The overly ambitious nature of The Last Jedi‘s attempt to group three near-independent plotlines (each with their own springboards and sharp right turns) was only successful in its knotting together at the end. The Rise of Skywalker takes a more basic approach: one plotline at a time, with everyone back together again. And it makes for a significantly more enjoyable experience, because audiences like it when their favourite characters work together to solve a problem.
Marvel set an intriguing precedent with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Characters established in their own films for a handful of years suddenly resulted in The Avengers (2012) — and absolutely dominated the box office within two weeks of release. It’s a great flick, one of my personal favourites for its upbeat tone, bright colours, and protagonist ability to work together. The only time The Avengers were really at odds was as they were finding their rhythm in the film’s first act. And as much as the New York battle sequence was an interesting spectacle, my favourite chunk of The Avengers will always be our heroes racing to restore power to the helicarrier engines: Tony Stark and Steve Rogers working together as Iron Man and Captain America, using their individual skill sets to get the job done while under enemy fire.
The Avengers have four sequel films, plus some crossover stories (i.e. Thor: Ragnarok), and while they have all mostly brought in an abundance of money for Disney Marvel, only Avengers Endgame came close to recapturing that interconnected spark for the audience. I put to you, reader, that the best parts of any ensemble franchise film is not the spiffy action sequences (as much as they are amazing), nor the lore-abiding quality of each film; but established and well-loved characters working in tandem together.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi made the bold move of separating the trilogy’s primary characters apart. One could argue that each was with their own partner, but The Force Awakens established these three to be the heroes. It included the intriguing pair combos of Rey with Luke Skywalker, Finn with franchise newcomer Rose, and Poe with… I guess Connix? Regardless of how you felt about these smaller team-ups between these characters, using them to engage the audience fell a little flat when viewers were forced to keep track of the three separate teams (plus the First Order) and their movements throughout the film. Sometimes you were even left wondering “I wonder if this would have been different had [insert primary protagonist] been here” — though Director Rian Johnson answers “no”.
These characters were designed to be together. Separating protagonists in a Star Wars film has never made a good Star Wars film. I’m not saying The Last Jedi‘s quality is on par with the franchise kicking bag Attack of the Clones, but perhaps neither of these films were well-received in part because the characters, who at that point had worked at least semi-well together, split up for their own adventures. You can’t tell me the best parts of either movie was when one character was busy having a melodramatic recount of their history (Anakin Skywalker and Rose Tico in both films have a reminiscing sequence that audiences frequently mock). Both Attack of the Clones and The Last Jedi can be more fondly remembered for their climatic action sequences — where most, if not all primary protagonists are in the same place and working together.
Don’t get me wrong: The Last Jedi is not a bad film. In fact, it serves to provide context to each character’s driving motivation in Rise of Skywalker. It establishes them in a way an origin film might. But excuse my pettiness: I don’t get to see Poe Dameron, Finn and Rey directly working together towards the same goal.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker took a page from The Avengers‘ playbook, and it only serves as a perfect ending to this Star Wars trilogy. I selfishly wish there had been more.