A long, long time ago… forty odd years even, the cultural phenomenon of Star Wars was born on a budget.
It’s original trilogy teetered on the edge between bad 70s B-movies and the stuff of myth and legends, a la Joseph Campbell. It was the film equivalent of 90s garage bands that made it big in the grunge scene by being visceral and real, with mistakes and warts left into the original recordings. These films were hobbled together with spare parts and improvisation, making the final product very human and unique.
Disney is absolutely amazing at many things, but I think it goes without saying that what I just described isn’t really in their wheelhouse.
The best way I can describe The Rise of Skywalker is if one fed the scripts of all previous Star Wars movies to an intelligent yet uninspired AI, and asked it to author an ending in the name of marketing. This AI managed to try its hardest to combine two things. One, strained nostalgic throwbacks for longtime fans in an attempt to placate long-time consumers. And two, cheap, easy, lazy tricks for younger audiences. Even its attempts to be surprising or new only produced the same types of surprise offered by previous iterations of the series.
The result was predictable. An utter soulless remake of a good tune. An echo of a copy of an echo of a copy. It fumbled through with no sense of real urgency. A series of repetitions lacking any real surprise or wonder in a franchise who’s selling point has always been creative inspiration and the stuff of daydreams.
I’ve said before that the main differences between Star Trek and Star Wars is that one is SCIENCE fiction, while the other is science FICTION, and one of the greatest mistakes Star Wars could have made is to have gotten too technical on futurism. However… Rise of Skywalker went so far in the other direction that even the innocent and childlike sense of belief as a virtue was strained to its breaking point.
Without giving any spoilers… let me just say that this franchise is supposed to exist in space, and it might be helpful to have an understanding of what actual space entails.
The supernatural, religious powers of the force broke limits, reminiscent of layering every conceivable power on top of one another until there was nothing Superman could not do. Luke was, at his heart, a farm boy and as epic as his powers could be, he was still more human than God. Rey, by contrast, is not a scavenger, no matter how many times every other character insists she is. Star Wars, were it to learn from modern comic franchises, should have learned from Marvel’s success, but instead chose to emulate DC’s comparative failures.
This may be overly critical. After all, Star Wars is meant to be a children’s franchise about spaceships, wizards, and laser swords. It’s undeniable that I was never a larger Star Wars fan than when I first saw the movies as a child, and my children have loved what Disney has accomplished. Perhaps the answer to my critique can be summed up with the phrase “OK, Boomer” (despite the fact that I’m a Xennial born somewhere between A New Hope and Empire).
There are some redeemable qualities from the latest film. I’m going to be vague to avoid specific spoilers, but… A lack of navy, navy. A feeling that there’s silently more of us than there are of “them”, if only the inspiration can rally. The dark forces of the Sith were never darker than depicted here, and the imagined population level of control sought was nearly on the level of entire populations directed by Sith puppeteers in the old Extended Universe (now Legends) lore.
And on top of all that, my children loved it. If Disney can do anything, they can make things epic for children. There’s a visual “coolness” factor in imagery that can impress, even when its setups seem forced. Disney somehow managed to have an ultimate battle between good and evil while allowing for conflicted and flawed characters to lead the story along.
In other words, take your kids but don’t take a date.
But at the end of it all, Disney had two groups it tried to cater to – the young and the old. In trying a little too desperately to manufacture nostalgia while avoiding excessive risk, the movie was left with little to say.
“Imagine” may be a great catchphrase, but imagination was left bleeding on the side of the road in order to make room for the almighty proven formula. It took no chances, and it’s biggest mistake was not being willing to make any.