This review contains no spoilers.
The Rise of Skywalker exceeds expectations on nearly every important front:
- Working wonders with footage from the cutting room floor of Episodes VII & VIII, the filmmakers give Princess Leia the sendoff she deserves.
- The characters of Rey and Kylo Ren — and their complex relationship — develop in fascinating, rewarding, and often surprising ways.
- Emperor Palapatine has never been more menacing and compelling as a villain.
- At long last, Lando Calrissian returns!
- An unexpected cameo by a character from the original trilogy steals the show.
- The saga comes to a worthy, resounding, satisfying conclusion.
- Episode IX ranks among the finest films in the franchise.
The film’s overall excellence makes it easy to tolerate the inevitable clichés and a flat notes, but that much harder to accept the two things it gets profoundly wrong: Rose and Poe.
Rose Tico emerged as a major character in Episode VIII. In a saga crowded with stock heroes (noble knights, dashing rogues, stunning princesses), Rose represented a refreshing change of pace: a humble maintenance worker, quirky and charming, played by an Asian-American actress who is not a standard-issue supermodel sexpot (though she is — like virtually every woman onscreen in Hollywood — improbably attractive).
Bigots and misogynists hated Rose. Already annoyed by Episode VII’s introduction of black and Latino protagonists (Finn and Poe), white supremacists exploded with ferocious rage when The Last Jedi added an Asian woman to the mix of main characters. Hateful fanboys flamed actress Kelly Marie Tran with a torrent of sexist and racist vitriol so vicious, vile, and unrelenting that the actress quit Instagram to escape the harassment.
This spiteful legion of trolls aimed to make Star Wars white again.
Like most 20th-century films, Episodes IV-VI were basically all-white sausage fests. The original trilogy showed more diversity among droids and aliens than among humans. Main characters included just one person of color (smooth operator Lando Calrissian) and one woman (Princess Leia, a spunky ’women’s lib update of a damsel in distress).
Episodes I-III did just slightly better, doubling the number of important characters who were people of color (Jedi knight Mace Windu, bounty hunter Jango Fett) and women (Shmi the Madonna, and Padmé, a resourceful, assertive, and idealistic republican politician).
The three white protagonists from the original trilogy — Han, Luke, and Leia — returned for The Force Awakens, along with a trio of new characters — none of whom were white males. Racist nerds grumbled about that.
When The Last Jedi added a fourth nonwhite nonmale protagonist, the Fanboy Menace organized a boycott to smite Disney. Episode VII and VIII each cost about $300 million to make, but The Force Awakens earned $2 billion in box office, while The Last Jedi eked out a mere $1.3 billion. That’s real money. Disney dropped from 600% profit on Episode VII to only 300% on Episode VIII. No one knows how much the bigot boycott contributed to The Last Jedi’s diminished earnings.
Mark Hamill, director Rian Johnson, and others at Disney gallantly defended Tran and condemned the attacks on Rose. However, the studio denied her the help she really needed: The correct response to the bigot boycott would have been to feature Rose even more prominently in Episode IX, to make her even more integral to the story and even more iconic — or, at the very least, to maintain her as a major character.
Instead, in The Rise of Skywalker, Disney sold her out, surrendering unilaterally to the trolls by giving Rose the Jar Jar Binks treatment. (A gratingly unfunny computer-generated Sambo stereotype, Jar Jar appeared prominently The Phantom Menace, but hostile fan reaction forced Lucas to cut his screen time in Attack of the Clones. By Revenge of the Sith, Jar Jar had been mercifully reduced to a one-line cameo.)
Episode IX makes Rose a minor character, consistently relegated to the periphery of the action. The erasure of Rose is craven capitulation to misogyny and white supremacy, and it does violence to the story. In The Last Jedi, Rose befriends and falls for Finn, but there is no trace of that affection in The Rise of Skywalker, no explanation for their vanished romance, and no room for Rose in the Rey-Finn-Poe triangle of friendship. Rose’s most meaningful emotional exchange is with Chewbacca, whom she barely met in Episode VIII.
Adding insult to injury, Episode IX introduces several new characters who consume screen time that should have gone to Rose (and Lando).
One of those new characters is Zorii Bliss, played by a helmeted Keri Russell. Zorii, we learn, is Poe’s love interest, which will disappoint fans — including Oscar Isaac — who lobbied for Poe to be gay. The romantic subplot adds nothing to the story, but needlessly defines Poe’s sexuality in another capitulation to social conservatives.
Moreover, Episode IX denies Poe his signature smartass scene. Early in The Force Awakens, Poe mocks a masked Kylo Renn. At the beginning of The Last Jedi, Poe hilariously trolls General Hux by repeatedly calling him General Hugs. The Rise of Skywalker could have used more humor.
Star Wars has always been an anti-Fascist allegory. The recent rise of illiberal leaders in the US and around the world makes a galactic battle against space Nazis seem more relevant than ever. In Episodes I-VI, George Lucas referred discernibly to Vietnam, Watergate, and Dubya’s War on Terror.
Sadly, Disney declined to take similar risks with The Rise of Skywalker. Evidently, the studio hoped to maximize Episode IX’s box office by forfeiting artistic integrity and social responsibility.