So…okay. Here we go again. I spent all of last year writing tens of thousands of words in defense of The Last Jedi, and I’m sure it’ll come up again as I talk about The Rise of Skywalker; comparisons and contrasts are naturally going to arise, but this year I want to spend time trying to understand what, in my mind, went so wrong with the finale of the Skywalker trilogy of trilogies. With that mission in mind…where to begin?
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Who is to blame?
If you had to point the finger at an individual or a collective-body of individuals, who would you look at and say “this is a mess of your doing! Blood is on your hands!” Who would that be? I have a few ideas…
Is it all George Lucas’ fault?
The Case Against George (burn him!):
I don’t think there is much of a case here.
I really don’t see how you can pin this one on Lucas. I mean, the prequels, sure. Those were sloppily-written, badly directed, style over substance trilogies that could not land a dramatic punch or a nail a light-hearted moment the way the original trilogy did so perfectly. But the sequels? How is it his fault?
George entered the 2010’s with Star Wars on the verge of flatlining as a money-making enterprise. No more movies mean the biggest driver of the biggest revenue stream (merchandise) was a well without water. So, Lucas announces to insiders that he’s toying around with some ideas for an Episode 7-9, brings in Pixar great Michael Arndt to help him develop them, which inflates the price of Lucasfilm so that when Disney buys the company, he can walk away with four more billion than he had before. People can complain that George left it to Disney to make Star Wars without him but that’s laughable….
The Case For George (in defense):
People can complain that George left it to Disney to make Star Wars without him but that’s laughable….because people would have HATED his version of Episodes 7-9. If you thought the Midichlorians idea was bad in the prequels, imagine a trilogy that doubles-down on them. If you thought Hermit Luke was bad in Episode 8 (it wasn’t but let’s not go there), imagine an Episode 7 that featured Luke gone mad like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Those were his ideas.
George didn’t do anything more than sell to the one company he knew would secure the legacy of Star Wars from a copyright-standpoint. And he did it all while making four billion dollars in the process. Don’t hate the player; hate the game.
Which brings me to…
Is it all Bob Iger’s (Disney’s) fault?
The Case Against Disney and Iger (burn him!):
There should have been a red alert go off the moment Disney announced, not only a new Star Wars movie every year, but a new Sequel Trilogy of Episodes 7-9 that would come out two years apart from each other. Before Disney, Star Wars was six movies, each spaced three years apart, and each trilogy of movies spaced a whole generation apart. That’s it. That was Star Wars. It was six movies between 1977-2005. Sure there were tons of books with plots Lucas had little to no concern about. Sure there were TV shows that were totally ancillary. None of that mattered.
Star Wars was six movies spread out over thirty years. That was it.
Suddenly Disney wasn’t just bringing Star Wars back, they were giving us more than we’d ever had before, after already being used to how little we had been getting. It’s not like this was the MCU where the number of movies can be slowly ratcheted up over the course of a decade. Star Wars was a generational, cinematic affair. It was a cultural moment when a new trilogy dropped. Disney’s decision to annualize it took away a big part of what made it special.
There’s a reason the first new Star Wars movie was such a perfect storm of box office success. You had all the pent-up excitement from OT and PT fans. Solo, on the other hand, was a perfect storm of box office failure. You had a movie no one really wanted that couldn’t be sold as special because Star Wars wasn’t special anymore. It was just another annual event film. Look at this chart and see how Star Wars has, in just five years, already settled in as “just another billion-dollar franchise…”
The blue line, as the chart indicates, is the incredible success of TFA. The purple line is the incredible failure of Solo. In the middle is a trio of films that end (or will, as the TROS projections indicate) at about $550mm to $700mm at the domestic box office.
Based on data provided by The Numbers
Box Office isn’t all that matters, of course, but it’s indicative of a bigger issue. If Star Wars is no longer special then a bad Star Wars movie is not going to get any benefit of the doubt. The Rise of Skywalker is a badly made movie. It’s poorly written, poorly edited, poorly directed. Unless you are just a dyed in the wool “I don’t care about movies I only care about Star Wars” fan, there’s no benefit of the doubt or built-in goodwill toward the movie. Disney did that. And their insistence on rushing this movie out to meet its studio-mandated release date, despite a director change and multiple writer changes, is enough to cast a lot of blame on them.
The Case For Disney and Iger (in defense):
On the other hand, if Marvel can pump out multiple movies in one year, why wouldn’t Disney think they could get away with a single Star Wars movie a year? Was it really so crazy? A three year (or more) gap between movies was commonplace in years past: Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Terminator and more all had long waits between films. Today audiences expect quicker turnarounds. That’s just the nature of it. Disney didn’t create that; they’re merely going with the flow.
You can hate them for the way the production of the movies went, but not the initial idea to give people more Star Wars.
And speaking of the production…
Is it all Kathleen Kennedy’s fault?
The Case Against Kathleen (burn her!):
That was a year and a half ago and…maybe I was too lenient.
Kennedy is responsible for hiring the people who make Star Wars movies. That’s her job. That’s it. Just hire good writers and directors and let them tell their stories. When you fire a director-team because their vision didn’t fit what you wanted a movie to be (as was the case with Solo) then maybe you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place. When you’re not a story-telling kind of producer but you clash with your hired director over the direction he wants to take the story, to the point that he walks away (as was the case with The Rise of Skywalker) then maybe you shouldn’t have hired him in the first place.
If you hired for his replacement a director only ever famous for starting a story, never finishing one…I mean, at some point someone has to stop this woman because clearly she doesn’t know what she’s doing!
The Case For Kathleen (in defense):
This article isn’t about Star Wars in general. It’s about The Rise of Skywalker. Let’s be real, the loss of Carrie Fisher decimated whatever plans were in place for Episode IX. Everyone who had any hand in even thinking about the story for Episode IX all said Carrie was critical to the film. That goes all the way back to JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan as they were developing Episode VII and thought where the thing would end. They had very few concrete ideas, but they knew it would end with Leia being front and center. When Rian Johnson wrote Episode VIII and was hired to write IX as well, Leia was to be front and center in his version of the finale. When Treverrow was hired, Leia was front and center.
And then we lost Carrie.
It’s no wonder Treverrow (a medium-talent writer, at best) struggled with where to take the story from there. Eventually, he left and JJ Abrams (even less than a medium-talent writer) decided just to recycle old footage and play Ed Wood with her. The loss of Carrie hamstrung the development of Episode IX and in the hands of a less than competent writer/director (moreso writer than director in terms of his lack of competence), it’s no wonder the movie failed. You can’t really blame that on Kathy Kennedy.
And speaking of the writer/director…
Is it all JJ Abrams’ fault?
The Case Against JJ (burn him!):
Where to begin? He’s the one who threw out everything he could possibly throw out from TLJ and decided to tell both his version of Episode VIII and his version of Episode IX within the confines of a single movie. I don’t want to hear about his mythical three-hour cut. I don’t want to hear how he had so much material he couldn’t put into the movie. He had 2.5 hours to work with and chose to use it with fetch quests and rubbish.
You know what’s a movie that had to shove a bunch of plots from multiple films into one? Star Wars Return of the Jedi, which combined all of Lucas’ ideas for Episodes 6-9 as he had them in mind back in 1981. But after Empire, he was burned out and wanted to end the series with three movies, so he took his idea for VI (Luke rescues Han and learns that he has a sister), his idea for VII (Luke and Vader race to find that sister), his idea for VIII (Luke and his sister [not Leia] redeem Anakin Skywalker), and his idea for IX (Luke, sister, and Anakin destroy the Emperor), and told screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to stick them all in Episode VI and end the series.
And you know what? Kasdan did it!
He took what needed to be said and said it, what needed to be cut and cut it, and what needed to be condensed and condensed it. Sure, some things were cut like Luke and Vader racing to find the long lost Jedi. Some things were rushed-through, like Luke telling Leia that she’s the sister. Some things were combined like the redemption of Vader and defeat of the Emperor (the idea that Anakin would bring balance to the force hadn’t been written yet…and wouldn’t be until Lucas sat down to start sketching out Episode I in 1994 or so), but the movie works. It works because it allows itself time to breathe, to feel, to let the visuals tell the story. It works because it’s not “a Star Wars movie” first and foremost. It’s a FILM first and foremost, and it’s a film that tells a Star Wars story. JJ didn’t have a clue how to do any of that.
He made a “Star Wars movie” that wasn’t a film…it wasn’t anything.
The Case For JJ (in defense):
He had a LOT less time to work with compared to his time on TFA. He had plenty of time on that one to write, film, edit, re-shoot, and finish. Even with Harrison Ford injuring himself, Disney delayed the film from May to December to accommodate him. The end result was a movie that worked. Simple as that.
The Last Jedi was written, filmed, edited, reshot and finished four months before release. The Rise of Skywalker never even finished editing. The movie was written and re-written on the fly, reshoots were all over the place, nothing was set in stone, and movie production and post-production all ran together until it all just…stopped in December so the movie could be released. The departure of Treverrow cost production at least three months of needed time to get the movie fine-tuned in the editing. Unlike with TFA, no delay in the release was permitted. Unlike with TLJ, the movie was doomed from a production standpoint from the start, no matter who the director was.
And speaking of The Last Jedi…
Is it all Rian Johnson’s fault?
The Case Against Rian (burn him!):
Rian’s crimes are listening to Star Wars fans complain that The Force Awakens was too derivative and predictable. So he wrote a movie that forced the story into new and unexpected places, potentially setting up for a finale that wouldn’t be just a retread of ROTJ. His character choices are criticized by some as fandom-killing, but I just assume those are people who don’t really watch movies or understand how storytelling works.
Not to be snobby but…well, there it is.
The idea that Rian “killed Star Wars” or doomed The Rise of Skywalker is as insane as it was when people said the same thing about George after the prequels. At least you could argue those movies were bad on a technical level. Here the complaint is purely story-related. In that case, I don’t know what to say. You don’t like the story; I’m sorry. Did you give it a chance and did you see it through to the end, because honestly, every person who complains that Luke was “just a sad, bitter old man” in TLJ must have walked out before the finale…ya know, the part of the movie where the story reaches its conclusion and everything set up is paid off.
Rian left the franchise ready to tell a powerful conclusion in part three. It’s not his fault that story was never told, or even attempted to be.
The Case For Rian (in defense):
See this article, in particular:
Let’s get to who really is to blame…