(Spoilers galore. But if you haven’t seen it by now, I don’t think you’re going to be bothered by spoilers.)
A couple of days after my birthday in 1999 (I partied like it was), I sat in a theater at midnight with a few friends and several hundred new acquaintances and watched the curtain rise on the first Star Wars movie in over fifteen years. George Lucas had decided to embark on filming more of his original vision for the Skywalker saga, and the people in the theater could not have been more excited. The world was going to end in a few months if all the news was any indication, but nobody in that theater cared; we would at least go out having seen a new Star Wars.
We walked out of the theater three hours later feeling very differently. We were all doing that thing you do when your new significant other gives you your first “together” Christmas present and sorely misses the mark. We were telling ourselves it was awesome, we were certainly telling everyone else it was awesome, but in our heart of hearts we knew it was crap and was never going to see the light of day again.
I (and my friends) did the same thing for the other two prequels: attended the midnight first showing, convinced that this one couldn’t be as bad as the last one. We were proven wrong each time. They were bad movies. Not good bad, like Plan Nine from Outer Space, where you could at least laugh at the mistakes. These were stupid bad, “what the !#%^& was he thinking??” bad, Joe vs. the Volcano bad. They had really good actors and actresses in mind-numbing performances (they also had Hayden Christensen), they had horrendous dialog (“I don’t like sand”), they had (does it need to be said?) the worst character in the history of movies. They were so bad that Star Wars fans still refuse to acknowledge they exist; when they watched “all of the Stars Wars movies” prior to the release of Force Awakens, only three films were seen.
Twenty and a half years later, I sat in a theater last week with my son-in-law and an almost empty (foreign) theater in anticipation of the ending of the third trilogy. After two-and-a-half hours, I had a sense of déjà vu. I watched it again the next day with the entire family, and thought maybe a second viewing would change my mind. It didn’t.
I’ve written about the experience of seeing Force Awakens, or, as I called it, A Newer Hope. I was one of the ones whose childhood was not ruined by Rian Johnson. But I’m on record, multiple times, about not having a good feeling about this last one, not least because Abrams was directing. The man knows how to take off, but has no clue how to land a plane; everything he’s ever done has crashed into the ocean in sometimes spectacular fashion. (But a crash is still a crash.) And with all of the childish, misogynistic, racist, and did I mention childish rants about The Last Jedi, the odds were good that Abrams was going to try to “fix” some of what Johnson “broke”. (Johnson didn’t break anything, and Abrams couldn’t have fixed it even if he did.)
So, in a sense I was more prepared for The Rise of Skywalker underachieving than I was for Phantom Menace. Which is a good thing, because RoS is B-A-D. It’s not just bad, it’s lazy. It’s not just lazy, it’s abusive. It’s not just abusive, it’s sadly irrelevant. The prequels disappointed us; with RoS we simply don’t care. And that’s much worse.
The prequels at least had a story. Lucas may not be able to direct, or write a screenplay, or, really, do anything behind a camera but screw things up, but the stories in his head are spectacular. He just needs someone else to do the work of communicating them. Terry Brooks of Shannara and Magic Kingdom and The Word fame wrote the novelization of Phantom Menace, and as you read it you wonder why in the world someone didn’t film that story? And then you realize Lucas did, he just did it really, really poorly.
RoS (and FA/A Newer Hope before it), doesn’t even have that going for it. This trilogy, and especially RoS, should lose Kathleen Kennedy her job. It is clear that there was no overall story for the final trilogy, no framework for everyone to work from, no scaffolding that would ensure that the movies had someplace to go. She rejected not only thirty years of canon, she rejected The Author’s own ideas on where the story could go. Both would have been OK if she had had a better idea, but she not only didn’t have a better one, she didn’t have one at all. That is simply unforgivable.
RoS is lazy because, like FA/A Newer Hope before it, it recycles everything in the original trilogy. It brings back someone who’s been dead for thirty-five years in the opening crawl. It also:
- Crams everyone who ever appeared in the first movie into the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit for a group shot. “Hey, look, you like all of these people, right? We got them all together for you! You like us, right?”
- Provides cameos that it has to linger on for several seconds in case you miss the fact they’re feeding you cameos. “Hey, remember Wedge, look, we got him back? You like us, right?”
- Brings back Lando for a total of maybe four lines, three of which make the prequels dialog look positively Shakespearean.
- Uses castoff footage of Leia from FA/A Newer Hope with a lot of bad editing to try (unsuccessfully) to make it look like she’s actually in the scenes and then commits the unforgivable sin (and one Abrams said repeatedly he wasn’t going to do) of inflicting another de-aging scene of her as she supposedly looked in the original trilogy. Because, hey, you love Carrie Fisher and so you’ll love us again, right?
- Crams even more planet-killers in, because if one planet-killer is good, then a whole fleet of them must be awesome. And who cares if a year ago it took planet-sized machinery and the energy of an entire sun to pull it off, I’m sure Moore’s Law comes into play here somewhere, right?
RoS is bad because… well, frankly, it’s too long a list. Some of the more egregious reasons:
- The aforementioned Palpatine. Kylo Ren was already a pretty good bad guy (he killed Han Solo, for crying out loud), we didn’t need another one. Especially one that was resurrected from the dead by who knows who, who knows when, who knows why, and, really, who cares about any of it?
- Lightspeed skipping. Not only lightspeed skipping, but tracking during lightspeed skipping.
- Kylo kills his dad, but “converts” after hearing a single call from his mom.
- If you’re going to “kill” Chewie, then let him stay dead for a while. There is no emotional impact, or reason for the misdirection, if you’re only going to reveal he’s alive two minutes later. Further, it’s internally inconsistent; if Rey can detect his presence on Ren’s ship, why couldn’t she detect his absence on the shuttle? It was a pointless exercise, like the rest of the movie.
- Rewriting Leia’s history. As previously noted, the space-walk sequence in TLJ was the worst decision of the middle chapter, and although Abrams tries to retcon the entire movie (more on that in a moment), he decides to double down on Leia as Jedi. It’s absurd. 1
RoS is abusive because Abrams (and presumably Disney) decided to pander to the abusive 1% of their audience who drove Kelly Marie Tran off of social media, among other things. Abrams essentially takes a dump on TLJ and everyone who thought it was the best movie of the trilogy. (It’s not even close.)
- He makes Rose disappear.
- He makes DJ disappear.
- He turns Rey’s parents from nobodies to a son and daughter-in-law of Palpatine.
- He has Luke, who throws away his own lightsaber because he’s no longer interested in them or what they represent, allegedly keep Leia’s in hiding. (We’ve already covered the fact that Leia even having a lightsaber in the established movie universe is absurd.)
- He goes way out of his way to malign the most beautifully filmed sequence in any Star Wars movie, the so-called “Holdo maneuver.” In doing so he reveals himself as not only incompetent, but petty as well.
- He paints a galaxy that is much more interested in supporting Lando than they were Leia, and to a ridiculous level.
RoS is sadly irrelevant because nothing makes people stop caring about something faster than demonstrating you don’t care about it, either. And what RoS shows is that Abrams, and Kennedy, and Disney, don’t care about Star Wars at all. They didn’t care enough to provide an overarching plot for the trilogy, they didn’t care enough to move the story, and the story’s universe, forward, and they didn’t care enough to keep a hack who repeated the first movie from repeating the third one, too. This post is probably the last I’m going to think about the movie. My next scheduled viewing is right after I’ve watched all of the prequels again, which will be approximately never.
In TLJ, Kylo tells Rey to “let the past die, kill it if you have to.” Disney decided to pander to it instead, and in doing so they killed their future. Or at least us caring about it.