Rise of Skywalker Storytelling

Naturally, this piece contains spoilers.

There’s no doubt that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has its flaws. Every Star Wars movie, no matter how revered or perfect, has at least one or two. If you think too hard about any of these mistakes, they risk diminishing your experience of the film. 

I mean, who holds it against The Empire Strikes Back that it should have taken decades for the Millennium Falcon to make it to Cloud City with sublight engines? Or that Luke seems to be trained for all of a few days before being able to hold his own against Darth Vader?

It’s the same way with any movie, right? The Dark Knight, held up as one of the best Batman movies ever made, skips over the fact that Batman jumps out of a window to save Rachel, leaving a murderous Joker in a room full of people to do whatever he wants with. The Matrix is hailed as a movie people seem to like, but why would the robots decide to get energy from human brains? Literally any other fuel source available would be more effective, whether it was running deer on treadmills or just burning human corpses. No one bats an eye that the exit visas the Nazis have to honor in Casablanca are signed by the French general Charles de Gaulle, despite the fact that it makes no sense. When you surrender to the emotion and storytelling of a film, these sorts of nitpicking issues just don’t matter that much. 

Films aren’t meant to be watched this combatively. We can spackle over these problems and enjoy the intention of the filmmakers. Pablo Hidalgo from Lucasfilm often quotes the maxim that lightspeed moves as fast as the story needs it to and I think that’s the right spirit with which to approach Star Wars, especially the Rise of Skywalker.

A movie is not a reflection of reality. It’s a reflection of a hyperbolic version of it that simulates emotions in the audience. It’s why there’s always a parking space right in front of the building the hero is heading to. Films are designed to create these emotions as effectively as possible and, for better or worse, the emotion of the moment is more important than the long-term logic problem a decision might present, as it does in the above example from The Empire Strikes Back.

The Rise of Skywalker is no exception.

Features Not Bugs

There are a few flaws that don’t quite make sense in The  Rise of Skywalker and there are two ways you can go about reconciling them in yourself. The first is to reject it and get upset. The second is to rationalize the decision and understand the balance between perfect continuity and the emotion of the story. I think the latter is more fun and makes films more enjoyable.

I mean, did you notice that Kylo Ren’s custom TIE fighter is destroyed twice? He installs the Sith wayfinder he found on Mustafar and heads to Exegol. When we see him on Pasaana in the same ship, Rey cuts its wing off and it crashes into the desert. We see an identical ship a few hours later when Kylo Ren boards his Star Destroyer above Kijimi. Rey stole it on the ocean moon of Endor and took it Ahch-To where she destroyed it again. The ghost of Luke Skywalker explains to her that she has everything she needs to get to Exegol and she retrieves the Sith wayfinder from the burning ship. 

As you watch the film, the storytelling beats around these moments are good enough that you gloss over the details. And if you catch it and go back and think about it, it’s easy enough to think that Ren simply had an identical custom TIE as a back-up and he’d grabbed the wayfinder before leaving Pasaana. They don’t need to spend screentime explaining it, we can fill in those details ourselves if we’re open to it.

It’s the same thing with the Millennium Falcon screeching to a halt on Kef Bir. There’s a stray line of dialogue about the fact the Falcon’s landing struts are broken and the next time we see it it’s cut a scar against the country side. It doesn’t matter that the Falcon lands with repulsors and could have landed softly. It’s much more fun to chalk it up to Poe being the sort of pilot that will crash land as often as possible.

Or how about when Allegiant General Pryde orders the fleet to open fire with ion cannons, but the much more destructive turbolaser batteries open fire? Why not just assume he quickly belayed his order and changed it offscreen?

Or the fact that Kylo Ren makes it to Exegol in an Imperial era TIE fighter. Without a Sith wayfinder. In a ship that doesn’t have a hyperdrive.

But I digress.

Ochi’s Ship

The biggest one I’m still trying to reconcile is Ochi’s ship. Ochi of Bestoon was a Sith loyalist who served Palpatine in the years he spent on Exegol. It was his mission to find Rey and bring her to Palpatine. On his ship, Rey’s parents explain that Rey is no longer on Jakku and that he’ll never find her, but this is the ship we watched taking off as Rey was left on Jakuu with Unkar Plutt.

The moment with Rey’s parents being killed by the Sith dagger is a truly frightening moment and her mother screams that she’s gone and he’ll never find her. When Ochi kills them its visceral. It’s almost enough to make you forget that Rey implies that it’s Ochi’s ship that dropped her off. Why would Ochi need to ask where she was if his ship was the one that just left her?

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you dig into the details of the universe, but it makes emotional sense as you watch the film.

What explanation is there for this? I’m not sure yet. I’d imagine Rae Carson’s upcoming novelization of the film will address this issue as well as the others. In any case, it’s a minor quibble rather than something that would launch a thousand videos and burn the topless towers of YouTube. Somehow, I think it will, though.

The Spirit of the Force

I think it’s a mistake to watch films—any films—combatively, seeking these things out as a means of pulling yourself out of the narrative. The way to watch a movie, to my mind, is to surrender to the intention of the filmmaker and do your best to experience the narrative and emotions they’re trying to offer. If they hand wave away something like any of the above, worry about it later. It works if they’re as minor as these. Sometimes the contrivances, mistakes, and holes don’t add up to something that’s enjoyable at all, and that’s fair, but I don’t think a Star Wars movie has ever crossed that threshold for me. The Rise of Skywalker might be the one that’s come closest to doing that, but it never crossed the line and I didn’t let any of this interrupt my experience. Star Wars films are the gospel of a new mythology and there are plenty of minor contradictions in any decent mythology. 

The mythology of Star Wars is such that its a philosophy designed to teach us to let go. To remove our anxiety for things that end, whether they’re our loved ones or film sagas. “Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not, miss them do not,” Yoda tells an anxiety-ridden Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. He explains in so many words that all things come to an end and we must not feel so possessive that it causes these feelings of angst. It’s a difficult lesson and it’s something Luke is forced to come to terms with years later. Rey as well.

Anakin takes his love and transfers it into hate. Hate at his situation. Hate at his helplessness. He puts his stock in a philosophy that tells him that fighting what he hates is the only way to save what he loves.

But that’s never how you win. 

Like Rose Tico said, you win not by fighting what you hate, but working to save what you love.

Focus on the things you like. Ignore the things you hate. They can’t hurt you. The film is fun and adds to the mythology in rich ways. It’s a worthy successor, even if it’s outshone by The Last Jedi.

And if you still think it does hurt, there’s a moment in Lawrence of Arabia I find might help. In this particular scene, Lawrence puts out a match with his bare fingers without flinching. A fellow officer tries repeating the trick and shouts, “That bloody well hurts.”

“Certainly it hurts,” Lawrence says cooly.

“What’s the trick then?”

“The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”

Cool Posts From Around the Web: