Lightsabers, blasters, droids and the force are synonymous with pop-culture thanks to Star Wars. It is a franchise that seems impossible to be unaware of, especially since Disney took the reigns with its $4 billion dollar deal. Across nine films, I finally finished my Star Wars journey with the conclusion of the sequel trilogy in The Rise of Skywalker. The newest trilogy has conflicted my feelings towards Star Wars as it has concluded on what seems a uncoordinated and disjointed attempt at a three part story.
On the build up to The Force Awakens, I was bursting with excitement. This felt like the opportunity to make a truly great Star Wars trilogy. Free of the restrains of CGI in the Originals and a team that could deliver a higher quality of filmmaking – something I felt was missing in the prequels. And in all honesty, it was.
On its release, I saw The Force Awakens four times at the cinema. Working in a local Odeon at the time, I was ecstatic over the fact that I managed to see the film a whole day before its UK release, and then to see it again on the midnight release the next day. The buzz in the cinemas was infectious as fans turned up in elaborate and legitimate looking costumes. Everyone just seemed happy that Star Wars was back.
While The Force Awakens may be criticised for its over reliance of nostalgia, and its near carbon copy story from A New Hope, it undeniably felt like Star Wars for a new generation and the old. It was faster paced, full of snappy dialogue and some awe-inspiring moments. Watching the triple bill just last week, arriving at my sixth time watching it in the cinema, the lightsaber fight between Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren still gives me goosebumps. To me The Force Awakens embodies the perfect popcorn movie, and it is an experience I will always cherish.
Then The Last Jedi arrived on the scene. While I wasn’t as taken away by any trailers, I was curious to see what Rian Johnson could deliver after JJ Abrams, as he had directed one of my favourite sci-fi films Looper. Save a good opener, The Last Jedi tore down any expectation I had of this entry in all the worst ways for me. It felt like so many elements had been established and set up to go one way, and Johnson had just decided to go another. Too many times did I think “You wanted to do that, and this is the way you done it?!?”
Most interestingly was The Last Jedi rid itself of that Star Wars feeling the Abrams had established. Where you could tell that Abrams had great care and love for the franchise, Johnson’s film felt like a talented director directing a franchise movie, for a franchise he didn’t really know. While I am sure that wasn’t the case, even the cinematography was different in a way that didn’t quite fit with the Star Wars feel.
That being said, I understand the love that some have for this film. While I wasn’t looking for something to challenge the idea of what Star Wars was, its unwillingness to bend to the tropes of the genre, or the crowd-pleasing familiarities are why I think it resonated with some and drove others away. Sadly, I was most definitely in the second party, and it depleted any excitement I had for the following and final installment in the saga.
The second that screen crawl starts, it is clear that The Rise of Skywalker has shifted into reverse. Immediately we are treated to a set up and story, that has come out of nowhere, and seemingly seems too big to merely explain in three paragraphs. It is no secret that Emperor Palpatine is back. How, I here you ask? Don’t worry about it. The film makes next to no explanations as to why or how Palpatine has returned, but it is a clear replacement for a previous villainous figure that had since been departed thanks to TLJ.
Sadly, most of Episode IX feels like this. An attempt to make the finale that Abrams had envisioned with TFA, but not a sequel to TLJ. The Knights of Ren are back, but not up to much; Kylo has his helmet back for some reason; and some characters seem to have made complete turns in since the last installment. Characters such as Rose are simply side barred after featuring heavily, and events from TLJ are practically mocked. It all feels like the other side of an argument as both Abrams and Johnson have tugged back and forth with this franchise. As disappointed as I was in Johnson’s entry, I believe this film, and trilogy as a whole, would have benefitted from continuing that story, rather than trying to course correct it. The film feels overstuffed and really lacks any of the emotional resonance that was present in the previous entries, and for that reason as it fumbles its way to the conclusion it feels unearned and empty.
Looking back to 2015, as I eagerly awaited the seventh episode Star Wars, it is deflating to be so unenthused about the franchise just 4 years later, especially after such a promising start. Having watched The Rise of Skywalker twice now, it seems like a missed opportunity as much as a wasted one. It gives off the impression that this was a trilogy without a true roadmap, where each film was its own contained story, rather than a part of a larger one. It is astonishing that I am about to defend the prequels, but they at least benefitted from a singular storyline spanning all three films. It is a trilogy torn between creating something reminiscent of the original trilogy and creating something new for Star Wars. Whatever the internal politics behind creating the newest trilogy, the result has been a disjointed and ultimately lacklustre attempt to bring the beloved franchise to a new generation.