(Major spoilers ahead for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”)
There is a lot going on in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and it moves at a super fast pace in hopes that you won’t have enough time to think about how the pieces fit together. Because they don’t. But it’s not frustrating just because it’s internally a mess. It’s because that mess is so, well, messy that it actually manages to tangibly affect its predecessors, “The Last Jedi” and “The Force Awakens.” Because this movie makes mistakes that retroactively makes those movies worse.
That’s not easy to do. But “The Rise of Skywalker” has managed to pulled off this feat, and it’s thanks in large part to the crazy reveal that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) was behind everything all along.
From the moment last summer that it was announced, I had a feeling bringing back Palpatine was probably a bad idea. We’ve seen that story before, in the old “Dark Empire” comics from the early ’90s, and that certainly didn’t go well. And there were no hints whatsoever in “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi” that there was some secret other power out there. But I figured it would all depend on how JJ Abrams and friends handled it. Maybe they could make this scenario complement the other movies, and add some extra layers to future viewings of this new trilogy. Hell, the original trilogy managed to make “from a certain point of view” not sound like an insult to your intelligence.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it went at all.
Palpatine’s presence, as it turns out, is super jarring, and makes so much of what happened in the previous two movies either meaningless or nonsensical. Watching the first two movies in this trilogy after seeing “The Rise of Skywalker” is a bizarre experience now. I’m not sure the “Star Wars” movies have ever been this much of a mess — the prequels are terribly made movies, but at least they have an over-arching plot that more or less makes sense. This new trilogy is pure madness.
A lot of that is just due to the sheer scale of what the Emperor does in “The Rise of Skywalker.” We’re told that Palpatine orchestrated the rise of the First Order after the Empire’s defeat at the end of “Return of the Jedi,” and that he literally created Snoke (Andy Serkis) to lead it. Created, as in physically made him — in the that big temple on Exogol we see a big tube with a half-made Snoke body in it. So we can, in theory, say that everything Snoke ever did was because Emperor Palpatine told him to do it. I don’t see any other way to interpret this turn of events with the minimal explanations we’re given in this movie.
Not only that, but as it turns out, while the First Order was out there building an army and a big fleet, Palpatine was hanging out on Exogol with a huge fleet of his own buried in the ice, each equipped with a planet-killing Death Star superlaser. The Emperor has had a thousand Death Stars, basically. And none of them were ever even used until one of them blew up a planet in “The Rise of Skywalker.”
This basic premise really messes up basically everything from “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” The entire conflict between the Resistance and the First Order becomes weirdly kinda low stakes with the Emperor lurking out there with his thousand Death Stars. Why would the First Order do all that work to hollow out a planet and build Starkiller Base, their own new and improved Death Star, when Palpatine could have just given them a few of the Death Stars he already had?
Maybe more problematic is the issue of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) lineage. It’s not necessarily a problem that she’s Palpatine’s granddaughter. It is extremely an issue that, as we’re told practically as an afterthought, Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) knew about it. That little tidbit makes everything Luke has done in this trilogy seem extra bizarre and stupid.
Let’s break it down real quick. When Lando shows up in “The Rise of Skywalker” on the desert planet Pasaana, he tells the gang that he originally came there more than a decade before with Luke. The two of them were searching for Exogol, which that snow planet where Palpatine is hanging out in the movie.
They came to Pasaana because they were chasing an old Jedi hunter from the before times. But they just found an empty ship and no clues. Now, the reason this Jedi hunter was on Pasaana was because he had been pursuing Rey on Palpatine’s behalf. But the hunter only found her parents, because they had left her on Jakku. So he killed the parents and bailed before Luke and Lando got there. And I guess Luke and Lando gave up on the search since Lando is still there many years later.
Left unsaid is why Luke and Lando were trying to find Exogol, but there are a couple easy guesses I could make. The option that looks best for “The Rise of Skywalker” is that Luke knew there was a Sith temple there and wanted to check it out, but didn’t know that anything further was going on. But that doesn’t seem like a likely story, because they aren’t looking for clues — they’re looking for people who are alive and know things about Exogol. And since Luke in the present knew about Rey’s family, then this whole adventure looking for Exogol has to be where he learned about her.
So Luke knew about Exogol, and he knew that a Jedi hunter came out of retirement to actively hunt some folks. He probably, given his knowledge of Rey’s family in the present, knew that Palpatine had had a family and at least one grandkid, and that that family was running around the galaxy to get away from Palpatine’s agents, even though Palpatine was already long dead by then. The only possible takeaway from that collection of evidence is that something weird and probably bad is happening. Something that Luke, as the only Jedi at the time, would need to be wary of.
So fast forward to Luke was training Ben Solo (Adam Driver) and a bunch of others to become Jedi a few years before “The Force Awakens,” he and Leia both sensed the existence of Snoke (Andy Serkis). And they knew that Snoke was trying to turn Ben to the dark side by some means — the how of that situation has not been made clear in any movies or books thus far. But a new comic released this week, “The Rise of Kylo Ren #1,” appears to reveal that not only did Luke know about Snoke by that time, but they actually had fought before and Luke was responsible for Snoke looking all messed up in the movies.
It always felt like kind of a stretch that Luke would exile himself and cut himself off from the Force — let alone be cool with doing extrajudicial murder on his nephew — as explained in “The Last Jedi,” but when I’m in a generous mood I can allow for the idea that Luke thought he would do more harm than good after the stuff with Ben happen. But this new information makes that impossible to justify, unless you wanna argue that Luke is too dumb to put these pieces together. He had to have known, for decades before the emergence of the First Order, that there was some big shadowy threat out there.
Hopefully, when we eventually get a novel or comic book that tells the story of this little adventure he had with Lando, this will make more sense. But right now, it does not.
That’s the consequence of this weird, completely random addition of Emperor Palpatine to this trilogy. The fact that he was out there, orchestrating the creation of the First Order and hoarding a bunch of Death Stars, really alters the plot of the previous two movies in ways that those movies simply cannot support. This retcon just does not work.