I’ve Been Thinking about the Rise of Skywalker

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As things developed, I had the chance to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker twice in December, and in-between I had the opportunity to read up and discuss at length as we all tried to process the final installment in the nine-picture saga.

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Right up front, I’ll say I was entertained and mostly satisfied while watching it the first time, on opening night at the legendary Senator Theater. As the lengthy credits roller and I began to process what I had just witnessed, the questions began.

As I continued to ponder the story, I began to realize things, many or most of which others have already identified across mass media.

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On a second viewing, few of the questions got answered and I could just settle in and enjoy it for the popcorn film it really needed to be. Taking the long view, the first film just that, a popcorn bit of entertainment designed by visual filmmaker George Lucas. While his first hit, American Graffiti, was a tribute to his teen years, Star Wars went back further to his childhood, celebrating the movie serials that kept him entertained between trips to the newsstand for comic books.

He was caught off-guard by the film’s runaway success in 1977 as everyone else and 20th Century Fox, which was always lukewarm to the idea, now wanted a sequel. Quickly, Lucas began talking about a nine film saga, or was it twelve? Before the summer ended, he slapped Episode IV on the crawl and we were now in the middle of a story.

But what was the story? He was always vague on the details although they clearly began to coalesce as he went to work on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. However, it was also evident the ideas remained ephemeral and ever-changing. The man credited with turning Joseph Campbell and his Hero with a Thousand Faces into an overnight success, was slow to mention the universal hero’s journey.

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What we have to remember is that Lucas was a filmmaker interested in film and technique, story being a mere tool. THX-1138, his student film turned into his first feature, was a cold, austere tale that was not especially a thrilling experience.

No, Lucas was making it up as he went along, as he obviously spent more time figuring out how to render new worlds in CGI rather than provide us with an engrossing story of the Empire’s rise, setting the stage for Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Jedi Knights to fight and fall in the name of freedom. Although he had reportedly conceived of midchlorians way back at the beginning, he felt he had no room to mention them in any of the first three films (or novels or comic books or the comic strip) but they arrive as an important piece of the backstory.


Similarly, the new trilogy, now entirely run by Kathleen Kennedy and the overlords at Disney, had that make it up as you go along approach. First, they gave the reins to J.J. Abrams, who felt it was necessary to remake A New Hope in the interest of reminding people of what made the franchise terrific, forgetting the DVDs and endless cable airing during the intervening years. He handed things off nicely, with an arresting final moment, to director Rian Johnson, who upended everything and went in a very different direction in a film that proved divisive among the cast and fans alike. Then, after Colin Trevorrow was tossed off the closing chapter, Kennedy turned back to Abrams. Meanwhile, the loss of Carrie Fisher apparently derailed the first set of plans that would have laced Leia Organa in a central role.

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Despite all the interviews where names were dropped and credit shared, the film still felt like it was made up in part as fan service being the concluding chapter and one that actually told the story.

Unfortunately, what happened in the intervening years is that film storytelling changed dramatically thanks to that other Disney acquisition: Marvel. Under Kevin Feige and a small close-knit group, they began to organically build a cinematic shared universe that proved wildly successful, spanning 11 years and 22 films. Audiences had been trained to wait for the end credit sequences and scan for Easter Eggs that promised things to come.

Between Episodes VIII and IX, we got Avengers; Endgame, a three hour film that actually worked as a satisfying conclusion to a much larger cycle of films while serving up moments that made fans cry out with joy (take your pick). As you heard the hammer and tongs go to work as the film faded, you were happy, delirious with joy even. If they didn’t make another Marvel film, the cycle ended and every character was well served.

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This final trilogy needed to have been plotted out in one sitting, ensuring all the plot points be addressed and characters receiving the attention deserved. It needed to seamlessly introduce the new, younger protagonists while setting up seeding the Palpatine threat from the get-go so it didn’t feel tacked on.

Rise of Skywalker doesn’t accomplish this which is why fans aren’t thrilled, the reviews weren’t as positive, and box office projections show it lagging behind its predecessors. Critics are justified in noting the story largely ignores Episode VIII and Rose Tico is underserved while Beaumont Kin, who is never named, seems to get better lines and more screen time. There are far too many nits to pick all of which add up to diminishing the impact the film makes.

It could have been stronger. It should have been better.

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