Warning — this review contains spoilers, as well as mentions of r*pe and abusive relationships.
The best way I can justify my rating (2 and 1/2 stars on my Letterboxd, currently) is by quoting Jacob Knight’s review.
“The good news is really only for folks who strongly disliked The Last Jedi.”
You see, I liked The Last Jedi. It’s currently 4th in my Star Wars ranking, and I think it was given far too bad a reputation for how good a movie it was. (Rian Johnson, I’m so sorry I ever doubted you.) That means this was a film I was probably never going to like.
The film is obvious pandering to the very vocal crowd that wanted The Last Jedi to be written out of the Star Wars canon. While The Last Jedi wasn’t perfect (Finn’s arc was definitely handled badly), it was so much better than whatever the hell is happening here, that seems like it was written by Reddit theories. The Rise of Skywalker retconned a lot of the good things about The Last Jedi, which is just disappointing, and proves that JJ Abrams was just making a sequel to his own movie, The Force Awakens.
One of the worst treated by all this retconning was Rose. Kelly Marie Tran is hideously underused because of some idiotic online racists and misogynists. I can’t understand their outrage at Rose being driven by anything other than racism and misogyny, because she was never a terrible character — in fact, quite the opposite.
Rey is also a Palpatine now, because fuck what Rian Johnson was going for by making Rey’s parents just ordinary people with no connections to ancient Sith bloodlines. Just typing “Rey Palpatine” seems like a far-fetched fan theory and not literal canon. It seems like a cheap attempt at including another Big Bad other than another Death Star. As The Force Awakens was a rehash of A New Hope, this movie is a rehash of Return of the Jedi.
Speaking of Finn, although his arc wasn’t handled well in The Last Jedi, nothing has improved here. His entire character is just caring for and pining after Rey while yelling her name in intense fight scenes. Why Finn, such an interesting character with great potential as a Force sensitive ex-Stormtrooper, has been sidelined by all these films, I have no idea. Poe, too, has nothing to do other than be an ex-drug dealer (wow, what a great profession to give your Latino character!) and attempt to flirt with an ex.
And don’t get me started on Kylo Ren.
As anyone who knows me will know well, I hate Kylo Ren and I hate Reylo. Kylo was always just a whiny, emo (but not even in a good way, like My Chemical Romance) Zuko knockoff. There are so many more complex villains I prefer immensely — like Catra from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power or Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender himself.
In comparison, Kylo was a cardboard cut out of a fascist (why does everyone always forget he’s literally a fascist?) who killed his father, Han Solo, which to me is an unforgivable crime. And that’s not even touching on what he did to Rey.
I guess you can’t talk about Kylo and Reylo in isolation, so I’ll have to mention them together. I never understood Reylo shippers, considering that for two years the only content of them together is Kylo throwing Rey into a tree and using the Force to mentally and physically torture her in a way that reminds me very much of a rape scene.
Then, The Last Jedi helped to cement, in my view, that Kylo wouldn’t be redeemed — yes, he kills Snoke and not Rey, but only to try and gain more power for himself and to become Supreme Leader. If JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson had actually communicated and decided on whether or not Kylo would get a redemption arc, there would have been many more hints of it in The Last Jedi.
Then we get the mess of The Rise of Skywalker. The film opens with Kylo slaughtering a tribe of aliens. For the first half of the movie he acts like the emo space fascist from the previous two movies, then suddenly has a change of heart and runs off to help Rey. Good, well-written redemption arcs need more development than just the redeemed character doing one good thing at the end to help the heroes. I’m not surprised one of the writers of this movie wrote Batman VS Superman and Justice League.
At the climax of the movie the two of them fight Palpatine, although it’s pretty much all Rey, there’s something to do with the strength of their bond, Kylo Force heals Rey (because that’s a thing now apparently), they kiss, and he dies.
What the fuck?
Let’s start with the obvious — this is a terrible way to write a redemption arc and an incredibly unhealthy relationship. Kylo doesn’t even apologise to Rey for trying to kill her and her friends multiple times or mind raping her. He helps her out in one fight and not only is all forgiven but they’re making out? How is this healthy?
“Reylo” as a romantic relationship is physically (all the times he tried to kill her, you can’t deny that happened) and emotionally (“You’re nothing”) abusive. It’s toxic and unhealthy. Rey is visibly scared of Kylo, and yet when they kiss, it’s fine, apparently.
This is more than just a ship war, or my personal opinion on a ship, though — it’s hurtful to abuse survivors, as this piece illustrates excellently. The fact that this movie made an abusive ship actually happen makes it more than just fandom discourse which is harmful. It makes the film push the narrative that girls can fix their abusive partners (and Nazis) purely with love and that abuse is something romantic.
It makes Rey’s character centre around redeeming a fascist, and Kylo’s badly written redemption arc means he faces barely any consequences for being a fascist. This is a great message for 2019 with the alt-right on the rise!
The whole Rey Palpatine thing also makes Rey Kylo’s aunt (Palpatine is also Anakin’s father) so if any Reylos want to argue that that doesn’t constitute abuse, you can’t exactly argue that incest is okay.
Another thing about this movie is that it manages to alienate most of the fanbase, at least the part of the fandom which cares about shipping. Half of us were angry the minute Reylo happened for reasons I detailed above, and the other half who actually wanted Reylo to happen are now upset because Kylo was killed off. Star Wars now joins Game of Thrones and Voltron by pissing off (pretty much) all of its fanbase with its conclusion and imploding this spectacularly.
Moving on from Reylo, which I could rant about for years, we come to the issue of LGBT representation and Finnpoe.
As you may have heard, history has been made with the first LGBT rep in Star Wars — a few second WLW kiss, featuring background characters who’s names we don’t know. It reminds me of the LGBT “rep” in Avengers: Endgame earlier this year, which was supposed to be “revolutionary”.
Sorry if you didn’t get the memo, JJ Abrams, but the Hays Code is no longer a thing, and the bar is no longer this low. LGBT people are demanding better treatment, and we deserve it, too.
But, if you really had no choice but to go with the two second kiss instead of meaningful representation (I mean, what else would have happened? Disney is a megacorporation that puts profits and pandering to bigots over meaningful rep, after all) why not do it with two characters who’s names we knew? Who played important roles in the trilogy as a whole? Who actually had romantic chemistry? (a low bar, but Reylo had about as much chemistry as my timetable on a Monday, so I need it.) Why not deliver on the queerbait they’d been teasing us with for years?
What I’m saying is that Finnpoe deserved to be canon and endgame. They had the potential to be meaningful LGBT rep in Star Wars and to be an excellent relationship — if they could actually get off the ground, which Disney seems to be too cowardly to do. It seems so depressing than we’re nearly in a new decade and we still have to fight for good representation like this. Why can’t directors actually try, for once, instead of just trying to get praise for doing the bare minimum?
In conclusion, The Rise of Skywalker is a movie that’s mediocre at best and downright horrible at worst by glorifying abusive relationships, retconning everything good about The Last Jedi, pandering to racists, and taking credit for bare-minimum LGBT representation after queerbaiting us for years with Finnpoe. It’s a movie that tries to pander to everyone but ends up pleasing no one, and it made me realise that we as a community were far too harsh on The Last Jedi. If you haven’t seen it and you’re still here, please go see Knives Out instead.