How ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ fails its central characters

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This article contains spoilers for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

It is no secret that the success of the “Star Wars” franchise largely stems from its ability to create dynamic and lovable sets of characters that grow and transform on-screen. It is this ability that has driven children and adults to personally identify with the franchise’s characters — with each new entry, audiences fixate on the color of a lightsaber, theorize about familial heritage and fumble to solidify space buns in their hair. With both the iconography and the distinctive morals of each character in the original trilogy, “Star Wars” created a platform of heroes that has been uniquely fixated in audiences’ hearts for almost half a century. 

The final three episodes of the Skywalker saga have attempted to follow their predecessors’ path, creating relatable and iconic characters that complete satisfying arcs to fulfill the film’s larger narrative while playing off of the nostalgia from the original series. But while “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” eloquently set up the definitive paths and struggles for each character, “The Rise of Skywalker” fails to achieve these goals, ending the 42-year-old saga with incomplete arcs for its main characters, in addition to blending side characters into the background of a rushed narrative. 

J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” brought beloved characters back to the big screen with the addition of an interesting new ensemble, including a former stormtrooper desperate to break out of his past, Leia Organa and Han Solo’s darkly angered son and a scavenger with mysterious origins and power. Abrams successfully made these characters feel raw and approachable, attaching audiences to them immediately and making them anticipate how the characters would grow in the final two films.  

Later, Rian Johnson’s unique and unpredictable continuation of the story in the “The Last Jedi” brought obvious changes to Abrams’ original vision while still maintaining the integrity of the main characters’ arcs. While not an intrinsically perfect film, “The Last Jedi” excelled in handling the complexity of each character, introducing complicated dynamics, specifically with the bond and emotional tether between the film’s central players: Rey and Kylo Ren. 

Rey’s bond with the seemingly monstrous villain provided a lot of emotional depth in “The Last Jedi,” giving her someone to confide in and help her understand her relationship with the Force, as well as her mysterious heritage. Rey’s loneliness is stifled through this bond, which provides her with someone who truly understands her powers. Rey’s struggle in understanding her identity has always been a major issue for her character because she longs to learn who her parents were. Although “The Last Jedi” previously established that her parents were “nobody,” “The Rise of Skywalker” reverses this idea and instead reveals her dark origins. This complete change in direction confuses Rey’s arc entirely, making large components of “The Last Jedi” seem almost unnecessary. Rey’s acceptance of her nongenetic tie to her powers has no significance with the rushed discovery that she has a familial connection to the Force in “The Rise of Skywalker.” The film confuses Rey’s narrative in multiple instances, making her character feel inconsistent and poorly handled as she goes against her acceptance of herself and her past entirely, culminating in a confused ending wherein she affiliates herself with a bloodline to which she never truly belonged. 

Kylo Ren’s character is similarly mishandled. Going into “The Rise of Skywalker,” many fans hyped up Ren’s inevitable turn to the Light, something hinted at in “The Last Jedi.” Arguably the best character in the sequel trilogy, it seemed obvious that this movie would make Ren’s turn to Ben Solo a central and vital part of the saga’s finale. Yet, his presence in “The Rise of Skywalker” is underutilized and underwhelming. Although previously established as rather conflicted because of his unavoidable family ties, Kylo Ren’s presence and growth in this film feels like a cookie-cutter, mediocre end for his complicated character, his eventual death a simple shortcut to resolve his story. Considering his stance as Rey’s equal in “The Last Jedi,” his lack of dialogue, specifically as Ben Solo, in “The Rise of Skywalker” is extremely frustrating. Although his interactions with Rey and his dialogue with his dead father stand out as some of the best scenes in the film, it seems as if “The Rise of Skywalker” gave up on the complexity of his character and attempted to appeal to the masses through a basic and tragic ending for the last Skywalker. 

Even the supporting characters in “The Rise of Skywalker” seem inconsistent. After derogatory backlash from some fans regarding the addition of Kelly Marie Tran’s character Rose Tico in “The Last Jedi,” the latest film’s apparent solution involved the exclusion of her character from the majority of its plot. With only a few lines of dialogue, Rose has no central purpose in this film. Her relationship with Finn is nonexistent, going against the huge setup provided by Johnson in “The Last Jedi.” Finn’s role in this film is similarly minor. With his intriguing origin story as a former stormtrooper, it is upsetting that he never has much of a larger role within the saga. Rey being at the forefront of the film dissolved his character into someone dependent on her happiness, serving as a continuous backdrop during her fight against the Sith. 

The original “Star Wars” trilogy maintained the feeling that every character had a purpose; everyone was a significant component in the fight against the Galactic Empire. Luke, Leia and Han were used to their full potentials and felt united in a way that cannot be replicated. No one felt out of place or insignificant within the series’ larger narrative. Although the “Rise of Skywalker” is nostalgic for this kind of successful storytelling, the mismanagement of its major characters’ arcs prevents the film from being able to truly replicate this ideal. 

Contact Sarah Runyan at [email protected].