Chewbacca Should Have Died in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
I've had a lot of time to think on The Rise of Skywalker since seeing it in late December. I've been following the coverage—the good and the bad—and I maintain that it wasn't a great movie. It was fine. It wasn't worse than the prequels, but it was desperately trying to please everyone. This last chapter of the Skywalker saga made a conscious effort to negate or re-write bold storytelling leaps that Rian Johnson made in its predecessor, The Last Jedi. In many ways, that makes it one of the most disappointing and frustrating Star Wars films of all time.
As Star Wars films tend to do, The Rise of Skywalker is filled with plot holes and inconsistencies—far more than the first two films in the new trilogy. MacGuffins like the dagger and the Sith Wayfinder are nonsensical—especially only given the context we get in the actual movie. I don't even want to get into Palpatine's baffling plan, or how Rey was able to use Luke's X-Wing. The thing that continues to bother me, though, is Chewbacca's non-death midway through the movie.
Let's be very clear: I didn't want to see Chewbacca die. But the whole bait and switch of his death and its reversal is indicative of the bigger problems of The Rise of Skywalker.
About halfway through the film, Rey, Finn, Poe, and Chewbacca are on Pasaana tracking down the Wayfinder, which will help them reach Emperor Palpatine. Kylo Ren intercepts them as they're about to leave with the Wayfinder. Rey then confronts him and while she's distracted with Kylo, a First Order transport lands and captures Chewbacca. The audience see's only one transport land, and Chewbacca is loaded into the same transport. Neither the audience nor any of the other heroes see a second ship land—and considering they're on a vast, empty desert, there's no reason to think they would not see another ship land and whisk Chewie away.
When Rey sees the ship flying away with Chewbacca, presumably on board—and to be clear it's later established that she can sense where the Wookiee is from far away—she uses the Force to pull the transport back to the ground. Kylo intervenes, pushing the ship back into the air, and a sort of tug of war takes place. As Rey struggles to pull the ship and save Chewie, her emotions get out of control and suddenly she shoots Force Lightning from her fingertips, destroying the transport. Chewie is dead, or so she believes.
It's a powerful, heartbreaking moment, and a turning point in the film, where Rey finally sees the real, tangible terror of her power. She knows entirely what she's capable of, and Rey believes this is evidence of her slipping to the Dark Side. Had Chewbacca died in this moment it would have been tragic—a gut punch of a death and one of the most shocking twists in the Skywalker Saga. To see a beloved original trilogy character die by collateral damage would have been a bold choice.
But Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is not a bold film. It is spineless.
And that's why mere minutes later a character literally says "he must have been on another transport." It's storytelling at its laziest. Later in the film, it's clearly established that Rey can feel Chewbacca's presence on a ship from far away, and she learns that he's still alive. So, why couldn't she sense it in this moment? Why didn't she or anyone else sense or see the other transport? This blaring plot hole is agonizing.
What's worse though is that it's a great example of how cowardly this film is—how terrified it is to challenge the viewers as The Last Jedi did before it. As much as I would have been heartbroken to see Chewie die in this moment, it would have made me feel something. It would have been unforgettable, and would have given the film real stakes.
These gutless storytelling choices are all over The Rise of Skywalker. The death of C-3PO was teased heavily in later trailers, but, like Chewbacca's death, it was reversed with a throwaway line minutes after the droid's emotional goodbye. The only hero death we see before the climactic finale is Leia's emotional passing. And that is a touching moment of the film. Abrams and Disney handled the real world death of Carrie Fisher with grace and respect. But that was a narrative choice forced on Abrams because of a real world tragedy. Other than Leia, the only main character death we see in TROS is Ben Solo's after sacrificing himself for Rey. Her death is reversed minutes after she dies killing Palpatine.
And even that moment is a weird one. The rules and logic of life and death in this film make no sense. How did Palpatine return? How did Ben Solo suddenly use this new Force power to bring Rey back to life? Why are we to believe that Palpatine is actually dead when life and death are so meaningless in this franchise?
I keep thinking about these scenes, because the idea of preventing the people you love from dying was such a key driving force in the prequel series. Remember the lesson Palpatine teaches Anakin about Darth Plagueis "The Wise" in Revenge of the Sith?
Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life… He had such a knowledge of the dark side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying. The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural. He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. Ironic. He could save others from death, but not himself.
It's this idea, that Anakin can prevent Padme's death, which convinces him to turn to the Dark Side and throw the next century into chaos. The unnatural tampering with the cycle of life and death is the ultimate evil in Star Wars.
Yet, Ben Solo does this without any trouble in the closing moments of The Rise of Skywalker. And on a macro level, this conclusion to the Skywalker Saga is guilty of being corrupted by the same fear—that desire to keep the characters we love from dying.
I keep thinking about this unwillingness for Abrams to let anything die and it's truly aggravating. Especially after such a bold proclamation in The Last Jedi to "let the past die." Why was Disney so afraid to kill Chewie? Why did Disney go through such lengths to build up the sudden return of Palpatine only to reveal it with no explanation in the opening crawl? Why bring back Han Solo once again? Why diminish the sacrifice of C-3PO? Why make any of these decisions only to reverse them?
To me, this is a manipulative, pandering way of making films. Marvel movies operate the same way: there are no stakes, there is nothing to fear, you're just bathed in a warm light of comfortable nostalgia.
Maybe, with whatever comes next in the Star Wars franchise, filmmakers won't be afraid to hurt the audience, make them feel actual emotions, and put our heroes in actual danger. Those are, after all, the basic tenants of storytelling.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.