Rise of Skywalker edit reveals what J.J. Abrams got wrong about Star Wars
The biggest scene in Episode IX could have been so much better.
For all the movie's faults, it's hard to hate the climactic showdown between Rey and Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. When Rey says "I am all the Jedi," and channels a ton of Force power to melt Palpatine's face with his own Sith lightning, it's straight-up awesome.
But could it have been better? Actually seeing some of the faces behind those Force ghost voices would have been nice. Haters of The Rise of Skywalker have argued that too much fan service led the movie to turn to the bland side of the Force. But maybe, just maybe, the fan service didn't go far enough, and a new edit to The Rise of Skywalker proves it.
If you're someone who worries about the dialogue in Star Wars, I've got news for you: You really shouldn't. The triumph of Star Wars isn't in its deep, meaningful conversations. That's because it uses a mostly visual language to tell the story. You may have heard this storytelling axiom before: "Show, don't tell." This isn't true of all stories, but it's usually true for the best moments in Star Wars.
When The Last Jedi was released on home video in 2018, it featured a wordless version of the movie, where the only audio track was John Williams' score. The story works without words, and that's the larger point of Star Wars. It isn't a series of silent films, but the sonic component of the films have more to do with loving the sound effects of the lightsabers and the Wookiee growls than anything anyone actually says.
This is why the scene in which Rey contacts all the spirits of the Jedi is so frustrating. Laying on her back, with all hope lost, Rey says "Be with me." Her face conveys a mixture of desperation and longing that's even more impactful than the words themselves.
So, what happens next? Well, there's a black screen of stars, and we hear the voices of all the Jedi who came before. We only hear them. If you were unable to hear, or had the volume down low, or were too young to fully understand the words of the characters, here's what this scene looks like.
Look, I'm all for minimalism, but if you're going to have a scene in which Rey communes with the spirits of famous Jedi, it feels criminal that we are only told she is in touch with them, but not shown. Mace Windu, Anakin Skywalker, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and several other characters are simply phoning it in, literally. We don't see their spirits joining with Rey to defeat Palpatine, we don't see their power merging with hers, we just hear it, faintly and briefly.
You might argue this is the best way to do it. After all, Luke didn't see Ben's spirit until The Empire Strikes Back, and like Rey, he only heard Ben's voice guide him during the Death Star attack. But the Obi-Wan voice-over in A New Hope works in a way that the multi-Jedi voices in Rise of Skywalker don't. If a physical ghost of Obi-Wan appeared in Luke's cockpit, it would have freaked him out and distracted him from his job.
From a cinematic point of view, it would have made an already busy scene even busier. The restraint of hearing Obi-Wan and not seeing him in A New Hope is smart. There are even some visual clues that Luke is being haunted. He looks around his cockpit like he's heard a ghost. He taps the side of his helmet. Again, even if we aren't told Obi-Wan's spirit is with Luke, we're shown that it's happening.
Conversely, when the spirit of Obi-Wan joins Rey in The Rise of Skywalker, there's a whole lot of nothing happening on-screen, which could have been filled with literally anything. Like Force Ghosts.
If this was supposed to be a super-nostalgic moment to bring down the house, why is it so boring? Perhaps flying Samuel L. Jackson and Ewan McGregor out to film less than 10 seconds of screentime would have been gratuitously expensive. Perhaps some of the actors declined to appear. Still, this pivotal scene is completely lacking in visual impact.
Enter the new Star Wars fan edit. In this video, just before Rey says "I am all the Jedi," archive footage of Anakin, Obi-Wan, Luke, and Yoda appears on-screen. We can see their spirits holding out their ghost hands, using the Force to help Rey push back against the evil of the Sith. Palpatine's existing reaction to this works here, too, as though he's seeing the source of Rey's power, and it's scaring the hell out of him.
The fan edit also doesn't even look cheap, which is saying something considering this is footage from other Star Wars films, reappropriated to make a point. Anakin reaching out with his hand is actually from Revenge of the Sith (specifically, that very uncomfortable scene where Anakin uses the Force to choke Padmé).
Cutting and pasting that Anakin into this scene is actually kind of neat. It reminds you that Anakin was a terrible person who became better. Even after his death, he's helping Rey bring the balance back.
Most fan edits tend to go too far, making things seem more badass, violent, or retro. This one hits just the right note. It feels like a rough draft of the scene we should have gotten. It doesn't detract from Rey's power at all but simply reveals that these Jedi do indeed have her back. In contrast to what we got, this edit makes the actual scene in Episode IX feel incomplete at best, and overly talky at worst.
I'm not interested in petitions that call for movies to be remade. I don't believe in the Abrams cut. But, if J.J. did come forward to reveal he wanted to put actual Jedi spirits in this scene but he simply ran out of time and money, then I'd be the first in a line for The Rise of Skywalker: Special Edition. And I don't think I'd be alone.