Let’s talk about The Rise of Skywalker, which also sucked.
Specifically, let’s talk about how The Rise of Skywalker failed its title.
When the title was first revealed there was, as is always the case with these sorts of things, endless speculation about the meaning. I remember when The Last Jedi’s title was first unveiled there were debates over whether Jedi was meant in the singular or plural, whether the Last Jedi was Luke or Rey or some hitherto unknown character, and whether the title was supposed to be foretelling (“there will never be another Jedi!”) or forthtelling (“the movie begins with Luke being the last Jedi”).
With The Rise of Skywalker, fans wondered if Luke would be resurrected. To be clear, I wasn’t one of those, but there were plenty of fans who hated The Last Jedi (I don’t need to tell long-time readers how much I adore that movie) and wanted nothing more than for the sequel to undo every decision Rian Johnson made. Those fans had no idea what good storytelling looks like, and I don’t mean “if you didn’t like The Last Jedi you hate good stories” (though if you push me, I’ll go there); I mean raising Luke would have been even more idiotic than the mess of a movie we actually got.
The other big theory was that the name “Skywalker” would become the new title for force users, with Rey being the first to wear that mantle and pass it on to future students. This was a theory I loved and really wanted to see happen. I thought it would be a great way to build off what happened in TLJ, where Luke’s sacrifice was depicted as the spark that lit the flames of resistance across the galaxy. Nevermind the fact that “skywalkers” is an absolutely killer name for a people; it’s mysterious and intriguing and mystical and magical; it’s great. Great theory.
But nah, there was none of that in the movie.
Honestly, I’m not even sure what the plot (such as it was) of the movie had to do with the title at all. I guess it’s paid off in the final scene, when Rey…Palpatine decided to shun her family name and assume the surname of Luke and Leia. In that very stretched metaphorical way Skywalker..rose? I guess? I dunno. I guess Skywalker died when Leia died at the end of Act 2 and so by taking her name, Rey helped the Skywalkers to rise again. That’s the best I can do with it.
Really though, the premise of the movie, the way it told its story, and the story itself, had nothing to do with any of the words found in The Rise of Skywalker’s title, but that’s not to say the title couldn’t have been the foundation for a very good story. It could, just not with Rey as the leading role.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about TROS is the stubborn refusal to do more with Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. Going into production it was clear that his character was the most interesting of the bunch and that fans had connected with his arc in a way they hadn’t with any other character. Rey, obviously, was the intended star of the franchise. She was this trilogy’s Luke Skywalker. She was the hero, the Jedi, the world saver. But heading into movie three it was clear that the story should have been about Kylo. He was the character with the Skywalker legacy (though Leia), he was the character with a three-movie arc, and he was the character who had the most interesting things to do in movie three.
Now contrast that with Rey and the direction TROS took things…
Her legacy, going into the movie, was as a nobody with no important parents or connection to any of this. And that’s okay! The big point of her arc in TLJ was that being nobody was the worst news she could hear but she was ready to move past that and blaze her own path. In TROS, her arc is basically an alternate take on the arc of TLJ. It’s like JJ Abrams decided “if I had directed the second movie I would have had Rey be a Palpatine and then in the third, I would have dealt with the consequences of that.” But he didn’t direct movie two. He didn’t write movie two. He started movie three after movie two was done and the story was written. You don’t get to just pretend that story didn’t happen and cram together your movie two idea and your movie three ideas all into one film! The end result was a character that had a good arc going in the first two movies, but which collapsed into a clunky mess in movie three. And because JJ decided to give her two-movies worth of character arc while also having to subtly erase the importance of the movie two arc, Rey ends up a character who spends all of TROS having things happen to her. She’s told this, she’s shown that; she’s given this thing and told to go to this place, etc. She’s passive in the movie, and that’s the worst thing a protagonist should be.
But what if the movie had been Kylo’s?
Going into movie three, he had all options on the table. His story could have been a tragic one, where he never returned to the light and either died a villain to the end or survived to remain the big bad in future films. His story could have been a redemptive one, where he either died a hero, or turned and learned, becoming the Jedi Master Luke and Leia always wanted for him.
Obviously, in the movie, Kylo does turn and then sacrifice himself, but the movie wasn’t about him and his action (like everything else) felt rushed, empty, and ultimately pointless.
A movie centered around Kylo, who was arguably the one character in the trilogy that all fans were in agreement on, could have ended the series on a high note, bringing the Skywalker line some proper closure, and paving the way for future stories in years to come. Instead, he flits in and out of the movie, with little of substance to contribute until the plot decides it’s time to turn him back to a good guy without any buildup or meaning. And after he turns, he literally has one more line of dialogue in the entire film: He says “ow.”
For a movie called The Rise of Skywalker, it really bungled not only the “rising” (making Rey a Palpatine doesn’t resurrect the Jedi legacy; it effectively lets the old tyrant win in the end, as it’s his line that lives on, regardless of what she calls herself) but also the “Skywalker” (putting the focus, not on the only Skywalker-kinsman left after Luke and Leia die, but on the “nobody-turned-Palpatine”).
The only things about the title that the movie didn’t botch are the “the” and the “of.”
There’s your legacy. Congrats.