On April 2, 1796, a newly discovered and long lost Shakespearean play, Vortigern and Rowena had premiered on the stage. The play had been discovered by a William Henry-Ireland, which he had enthusiastically presented to his Shakespeare-obsessed father. In the years previous, Ireland had uncovered many letters and documents originating from the bard, much to the pleasure of his father and other scholars of the world. So imagine the delight and amazement when an entire play had been unearthed after being lost over the centuries.
On that fateful night, Vortigern had premiered. One of the actors who was skeptical of the play’s origin took a moment to ham up a particular line towards the end of the play. He took the moment to repeat the single line, “And when this solemn mockery is o’er.” The audience got the point, and the master forger, William Henry-Ireland, was exposed as the fraud he was.
I bring this up because this is the opening weekend of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I have to admit that my feelings of the subject are mixed at best. Star Wars had been an important part of my life as far back as my first years on Earth—that’s a familiar story I’m sure. I was working at a Cinemark theater when the original Star Wars trilogy was re-released as a new “Special Edition,” complete with updated special effects and deleted scenes. I remember opening night, seeing people joyously dressed up as their favorite characters; fans dressed up as Han, Luke and girls wearing cinnamon buns strapped to their heads. As the night wore on, I would later find out people were concerned that Han didn’t shoot first. I, on the other hand, just witnessed Han Solo step on Jabba the Hutt’s tail. I think that was the moment I had begun to second-guess my relationship with Star Wars.
Flash forward a number of years when I was in my second attempt at University. George Lucas had premiered the beginning of a new Star Wars prequel trilogy. I found myself not caring as much as I probably wanted. One of my old roommates had gone on opening night; I had to inquire what he thought of it. He said he liked it, but said to me “Matt, I know you. There’s one scene I know you’re going to walk out on.” He told me he was going to see it again, and so I tagged along. By the time my viewing commenced, I had already heard hateful rumblings towards a “meesa loves him” Jar Jar Binks character. As the film went on, I didn’t really care about Jar Jar one way or another. What really happened was a scene where an Obi Wan Kenobi tells a young Anakin Skywalker about little microscopic creatures called midichlorians which were responsible for the force. It was at that moment that the thought of a cigarette sounded more appealing, and so it was; I got up and walked up the aisle as I noticed my old roommate laughing as I headed towards the door. While I was having a smoke, I was thinking about how “The Force” was supposed to be something that flowed through everyone and everything, and that it was something that could be studied and harnessed through training and faith. Now I learn that “The Force” really is an elitist plot device that was pointlessly demystified with a beneficial gut infection (shut up, nerds, I know that they’re “in every living cell.” It’s stupid and you know it). I rolled my eyes, sighed as I extinguished my cigarette, and returned to my seat to finish the movie. As the next few years plodded on, I did manage to see the subsequent episodes on opening weekend, but the honeymoon was over and George Lucas had lost his goddamned mind.
As I am writing this, it’s the opening weekend of The Rise of Skywalker. As every living being knows by now, Lucas had long given up the Star Wars franchise to Disney. Thinking back on the prequels, I realize that while they were awful, they still maintained the same level of high adventure as the original trilogy. When The Force Awakens premiered a few years ago, I was appalled that it had done something Lucas did not do. While the prequels left me feeling disappointed, The Force Awakens made me feel angry. It was plagiarism filled with forgettable characters and an annoyingly petulant child as a villain. It was loathsomely forgettable.
I re-watched the following episode, The Last Jedi, two nights ago. It was the first time since opening weekend. I went in to The Last Jedi with the lowest of expectations after hearing how divisive the entry was. I honestly didn’t hate it by the end of the night. I was happy that at least it tried to do something different. I’ve seen people bitching about how the character, Rey, was a “Mary Sue” as she seemed to have mastered the force without any training. I guess that didn’t bother me, I mean, if a young Anakin Skywalker can be a virgin birth due to a severe case of magical tapeworms, why can’t a young woman be some Disney princess Force superstar? People keep loosening the bowels over Rey.
After watching it again, however, it was clear to me that the director really had no grasp of the material. Making Luke Skywalker a bitter old man didn’t bother me too much, I mean, after all Yoda had exiled himself (although for completely different reasons). I think director Rian Johnson had looked at the garbage that was given to him and decided to do his own thing. So, Luke is handed a lightsaber and pauses, and then… And then… he tosses it aside, oh you can start smelling the cum filling the cracks in Rian’s cerebral cortex. I know I am guilty of laughing at my own jokes, but I am not going to blame “toxic fandom,” or some equally dumb excuse, if someone doesn’t like my work.
Suck it up, buttercup.
All that being said, I think a lot of what Rian Johnson did was fine. If you’re going to work with what you have, just do it and don’t rub your ego out with it. I was thinking what I might have done if given the opportunity to follow something like The Force Awakens, and I just don’t know. I could tell you that Rian should have been more scared of the material than he was. I think trying to create a Yoda type character with Luke with sarcastic humor just didn’t work; his motivations largely didn’t make sense. If Luke has had company with his “force ghost” family, you would think that Luke would have had better insight when training new Jedi. I mean, even his father would have been able to give him some first-hand advice regarding to the “dark side” and training young Ben Solo. When Yoda shows up towards the third act of the film, Luke is pretty damned casual about it so we know that Luke has been communing with spirits. Why would Yoda be cool with Luke acting like such a little bitch? Such a scene could have been tidied up a little with Luke being combative towards Yoda or something. I think the real damage was with The Force Awakens and Rian Johnson did what he could with it. There’s numerous other problems too, but how can you polish a turd without smearing it all over the place? Again, I couldn’t find myself hating it. And now that The Rise of Skywalker is here and J.J. Abrams is back on board to correct the “mistakes” Rian Johnson made, I’m reminded once again of smoking a cigarette in a mall parking lot twenty years ago wondering what the hell I was even watching.
So now that the “last” Star Wars movie is finally here, is this solemn mockery over at last?
More or less. The Rise of Skywalker contains all the lazy writing I would expect from J.J. Abrams. My first reaction to the first half of the film is that everyone is running around playing Indiana Jones looking for weird Sith shit that the script seems to be pulling out of its ass. I’m reminded of Abrams’ Mission Impossible III where Ethan and company were on the hunt of a mysterious, catastrophic terrorist device known only as “The Rabbit’s Foot.” It’s a MacGuffin that serves no other purpose than to have the characters act frantic, but even by the end of the film, “The Rabbit’s Foot” is never explained, it’s just a thing. But in the case of The Rise of Skywalker, the end result is almost like National Treasure in space. It’s a bustling scavenger hunt to keep the characters saying and doing things. The second half of the film we have Abrams once again plagiarizing another Star Wars film. It involves Rey trying to hunt down a revived Emperor Palpatine. He shows her friends being defeated in space battles and tells her to strike him down to become more powerful than she can imagine.
It’s my feeling that J.J. Abrams needs to simply go away. I know studios like to use him to retcon franchises because he plays it safe, but honestly he doesn’t really have much respect for the material he works with. Abrams is more of a human relations adviser than a director. All one has to do is look back to Star Trek: Into Darkness to see that he’s the kind of kid that likes to smash other kids’ castles in the sandbox. But instead of going away, J.J. Abrams will soon begin his reign of terror with the DCEU.
In the end, Abrams does manage to pull off a bit of a rip-roaring adventure out of The Rise of Skywalker. Much of the imagery, especially at the Sith homeworld, comes off as striking and dramatic. He somehow makes Rey and Kylo Ren interesting, in fact, their relationship is probably the best part of the film. As much of a mess as The Rise of Skywalker is, there’s a lot of satisfying fun to it. Poe and Finn are pretty much pointless, and other aspects of the Disney attempt weren’t salvaged completely. Poe even gives a “This is our Independence Day” speech. Given the bullshit we’ve been fed thus far in the previous two outings, The Rise of Skywalker could be a lot worse and may be the first Star Wars film I have enjoyed since 1983. The Rise of Skywalker is pretty much the Revenge of the Sith of the Disney trilogy in that it’s dumb as shit, but at least it’s better than the two that came before it. So, at least there’s that. This is the most I’ve talked about Star Wars in twenty years and I hope to keep it that way.