Excluding television programs, there are 14 films and one holiday special that are considered canon within the Star Wars universe. Each one adds new perspectives to the larger universe, but all of them are connected by a single storyline explored through the 9-film Skywalker Saga, a saga which concludes with Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, directed by J.J. Abrams (2015’s The Force Awakens) and co-written by Chris Terrio (Justice League). The film has the mighty task of closing out a story begun in 1977 with creator George Lucas’s originally titled film Star Wars, and does so with incredible detail and awesome fan-service. Loops long held open are closed, items of concern for decades are addressed, and the story that began with a farm boy who wanted more than a simple life ends. In many ways, The Rise of Skywalker is a deeply satisfying film, offering tributes and honorifics all-around. However, the longer one ponders on what actually occurs within the film, the more the cracks within the text appear. Thankfully, the home release of Skywalker includes a bevy of special features that will make even the coldest Sith warm in the glow of joy.
General Organa (Carrie Fisher) has reestablished the Resistance at a new base with new recruits won over after their escape from the First Order during the Battle of Crait one year ago. In this time, a spy from within the First Order has provided key intel to the Resistance, including recent news of an imminent attack. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) immediately take action to prevent the First Order from reaching the Resistance, but everything changes when they cross paths with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), carrying a message that will alter Rey’s life forever.
If you’d like to continue without any discussion of potential spoilers, please head to the spoiler-free theatrical review.
For those who didn’t see Skywalker in the theaters, allow me to convey a very serious warning about the film: if you possess any kind of photosensitivity, take appropriate precautions before watching. The opening and climax of the film take place in an area with continuous flashing lights that may induce any number of reactions. Despite precautions taken by this reviewer, I fell prey to a terrible migraine which had been building as I watched, and could even feel some discomfort while watching the special features when they focused on moments involving the previously mentioned sequences. As incredible as certain aspects of those sequences are to behold, I caution you to take these warnings seriously.
With that said, let’s dive into the special features.
The biggest and best of anything included within the special features is the feature-length documentary “The Skywalker Legacy.” Clocking in at two hours, six minutes, “Legacy” is not just a behind the scenes feature digging into the making of Skywalker, it covers the entire Skywalker Saga from beginning (original trilogy) to the end (sequel trilogy), with some dips into the prequel trilogy from time to time. This is done fairly seamlessly as “Legacy” creates a narrative around the experience of Star Wars from the perspective of the cast and crew. For example, when covering the stunts of Skywalker, they might look back on how they covered action scenes in the past. When discussing set pieces (design, pre-production discussion, and creation), “Legacy” will often dip back to show off the cast and crew of those films discussing how they did things. At the center of the film is J.J. Abrams, whose joy of directing Skywalker is absolutely infectious. It doesn’t matter what you think of the final product, it’s clear that Abrams possesses a deep love and a wealth of knowledge of the Saga, and watching him work, expounding on the minutiae, highlights what a clear vision he brought to the table. There is, however, an argument to be made that the director was so close to the material that, in trying to bring in what he saw as required specific key elements or fandom-related callbacks for the final film in the Saga, he couldn’t see just how overstuffed and forced much of the film became.
What will inevitably bring tears (so keep those tissues handy), is the portion of “Legacy” dedicated to explaining the inclusion of Carrie Fisher into the production. As described in “Legacy,” The Force Awakens was about Han (Harrison Ford) and The Last Jedi was about Luke (Mark Hamill), so Abrams intended to have Skywalker complete Leia’s story. Unfortunately, with Fisher’s death in 2016, the only way to include Leia in Skywalker was to take advantage of unused footage from shooting The Force Awakens. Impressively, Abrams and his team didn’t just digitally splice Fisher into scenes, they literally built sequences around the footage they had. This meant focused staging, blocking, and consideration of Fisher’s unused scenes. Though it’s a little obvious in the final film where stand-ins were used and some aspects of the conversations within the sequences with Fisher don’t feel as organic in the ebb and flow of dialogue, what Abrams accomplishes here is an absolutely wonderful tribute to an actor/writer who will not be so easily forgotten to time.
While “The Skywalker Legacy” takes up the most time, it’s not the only bonus material included. There are five other featurettes included on the physical release, with a sixth featurette focused on composer John Williams’s work with the Saga. While none exceed 15 minutes, very little of the content in the featurettes are duplicated from “Legacy.” This is a trend that occurs frequently and, honestly, rather easily when content from one behind the scenes featurette shares content or concepts with another. This rarely occurs in the shorter, more specific featurettes, enabling each one to feel like a new and fresh experience, one that drills down into details that would’ve felt like tangents within “Legacy.” The one that’s likely going to hit the heartstrings the most is “Warwick & Son,” which features frequent Star Wars actor Warwick Davis discussing his time with the Saga while he and his son get prepped for scenes within Skywalker. For those who have fond memories of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, Davis plays Wicket, the Ewok who finds and befriends Leia on the planet moon of Endor. As shown through archived footage with a voiceover from present-day Davis, the audience is shown what it was like for then 11-year-old Davis to participate in the making of Jedi, as well as what it meant to him. “Warwick & Son” is certainly an interesting featurette for those new to the Saga, but, for older fans like this reviewer, it’s like watching home movies of an old friend or relative. In summation, while there are no deleted scenes or gag reels, the supplemental features on the Skywalker home release are deeply fulfilling for longtime fans.
Given the opportunity to reexamine The Rise of Skywalker, I’d be remiss not to mention how the luster of the experience wore-off with time to consider the details and nuance. Personally, I have no issue with the return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) as a driving force behind the First Order. The prequel trilogy sets up the existence of clones and Palpatine was behind the creation of the clone army that would protect the Republic during the Clone Wars. Additionally, in the scene that introduces Palpatine, there are visible jars of bodies that look a lot like Snoke, furthering the notion that Supreme Leader Snoke himself was a puppet for Palpatine, in the truest sense of the word, while also supporting the removal of the character so abruptly by Kylo in The Last Jedi. It’s a wonderful use of set design and visual communication to fill in narrative gaps for the audience without the need for excessive dialogue. This is a wonderful way to convey the living, breathing history of this universe in a manner that’s less fan-service and more application of prior events. It’s also incredibly powerful to have the character return as a Palpatine was changed from a relatively minor figure in the original trilogy to the singular force behind all of the terrible things that happen to the Skywalkers via the prequel trilogy. Pitting Palpatine against the children of his enemies is a bold and exciting move. Where it loses me is just dumping the return of Palpatine in the opening crawl, removing any sense of mystery or excitement that his initial appearance would provide as we, the audience, learn of his return at the same time as the characters. That shock of discovery is lost and the opportunity to make Palpatine a greater threat is reduced. Similarly, while it makes sense on paper to reveal that Rey is the granddaughter of Palpatine, and, again, it also makes sense if you abide by Lucas’s original notion of circular storytelling. She, a Palpatine, struggles with the Dark and Light sides of the force and is placed in opposition against Kylo Ren, the grandson of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker, who struggles in the same manner. This sets the stage for a grand battle, but it’s actually the same fight from Return with a twist. Heck, it’s almost the same conversation and circumstances as the throne room scene in The Last Jedi. At first, it feels clever to have Palpatine have almost the same conversation with Rey as he does with Luke, except, the more you think about it, it’s absolutely uninspired. Palpatine has been shown time and again to be clever and resourceful. If one tactic didn’t work, why would he expect it to work again? In Return, we saw him pull the strings to manipulate Luke. In Skywalker, the only one he truly manipulates is Kylo, except that character has no real significance to the story except to get Rey to Palpatine. So not only is the narrative choice one which reduces the character arc of Kylo Ren, short-hands really, but Skywalker works doubly hard to make Rey the opposition to Palpatine. By and large, this narrative choice reverberates through the sequel trilogy, making the stories presented before reduced through the view-point of the endgame. This is only one element that breeds frustration and there are plenty more: the fan-service of giving Chewbacca a medal, suddenly making Finn force-sensitive, creating unnecessary character tension by making a big deal of Poe being a spice runner (Han was a spice runner), reducing Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) from a primary role to a tertiary one, the Emperor being defeated the exact same way he got his scars, and much more. More than anything, though, it’s the fact that, in order to get the full, honest explanation for anything, the audience would need to read ancillary novels, delve into the official visual dictionaries of the Saga, and play Fortnite.
No matter how one feels about The Rise of Skywalker, the Skywalker Saga is officially complete. The film may not stick the landing how you’d hope as it tries to tell a singular story that not only completes its own trilogy but a series at large, but it is still done. The story is over. This doesn’t mean you can’t revisit other films, or even this one. It just means that, for as long as Disney allows, the Skywalker/Palpatine war is over. The Resistance has won. So until Rey, Finn, and Poe are called back to action, let’s move on and enjoy the other stories that can come forward.
I have spoken.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Special Features*
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Blu-ray Multi-screen Edition
- The Skywalker Legacy (2:06:11)
- Pasaana Pursuit: Creating the Speeder Chase (14:17)
- Cast of Creatures (7:45)
- D-O: Key to the Past (5:34)
- Aliens in the Desert (6:00)
- Warwick & Son (5:38)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Digital Exclusive
- The Maestro’s Finale (11:05)
*Various by retailer
For complete details on where to find a physical release copy of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker head to the official film website.
Available on digital beginning March 13th, 2020.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD beginning March 31st, 2020.