Well, today is an historic day for Star Wars fans.
Today, the movie Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is released here in the UK; I understand other countries might have to wait until tomorrow, but don’t worry, you will find no spoilers in this article.
The Rise of Skywalker is the final instalment of the third Skywalker Trilogy, completing the sequence of nine movies depicting the saga of the Skywalker family and their fortunes in the ongoing Galactic Civil War that took place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”.
I have my ticket for today’s 10:05 performance of the movie at my local cinema, and have to say that I am going with some trepidation as well as a quiet hope.
My trepidation comes from a complex story of complete cock-ups by Disney, who own the Star Wars franchise.
The first episode of the final Trilogy, Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – was written and directed by the legendary J. J. Abrams, and what a superb movie it was. Released in 2015, it left loads of unanswered questions and cliff-hangers, as well as many subtle hints at what was to come. The Force Awakens culminated in the final scene, known as The Jedi Steps, in which not a word was spoken but which, through a combination of masterful music, stunning scenery and wonderful acting, finished the movie on such a moving note and a brilliant cliff-hanger, simultaneously leaving the fans satisfied and still hungry for more, what with all the unanswered questions.
Fast-forward two years to the end of 2017, and the release of the second movie in the Trilogy: Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie had a very polarised reception with reactions from both extremes, from absolute hatred on the one hand to total joy on the other. Personally, I didn’t like the movie at all – in fact, I consider it one of the most rubbish movies I have ever seen, Star Wars sacrilege notwithstanding – and I was especially incensed by the cavalier treatment of the cliff-hanger from The Force Awakens’s final scene – The Jedi Steps, where that incredibly moving masterpiece was ridden over roughshod by Johnson’s storyline. Added to that, many other bad story choices – I won’t go into details – meant that The Last Jedi, for me, and for many other life-long Star Wars fans, was a complete flop. Indeed, so unpopular was the movie that when the DVD came out, it sold so badly that my local supermarket was giving it away for free with a mere £10 grocery purchase. To me, that’s an objective indication of just how bad a movie it was.
In fact it was so bad that the next Star Wars movie – Solo – A Star Wars Story, released at the end of 2018, and not directly a part of the Skywalker saga – did not do at all well in the cinemas mainly (in my opinion) because The Last Jedi had been such a terrible movie. Disney blamed Solo for its own poor reception, but in my opinion it was a simply excellent movie with so much potential for follow-up stories, with, again, all its unanswered questions, dangling threads, and intriguing little plot twists. But we will never know, now, where those story threads would have gone, because Disney announced that they were not going to do any more movies of the ‘A Star Wars Story’ type, supposedly as a result of Solo‘s poor showing.
Anyway, back to the Trilogy. I remember thinking, during the months leading up to the release of The Last Jedi, that having three different writers (Abrams, Johnson and then an (at the time) unnamed writer for Episode IX) construct separately the story arc for a full trilogy over the space of five or six years of writing, filming and post-production, was a bit of a daft idea.
I likened it to that children’s game where one child draws a person’s head on one end of a piece of paper, then folds their handiwork under so that it cannot be seen by the next child. The next player then draws a torso and arms, and folds the paper so that neither the head nor torso are visible. Finally, another child draws the hips and legs, after which the paper is unfolded and their combined monstrosity is revealed in all its silliness, to the accompaniment, of course, of gales of laughter.
And that’s what The Last Jedi came across to me as being like. It was almost like a different story; parts of the characters had been changed, and huge swathes of the story from The Force Awakens were ignored. In fact, Mark Hamill, who played the legendary character Luke Skywalker, was reported to have asked writer/director Rian Johnson, “What have you done with my character?” Few of the actors who played parts in The Last Jedi were pleased with the story and the twisting of their character profiles, some being more vocal than others about their opinions. Of course, Disney are very tightly controlling about the way their people are allowed to express opinions, and a lot of the stuff that was said had to be ‘retracted’. Of course, all of this obfuscation is completely transparent to those who have seen, over the years, how Disney work. They know they made a mistake with The Last Jedi, but there’s no way they’ll admit it.
Fortunately (I hope), the final part of the Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, was given back to J. J. Abrams to complete the story. This means that the person who drew the head, in our illustrative children’s game, will get to draw the hips and legs, notwithstanding the efforts of Johnson to mess things up with an abysmal torso and arms. I understand there was some reluctance on Abrams’ part to take up the reins again, but I am hoping he will have done it well. But there’s always the overarching shadow of the possibility of Disney causing yet another dog’s dinner of it, despite J. J. Abrams. He will, after all, have to do as they tell him.
So, it all boils down to today. I will go to see Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, as I said, at the 10:05 performance today. I am hopeful that the genius of J. J. Abrams will recover something beautiful from the catastrophic mess left by Rian Johnson – a mess which even included the pointless death of Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi. I am wondering quite how Abrams is going to achieve that feat. I am wondering how he’s going to bring together all the story threads from his masterpiece that was The Force Awakens: how he’s going to bring in the obvious Force-sensitivity of Finn; if Kylo Ren will turn to the Light Side of the Force; how he’s going to explain Rey’s parentage and her Force-sensitivity; how he’s going to explain why the Skywalker lightsaber called out to Rey in a Force dream in The Force Awakens. How (and even if) he’s going to incorporate any of the canonical back-story from books like ‘Star Wars: Before the Awakening‘ which included many important attributes for the characters Finn, Rey and Poe. And will Luke reappear as a Force-ghost? How is he going to incorporate the much-touted reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, who supposedly died at the end of Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi, without rendering the story arc of all six of the original movies pointless?* All these questions and more, I am hopeful, will be answered by Abrams’ story today, because he wrote the original story that introduced the new characters (Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo), and he knows what he had in mind for them in the first place.
Well, we shall see. The trepidation of being able to sort out the balls-up that was The Last Jedi. The hope that Abrams will successfully work his genius to make everything right again.
I’m sure there’s a spiritual parallel there somewhere 😉
But I do hope that I will emerge from that cinema this afternoon with a sense of closure. Star Wars is an extremely important part of my life; I have so much invested in the characters and the stories, and I really don’t want to be disappointed. But I’m hopeful that J. J. will do a good job.
The Force will be with you. Always 🙂
*The original movies were Star Wars – A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi. These were then succeeded by the ‘Prequel Trilogy’ consisting of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. The whole overarching theme of these stories was the fall and subsequent redemption of Anakin Skywalker (later Darth Vader) and his destruction of the Dark Side powers known as the Sith when he destroys Emperor Palpatine, thus turning back to the Light after his long sojourn under the Dark Side of the Force.