The critics’ biggest issue with The Rise of Skywalker is what makes it great

The Star Wars franchise has a long history of providing answers to questions fans didn’t ask. Where Han Solo got his name, how the Force works on a chemical level, or even Anakin’s parentage.

But we all know those aren’t the questions The Rise of Skywalker had on its shoulders.

(Warning: Spoilers abound below. If you haven’t yet watched The Rise of Skywalker, please turn back now. We have spoken.)

Within the first 10 minutes of the film, the writers want you to know that they mean business. No more beating around the bush. No more mystery. In just a few lines of exposition in the prologue, Palpatine is quickly established as the new baddie, Snoke is explained away as his puppet, and Kylo Ren has a new mission for the film: Hunt down Rey at all costs.

It’s a resetting of the stakes and context, for sure, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t taken aback by the straightforward nature of the opening crawl and prologue. Critics have already made it clear  that this “emphasis on the plot” gets in the way of the emotional underpinning of the characters. But once I settled in, I found the exact opposite to be true.

A sigh of relief

The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi raised some huge questions, and I’ll admit I was anxious about the answers this conclusion would provide. Would they leave things ambiguous? Would they shortcut through answers? What if the answers themselves just don’t feel right? Those questions lurked beneath my general excitement for another Star Wars movie as the opening crawl began to scroll.

But as questions were answered one by one, I felt a sense of relief overcome my nerves. This trilogy, and this entire series, was coming to an end. They were really doing it. In bringing back the Emperor, it was being made explicit. And for me, the answers given felt more and more satisfying as the plot of the film marched on. Not everyone will like them all, but after the years of investment made in our main characters, the answers rang true to me. They felt earned.

My enjoyment of the film’s approach goes beyond just jibing with the answers provided, too. The straightforward approach did exactly what a proper close to a trilogy should do. It allowed us, the audience, to focus on the characters.

Your focus determines your reality

Like how Snoke proudly informs us that Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo in The Force Awakens, Rey’s true lineage as the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine is revealed in The Rise of Skywalker in a matter-of-fact way. Sure, you can call it retconning, or complain about a turn away from what Kylo Ren said about Rey’s parents in The Last Jedi, but as we’ve long contended in previous articles, a film’s lead villain is hardly the most reliable source of information. And thanks to this clear revelation in Abrams’ film, I felt free to thoroughly enjoy Rey’s journey and what she ultimately chooses to do with that knowledge.

The emotional repercussions of Rey’s family allowed her struggle with that knowledge — rather than the grand family tree behind it — and be the beating heart of the story. The same is true for what we learn about Leia and Ben Solo.

Instead of dwelling on the extreme detail of the state of the galaxy or the political stakes, Skywalker focuses squarely on the things that actually matter: Rey’s journey, the friendship between her and Poe and Finn, Ben Solo’s redemption, and Leia’s Jedi backstory. Each of those stories resonated and were woven together to form an emotional weight to the film that felt conclusive. That, more than anything, is what I wanted from The Rise of Skywalker.

Could the film have spent its first act setting up the mystery of the Emperor’s return? Sure. I certainly didn’t expect to see Ian McDiarmid’s face in the flesh within the first few minutes. But I would never trade the final moments we got with these characters for more time spent on explaining answers.

JJ Abrams and company had a colossal task in wrapping up nine films spanning over four decades in a clear and satisfying way. Giving us answers to some of the franchise’s most difficult questions right out of the gate allowed The Rise of Skywalker to do just that, while also offering a fun and thrilling final chapter to the Skywalker saga.

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