Here we are, at the end of the Disney 'sequel trilogy'. The whole thing has been a bit of a weird and unexpected experience. A bit of history first:
I first watched the original trilogy as a child, mainly on VHS tapes. I did not see the movies in a cinema until 1997 at the age of 14, when the Special Editions were released theatrically on the 20th anniversary of the original movie.
The prequel trilogy marked my coming of age. I was 16 when Episode I came out, and 22 when Revenge of the Sith was released.
So for this Disney Sequel trilogy, I am now a fully-grown and physically defective human adult with children of my own, being 32 for The Force Awakens and now 36 for Rise of Skywalker.
There is a little bit of a feeling of this:
(lol, BTW the Watchmen series is awesome)
Be warned, SPOILERS ARE BELOW!!
My first reaction after seeing Rise of Skywalker was: wow, Rise of Skywalker really takes a massive dump all over The Last Jedi: the plot, the themes, and also the characters that were introduced. It's almost to the point where you don't even need to watch The Last Jedi to see this movie, except for two points: Luke and Snoke are dead, and Rey and Kylo can do their Force 'facetime' thing.
You could almost feel the disdain that JJ Abrams has for the previous movie in both the script and the directing of Rise of Skywalker. From relegating previously 'main' characters to nothing roles (more on that later), to single throwaway lines explaining away previously important moments (e.g. 'The Holdo Maneuver').
Both of those points are mostly necessary after the plot to the The Last Jedi. I'm not sure where Rian Johnson expected the plot to go for the third film, but it seems like JJ felt he had no alternative but try to do a 'reset' to get things back on track, especially theme-wise.
I'll stop myself before I end up writing a thesis on comparing the two movies' themes and plot points. Here is a summary of my thoughts:
- Overall I didn't mind where the characters ended and how they got there. Whilst it wasn't a series of unexpected events or surprising twists, I felt that it was a satisfying journey.
- Lando's reappearance was well fit-in, and Billy Dee Williams picked up the character naturally after ~35 years.
- I really liked the new tangential character, Zorii Bliss, although she was somewhat underused.
- The general chemistry between all of the main cast really shone. There were tonnes of really enjoyable interactions throughout the movie.
- The progression of Kylo and Rey was the centre of the movie. I liked how that was presented and resolved.
- aaaaand of course, Chewie finally got his medal!!
- The pacing felt very rushed, especially near the start. It felt a lot better viewing it a second time, but I would have preferred an extra 10 minutes of runtime to expand on important stuff, like how the heck the Emperor was still alive.
- The Knights of Ren were total nothings. Maybe stuff ended up on the cutting room floor, but they didn't really do anything that a generic spy or stormtroopers couldn't have done.
- Horses in space 🤷♂️
- This movie screwed over two actors and characters, for somewhat understandable reasons:
- Kelly Marie Tran as Rose: It's not Tran's fault her well-acted character in The Last Jedi served almost zero-purpose to the story (and the horrendous subsequent fan response at the actor for this), but JJ obviously felt he had no plan for Rose in this movie. The implied love triangle between Rey, Finn, and Rose in The Last Jedi was not even hinted here, and I think Rose had less than 10 lines that could have been served by an extra.
- Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux: The once imposing and fanatical military leader from The Force Awakens was made into a slapstick fool in The Last Jedi. Although the plot in Rise of Skywalker called for a menacing military role, the damage had been done, and that role was made into another character, the name of which was probably a not-so-subtle jab at the situation: General Pryde. The way Hux was unceremoniously killed off was disappointing considering the potential of the character after the first movie, and for such a well-accomplished actor.
- Having the Emperor be the big bad again. Again, I'm not sure where Rian Johnson expected the series to go after killing off the apparent major villain half-way through the second movie, but that's the situation the movie was in. Arguments about JJ rehashing the original trilogy will only increase as a result of this.
Looking back at the three movies, it's disappointing to see how contradictory the first/third ones are with the second. Both JJ and Johnson are more than adequate film makers, but it is obvious to see that their vision for this story were completely incompatible and bordering on contradictory.
And that's not entirely their faults. Although it ended up looking like a make-it-up-as-you-go-along plot, it's not like the schedule wasn't planned in advance. Disney knew they wanted three movies, and they should have had the themes and the general plot progression of all three movies established well before even a single scene was shot on the first movie.
That's a failure of oversight and production, and is surprising considering how well those kind of things have been managed with Marvel.
That said, it's not a complete trainwreck, and I feel the same way about the sequel trilogy that I felt about the prequel trilogy: that even with all its flaws, I am still glad that this newly-completed trilogy exists than had it not.