“…. When designing a movie, you do what you like and you hope everyone else will like it.”
The great George Lucas, master architect behind the “Star Wars” universe, said this at the christening of “Star Tours,” the space-themed simulation attraction at Walt Disney World and first joint venture between Lucas and the Walt Disney Company. This working relationship, which would one day find itself obscure by the 2012 acquisition of Lucas’s Lucasfilm by Disney, was a testament to the dream of all content creators: sharing with the world what you’ve created.
Bob Iger’s Disney tasked itself with the bold undertaking of following the Lucasfilm acquisition, finishing the so-called “Skywalker Saga” in a way that remained faithful to the luster of the original films while contributing new, original and interesting stories. J.J. Abram’s 2015 stab at the franchise translated into a visually appealing, but strangely familiar re-telling of the saga’s first installment, “A New Hope” (1977). His successor, Rian Johnson, while producing an original film, was criticized harshly for a wonky storyline that appeared to subvert expectations of loyal fans. Disney again gave the nod to Abrams to wrap up the trilogy, producing “Rise of Skywalker.”
Spoilers lie ahead, but perhaps reading them will spare you, innocent reader, of learning that the quintessential bad-guy-at-large, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has apparently risen from his momentous death at the end of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” Nostalgic, yes, but the return of the saga’s quintessential villain can’t help but feel like Abram’s attempt at quelling fan uproar of Episode VIII’s killing-off of Emperor Snoke. In fact, the viewer grows accustomed to Abrams responding to the vocal Star Wars fans’ complaints rather than telling his own story. Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) receives roughly over a minute of screen time in Episode IX (as compared to 11 minutes in the previous film), presumably on her poor reception on the part of a vocal minority of Star Wars fans. Rey, (Daisy Ridley) who dishearteningly learns in previous films that she’s a “no one,” with junk traders for parents, receives a promotion, being told she is the granddaughter of the great Emperor Palpatine, with seemingly no previous buildup (much less indications that Palpatine is alive).
Though Abrams threatens his audience with multiple instances of heartbreak, he fails to commit upon any of the film’s most dramatic scenarios. Fan-favorite Chewbacca (Peter Mahew) is apparently destroyed in an accidental catastrophe, caused by the film’s protagonist, Rey. However, we later learn Chewbacca was in a different place. Anthony Daniel’s C-3PO later sacrifices himself for the greater good of the Resistance, leaving behind his memory, only to have it restored later. In what should perhaps be one of the most gripping scenes of the film, Rey suffers a death at the hands of the Emperor, only to be later be restored to life by now love-interest, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
When Abrams wasn’t retreating upon the most dramatic scenes in the film, he busied himself adding and subtracting confusing subplots that never quite evolved in their entirety. Billy Dee Williams’ homecoming to the franchise is spoiled by an odd relationship with a woman taken to be his daughter, but never explained. Finn (John Boyega) spends far less time contributing meaningful action to the plot than previous flicks but appears to have ‘force sensibility’ (the power of the Jedi). These confusing “advancements” in the plot detract from the story as a whole and appear to convey a sense the film’s leadership couldn’t efficiently finish their story in nearly two hours and thirty minutes.
Ultimately, the legacy of the ‘sequel series’ of the Star Wars universe, may very well be associated with incredible visual effects, an interesting and engaging group of characters, but notably is far too similar to its predecessors. One can think only of the final sequences of “Rise of Skywalker,” in which Emperor Palpatine entreats Rey that her friends are doomed, that the Resistance will fall, and that she need only strike him down to fulfill her destiny. In a manner far too similar to Luke in “Return of the Jedi,” the series culminates in an epic, force-lightning driven battle between good and evil, resulting in the triumphant victory of the protagonist. Anakin Skywalker’s meteoric rise, fall, and redemption of the first six films feels almost obsolete in the film’s closing sequences. Though Anakin was destined to ‘bring balance to the force,’ his efforts prove futile, as Rey is ultimately the hero who defeats the Emperor. One feels increasingly slighted in the film’s closing shot as Rey names herself a Skywalker, with Luke and Leia looking on. The egregious mistake of Abrams? It was the exclusion of the centerpiece of the Skywalker saga itself; Hayden Christiansen’s, Anakin Skywalker.