A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away audiences were treated to swashbuckling tales filled with adventure and romance. It was a simpler time, where a man could unknowingly lust after his sister without judgement. An era where faux hatred between a princess and a scoundrel, masked a growing passion.
One did not profess love until things were dire, because deep down the other person already knew.
It is an era that J.J. Abrams latest film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker wants desperately to evoke in every way except for one important aspect. His film lacks that romantic spark that made the original Star Wars trilogy so memorable. Without that key ingredient, the action, humour, and overall stakes taste bland.
For all the attention given to sabres made of light and ships that could make Kessel Runs in 12 parsecs, it was the love story humanized the characters and their plight. It made the extraordinary universe that the original films built feel relatable. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) was no damsel in distress, the “slave Leia” stuff aside, but a well-rounded kick-ass woman who formed a genuine bond with Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Over the years, as the franchise became more interested in the advancement of cinematic technology over actual story telling, the subsequent trilogies have struggled to ignite the flames of passion.
Which says a lot considering the prequels, when not talking political trade deals and senate votes, are one giant love story. A tale of an underage boy, who would grow up to have serious anger management issues, standing in front of much older teenage girl begging her to love him.
George Lucas’ may have bungled the love story in prequels, but at least he tried. Where he went wrong, aside from making Anakin a whiny character for most of it, was that he continually striped Padmé (Natalie Portman) of her agency as the series went on. Unlike Leia, who remained a fighter throughout, she was relegated to staring out of windows and being used as a prop to setup action sequences.
In many ways Padmé still fared better than Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who is criminally sidelined in The Rise of Skywalker. What makes the treatment of Rose so infuriating is that it is symbolical of a larger problem. It represented the death of romance in a universe that once thrived on it.
One of the things that made Rose’s introduction into the Star Wars cannon so delightful was that, by the end of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, she embodied that old school love story that was missing from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She was a character who had a humble position in The Resistance but carried the heart and strength of a true hero. When Finn tried to runaway, she was there to remind him of the sacrifice, which she of all people knew all to well, that others gave to overcome evil.
She may not be a princess or a Jedi, but Leia’s spirit coursed through her veins.
As Rose and Finn (John Boyega) risked their lives for the greater good, including slipping behind enemy lines, their bond felt authentic. When she professed her love to Finn, after saving him from an unnecessary suicide mission he was planning, the kiss she gives him was well-earned.
It was not the only budding romance that the film offered, there was also the palpable sexual tension between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), but it worked the best. By the time The Last Jedi ended, it not only offered hope for further exploration into Rose and Finn’s relationship, but also hinted at a possible love triangle between Rey, Kylo Ren and the roguish fighter pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac).
All of this was squandered in J. J. Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker, a film so misguided in its approach to love that even a landmark lesbian kiss is reduced to nothing more than a corporate ploy to cash in on the push for diversity.
Abrams may believe that it is enough to show people kissing, regardless of if they are resistance fighters or those who wield the force, but such displays of affection are meaningless without any real investment in the characters. By pushing Rose to the sidelines, so she can study the schematics of old empire ships, a task that bears no real fruit in the grand scheme of things, it strips the character of her identity and robs the film of any semblance of an entertaining romance.
Rose is sadly relegated to the role of a woman longing for a guy who can barely muster anything more than a pat on her shoulder.
Worst of all, Rose often must standby as Beaumont Kin (Dominic Monaghan), who adds nothing of significance to the film, gets more speaking lines for no other reason than Monaghan’s connection to Abrams. With the Rose and Finn arc squashed, it places more pressure on the Rey and Kylo Ren storyline to deliver a satisfying payoff. Unfortunately, that arc is far too serious and scattered to even sell a key moment of supposed redemption.
Much like Poe’s attempts to get a make out session with Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), one keeps longing for romantic action in The Rise of Skywalker only to get rejected at every turn.