Non-spoilery review: Overall The Rise of Skywalker is a fun, action-filled movie that I’d be happy to re-watch, and unlike The Last Jedi, all the different story lines are meaningful to the overall movie. It’s obvious how much they wanted to eliminate almost all character and plot developments from The Last Jedi in order to return to the plan J. J. Abrams had for the series, and that not only muddles the trilogy as a whole but also makes The Last Jedi feel even more an anomaly that doesn’t belong. Lastly, it’s sad that a Carrie Fisher wasn’t able to finish shooting, because the scenes she should have been in are obvious and lesser for the fact she wasn’t there. I can also see where the plot might have gone with her and wish we could have had that movie instead.
I’d intended to do a single review with all my thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker, but the section below got way longer than I expected.
I have a lot of problems with Ben’s death, and it’s taken a while for me to figure them all out. Originally, it was the initial gut punch of finally getting a happy, loving Rey and Ben moment (one of the few good things that The Last Jedi gave the trilogy) only for it to be ripped away. Adam Driver was allowed one smile in the entire trilogy and it made me so happy to see it when he looked at Rey. To not fulfill that was an unsatisfying end to their arc.
Besides that though, there are other reasons I don’t like this death, and I’ll try my best to articulate them.
This first one is a growing pet peeve of mine. I don’t mind a self-sacrifice storyline. It can be well done and enjoyable, but I find it is often used too much as an easy way to show redemption. The problem I have with that is it lets the person off the hook with one act of good instead of a far more interesting and meaningful change of trying to fix the problems they created from their mistakes. Yes the act of self-sacrifice can show change, but the people aren’t actually facing the consequences of what they’ve done to the world or people around them. Their story is over and all their mistakes are forgotten because of it. It’s lazy storytelling.
The second one is more specific to The Rise of Skywalker. It’s obvious that Leia was meant to be the one who talks to Ben after the fight with Rey on the Death Star ruins, and I wish Carrie Fisher could have given us that scene because I can imagine how much more emotional it would have been. Harrison Ford did a great job, but for two movies they’ve set up a deeper connection between Leia and Ben both as mother and son and as two connected by the force.
We can’t know how that would have played out, but whether the message she would have given him was the same one Han ended up using doesn’t matter, his is the one we got, and they completely failed to deliver on that transformation. When Ben says that Leia is dead, and he has nowhere to go back to, Han tells him that what she fought for, stood for, remains. That is the message that drives Ben away from the sith once and for all. Fulfill his mother’s legacy, be the man she wanted him to be and fight for the freedom of the entire galaxy, as she did her entire life. The problem is that’s not what we get by his dying to save Rey.
It’s clear by this point of the movie that whether he is Kylo Ren or Ben Solo, he cares for Rey deeply. He refuses to kill her over and over and wants her to join him, not fight against him. When he throws away his lightsaber and goes to join the fight against Palpatine, he’s not joining the rebellion to finish Leia’s life’s work; he’s going to save Rey. At no point does he try to make right the wrong he’s done except for where Rey is involved. When he gives Rey his own life force to save her, he’s not saving the rebellion or ending the first/final order. He’s saving Rey, the only person he has left who he loves and who is willing to love him back.
That could be a good story line, but it’s not the reason he turned away from the sith. If Han had said something like, “You’re never alone. There are still people you can go back to,” something that showed a life with Rey was waiting for him, then the reason he turns good matches his actions perfectly. But that’s not the reason we are given, so his death to save Rey is hollow. He didn’t fulfill the reason he turned back to the light.
I don’t mean this in the way I did in the second reason. From a story-telling perspective, this is wrong redemption story for Ben.
The reason self-sacrifice for one you love worked so well for Darth Vader was that Vader was the older generation, the one who had spent a lifetime doing wrong and in one final moment, when he must choose between the life of mistakes or the one person who believed in him, he chose redemption. His death was the end of a story that was already spent and ready to end. It’s the redemption story of the father for the sake of the son, and mirrored in the son’s refusal to make the mistakes of the father. His death has meaning because his life had no meaning left in it other than existing to serve the Emperor. But that’s not Ben’s story.
Ben’s story is the prodigal son trying to find his way home. It’s a story of searching for the right path to walk into the future, of fixing his mistakes because he has a lifetime ahead of him to make up for what he’s done. His story is not at its end. The redemption of the prodigal son is not in ultimate sacrifice, but of contrition, humility, and repentance.
His story should have ended the way Han’s speech foreshadowed it would. Joining Rey, yes, but then facing his mistakes and working not only to make them right but to finally be the man that Leia believed in, one who would fight to make the world better, as she did. To kill him off instead fails to deliver the story his journey deserved to have, the new generation—good and bad alike—working together to build a better future. Ben is a part of that generation, not Luke and Leia’s, and his story should not have ended here.