I’ve been mulling over Rise of Skywalker since I saw it. Here’s the unpopular truth: I enjoyed it. I saw it with my five-year-old daughter, who was thrilled to learn that Leia had a lightsaber, too. I cried over Kylo Ren’s conversation with Han Solo. I am impatiently waiting for a toy version of a yellow lightsaber. And upon reflection, I still think it’s largely fine for a Magical Space movie. I still think the plot problems with it are not worse than most other modern splashy sci-fi/action features, which are almost always incomprehensible, rushed, and cheesy. I still think these movies largely sink or swim not based on plotting but because we are either moved — or not — by their character moments.
Still, Jenny Nicholson’s review brings up a lot of salient points about how this movie undermines its own themes. Actually, in a way, the prequels made this same mistake. The original trilogy was about our need for human connection and love, and how this — not the presence of fear or anger or some inherent “badness” — is what distinguishes a Jedi from a dark force user (we didn’t have the word Sith back then!), a good person from a bad person. It’s not our fears but our choices, and we can choose to make better choices at any moment, even if we’ve made poor ones frequently. In the original movie, Vader is saved because of his human attachment to his son, and so when we see, in the prequels, human attachments like love positioned as bad for Jedi, it feels like a bizarre contradiction — and when we have Ben Solo and Rey end up ultimately dead or alone, it seems like we’re weakening these themes even more. I mean, Rose Tico gave us these themes in the last movie: “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!”
If I were going to rewrite this trilogy of trilogies to be thematically coherent, first I’d rewrite the prequels to act in service of this, first and foremost, because we have a really muddy, shaky narrative base because of them even though some of the scaffolding is there for cromulent movies, with themes, and stuff. The Jedi order should not be huge and flourishing but rather dying a slow death due to their own restrictive rules about who can love who. Show them as well-intentioned, but corrupt. Maybe they are bringing in fewer and fewer padawans because you need to be recognized at birth as having a high midichlorian count — and those children are torn away from their parents and raised in isolation as force users and then expected to forgo romantic relationships because the Jedi are afraid that attachments like love are corrupting. Suggest that this helps them at diplomacy on a surface level but isolates them as human beings, causing them to lack empathy in their political dealings. I’d have Obi-wan encounter Anakin as an actual young adult, an actual war pilot (but former slave, because this will echo in themes we’ll develop lateer) during the clone wars, and Obi-wan realizes that he wasn’t properly identified as a force user at a young age and, more, that he’s more powerful in the force than even Obi-wan. Give them a friendship, maybe with Padme as a space princess who they both love. Have Yoda and co refuse to train Anakin, and so Anakin is trained truly in secret by Obi-wan. That way, when Anakin and Padme start to fall in love, they can have an argument about whether he’s bound by the rules of the jedi or not, and more, whether Obi-wan’s objections to their relationship are fear-based — is Obi-wan jealous? — or justified. The larger political machinations can work in a similar way to how they do in the prequels, with the emperor rising in the ranks, and tempting Anakin with the power to heal his dead mother. But instead of Anakin being a sniveling, whining creeper, let’s show that he’s kind of right about the Jedi. You can’t understand justice without understanding love. The idea is corrupt, fundamentally. Make this a tragedy not just because of one boy, but because of the mistakes the Jedi are making, too.
(I would also probably not have his wife die of a broken heart, because that’s stupid but also because her love for her children should count for something — parental love is as much a theme in these movies as romantic love, if not even more of a theme. She takes Leia into hiding, and should fight to take Luke, too, but Obi-wan convinces her that it’s not safe for him, and it should be painful, because the Jedi have a habit of taking children from their families, and we need to doubt the wisdom of this — later, in the sequel trilogy, this is echoed with stormtroopers.)
So, like, that brings us to the sequels, and if we have a firm foundation to see the end of the previous Jedi order as the start of a reformation, what we need to bring our characters to is an understanding that “balance in the force” is a matter of synthesis of our positive and negative human emotions. In this trilogy as we have it aired, both Luke and Leia succumb to the same kind of mistakes that were made in the prequel trilogy. Fearing power. Fearing emotional connections to people. If anything, Ben’s downfall lies mostly on the shoulders of Leia and Luke. Leia stops her Jedi training and pushes him off to Luke because she’s scared she’ll lose him. Luke fears his power and nearly murders him. Both of these things isolate him and allow Snoke/Palpatine to groom and manipulate him. This is in the movies already, and I get that no one wants to openly criticize Leia because of Carrie Fisher’s death and because having Luke dwell on his mistakes in TLJ is unpopular, but it’s thematically consistent. Luke’s isolationism — his leaning into those sort of old school Jedi ideas that we don’t need other people — and then his coming to realize that he does need to help people he cares about — that’s a powerful, interesting idea for a big dumb popcorn movie.
I like Jenny Nicholson’s idea that Kylo needs to defect sooner. What if we didn’t kill Snoke at the end of TLJ — what if he’s about to send Kylo Ren off for the wayfinder, which is in the emperor’s old throne room, and which is rumored to lead to a place of great sith power, and there’s only one wayfinder and Ren knows that the resistance is chasing it down and that this is a way for him to find Rey? What if Ren kills Snoke then, and goes to intercept Rey and company on the moon of Endor — and they meet in the throne room and the wayfinder is already gone. They have their great ocean/wreckage battle there, and Rey is pissed and Ren is relenting, and Leia calls out to him, and he’s stabbed, and then healed, much as we saw here. Rey runs off to Ahch-To and is consoled by Luke, who convinces her that she’s not evil for having dark thoughts, that she needs other people, that he made a mistake in cloistering himself. He helps her leave, but she still has her doubts. She is a nobody, she’s struggling with the darkness, maybe she blew up Chewie’s ship in this version but we hold off for a lot longer on knowing whether he’s alive. Is she as bad as Kylo Ren, really, with this kind of darkness inside her?
Meanwhile, we have Ben Solo either talking to Han (because it’s one of the scenes that worked for me), or, better, Carrie Fisher is still alive (if I’m imagining a better universe, I’m imagining that) and Leia talks to Ben as a force ghost. And she admits that she made a mistake in pushing him away, that she loved him, she always did, that she should have trained him herself. We would have, like, mirroring, characters admitting mistakes, characters admitting they need each other. We could get some more, like, themes, of darkness being present in the light, as Ben Solo struggles to reintegrate with the crew, while we find out that Poe is a spice runner. But Ben is unsure if he’s really redeemable, he’s done such awful things. And meanwhile, even though Snoke is dead, the First Order is still mounting military attacks, but they don’t know who is ordering them. Maybe Ben and co go to the London bombing planet and things are horrible and getting worse and there’s a mass evacuation because the planet is going to be destroyed. I would still have Ben and Rey interact through the force, but now he’s trying to convince her to join them, but she’s scared — she thinks she needs to face and destroy this evil alone to atone for her mistakes. Maybe he still has a secret about her parentage. She doesn’t want to hear it. She’s scared. She’s hiding something too.
And I’m taking a lot of this from Jenny’s youtube, but here’s what I think: I think if Rey needed to be a legacy character, she should have been a Kenobi. That Obi-wan found love for himself after the fall of the jedi order. And I think it’s compelling, the idea that maybe Rey killed her parents as a small child in a moment of fear. What if we went with that? The trauma of it, the fear of being a Bad Person aligned with the Dark Side. That her parents were good, and she killed them.
And in my version, the big bad, when they get to it — it would be Hux. Like, hear me out. We don’t need a fundamentally supernatural big bad who we don’t even know, just because we got it in the original movies. The prequels destroy that idea anyway, by letting us watch Palpatine’s rise to power. Some magical evil dude doesn’t even match with the themes of these movies, which is that the dark side is a temptation that always exists in all of us, but that the choices we make out of love are what saves us. Hux is a true believer in the First Order, rising in power, hates Kylo Ren. So he gets the wayfinder first, gets to a planet of Ancient Sith Evil, and there’s no palpatine but there is a shadow arena of Sith, and there are weapons he can use to take over the universe, so we get a space battle. Rey gets there to confront him alone, and he’s going to use some sith ritual to drain her life force, and we could have a line about how the dark side isn’t just force lightning and cheating death, it’s the fear and anger that exists in all of us. Like Obi-wan, who was weak and betrayed his vows, creating Rey’s mother, creating Rey. Like Rey, who killed her parents in a moment of fear, and she lived in such denial that she believed for decades that they would return to her because she couldn’t even face the terrible thing she’d done. Like Hux, who was jealous, who always wanted to be in Kylo Ren’s place and will now take the sith throne as a user of the dark side, creating a new jedi order where the jedi can take over the galaxy. Because right now, the Jedi can be anything. And they can definitely be isolationists who kidnap children as child soldiers. We’ve seen it before. But first he needs her force powers, so Hux starts draining her life force, and Rey sacrifices herself to prevent it, killing both of them, and you see Ben, running through Exogol, and we can even let him give a big “No!” He’s too late.
He gets to her, as the knights of ren are closing in. We get echo of the “be with me” line that Jenny Nicholson gives us, which is great, and that’s when the force ghosts rally for Ben Solo, who needed his family, all this time, and they defeat the knights of ren, Maybe now we have the memory of Han Solo talking to Ben. Telling him that he can do what he needs to do. He can be good. He can heal her. While a force ghost battle rages on behind them. While the space battle plays out overhead. He makes it right, because Love. And they’re both greatly weakened, but they live.
(It would all be very cheesy but these are very cheesy movies. Okay? Okay.)
Because the whole god damned point of these movies is the redeeming power of love, how community and family are what saves us. How that is how we defeat the darkness.
We see these themes echoed in the space battle. Finn almost sacrificing himself, but being saved by his friends. A disregard for personal gain, a focus on martyrdom and love as a concept.
And then the ending would be a founding of a new Jedi order, Ben and Rey together, Finn with force powers, kissing Rose Tico or maybe Poe or both (more family for everyone), broom boy and a bunch of new padawan learners, but they have family now because they’re being cared for in a way that they would not have been, in a society where children were stolen as slaves and stormtroopers. Maybe we see a mother somewhere, teaching her child how to levitate something. And the thing we need to establish here is that family is important — connections are important. They don’t make us weak. They make us human. And so we could have a full fledged story over three trilogies, that with a high degree of personal cost, the jedi have learned not to be lonely old space wizards, or space monks. They’ve connected with their humanity. Maybe Rey does go bury the Jedi lightsabers — after all, Luke and Leia tried, but ultimately they failed, to bring the force into balance after Vader’s sacrifice. When the old woman asks her what her last name is, she can look to her friends, including her romantic interest, and tell us that her last name doesn’t matter. Her friends are waiting for her. And then she can show some humanity to this lonely old woman, some lovingkindness. She invites the old woman to join them, showing that the Jedi have come full circle, that they won’t make the same mistakes again.