12.21.2019 3:00 PM

Entertainment

'Rise of Skywalker's ending cowardly undoes the greatest twist in Star Wars

'The Last Jedi' was a bold leap forward for Star Wars, but this is a milquetoast U-turn.

Lucasfilm

Two years ago, Star Wars: The Last Jedi presented one of the greatest story twists in pop culture history. Rey, a scrappy survivor from a nowhere planet whose inexplicable prowess with “The Force” sent chills down the spine of even Luke Skywalker, was a nobody. Or so we were told, until The Rise of Skywalker retconned that plot twist to hell.

Spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker ahead.

“You know the truth,” a hulking Kylo Ren told Rey minutes after their sexually charged lightsaber battle in Last Jedi. “They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert. You have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You’re nothing. But not to me. Join me.”

It was a brilliant reveal, precisely because it was understated. It was a zag that came 37 years after the game-changing zig of Empire Strikes Back. In that film, plucky farm boy Luke Skywalker learned, deep in the heat of battle, that his father was Darth Vader, the galaxy’s most feared shogun in black.

The popularity of Star Wars and its impact on popular culture etched an unwritten rule into canon: Such character reveals, especially those dealing with mystery parentage, must be colossal, must be dramatic, and must matter.

But Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, a meditation on mythology hidden in the guise of a Hollywood blockbuster, kicked the tires of popular canon. Must they be colossal? Must they matter? The movie took everything Star Wars to task through a meta-textual lens: The suffocating importance of saga, the stifling responsibility of telling new stories, and the unstoppable aging of audiences who yearn to stay young.

In 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,' audiences learn that Daisy Ridley's Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, a reveal paid off with far too little to make it worthwhile.Lucasfilm

The Last Jedi argues that all these have plagued Star Wars since the beginning, and to cling to them is a path to the Dark Side. As Mark Hamill’s Luke, grayed with age, scolded to Rey, “You don’t need Luke Skywalker. You think what? I’m gonna walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order?”

In other words: When fans asked, “Who are Rey’s parents?” The Last Jedi answered, “Who cares?”

But 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker cares. It cares to a tremendous fault. You can almost imagine director J.J. Abrams saying, No, of course Rey is related to someone before fixing what wasn’t broken.

And so Rey’s parents are revealed: They were, in fact, nobodies. One of them also happened to be a child of Emperor Palpatine, making Rey the granddaughter of Palpatine. We don’t get any context on how Palpatine had a child or with whom, but the implication is that Rey’s parents purposefully became “nobodies” in a failed attempt to hide their child from the Emperor.

This was never hinted at in either 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens nor The Last Jedi. This was never a possible thing. He was a character resurrected for no coherent reason other than because he’s the only legacy character that would please the same fans who now insist the prequels are good.

This is why critics who loved The Last Jedi’s twist are now dumping on The Rise of Skywalker. Because the latter is a cowardly film, full of cowardly decisions, made for the worst segments of fandom who derided this choice. See them manipulate Rotten Tomatoes. See them harass Kelly Marie TranAnd then see their tweets. The Rise of Skywalker was made for these fans.

Rey’s “You’re a nobody” reveal was bold. It was daring. It was a challenge to tiresome conventions of modern storytelling, a contrary to “chosen one” archetypes that Star Wars is directly responsible for innovating. In no small way, three small words pushed Star Wars forward into new territory.

Now, here we are. Rey’s story is reversed, and she is now a descendant of Palpatine (really?). The Rise of Skywalker shows not only adherence to the old, terrible ways we should have evolved from long ago, but that with enough complaining, the bad guys can get what they want and get away with it. If that’s how the story ends, then we’ve really learned nothing these last 40 years.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now.

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