Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker -- A for Rey, C for Everything Else
When I was but a young lass of 14, I stood in line to see a movie that was getting a little bit of buzz called Star Wars, and like millions of others, my life was never the same.
George Lucas and his artistic collaborators created a true masterpiece of a movie -- a mythical heroic journey set in a wholly original world with archetypal human (and non-human) characters. And thankfully, one of them happened to be a kick-ass heroine named Leia, who was tough, funny and could handle her own blaster, thank you very much. (Admittedly, her slave costume in Return of the Jedi set the feminist movement back several years, but at least she got to be the one to kill Jabba the Hutt.)
Unfortunately, we never got to see Leia train to be a Jedi or realize her full mastery of the Force -- until the sequels showed up. And bonus, those sequels in general, and The Rise of Skywalker specifically, gave us something very special -- a woman named Rey who turns out to be the most powerful Jedi in the entire galaxy.
Let that sink in. A woman is the most powerful Jedi ever. That is so damn cool. And so is she. She is such a badass throughout this trilogy, especially in TROS, and Daisy Ridley does her proud.
I love that Rey just gets shit done -- when Jannah (a useless new character) tells Rey she can’t possibly get across a raging sea to the remains of the Death Star, she finds a way. She trusts herself and her instincts and doesn’t ask permission or advice from the men around her.
Speaking of which, I love that Finn chases Rey around the galaxy like a puppy dog, trying to save her, screaming her name, when she clearly does not want nor require his help. She doesn’t even bother even responding to him half the time.
I love the lightsaber battle between Kylo Ren and Rey (which Leia “helps” her win by distracting her son), especially since Rey gets to show off her immense life-saving power to the stunned villain (an amazing Adam Driver). Gorgeously shot and realized.
I also love the fact that Killing Eve’s Villanelle, Jodie Comer, was cast as Rey’s mom. (I was kinda hoping that old lady at the end was her too, but alas.)
Now for the bad news. (SPOILERS AHEAD) What I don’t love about The Rise of Skywalker, in fact, what I HATE about the movie and the trilogy is that A) Jodie Comer only had a cameo, B) Rey’s family backstory is so poorly conceived and executed, and C) other than Rey, every other female character gets very short shrift.
For us to really care about this big reveal they’ve been holding back for three movies -- that Rey’s the Emperor’s granddaughter, we would have to have given two f-cks about the Palpatine family. Couldn't we at least have seen a damn flashback about how he went from “upstanding” Senator to back-from-the-dead villain? There was plenty of time over these last three films to actually establish that he had a son or daughter (played by award-winning JODIE F-ING COMER), who rejected him and who had to make the ultimate sacrifice to abandon their child, without giving the whole thing away. Of course, the fact that Comer was cast as the mom hints that there might’ve been some actual scenes with her, which definitely would’ve helped the cause.
Meanwhile, the reveal itself didn’t give Rey time to react or realize what her heritage as the spawn of the most evil being in the galaxy might’ve meant (except a throwaway about immense power). It was all too rushed as part of a GOT-style darkly-lit action sequence, which ended with a really weird kiss and life-force swapping.
The reason the secret family ties worked in the original trilogy is that these characters meant something to us, and they worked very well here when it came to Ben/Kylo. So leaving Rey's backstory as a big mystery and then paying it off so sloppily was a huge fail for me.
Here's the thing. Co-writer-director J.J. Abrams is a competent filmmaker, but he doesn’t have an original bone in his body -- this entire trilogy is all just a rehash of the first three movies. To wit: Orphan kid pilot and future Jedi on a desert planet gets caught up in a galactic war and ends up facing off with evil dude wearing a mask, then undergoes Jedi training. The rebel force must go slumming on a sketchy planet to obtain a map or schematic that allows them to successfully target the empire. They attack and it looks like they’ll win, then it looks like they’ll lose, then when their backs are against the wall, the hero faces the ultimate trial and “dies” then manages to pull it out and win. Everybody hugs. There is happy music. The end.
And the way Abrams and company treat the latest set of Star Wars women is pretty shameful. You’ve got Keri Russell thrown in there as a mysterious woman with big eyelashes and a skin-tight suit to flirt with Poe, Naomi Ackie as a former Stormtrooper whose past means she gets to become Finn’s new sidekick -- leaving the wonderful Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico totally out in the cold. Which truly is unforgivable. Tran had to face a lot of completely unnecessary and vicious racism for her role in The Last Jedi, and this is the thanks she gets?
According to media reports, Tran's role in Rise of Skywalker ended up reduced because she was supposed to be part of a storyline with Leia back at the base, but when the photoshopped Leia footage didn't turn out, Tran got cut.
REALLY? That is a totally bogus explanation. Her character in Last Jedi was one of the best things about that movie, yet here, she was REPLACED as Finn's partner/love interest by an African-American woman that the filmmakers must've seen as somehow more palatable. I'm really curious as to why the fans are letting Abrams and crew off so easy.
First of all, to dump her back at the base where the action decidedly is NOT, is a script problem, not a post-production issue. She should've been the one by Finn's side the entire time, and it's shameful that she wasn't.
Secondly, if they realized they were cutting her, they should've figured out a way to get her character more involved and done some reshoots (don't tell me they didn't have the budget for that -- Disney money).
And to top it all off, TROS ham-fistedly introduces an entirely forgettable new rebel woman whose sole purpose is to have a lesbian kiss at the end. Written and directed by MEN, much??
So as glad as I am that we finally got a fully-realized female lead in a Star Wars movie, I'm still mightily disappointed in the overall treatment of women in the film -- not to mention the lack of a woman anywhere near the production.
Calling Phoebe Waller-Bridge to the bridge, please.