Stories require a consistency, setting and characterization along with a hook, stakes and some history that needs to be resolved, erased or brought to the light. Together, these make up a story that might form an epic ballad, a thriller, or a romance adventure.
This doesn’t seem to be case with the latest iteration of the Star Wars franchise, with the explosive chapter of “The Rise of Skywalker” seeming to miss most, if not all, the story beats.
In dungeons and dragons roll playing game, when one tries their hand at any action, there is a dice roll- both for the action itself and the subsequent harm/healing done. And the range goes from 1 (CRITICAL FAIL) to 20 (A CRITICAL SUCCESS) aka WORST possible thing to happen vs the perfect action sequence.
D&D both punishes and rewards players for whatever actions they do, based on their roll. Each roll also has a requirement, under which the results can be uncomfortable to downright disastrous and lethal.
A good example is the player might roll to pet a dog; a natural 20 might get the dog to positively melt into the soft hands of the character BUT a critical fail means the person might end up slapping the dog. A more serious example might be someone trying to fire a gun and in the fail state the gun not only misfires, but also explodes, harming the user themselves; kind of like accidently “shooting oneself in the foot”.
This is practically what it feels like happened with the latest iteration of the Star Wars franchise.
In part 1 we discuss the set up and the eventual fall of the trilogy itself, discussing why Kylo and Rey do not work as a pairing, the loss of Finn as the main protagonist, the erasure of Rose and the wastage of Luke and Leia Skywalker as iconic heroes to mere plot devices.
The Rise of Skywalker (TROS), the sequel to The Last Jedi (TLJ), feels more than a mega course correction for a ship firmly set in a direction; it is a complete and utter erasure of characters, backstories, lessons and even the lore. In short, it feels less like a continuation of a set of movies and more like a movie that is a big red correction file to a minor offence list.
The Last Jedi (TLJ) set up much of the fall that would be TROS, and both would go on to disrespect the basis of the whole trilogy set up in the first movie, The Force Awakens (TFA).
– It remade the protagonist from Finn, the rebel stormtrooper, to Rey, the junkyard ‘force sensitive’- again, this change is made in the last Jedi.
TLJ ended with a climactic battle that ended with the main character, Finn, in a coma as he took on a much better trained evil Sith lord Kylo Ren. and because he was out of commission, so to speak, at the start of TROS, and therefore the plot immediately shifted to Rey as the new main character. Since Finn comes up much later, he is written in such a way to miss the important story beats. This way it’s very easy for the story to set up, as a middle trilogy film, the endgame of Rey and Kylo
Why Kylo and Rey don’t work:
Throughout the movies, Kylo is a savage killer- he kills a lot. He has entire planets obliterated out of existence, and orders firing on villagers. He has no qualms about killing, and not even Lor San Tekka, a respected peer of his uncle, was spared. Kylo Ren also kills his father and his own master, as well as his own men in his ascension to the throne.
Therefore, when the movie forced a bond of Rey with the main villain Kylo Ren, bringing them front and centre, it was between enemies, between two people who immediately fought on site. Kylo captured, imprisoned and tortured Rey.
The way the connection is set up serves to give the wrong lesson: that Rey, who constantly has to engage in brutal fights in order to get him to change. This puts the onus of change on the woman, rather than the man, and proved to be unpopular with a large portion of fans.
The pairing also forced the trauma of the villain front and centre, rather than that of the Rebels’ trio: Finn, Poe and Rey: the problem here became that the focus of the movie blurred the lines. The evil man was put to be this oft sad man, but the very real trauma of oppression by a magical evil power wielding man with a neo-fascist at his beck and call, as well as the trauma of the fight and torture that ensues. Kylo even attempts to murder her own mother, and the murder of Snoke, his Master, was nothing but a power grab. He belittles Rey at every opportunity, and constantly puts her adoptive family- including Princess Leia, Finn, Poe and eventually Luke, who dies at the end of TLJ.
This set up causes Poe and Finn were reduced to errand runners, doing the hard labour while Rey practiced some ancient magical sword arts (Lightsabres are, after all, laser swords) for her ‘destiny’.
TROS sets it up so that, extremely uncharacteristically, Rey is put not only front and centre, but also alone and refusing help from Poe and Finn. Ro0se is nowhere to be seen.
It is very odd decision to say the least; Rey seems to be written to be the Lone wolf archetype. However, previous movies have established that this really isn’t the case. Her triumphs aren’t despite her companions, they’re BECAUSE of her companions. She’d never have even been able to get off the junk planet Jakku if not for the collective efforts of Finn and Rey, with Han Solo and Chewbacca.
Furthermore, TROS sets her up to be uncharacteristically avoidant of guidance, which sets her up for more mistakes down the line. The whole point of the films including even TLJ (to a certain point) was true to the spirit of Star Wars- that we succeed with friends and that rebellion is a group effort. Then the movie forces us to realise that the story is increasingly more and more about Rey and Kylo.
The loss of the Finn angle
The Finn story is about breaking out of his mental conditioning and elite training as a stormtrooper, and leaving an oppressive regime to support the rebels because it was the right thing to do. He helped Poe, a rebel pilot, and a poor scavenger girl, and paired up with the legendary Han Solo and brought down the first Order… or a portion of it.
He became the unknown variable, the catalyst for change that comes out of nowhere. And he is WASTED;
FINN’s arc was supposed to be about fighting the darkness and oppression and breaking away from the chains of not only our past, but who we are. It was a fresh perspective and a good tweak of the original “zero to hero” formula that was done and dusted in movies done so far. Furthermore, Finn also did not know anything other than his severely regimented lifestyle forced on him since he was a child. Instead, he chose to do the right thing even if he didn’t know how long he would last.
And fast forward to TROS, he is shoved to the side, running errands for the Resistance, and not with Rey at all. Rey for her part, is doing the lone wolf gig. However, it’s pretty clear that she is just a better scavenger, and is lacking the critical ingredient: FINN, the glue that brought them and keeps them all together.
This is pretty evident in TROS as well, where the story feels like several arcs were written for characters that were never meant to be lone wolfs. Rey’s identity formation itself is dependent on Finn in TFA- she comes to accept that she is more than a scavenger eking out a living by going through junk, and that not only does she have a great purpose, but that there is also hope.
Rey continues to be lost, but worse is the fate of Rose… or lack thereof.
The Elimination of Rose, a Woman of colour
Finn and Rose, another prominent Rebels member, were forced into a romance that comes out of nowhere- and it also goes nowhere. TROS simply does not have any Rose presence. Instead, some rando is there called Beaumont. Interestingly, in the Artbook, he gets a full double page spread. And Rose, the veteran, was given less than half a page.
Rose, as indicated earlier, hardly gets a few minutes into the final cut. She acts out of character for staying behind for the climactic mission. Her role, it seems, was given to white male character Beaumont (played by Dominic Monaghan), who is a lot more front and centre. This is very odd, as Rose was crucial to the new group, and had a romantic engagement to Finn.
Many fans have pointed out that this is racist, as no other characters were cut as much as Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran. Kelly Marie was also bullied off social media by racist bullying, to the point that fans insisted her character was not even useful. The same, however, was not said about other actors, many of whom were predominantly white.
This kind of racist bullying is not unseen in the Star Wars fandom: the bullying of the actor who played Jar Jar Binks, Ahmed Best, even considered suicide after the fan backlash against his character.
The Rose treatment is also touted as fact that Disney gave in to the demands of the racists. The loss of Rose marks that Star Wars is almost exclusively a white dominated media.
A good example of this kind of treatment by the fans is the way the deaths of People of Colour cast members were received. While they were ‘heroic’ deaths, many non-white fans were disturbed by the fact that against all odds, the main white protagonist survived and was allowed some modicum of peace. While this appears fine, the history of Hollywood is littered with overt and covert Racism, and as such, killing off all the POC cast just to have the white lead be happy leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
The characters of Luke and Leia Skywalker are treated as healers to their ‘traumatized’ killer space fascism fanboy Kylo Ren.
Luke and Leia form the backbone of the series, as does the villain of their time, their father Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker who became evil by succumbing to the dark side of the force). The fact of the matter is that they were mishandled post TFA.
Luke is left to be this bitter old man who tries to be a new man after Rey gives him hope, but the focus shifts away from Rey, to focus on Kylo. His efforts are spent on trying to get Kylo to the light side, and intimidating him as a last-ditch effort to save the rebels.
At the end of TLJ, Luke dies from… exertion. It feels pretty cheap way to die, given his legendary status. So, in essence, he is wasted as a character in order to be thrown against a villain whom he does not even fight.
Princess Leia, Luke’s sister, does not fare much better. While she is touted to be the alternative to Luke after his death for Rey’s training, we don’t see much of that in TROS, where she is the General, but is not given enough screen time. She still cares for her son, even though she has let go of any hope in trying to get him to be good, for him to come to the light side. He is too far gone, having killed too many people, including an attempt on her life.
Towards the end of TROS, Leia gives her life to project an image of her husband, Kylo’s father, to Kylo himself. He receives it as he recovers, freshly healed from a mortal wound inflicted by Rey himself.
It’s another odd moment that Rey even chose to heal him, Kylo sees his father, who pleads with him again to do the right thing. Somehow, this makes Kylo go against Palpatine, the new Meta- villain.
Leia unfortunately and unceremoniously dies doing this, and Kylo does fight Palpatine. We are given no insight to his thoughts, he just does it.
However, this is literally anti canon; Kylo murdered his own father in cold blood as well as destroying his own mother’s ship (but she survived, somehow). This is also really OOC for Kylo, who had risen to power by killing his own master in TLJ, and was the new Supreme leader with literal millions at his command.
The problem here is that while TFA sets up Luke and Leia as the guides for Finn, and later Rey (because Finn was unfortunately side-lines) but then the story takes an unexpected turn. The story tries very hard to make the viewers sympathise with an unsympathetic and frankly even unlikable villain. He is established to have fallen past the moral event horizon when he kills his own father in TFA.
This effort also largely fails because of the lack of effort on Kylo’s part. His redemption cannot and will not continue until he strives to undo the wrongs he has done. He has to, essentially, essentially go against the grain of his own order, which itself is an oppressive imperial regime that riles with an iron fist and an overpowered military.
So far, we have found that it doesn’t really matter who the protagonist is, but that the executive management would willingly change a story to fit the demands of both external and internal natures. Rose’s erasure, Finn’s sidelining and the way the movie decides to use OOC (Out of Character) moments to further the plot shows just how little planning was involved going forward. Many fans have rightfully seen this lack of planning as dubious at best, especially coming from such a megacorporation as Disney with incredibly deep pockets. Finn and (in particular) Rose both being sidelined also shows just how the core of the fanbase is not really interested in true diversity. Diversity, it seems, would remain limited to PoC in Alien roles, which is in itself a harmful and dehumanising stereotype. Rose being erased itself speaks volumes of just how little care was given to the characters of colour.
Luke and Leia were used up in the course of a redemption farce for a villain that was never written to be on a redemption path. An evil force vanquishing a greater evil force does not make the former better. Star Wars has always had a problem with morality, and this particular instance isnt’t new at all. Darth Vader’s victory over Palpatine was seen as a triumph, but until that point, Darth Vader had not been actively working against the Empire. Indeed, he was on a war path for them, and had only regrets on his death but no actions to back his wishes of ‘doing better’.
We now come to the end of part 1. In part 2, we will discuss why Kylo Ren’s redeption doesn’t work, plotholes, the ‘Reylo’ ship, and the puzzling return of Palpatine.