"I'm no one."
We never talk about the themes or ideas of these movies. We only ever talk in binary. Does it feel like STAR WARS? Yes or no? In Disney's view, this is a "Skywalker Saga", a series about one family but these movies were never about family. They were about death.
Let's start at the beginning. THE PHANTOM MENACE, for all of its faults, establishes Obi Wan Kenobi's main arc over the course of the next three films: his inability to come to terms with his mentor's death. Instead of properly processing the emotions, he instead projects all of his anxieties into training Anakin in hopes to fulfill for him what was robbed when Qui Gon died: an organic succession from student to master. In Attack of the Clones, Anakin is clearly in need of some form of warmth from his master. Instead, he is treated to an endless wave of criticisms and Jedi aphorisms that all result in Anakin feeling alienated from the path that was chosen for him and more open to outsider influences, be it both love and hate. It's this stoicism that avoids giving answers to the very real problems of what it means to be alive that inevitably results in Anakin exploding in rage when he confronts his mother's death in Attack of the Clones. Without being given the coping mechanisms necessary, Anakin murders the sand people in cold blood, confesses the crime to his lover, and, seemingly, moves on. Poorly executed as it is through dialogue, it is here where Anakin learns that the way to process death is to inflict death onto others. This is further reinforced by the Clone Wars wherein the Jedi turn from guardians of the peace to high ranking soldiers.
Revenge of the Sith offers more answers to Anakin. Chancellor Palpatine knows that Anakin has premonitions of Padme's death (or is he projecting his memory of his dying mother onto Padme?). Instead of giving him empathy aphorisms, he gets down to brass tacks. The Sith can provide immortality. The Jedi cannot. This, above all else, becomes Anakin's goal. In his efforts to preserve Palpatine so that he can grant this kind of immortality (which, ironically, gives Palpatine immortality), he sacrifices his own soul, giving into a kind of narcissism that destroys everyone around him. Obi Wan, faced with his failure of processing his own emotions about Qui Gon's death, is now faced with the failure of his student, still not properly understanding his role in pushing Anakin towards the dark side. Be that as it may, he cannot bring himself to kill Anakin. Instead, in the film's most stirring moment, the always stoic Obi Wan sobs over his failure, finally admitting that he always saw him as brothers, finally admitting that he loved Anakin. It all falls on deaf ears. Anakin is too far (but not completely) gone. Later when Anakin is reborn as Darth Vader, he asks what has become of Padme to which Palpatine explains that he murdered her in his rage. In Vader's most vulnerable moment, he stumbles out his restraints, monster reborn, screaming, "No!". This, as many have noted, is a clumsy scene in execution of dialogue, but it mirrors that of the clumsiness one has when their being is almost entirely enveloped by darkness. There is nothing more that Vader can say or do. In his pained scream is the frustration of a man who has become a enslaved machine. He has not only lost his wife, but his future in the form of his children and a possibility of happiness that was stolen from him as a child. What else can you say? Perhaps, rosebud?
In his final appearance of the prequel trilogy, Darth Vader watches the construction of the Death Star. There is no clearer finality to the story of Anakin than these two shots. In Anakin's quest to become a Jedi, he lost his childhood and his mother (his past). In Anakin's quest to become a Sith, he lost his wife and children (his future). The only thing Vader now believes in is power - to be jury, judge, and executioner. He has now become Death itself. The Death Star is merely a reflection of him: all machine, but posed to look like a planet, to look "real".
In summary, Anakin does not submit to death so he become death.
But. There is a hope. A NEW HOPE, in fact. Not only for the underclass of the galaxy but for Vader too. As a side note, every title George Lucas gave his films have a double meaning.
A NEW HOPE follows Luke, who, at this point, does not know of his familial connection to Vader. He yearns for adventure but is unfortunately stuck in the daily routines of life. In Luke, we see how circumstances shaped Anakin differently. It splinters off when he meets Obi Wan who, in his older years, has realized the mistakes that he and Qui Gon made. Instead of forcing him on an adventure, he offers it to him. Instead of shielding the past, he explains what happened. When Luke finds his parental figures dead, he doesn't offer up aphorisms but instead offers condolences. It is here where the film begins an arc that is much different than Anakin's. He joins the quest to Alderaan so that he can become a Jedi "like his father". He doesn't hunt down the stormtroopers responsible, partly because Obi Wan is there, yes, but also partly because Luke wasn't taught to repress his feelings. Obi Wan, instead of criticizing Luke, gives him the warmth that Anakin so desperately wanted. It appears that the straw that broke the camel's back was his first duel with his student back in Revenge of the Sith. Not only does he console Luke, but he has finally made peace with death. Luke reacts to Obi Wan's submission to Vader and his subsequent death first with anger and fury yet later on the Millennium Falcon, he expresses deep sadness over his death. This is contrasted by Anakin who never got the chance to express sadness instead always turning back to fear, anger, and ultimately death. In the film's penultimate scene, Luke hears Obi Wan's voice ringing through his ears - "Use the force." While so many of us (including the Jedi/Sith) see the force as something only defined by its history and lore, I have always seen it as a metaphor for freeing yourself from the constraints of death. Luke rejects the targeting computer, instead opting to give himself entirely over to "the force" which might as well be whatever the fates decide, in this case, as I have said from the beginning, death. A NEW HOPE (and by extension, this entire series) has always been about one's journey in accepting death. In the subsequent films, Vader tries all he can to get Luke to submit to him, but in the end, Luke submits himself to death, a feat that Anakin could never do. As he lies dying, Anakin, inspired by his son's submission to whatever the fates decides, finally submits himself to death instead in order to save him, ending his own immortality in doing so. Qui Gon dying beget Obi Wan's journey to submit to fate which beget Luke's journey to submit to fate which beget Anakin's journey to submit to fate. The fact that two parts of this inheritance were related by blood is immaterial.
So where does that leave the Sequel Trilogy? In Disney's eyes, it is to re-contextualize the whole nine film series as a Hatfields and McCoys science fiction/fantasy soap opera. Kylo and Rey never seem to struggle with death but abandonment of their parental figures. This is the primary reason why these films don't work. When Han dies, Rey doesn't evolve. She expresses outrage which fuels her battle with Kylo. It stops there. She doesn't learn anything. She doesn't evolve. By the start of the next film, Han's death doesn't weigh that heavily on her. The problem with her character isn't that she is a M*** S**, but that she lacks in a character arc that contextualizes her in the struggle of the other two trilogy's protagonists.
Yet the crux of this trilogy isn't with Rey but with Kylo. The most important scene in this new trilogy - a series-first flashback, mind you - is Luke's confrontation with a sleeping Kylo. Even though I appreciate the attempt to reconnect the new series to the other trilogy's core themes, I can't help but feel that it is rather mawkish in the way that it presents Luke as hesitant rather than committed. In that hesitancy to murder Kylo, the First Order is born but also in that hesitancy we are granted a way out of judging Luke too harshly. I think the problem with the sequel's trilogy is rooted in the lack of Luke fully committing to his murder of Kylo. Rian should've pushed it more. He should've made Luke a fallen villain instead of a fallen hero. In that way, Luke would mirror Obi Wan who was instead a fallen hero who could not bring himself to murder Anakin on Mustafar (I would've liked more backstory to Luke/Kylo's relationship so this could be an even more effective mirror!). In that way, we see when given a new set of circumstances, Luke fails where Obi Wan otherwise succeeded. In that way, we understand that Luke is more man than myth unlike Obi Wan who is more myth than man. Instead of disappearing into the Force like Obi Wan before him, Luke submits to him in the flesh. The lightsaber cuts through him and he, as a man, falls. Rey, not Luke, becomes the New Myth because she, unlike Luke and Kylo, is an outsider looking in, a person that is removed from the cycle of problems over mortality that Obi Wan, Anakin, and Luke had. And yet, she is not an outsider. She is "all the Jedi". She is the granddaughter of Palpatine. She has Midichlorians. She is the Chosen One which, as far back as THE FORCE AWAKENS, was always the case. In an effort to rhyme with the older trilogies, Disney never allows Rey to get beyond her own lineage yet the fact that she was never related to anyone (once) was and still is the most fascinating aspect of any of these last three movies. She could have broke the cycle that started with Obi Wan.
She could've been her own person.
As you can see in the structure of this essay, it is extremely difficult to talk about the three trilogies as a whole because the sequel trilogy simply does not rhyme with either of the other trilogies' preoccupation with confronting death. We all should've saw J.J. Abrams' fundamental misinterpretation of the text when the First Order destroys five planets without much build up and no one seems to care all that much. As I say whenever anyone complains about THE LAST JEDI or THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, all the problems begin with THE FORCE AWAKENS.https://letterboxd.com/ws_evans/film/star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker/1/