Nostalgia Culture

Rise of Skywalker: Cash Grab or Nostalgia Trip?

Let me get this out of the way first and foremost: Every single star Wars film has had it’s haters, since the very first one. You or me not liking The Rise of Skywalker is not proof of anything other than different people can have different opinions. A lot of us hated, hated, hated The Empire Strikes Back when it came out. Then we (yes I am one of those) came around to loving it years and years later. For me, I am still not a fan of the prequels at all. I kind of liked Phantom Menace at first, but got tired of it quickly. By the time Revenge of the Sith rolled around, me and my friends were walking out of the theater making fun of each one.

Star Wars films are always full of problems. But if you let yourself not worry about those problems and just go with the narrative, sometimes (but not always) you can at least be entertained. Until you start thinking about the problems.

But on the other hand, you or I or anyone else liking The Rise of Skywalker is not really proof of anything, either.

For me, some Star Wars films (like A New Hope, The Last Jedi, and Rogue One) I liked in theater, and as I watched them several more times I liked them even more. Others (like Return of the Jedi, Solo, and The Force Awakens) I was entertained by them when I watched them, I am still entertained by them now, but I recognize their problems. I already mentioned Empire Strikes Back and The Phantom Menace. Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are ones that I just could never get into. I tried re-watching them before the sequel trilogy came out, and I still couldn’t.

So where does The Rise of Skywalker fall for me? After only one viewing, I was entertained while still seeing the problems. I will see what further views will lead me to think.

First of all, lets deal with some of the fan weirdness. Star Wars has ALWAYS been about fan service. Yes, even episodes 5 and 6 had a lot of it back in the day. I remember the complaints. It was where I learned what “fan service” means. The prequel trilogy was major fan service by Lucas, until he found out he misunderstood what the fans wanted, and suddenly they became “an artistic risk” or whatever he is currently saying. So just saying “it’s fan service!” kind of makes no sense to me. And not just because Star Wars has always been fan service, but because, well… isn’t that how you get people to watch movies? Give them something they want? Where is this magical line between “creating something people will pay money to see” and “fan service”?

Obviously, that line exists in a different place for different people, between what they personally liked and personally didn’t like.

Another issue to address is this idea that the sequel trilogy was a cash grab after the “perfect ending” of episode 6. Sorry, but we have known that Lucas planned NINE movies from the moment he realized there could be more than one Star Wars. I remember back after Empire came out, Mark Hamill mentioned that Lucas had already talked to him about coming back as an old man Luke in the 9th movie. It was always going to happen. Lucas never envisioned Empire as the end, and no one really saw it as a “perfect” ending anyways.

Yes, I know that everyone saw Palpatine as dead at the end of Return, including Lucas and the actor that played him as well. But don’t forget: Luke was not Leia’s brother at the end of A New Hope, and Darth Vader was not Luke’s father at the end of the first movie either. Things change as new Star Wars movies come out. This is the way.

What I did see was a film that had to deal with wrapping up 10 films, 3 animated series, a bunch of books and comics, and so on. This means there would be huge problems doing all of that in one film. Which was probably the biggest problem many noted with Rise of Skywalker: too much going on in too short of a film.

For me, there are several things I would have changed. The beginning crawl just sounded bad to me. I would have worked more on that in general. There were some weird lines of dialog that just needed to be re-written here and there. Especially the whole meeting between Poe and Zorii Bliss. A lot of that just made no sense. Just cut it down to her pointing a gun at his head, making some faux gestures of being mad, and then pulling a Lando and being glad to see him. That whole “I think you are okay” thing (after nearly killing each other with weapons) was just… weird.

Also, why on earth would you start the whole thing about Finn having something to tell Rey and then not get to having him, you know, actually say what it was? J.J. Abrams has confirmed that Finn was going to tell Rey that he could feel the Force. But if you aren’t going to have him say that, then leave it out. The audience still got Finn’s force connection outside of that trope.

And the whole thing with Palpatine shooting lightning to take down a whole fleet? That was weird. They should have made it look like he was channeling some of the planet’s darkside energy to do that. Or… something. That was just too much of a stretch for me.

But yes, even for me there are several things that just go into the “bad fan service” pile as well, like Chewbacca getting the medal. After we were told things like that don’t matter to Wookies. The whole Charlie Hobbit role was basically a dude voicing fan theories only to get debunked. It really worked well when he shot down fan theories that were shooting down the Holdo Maneuver from The Last Jedi, but I would have honestly re-written his lines better and given them all to Rose.

Then there are those that feel that Rey’s Palpatine connection ruined the message of The Last Jedi because it destroys the idea that greatness can come from anywhere. I get that, and its a real concern to those that saw Rey as the embodiment of “greatness from anywhere.” To me, the boy with the broom at the end of The Last Jedi was more of symbol of that message. There are also the thousands of Jedi of the prequels that also support that idea as well, including Yoda, Mace Windu, and so many others that still had great power in the Force without powerful lineage. That may not be enough for some, but for me it seems to still support the overall idea.

I have a theory that Rian Johnson might have gone kind of rogue with The Last Jedi and left out some ideas that should have been in the movie. I think some of the big reveals in Rise of Skywalker would have paid off more if they had been hinted at in The Last Jedi:

  • Think about how much better it would have been if The Last Jedi had introduced the question of “why did Leia stop her Jedi training?” at the beginning. It would have made the reveal about why in Rise better, and it would have been a better context for the “flying through space before she died” scene in episode 8 as well. We didn’t have enough time with Leia in The Force Awakens to explore this, so The Last Jedi would have been the best place to raise this in a few places.
  • Hints about a mysterious force behind Snoke should have been mentioned in The Last Jedi as well. Again, we didn’t have enough time with Snoke in episode 7 to do this, but 8 would have been a great place for this. Just some hints about older ancient Sith magic pulling the strings in some way. This would have set up Palpatine’s revelation so much better in Rise of Skywalker. Of course, it could be that Maz Kanata was hinting at this in The Force Awakens. Or it could have been that all of the sequels were hinting at it all along.
  • Just one line in The Last Jedi about Rey’s parents could have set things up for episode 9 nicely: after talking about her parents, Kylo Ren says “but you are asking the wrong questions about where you come from” before getting cut off.
  • The Sith fleet was impossibly too big to just come out of nowhere. Someone would have noticed that massive amount of supplies and people going missing. While the fleet should have been smaller to be more realistic, I would have also planted some kind of mention in The Last Jedi about massive amounts of materials disappearing across the galaxy without a trace in The Last Jedi and even The Force Awakens.

So obviously my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker are closer to “its complicated” than outright “I liked it,” but a lot of that comes from nitpicking over details. But it is okay to like something while still thinking of ways to improve it. It seems to me that it also really spent a lot of time setting up future movies (Lando finds out Jannah is his daughter, Rey training a new form of force warriors called Skywalkers, even how Rey’s parents turned against Palpatine), adding to the issue of it being too much for one movie.

To me, what The Rise of Skywalker does is show that nostalgia is not a constant, but a contextual way of evaluating anything that reaches back to something in our past. Reviews of movies like The Rise of Skywalker become problematic, because we are all going to have different contexts for why some things work as callbacks to nostalgia and why other things fall into useless fan service categories. The ideal scenario would be to evaluate it as a stand alone movie, but the idea that episode 9 wraps up the entire Skywalker saga prevents this on many levels. They do reveal the conclusion to many long standing questions, whether we like those reveals or not. They also satisfied the studio’s desire to set up future movies. All of which would have happened had they been put out ten years ago under the direction of George Lucas as well. Except we apparently would have gotten Lucas doubling down on that whole midi-chlorians thing.

In some sense, the sequel trilogy ended up being a rough approximation of what we were always going to get. But it could have been worse. Just imagine what the Jar Jar Binks of a microbiotic Lucas world would be like….

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