‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Lets Rey Down in the Most Unforgivable Way Possible

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Lets Rey Down in the Most Unforgivable Way Possible

23 Dec 2019 (PT)
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKERTHE RISE OF SKYWALKERRISE OF SKYWALKERSKYWALKERSTAR WARS

Cinematic language carries meaning. Movies are more than just a series of events documented by a camera; the way those events are depicted – blocked, framed, edited, scored, mixed – is as important as the events themselves. When the cinematic toolbox is used well, movies can evoke feelings, make arguments, and change lives. Used poorly, though, films can say something completely contrary to what the filmmaker intends.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is such a films. It’s a mess in a multitude of ways, but the most unforgivable is how it treats its main character.

Spoilers follow.

In The Force Awakens, Rey’s two greatest desires are to get off Jakku and to discover the identity of her parents. Both those wants are symptomatic of a need stemming from childhood abandonment: to not be alone. She spends nearly every moment of her first two movies hungry and grasping for companionship, becoming fast friends with Finn and BB-8, and later putting all of her trust in Han Solo, Chewbacca, and General Leia. So desperate is she for a friend in her court, she flies across the entire galaxy to find a mentor in the form of Luke Skywalker.

The Last Jedi pushes Rey into a new phase of her journey. Her training and visions bring her to the uncomfortable truth that the universe won’t provide her with a family or a destiny – she must and can build one for herself. To this end, she reaches out to the film’s principal antagonist Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, who offers her the companionship and purpose she’s always craved, just as she offers an out from his own abusive situation. Through their Force-facilitated heart-to-hearts, and their confrontation in Snoke’s throne room, Rey and Ben forge a dangerous but undeniable bond.

Rey’s Last Jedi revelation that her parents were nobodies is crucial to her development. It’s interesting not just because it breaks from the legend and dynasty-obsessed story that’s blanketed the entire Star Wars saga, but because it breaks Rey from her own obsession with destiny. Without destiny, we only have ourselves. You can come from nothing, but you can make yourself something. These are powerful and impactful statements to make in Star Wars, calling back to Yoda’s philosophical musings from The Empire Strikes Back. These revelations aren’t the ones Rey wants, but they’re what she needs, and they push her to grow and change.

The Rise of Skywalker reverses much of that. By turning Rey from a nobody into the granddaughter of the most powerful Force-user in history, it shrinks the universe and contradicts The Last Jedi’s central message, telling Rey she’s only important and powerful because she was born into an important and powerful family. It turns all her positive, hard-won self-actualisation into ominous foreshadowing for the return of the wrinkly-face sparky-finger man. And by killing off Ben Solo, the film also robs her of the companionship she desired from her nascent dyad twin – her connection with whom is one of the few elements actually carried forward from The Last Jedi.

The Rise of Skywalker’s ending, though, truly does Rey dirty. The final scene sees Rey travelling to Tatooine, a planet with no emotional significance to her, and which only ever represented stagnation and slavery to the Skywalkers. After exploring the Lars family homestead for a bit, she buries Luke and Leia’s lightsabers before a wandering crone asks who she is. Rey looks off into the distance, where the Force ghosts of Luke and Leia smile back at her. She turns back, says “Rey Skywalker,” then walks off into the desert’s binary sunset.

The intention here is obviously to suggest Rey now finally has a family to call her own, and thus bring some closure to her character arc. It’s cloaked in nostalgic imagery and sweeping strings to give the audience feelings of comfort and hope and satisfaction. By themselves, Abrams’ shot choices evoke the start of Luke’s journey the binary sunset, and the ending of Return of the Jedi the Force ghosts. But in the context of Rey’s journey, those choices create possibly more of a bummer ending than even The Empire Strikes Back.

If movies’ final scenes and shots are their final statements and they are, the final statement of The Rise of Skywalker drags Rey back to the lonely place she began. The visual language places her alone in yet another desert, surrounded only by dead people and sand. Yes, she has friends elsewhere, but that’s just it – they’re offscreen. In addition to being kinda hokey, Rey taking the name “Skywalker” suggests that the Skywalkers are the family she’s been looking for all along – only, they’re all dead, and the one closest to Rey doesn’t even get to live on in the Force. That’s incredibly significant symbolically, especially since Rey was looking to fill the emotional hole of missing parents all along. If Abrams wanted the ending to say that Rey had found a new family in her friends, he would have placed her alongside that family. This ending is like ending Return of the Jedi on Vader’s funeral pyre instead of the subsequent celebration.

For anyone who’s struggled with isolation or loneliness, this ending is absolutely crushing. It tells those people that no matter what they do, they’ll always be alone; that their closest companions will all die; and through Ben’s absence, that the person with whom they connected most intimately will be straight-up forgotten. It confirms deep, terrible fears. Final images mean a lot, and this final image is damaging and hurtful, made all the crueller because Rey’s passed over in favour of cramming in yet another bit of Star Wars iconography. 

These movies are important to people. People identify with and invest in these characters. Maybe we have to “turn off our brains” to accept nonsensical plotting, but it’s a little harder to turn off our hearts.

Earlier in the film, as Rey fights Kylo Ren for control of an escaping transport, she strains, and strains, and strains – and lets out a bout of lightning from her fingers, destroying the transport. It’s a terrifying moment for Rey. She’s suddenly frightened of her own power for the first time, like a kid who accidentally fired a gun they found in the closet. That moment opens up a weh of possibilities for Rey to develop – perhaps having her grapple with her own dark side; perhaps bringing the saga to terms with the fact that people contain multitudes; perhaps lending some actual balance to the Force. But the lightning’s only significance is as foreshadowing for the big reveal that she’s Palpatine’s granddaughter. That’s emblematic of her entire story in this film: character development walked backwards for an excuse to give fans something familiar and “cool”.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduced us to a girl with abandonment issues who put on a dusty old space helmet and looked to the stars, yearning to be somebody. Numerous audience members no doubt saw themselves in Rey. The Last Jedi sent those audience members a message unprecedented in Star Wars: that even “nobodies” can become somebodies – they need only muster the spark to do so. Over-optimistic? Maybe. But in The Rise of Skywalker, anyone who identified with that girl in the desert is outright denied that optimism, told that their importance is pre-defined by a lineage out of their control. And worst of all, in its ultimate cinematic statement, it tells you that you’ll just end up alone anyway.

In another desert.

Surrounded by ghosts.

Source: Slashfilm.com

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKERTHE RISE OF SKYWALKERRISE OF SKYWALKERSKYWALKERSTAR WARS
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‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Lets Rey Down in the Most Unforgivable Way Possible
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