Never before in my life have I relied so completely on Star Wars for escapism. Never before have the words “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” felt so much like a sigh of relief.

The parallels to real life are there. They’ve always been there, purposefully so. The best science-fiction is never fully removed from reality; the best science-fiction creators choose this genre not to reject reality but to reflect it, showing truth on the opposite side of a mirror. I can’t ignore that part of Star Wars, and I don’t, even as I’ve been watching all 11 movies on an endless loop these past few weeks. 

In a paradoxical way, maybe that’s part of the reason they’re so comforting. The state of the galaxy is far worse than it is here on this dying little planet. But the heroes still win in the end.

It’s the sequel trilogy that I’ve been rewatching the most obsessively, though. These days, my obsessions are mostly internalized — a far cry from my 11-year-old self who wouldn’t shut up about Padmé and Anakin for what must have seemed like an interminable year for everybody around me before, during and after the release of Attack of the Clones. Still, I’m not ashamed to admit that not a day has passed since December 15, 2017, that I haven’t thought about Rey and Kylo Ren.

That’s my secret, Cap: I’m a Reylo. 

Except it’s not really a secret. And I’m not as fandom-wars militant about it as are most self-professed Reylos who are constantly Mad Online because they don’t actually know what they want out of this ship. But that’s a rant for another time. I could write a whole thesis about why I love the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren / Ben Solo, starting with the typical J.J. Abrams move of establishing a mysterious, barebones foundation in The Force Awakens, growing exponentially with Rian Johnson’s masterful character work in The Last Jedi and finally reaching a surprisingly satisfying conclusion despite the rush job that is The Rise of Skywalker.

I could write that, and I feel like I have a thousand times in my head (and on Twitter) already, but it comes down to a pretty simple thing: If I’m watching a movie, and characters I like start doing something that makes me think, “Oh, I’ve written and / or read this fanfic before”? Chances are I’m gonna love it.

Because let’s be honest: The sequel trilogy — and everything Disney has produced since purchasing the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas —  is just fanfic, on a massive scale. 

Producing something new completely divorced from its original creator, focusing on the next generation of heroes and villains while pulling heavily from what came before, pushing the limits of what a Star Wars story can be (sometimes successfully and sometimes not). Kids, that’s fanfic. The only thing that’s missing is women writing the majority of it, but that, too, is another rant for another time.

In any case, that very simple classification accounts for why I love the sequel trilogy so much, and why so many other people don’t. If you didn’t grow up reading and / or writing fanfic, I can see why it would be difficult to open yourself up to the possibilities it presents. Classic heroes who are tarnished, old and defined by their failures; new heroes whose strength lies in part in their diversity; classic villains who Always Come Back; new villains who are ostensibly a revamp of an old one but this time “done right.”

In something as historically polarizing as Star Wars, even just one of these ideas would send tempers flaring. But all of them? Welcome to the Internet for the past five years.

But who cares about the Internet? I only care about me. The sequel trilogy — specifically epitomized by The Rise of Skywalker — has always felt right to me because of its similarities to the extracurricular stories I grew up with, flaws and all. Maybe especially because of its flaws. Like a lot of fanfic writers, Abrams throws a lot at the wall and lucks out when it all manages to come together at the end. It’s a simultaneously chaotic and lazy creation style that drives a lot of people insane, but I learned a long time ago to roll with it. And in the middle of the pulp-adventure, self-referential, “somehow Palpatine returned” bonanza is the one thing Abrams really gets right: Rey and Ben.

Without the two of them coming together, the final installment of the Skywalker saga would be meaningless. The scavenger who rejects her heritage to save the galaxy and the prodigal son who embraces his to save her? That’s the ending I didn’t believe Abrams would give us, as much as I wanted something like it; my expectations going into The Rise of Skywalker were extremely low. But thank goodness he did because it’s the ending both Rey and Ben deserved. 

If I had the energy, this is where I would get into some big-picture refutations of the inexplicably naïve idea that Ben Solo should’ve survived the end of The Rise of Skywalker. But you’ve probably noticed this review is a day late, and I’ve not talked about the special features of the DVD / Blu-ray. Between self-isolation and taking care of a 1-year-old full time, I barely have the energy to write about this movie at all. So we’ll save those arguments for another time as well.

For now, here’s a collection of small details that I love more each time I watch this movie:

  • Kylo Ren going full Heathcliff and Rey continuing to reject him because she knows herself so completely.
  • Rey killing Kylo Ren and then healing not just his mortal wound but the scar she put on his face at the end of The Force Awakens, resurrecting Ben Solo at last.
  • Ben having no dialogue after he throws away Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, and turning the Solo swagger up to 11 when he fights the Knights of Ren. 
  • And their final moments together: the sacrifice, the resurrection, the brief joy from a kiss. Straight out of a fanfic? Maybe. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

The Star Wars movies, but particularly The Rise of Skywalker, are helping me through this horrific year. Escapism has been my default coping mechanism my entire life, so you can dismiss my compulsion to continue rewatching this movie — and all the bullshit I just wrote — as much as you want. But I don’t know. It seems stupid to snark about Star Wars online when the world that existed just four months ago is likely gone forever. The Rise of Skywalker is one of the only things making me happy right now. Can’t I just have this?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.