Now that all three films of Star Wars sequel trilogy are out, we can finally evaluate them all together. The Rise of Skywalker has put both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi into a different light. Some liked the way it handled things, some disliked it – just like with all the films, it depends largely on personal preference.
There was one thing, however, where the filmmakers made an objectively wrong choice – a major flaw in storytelling that, hopefully, shall not be repeated again. I believe it was bad storytelling to have the final film change the perception of so many things showed before. But perhaps I should clarify what exactly I mean by that.
Was TRoS A Bad Ending?
So, am I saying that The Rise of Skywalker was a bad film? I must answer this question by saying “absolutely not!” The Rise of Skywalker was as good ending of the saga as there could have been. Of course we could argue about this or that detail. But overall, it managed to find balance between the various threads that had been running wild since The Force Awakens. By the end of The Last Jedi, there seemed to be no chance to satisfactorily answer all the questions and conclude all the plotlines that existed.
Yet TRoS managed to answer many questions: what in the name of all was the First Order, why could the Galaxy not rest in peace after Palpatine was killed, where did “nobody” Rey’s powers come from and why did Luke’s saber call to her, why did she have a bond with Kylo Ren and what became of their relationship, what had Luke been doing for thirty years and why he wasn’t around when evil reappeared, whether Leia had ever been trained as Jedi and if yes, why did she not use her powers, where did Snoke come from since he wasn’t a Sith and why was he so powerful, and so on and so forth.
The problem was that all these questions should have been slowly answered and also asked throughout the trilogy, rather than only in the last episode. It was like that the makers had not even acknowledged many of them before TRoS.
Who’s The Murderer?
Let’s take the biggest of these questions: Rey’s parentage. When the first new film came out, the audience obviously expected that one of the heroes to be the descendant of a previous protagonist. Then came a plot twist: none of the heroes were, but the villain was. That was all good and well (and actually, this, if anything at all, could be perceived as foreshadowing that perhaps one of the heroes may be the descendant of a villain). But we can sense one calculation behind this move – the decision to shock the audience.
And nothing could be more shocking, later, than the revelation that – plot twist – nobody was Rey’s father. And after that? Nothing could be more shocking than the revelation that – plot twist – somebody was Rey’s grandfather.
This flip-flopping allowed both Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams to introduce their own themes into the story (“what is it like to be the descendant of nobody” and “what is it like to be the descendant of someone terrible”, respectively – Abrams elaborated on this in his recent interviews). But wasn’t this back-and-forth “is she somebody?-no, she’s nobody-wait, she’s somebody after all” something without which the sequel trilogy would have been spared much trouble?
The chief failure is not simply the fact that Abrams ignored Johnson who ignored Abrams, even though that is close enough. The problem is that Disney seemed to have no clear concept how to go from point A to point B, if they knew about point B at all.
Worse, they seem not to have had a clear concept of how things got into point A in the first place, or if they had it, they refused to show it to the audience until just before the end of the story. And therein lies the problem of storytelling. If we were reading a murder mystery, it would not be a problem that we did not know who the murderer was until the end. But it would be a problem if they told us there was a murder in the first place only a few pages before the end.
Plot Twists Aren’t Everything
The filmmakers did not need to “spoil” the mystery of Palpatine’s return or Rey’s parentage, if that was the reason why they did not reveal it. But they should have reassured the audience (via the story) that there was a mystery and not simply an omission. Not only about this, but about everything – that The First Order or Snoke were not, after all, independent entities, but Palpatine’s creations. There should have been more, heavier implications that Leia, Luke et al. knew something that they were not telling the young heroes, both in TFA and in TLJ, all the way to the end.
The price would have been that inevitably, someone somewhere would have come up with the correct theory long time before the final episode. And thanks to the Internet, the “shocking plot twist” would have been much less shocking. But would that have been a problem? After all, even this way there were people who have correctly guessed Rey’s parentage years ago. The only reason their theory was not as widespread was that Abrams laid so many false trails and Johnson’s story presented so many misleading statements. The result was the impression of a mismatched patchwork that remains a mismatched patchwork even after we have learned the truth.
Shocking plot twists are a nice thing, but they work only once. And what was the price Disney had to pay for keeping a big surprise for the final episode? Would we not have been happier with a trilogy where we would have known Rey’s parentage from early on, but would have experienced a consistent story where we would know what we were watching – and where we could trust the writers to know what they were writing and where they were going with it? It was not like that Lucas’s original saga was without mistakes and retcons. But Disney had gone into the task of making a new trilogy and should have been aware what they were getting into. They had all the advantages of a “central planning” – and it seems like they did not use them at all.
I have still very much enjoyed the sequel trilogy. But to tell the audience what this all was about only after five years was an example of the worst kind of omission a writer can make.