Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, from A New Hope to Obi-Wan Kenobi and beyond.
A little while ago I gave six of my “hot takes” on the Star Trek franchise, so this time it’s Star Wars’ turn to receive some controversial opinions! These are all opinions on the Star Wars franchise that, at least based on my limited engagement with the broader fan community, are either unpopular or will prove to be divisive.
This is supposed to be a bit of thought-provoking fun, so more than ever I ask you to keep in mind that all of these opinions are subjective, not objective! I’m not trying to claim that my perspectives on these broad and complex topics are in any way factual or unquestionable; I’m simply offering up my singular take on these points for the purposes of entertainment. I’ll try to explain why I feel the way I do – but I already know that many folks can and will disagree. And that’s okay! The Star Wars fan community is big enough for respectful and civil disagreement about all manner of subjects.
With all of that out of the way, this is your last chance to jump ship if you aren’t interested in some potentially controversial Star Wars opinions!
“Hot Take” #1: The sequel trilogy having problems hasn’t magically redeemed the prequel trilogy or made it any more enjoyable.
One of the strangest arguments, in my view, that has been put forward in recent years by critics of the Star Wars sequel trilogy is that the prequels look so much better by comparison. Although I find Revenge of the Sith to be an okay film, I’ve never been wild about the first two parts of the prequel trilogy in particular, and the fact that The Rise of Skywalker and, to a lesser extent, The Force Awakens have issues doesn’t change any of that.
The prequels had a planned story from the start, and George Lucas knew which characters he wanted to include, what roles he wanted to give them, and what their arcs would look like from beginning to end. There were changes and edits along the way, but the broad strokes of the story had been planned in advance. This is something that the sequel trilogy lacked, with different writers and directors being given free rein to tell whatever stories they wanted – something widely considered to be a mistake. But just because the producers of the sequel trilogy screwed this up, that doesn’t mean that the uninspiring, overexplained backstory that comprised much of the prequels is any better as a result. It was a planned story, sure, but an unnecessary, bloated, and occasionally just plain boring one that did a lot to detract from the intimidating nature of Darth Vader in particular.
Though it’s difficult – and perhaps even a little unfair – to try to summarise the main issue with an entire trio of films in just a few words, I’d say that the sequels went wrong by trying to be too much of a copy of the original films, and then by trying to course-correct following the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi. But the prequels went wrong by telling a story that was ultimately unnecessary; we didn’t need three films chronicling the minutia of Anakin Skywalker’s rise and fall to know that he was an evil villain who could be redeemed by the residual love that he had for his son.
And in many ways, the prequels undermined the story that the original trilogy had told. The inclusion of things like a nine-year-old Anakin being the builder of C-3PO was just plain dumb, and smaller things like Yoda not being the Jedi who trained Obi-Wan, as he would later claim to Luke, ended up contradicting points in the original films. Some of these are arguably nitpicks, but in a story that was weak and muddled, smaller points like these become much more noticeable and begin to pile up.
At the end of the day, many of the prequels’ biggest defenders are folks who grew up watching them as kids. For many people in their teens and twenties, these films were their first point of contact with the Star Wars franchise. And there’s nothing wrong with loving the prequel trilogy – there are points from all three films that I enjoyed, and I even put together a list of some of my favourites for Star Wars Day a couple of years ago.
But just because the sequel trilogy had issues with its production and its narrative, that doesn’t mean that the prequels are somehow made better in hindsight. For me, the prequels remain a disappointment, and although I was scathing in my review of The Rise of Skywalker when I saw it in 2020, for me it’s still a toss-up as to whether it’s marginally better or worse than The Phantom Menace.
“Hot Take” #2: Star Wars needs to end its overreliance on the same handful of legacy characters.
Since it premiered all the way back in 1977, the Star Wars franchise has focused on a tiny number of characters, only a few of whom have been explored in any detail. Prequels, sequels, spin-offs, and even supposedly-unrelated projects have all brought back into play the same handful of characters again and again, and sooner rather than later I’d like to see that stop.
The Star Wars galaxy is, in my view, one of the finest fictional settings ever created. It has both a breadth and a depth that other settings could only dream of: dozens of factions, hundreds of alien races, thousands of inhabited planets, and tens of thousands of years’ worth of galactic history – all of which could be explored in a way that would be absolutely riveting. But so far, writers and creatives have been limited to one tiny corner of this potentially vast sandbox, forced to re-use the same characters, revisit the same planets, and stay within the confines of the same relatively short sixty-year span of galactic history centred around the rise and fall of the Empire.
One of the reasons I love the video game Knights of the Old Republic so much is because it stepped away from much of what was familiar about Star Wars. There were some recognisable planets, and of course we spent time with the Republic and the Jedi, but beyond that the story took place thousands of years prior to the events of the films and introduced an entirely new cast of characters. There were definite inspirations from the original and prequel trilogies, but Knights of the Old Republic was separate from them.
That’s what I’d like to see Star Wars do more of. Instead of telling us another story about Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, tell us something else. Introduce us to a new Jedi, a new Sith, or better yet, new Light and Dark Side factions. Or abandon the Force altogether for once and show us how the 99.9% of the galaxy who aren’t blessed with space magic live! That’s what I hoped that a series like The Mandalorian might do.
George Lucas once spoke of symmetry in Star Wars, saying that its stories should “rhyme.” But there’s a huge difference between rhyming and being a carbon copy of what came before, or between rhyming and diving ever deeper into less and less important chapters of backstory. Unfortunately, because Star Wars has never broken away from its previously-established characters, doing so now is something that must feel like a risk to the suits at Lucasfilm and Disney – and if there’s one thing that makes corporations uncomfortable, it’s risk.
However, as I’ve recently argued, Star Wars can’t just coast forever on nostalgia for its original films and the only real story it’s ever told. Sooner rather than later those characters and settings will be exhausted, spent of all storytelling potential. Then the only remaining choice will be to either try something genuinely new and different… or to bring the entire franchise to an end.
“Hot Take” #3: The Last Jedi will be highly-regarded in fifteen or twenty years’ time.
I unapologetically love The Last Jedi – it’s the highlight of the sequel trilogy for me by far. But I recognise that it was divisive in the fan community, and that some narrative decisions seem to have been made to be deliberately challenging to the expectations its audience had. For me, those points succeeded – and just like Star Wars fans eventually came to accept patent nonsense like “from a certain point of view,” or the arbitrary and unexplained decision to make Luke and Leia into brother and sister at the last moment, in time I think many of The Last Jedi’s story beats will just become accepted part of Star Wars lore.
Moreover, as fans who are kids today grow up and look back on the sequels, we’ll probably see a reappraisal of those films within the wider discourse of the fan community. Just as the prequels are supported today by fans in their teens and twenties, in fifteen or twenty years’ time I think we’ll see a similar movement in support of the sequels from fans for whom those films were their first contact with the Star Wars franchise.
In particular, the merits of The Last Jedi will come to be reappraised. The film wasn’t perfect, but it got a lot of things right, and after The Force Awakens had played it very safe by basically copying large parts of the plot of A New Hope, The Last Jedi really tried hard to take Star Wars to completely different narrative and thematic places.
Unfortunately many of its successes were overridden by The Rise of Skywalker – which itself will gradually become accepted as part of the wider lore of Star Wars, too – but that doesn’t mean that the film can’t be enjoyed on its own merits. Decisions like Rey’s parents being “no one” of consequence or Kylo Ren fully embracing his inner Dark Side to claim the mantle of Supreme Leader are – at least in my opinion – storylines that had massive appeal and huge potential. I’m sure that they’ll be looked upon much more kindly in the years ahead.
If the Star Wars franchise continues its current trend of doubling-down on cheap nostalgia plays and samey, almost repetitive storylines, then The Last Jedi’s attempts to shake things up will come to be seen in a new light. Star Wars is in real danger of becoming stale – if every story focuses on the same few characters, or characters who are so similar as to fill functionally the same role, then the franchise will feel like it’s lost a step and stopped innovating.
It may take a while for attitudes to shift, and there will of course be some fans for whom The Last Jedi will always remain one of the worst parts of the Star Wars franchise. But I really do believe that in a few years’ time the film will find more defenders than detractors, and will come to be an accepted and even celebrated part of Star Wars’ cinematic canon. Hopefully there’ll still be a Star Wars at that point, with new films and shows being created!
“Hot Take” #4: So-called “Jedi Robes” were originally just typical desert attire and not something ceremonial or unique to the Jedi Order.
One thing that’s always bugged me, even as far back as Return of the Jedi, is how so-called “Jedi Robes” are basically just the typical outfit one would expect to wear in a desert environment like Tatooine. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s outfit in the original film was never intended to be some kind of ceremonial marker of the ancient Jedi Order, but rather a costume inspired by desert cultures around the world.
Look at typical outfits worn in North Africa and on the Arabian peninsula as examples. The typical thobe (thawb) and bisht that are worn by men in those regions was part of the inspiration for the outfit, along with outfits worn by Bedouin and nomadic peoples. These outfits are designed to be worn in hot desert conditions, and that’s exactly what we see in “Old Ben” Kenobi’s costume when he encounters Luke Skywalker.
Luke is actually dressed very similarly to Kenobi at that point. The outfit he wears is similar to what Kenobi was wearing under his cloak – a kind of loose-fitting belted tunic. Again, this is something pretty standard in desert regions and makes sense for a planet like Tatooine. There’s nothing about either of their outfits that screams “religious order,” and it’s always struck me as odd – and more than a little arbitrary – that Kenobi’s desert cloak ended up being the basis for the ceremonial robes worn by everyone in the Jedi Order.
In-universe, it doesn’t even make sense for “Old Ben” to be cutting about Tatooine in his Jedi robes – if indeed that’s what they’re supposed to be. He’s in hiding on that world, and as we saw in the opening act of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, changing out of his robes into civilian attire would help him blend in. Putting his robes on to go exploring would draw unnecessary and unwanted attention to him at a time when he’s still one of the Empire’s most-wanted Jedi survivors.
It would’ve been nice to see more diversity in the outfits worn by Jedi Knights and Masters, particularly during the prequel era. We could have seen a whole new range of costumes introduced, including elaborate ceremonial attire if there was a need for that. But simply copying what “Old Ben” wore on Tatooine and slapping it on every Jedi character has never made sense.
While I accept that this is now an established part of the lore of Star Wars and isn’t going to change, it’s something that’s always bugged me!
“Hot Take” #5: Star Wars doesn’t need the Jedi and the Force to tell fun stories.
When The Mandalorian was announced a couple of years ago I felt that it had a truly exciting premise. Following “the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic” sounded absolutely fascinating, and would have been a huge departure from anything we’d seen the franchise do before.
But within two episodes the Force came back into play, and by the end of the second season we’d been reintroduced to Luke Skywalker himself. I still find The Mandalorian to be disappointing as a result; it didn’t live up to expectations and very quickly fell back to retread the same ground as other Star Wars projects.
The Book of Boba Fett likewise brought the Force and Luke Skywalker into its story, and again there was a missed opportunity to show us how the 99.9% of the galaxy who aren’t Force-users live. I’m hopeful that one day a Star Wars project will be bold enough to leave the Force behind entirely – and perhaps it’ll finally happen in Andor, Rogue Squadron, or one of the upcoming films or television shows!
As I said above, the Star Wars galaxy is massive and densely-populated – and the vast, vast majority of the population doesn’t use the Force or rely on it in any way. Characters like Han Solo didn’t even believe that the Force existed at first – and that attitude could well be prevalent across much of the population. Showing us characters like that could take all manner of different forms, and I’d be really interested to see some completely different projects set in the Star Wars universe.
Just as a couple of examples, we could see a kind of noir-inspired crime drama set in the underworld of a planet like Coruscant. Or we could see an ER-esque medical drama that follows the exploits of doctors and nurses at a hospital. There’s more to Star Wars than just Jedi Knights, Sith Lords, and the Force, and while we all love a good lightsaber duel… Star Wars can be more than that, if there’s someone bold enough in creative control to make those decisions.
So far, every Star Wars project has included the Force or Force-wielders to a greater or lesser degree. I’d like to see a film or TV show that completely sets the Force aside. Not only would it expand our knowledge of the Star Wars galaxy away from those familiar elements, but it would be thematically and narratively different by default. And telling new and different stories is something that the Star Wars franchise needs to start doing!
“Hot Take” #6: The prequel trilogy told a story that was ultimately unnecessary.
This isn’t saying “the prequels were bad” and commenting on things like the quality of the writing or specific narrative choices. Instead, what I’m saying is that the story of the prequel trilogy didn’t actually add anything of consequence to the Star Wars saga. Everything we knew about characters like Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and of course Darth Vader had already been explained in the original films.
At best, the prequels were padded backstory. They showed us the Clone Wars firsthand, instead of the conflict being left as a rather ambiguous part of the saga’s lore that was referenced but unexplained. They explicitly showed us things like the original duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan that had been referenced, and confirmed that Obi-Wan had been responsible for causing Darth Vader’s life-limiting injuries. But nothing that they brought to the table was necessary or couldn’t be inferred from the original films.
By the time it had been decided to make Darth Vader Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, his pathway toward redemption was possible. He was an evil villain, but he had enough residual goodness and light inside him thanks to the love he had for his son that it was possible for him to betray the Emperor. We didn’t need three films charting Anakin’s rise and fall to tell us that.
Nor did we need to see Obi-Wan Kenobi training Anakin to inform their conflict. Darth Vader told us all we needed to know in a single line when they were reunited aboard the Death Star. Even Palpatine’s scheming and the way he played both sides in the Clone Wars didn’t really do much to explain his role in The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi – and certainly wasn’t necessary to understand his position or role in either story.
There are things to celebrate about the prequels, don’t get me wrong. And there’s nothing inherently wrong or problematic about stepping back in time to look at characters in their younger days or to go into more detail about some of the events that preceded what we’d seen in the original films. But the Star Wars prequel trilogy padded out that story without really adding to it anything of substance.
The simple fact is that we knew all we needed to know at the time of the original films for those stories to be exciting and engrossing. I never felt that I was missing any crucial context to understand Luke, Leia, Han, Palpatine, or Vader, and while the prequels certainly expanded the story of Star Wars – and in many ways set the stage for its ongoing success – I feel that the reason the story never really resonated with me is because it never seemed like it was one that needed to be told.
So that’s it!
I hope we’re still friends after all of that! Just remember that these are simply the opinions of one person, presented here for a bit of fun and perhaps to be thought-provoking.
Despite criticisms of some individual films and stories, I consider myself a fan of Star Wars. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I first sat down to watch the original trilogy at the insistence of a friend in the early 1990s, and I’ve supported Star Wars at the cinema, on television, and in the gaming realm ever since. There’s a lot to love – even if I have some controversial “hot takes” on the franchise sometimes!
Just this year I’ve enjoyed The Book of Boba Fett and Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Andor and Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will have to offer, too. So I hope this was a bit of fun as we look ahead to some of those upcoming Star Wars projects.
The Star Wars franchise – including all films, games, and television shows discussed above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
There’s some kind of series or miniseries focusing on R2D2 and C-3PO in development. There’s a prequel to Rogue One focusing on Cassian Andor. There’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, which will bring back the classic character to look at his life in between the prequels and the original films. There’s The Book of Boba Fett, in which Boba Fett is inexplicably back from the dead. There’s Ahsoka, a spin-off from The Mandalorian focusing on a character from the animated shows.
All of these projects indicate to me that the higher-ups at Disney and Lucasfilm don’t really know how to handle the Star Wars franchise. They’re intent on looking backwards at Star Wars’ past, seeming to think that what the franchise was is all it can ever be in the future. The result is spin-offs from spin-offs, prequels to prequels, unimportant chapters being thrown under the microscope, and characters of decreasing importance thrust into the spotlight.
Though it was purported to be a spin-off from The Mandalorian, one of the few announced projects that seemed to have any semblance of originality was Rangers of the New Republic. The series was to have looked at the New Republic – the galactic government which was created by the Rebel Alliance following the events of Return of the Jedi – in far more detail than ever before. However, Rangers of the New Republic has now been cancelled.
The New Republic hasn’t been explored in much detail in Star Wars’ main canon, instead being relegated to a background role in both The Mandalorian and the sequel trilogy. In The Force Awakens, we see Starkiller Base deployed against the New Republic’s capital system, destroying its government institutions and much of its military. By the time of The Last Jedi, the First Order is said to be in control of much of the galaxy, and the New Republic isn’t mentioned thereafter.
The Mandalorian showed us a glimpse of the New Republic, including how it tries to police outlying star systems and enforce its laws – and how it’s relatively ineffective at doing so. There was potential to expand on this depiction, showing both the governmental side of the New Republic, hampered by legislative inefficiencies, as well as the actual Rangers themselves.
A lot of Star Wars projects currently in production look at morally ambiguous characters. The Mandalorian focuses on a bounty hunter – someone who primarily operates outside of the law, albeit that he has a heart of gold underneath his armour. The Book of Boba Fett will focus on another Mandalorian bounty hunter, and if it stays true to its premise will show us Star Wars’ seedy underworld in more detail.
Andor will follow Cassian Andor – a character whose moral ambiguity was on full display in Rogue One, and who will do anything to advance the Rebels’ cause. Ahsoka is going to follow the titular Ahsoka Tano, an ex-Jedi who appears to be off doing her own thing rather than helping Luke Skywalker and the Rebels. The only series following an out-and-out hero – or one of the unambiguously “good guys” – is Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Rangers of the New Republic had the potential to show us a different side of Star Wars – arguably one closer thematically to the original films, yet still distinct and independent of them. While other shows would look at the underworld of the galaxy, at criminals, or at spies who’ll do anything for their cause, Rangers of the New Republic could’ve been a breath of fresh air. The series could’ve presented an optimistic cast of characters who were genuinely trying to help the new government succeed.
Characters who are too pure and excessively virtuous can be boring, and that would’ve been a pitfall that Rangers of the New Republic would’ve needed to avoid. But had the show managed to walk that line, we might’ve seen something a bit different from Star Wars’ other current and upcoming offerings: a show that would’ve happily looked at the “good guys” as they tried to shore up the New Republic and tackled everything from criminals to ex-Imperial officers.
In part, the decision to cancel Rangers of the New Republic is probably tied to the situation with Cara Dune actress Gina Carano. Though it was never officially stated that the show would star Carano, many fans and commentators assumed that she would have a significant role to play, so following her dismissal from Lucasfilm in the aftermath of some very stupid social media posts, perhaps the show was always living on borrowed time.
We won’t get into the Gina Carano situation here. Suffice to say that anyone with any kind of profile needs to be incredibly careful what they say on social media, and she wasn’t. She upset a lot of people, doubled down on some of her controversial remarks, and that ended up costing her a potential recurring gig with Lucasfilm. She only has herself to blame.
I would argue, though, that Rangers of the New Republic didn’t need to be all about Cara Dune. We met a couple of New Republic characters in The Mandalorian, and they could’ve served as a gateway into the show, keeping it connected to The Mandalorian and potentially building up to a crossover event with one or more of the other shows that were in production at the same time.
There was potential in Rangers of the New Republic. Not only was it a series that could’ve been something different from the likes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett by looking at the post-Return of the Jedi government, but it was also a series that could’ve left familiar characters behind to strike out on its own. All of the other Star Wars projects currently in production have this kind of backwards-looking, nostalgia-heavy focus, and Rangers of the New Republic was one of the few offerings that had the potential to be something a little different. As Star Wars continues to double down on nostalgic throwbacks, I fear we’ll come to regret the cancellation of Rangers of the New Republic.
The Star Wars franchise – including all films and series mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise – including recent projects such as The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian. There are also minor spoilers for the Star Trek franchise too.
Let’s step through the looking-glass, across the divide between universes, into a strange new world. This world is very much like our own, but with one major difference: Star Trek behaved like Star Wars. The Original Series ran from 1966 to 1969, just as it did in our reality, but then… things started to change.
Join me on a weird and wonderful journey through what Star Trek might have been… if it had acted like Star Wars. Don’t worry, I promise we’ll make it home safe and sound.
We begin our journey in the 1970s. Star Trek is being rebroadcast in syndication, and its fanbase is growing. Some of these fans begin to organise and ask for more Star Trek on their screens, and the company that owns Star Trek in this alternate reality – let’s call them CiacomVBS – thinks long and hard about what to do. They have a popular series on their hands… what should they do with it?
Eventually the people in charge of Star Trek hit upon a brilliant idea: a Star Trek prequel, looking at Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and other familiar characters in their Starfleet Academy days and before their five-year mission. The main roles were re-cast, and the first new Star Trek project in almost twenty years was finally greenlit in 1988. Called the “Kelvin films” for the involvement of a starship called the USS Kelvin, this prequel trilogy was popular with some Trekkies, but wildly disliked by others. When the third film finished its theatrical run, CiacomVBS decided to shelve Star Trek and proclaimed that the franchise was complete.
Fans were split on Star Trek by this point. Some proclaimed that The Original Series was the only good part, whereas other (primarily younger) fans were thrilled with the Kelvin films. As time passed, Star Trek appeared to be complete. Its stars moved on to other projects, or faded into obscurity. But the fanbase remained, and with the passage of time those younger fans grew up, leading to a minor resurgence in the popularity of the Kelvin films.
In the 1990s, a massive media empire called the Dalt Wisney Company approached CiacomVBS about a buyout. When the multi-billion dollar deal went through, Wisney announced a plan to bring Star Trek back – this time for a sequel. Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered a few years later, and starred a younger cast of characters – alongside the return of The Original Series’ crew. Their first adventure was to find Captain Kirk, who had gone missing.
Kirk eventually agreed to train the new crew of Starfleet officers, along with help from Spock, Dr McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu. The returning characters took up a lot of the new show’s screen time, leaving many Trekkies to say that the new crew were undeveloped and underused. To make matters worse, a lack of overall direction by the Dalt Wisney Company meant that each of the three seasons of The Next Generation was helmed by a totally different team of writers. The consequence of this was a jarring change in tone between each of the three seasons.
The Next Generation’s third and final season was its worst by far, with a confused mess of a story that seemed to be trying to overwrite much of what happened in Season 2 – including the backstory of Captain Picard, the major character introduced in Season 1. By far its most egregious fault, though, was bringing back Khan as a villain – Khan had been killed off decades earlier, and his return was called “the worst kind of deus ex machina” by critics.
There were also two “standalone” projects produced during this time. The first saw a team of renegade Starfleet officers go on a secret mission to steal the plans to the Klingon D7 battle cruiser, and ended with them transmitting the plans to Kirk aboard the Enterprise. The second was titled Chekov: A Star Trek Story, and it told the tale of the young Pavel Chekov before he joined Starfleet.
Despite the lacklustre response to The Next Generation and Chekov, Wisney had invested a lot of money into Star Trek, and putting their expensive acquisition on hiatus was not possible. They announced another spin-off: Deep Space Nine. This promised to finally take a look at the Star Trek galaxy away from Captain Kirk and Starfleet for the first time, being set on a space station in a new region that had never been seen before.
Fans seemed to respond well to Deep Space Nine at first, but its short runtime, bland main character, and overreliance on the aesthetic of The Original Series were all points of criticism of the show. By Season 2 it seemed to be doing better and was beginning to stand on its own two feet – but for some inexplicable reason Season 2 of Deep Space Nine brought back the character of Sulu – who had been killed off in The Next Generation. Fans were confused as to how he had survived being eaten by an alien monster, but this was never addressed.
The Season 2 finale was perhaps the most egregious example of Wisney forcing fan-service into Deep Space Nine, though. As Sisko and his crew were cornered, staring down a seemingly-unstoppable villain, the shuttlecraft Galileo was spotted approaching DS9. The shuttle door opened, and there, in all his glory, stood Captain Kirk. Kirk dispatched the villain’s henchmen with ease, and gave Sisko – and the show’s stunned audience – a nod and a wink.
In the aftermath of Deep Space Nine Season 2, the Dalt Wisney Company put together a presentation where they announced what’s coming next for Star Trek – and to no one’s surprise, it was more of the same. Nostalgia, throwbacks, and not much else.
The actor who played Scotty in the Kelvin series was given his own spin-off. Next was Star Trek: Nurse Chapel, which promised a look at the franchise’s second-most famous medical officer. Then there was The Harry Mudd Show, looking at lovable rogue Harry Mudd, and Star Trek: Balok, which promised a deep dive into the backstory of the character fans first met in The Corbomite Maneuver. There was a miniseries looking at Kor, the Klingon captain, and finally there was Star Trek: That Guy Who Flew The Shuttle In That One Episode – which was immediately given a three-season order. Some fans were thrilled with these offerings… but a lone voice spoke out.
On a website called Dennising with Trek, an independent critic wrote that it was time for Star Trek to move on. The Original Series had become a weight around the neck of the franchise, holding it back and stopping it from properly moving on to new adventures. The Star Trek galaxy offered such an interesting and exciting setting, they wrote, that it was positively criminal to only look at such a tiny sliver of it over and over and over again. Star Trek can be better than this.
So that, my friends, is where we end our journey through this strange mirror universe. We step back across the divide, and find ourselves firmly back in our own reality. I promised I’d get you home safe and sound!
What was the point of our little interdimensional sojurn? As I’ve said many times already, Star Wars is stuck. It has never been able to move beyond its original trilogy, and it’s gotten to a point where those films are now holding it back from making any meaningful progress.
You might look at some of the Star Trek projects that exist in the alternate reality we visited and say that they sound like fun – but they represent an incredibly narrow vision of what Star Trek could be. If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars, with a total and unshakable reliance on The Original Series and its characters, we’d never have got to see some absolutely incredible characters and stories. We’d have missed out on Picard’s transformation into Locutus of Borg in The Best of Both Worlds, or on Sisko’s painful decision in In The Pale Moonlight. We’d never have met Captain Janeway and her crew at all, nor Captain Archer and his.
There is a place for prequels, for looking back, and for nostalgia. The very reason franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars were revived is because the companies behind them see nostalgia as a way to attract audiences. But in my opinion – my subjective opinion – Star Wars goes too far and overplays the nostalgia card. The Star Wars galaxy is a sandbox of almost infinite proportions, with not only trillions of inhabitants, countless alien races, and millions of planets to explore, but also tens of thousands of years of history. We could look at events and characters that are entirely disconnected from Luke, Han, and Leia – but Star Wars has never even tried to do that.
The Mandalorian brought back Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker in what was pure fan-service. Fans lapped it up, and I’m happy for the people who enjoyed the way that story went. But for my money I think Star Wars can do better. I think it can be broader and deeper, and can step away from relying on those old characters. Star Wars is a fantastic franchise, and its setting is so vast and interesting that it doesn’t need the crutch of those old characters… but for some reason Disney can’t see it.
Star Trek moved away from its original incarnation decades ago, and in the years since we’ve had a heck of a lot of exciting, memorable shows and films that have become iconic parts of the franchise in their own right. And that innovation and willingness to try new things continues today, with Star Trek recently branching out into animated comedy and with a kids’ show on the horizon. Star Wars could do that too.
Star Trek realised a long time ago that the galaxy Gene Roddenberry and others had created was crying out to be explored. New characters and new ships came along and have had some incredible adventures. Star Wars hasn’t been brave enough to try anything genuinely different yet. I hope one day that will change.
Some names, titles, and properties above have been used in a satirical manner for the sake of parody and criticism. The Star Wars franchise and all related properties are the copyright of the Walt Disney Company and LucasFilm. The Star Trek franchise and all related properties are the copyright of ViacomCBS. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including casting information for The Mandalorian Season 2,The Rise of Skywalker, and other recent projects.
One of my favourite parts of the Star Wars franchise isn’t a film, it’s the two Knights of the Old Republic games from 2003-04. While I generally found the Expanded Universe – now re-branded as Star Wars Legends and no longer in production – to be unenjoyable, Knights of the Old Republic was an exception. It took a setting and a story that was thousands of years distant from the Original Trilogy, and while it’s certainly true that some elements were derivative, especially in the first game, as a whole it was something different that took Star Wars fans to different places and a different era. It expanded on the overall lore of Star Wars without overwriting anything, and it was a great look at the Star Wars galaxy away from Luke, Anakin, and Palpatine.
When it was announced in 2012 that Disney would be acquiring Lucasfilm I was excited. Ever since 1999, when Star Wars expanded to be more than just a trilogy of films, the vague prospect of a sequel to Return of the Jedi had been appealing to me. Learning what came next for Luke, Han, Leia, and others was something I was interested in, as I also was interested to learn what came next for the galaxy as a whole following the Emperor’s death. It’s easy to forget, but Return of the Jedi didn’t end with a full-scale victory for the Rebel Alliance. The Death Star was gone and the Emperor was dead, but practically the whole galaxy was still under Imperial control. I was fascinated to see how the Rebels turned victory in a battle into victory in the overall war.
The Expanded Universe attempted to tell this story, but it was a convoluted, poor-quality tale hampered by having different writers with different ideas – seemingly Lucasfilm’s policy when it came to the Expanded Universe was that anyone could write anything. Many of these stories came across as fan-fiction, pitting a seemingly invincible Luke, Han, and Leia against all manner of obstacles. Over the years, the Expanded Universe grew to such an extent that it was convoluted and incredibly offputting for newcomers – several hundred books, several hundred more comics and graphic novels, over a hundred video and board games, two kids’ television shows, and myriad others, all of which required roadmaps, suggested reading lists, and of course a number of encyclopaedias and reference works to keep up with it all. All of this meant that the Expanded Universe was impossible to get to grips with without making it a full-time commitment. I was pleased when it was announced that Disney would be overwriting it.
By wiping the slate clean, not only would Disney not be constrained by some of the Expanded Universe’s poor storytelling, but the canon of Star Wars post-Return of the Jedi could be restarted, hopefully in a more concise way that would be easier to follow. That seemed to succeed at first, but now – a mere six years on from the cancellation of the old Expanded Universe – Star Wars is once again pretty convoluted with books, games, comics, and even a theme park attraction all officially canon. While I don’t want to spend too much time making a comparison with Star Trek, in that case the issue of canon has always been incredibly simple: television episodes and films are canon, everything else is not.
But we’re drifting off-topic. The Expanded Universe being dumped was a good thing, because I hoped what would replace it would be superior. And for the most part that’s been the case, though The Rise of Skywalker certainly dragged the overall story of the sequels down a long way.
Star Wars has a truly interesting setting: there’s a whole galaxy with countless worlds, trillions of inhabitants, and thousands of different species. But for the most part, the franchise has spent decades focusing on an absolutely minuscule fraction of this vast, potentially interesting setting it’s created.
The Expanded Universe spent a lot of time with Luke, Han, and Leia, as well as later with characters like Anakin, and by far the majority of its stories are set between The Phantom Menace and the couple of decades after Return of the Jedi. Where Knights of the Old Republic succeeded was in taking its audience away from that overtrodden ground and showing us a glimpse of the Star Wars galaxy without those familiar characters.
The prequels dedicated three films to overexplaining the background of Darth Vader – a story I’d absolutely argue was unnecessary and didn’t really do anything to improve or inform the Original Trilogy in any substantial way. That was part of why I found those films so disappointing. While the third entry, Revenge of the Sith, was better than the first two, all three films didn’t really bring anything new or interesting to the table. As I sat down to watch The Force Awakens a decade later, I hoped that we’d start to see something different.
The five films made since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 have been a disappointment in that regard. We’ve had The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, which essentially remade A New Hope and Return of the Jedi only worse, Solo: A Star Wars Story which made the same mistake of unnecessarily overexplaining Han Solo that the prequels did with Darth Vader, and Rogue One, which was a great standalone story but was a prequel feeding straight into the plot of A New Hope. The Last Jedi tried to take things in a different direction, but was still a story primarily about Luke – and is now effectively non-canon after being overwritten by its sequel.
I know I said I wouldn’t make too many comparisons with Star Trek, but there’s one that’s too important not to mention. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. And aside from a cameo appearance, that show basically did its own thing and didn’t worry about The Original Series. The Star Trek franchise thus established that it could be so much more than its original incarnation. Star Wars has never done that – in its cinematic canon it hasn’t even tried, despite existing for over forty years. Where Star Trek consists of three time periods, an alternate reality, and nine distinct sets of main characters, Star Wars has been unable to move beyond the story of its original trilogy. The prequels lent backstory to the originals. The sequels and spin-offs expanded that same story. Even The Mandalorian brought in themes, concepts, and characters that weren’t as far-removed from the original films as they should’ve been – a decision compounded by the silly decision to bring in Boba Fett in Season 2.
Star Was could be so much more than it is. But at every opportunity, decisions have been taken to narrow its focus and dive deeper into unimportant parts of its only actual story; after more than forty years, the Star Wars franchise has still only told one real story. The decision to shoehorn Palpatine into The Rise of Skywalker makes this infinitely worse, as apparently he’s been manipulating everything and everyone from behind the scenes for the entire saga of films. As I wrote once, this transforms the Skywalker Saga into what is really the “Palpatine Saga”, as he’s the only character who seems to act of his own volition. But this isn’t supposed to be (another) critique of that incredibly poor narrative decision!
The decision to bring Palpatine back is indicative of a franchise that has no new ideas. It was categorically not “always the plan” to bring him back in the sequels, or this would have been established in The Force Awakens. Instead, Palpatine became a deus ex machina because Star Wars as a whole has been unable to move out of the shadow of its first three films. Those films could have laid the groundwork for an expanded franchise – as The Original Series did for Star Trek – but instead they’ve almost become a ball and chain; a weight around the neck of the franchise, keeping it locked in place and unable to move on.
It shouldn’t be because of a lack of ideas. The Star Wars galaxy is a massive sandbox for any writer or director to play in, with almost unlimited potential to tell genuinely new and interesting stories. Instead it’s a lack of vision and a lack of boldness on the part of a large corporation; Disney wants to play the nostalgia card over and over again, and because Star Wars had never previously tried to escape its Original Trilogy, doing so now seems – from a corporate point of view – too big of a risk. How else does one explain the decision to allow The Rise of Skywalker to overwrite The Last Jedi? Corporate-mandated cowardice, retreating to nostalgia and safe, comfortable ground. Trying something even slightly different requires a boldness that simply isn’t present in most boardrooms.
Two-thirds of the sequel trilogy re-told the original trilogy. The prequels were glorified backstory, and the two spin-off films were also prequels to the originals. Star Wars has only ever made three original films – everything else either overexplained that story or tried to re-tell it. The Star Wars “saga” is thus nothing more than one story. One main character – Palpatine – controls and manipulates it, and only a handful of characters get any significant screen time and development.
I wrote recently that the overall story of Star Wars has been dragged full-circle, with the questions fans had about the state of the galaxy and the Jedi Order after Return of the Jedi simply not being answered in any meaningful way. The galaxy is once again in a position where Palpatine is dead, there’s one remaining young Jedi, an autocratic state controls much of the galaxy but has suffered a major defeat, and the survivors will have to finish the war and try to rebuild. That’s where both Return of the Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker left things. Far from answering the questions posed by the original films, the sequels just asked the same questions again with a different coat of paint.
By re-telling the same story – albeit in a worse way – the sequel trilogy as a whole has entirely failed to accomplish anything.
The announcement of The Mandalorian came with what I thought was an exciting premise: the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic. Wow! Finally, something genuinely different in Star Wars. It didn’t last, of course, as the second episode of the show brought the Force back into things. While in some respects The Mandalorian tried to be different, in too many ways it was samey. The aesthetic, the reuse of elements from the original trilogy like Boba Fett’s armour, the Jawas and their Sandcrawler, and of course the return of the Force made what was already a boring show with episodes that were too short even less interesting. I found the whole experience a disappointment.
The two upcoming Disney+ shows – based around Obi-Wan Kenobi and Rogue One’s Cassian Andor – look set to repeat the same mistakes. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi was definitely one of the prequels’ better elements, but do we need yet another prequel? In-universe, Kenobi went into exile on Tatooine after the rise of the Empire. Anything he does in the show would either be constrained by taking place within a few miles of his desert hut or else feel awfully tacked-on. And the Cassian Andor show is a prequel to a prequel. Rogue One was a great film, but does it need its own prequel show?
Can’t the investment being made in these properties be reallocated to something genuinely different? There’s so much potential in the Star Wars galaxy, yet Disney and Lucasfilm seem intent on showing us the same tiny sliver over and over and over again. When people talk of franchise fatigue and the feeling that Disney is milking Star Wars dry it’s because of this! When every Star Wars project feels samey and repetitive, it’s much easier to get burnt out on the franchise.
There are some exceptions – I recently played through Jedi: Fallen Order, and despite that game using a familiar time period, it was a mostly-original story with only one returning character from the films playing a role. It was different enough to feel like a half-step away from what had come before.
For the franchise to survive long-term and remain viable, it needs to step away from the original trilogy for the first time. New films and shows, whenever they may come, should look at wholly new characters in a setting and even time period that’s distinct from what came before. There also needs to be a plan – the rudderless sequel trilogy can’t be repeated. Any new project needs to have someone at the helm to guide its story. Questions need to be asked at the beginning about where the characters are going and what the endgame of the story is, so that the franchise doesn’t just keep making the same mistakes.
Not every recent Star Trek project has been to everyone’s taste. But since the 2005 cancellation of Enterprise – and in some respects even before then – Star Trek hasn’t been afraid to try completely new things. Action films, a serialised drama show, and now an animated comedy have all joined the lineup. Some of these have brought in new fans, and at the very least, no one in 2020 can accuse Star Trek of being stale. Star Wars, in contrast, has absolutely become stale. The one story it’s been telling for forty years has finally ended, so now is the moment for Star Wars to properly move on.
The Star Wars franchise – including all films and other media mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash, Knights of the Old Republic II screenshot courtesy of the press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for the whole Star Wars franchise, including The Rise of Skywalker.
The Star Wars sequel trilogy accomplished absolutely nothing. Okay, maybe that strictly isn’t true. I can think of a lot of things it accomplished, from modernising the aesthetic of the franchise to helping fans disappointed in the prequels move on. The sequels also helped make the franchise far more mainstream today than it has ever been, with a larger and more diverse fanbase. But that isn’t what I meant.
In terms of the overarching narrative of the franchise, Star Wars is in exactly the same position as it was in 1983 after Return of the Jedi – and for the most part, that’s actually intentional.
In my review/tear-down of The Rise of Skywalker, I went into detail about how JJ Abrams seems to have been desperate to use that film to try to remake Return of the Jedi – using story elements that were simply not suited for that purpose. Setting aside my plot complaints – notably the return of Palpatine – The Rise of Skywalker ended in identical fashion, and has left the Star Wars galaxy in basically the same place it was almost forty years ago.
One thing fans of the original trilogy (like myself) were so keen to see in the sequels is what happened to the galaxy in the aftermath of the Emperor’s death. Did a New Republic ultimately take control, as depicted in the (awful) Expanded Universe? Did Luke succeed in setting up a new Jedi Order? What happened to Han and Leia – did they get together? There were many questions of this kind, and the sequel trilogy set out to answer them.
The answers we got in The Force Awakens were at least potentially interesting. After the incredible disappointment of the prequels, which were released between 1999 and 2005, I was content for The Force Awakens to re-tell some of Star Wars’ “greatest hits”. Even though, in retrospect, I would absolutely argue that it crossed the line between paying homage and ripping off many aspects of the originals – A New Hope in particular – in 2015 I was fine with that.
But if we look back at The Force Awakens today, in 2020, the groundwork for what would be a cheap recycling of the Star Wars story, ultimately taking the franchise nowhere but back to where it was, are on full display. We have a hidden and secluded old Jedi master, paralleling Ben Kenobi from A New Hope. We have an authoritarian state with a planet-killing superweapon, which of course parallels the Empire and the Death Star. We have a mysterious old dark side user who has a helmet-wearing apprentice, blatantly paralleling the Emperor and Vader. We have a rag-tag group of Resistance fighters – led by Princess Leia. And we have Han and Chewie regressing to their pre-A New Hope roles as non-caring smugglers.
However derivative that setup may have been, even by the end of The Force Awakens there was scope for Star Wars to go in a different direction and end up in a different place by the end of the trilogy. The Last Jedi tried to pull the franchise to a different point – most significantly by taking Kylo Ren away from the copycat-Vader path toward redemption and making him, not Snoke, the ultimate evil villain of the story.
The Rise of Skywalker, to my surprise, I must admit, spent a significant amount of time undoing what had been set up in The Last Jedi and tried – unsuccessfully – to remake Return of the Jedi from a very different starting point, cramming unsuitable story elements into that mould and relying on the deus ex machina of Palpatine’s inexplicable return to allow Kylo to follow Vader’s path to redemption.
The Rise of Skywalker established that the First Order was in control of almost all of the galaxy by this point in the story – akin to the Empire’s powerful position in Return of the Jedi. Just like in that film, the Resistance’s destruction of one fleet and the death of one leader does not, in itself, constitute overall victory – there is still a war to be won against the remaining forces of the First Order, just as the Rebels after Return of the Jedi had to continue the war against the Empire. The resolution to this war was not seen on screen and, frankly, victory cannot be guaranteed. The destruction of the Sith fleet at Exegol didn’t do anything to the First Order’s other fleets and forces, and while Palpatine may have been a “power behind the throne” for much of the First Order’s rise, his death is far less meaningful to the average First Order soldier or supporter than his fake-death was to Imperial officers after Return of the Jedi.
With the galaxy still under First Order control, the Resistance have their work cut out if they’re to follow Leia’s example and try to recreate the Republic for a second time. Even without a Supreme Leader, the First Order poses a significant challenge.
The First Order’s two potential leadership figures – Palpatine and Kylo Ren – both died in The Rise of Skywalker. Palpatine’s second death – if indeed it is a death and not another ruse – obviously copies his death in Return of the Jedi. And Kylo’s was also a copy of Vader’s death in Return of the Jedi – dying in Rey’s arms as Vader had died in Luke’s.
With her Jedi masters – Luke and Leia – dead, Rey is the sole survivor, as Luke had been at the end of Return of the Jedi. The Jedi Order must now be recreated from this one remaining young person, and Rey’s task is now identical to the one Luke faced all those years ago. Where will she go to establish her Jedi temple? How will she find force-sensitive children (or adults) to train? How long will it take for the Jedi to be restored? All of these questions were faced by Luke, and now they fall to Rey.
The Sith have been finally defeated. As they should have been after Return of the Jedi. With no remaining dark side devotees following the deaths of Snoke, Kylo, and Palpatine, the question of what happens to the Sith and the dark side rears its head. Will that knowledge be forever lost? Will someone new find out about the Sith and try to recreate their teachings? And of course the burning question: is Palpatine really dead? All of these questions existed in 1983 too.
In some circumstances, a cyclical story can feel good. It can make sense and it can have a powerful message, saying something like the rise of evil is a problem we always need to be on guard against. But it doesn’t feel good with Star Wars. In the aftermath of The Rise of Skywalker, three major storylines have taken a circular, copycat path and landed right back where they started: the state of the galaxy and who governs it, the future of the Jedi Order and how it may be rebuilt, and the demise of the Sith and the dark side. In all three of these cases, Star Wars is in exactly the same place as it was after Return of the Jedi.
This feels cheap and lazy. The creators of the sequel trilogy – and I’m looking at JJ Abrams in particular – didn’t actually answer any of the questions posed by the ending of Return of the Jedi. Instead they pulled a bait-and-switch, remaking the original trilogy with a different trio of main characters and a few minor spot-the-difference story threads. With The Rise of Skywalker overwriting key points from The Last Jedi, we can almost disregard that film entirely from the trilogy. It tried to be different, but the differences it brought to the table didn’t last. Instead we have two copycats, and by remaking those same stories and putting the new characters into situations that are repeats of what came before but with a slightly different veneer, the trilogy ends with the same questions as before. What will happen to the galaxy? What will happen to the Jedi?
We didn’t get real answers to those questions in the sequels. We got a pretend set of answers that simply lifted all the same elements present in the original trilogy, gave them a new coat of paint, and plopped them down in the answer column.
What happened to the galaxy after the Empire? A new Empire, called the First Order, showed up. Oh and it was being controlled by the old Emperor who only pretended to have died.
What happened to the Jedi Order? Luke made a new one and then it got destroyed again! And that happened almost entirely off-screen, so the only part we got to see was Luke being a hermit like Old Ben Kenobi.
What happened to the Sith and the dark side? Well remember how there was an ancient, scarred dark side user who had a helmet-wearing apprentice? Yeah, well there’s two more guys like that. Oh and one of them, in a shocking plot twist, is related to other main characters!
Okay… so what will happen to these storylines? Surely something different that what we saw in 1983, right? Nope! The First Order will have a fleet of planet-killing ships destroyed and Palpatine and Kylo and Snoke will all die! But the rest of their forces are intact and probably still in charge of the whole galaxy. The Jedi Masters will all die leaving only one Jedi left! And the dark side is… I dunno. Gone, maybe? Or maybe it’ll come back when we need another villain. Who knows?
The future of the Star Wars galaxy is as unclear today as it was in 1983. Not only are the questions that we have identical to those that we asked after Return of the Jedi, but the “answers” to those questions the first time we asked them has been to simply re-tell the same story in a worse way, dragging it full-circle right back to the same point.
Considering where it started and where it ended up, the whole sequel trilogy has been a waste of time. The first two films may be enjoyable as standalone pieces of cinema, but in the broader context of a large, ongoing story set in a massive fictional universe, it accomplished absolutely nothing. The three new films could’ve not been made and nothing would have changed.
The Star Wars franchise is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and for other films in the Star Wars franchise.
Health problems make it impossible for me to get to the cinema these days, and as a result it usually isn’t until films are released on home video or streaming services that I’m able to see them. In some cases, such as with the Star Wars franchise, the prevalence of online spoilers means I know the premise and plot before I’ve seen the film. With The Rise of Skywalker I was not impressed with what I’d read, and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. Something similar happened a couple of years ago with The Last Jedi, and despite expecting to be let down by that film, I came out of it feeling pleasantly surprised – so there was a glimmer of hope!
Sadly, it was not to be. The Rise of Skywalker is saved from being my least-favourite Star Wars film simply by the existence of The Phantom Menace – and at times, it’s a toss-up as to which film was worse. At one point while I was sitting down to watch The Rise of Skywalker, one of my cats sat in front of the television and proceeded to lick her arsehole… it was by far the most entertainment I got in the entire two-and-a-half hours.
Let’s start with what I did like. There are some points in The Rise of Skywalker worth praising, despite my overall feelings. Firstly, most of the visual effects, especially the CGI and digital artwork, were outstanding. There’s no denying that The Rise of Skywalker is a visually impressive film; from its space scenes to the various settings on the surface of planets, many of the visual effects and set dressings were good. Compared to the incredibly rough late-90s/early-2000s CGI present in the prequel films and the updated original trilogy, digital effects have come a long way – The Rise of Skywalker thus stands up alongside the other two films in the sequel trilogy, as well as Rogue One and Solo, as being good-looking. There were some individual visual elements and props that I felt didn’t hit the mark, but we’ll deal with those later.
Next, there were a couple of genuinely funny moments where The Rise of Skywalker’s humour hit the mark. The scene in the serpent’s den where Rey ignites her lightsaber only for Poe to turn on a flashlight was quite amusing, and did win a chuckle.
I’ve always been a sucker for heroic stories about last stands – so despite the various plot complaints that I’ll come to in a moment, the desperate last-ditch effort by Poe and Finn’s rebel forces did manage to elicit some of the feelings it was clearly aiming for. And the scene where Lando arrived with a last-minute rag-tag collaboration of ships and people from across the galaxy did feel good in that moment. This kind of story – a heroic, seemingly doomed last stand where the day is saved at the eleventh hour – is one of my favourites, and even though it’s been told numerous times across different types of media through the years, it still has the potential to be exciting and emotional.
Adam Driver is a phenomenal actor, someone who I’m sure will win one of the top awards one day. The Star Wars franchise really lucked out to land someone of his calibre to play Kylo Ren, and he didn’t disappoint in The Rise of Skywalker in terms of his performance. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the performance from the character, especially if the plot is a mess, but despite my misgivings about Kylo Ren’s storyline, Driver gave it his all and the film was significantly better for his presence in it.
Despite his limited screen time, I also enjoyed Richard E Grant’s performance as General Pryde. He is the kind of steadfastly loyal member of the “old guard” who I wish we’d seen more of in the previous two films. The First Order was, in some ways, presented as a youth-led rebirth of the ideology behind the Empire, but it was clear even in The Force Awakens that there needed to be more people than just Snoke who had lived through the Empire’s reign and wanted to reinstate it. The First Order could really only have come to exist because of people like General Pryde, so an acknowledgement of that was definitely worthwhile.
Finally, I appreciated the fact that, in a film that was otherwise completely overwhelmed by attempted nostalgia, there were new locations to visit instead of having the characters always retreading old ground. The planets of Pasaana, Kijimi, and of course Exegol are all new to the franchise, and the first two in particular were interesting locations.
Now let’s get to what I disliked – which, unfortunately, is the majority of the film and its story.
Palpatine has returned… somehow. That’s all the explanation he gets, yet his return presents a massive issue not just for this film, not even for this trilogy of films, but for the entire “Skywalker Saga”. I’ve written about this previously, but the inclusion of Palpatine, and the revelation that he’s been the driving force behind the entire plot of the sequel trilogy, means that the Skywalkers aren’t the focus of their own story. Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, and now Rey Skywalker (she adopted the name at the end of the film in a widely-mocked scene) aren’t really protagonists any more thanks to the return of Palpatine. They have no agency over their own stories, because it turns out that Palpatine was behind the scenes manipulating everything and everyone – the three main characters of the three Star Wars trilogies were just along for the ride; their stories were something that happened to them as opposed to something that they actually did. As I wrote previously, the “Skywalker Saga” should really be titled the “Palpatine Saga”, since all of the stories are his and he’s the only character who actually acts of his own volition.
Star Wars ceased to be Anakin, Luke, and Rey’s story and became Palpatine’s over the course of a tedious two-and-a-half hours, transforming the story at a fundamental level. And for what? What purpose did the return of Palpatine actually serve? The biggest factor in play is nostalgia, something which The Rise of Skywalker absolutely drowned in. The only other reason he was drafted back in was because JJ Abrams and the rest of the creative team couldn’t think of another villain.
There was clearly a desperate desire on the part of JJ Abrams for Kylo Ren to be redeemed – following the path of Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, which The Rise of Skywalker was trying so hard to emulate. But even more so that Darth Vader, Kylo was irredeemable. He’d made his choice in The Last Jedi to commit to the dark path and claim the mantle of Supreme Leader for himself, and there was no going back for him. This is, after all, the character who murdered Han Solo in cold blood – are we supposed to forget about that?
Snoke’s death in The Last Jedi – which was Kylo’s moment of clarity and final commitment to the dark side – created a huge problem for JJ Abrams, who was evidently wedded to the idea of Kylo’s redemption. This concept, that Kylo could be redeemed and come back to the light, is part of a broader problem with the two JJ Abrams-led Star Wars films: they’re copying their predecessors. The Force Awakens crossed that invisible line between paying homage to A New Hope and outright ripping it off, and when it comes to many elements in The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo’s redemption included, it’s crossing that same line with Return of the Jedi.
Kylo didn’t need to be redeemed. His storyline took him from wavering dark side devotee, desperately living in his grandfather’s shadow, right up to being Supreme Leader – something even Darth Vader never managed. He overthrew his master and claimed all of that power for himself, and in that moment he committed to the dark path. There should have been no going back from that, and the turnaround makes almost as little sense as General Hux’s betrayal of the First Order. Adam Driver plays Kylo perfectly as angry and entitled. He wouldn’t be a good leader; he lacks all the characteristics. But that didn’t stop him craving the position, and when he saw a chance to turn on Snoke he did; Snoke was little more than a foil for Kylo’s rise. His turnaround in a film which already suffers greatly from pacing issues feels like it comes from nowhere; there’s simply no time for exploration or development of that moment. One second he’s evil dark side “I’ll turn you evil too just you wait and see” Kylo, the next minute he’s back in the light as Ben Solo. There’s no process, no nuance. It’s black-or-white, with the flick-of-a-switch to change sides. Apparently that’s how the Force works: you’re on one side or the other, and switching is easy as pie. That’s despite the originals, prequels, and the first two sequels showing that to absolutely not be the case.
As you know if you’re a regular reader, I like to nitpick. And the biggest nitpick I have regarding the Palpatine plot is this: how the heck did he survive the Death Star blowing up? He was thrown down a deep shaft in the Death Star right before it exploded – and depending on what you read and where, that may have led directly to the station’s main reactor core. But let’s say that he did survive the destruction of the station somehow – why did he wait over thirty years to re-emerge? Why not simply hop on the nearest Star Destroyer, fly back to his palace on Coruscant, and continue to reign as Emperor? Even in Star Wars’ new canon, it took well over a year from the destruction of the Death Star for the Empire’s forces to be finally defeated – ample time for Palpatine to re-emerge and provide the fracturing Imperial forces with much-needed leadership. It would be much easier for Palpatine to have retained control of much of the galaxy and rebuilt his Empire by defeating the rebels than to have to re-conquer the entire galaxy all over again with the First Order.
Staying with Return of the Jedi, are we supposed to believe that this was Palpatine’s “grand plan”? To govern as Emperor for twenty years, get thrown down a reactor shaft, be blown up, wait thirty years while Emperor of nothing, and then return to re-conquer the galaxy with a new fleet? That reads like awful fan-fiction, not to mention that it’s incredibly convoluted, even by the standards of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe – which has thankfully been overwritten.
Palpatine’s survival and re-emergence also deprives Darth Vader of his redemption and makes his sacrifice far less meaningful. At the climax of Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader’s dedication to the Sith and the dark side is finally overcome – the love he has for his son brings him back to the light for the final time, and by killing Palpatine he not only saves his son, but sets the stage for bringing peace and freedom to the galaxy. That’s a heck of a legacy, though it doesn’t negate two decades’ worth of dark side evil. However, The Rise of Skywalker undoes that incredibly powerful ending to Darth Vader’s story. His one great act of redemption now marks little more than the halfway point in Palpatine’s rule instead of its end, and the sacrifice he made turns out to be meaningless in the overall story of the franchise. At best, Vader set back Palpatine’s plans by a few years. At worst, he contributed to making them happen by being – as all the main characters seem to have been – an easily-led pawn in Palpatine’s evil schemes.
I don’t believe for a moment the argument coming from JJ Abrams and others that Palpatine’s return was “always the plan”. There’s simply no evidence to support this claim in the two previous films. Snoke was the First Order’s Supreme Leader, and there was no indication that he was anything other than the person in charge. Especially in his second appearance in The Last Jedi, Snoke was this trilogy’s version of Palpatine – continuing the theme of JJ Abrams essentially copying characters and story points from the originals. Neither Abrams nor Rian Johnson acknowledged in any way the possibility that Snoke was merely a pawn, a clone, or someone who lacked volition.
The insertion of Palpatine is a classic example of a deus ex machina. JJ Abrams had a problem when he commenced work on The Rise of Skywalker. He needed Kylo Ren to follow Darth Vader’s model and be redeemed, but with Kylo being the Supreme Leader, and with no other villains in the story, the only way to get to that specific endgame was some kind of deus ex machina – dumping a bigger, badder, evil-er villain into the story at the last minute. Even within that unnecessarily limited framework, however, there were other options. Just off the top of my head here are three: Snoke returns in some form (ghost, cloned body, etc), an ancient Sith emerges in some far-flung part of the galaxy, or General Hux stages a First Order coup and claims the title of Supreme Leader for himself.
Palpatine’s return is really the major point that ruined the film. There were plenty of other areas where things went wrong – and don’t worry, we’ll look at all of them – but the fundamental flaw in the story was Palpatine being desperately shoehorned in by a writer/director who had no idea what to do or where to take the story. Even if all of the other issues with The Rise of Skywalker disappeared, Palpatine would still loom over the plot, stinking it up.
So I think we’ve covered in sufficient detail why Palpatine’s return failed so hard. But this wasn’t the only point where the name “Palpatine” caused a problem, as The Rise of Skywalker changes Rey’s past to make her his granddaughter.
The Last Jedi firmly established that Rey didn’t have a lineage and wasn’t descended from one of Star Wars’ established families or characters. There had been internet speculation for two years leading up to The Last Jedi that she would be related to someone – Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jabba the Hutt, etc. – but The Last Jedi made it crystal clear that she wasn’t. This became one of the points of criticism of that film, and one part of the reason for the backlash and division it caused, but overall I actually liked that story point. Like other Star Wars fans, I’d been happy to speculate after 2015’s The Force Awakens who Rey might be related to. But I also had the ability to recognise that these fan theories – convincing though they may be – were just that: fan theories. And the likelihood of any of them being true was pretty low. As a result, when we got the answer to Rey’s family in The Last Jedi I was satisfied – and more than that, I felt it was a good idea.
I know not everyone liked the idea of Rey being unrelated to anyone in Star Wars, so let me just explain briefly why I felt this worked so well. One of Kylo Ren’s most significant points is his background. He sees his lineage as both something he’s desperate to live up to, and something he’s embarrassed about. He wants to be Darth Vader, but he’s living with a weight on his back as the son of Han and Leia – two of the most significant leaders in the Rebellion. He also feels that he has a birthright, that his ancestry being so powerful in the Force gives him some kind of right to rule. By contrast, Rey has none of that. Her baggage stems from not knowing her family, barely remembering them, and being abandoned and alone. There’s an immediate contrast between Rey and Kylo that works incredibly well.
Secondly, Rey’s origin in The Last Jedi had a very powerful message – heroes can come from anywhere. Destiny and ancestry don’t matter, what matters is a person’s own character and how they behave. No one has a birthright to anything, least of all power – whether that means power in the sense of ruling or magical power like the use of the Force. Of all of the points in The Last Jedi, this was the one worth keeping. Not only does undoing that require the use of stupidly complicated semantic gymnastics that make Return of the Jedi’s “from a certain point of view” actually seem to make perfect sense, but it undermines the one established fact about Rey’s character and weakens the overall story of Star Wars. Force powers can be inherited, that’s something we already knew going back to the revelation of Darth Vader being Luke’s dad. But JJ Abrams seems to think that means that all Force-sensitive characters – main characters, at least – need to have inherited their powers from another main character. The idea that Rian Johnson had, which was not just present in Rey but also in “broom boy” at the end of The Last Jedi, is that Force sensitivity can manifest in anyone.
The final answer to the question of “is Rey a Mary-Sue character?” seems to be that actually, yeah, she kind of is. I stuck up for Rey for a long time in discussions like that, and especially after The Last Jedi I pointed to her origin as an argument in her favour. I felt that we needed to see her story in full before rushing to judgement, that there would be a valid reason for her innate Force abilities. This reason was at least hinted at in The Last Jedi, with the line: “darkness rises, and light to meet it”, implying that Kylo and Rey’s status as a Force duo was somehow connected to her power. But nope, it turns out it was destiny. Destiny and ancestry. I find the “destiny” excuse to be such an overused trope in fantasy, and it’s disappointing that Star Wars would send its protagonist down that path.
Many people in Star Wars, including Rey actress Daisy Ridley and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, like to talk about Rey being a “strong female character” and use that to make some kind of pseudo-feminist point. But by saying the sole reason for her power is that she’s descended from someone powerful – a powerful man, in this case – she stops being the “anyone” character that young girls can look up to and feel inspired by. It’s no longer the case that any girl can grow up to be as powerful as Rey; she’s the galactic equivalent of a Disney Princess, whose power and authority comes from nothing more than her birthright. The Force is a great metaphor for aristocracy, apparently.
In a way, we can argue that this is a wider issue in Star Wars. The revelation of Vader being Luke’s dad was shocking and truly unexpected in The Empire Strikes Back, but the drawback to that big shocking moment was that Luke’s character changed from being a nobody from a backwater planet who happened to be in the right place at the right time to change the galaxy to someone who was fated and destined to play that role. The Star Wars franchise has leaned excessively into this trope, making practically every character somehow related or tied to every other character – something that happened a lot in the prequels in particular.
The final issue I have with Rey being a descendent of Palpatine is this – it’s fanservice. It’s as if JJ Abrams had read through a bunch of fan theories about Rey and said “hey, this one is popular so let’s use it”. It’s not so much that it’s nonsensical, but that it overwrites a major point from the last instalment. It’s a story beat that was clumsily dumped into the film for the sole purpose of pleasing the vocal minority of Star Wars fans who hated The Last Jedi. It’s corporate revisionism to attempt to placate upset fans, not an organic and natural story point. In fact that sentence could summarise basically the whole plot of The Rise of Skywalker – it’s corporate-mandated cowardice, caving to the angry reaction some fans had to the last film.
How else do we explain the greatly diminished role offered to the one significant character The Last Jedi introduced – Rose Tico? Kelly Marie Tran played the character well in both of her appearances, and in the aftermath of The Last Jedi found herself subjected to a campaign of online hate by the film’s detractors who, being brain-dead morons, could not separate the actress from the character. Some of this hate spilled over into racism and sexism, and Tran has been vocal about how the attacks affected her. For JJ Abrams, Disney, and the Star Wars brand to treat her with such blatant disrespect by writing such a minor blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role for her character is a disgrace. It was an attempt to appease that same group of angry fans by simply giving them what they wanted – the removal of a non-white female character. That was not the initial reason they may have had for disliking Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, but over the course of more than a year of aggressive attacks on the actress through 2018, while The Rise of Skywalker was in development, it became about more than just a character and the way she was written – and that’s something the Star Wars brand should have taken a stand on. Rian Johnson himself had been supportive of Kelly Marie Tran since her appearance in The Last Jedi, but I heard next to nothing from anyone else associated with Star Wars in support of her, even from Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, who likes to talk big about being a “feminist”. It seems that the higher-ups at Disney were content to throw the actress under the bus in an attempt to placate fans who were responsible for some truly vile sexist and racist statements. I guess sexists and racists still buy tickets and merchandise if you give them what they want.
On a somewhat-related note, I’m disappointed that Star Wars missed the opportunity for one of Poe or Finn to be gay. This is less about them being a couple; their bromance is a fun dynamic and I don’t think it needed to “evolve”. But I think we saw enough hints from the time they spent together in The Force Awakens that either of them could have been gay. Rose Tico complicates that particular plot point for Finn, but in The Rise of Skywalker, Poe is reunited with an old flame – and this new character was the perfect opportunity, as making them male instead of female would have changed nothing in the story. I don’t like to be all about “identity politics”, but it feels as though the franchise missed an open goal. Representation of LGBT+ people in all forms of media and entertainment is streets ahead of where it used to be. In Star Trek: Discovery, for example, we have a gay couple in Stamets and Culber. I don’t think it’s “absolutely necessary” for Star Wars to follow suit, but I’m left wondering why they didn’t. Was it another attempt to placate sections of the audience, particularly in less-tolerant parts of the world? We already know that one minuscule section of the film showing a same-sex kiss was censored in some markets. Did JJ Abrams and/or Disney want to make Poe gay but backed down in the face of opposition and lost revenue? I can’t help but wonder.
Let’s move on and look at a couple of the visual effects and aesthetic choices I felt didn’t work. Modern Star Wars films have, generally speaking, enjoyed great visuals, and as I mentioned already, those in The Rise of Skywalker were good on the whole. But there were some missteps. Firstly, the decision for Palpatine’s face to be illuminated by the flickering of lightning worked well in his first appearance to keep his face hidden until the right moment. Lightning for a villain is clichéd, but that doesn’t even matter when compared to the failure of the Palpatine plot overall. But the overuse of this lightning effect for practically all of Palpatine’s scenes rendered any impact it could’ve had completely impotent, and detracted from the look. In short, it was a cliché idea to begin with and it was thoroughly done to death.
Next, the Sith assassin’s dagger. For such an important macguffin, one that the characters spent a lot of time searching for then examining, it looked crap. It was made of foam-rubber or some other non-metal material, and that fact was painfully obvious on screen. Rather than looking like a dangerous fantasy-inspired weapon it looked like a cheap child’s toy. For one of The Rise of Skywalker’s main props that simply shouldn’t have happened, and if it looked that bad on camera then some digital effects should have been applied in post-production to improve its look.
We also need to talk about the scenes involving Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. Fisher passed away in 2016 – a year before The Last Jedi was released – and her role in this film was always going to be a hurdle for JJ Abrams to overcome. Tying into the theme of the trilogy overall lacking any sense of leadership and direction – which I discussed in more detail in a previous article that you can find by clicking or tapping here – Leia’s role needed to be addressed. There was a year in which to adjust, in a relatively minor way, The Last Jedi in order to bring her role in the franchise to a different end. Instead, Kennedy and Johnson opted to leave her role untouched in that film, despite the opportunity for a more heroic death presenting itself and despite the fact that there was scant leftover footage for The Rise of Skywalker to incorporate. As a result, the scenes with Leia are clumsy at best, nonsensical at worst, and the fact that they’re lifted from a different film is painfully obvious. While having Leia die off-screen would have been difficult too, starting the film with her funeral and with every character talking about her could have been an option and I’m sure a suitably heroic tale of how she came to pass away could have been written. Look at how Star Trek Beyond paid homage to Leonard Nimoy’s character of Spock for a smaller-scale version of the kind of thing I mean.
Leia’s actual death in the film was a poor shadow of Luke’s in The Last Jedi. Luke appeared to Kylo in a vision, standing up to the First Order to buy time for the Resistance to escape. Leia simply called his name – once – didn’t appear in any kind of visual form, didn’t say anything other than his name, and then died. Compared to other options for Leia’s death, this was a let-down. My first choice would have been to rework The Last Jedi to see Leia killed off during the space battle. There was a pitch-perfect scene included in that film which would have allowed her a death that was dramatic, impactful, and that mattered. The second-best option would have been for Leia to have died off-screen and for her brief role as Rey’s Jedi trainer to have fallen to Luke – perhaps with the explanation that Leia had trained Rey in the intervening years off-screen. And if JJ Abrams was wedded to the idea of Leia reaching out to Kylo, that could have been included early in the film, or in flashback form.
While I understand that there was a desire on the filmmakers’ part to treat Leia and Carrie Fisher with respect, they had ample time from her death in 2016 to find a way to rework the story to get around it. Luke’s death in The Last Jedi could have been cut with minimal effort so that Leia died and Luke survived to train Rey. Or if Luke had to die in The Last Jedi his inevitable Force ghost could have been introduced far earlier in The Rise of Skywalker to allow for Leia to die off-screen and be commemorated with enough time left over for Luke to fill her shoes as Rey’s trainer.
There’s no escaping the awkwardness of Leia’s scenes in The Rise of Skywalker, unfortunately. In 2019 and 2020 we might forgive that as the memory of Fisher’s passing is still recent. But The Rise of Skywalker will not age well, and these scenes will look even worse in the years to come – not that I’m in any hurry to rewatch the film, of course.
General Hux’s role in The Rise of Skywalker goes completely against his character as established in the previous two films. Hux was one of two surviving named villains as of the end of The Last Jedi. Captain Phasma had been thoroughly wasted in both of her appearances, of course, and with Snoke dead only Kylo and Hux remained. Domnhall Gleeson played the role perfectly, as he had done in both previous entries, but the decision for Hux to turn on Kylo and spy for the rebels wasn’t a clever subversion, it was ham-fisted and indicative of the fact that the plot couldn’t be made to work with the available characters. JJ Abrams needed a spy in the First Order for story reasons, and with no one else available, it had to be Hux.
Hux had the potential to be a far more interesting villain. I already proposed the idea that he could have staged a coup against Kylo, thanks to the loyalty he commanded from his forces. That was one option. But Hux was a dyed-in-the-wool First Order zealot, so the idea that he, of all people, would change sides simply because he doesn’t like Kylo is just stupid. Illogical and stupid.
The climactic battle between Palpatine’s Sith armada and the rebels doesn’t make sense, and the story behind it doesn’t survive even a brief first glance, let alone a deeper examination. While some of these points stray into nitpicky territory, taken as a whole the entire sequence is one big failure.
I can believe, in the context of a fictional universe, that certain starships may be built that require an external guidance system. It’s stupid, and no other ship in Star Wars to date has had that limitation, but as a basic concept it’s not wholly unbelievable. But given that no other ship in Star Wars has been so limited, why would Palpatine make that decision? Giving the entire battlefleet a crippling limitation is stupid, and while it may be something that could happen, it’s not a mistake someone like Palpatine would be likely to make. The line that the ships “can’t tell which way is up” is similarly ridiculous, because all they’d have to do is go up… the opposite direction to the planet’s surface. They could figure that out by looking out a window if they had to.
This dumb storyline was included to allow Palpatine’s fleet to look large and thus visually impressive, especially in the trailers and other pre-release marketing, but without making it too powerful. Giving the ships an artificial and unnecessary limitation opened the window for the rebels to defeat them, allowing JJ Abrams to write scenes for Poe, Finn, and others that harkened back to A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. If the fleet were utterly invincible, then of course the story would not have been able to come to a happy ending. But good stories find ways for their protagonists to prevail without making stupid choices and putting them up against cardboard cut-out opposition.
Next, we have the decision to have Finn and his group of rebels land on the outer hull of one of the ships. This was included solely for the purpose of looking visually “cool”, and for someone solely interested in brainless action I guess it did for a few seconds. But thinking about it, even for just a brief moment, it becomes obvious that all the starship would have to do to to get rid of them is… move. The smallest move in almost any direction would have sent them tumbling, and rolling or rotating the ship would have meant they’d have all fallen to their deaths. The fact that no one on the bridge of the ship considered that option is not credible.
Equipping all of the ships with Death Star cannons makes a degree of sense, and as an in-universe concept the idea that the technology could be manufactured on that scale isn’t stupid. But again, as with the number of ships this is something which seems impressive for all of ten seconds, but quickly fizzles out without the weapons causing major damage or having much of an impact on the plot. Everything about the fleet, from the scale of it to the weaponry it’s equipped with is impressive-looking but ultimately lacking in depth. It’s shallow and show-offy but without anything substantial to back it up.
One thing from the battle that I would have wanted to see is how Lando managed to rally people from across the galaxy to the rebels’ cause – especially considering Leia’s failure to do so at the end of The Last Jedi. Was it Lando’s winning personality that convinced everyone? Was it the threat of Palpatine? How did he bring together so many people in such a short span of time, starting from nowhere? How did he even know he needed to, or where to send them? This could be a whole film in itself – and would be far more interesting than The Rise of Skywalker.
Finally, and this ties into Palpatine’s role in the film in general, is why Palpatine broadcast his intentions to the galaxy before his fleet was ready or even in position to be ready. All that did was allow his enemies the opportunity to organise – which is what we see them do for the entire film. As I’ve already noted, this robs the characters of agency in the story as all they do for the entire film is scramble to respond to Palpatine’s threat. But why make the threat now? Why not wait 24 hours until his fleet had got into position – especially considering the inbuilt weakness in the fleet that made them vulnerable at their home base? It’s a storyline written to look tense and dramatic on the surface, but without any depth to it to pay off the tension and drama. It was designed in such a way as to look like a desperate last stand, but with an obvious path to victory for the rebels.
One of the few original elements present in The Rise of Skywalker was the concept of using the Force to heal wounds and even revive someone who had died or was close to death. This power has been present in some Star Wars video games – where it makes a certain kind of sense as an in-game mechanic – but was new to the films. And it opens a lot of plot holes for other films in the series. If the Force can be used to heal and even revive the dead, how do we account for the death of characters like Qui-Gon Jinn, or even Darth Vader? And why would Anakin have been so terrified of his wife suffering complications in childbirth if the ability to heal even life-ending injuries was possible through the Force? If The Rise of Skywalker were a new and original film it would have worked, but as the ninth part of a series it didn’t.
The Last Jedi shook up the story of the sequel trilogy, and whether we like that or not – and I respect that there are strong feelings on both sides – it narrowed down the choices for where The Rise of Skywalker could go. However, JJ Abrams decided not only to ignore large parts of the second film in the trilogy, he set out to actively overwrite them. Whether this is because of the reaction to The Last Jedi or because Abrams couldn’t detach himself from his own version of the story isn’t clear – perhaps a combination of the two things.
Where The Last Jedi tried to take Star Wars in a different thematic direction, The Rise of Skywalker drags it back, kicking and screaming, and tries to remake Return of the Jedi using story threads that are no longer suited for that purpose. Unfortunately the story JJ Abrams wanted to tell couldn’t be crammed into that mould, and what results is a horrible mess. The clumsy and stupid insertion of Palpatine into a story that was never his ruins the entire film, and that’s without accounting for the many other storytelling failures. Furthermore, Abrams’ need for The Rise of Skywalker to overwrite parts of The Last Jedi with his own ideas about what could’ve happened to the characters and story in the previous entry means that The Rise of Skywalker feels like two films condensed into one – it’s trying to tell parts two and three of the sequel trilogy, but in the runtime of a single film. As a result, it feels rushed and incredibly poorly-paced. This is not helped by the action supposedly taking place over a single 24-hour period for the most part.
Someone far wittier than I wrote in a review of The Rise of Skywalker when it was still in cinemas that it feels less like a feature film than a collection of Vines or TikTok videos set in the Star Wars universe, and that for a younger generation, raised on six-second video clips, maybe the manic pace and choppy editing will just seem natural. I can’t say I disagree when it comes to the pacing and editing. The film rushes from point to point and from character to character with no time for the audience to digest anything that happens. It also suffers from the longstanding Star Wars problem of needing new characters and character variants to turn into merchandise. The inclusion of some of these characters complicates and confuses the plot, and pads out a story that needed no padding whatsoever in light of the decision to overwrite parts of The Last Jedi. But how else do we explain “Sith Troopers”? They’re just red Stormtroopers. Or Poe’s girlfriend? Two words: action figures.
When the reaction to The Last Jedi was so mixed and some people were angry and upset, I was glad that I hadn’t fallen out of love with the rejuvenated Star Wars. I hoped that The Rise of Skywalker would bring most of those people back into the fold and that with The Mandalorian coming on Disney+, there would be great Star Wars content to come for a long time. I was wrong, and I now have a not dissimilar reaction to that felt by many fans two years ago. However, one bad film does not ruin a franchise, and as much as I dislike The Rise of Skywalker (and was bored to tears by the snore-fest that was The Mandalorian) I remain hopeful of better projects to come. Rogue One was one of my favourite films of all-time, and I even picked it for my top film of the 2010s when I put together a list back in December – you can find that list by clicking or tapping here, by the way. So there is still hope within the franchise and the brand – Star Wars can be good. But The Rise of Skywalker is not good. It is not good at all.
I wrote parts of this article a few weeks ago, the same day I watched the film. But because it was something I genuinely did not enjoy I found writing this review to be hard-going, and as a result it slipped to the bottom of my writing pile and it’s taken several attempts to get it finished. I don’t like tearing down a film like this, especially in a franchise like Star Wars that I do generally enjoy. But honestly, not since I watched The Phantom Menace have I come away from a Star Wars film so deeply disappointed. I’m surprised that a big-budget film could be this bad – and that the trilogy it wraps up could have been constructed so poorly by a major corporation and a group of accomplished filmmakers. It beggars belief that they messed up this badly.
All that being said, I will happily trek back to Star Wars when the next big release is ready, hopeful to see something better and more exciting than The Rise of Skywalker. And I’m happy to rewatch The Last Jedi time and again, as I feel that film really goes above and beyond to show what Star Wars can be when it’s not bogged down in overused tropes and sad clichés.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is out now on DVD and Blu-ray and may be available to stream on Disney+ (if not it will be soon, I didn’t bother to check). The Star Wars brand – including The Rise of Skywalker and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for all three films in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, including The Rise of Skywalker.
As I’ve covered already here on the website, reviews for the final part of the Star Wars sequel trilogy – The Rise of Skywalker – are mixed. What this unfortunately means, at least in the short-term, is that the divisiveness in the fanbase and in online fan communities, as well as a lot of vile anti-Disney hate, will continue. The best opportunity to bring fans back together was wasted with The Rise of Skywalker, which inexplicably brings back Emperor Palpatine, throwing up issues not just for this trilogy, but for the original films too.
I don’t want to get into all of that right now, as I’ll save my opinions on The Rise of Skywalker itself for when I get around to a full review. This article intends to address the production side of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and the clear issues that have been present.
Despite what George Lucas subsequently claimed, 1977’s Star Wars was a one-off film. It wasn’t “Episode IV” when it was released, it was a standalone story – albeit one that was careful to leave the door cracked slightly open to allow for the possibility of a sequel. The fact that the original trilogy wasn’t a planned story is noticeable – not least in the haphazard approach to the family ties between Vader, Luke, and Leia. A New Hope (as we’ll have to call it to avoid confusion) is a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end. If there had only ever been one Star Wars film, it would still be a complete story. The two sequels follow on from A New Hope, but are a second self-contained story; a duology, if you will.
In 1977 that made perfect sense – there was no guarantee that A New Hope would be a success, so dedicating extra time and money to writing sequels before the original was even a proven earner would have been wasteful. Not to mention that if the story had been written as part one of three, ending without wrapping up its story, and then for production reasons parts two and three were never made, A New Hope would be even more of a failure that if it were a standalone film that flopped. In short, in 1977 it wasn’t anyone’s intention to make a trilogy of films, and the fact that The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were able to be made at all was purely on the back of the success of A New Hope and the story it told.
Fast-forward to 2012, when Disney bought Lucasfilm – and with it, the rights to the Star Wars franchise. The intention, as stated by Disney at the time and many, many times subsequently, was to make a new trilogy of films. Not one new film with the possibility to make others, but a trilogy of three films to serve as a sequel to the originals.
It’s apparent from the ending of The Force Awakens that it wasn’t ever intended to be a one-shot story. As Rey finally travels to Ahch-To and meets Luke, she extends her hand and offers him his father’s lightsaber. And then the film ends with the two of them standing on the cliffside – as close to a “cliffhanger” as it’s possible to get without one of them literally hanging from that cliff! This moment set up a sequel, the second part of the planned trilogy.
Disney and Lucasfilm went about writing this trilogy in the worst possible way. They brought in three different writers and directors – later reduced to two when Colin Trevorrow left the project that ultimately became The Rise of Skywalker – and each was essentially given free rein to tell whatever story they wanted, regardless of how well it worked as one part of a larger overall story. JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson simply didn’t work together on their stories – that’s “stories” in the plural, where it should have been two parts of one single story.
The use of different directors for each film is not, in itself, an issue. Even the original trilogy had three different directors. Television series do this all the time, and as long as the story is good there can even be a benefit to having different directors, as each brings their own style and insight. In Game of Thrones, for example, some directors became renowned for their battles, and others for quieter, character-driven stories. Splitting up the directing duties worked well in countless other franchises, so why not in Star Wars too?
The fundamental problem is that there was no story for the directors to work from – or if there was, they were allowed to ignore it entirely.
Between 2012, when the Lucasfilm deal was announced, and the release of the film that ultimately became The Force Awakens, there needed to be one writer – or a team of writers – planning out in excruciating detail what the story of the trilogy would be. They needed to consider which characters were coming back – obviously Han, Luke, and Leia were, but who else? Then they needed to consider what was happening in the galaxy – we all assumed the Empire had died with Palpatine, but what happened next?
A lot of Disney sequels (the direct-to-video kind) have the same basic problem: how do you tell an interesting and engaging story after “happily ever after” – without completely undoing the happy ending? This is the problem Star Wars was facing: the Emperor was dead, the Death Stars destroyed, and as of the end of Return of the Jedi it looked like we were on course for a Rebel victory. So, if the Rebels did win and managed to restore democratic government to the galaxy, and both of the Sith Lords (Vader and Palpatine) had died, where was the threat, drama, and tension going to come from in order to drive the new trilogy of films?
This was the fundamental question. What came after the happy ending? And then how could that be spun out into a three-film story arc that would be as dramatic, as tense, and as exciting as the originals?
The answer came from JJ Abrams as he set to work on The Force Awakens – after the Empire fell, the First Order rose from its ashes, and was trying to overthrow the New Republic. They had legions of Stormtroopers, they had a planet-killing superweapon, and they had a mysterious Dark Side user as their Supreme Leader, who had a helmet-wearing Dark Side apprentice. A little derivative, perhaps, but not bad. After the disappointment of the prequels a decade prior (see my last article for my thoughts on that series) a return to what made Star Wars great seemed like a solid idea. It was, at the very least, a plausible and perfectly reasonable way to approach the new trilogy.
Except this was how JJ Abrams approached The Force Awakens; it wasn’t how Disney and Lucasfilm were approaching the whole trilogy. Rian Johnson came along and decided that Star Wars needed to go in a bold new direction. Instead of Rey being related to Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi, she was nobody, related to no one. Instead of Kylo Ren being on a path to redemption like his grandfather, he chose to commit to the Dark Side and claim for himself total power. And instead of Snoke being as manipulative and cunning as Emperor Palpatine, he was cut down by his apprentice before he could achieve his goals. Bold. New. Different. And a great way for the franchise to go to stay relevant and exciting.
Both concepts – JJ Abrams’ idea of retelling the “greatest hits” of Star Wars, and Rian Johnson’s idea to shake up the franchise and take it to wholly new thematic places – have merit. But they’re about as far apart as it’s possible to be.
What that means is that Disney and Lucasfilm needed to pick one style or the other. Before The Force Awakens was fully in production, Rian Johnson had been approached to make The Last Jedi and will have, at the very least, submitted some kind of story outline or discussed the basic premise and concept he had in mind. There was still time, even in mid-2014, to change direction and go down the Rian Johnson route if Disney and Lucasfilm wanted to do so. But if they were happy with the JJ Abrams approach, and wanted the sequels to essentially re-tell the original trilogy, then they needed to commit to that approach instead.
Trying to do both has resulted in the sequel trilogy being a mess. It hasn’t had any direction to its story, and at a fundamental level it hasn’t even known what kind of story it was supposed to be telling. That is a significant problem that has hampered it, and one that was entirely avoidable if basic film production and storytelling rules had been followed.
This has been made worse and more noticeable by JJ Abrams returning for the final film in the series. If someone else – literally anyone else – had made their version of The Rise of Skywalker, perhaps the trilogy would have felt like a bit of a mixed bag; a collection of three distinct films. But because JJ Abrams came back and was allowed to essentially ignore the plot of The Last Jedi – even overwriting large parts of it – the resulting trilogy has a very weird feel where two films take one approach, but the middle part is completely different. And whatever one’s opinions on The Last Jedi may have been when it was released, the overall trilogy is not served by having films overwrite one another.
When there are a total of three films to tell a story, with a total runtime of seven hours, give or take, there just isn’t time for one film to retcon and overwrite its predecessor. The tonal shift is incredibly jarring too, as the trilogy goes from “remember the greatest hits of Star Wars?” to “I bet you didn’t see that coming!” – and then back again. A consistent tone is just as important as a consistent story – perhaps even more so. And as it’s clear that the two writers and directors had such contradictory visions for where to take the franchise, a decision had to be made as to which one to go with.
The fact that no such decision was made, and production on the films was allowed to proceed in this manner ultimately rests with the executives at Disney, who will have had the final say on such things. I guess I just don’t understand how people who have worked in this industry – very successfully – for decades would have failed to realise that they had a problem on their hands. Organising the trilogy along these lines should simply have never happened. I don’t think it’s fair to blame either JJ Abrams or Rian Johnson – because both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are great films as standalone pieces. In fact I think as time goes by, The Last Jedi in particular will be held up as a great example of sci-fi filmmaking and of the Star Wars franchise in general. But you can’t blame storytellers for telling the stories that they wanted, especially when they had almost unlimited resources thrown their way. The guidance and the control over their stories had to come from someone higher up, and it was unfortunately absent.
If there had been a story treatment written for the trilogy, then each director would have been constrained by that. Perhaps someone like Rian Johnson might’ve decided not to jump on board if he had to tell a JJ Abrams-style story, and vice versa.
But I’d have liked to see it go even further. The most successful film trilogy of recent years, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, was produced and shot back-to-back. One team was in control for the entire production, and the films were then released over a three-year period. There’s absolutely no reason why Star Wars couldn’t have emulated this successful formula. By appointing someone to be in overall creative control, there would have still been the option to have three different directors and different scriptwriters for each film, but the production would have been smoother.
Shooting the films back-to-back would have also meant that Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016 wouldn’t have been an issue for The Rise of Skywalker to have to get around. This is purely hindsight, because no one would have predicted that she would have passed away before the trilogy was complete, but it has nevertheless been a production issue. With the death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens and the death of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, Fisher’s Princess/General Leia was the last remaining of the original core characters. And unfortunately the scant footage that was left on the cutting room floor from the first two films was nowhere near enough to sculpt the kind of major role destined for her in The Rise of Skywalker – leading to some clumsy scenes in that film. Again though, this isn’t a reason why shooting all three films at once should have happened, it’s instead a positive consequence of doing so because of what happened out here in the real world.
This kind of production would have been more expensive initially, because the cost of producing all three films would have to be paid up-front. But it does offer advantages. Firstly, some costs would be lower – due to not having the expense of setting up production three times. Secondly, and most importantly from an audience point of view, the story and scripts could be adjusted if necessary. If something didn’t seem to be working or making sense it could be cut or reworked, to the ultimate benefit of the story of all three films.
Whether that option was ever seriously considered, or whether it was always the case that the three films would be produced wholly separately isn’t known. But I think that the way the sequel trilogy turned out is a great argument for producing all films in a planned series at once. In that sense, its ultimate purpose may be to serve as a warning of how not to approach filmmaking in future.
At the end of the day, the two competing visions at the core of the Star Wars sequels – JJ Abrams’ idea to re-tell Star Wars “greatest hits”, and Rian Johnson’s approach, trying to take the franchise to new and unexpected places – have merit, and each could have been spun out into a creditable series of films. Both concepts actually produced decent standalone pieces of cinema. But they completely failed to gel together and produce a cohesive story.
When film historians look back on the sequels, they will say that they managed to avoid many of the missteps that plagued the prequels, and that they are a much more watchable and enjoyable set of films as a result. What the sequel trilogy is not, however, is a single narrative. And it lacks many of the basic points that a story should have to reach the heights that the franchise aims for.
How are Rey, Finn, and Poe significantly different by the end of The Rise of Skywalker than they were at the beginning of The Force Awakens? Rey has learned the truth of her parents – after a deliberate false start. Finn… quit the First Order. But he did that in The Force Awakens and as a character hasn’t changed any since. Poe is still Poe… he’s a good pilot and a leadership figure. But none of them learned major lessons, suffered significant defeats, or appear to have grown. And from the original characters, Han was murdered by his son, and Luke and Leia both died performing the same Force power. Han had actually wholly regressed as a character by The Force Awakens, abandoning his family and the cause he’d fought for to return to being a smuggler. Leia was fundamentally no different than the last time we’d seen her, taking a leadership role in the new rebellion. Luke is the only one of the three to have had significant character development – all of which happened off-screen. He tried to raise a new generation of Jedi, and fell into a deep depression when he failed.
I know some fans were upset by Luke’s depiction in The Last Jedi, and I’d like to address that one day in a standalone piece as there’s too much to cover here.
But back to the characters – Kylo Ren is the only one of the new characters who goes through any significant arc. And even this is blighted by the different approaches from the different writers/directors. In The Last Jedi, after killing his father in the previous film he then turns on his master, Snoke, and kills him too, claiming the mantle of Supreme Leader for himself. He had made a commitment to the Dark Side and seemed beyond redemption, only to be redeemed anyway in the next film.
The sequel trilogy hasn’t really known whose story it was telling. The prequels were Anakin’s story. The originals were Luke’s story. And the sequels can be viewed as both Rey’s story and Kylo’s, but also as Palpatine’s thanks to his inclusion in The Rise of Skywalker and the revelation that he’s been manipulating everything and everyone from the beginning. For me this deus ex machina fails completely as any kind of passable story point. But given that it’s in there, it changes the whole nature of the trilogy, and of the “Skywalker Saga” as a whole. It should have almost certainly been titled the “Palpatine Saga” given his role in the story.
The only way to have avoided these pitfalls would have been an entirely different approach beginning immediately after Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012. By the time they’d decided to essentially tell three independent stories and string them together, the damage was done and it’s taken till now for the extent of it to be realised. JJ Abrams, given his “mystery box” style of crafting stories was always the wrong choice to helm this series. He was the wrong choice to tell the first part of a story because he offered a barebones setup with no forward plan, and he was the wrong choice to bring in to conclude it for the same reason. Rian Johnson, for all the criticism that came his way, made a brilliant film. But The Last Jedi only really works as a standalone piece, bookended as it now is by two JJ Abrams films.
Ultimately, responsibility lies with the senior executives who chose this approach. And while it might be tempting to say that Rian Johnson derailed the trilogy by taking the middle film in such a different direction, if there had been someone in overall creative control, that either wouldn’t have happened, or it would have happened in such a way that the final film could have followed on from its conclusion and still felt natural. As things stand today, the trilogy is a mess. It’s a mess in terms of story, and in terms of tone, and unfortunately it’s in a position similar to The Hobbit from the last decade – in that it’s considered mediocre at best, and not really a worthy successor to a franchise as iconic as Star Wars.
The Mandalorian – despite how I personally felt about it – has been received far better. As was Rogue One. So there is still life in the franchise thanks to these other projects, and as we move forward there will be the Obi-Wan Kenobi series and at least one new series of films which I hope will be more successful. Unlike with the prequels I’m happy to rewatch the sequels because, as I keep saying, they do make for great standalone films. But as a series, and as one single, cohesive story, they didn’t hit the mark.
The Star Wars franchise is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.