(Be warned that there are spoilers ahead)
I was a Star Wars fan before I had even watched the movies. When I was six, I picked up a Star Wars extended universe book at the library. I pronounced “Jedi” incorrectly and didn’t know who Luke was, but laser swords were cool. Soon after, my parents borrowed the movies on VHS from the library to watch as a family. I got scared in the second half of The Empire Strikes Back and had to cover my eyes. I didn’t understand most of the movie, but I was hooked. Over the next ten years, I read dozens of books and watched the original and prequel trilogies over and over on VHS and DVD. I even wrote a nitpicker’s guide to errors in the movies.
And yet, I haven’t really gotten into the new movies.
I only saw The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi once, and I didn’t like the latter very much. Why didn’t Laura Dern tell Poe anything about the plan? What was the point of any that Poe and Finn did? Why haven’t we always been using light speed to destroy anything?
Combine those concerns with the mixed reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and you can guess how skeptical I was going into The Rise of Skywalker.
I actually liked it. Of course, it has some big issues, which have been echoed by the internet.
Emperor Palpatine comes back from the dead as a sci-fi lich? A new super-army built out of nowhere to rehash the same threat? Kylo Ren becomes a good guy in seemingly one instant because Leia meddles and then sacrifices herself for him? Rey suddenly is related to other characters? Space horses defeating the new, almost literal Star Destroyer?
It did seem ridiculous, but we have seen it before. This isn’t Disney’s fault: George Lucas did it first in Return of the Jedi.
Emperor Palpatine only briefly appeared in The Empire Strikes Back before becoming the big bad evil guy in Return of the Jedi. Rather than come up with a new idea, the final threat is yet another Death Star. Darth Vader turns from a life of evil after seeing his son electrocuted literally moments after trying to hack him to death himself. Obi-Wan and Yoda reveal that Leia is actually Luke’s sister. And somehow the teddy bear Ewoks save the day by defeating an Imperial garrison to disable the shield generator.
As such, The Rise of Skywalker felt like a movie I had seen before. The same is true for The Force Awakens riffing on A New Hope. And for me, the fact that these movies were derivative actually made me like them more because it reminded me to look past the critique and just enjoy the experience.
As a child, I didn’t think about the Star Wars movies were actually good movies. I didn’t worry about whether how dumb the Emperor was in goading Luke or how the plot fit together. I didn’t wonder how the filmmakers came up with Jar Jar Binks. I was completely immersed in the world and enjoyed the ride.
So when I was thinking about how awkward Carrie Fisher’s scenes were, I like it less. When Rey and Kylo Ren are dueling amidst crashing waves or Finn and Poe are gunning down Stormtroopers, I like it more. When I think about how Rey’s story reframes what Anakin and Luke did, I like it less. When I think about Rey calling on all past Jedi, I like it more.
This movie was filled with fan service and references, and it reminded me of being a child again. Star Wars movies have always been for kids, and now this generation has their own trilogy, too.