It’s been, roughly, two and a half years since the last Star Wars movie. In the history of Star Wars release schedules, this is not a very long time. The longest gap was the 16 years in between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. Right now, we aren’t even quite at the previously customary three years between active trilogy chapters. (Though, we would be at the stage where the hype machine would have kicked in and we’d feel like something was coming soon.) But, since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, two and a half years is a long time. Between the release of The Force Awakens in December 2015 and The Rise of Skywalker in December 2019 – only four full years – there were, somehow, five feature length Star Wars movies. Anyway, my point is, at least in this current era of Star Wars, two and a half years is a good amount of time to have a breather and to have enough distance to look back with at least some kind of introspective reflection on the Sequel Trilogy.
Admittedly, with this piece, I thought about rewatching The Rise of Skywalker and kind of forcing myself to appreciate something in that movie. A kind of way to say, hey, you know, I may not have liked this at first, but there’s actually some okay stuff in here. Yeah, so, that failed. I couldn’t make it through without giving up. The Rise of Skywalker is, bluntly, an unpleasant experience. My body responds to it the same way it responds to the idea of watching Nothing but Trouble. I could be watching any movie ever made, why am I doing this to myself? So, yes, I scrapped that idea pretty early on.
Even I don’t always trust my initial enthusiastic opinions when it comes to Star Wars movies. I loved every Prequel movie the first time I saw them – each time at midnight, with a very enthusiastic crowd – and only on later viewings did the feeling sink in of, “hm, perhaps I was wrong.” (Though, as I’ve written about, I have come around on Attack of the Clones, precisely because it’s the only one of the three that kind of knows what it is, and now I appreciate it for knowing that.)
But with The Rise of Skywalker, a bucket list event for me was a Star Wars premiere. Because of my job, I am in the rare position that I can go to these. But they take place in Los Angeles and I live in New York, so I had never been. So, on my own dime, I flew to Los Angeles and slept on a friend’s futon just to see this movie. If anything, I was going to convince myself I was having a great time. No one wants to admit the thing that cost them a lot of money is “bad.” About halfway through the movie I couldn’t even fool myself anymore. I, the same person who on opening night thought The Phantom Menace was a masterpiece, was resigned to the fact that The Rise of Skywalker was not a good movie. The way the premiere was set up, you leave the theater and it exists right into the after-party. So for the next couple of hours, I just sat there at a small table, with a frown, drinking some blue drink with smoke coming off of it. (A publicist, who hadn’t seen the movie that night, tells me I was the first one this person asked for a reaction to the movie. The way the story is told, the look on my face was the first sign this publicist had that, “oh, we might have a problem.”)
The reason I’m writing all this about The Rise of Skywalker is, since then, some interesting things have happened I didn’t expect. That night, and the initial weeks after, my attitude was basically, well, that movie was the pits, but I still like The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. And, today, that’s still technically true.
The Force Awakens does a great job of introducing great new characters and, despite a derivative third act, it’s still a really fun movie. And it’s fantastic watching Harrison Ford have a good time as Han Solo again, which he truly hadn’t had since The Empire Strikes Back. (I truly believe most all of Ford’s hatred towards Han Solo came from Return of the Jedi. He’s right that the character has no arc in that movie and plays really no role in the plot, which is why he wanted to be killed off in Jedi because at least that’s something. He’s the best pilot in the galaxy, so of course in the final battle he’s just running around with the Ewoks for some reason. And at this point, Ford is a big star (he wasn’t when Star Wars and Empire came out) who had just headlined Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner and, then, was playing second fiddle again. Anyway, I’ll always appreciate The Force Awakens for letting Ford learn to like Han Solo, at least a little bit, again.
And The Last Jedi is just everything a modern Star Wars movie with something to say should be. Letting go of nostalgia and the idea that maybe there are other people in this galaxy other than Skywalkers. My favorite scene in this movie is literally, almost as a throw-off line, Rey’s hope and dreams are dashed by Kylo Ren telling her she’s just the kid of junk traders who abandoned her. it was a shocking reveal in that there’s no shocking reveal. It’s a truly fantastic plot point and character point, with Rey, now, not relying on some mythical heritage to save her, but now she’s just left alone to have to do this herself. It made Rey herself important. She wasn’t a cog in the machine. She was now the machine. It’s a brilliant and daring story beat. I’ll never understand the backlash to the whole “Rey is a nobody” thing. Her not being related to someone with Force powers made her a somebody! Just being the kid of someone doesn’t make anyone a somebody. It might actually be the opposite. Also, all the Jedi we meet in the Prequels all aren’t related to someone. They aren’t Skywalkers. Half of them might be the spawn of junk traders, too. How did this ever become a thing?
But for The Rise of Skywalker to just undo that by making Rey the grandaughter of Palpatine is unforgivable. (And, honestly, makes no sense whatsoever.) That decision alone, for me, retroactively ruined the other two movies. I think I could have lived with the plot of a Star Wars movie being a dumb, “let’s find the doodad, so we can find the other doodad, so we can find the magic map knife, so we can find the secret room,” type of movie as long as the plot remained intact. It would have been fluff, but whatever. But, no, that’s not what happened. They made a scavenger hunt movie and decided to ruin the previous movie in the process. So, I hope, someday, I can get to the point of pretending The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t exist and just enjoying the other two movies for what they are, but, two and a half years later, I am not there. Now, trying to watch The Last Jedi, I just get a sinking feeling with every story beat I like that, I know now, gets overturned in the next movie. So, instead of just forgetting about The Rise of Skywalker, I’ve, unfortunately, sort of subconsciously, forgotten about all three. I hope this changes, but that’s where I am at. And it’s a shame, because I truly enjoyed all the hype and the run-up to all three movies. It’s just so strange this was allowed to happen.
(I truly think this is why Solo is looked at in a better light today. At the time it’s like, what is this? Let’s just get back to the main story. Then we got back to the main story and saw what that actually was, and now it’s like, hey, you know, Solo is a lot of fun!)
A constant complaint I see is that “there should have been a plan” before these movies started. Though, the thing is, there was a plan. Originally it was reported that Rian Johnson would write and direct 8, but also write 9. If that was the original plan, well that’s actually a plan and would have brought cohesiveness to the whole trilogy. I get it, you may not like Johnson’s The Last Jedi, but I will hear no arguments about whatever he would have done with 9 would have been better than what we wound up getting. Now, you may not have liked it, but at least it would have made sense. The other thing I point out here is the Original Trilogy was made up as it went along. But the difference being it was pretty much the same brain-trust working on it the whole time, led by, of course, George Lucas. So if he decides to retcon something, well at least it’s his own story. (As opposed to “spite.”) But even then, it doesn’t always work out for the best. The whole “other” that Yoda mentions in The Empire Strikes Back was originally supposed to be the hero of the Sequel Trilogy, so basically what turned out to be Rey. That would have been pretty cool, actually. To tie these trilogies together. But, Lucas then decided he wanted to end after the Prequels and they had to wrap up the whole “other” plot point, so at the last minute they came up with Luke and Leia being siblings.
It’s kind of weird we don’t even know what movie will be next. (The fact there have been Star Wars television shows has probably quelled that a bit.) We keep hearing about high-profile directors being attached, then nothing ever seems to come of it, or it gets “delayed.” Though with today being Star Wars Day, and Star Wars Celebration coming at the end of the month, I’m sure this will all change soon. But as all these other side projects happen, exploring other parts of the galaxy, what will become of this Sequel Trilogy? Will it, over time, become more popular like the Prequels did? Honestly, I don’t know. I think more kids were into Star Wars in the late ’90s than they are now. So I’m not convinced the same effect will happen. But, for now, it just feels like a disappointment. At least the Prequels had an arc and a story. So if I decide to watch those again, at least there’s a payoff and a conclusion at the end. A strong case can be made the Sequel Trilogy were better-made films but without an arc and story, what does it matter? Why would I watch one movie, then two movies after that just kind of cancel each other out, to the point there’s nothing? Something interesting was right there. But, now, it all kind of feels like it was for nothing.
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