Rey's Ending in 'The Rise of Skywalker' Gave a New Meaning to the 'Star Wars' Name
The following post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Hyperbole is the language of Star Wars criticism. It's encouraged (and click-y) to make huge, unsubtle claims about the films as soon as they debut. But it seems the critics saved their best adjectives for The Rise of Skywalker. Many of the top publications have taken aggressive swipes at the film, using words like "incoherent," "awful," and "manic," drawing comparisons to terrible finales like Spider-Man 3, with Forbes even deeming it "The worst Star Wars movie ever made."
Of all the things they despise, it seems that the ending–where Rey takes the name "Skywalker"–is the most flagrant transgression. The conclusion of the film is seen as a direct contradiction of what was established in The Last Jedi. But that's a misinterpretation. Rian Johnson's great contribution to the series was the liberating idea that anyone could be a Jedi. He decided that a hero's fate is based on more than just a family name. This still holds true, in Rise of Skywalker. Rey, despite learning she's the granddaughter of Sheev Palpatine, chooses to call herself a Skywalker. It's her choice. She could have called herself anything. But rather than handcuff herself to her Palpatine bloodline, she decided to take the name of the heroes who came before her. She is the actual savior of Star Wars, after all.
But Rise of Skywalker is not a perfect film. It's not even a great one. Promising new characters like Rose Tico and Jannah are reduced to set decoration, the lightsaber battles feel unmotivated and boring, and even the big showdown with Palpatine is unsatisfying. But, critics are wrong to call the film incoherent. It's so tidy that the characters vocally announce all of the plot points as they happen onscreen. And it's odd to see such a negative appraisal of the movie's final moments, because the ending is anything but "safe."
Rey's choice to become a Skywalker is forward-thinking, risky, and so inventive that it actually redefines what the title "Star Wars" even means.
It's a little hard to imagine what people were hoping to see, in the ending of the third trilogy. The saga concludes exactly how it did before–how it always does–with the protagonist of the trilogy standing on the hot sands of Tatooine, gazing out at the setting suns, reflecting on the adventures that have just concluded, and the adventures that are yet to come. Before she strikes the iconic pose, Rey is asked who she is by a vagabond on Tatooine. "Rey," Daisy Ridley responds. The woman asks, "Rey who?" And Rey answers, after a moment of deliberation, seeing the ghostly visage of Luke and Leia in the distance, "Rey Skywalker." The iconic ending fanfare plays, and the Skywalker saga comes to a close. Rey, who was not presupposed to be the hero, proved herself, against all odds, that she was not only a part of this story, but its most important player. She achieved what no Jedi before her could–she brought balance to the Force. She didn't earn the Skywalker name. In the end, the Skywalker name earned her.
What's so frustrating about the negative reviews ofRise of Skywalker is the claim that Abrams is completely ignoring The Last Jedi. The end of Abrams's film, if anything, is a direct nod to the democratic idea of the Jedi that Johnson established. It’s revealed in Rise of Skywalker that Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. This elicits groans at first, sure. The idea of Rey being no one was effective and powerful. But it's clear Abrams was prepared with a defense–and it's a pretty good one. As we find out, Rey is a nobody. Her parents were no one. They weren't legendary warriors or even recognized civilians in the endless power struggle across the Star Wars galaxy. But they were also heroes in a nuanced way. They sacrificed their lives to make sure Rey didn't follow in her grandfather's footsteps. They died for her.
It's the flashbacks of Rey's parents that work for me. Abrams shows us some brief sequences of the Palpatine children–good people who just happened to have a very, very bad bloodline. We see them hiding their child away on Jakku. We see the anguish of her mother. And then we hear the two of them getting killed. The flashback is enough to justify why it’s taken Rey so long to accept her past–we do, after all, tend to block out the traumas of our youth. Her parents' sacrifice connects Rey to the protagonists who came before her. Both Anakin and Luke, of course, tragically lost the parents who raised them. But unlike those heroes, Rey gets to decide her own fate.
Turns out, the people in Star Wars aren’t limited to spooky old prophecies or religious scriptures after all. At least, Rey isn’t. Last Jedi fans (myself, a card-carrying member) were right to point out that the franchise desperately needs some new myths. And we finally got one. It's Rey.
The Skywalker saga is about, well, Skywalkers. Family. Abrams, in his big finale film, tasked himself with giving this decades-long story one last twist ending to bring it all to a finish. Sure, he ended up snuffing out a little bit of the oxygen that Johnson breathed into Star Wars. But he made a revelation for the franchise nonetheless. After nine films, Abrams uncovered that Star Wars isn’t just about one family. It’s about two. So when Rey gazes off into the same binary sunset that Luke saw at the end of A New Hope, we now understand why it's two suns and not just one. The lighter one, for the Skywalkers. And the red one, for the Palpatines. Two stars, at war. Get it?
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