And we thought The Last Jedi was the controversial Star Wars movie.
Kept under a veil of secrecy, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker burst onto screens last December with maximum turbulence. A mix of classic-but-reinvented set-pieces, off-kilter pacing, and director J.J. Abrams’ patented MacGuffin chasing, the film left critics cold and had fans wondering what happened. Rey was a strong character who now had a muddled ending. The end of Kylo Ren’s story didn’t entirely satisfy anyone. The Emperor was able to return as the big-bad for reasons that made little sense in the film, and were only explained in supplemental material. In stark contrast to George Lucas’ auteurist control over the original and prequel trilogies, The Rise of Skywalker felt like the convoluted result of too many cooks in the kitchen.
But the movie still had its moments. And in retrospect, that may have been the mission.
As co-writer Chris Terrio told Polygon in an pre-release interview, he and Abrams made lists and lists of Things they could stuff into the final episode of the Skywalker Saga. They had the keys to the biggest franchise in the world, and the sky was the limit.
At Bad Robot, there are these big rooms with just white dry erase boards. They literally just surround you everywhere. It’s very dramatic. The wall opens and the boards come out. So we started just with that. Literally, just writing and asking, ‘What do we want to see happen? These characters, where do we want to see them go?’
The thing about a movie of this size is that you can imagine anything. Anything you can imagine, literally, can be realized in some way. It’s the only time in my life that I will ever have an experience like this. Not only that, but your heart is just brimming over because it’s Star Wars and it’s these characters that you love. They’re like your relatives. You love them. I feel that I know and love Luke and Lando better than I know some of my family, and I treat them with as much love and warmth as I would treat family. Or even more. So to have that at the warm emotional core of things, plus to have the ability to stage anything — any battle, that is, any event that is galaxy history — on a canvas that size, it’s a one-chance-in-a-lifetime thrill.
The Rise of Skywalker prompted a metric ton of strong analysis and argument, but the true legacy of the maligned blockbuster might be these moments. Connected by screen wipes and shrinking-circle transitions, the scenes don’t cohere into an entertaining blockbuster. But rewatched in a vacuum, the bits where Abrams and Terrio pushed the iconography to new heights have value. As The Rise of Skywalker hits home video for the first time, the Polygon staff assembled to name a few of their favorite moments in one of the strangest franchise installments of all time.
Canonically speaking, the hyperspace-skipping sequence — in which First Order ships chase the Millennium Falcon through a variety of locales in a matter of seconds — doesn’t add up. Didn’t they spend an entire movie talking about the complexity of this maneuver? But if I don’t think about where the scene fits into this movie, or even the Star Wars universe, I think it’s awesome. May Fast and the Furious 20 just be Vin Diesel hyperspace-skipping across the globe to perform one last reality-bending heist for his family. —Chris Plante
The best (and a surprisingly emotional) moment for me was the very last scene of the film: Rey returning to Tatooine and the farm belonging to Luke’s uncle Owen and aunt Beru. The shot of her silhouetted against the twin setting suns with BB-8 by her side was genuinely moving, and it reminded me of the wonder and awe I felt seeing Star Wars for the very first time as a child. I also appreciate that the twin suns momentarily align to make a giant BB-8 in the desert sky. —James Bareham
Kylo Ren vs. Rey
The Kylo and Rey battle aboard the ruins of the Death Star on the water planet was genuinely aces. I think this trilogy hit a really good balance for lightsaber battles and Force use — it’s visually impressive and well-choreographed, and says a lot about character and development without being a CGI smear of light and color that just looks video-gamey. Rey’s coming a little undone, so she’s on the offensive, even shoving her own allies aside with the Force, while Kylo’s being purely defensive. It’s a tense, thrilling showdown between nemeses that only requires you ignore the setup and payoff, which is largely nonsense. —Cass Marshall
Hux gets his redemption moment
Domhnall Gleeson has been the secret all-star of the sequel trilogy, and clearly having the best time of anyone in every single movie. But all of his eye-rolls and turned-up-to-11 yells lead up to the genuinely perfect moment when he shoots the First Order guards and yells, “I’m the spy!” It’s comic brilliance. As an added plus, the scene where he limps up to General Pryde looking like Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol, only to be immediately murdered, is incredible. —Austen Goslin
Pretty much anything with D-O
Austen just barely beat me to it. Hux revealing that he tried to undermine the entire First Order out of sheer whiny pettiness is one of the most real and believable things that’s happened in Star Wars since Leia kissed Luke to mess with Han. And General Pryde promptly killing Hux was one of the smartest. No “we have to preserve this villain for later spinoffs and side stories,” no “let’s lock him up so he can be important again later.” Just boom, roasted. Now that’s how an insanely fascistic empire (excuse me, order) should behave.
I also liked the little cone-faced robot, D-O. He feels like he’s there to sell toys, he never takes a central role, he never even says anything important, but I really enjoyed his politely neurotic, neurotically polite “no thank you” whenever someone tried to touch or interact with him. Same, droid. Same. —Tasha Robinson
Pretty much anything with Zorii Bliss
Early on, no one knew quite what to expect from Kerri Russell’s Zorii Bliss character. The film’s promotional images gave us a glimpse of a skintight flight suit and a golden helmet with pistols to match, but not much else. In the end, Russell’s scenes opposite Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron ended up being some of my favorites.
There’s so much that goes unspoken between them, and Russell’s performance — a nod here, a gesture there — stands out to me as one of the film’s most impactful. I’ll never forget her dark eyes peering out of her lowered visor as she begs Poe to run away with her. It all pays off in the film’s final moments, when Poe looks across the crowd of Resistance fighters celebrating their win against the Emperor. He gives Zorii a quick nod and a questioning glance, only to get shot down with a curt shake of the head.
Sadly, there’s no chance in hell that there’s much more coming from these characters any time soon. An article by Collider reveals that Isaac is weary, and not looking forward to working with Disney again. —Charlie Hall
Pretty much anything with General Pryde
Everything Richard E. Grant does in The Rise of Skywalker is wonderful. As the Peter Cushing/Grand Moff Tarkin stand-in, Pryde is one-dimensional in the best way possible. He’s the classic, stuffy bad guy, the straight man to Palpatine’s wild card (at least in terms of behavior), and delivers each and every line with a layer of ice.
Grant is also a delight out of character, as evidenced by his social media presence and a few bloopers from the set (see above). —Karen Han
Kylo Ren egging on the Knights of Ren
I recently read Justina Ireland’s Spark of the Resistance, a YA novel featuring Rey, Poe, Rose, and BB-8 on a life-or-death Resistance mission, and found myself more infuriated by the lost potential of putting Rey, Poe, and Finn on a mission together. There are lots of tiny bursts of friction and folly between the trio, and they’re some of my favorite bits of The Rise of Skywalker — but I’m not sure they’re well-developed enough to call them “moments.” I wanted so much more of these characters. (Turns out the Expanded Universe books are exactly the place to get that.)
My favorite moment has to be Kylo kicking into Ben Solo gear in the final act. Having been defeated among the wreckage of the Death Star, a stand-in for his failed idol Darth Vader, the Sith wannabe encounters a ghost/memory/hallucination/plot-device version of his father Han, who leads him back to the path of the light (with a little nudge from his mom Leia). From there, he jumps on a ship back to Exegol, and starts kicking ass. Whatever you think of the sequel trilogy, Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley were perfect casting as Ben and Rey, and they each get to roar in their two parallel fights. Ben calling the Knights of Ren into battle like he’s Neo in The Matrix is an all-timer gesture by Driver. —Matt Patches
Look, I know he was immediately overshadowed by Baby Yoda, but ... how the hell have none of you mentioned Babu Frik yet?!
Who is Babu Frik? A droid mechanic.
What is Babu Frik? I don’t know, and I’m not looking him up on Wookieepedia to find out.
Why is Babu Frik? Because every MacGuffin needs some characters to move new pieces of the puzzle into place.
None of this really matters, though, because the whiskered little dude says “HEY HEYYYYYYY” on two separate occasions. Sometimes, all I need from Star Wars is a weird-looking alien who speaks in a stilted manner, repeating himself as a callback — which seems like a perfect encapsulation of the entire sequel trilogy, honestly. —Samit Sarkar