Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Epic Essay

I mentioned last time I posted that I’d watched the latest Star Wars movie. I focused on fandom stuff in that last post (and it continues to be a thing, ugh). Today I’m going to talk about the movie itself because why the heck not? After all, I positively gushed on here after seeing The Force Awakens.

This review will not be so gushy. It is also very, very, long. I debated splitting it, but in the end have not. So pull up a seat, grab a drink of choice and set aside some time with me.

I have some initial thoughts, and then will dive into the details (WITH SPOILERS). Sections are divided into “liked”, “difficult” and “awful”, with additional headings. You know we’ve got a problem when the “awful” section is the biggest section of the essay. In that section, I swear and talk about racism, sexism, abuse and queerphobia, too, as a heads up.

Let me start by saying, Sequel Trilogy creators, you had me in the palm of your hand after The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi was more difficult to like, but I focused on the good points. I hoped The Rise of Skywalker would be better…but the dominant emotion now is disappointment.

The Rise of Skywalker (TRoS) has been out for just over a month now, and I’m far from the only one with Opinions about it. I’ve gathered some opinions I like below.

So, what did I think of the movie overall? As Scalzi said (in the first link) it was largely entertaining to watch, if you didn’t think too critically. It’s the slightly-predictable movie that tugs at the emotions effectively and tries to tell a good story. It was an End Movie for its trilogy. However, it doesn’t do the best job at concluding itself (as Chuck Wendig, second link, points out) and character development and a coherent, nuanced plot is treated as secondary to “entertainment”.

It’s disappointing that it the story couldn’t have been told better…and a little differently. Like, looking back on TFA, I still recall it fondly. The more distance I have from watching TRoS, the more questions and difficulties I have with it. It could have been a film full of nuance and character development, but is instead a rushed film full of missed opportunities. I wish my expectations had been lower going in – something I never thought I’d say. *long sigh*

As a Star Wars fan, it’s possibly true to say that everyone has “their” trilogy, the ones that they saw in the cinema or were of appropriate age to remember them coming out. The Sequel Trilogy is mine, being just a smidge too young for the Prequels. The thrill of hearing that theme and seeing that logo and those words, “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away…” is still fierce. They had me right where they wanted me, hooked and eager for more, after The Force Awakens…and then the other two trilogy movies happened.

I really wish that they’d built a storyline and planned the whole trilogy right from the start. I also wish that they’d had a consistent creative team throughout the trilogy and included more people of colour on their teams. That would’ve helped prevent the current situation, where the trilogy movies don’t fit together as well as they could have, and representation is thin – a gloss at best, without substance. TFA and (especially) TLJ don’t pass the Bechdel test and TRoS barely does, for example. Character-wise, there is nowhere near enough time or space for character development to grow. Plot-wise, TRoS spends half its time backtracking over TLJ and rips along at such a fast pace you can barely process anything or catch your breath. They seem to have tried to bank on ambiguity (giving hints of everything) to give everyone what they think we wanted, leading to a narrative that overall lacks character resolution and pleases very few.

Another general gripe: it’s become apparent that the creators are relying on viewers consuming the tie-in media (e.g. comics, novelisations, extra tie-in novels) to make up for at times lazy storytelling and lack of character arcs. I strongly dislike this, as I don’t want to feel forced into consuming the extra stuff. I want to enjoy it for its own benefits, which is my current plan now. This approach is also undermined when they pick and choose what they want to include from the tie-ins. For example, a book called Resistance Reborn was written to explore the concepts of TLJ, bridging part of the gap between that movie and TRoS. I haven’t read it – or any tie-in stuff except Aftermath – yet, but apparently a lot of the threads it puts down aren’t picked up by TRoS. I guess because of how much of TLJ they retconned? Yet they crafted an entire narrative using comics and tie-ins to explain away Ren’s evilness. I don’t get it.

Also, TRoS could have been so much easier to watch if they’d toned down the bloody light-show effects. I have sensory issues, one of which is photosensitivity. When I’m exposed to flickering or very bright light, it’s very distracting and I can’t stop “noticing” it: It’s a constant irritant which I can’t ignore. How much of that movie do you think I spent with my eyes shut or squinting, trying to see past the flickers to the action? I missed out on the full experience of several important scenes thanks to the insistence of having flickering bright lights contrasting against very dark background. We were warned at the beginning by a notice on the screen and I knew buying the tickets, but there’s “brief flickering light effects” and then there’s what that movie did. Ew.

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What I Liked

We’re all in this together…

–> The thing I liked the most was the inherent message, spoken by Poe and Lando and others, about coming together and fighting together against the Big Bads of the galaxy. As well as Luke’s speech to Rey about facing your fears and doing what is necessary despite them. (I liked the fan-service X-wing Force-lift.)

Those plot points, as predictable/ cheesy as they were, landed well for me because sometimes I think we need to hear that “obvious” stuff, to remind ourselves that yes, we are actually stronger together. Of course, the Fandom in general isn’t paying attention to that at all right now (😤 *grumpy face*), as I mentioned the other day. It does feel like a bit of a pancea in that context. But I still liked it.

–> In a similar way, I liked the final battles of the movie – somewhat predictable, but also cool/ entertaining. And I’ve read Aftermath, so I really felt it when Snap died (thanks for that Chuck!). I liked what I could see of the last lightsaber and lightning battle, with the speechy bits.

Character developments

–> I also appreciated how they handled the aftermath of Leia’s death in the movie. I think Chewie was us, there. I really liked that they recognised that fans should have a “goodbye” scene. One of my favourite parts of the movie is the section when they’re mourning her, because it felt like the actors were speaking for us…about Carrie. ❤

–> The continuing friendship between Finn and Poe and Finn and Rey, as well as Finn, Poe and Rey finally getting some bonding screen time. Regardless of whether Finn and Poe’s connection is romantic or platonic (more on that later), their friendship is certainly deep and meaningful and should be celebrated. John Boyega has some lovely words on this. We need these examples of deep intimate male friendships on-screen and what we have is beautiful. I also appreciated the dynamic they tried to build between Rey and Finn. You can tell Finn wants to support Rey through the difficult stuff she’s dealing with during parts of the movie, though she struggles to let him in. Also, one of my favourite TRoS moments was the hug between the three at the end.

Extra things:

  • The musical score; as usual, lovely – and how could it go wrong, with John Williams as composer?
  • Little characters like Babu Frik and D-0 (the cone-wheel droid).
  • Rey’s struggle with understanding herself and her power, and the found family arc.
  • The fact that Finn’s Force-sensitive (about time!!).
  • Jannah and the other stormtroopers’ existence (about time!!).
  • Hux’s reason for being the spy: it felt in-character to me.

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What I Found Difficult…

A lot of the stuff in this section could have been in the one above, or unremarked upon, if they’d landed differently. For example, if they’d been introduced better or given more scope or nuance…or more time to land.

Slow down; too fast

–> The first difficulty is the pace of the movie. It was far. too. fast. We were flung this way and that, racing around the galaxy at such speeds there was barely enough time for plot to unfold and story-beats to land. This led to some of the difficulties with character arcs that are explored in this or the “Awful” section. It also left me struggling to keep up. It’s no wonder it took me a few days to process everything.

Examples of the pacing getting the way of character arcs included: Chewie (“He’s dead!” “No he’s not!” Apparently there were two transports in the air, but I didn’t notice them); Hux (“You’re the spy?” …. a handful of scenes later… *bang* “Tell Ren I’ve found our traitor.”), Threepio (“I choose to do this memory-wipe thing (after a lot of pressure), goodbye, friends.” … “Artoo’s brought him back up to speed, I guess?”), and D-0 (why’d they exist other than to be a cute plot device?). Also, the pacing of the film meant that, while they tried to include bonding moments between Poe, Finn and Rey, they didn’t always land effectively – or resolve (more on that in the next major section).

Btw, was I the only one that wondered if Threepio’s memory reset would give us a Prequel-era droid? It would have been interesting if they’d had time for that, and for Threepio to be gradually brought up to speed by Artoo across the rest of the movie, for example… and it might have given his arc more depth. It would have even provided a nod to nostalgia/ history, which is a theme they were going for, right?

Leia’s storyline

–> The second difficulty: Leia’s storyline. Now, I said upthread that I liked the aftermath of her death, and why. As for everything else, it was always going to be difficult, figuring out how to honour Leia and Carrie Fisher’s role in the films. The end of TLJ sets Leia up as one of the last major characters from the OT who’s alive in-universe…and then, after filming wrapped, Carrie passed away. This forced the creators to change tracks. IX could no longer be Leia’s film. While they largely did the best with what they had, and I do think they tried to be respectful, they could have done better.

I mean, for goodness’ sakes, why did she die in-film by using the Force to reach out to her son? This was one of the things that passed me by at first, but upon reflection, it feels wrong. Leia’s death is so passive and flat for a character as vibrant as Leia – who was introduced as a passionate seeker of hope and justice. Her end is in the service of another, male, character’s arc. Not only that, but her son’s arc – she’s become a movie mother dead for the sake of the plot. WHY?

There were more nuanced, engaging ways to honour Carrie that could have avoided those tropes. For example, I saw commentary from Fangirl Jeanne that suggested, as part of a mega what-if fix-it thread, how Leia could have died by actively defending the Resistance: they could have set up a last stand scenario, used other female characters – like Rose – to support this, and used camera angles to imply Leia’s e.g. shooting stormtroopers, without having her in the frame, using the shadow body-double that way. Instead, they gave us that simplistic end.

The Palpatine plot and Rey’s character arc

–> My third point of difficulty: the Palpatine thing. Re-introducing Palpatine was always going to be iffy. To be honest, I don’t know why they did it. It smacks of their idea of fan-service and the need for a Big Bad Force-user that wasn’t Kylo Ren. They could have handled it a lot better, if they’d really had to bring him in. Like, why identify him in the opening scroll? Why not devote some time onscreen to characters hearing the voice and searching, then discovering that it’s him and their reactions? Why not devote time to a Palpatine arc, referencing the Legends canon and the other trilogies? Palpatine cloned himself in the Legends canon, and there was that whole thing about Darth Plageius conquering death as part of the set-up of the climax of RotS – and Palpatine was more than just a cartoonish villain there. Done so hastily, here, it doesn’t make sense.

–> This shoddy introduction and lack of character arc for Palpatine then leads to Rey’s arc faltering. Here’s where it becomes obvious that there wasn’t a consistent, coherent story narrative across all three trilogies. If they’d really wanted a Rey Skywalker, that should’ve happened in TLJ. They could’ve done something from that about Rey needing to reconcile the good and evil parts of her family. Like, Leia has issues being related to Vader, but Luke thinks of him as redeemed… what would Rey’s view have been, when she can see how it affects Leia (see TFA) but can also hear Luke’s stories?

Then, they could’ve contrasted this with Ren’s struggle with the Dark…while also giving room for Finn to be the “no-big-name Force-sensitive”, and drawing on the expanded canon to remind viewers that the Jedi were more than just Skywalkers, anyway. (More about Finn later.) As it is, the Rey Skywalker bit took some people by surprise, finished the retcon of the “Rey from Nowhere” arc (one of the few good character arcs of TLJ) that the Rey Palpatine arc started, and felt rushed in, right at the end.

If they wanted Rey to be a Skywalker in a post-TLJ world, they should have built in more self-reflection from Rey. Here’s another space where they could have used other female characters to make up for the absence of Carrie Fisher, for example, Maz, to build more depth into this so we were ready for a Rey Skywalker by the end of the film. (Again, Fangirl Jeanne has some good thoughts about this in that epic fix-it essay.) It would have also meant that Luke wasn’t the only one Teaching Rey Stuff, so we’d have got some interactions between Rey and other women instead of just the “Old” White Guy Teacher.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, Rey didn’t need a “powerfully dark” last name to struggle with the power of her abilities and the good and evil within herself. She could have just as easily remained “Rey from Nowhere” during most of the film. A great arc could’ve been written from this angle, where Rey has to choose to confront the Darkness within herself (that’s within all of us, just as the Light is) and choose to be who she is: the last “Jedi”/ trained Force-user. What does that mean for the galaxy? There are other untrained Force-users out there (like Finn) after all… A nuanced conversation could have been had. But this isn’t the film for nuanced conversations, so the narrative suffers for it.

The Redemption of Kylo Ren

–> Finally: Redemption arcs can be interesting if done well. But they require nuance, recognition of wrongdoing, and atonement, in a way that’s not usually easy to convey in a movie, especially one that’s got pacing issues. Therefore, Ren’s redemption doesn’t make a lot of sense, narratively – at the start of the movie, he’s still killing people, with little remorse, just to gain access to the place where Palpatine is. He “returns to the light” due to Rey (and Leia) – which, I mean, *vomits*. Seriously? (More on that in the “Awful” section.)

I enjoyed the cameo from Han Solo/ Harrison Ford in Ren/Ben’s mind (probably replacing what Leia and Carrie’s role would have been) after that fight. However, it’s been revealed that Han wasn’t a real Force-ghost, just a manifestation in Ren’s mind, sooooo….effectively, Ren/ Ben was talking to himself? Did he ever actually admit fault/ ask for forgiveness to anyone living (e.g. Rey)?

Or was everything just “presumed” forgiven because he helped his stalker crush win a fight against the Big Bad and healed her before fading away into the Force? Ongoing forgiveness and growth is another thing altogether – and that’s the thing that would have given Ren’s arc some actual redemption. Want an example of a redemption arc that works? Take the redemption of Zuko, a tortured-soul villain in Avatar: The Last Airbender. As Hoai-Tran Bui explains in this article from slashfilm.com, Zuko shows how a villainous character can be forced to examine who they are and change, through the hard process of recognising their mistakes, owning up to them, and atoning for them.

It’s not easy, because redemption – real redemption – isn’t. They could’ve done something like that with Ren – if they’d allowed the screen time for it. I’ve read that some of his past actions are downplayed or explained by other means through some of the tie-in comics and books – but we really should’ve seen the explanations onscreen for a coherent redemption arc.

For a coherent redemption arc, Ren should have started the movie with less killing and more regret, then should have faced the consequences of his past misdeeds, verbally acknowledging he’s stuffed up – an extension of what’s already in the movie. Then he dies heroically sacrificing himself, maybe. Or he lives and is punished for his deeds justly, in some sort of way that means he could help rebuild what he broke. Maybe being unable to use the Force in the meantime – and staying well away from Rey.

Instead, he’s “absolved” through assisting with the fight with Palpatine then gets to fade away into the Force with barely any self-reflection. If they were going to do such a poor job, they should’ve just built him into this movie’s Big Bad (in a scenario that ignores Palpatine) and then had Rey capture/ kill him, with no redemption at all. I’d actually prefer that – it’s what I hoped for after TFA in the beginning: a strong female character whom I identified with kicking the male villain’s arse, and the male villain having chosen to be evil. But no: “Bendemption” was enabled – because Kylo Ren is white. Which leads me to…

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What I thought was Awful:

Reylo and why I hate it

–> My biggest gripe and “UGH” moment for me? The Reylo kiss. The fucking Reylo kiss and its surrounding context: “redeeming” Ren through Rey and giving a hetero ‘ship between the white “former” villain and the white female protagonist. To explain why, I need to take us back to TFA again. During the whole of that movie, I loved Kylo Ren’s characterisation – he’s a desperate neo-Nazi fascist incel type, who has no qualms attempting to force himself into others’ minds and flies into explosive, violent rages at the slightest provocation when he doesn’t get his own way. He’s a bully and an abuser. He’s torn between good and evil, yes, but he wants evil to win. He kills his own father to ensure that (a choice I loved – such a great plot moment). I left the cinema after TFA hoping we’d eventually see Rey take him down. I did not want this guy redeemed.

Then TLJ happened. It tried to humanise Ren by giving him the backstory of Luke having a moment of doubt and trying to kill him. Bit OOC from what we thought of Luke, there, but eh, we’ll chalk it up to Snoke’s influence, hm? Or unreliable narrating, given it was the villain speaking. It also began laying the groundwork for reconciliation/ redemption and ‘romance’ by the way Ren and Rey interacted – and the space that Ren had to tell his story. (See stitch’s post, When White Villains Get Woobified.)

That plotline was one reason I left the cinema after that movie more than a bit unsettled, begging the universe to not turn this into a “girl/ woman saves boy/ man by loving him” type arc. That shit is toxic and wrong. Perpetuating that myth is dangerous. Still, I had hope – Ren still seemed more like a guy with a one-sided stalker crush than actual romance material.

However, Rey and Kylo Ren’s joint character arc in TRoS changed that. Now, we can technically say, “Reylo is canon”. Yuck. Out of all the things to be unambiguous about (because a kiss is a pretty direct signpost), they chose the reylo relationship. I know, I know, it was just one kiss, but seriously. At the start of the movie, Ren is shown killing his way through a planet on his way to investigate a dark presence.

You’re expecting me to be okay with him and Rey kissing by the end of it? Not to mention, not long before his redemption, Rey fought him, stabbed him and healed him. Then he “returns” to the light as the result of her actions and the actions of his mother. I’ve addressed that upthread. As his final moment, he and Rey kiss before he dies and fades away. Ugh.

I really, really hate this arc. Kylo Ren should have ended the movie dead or imprisoned, without a Happily Ever After. Kylo Ren is not (as TLJ and some reylos would have us think) a victim. He is an abuser. Loving someone is not enough to turn them “back to the Light”, and it’s fucking dangerous that the latter movies suggest this!!! The more I think about it the more uncomfortable I feel. I know he faded away into nothing, but the fact that the kiss and foreshadowing happened at all is concerning.

It means that I and others, who identified with Rey in TFA when she pushed back against his mental assault (“Get out of my head!”) and when she defeated him at the end of that movie, can’t enjoy TRoS-Rey as easily, because to our eyes, a victim ends up being shipped with the man who was once her abuser.

The other thing that’s wrong about this and why it sickens me, why it’s dangerous that the movie suggests “love conquers abuse”? Aside from the message it sends people in vulnerable relationships, especially opposite-sex ones…it also sends that same message to children. Children pick up our context subconsciously…and The Rise of Skywalker tells young children that if someone’s mean to you, being nice to them might fix it. You think I’m exaggerating, but I am not.

–> The kiss also threw a bone to the reylo shippers, many of whom went wild. They like that it’s canon (and often are really annoying about it), and many are refusing to engage with other fans about reylo in a critical manner. Many are also continuing to be absolute dicks by sending hate to other fans and actors, for example, black fans and John Boyega. I addressed some of this in my last post, but it’s still ongoing and they are doubling down.

Due to the fact that many reylo shippers are white women, they’re hiding behind the “sexism” and “misogny” cards when people try to critique their view. They use it to deflect from their racism, too. I hate it!!! It’s really upsetting to realise that the fandom I love is not the fandom that exists – at least, not in a majority way. Otherwise, the reylo ship and its associated toxicity would’ve been called out by more than just actors like Boyega who are directly affected by their actions, it wouldn’t be supported by mainstream fandom publications, and it would have remained a fringe element with no kiss.

Finn’s (lack of) character arc

–> But then, pigs might fly. Something became clear with TRoS that I somewhat missed in TLJ: Star Wars has a problem with racism, and it’s not just a niche minority of toxic white fanboys. It’s fangirls, too, as the discourse around reylo has illustrated. It’s also written into the creative decision-making surrounding the films, especially the last two. For example, in order to prioritise the “Bendemption” and Reylo arcs…they made Finn’s character arc invisible/ non-existent.

I will be upfront: I missed Finn’s arc decreasing in TLJ because I’m white, so I didn’t pick up on the microaggressions and sidelining. I knew it seemed to repeat his TFA journey from a slightly different angle and was frustrated by that. However, I didn’t see some of the things that were racist but played for laughs. I also didn’t realise how yuck some of the plot/ character arcs were: Finn being “taught” that fighting for “those we love” matters, for example…and the scenes with the stablehand kids. (See resources I linked the other day for more.) The trend of minimising Finn continues in TRoS, and becomes blatantly obvious.

Finn is Force-sensitive, but the only nod to that is him feeling Rey’s death plus that one line of conversation with Jannah. It had to be confirmed after the movie’s release. Finn could have trained with Leia and been her protegé in the way that Rey was almost Luke’s. Finn could have had a chance to flex his intellect and use the knowledge of the First Order for good. Instead, Finn’s reduced to a comical character a lot of the time.

They wait until the second half of TRoS to have Finn positively interact with any other dissenting stormtroopers. This is right near the end of the trilogy, so nothing can really be explored. Imagine if they’d used this as a plot point from the beginning/ TLJ? Imagine if Jannah had been introduced earlier? I’d have loved to have seen more of her, too (more on that in a minute). The fact is that Finn has never been allowed to show much angst over the fact that he’s fighting against people that were once on his side.

He doesn’t know all of them of course, but he knows (or, he should know) that they’re just like he was. Forced to fight because they’ve been trained and conditioned to see the First Order as the best and only organisation that is Right. Finn knows what it means to be a child captive and soldier, forced to grow up in a very specific environment. But is that explored? Not a bit. The only stormtroopers Finn meets defected of their own accord and it’s handwaved away with “a feeling”, a.k.a. the Force. The Force helped Finn to rebel and escape maybe, but it’s a bit of a cop-out to suggest only ‘troopers with the Force could do the same. It doesn’t say much for human nature, free will and conscience, does it? Again, a wasted opportunity.

Finally, he had one of the more cringeworthy lines of TRoS: the “Rey, I’ve got something to tell you!” line, which is one that never. gets. resolved. on-screen. They try to build it up – Poe acts annoyed after, when questioning Finn – but Rey calls them on, and then it’s never. mentioned. again. This led to fan speculation that he was telling Rey he loves her. However, this was nixed by TRoS director, JJ Abrams, in a Q&A.

Apparently, Finn wanted to tell Rey he had the Force. Honestly. If that was the case, why didn’t they resolve it on-screen? Also, if that was the case, the scene should’ve been shot differently, to avoid the obvious conclusion. It makes me think that that scene was originally meant to be a love confession, and then the creative team decided to do the reylo-kiss-and-die thing instead, so cut any resolution of that arc. Leaving us with speculation and little substance onscreen. (After all, two whites kissing is easier to sell than an interracial relationship to some people, despite the fact that Finn has been in Rey’s corner the whole way, including during TRoS, and Ren has decidedly not been.)

This shows, to me, how little they care about Finn’s interpersonal connections. So much is set up in TFA about friendships and so on that isn’t easily followed through, across the trilogy. I wanted more Finn and Rey goodness overall…and there was a lack of Finn and Poe in TLJ too. (Rian Johnson’s been quoted as saying that he separated Poe and Finn in TLJ because they “got along too well” and it would’ve been “really boring”.). In TRoS, Finn’s friendships and overall character arc are hampered by the too-fast pace of the movie and the issues already mentioned, despite the amount of screen time given to him.

Rose Tico (with additional thoughts on Jannah and Zorii Bliss)

–> That’s not all, however. We need to talk about Rose Tico. Rose and her actress, Kelly Marie Tran, deserved so much better than what she got. After being what I’d call a “main supporting actress” in TLJ, with plenty of character development and growth available for TRoS, she is instead reduced to a bit-part role, spouting one-liners. That is fucking ridiculous and reads as the people in charge caving in to the noxious sexist & racist hate that Tran was subjected to after TLJ. Her downgrade is inexplicable, plot-wise, and was a huge disappointment. Rose had so. much. potential.

In TLJ, we get hints of this, as her arc revolves around showing Finn what’s worth fighting for (in itself a rather sexist arc). Beyond that, she has personal reasons to hate the First Order and she’s a kick-arse mechanic. I wanted to see all of that explored. It’s also problematic in that the connection that TLJ developed between her and Finn – that culminated in a kiss at the end of the movie – is completely unremarked upon in TRoS. Like, I know that kiss happened last year in-universe, but where’s the continuation or closure?

Adding Jannah (whose whole arc is a dangling plot thread) as another nonwhite female character for Finn to interact with does not excuse the banishment of Rose Tico. Her absence from the film is a glaring hole. Why didn’t she go with them to search for the object, hm? They might have needed her expertise – and it would’ve been fun to see her and Jannah interacting. Or they could’ve included her in other ways, if they’d bothered to tell a broader story. Instead, nada.

–> I also want to take a minute to talk about Zorii Bliss. I thought her character in TRoS could have had a lot of potential – the appearance, perhaps, of a female character using her feminity in empowering ways. I mean, look at the suit – and the fact that Zorii never takes the mask off (a conscious choice that the actress, Keri Russell, leaned into, even on set). However… that’s not quite what we got, was it? While the hints were there, Zorii’s main role in the movie was to be someone Poe used to know, giving Poe a female love interest…and giving Poe a Past.

Poe’s Past

–> A past as a spice runner. I cringed when I heard that line. Poe’s past, up until this point, has already been well-fleshed out. Before the release of TFA, Poe’s actor Oscar Isaac developed his own headcanons about Poe’s backstory: Poe’s from Yavin 4 in part because those scenes were filmed in Guatemala, the same country where Isaac was born. The creative team heard about this and decided to lean into that, releasing comics that made the imagined backstory canon. ❤

Before TRoS, we knew Poe as a Rebellion-era baby (he was born sometime after the Battle of Yavin/ first Death Star), whose parents fought in the Rebellion. He defected to the Resistance from the New Republic Navy and was known as a good pilot. We’d last seen him go through his own crisis of conscience in TLJ, failing and relearning how to be a leader. I disagreed with a lot of Poe’s arc in that movie because of how it took the Poe of TFA – warm-hearted, supportive, respectful – and turned him into a machismo-man type (his interactions with Leia and Holdo are weird – he’s disrespectful to both of them and it stinks).

However, the “learn from failure” bit was interesting and should have been built on. Instead, we get an irritable, reducive TFA-lite Poe, tagging along without much development…except to add unnecessary backstory. In Star Wars, “spice” is a euphemism for drugs. The creators saw fit to give Poe – who is played by a Latinx actor – a drug runner backstory, shoe-horning it in around the rest of the gorgeous backstory.

This is despite the fact that Oscar Isaac has made efforts to avoid being racially typecast (See the backstory link above) – he’s previously rejected roles that “perpetuate the stereotype”. I think that it’s disrespectful to Isaac, as well as racist, that the creators added the backstory. As one commentator put it, “no wonder Isaac seemed kind of disgruntled while promoting the movie”. You have to ask why the filmmakers did what they did. It’s probable that if it had been mooted from the beginning, Oscar Isaac would likely not have played Poe at all.

FinnPoe and the same-sex screen-kiss

–> My final complaint for this review essay is this: TRoS and its creators could be said to be perpetuating queerbaiting. Abrams, in an interview before the film’s release, confirmed two things: one, that FinnPoe wasn’t going to happen, and two, that there would be a same-sex kiss onscreen. Reader, the latter was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kiss. It also came right after the last of several intense moments which occur across the film that could be read as FinnPoe. I think that juxtasposition was intentional.

There are GIFs and fanart and fanfic of those scenes all across the internet. We knew it wouldn’t happen. But to have it not happen so blatantly sucks. I maintain that the two characters with the most chemistry onscreen were Finn and Poe. Both John Boyega and Oscar Isaac have indicated that they would’ve been fine with playing it that way. Indeed, Isaac has been particularly vocal about it – and has called the studio out on not doing it. (Which, actually, has fuelled some fan theories about the reasons behind the spice runner backstory controversy.)

Finn and Poe had some beautiful lines together in TRoS, and throughout the trilogy. It’s always felt like the subtext was there for the taking…if the creators allowed them to lean in just that little more…

Examples of deep male friendship are lovely. However, there are so many examples of canonical male friendship out there already. We really, really need canon queer characters in mainstream (i.e. not explicitly queer-coded) film/ film franchises – like Star Wars, Marvel and Harry Potter. Why couldn’t the queers have this one? It doesn’t have to involve negating their female love interests, despite the “nothing gay to see here” feel of the introduction of Zorii – I happily headcanon either/ both of Poe and Finn as bi. 😉

I have to wonder, though, how fucking long will it be until we get a same-sex kiss in a mainstream film that involves two main characters – not just two bit-part ones? Two characters that have such dynamic chemistry together? Two characters whose friendship is so strong outside of the romance, and romance would’ve just added an extra layer? It’s called representation for a reason. Two bit-part characters kissing in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene is not good enough.

*

And, finally…

That’s my wrap-up. That was a lot to unpack.

While this film has been a disappointment, I still love TFA and the Star Wars universe. I will still cosplay as Rey (now with yellow lightsaber!) at the next Con I go to. I will still participate in fandom. The next thing on my to-do list about fandom is to find all the Sequel Trilogy tie-in books and read those. I’ve got to find my character backstory that the films didn’t have time for somewhere, after all.

As for the canon? Well, I’ll just have to, as Chuck Wendig said once, point the cannons at canon and make my own fun. In the spirit of that, I’m pulling together a list of headcanons and fanfic that make me feel good about the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. I might share those on my Twitter at some point.

For now, thanks for staying with me through this epic ride through Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.