have died and that he sensed his own mother’s death just moments before — which is when the memory of his father appeared, ready to forgive.
“Your son is dead,” Kylo said, but Han looked him in the eyes and said, “No, Kylo Ren is dead. My son is alive.” There’s an echo of Han and Leia’s “I love you/I know” exchange from The Empire Strikes Back when Ben says to Han, “I…,” and Han smiles and says, “I know.” It’s a beautiful moment, and it’s quickly followed by Ben tossing the symbol of his loyalty to the Dark Side, his lightsaber, into the ocean. Because of so much that came before it, it’s one of the most well-written scenes in the entire franchise.
The Rise of Skywalker isn’t a perfect film, but I find myself enjoying it more and more each time I watch it. I’m holding out hope that Disney decides to pick up the Skywalker Saga after Episode IX again someday.