The wait is almost over.
The beginning of this decade doesn’t look much different from our present. Marvel, DC, and Pixar dominated the box office and the zeitgeist. The one major difference – the prospect of new Star Wars films was the furthest thing from our mind. Yet, here we are closing in on the final days of the 2010s, and the big event film that will conclude the decade is the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (perhaps the most awkwardly subtitled Star Wars film yet) is set to hit theaters next week, yet the whole vibe around the movie is… weird. The elephant in the room is clear – the negative reaction from a portion of fans towards The Last Jedi (2017) has put a damper on the excitement for the latest entry. But it’s not just detractors of the last film who are subdued, but fans of Rian Johnson’s entry also appear less than enthused. It’s as if the online arguing was so taxing that everyone is just a little exhausted from new Star Wars.
But let’s be honest here – this is still Star Wars, the most celebrated, argued about, and cherished film series on the planet. Despite the mixed reactions to all the promotional material, The Rise of Skywalker is going to dominate film discussion for at least the next month, if not longer. The question is whether or not the discussion will be primarily adulation, a rebuke of a terrible film, or another polarizing entry where no one can agree on the film’s quality?
But this type of anxiety isn’t new to Star Wars. Appropriately, when this trilogy began with The Force Awakens (2015), Star Wars fans worried that we may have been headed for another Prequel-level disaster. That movie eventually turned out to be… fine, I guess. It’s perhaps the best-received Star Wars film of the Disney era, but JJ Abrams’ megahit doesn’t lend itself to being rewatchable for me due to how underwhelming many of the character arcs and payoffs were.
It’s been an ongoing issue throughout the trilogy – what is the best path for these new characters while we honor the legacy of the past? So far, that attempt at balance has brought us mixed results. Yet, it appears that Abrams has positioned his key characters in the roles they arguably should have maintained from the start – Poe Dameron as the new generation’s Han Solo, Rey as the gender-swapped chosen one, and Kylo as the hate-filled symbol of evil. Then there’s Finn, whose narrative potential seems completely wasted, but we’ll see what the concluding chapter has in store for him.
But it’s this uncertainty regarding how Abrams will end this story that is intriguing to me, and ultimately the biggest sell for the film itself. Yes, I want to see the space battles and lightsaber duels. But I want to see how Abrams will piece together an ending that can satisfy the most people. It’s telling that the filmmaker, known for his setups and “Mystery Box” theatrics, has never been tasked with putting a definitive bow on a sprawling epic.
Then there’s the issue of the real big bad of the film – a returning Emperor Palpatine. They’ve dusted off Ian McDiarmid to chew more scenery in what appears to be a last ditch effort to appease disenfranchised Star Wars fans. But what does this say about Abrams, whose previous entry in the series was accused of being too derivative, that he has to return to the well of Darth Sidious? From a narrative perspective, what could justify retreading such old ground? You can say that Palpatine has been the villain for the entire saga, so his inclusion is appropriate. But you still have to make it mean something in the film itself; you have to earn it.
That’s my worry, my fear, my anxiety, and my excitement for this film – will they finally earn it? Or will Disney continue to conflate referencing the past accomplishments of a once-great franchise with actually creating new moments? Either way, let’s abandon the indifference for a week. Star Wars movies are still events worth getting excited for. You still care, even if you’ve been let down by insert entry here in the past. I’m ready to approach this film with an open mind. Maybe expectations will be exceeded. Maybe disappointment will set in again. No matter what awaits, just enjoy the ride.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens everywhere in theaters, IMAX, and other large-format theaters on December 20th.