They absolutely caved in to the most toxic, vocal, entitled part of the fandom – and we all suffer for it.
It’s folly (and just plain incorrect) to treat a feature film as being solely the work of an individual, even its director. But some of the problems in The Rise of Skywalker are trademarks found across JJ Abrams‘ work. So… yeah: blame the director is what I’m going with here.
JJ’s first entry in this new trilogy, The Force Awakens, is A New Hope remade as a fun nostalgia ride. The Rise of Skywalker, sadly, puts on full display how JJ’s most ’emotional’ moments depend entirely on what you remember from other films (Star Trek Into Darkness was, in retrospect, our canary down this mine). The ‘stakes’, such as they are, are Fan Service: references are substituted for story; nothing in ROS is earned – every moment, reference, threat, sentiment, resolution is entirely dependent on the work of the original trilogy to have any resonance here.
And while the OT most certainly had an abundance of horrid lines and laughably soapy story turns, they were almost always accompanied by an additional quality – charm? Patience? Freshness? – to buoy us through them, that is sorely lacking here.
One gets the impression that the two directors are real-life friends – but their back-to-back films make them seem more like two kids squabbling in the playground, one-upping themselves and undercutting eachother with new made-up rules at every turn. ROS so undoes everything The Last Jedi undid before it – “Your parents are nobody!” “Oh no, they only told you that – your parents are really everybody!“; “I smashed Kylo Ren’s helmet!” “I’ll literally rebuild it!”; “No more Snoke!” “Fine, I’ll raise you a Palpatine!”; “Anyone can be a force user!” “Mmmm no only if they’re related” – that it seems JJ just wanted his Episode IX to be a direct sequel to his Episode VII.
Universe < House
The Last Jedi‘s final shot showed a nobody (“Broom Kid”) using force powers. After a series of films all about sins of the father (even Boba bloody Fett got a dad), TLJ offered us the first, in-canon proposition that the concept of Jedi wasn’t localised to a gene pool. While I criticised it at the time for twisting Empire‘s key moments purely for the sake of being not-Empire, the idea of Rey’s parents being “nobody” – that anyone, even a nobody kid, can be a Jedi – proved to be both thematically important and narratively liberating in a way that’s vital to keeping Star Wars going forever (as Disney and Lucasfilm clearly intend to). However, this is all undone when ROS, in its fear of upsetting the most toxic, vocal, entitled part of the fandom, defaults to Palpatine – whose presence was not even hinted at in this new trilogy prior to this – as the big bad. It’s a “creative” move which is not only devoid of creativity, it suddenly shrinks the Star Wars “universe” down to the size of a house.
Speaking of caving in to that toxic fandom: there can be no other reason that Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) has been reduced to a featured extra. Are they trying to teach misogynistic, racist babies that if they scream long and loud enough, they’ll get their way?
While this is probably Daisy Ridley‘s best performance of the three films, Rey is her worst written. And what is it with JJ’s insistence on hiding the (amazing) female faces in his cast? It’s criminal enough making Lupita Nyong’o little CGI Maz Kanata, and encasing Gwendoline Christie in a tin can, but for ROS he brings back Keri Russell, his own Felicity – which you wouldn’t know if you didn’t catch her eyes for the split second they’re revealed or hadn’t seen, y’know, the credits. And every moment with Carrie Fisher on screen is more unsettling than CGI zombie reveal at the end of Rogue One (2016).
While Lucasfilm is famously litigious, their policy allows not-for-profit fan films to be released. YouTube is full of them: independent, crowdfunded, lovingly-made, good-looking short stories set in and around the official “canon”. Over the years, as the gap has continued to close between consumer-level and pro-level tools for production and visual effects in particular, the quality of fan films has risen to meet the canon films they seek to emulate, and have begun to compete with and perhaps even surpass them. One thing that usually ultimately undermines fan films, keeps them from ever really feeling like canon films, is when they fall in the trap of fetishizing their (usually startlingly authentic) props and aesthetics at the expense of story: there’s something… cheap, if not in the visuals, certainly in the focus of (or lack of it on) the narrative. The stand-alone Star Wars “Stories” (Rogue One and Solo, at the time of writing) blur that line by their very nature – what are they, if not Lucasfilm-funded feature-length fan films, attempting to colour in the edges around and between the canon films, fixated on things rather than themes? The new trilogy threatened to blur that line even further: TFA leans heavily into things; TLJ pushes aggressively, and not always popularly, back toward themes; and this tug-o-war effectively designates the third film as tie-breaker, the conclusion which determines definitively where (or if) the line between canon and folklore is drawn, and on which side the canon lands. The final film has no story to set itself apart:
The Rise of Skywalker is about things, not themes; about references, not statements. The line, once blurred, has been erased: the canon is fan fiction; fan films may as well be canon.
More Star Wars Twitter Takes
And now presenting: A Bunch More Calls I Wish I’d Written (And One I Did).
Released a year prior to ROS, Patrick H. Willems’ (sweetly good-natured) looks at how JJ Abrams doesn’t really finish the stories he starts, and how understanding this might help predict what his conclusion of the Skywalker saga might look:
Empire Wreckers‘s deep dive reveals the twists and turns of the production of this “broken” film. ‘How Bad Movies Are Made feat. The Rise of Skywalker‘ seeks not to excuse the film’s flaws, but “to try to figure out why it broke in the first place, to understand how it was supposed to work“: