SPOILERS!!! (If the title of the post wasn’t enough of an indicator …)
While Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was, in general, a decent film (it could have been better; it could have been worse, and we got D-0 out of the deal), my primary complaint is with one of the main themes of the story. Theme, just so we’re all on the same page, is a story’s underlying message. Children’s stories have only one or a few themes and make them very obvious: Honesty in Pinocchio, Diligence in The Three Little Pigs, and, my personal favorite, Eating Lots of Food in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. As the target audience of a story ages, obviously, the themes become more complicated and numerous, while also becoming more nuanced.
One of the most prominent themes in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is Rey’s journey of self-acceptance. Rey has been growing increasingly perplexed and anxious about her own abilities for some time now, and we’ve had several hints that the discovery of her lineage will be the cause of some major conflict. She is warned by Leia to not be afraid of who she is at the onset of her final adventure and then goes on to battle a darker version of herself as she struggles with the idea of her powers and identity. The theme comes to a climax along with the main plot: she finds out she’s a Palpatine, eventually believes in herself and her ability to fight the Dark Side regardless of her family history, succeeds, the end. Intentional, consistent, generally nuanced, perfect.
Well, no, because it didn’t end there.
In a Tatooine setting, more forced for its nostalgic factor than a particularly sentimental location for any of the characters involved, prompted by an old woman who has no reasonable explanation for being present, with or without her alien camel, Rey is put on the spot to declare her identity and chooses “Skywalker” as her last name. What happened to self-acceptance? What about the legacy of her Palpatine parents who gave everything to protect her? Why does she feel compelled to give this suspicious stranger even a first name, let alone a last? If not for the camera angles, triumphant music, and walking off into the sunset, we could assume she just didn’t trust the lady and gave the first last name that came to mind for security’s sake which would have been excusable.
It just seemed sloppy and fragmented, given everything that came before, and seemed to serve only to tie in the film’s title. Whether the Rise of Skywalker title was chosen to add shock value to the Palpatine reveal, or because it fit some alternate plot which was altered due to a most unfortunate change in circumstances (rest in peace, Carrie Fisher), it did not fit with the story and should have just been changed (or kept as Duel of the Fates if this “leaked script” business isn’t a hoax). In the case of the latter, I think most fans would have been understanding (yes, I know it would have been expensive, too, to redesign and print promotional materials, but Disney made enough off of Frozen 2 to cover it), and in the case of the earlier, I’m all for surprises, but they should never, in my opinion, come at the expense of good plot, story, and theme structure. From what I have seen and heard of J. J. Abrams’ works, he is more willing to make such compromises, and I am not a fan of the results.
Theme really makes or breaks a story, and I’ve learned so much just by noticing when a story seems vague, directionless, fragmented, cheesy, or sloppy, and it usually boils down to how intentional the writer was about detecting, weaving, structuring, and shaping themes.
If this kind of thing interests you, I highly recommend Just Write’s video on the topic which had a slightly different take on Rey’s internal struggle theme, as well as some other fascinating insight into J. J. Abrams’ writing style in general. I watched it after writing most of this post, so I didn’t steal the idea; I’m sure there are countless articles and videos all over the internet by dedicated writers who picked up on the same problem; I just wrote my own anyway because it’s fun, and it helps reinforce my understanding when I write it out.
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