In short, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was a historically uninteresting and safe finale to a historic anthology. It took everything that was exciting from the average movies that came before it and reversed those choices, culminating in a movie that was both befuddling and stale white bread at the same time.
I intentionally avoided spoilers over the weekend and safely arrived yesterday afternoon without an inkling of information about the story of ROS. I was generally excited and was willing to compartmentalize the disappointment in the podcast titles waiting in my phone to be heard after sitting through the movie. When I left the movie a few hours later, I wasn’t upset, angry, or despondent. The action and the set pieces were intense and well-crafted, and were a good popcorn experience. However, the more I pondered over the details of the film the more upset I was with the choices made by Star Wars and ultimately Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Iger.
I’m sure they won’t read this over the holidays as they count their stacks of cash from their $374 million opening weekend, but things need to be said. The bastardisation of this series and this movie in particular must be met with sweeping change. For a series of movies with a built-in blockbuster base, safety and acquiescing to fan complaints is the wrong approach. Like a Bob Dylan album on Pitchfork, Disney could make a movie with Harrison Ford banging pots and pans in his kitchen for 2 hours and it would have a multi-hundred million dollar opening weekend. Disney should be pushing boundaries and making unique choices with their directorial and storytelling approach moving forward.
The Watch podcast explained it best in their review, when referring to JJ Abrams as the “steward” of the Star Wars franchise. His role was not to surprise and potentially provoke its fan base, but to appease their every need and demand. His storytelling paralleled running the Sixers with the results of accrued WIP Twitter fan poll votes after nationally televised losses. Afraid of the Rian Johnson backlash, Abrams hand waved everything that angered the fan base and rocked the fan base back to sleep. He led us to new planets and introduced us to new characters to market and sell, but didn’t build us a story to remember. Everything that was great and groundbreaking about the original movies was recycled, rehashed, and repackaged as new, providing an excuse to sell yellow light sabers and BB8s all holiday season.
Is this living by every fan demand limited to the Star Wars universe or a universal issue for all blockbusters? Well, that depends what you are looking at. Directly down the hall, Kevin Feige is working within the same constraints and delivering substantially better results. Should we try to make a superhero comedy? Sure. Thor: Ragnorak, a smashing success. Should we try to make a “romantic comedy”. Yeah! Ant Man and Wasp was great. Is Feige given more of magical leash from the big mouse to try different choices because of a proven track record? Maybe, but Star Wars has this same history and built-in fan base that should allow this same experimentation. Imagine an R-rated Star Wars movie? A thriller? The most compelling and, arguably, best movie in the franchise killed off its main characters in an emotional pay off with real stakes. This movie couldn’t even bear to leave its dead lying.
Ultimately, it seems like Star Wars is taking a step back to evaluate its future and direction moving forward. Feige has been invited on board to right the ship. These decisions and the success and intrigue around The Mandalorian seem to reflect that they are taking steps in the right direction. Good! This sacred universe has so much to explore and so many new stories to tell. I’m glad we are leaving the Skywalker saga in the past and moving into a murky and mysterious future. I beg Bob Iger and his big mouse ears to take a step back, look at the landscape of incredibly creative film making, and drop the bag at the doorstep of any number of young and up-and-comers. We will keep buying tickets, I promise.