How “The Rise of Skywalker” Failed the Prequels

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The Rise of

This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I walked out of The Rise of Skywalker feeling exactly the opposite than I had expected. instead of hope, I felt despair, anger, and confusion, with a slight hint of betrayal. I sat in my car with my girlfriend for 15 minutes, asking her what she thought. I desperately hoped that her positivity would rub off on me and change my mind. I had never walked out of a Star Wars movie feeling anything other than pure joy. We went home and I cried on her couch for an hour, failing to come to terms with the idea that, for the first time ever, I didn’t love a movie in a franchise that felt so deeply embedded in my blood.

I was born in 1997, two years before The Phantom Menace came out. I don’t remember watching Star Wars for the first time because it has always simply been a part of my life. I couldn’t have been much older than three or four when I experienced my first journey to a galaxy far, far away and the series has penetrated my psyche for as long as I’ve had a working memory and feels as much a part of me as my own skin and bones. And so, by association, does the prequel trilogy.

I always knew that my affinity for the prequels was somewhat of a hot take. My favorite Star Wars movie is The Phantom Menace, something that no one ever wants to hear –  followed closely by Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith. I have the entire original LEGO Star Wars video game for the Nintendo GameCube memorized, and I used to be able to recite the opening crawl for Episodes I, II, and III by heart. My friends and I would crawl around on the playground at school holding sticks, pretending we were wielding lightsabers as all-powerful Jedi.

I was a kid. It was normal. The Jedi were the good guys and we idolized them because we wanted to have a fun time in space, just like all the kids in 1977 when A New Hope came out. And to this day, no one else in the history of media has impacted my life like Anakin Skywalker.

I saw myself in Anakin and I still do, something that tends to freak people out because…well, he’s Darth Vader, and Darth Vader is not a good dude. And I get that, obviously. But there’s a lot of stuff in Anakin that hit me as a kid, especially watching him as a child in The Phantom Menace.

I also grew up with a single mother, no dad, and a lot of misplaced feelings, namely anger and fear. I had a weird mix of panic and recklessness, a side effect of my ADHD and undiagnosed anxiety disorder. I had a tendency to try to do the right thing but mess it up in the worst way possible. I loved my friends with every fiber of my being and desperately craved validation, lashing out when I didn’t receive it. There were a lot of similarities. There still are. As a kid, I saw myself as Anakin in The Phantom Menace. As an adult, I see myself in Revenge of the Sith, and it helps me keep myself in check.

Anakin has been my hero for my whole life, strange as it may seem. He taught me that it’s normal to feel conflicted and upset and, in Return of the Jedi, he taught me that you can still be a good person, even if you do bad things (though hopefully I’ll never do anything nearly as bad as he did). Anakin Skywalker, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padmé Amidala, taught me how to grow up and were with me every step of the way. But, the sequel trilogy ignored all of it.

I was patient, too. The Force Awakens gave me Kylo Ren worshipping Darth Vader and while I wasn’t too keen on Anakin continuing to get a bad rap as a Sith baddie post-redemption, I was fine with seeing where the trilogy went. The Last Jedi decided to side-step the Vader worship altogether, but I did get a glimpse at Yoda and ancient Jedi texts, which, while not specifically related to the prequels, was pretty close and I considered acceptable, especially since there was still a third movie on its way.

Then the first trailer for the final film in the sequel trilogy happened at Star Wars Celebration 2019, revealing the movie’s name to be The Rise of Skywalker and more excitedly that Palpatine was back. Finally, it was my time. Yeah, Rey would probably do the rising, maybe even Kylo, but come on! How could a Skywalker rise without Anakin being involved, or at least mentioned, especially if the Emperor was making a dramatic return. I couldn’t wait! I spent the next year anxiously awaiting Episode IX, something I had been looking forward to since 2005, right after Revenge of the Sith came out and playground rumors started flying about George Lucas creating a third Star Wars trilogy.

Now, 14 years later, I watched Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and every time Palpatine was on screen, I waited. Would they finally mention Darth Vader for more than a sentence?

Not this time.

Luke’s force ghost showed up to talk some sense into Rey. Would Obi-Wan show up too? He had trained Luke just as much as Yoda, after all, and Yoda was in the last one, so it felt plausible. But he didn’t come.

Rey struggled to fight off Palpatine, calling out to all past Jedi for their help. Would they show up? I mean, yeah, I’m hearing a bunch of my prequel favorites saying some words to Rey about the Force, but would they show up? I cried like a baby when I heard Anakin, but he was mixed in with all of the background characters. Except he wasn’t a background character, not to me. He was a hero and he was important and he was the Chosen One. But he didn’t get to kill Palpatine, or even help.

Shift to the ending now. Well…Rey’s on Tattooine, burying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers. What about now? Anakin was literally born there and that’s his brother’s house and his mother’s grave. Maybe this is it, I think, Luke and Leia’s Force ghosts are there – Rey is taking the Skywalker name! But where is Anakin? Where is his mother? Not in the movie. At all.

Not only did they not show up, they weren’t even acknowledged. And they were important. Not just to the lore, but to me and millions of other kids who grew up loving those characters. Prior to the sequel trilogy, there were six Star Wars movies and the sequels borrowed from three of them – the originals. That’s only 50% of the franchise and it’s insulting.

Obi-Wan trained Luke. Yoda helped, but Obi-Wan got him started, threw that training droid at him, and handed him a lightsaber – Anakin’s lightsaber. He guided Luke through the destruction of the Death Star and mentored him through the remainder of the war. But no one ever said his name, including Luke.

Luke, who screamed bloody murder when he watched Vader strike his mentor down on the Death Star, never mentioned Obi-Wan to Rey or anyone else throughout the course of the sequels. And he never appeared to console Luke, like Yoda did. Why? How disrespectful of Luke Skywalker and how out of character for both of them.

Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One, who was redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi, never showed up to scold Kylo Ren or give advice to Rey or to confront the Emperor one last time. His voice appeared in that quick montage, along with Obi-Wan’s, but it was so muddled in with the rest of the voices that the only reason I was able to pick it out is because I’ve been obsessively watching Revenge of the Sith for the past decade. Reckless Anakin Skywalker, who has the ability to appear as a Force ghost, for the first time in his life decides to mind his business and not get involved? What an insult to his character.

And, worst of all, Padmé. There’s not much to say here because there is, literally, no content involving her in the sequel trilogy. Sure, she’s not Force sensitive but she’s Luke’s mother. She’s Leia’s mother. And she’s just as important to their story as Obi-Wan and Anakin, especially in a film so centered on bloodlines. Even though she doesn’t show up to guide them or fight for them in the original movies, she is their family and for a film that focuses so heavily on family connections, it sure was strange to see every family connection other than Luke and Leia’s parentage pop up.

It didn’t even need to be an intricate plot point, but some nod to the fact that she was important and that the twins know about her existence felt almost necessary. We lost Padmé when we shouldn’t have. Dying of heartbreak was a strange choice and almost everyone agrees on that. But what’s even worse is that she died and was forgotten.

The Rise of

And, contrary to my initial expectations, the biggest punch in the gut for me as a prequels fan was Palpatine. I was psyched that he was going to be in this movie and I really didn’t have any expectations…other than him being a Force ghost. Because he can’t be here physically. Why? Because Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader killed him and if you brought him back as a physical being, that means that the end of Return of the Jedi was completely undermined, as well as his entire character arc.

And yet, Palpatine was physically in The Rise of Skywalker, doing exactly that – the Chosen One, my hero, Anakin Skywalker, who I loved dearly for being in so much pain and redeeming himself at the end by saving his son and killing the Emperor…did not kill the Emperor. He failed. Again. The one time I thought my hero was able to overcome all odds and finally, finally able to do something truly good…he didn’t. He wasn’t strong enough. Obi-Wan wasn’t important, Padmé was irrelevant, and The Chosen One wasn’t strong enough to kill Palpatine. That hurt, really bad.

I don’t think The Rise of Skywalker is a bad movie. I just think that it had one specific audience in mind and, unfortunately, it didn’t include me or anyone else who grew up in the 2000s. It was made for fans of the originals. The whole trilogy, in fact, was made for fans of the originals and that broke my heart, especially because I wanted to love it. I knew nothing would quite stack up to the prequels since there’s nothing quite like being a kid and that was fine, but I didn’t think I would walk out of a Star Wars movie wondering if I hated it.

And that’s the thing about it, too – I don’t hate it. But when I go on Twitter and see other Star Wars fans raving about how great it was, how it was everything they ever wanted, how it was all fan service and made them remember their childhood and the magic of their favorite films, I feel left behind in the dust.

The Rise of Skywalker is full of love for those looking for nods to A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, or Return of the Jedi. But for the millions of kids who grew up with Jango Fett action figures, dreaming about podracers and clone armies and fighting General Grievous, watching The Rise of Skywalker felt worse than defending The Phantom Menace as my favorite movie for the past 20 years. For once, the prequels weren’t just hated – they were forgotten.

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