You Shouldn’t Have to Buy a Book to Understand ‘Star Wars’
The following post contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, most of which you’d only understand if you’ve read like four tie-in books.
When you write an article like a list of the things that left you baffled in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, you can always count on readers to respond with their own explanations. Once in a while, they’ll provide a crucial piece of information you just missed. More often, they offer their own (often quite clever) theories about how unexplained elements of a movie can be made to make sense.
Although my list of unanswered questions from The Rise of Skywalker has prompted a fair number of personal theories from readers, it’s also garnered a bunch of response I was not expecting. These tweets all contain exactly the details I was looking for, but they’re not from the film itself. They come from ancillary materials, like the new book Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: The Visual Dictionary.
For example, I was really confused about the role that the Knights of Ren serve in The Rise of Skywalker. The Knights previously appeared in flashbacks in The Force Awakens, but were otherwise totally absent from the previous two Star Wars. Here, they serve as Kylo Ren’s hired muscle. But who they are, where they came from, how they’re different from Stormtroopers, why they were missing, why they are back, and why they so suddenly turn on Kylo Ren in the film’s final act even though he’s their boss were all totally unclear. The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t bother giving us even the most basic information about these dudes.
If you read The Visual Dictionary, however, you’ll learn all kinds of stuff about them:
This is not an isolated example. Wondering how the original Skywalker lightsaber went from shattered at the end of The Last Jedi to perfectly repaired in The Rise of Skywalker? There’s a Visual Dictionary entry for that one too!
Over the weekend, there’s been a steady stream of these revelations. That mysterious planet from the opening scene with Kylo Ren? That’s Mustafar, where Anakin Skywalker faced off with Obi-Wan Kenobi for the final time in Revenge of the Sith. The weird final beat between Lando Calrissian and Jannah where it seems like he might be hitting on her even though she’s half his age? He actually thinks she might be his long-lost daughter, he just has an extremely Lando way of showing it. Emperor Palpatine’s ominous message to the galaxy referenced in the opening crawl? You can hear it — if you play Fortnite. And on and on.
Even The Rise of Skywalker’s creators have gotten into the act filling in gaps in the movie’s story. Both J.J. Abrams and John Boyega have publicly weighed in on the urgent information Finn desperately wants to tell Rey when he thinks they are about to die in a big pile of quicksand. They survive, Finn clams up, and then ... he just never tells her whatever he was going to say. The movie ends with the secret still unspoken. I guess it wasn’t that important after all!
For a film that’s supposedly 40 years in the making, the plot feels feels really slapdash. These aren’t deliberate mysteries designed to stoke viewer engagement, akin to Baby Yoda’s origin in The Mandalorian. They’re not Easter eggs that might enhance the experience if you’re really knowledgable about the lore of this world, like understanding the tiny references to Infinity Gauntlet comics in Avengers: Endgame. They’re not nitpicks, either. These are fundamental elements of The Rise of Skywalker — many of which apparently had explanations that director Abrams and the Lucasfilm team simply decided not to include in the final cut. It would be comical if it wasn’t such damning evidence that The Rise of Skywalker is an incomplete experience — or if you didn’t need to purchase a companion book to fully understand a Star Wars.
In general, I love these sorts of books. My library at home is filled with The Art Of and Visual History books on movies like Ghostbusters, Avengers, and Into the Spider-Verse. There’s nothing better than diving into one of these after you’ve really loved a film, so you can appreciate and learn more about all of the gorgeous designs, concept art, and behind-the-scenes photographs that went into creating something special. These books should enhance the viewing experience though, not explain it on a basic level.
I’m sure the publishers of The Rise of Skywalker: The Visual Dictionary are happy with the role it’s playing in all these post-viewing discussions. (It’s currently #1 performing arts book on all of Amazon.) Everyone else should be frustrated by this turn of events. Since when do blockbusters come with a syllabus of required reading? If you need a book to make sense of Star Wars — a franchise now in its fifth decade enjoyed by generations of children — something has gone very wrong somewhere along the way.
Gallery — Unanswered Questions From The Rise of Skywalker: