So, the moment has arrived. The Rise of Skywalker is in movie theaters across the world. Having watched it, I’m left with a dissatisfied feeling. I loved some elements but overall found it disjointed. A series of set-pieces with a common story arc that somehow didn’t mesh together. This has led to lots of wondering why I didn’t enjoy it. What went wrong, and where, if anywhere, I’d like to see Disney take the Star Wars universe next.
Everybody’s Star Wars experience is different. I’ve loved the saga from a young age, but I’ve never been an “all-in” consumer. I’ve read barely any of the novels or comic-book stories. Put off by the prequels, I only ended up watching The Clone Wars because I thought my children would enjoy them. I still haven’t watched them all. I loved Rebels. I live in the UK, so I haven’t been able to catch up with The Mandalorian yet, but I’m looking forward to doing so. I spent part of this weekend painting Star Wars: Legion Shoretroopers. Yes. I like Star Wars.
Movie-wise, I thought that The Force Awakens was a well-crafted homage. A modern-remake. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t really meant for me. I had my memories of the original trilogy; TFA was a new film for a new generation. I thought The Last Jedi was excellent. The best Star Wars movie since Empire. Afterwards, I was really excited to see where this trilogy would go. The balance between Rey and Ren, perfect. I was thrilled that the franchise had stepped out of the shadow of destiny. Anybody could be a hero.
The Rise of Skywalker had a lot riding on it for me. It was going to bring things together as a whole, make sense of the previous eight episodes. It was going to be AWESOME!
It was probably never going to fulfill my expectations. Perhaps then dissatisfaction is unfair. Inevitable.
Episode IX, however, will not be the last Star Wars movie. Here are a few things I’d like future directors to consider.
I don’t know too much about how blockbuster movies are made, but I do know a little bit about stories. If you’re going to create a multi-million dollar trilogy, perhaps aim for consistency across your writers and storyline. Don’t let the person who writes part 3 ride rough-shod over part 2. The story of part 2 might not have been in the direction you wanted it to go, but you just have to go with it. Nothing jars a narrative like back-peddling on key plot points.
The Last Jedi was at great pains to show us that Rey’s parentage was unimportant. But we were ret-conned. This switcheroo is barely acknowledged, covered in a single line. It leaves us, the viewer, cheated. Nothing is real… Really? A Palpatine? *sigh.*
When I read Antony Daniels’ autobiography, there was a section that rang alarm bells, which became more poignant after watching the film.
“The script was as ever changing as the terrain. Each new rewrite on a different rainbow paper hue… The verbal attrition grew on a daily basis. Even hourly. Beloved scenes, gone.”
Daniels does say he felt that he thought the changes were for the better, and perhaps he did, but such constant rewriting is hardly likely to deliver a smooth end product. If further trilogies are in the offing, can we please have a singular vision from start to finish?
Stop Looking Backwards.
How many Star Wars movies involve a small band of plucky fighters trying to overcome insurmountable odds, trying to bring down planet-destroying weapons? Too many, that’s how many. You’d already done that once J.J., we really didn’t need it again.
Whilst arguably still looking backward, the two strongest movies storywise in the modern era of Disney films have been Rogue One and Solo. Though still about plucky underdogs, the central story is different enough to offer fresh perspectives and ideas.
The Abrams movies, in particular, feel like they carry too much weight of what has gone before. I like a cameo as much as the next man, and Iove it when little bits of story or character from one part of the franchise appear in another, but in this film, I found it overdone. It was cute in Force Awakens but here it was too much. We weren’t here for homage, we were here for a continuation of the saga and the rise of something new.
Which brings us back to Palpatine. We didn’t need him back. He was dead. There’s not really any such thing as evil incarnate and modern fiction requires a more subtle treatment. The duplicity of Hux is far more interesting storytelling, but even this was reduced to almost nothing, and without context, it felt like a pastiche of Callus’ change of allegiance in Rebels.
Cool Toys Can Make Good Characters Too.
I have a bit of a bugbear about the Star Wars franchise: reinvention for the sake of new toys (I wrote about it ages ago). Subtle variation in ships, randomly colored arms, or lightsabers with sticky-out bits. All excellent ways to shift units. Kylo Ren’s reworked helmet is case in point here (which also reversed something important from The Last Jedi, I think), as is the largely pointless new droid.
Beyond that, there’s Boba Fett, Captain Phasma, and now Zorii Bliss. All effortlessly cool, and all mostly superfluous. Phasma’s contribution to the saga is laughable and it was irritating that Zorii Bliss received short-shrift from the screenwriters. Her character and relationship with Poe were potentially interesting, but now she’s just another faceless character in a cool helmet.
In future stories, I’d like to see these cool looking characters be given storylines that match their outfits.
Keep It Small.
In Scream 2, one of the characters talks at length about the rules of the sequel—essentially more death, more extreme scenes. And so it is with Star Wars. Especially if you’re going to keep telling the same story over and over again. In each iteration, the Death Star had to keep getting bigger and bigger, even more destructive. The fleets had to be more extreme. We don’t have a Death Star here; instead, we have a ridiculously-sized armada of effectively mini Death Stars, which, fortunately, again, have a weakness that can be exploited.
Solo and Rogue One work because they’re small-scale stories. Rogue One still has a big ship battle, but the heart of its storytelling relies on the backstories and interactions of its characters. Rise of Skywalker is at its strongest when it focuses on the relationships between Rey, Ben, Leia, Poe, and Finn. These are the human elements that give meaning to all the pew pew. Sadly, these moments are overwhelmed, by all the ships, Maguffins, and ever-shifting locations.
When the next movies arrive, I want to see smaller, human stories. We know there are huge powerful ships in the galaxy, with the ability to destroy entire planets, but what is it like living in the shadow of that? Perhaps, the villain is only a little bit evil, doesn’t want to subjugate the entire universe, but nevertheless needs dealing with. How might that story go?
Keep It Local.
I know that planet-hopping is thematically important to Star Wars movies but I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the need to switch to a new and amazing location every five minutes. The desert carnival was a fascinating location, and just when it looked like we might learn something about it and our heroes, as they mixed with its inhabitants, we were whisked off somewhere else.
In future movies, I’d love to learn more about just one or two of the myriad locations in the Star Wars universe. The lore of Star Wars is amazingly well thought out and we all love it. With it as a backdrop, countless stories could be told. We’ve passed the point where we need to keep seeing new planet after new planet. By all means, introduce more, but sit, stay awhile; soak up the atmosphere. The Star Wars movies are starting to feel like the equivalent of visiting 17 European countries in 14 days. You can do it, but are you getting the best from the places you’re visiting?
Make Tough Decisions.
This is a bit of a difficult one. Nobody likes to see their favorite characters killed, and we love these characters. It was slightly frustrating that the film ducked two huge decisions. The “death” of Chewie was totally unexpected and shocked me to the core. When it was undone, without a particularly satisfactory reason, I felt cheated. Similarly, the “death” of Threepio didn’t occur either. It was just played for laughs. Tough though it may have been, following through with either of these would have made the movie stronger.
I’m not suggesting the Star Wars writers go all Game of Thrones on us, but I think anybody in the series SHOULD be fair game, and the writers shouldn’t be afraid to cut our favorites. It fell to the old guard to take on the responsibility of dying (albeit, sadly enforced in the case of Leia), which is disappointing. The old are expendable? Maybe. There is probably a whole other article-worth of thoughts around the Star Wars theme of the older generation sacrificing itself for the next (Rogue One a noticeable exception here).
Yes, we love our characters, but often we love them more if they don’t feel untouchable.
A Little Time Ahead in a Galaxy Far Far Away…
There is little news about what is coming to movie theaters in the coming years. A cursory search suggests some Christmas releases starting up again in 2022. I’d be happy for them to feature characters from the latest trilogy, but I would like them to be more personal and on a smaller scale.
The Star Wars universe is amazing. Brilliant stories can be told in any of its eras. There are so many things I love about its lore and mythology. With even just half an eye for the things I’ve mentioned here, the movies that come next can get better and better. Hopefully, they can inspire the next generation of Star Wars fans without winking at the rest of us.