Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker | Why I’m Not Nervous (Okay, Maybe a Bit)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be released in theaters on December 20, 2019. After over 40 years, the saga of a galaxy far, far away will come to a conclusion. Am I excited? Yes! Am I nervous about whether it’ll be good? Not at all. Am I nervous that talking about Star Wars has become fraught with all kinds of inter-fandom drama over the last few years? Sure am!
I’ve shared before just how excited I get for new Star Wars movies. Here I try to make clear how I feel about Star Wars as it goes into this final chapter. Just one diehard nerd’s thoughts. Hope you enjoy…
Tuesday, November 26, 2019.
The audience had finished watching “Knives Out,” and it was time for the Q&A with writer-director Rian Johnson.
Two years after the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Johnson was promoting his new movie which, unlike his installment of Star Wars, was being received with near-universal praise.
It took about eight questions before someone broached the controversial elephant in the room. A man in the center of the theater, ten rows back, stood up.
“Chris Evans was unrecognizable in this movie,” he said. “It’s something I’ve noticed you do – and I love this about your work, by the way. But you were able to turn Luke Skywalker into the biggest asshole in the room. And now you were able to turn Captain America into this huge asshole. And I’m just wondering – who’s next?”
Johnson’s face remained unchanged through the question – no eye-rolling, no wincing. He listened politely and answered respectfully.
“I don’t know who’s next,” said Johnson. “Any ideas?” And then he paused.
“But by the way, I disagree entirely with your characterization of Luke Skywalker in that film. There’s a lot you can say about Luke Skywalker, but he is not an asshole. And I think maybe you should go back and re-watch the film.”
There was applause in the room. And for some, a feeling of relief—a respectful disagreement about the very soul of the Jedi hero at the heart of Star Wars.
Since 2017, the Star Wars fandom has disagreed—in many cases without the grace or respect of Rian Johnson’s Q&A response—about whether Luke Skywalker is an “asshole,” and to a greater extent, whether the direction of the Star Wars saga is satisfying or even good. “The Last Jedi” is a lightning rod for message board debates and meme-based commentary on filmmaking trends, the Disney/Lucasfilm merger and what Star Wars is supposed to be.
The very mention of Rian Johnson’s name invites a sort of litmus test—did he create a bold new vision for Star Wars, or help destroy its legacy? After all, some fans seemed to think that the narrative and character shifts in “The Last Jedi” had completely undone what came before.
[Clears throat, whispers] Star Wars sequels have been “undoing” their predecessors since 1980. I don’t need to re-litigate “The Empire Strikes Back” in this column. But, as an aside, there’s a pretty fascinating thread about that:
It's kind of bonkers how EMPIRE STRIKES BACK literally undoes everything achieved & established in A NEW HOPE.
Luke is separated from the rest of the heroes. Obi Wan is a liar. Anakin Skywalker isn't dead, he's Darth Vader. Han & Leia contentious relationship is now a romance.
— Adam Lance Garcia (@AdamLanceGarcia) December 10, 2019
I’ll admit my bias here: I’m an admirer of Rian Johnson’s work, and I think “The Last Jedi” is possibly the most interesting and spiritually significant Star Wars movie since “The Empire Strikes Back.” But I hear the critiques of concerned Star Wars fans who feel that the film departed from fan expectations—just as Rian Johnson himself has.
THE SAGA’S CONCLUSION
And with “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” a mere week away, there is something palpably different in the air. Where previous premieres have been marked by unbridled enthusiasm and joy, there is an air of trepidation about Episode IX.
Of COURSE I am hyped for the new Star Wars movie, which claims that it will be the final film in the Skywalker saga. Setting aside the questionable veracity of that claim (even if all remaining Skywalker descendants perish in Episode 9, Lucasfilm has a couple billion reasons to keep telling stories with at least a few of these characters), “The Rise of Skywalker” will mark the conclusion of a trilogy decades in the making.
And I WANT to write an article just pointing out reasons to be excited for “The Rise of Skywalker.” So please indulge this nerd and let me say, in the most listicle-esque way possible, that there are some things I’m genuinely excited for in Episode 9.
- The question of Kylo Ren.
Adam Driver has (in my opinion) made Kylo Ren more than an evil foil for the heroes of the sequel trilogy. He’s torn—consumed by ambition and a devotion to Vader’s legacy, but tormented by the call of the light side of the Force. His scenes with Daisy Ridley always have me at the edge of my seat, and I can’t wait to see what comes of him. Whether he is destroyed or redeemed (or both) is my main question, but I know there are Reylo fans out there who are wondering whether the connection between Rey and Kylo is something other than adversarial.
- Mark Hamill returning as Luke Skywalker (presumably as a Force ghost).
Hamill is one of the most lovable celebrities in pop culture. Perhaps more than Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, Mark seems genuinely excited to be making Star Wars movies again. And seeing him get to play an ethereal spiritual adviser to Rey is going to be the kind of Luke Skywalker that everyone expected out of a sequel trilogy.
- A send-off to Carrie Fisher.
J.J. Abrams was able to repurpose unused footage of the late Carrie Fisher from past movies to give General Leia one last Star Wars appearance. And since Leia’s appearance is approved by her daughter Billie Lourd (returning for her third installment), it’s something I can’t wait to see.
- Threepio center-stage.
I was never a HUGE C-3PO fan, but he’s been with the Skywalker family for every single installment of the franchise. And the trailers tease Threepio saying something of a goodbye to his human counterparts. Is Threepio making a sacrifice? And while my boy R2-D2 seems less prominent, it’s only appropriate to give Anthony Daniels some screen time to close out the saga.
- The return of Original (& Prequel?) Characters.
We know Lando Calrissian and Emperor Palpatine will be part of “The Rise of Skywalker.” Could we get a Force ghost Anakin Skywalker? Will other Rebel heroes like Wedge come back? J.J. Abrams has promised that “The Rise of Skywalker” will tie together all 3 trilogies, and I’m eager to see what that looks like.
Granted, I’m such a Star Wars nerd that I’d be excited for any new Star Wars movie. I’d go the theater if Episode 9 were just 2 hours straight of Trade Federation negotiations. So maybe I’m the wrong guy to try to convince people that Star Wars is just as good as it’s ever been. But there seems to be to be a deliberate effort to make “The Rise of Skywalker” appeal to everyone—even the disaffected. There’s the promise of more shared screen time for our sequel trilogy heroes, and major ties to original trilogy legends. Perhaps more importantly, the trailer offers glimpses of action sequences that would fit in with modern Hollywood tentpole franchises like “Mission Impossible” or “Fast & Furious.”
If that seems like faint praise, maybe it is! If I have any anxiety about “The Rise of Skywalker,” it’s that the movie exists in part to be non-controversial. My friend Nik Heimach posted on this website two years ago, addressing the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm and the concerns of a corporate behemoth owning Star Wars. Re-reading that recently, I find myself agreeing with some of his concerns. What was once a kind of offbeat movie about a farm boy leading a ragtag team of guerrillas to blow up a military installation in space is now, like it or not, a corporation.
At my most cynical, I do worry that my nostalgia is being leveraged as a commodity. The same sense of wonder I had when playing with action figures and a Millennium Falcon model when I was six years old is being used to drive me to Disney Parks so I can fly the Falcon in “real life.” Experiencing the rides at Galaxy’s Edge and watching a live-action Star Wars TV show (“The Mandalorian”) are thoroughly enjoyable experiences for me as an adult, all in the name of making money for Disney shareholders.
And yet… and here is my ultimate point…
I don’t have a monopoly on nostalgia. I don’t have more of a right to say what Star Wars “is” than you do. And I am no more or less authentic of a fan than any moviegoer of any age. There’s no point in wringing my hands about what “The Rise of Skywalker” means to the legacy of Star Wars, because no one can take away my memories of it, and if anyone enjoys the new film, then it is a success.
If you’ll bear with me for a second, I’d like to take this all one step further.
BEING A FAN
The discourse about whether Star Wars is “ruined” or if the fandom is “divided” is incredibly overblown. I realize I’m adding to the noise right now. And yeah, it sucks that someone can’t just write an article about how excited they are for a Star Wars movie without a series of disclaimers and rehearsed oratory on why they feel the way they do.
I think the “debate” about Star Wars is unfounded, though. Proof is all around us that people are VERY excited for Star Wars. Go ahead and review “The Mandalorian” and point out its filmmaking flaws. But if you look up the words “Baby Yoda memes” you’ll notice that enthusiasm for that character has the fanbase ablaze. There may be valid complaints about the balance of shopping versus attractions at Galaxy’s Edge, but people are willing to stand in line for hours to experience Star Wars rides.
Yes, there are people who are disappointed with the direction of Star Wars. I feel for fans who feel that their beloved franchise has gone so mainstream that it’s lost some of the spirit of the originals. But for every bitter YouTube video essay calling “The Last Jedi” Luke Skywalker an asshole, there’s also a little girl dressed as Rey for Halloween. And injecting vitriol into the world rarely yields anything positive.
Here’s the thing.
If you want to fall in love with a work of art—and if you want to come back to it over and over again to scratch the itch of familiarity—franchises like Star Wars which tell stories over the course of decades aren’t for you. If you don’t want your content to change over time, may I interest you in books? Or maybe you’d like Broadway shows: every few years, the story will get “updated” with younger people in the roles and some new costumes, but the lyrics will be familiar.
If you’re expecting stasis from your content, you never really wanted a sequel— you wanted a reboot.
I’ll speak for myself and say that I hope some things about Star Wars never change. I want the good guys to be brave, and keep striving for victory even when they’re pretty sure they’re doomed. I want to see other-worldly places dealing with conflicts that are plausible for our world. And I want a sense that friendship and decency are powerful weapons to fight any adversary.
But do I need to hear “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” or see Jedi training sequences in every single movie in order to enjoy Star Wars?
A really smart person who I respect once said something that crystallized this concept for me. He explained the need for Star Wars to blaze a trail forward by contrasting it with a museum exhibit. He says:
“When people ask me, ‘Don’t you think people are going to get sick of ‘Star Wars’ movies?’ to me that question indicates that they’re thinking of ‘Star Wars’ movies as a museum exhibit that is wheeled out once a year so you can say, ‘Oh, I loved that thing. Oh, I remember that thing!’ And yes, if ‘Star Wars’ is that, people are going to get sick of it really quickly.
But if ‘Star Wars’ are great new movies that are exciting and fresh, and that challenge you and surprise you and make you feel things and engage you the way that those original movies did — but always taking you to new places, both in the galaxy and emotionally — that’s never going to get old. That’s what it’s all about.”
And it’s not for me to tell you that you’re wrong is you think Star Wars is about something else. But to me, Rian Johnson is right: Star Wars is at its best when it’s taking me somewhere new, not just rehashing what feels familiar to me.
I hope “The Rise of Skywalker” can take me somewhere unexpected and give me the feeling of joy that Star Wars has given me for 25 years. Even if it doesn’t, I’ll take solace in knowledge that someone in the galaxy is enjoying a franchise that’s bigger than me. And may the Force be with them.