I didn’t attend D23; the ultimate Disney-Marvel-Star Wars reveal party. That’s fine. Dragoncon is this week. And the internet is instantaneous. From Friday through tonight, multiple times over, everything revealed on stage was force fed to me through social media. And like Takeru Kobayashi, I gobbled it all down and wanted more.
My main interest was the Marvel stuff, because that’s pure addiction for me, and after the bad trip that’s been the Spider-Man news, I needed a promise of my next high. Disney, ever the good
pusher content provider, was there, promising me so much for such a small, small, price… and never mind that Sony stuff, just look over here. Did we mention Black Panther 2 in 2022?
But it isn’t the Marvel stuff that has me writing tonight, mainly because Marvel is, if nothing else, consistent in being better than average. Yeah, they’re taking some risks with Disney+, and yeah, we’re all bummed that Uncle Ben is going to have to die again, but with over 10 years and 3 phases, the MCU has earned some trust.
What about Star Wars, then? There was plenty of Star Wars news, but I want to focus on the three announcements/reveals that most caught my attention for reasons ranging from the good to the bad. First Up: The Poster Child of Playing it Safe
Because I always like to rip the band aid off, let’s start with the bad. The Rise of Skywalker poster. I’ll begin by saying I’m on the record about The Force Awakens and J.J. Abrams place in the Star Wars franchise; bluntly, the story was derivative as can be-it would be a monumental struggle to be any more derivative (maybe a female wookie with white fur?). It brought absolutely nothing new to the franchise. And it was absolutely what was needed. It was creatively insipid. But completely, emotionally rewarding. It was the balm that older fans needed on the lingering burns and self doubt created by the prequel trilogy. If nothing else, Abrams is great at telling rehashed stories in a compelling visual manner. In that moment in time, his weaknesses were strengths for Star Wars.
I think this is relevant because after The Force Awakens, Star Wars took some creative risks with Rogue One and The Last Jedi, both of which, in my opinion, round out the top three best Star Wars movies. Nevertheless, The Last Jedi unleashed such a backlash of nerd rage that it traveled through time and space to apparently turn Solo into the closest thing to a dud the franchise has ever had. Solo wasn’t a bad movie. It just wasn’t a necessary one, but that’s a different conversation.
Point being- going strictly from one trailer and one poster unveiled this weekend, y’know, hard concrete stuff, for sure- I very much get the feeling Disney blinked. They saw their multibillion dollar investment getting the same internet treatment as a gamer who happens to be a girl and retreated to what they felt was safe for them; J.J. Abrams. I mean, he worked before, right?
This worried me. The rumors of backtracking on The Last Jedi didn’t help. The trailer, with the imperial cackle at the end, just made it worse. And now this poster. It’s probably a safer bet that Palpatine is coming back than that Han shot first at this point. While that’s probably a good move to placate the rabid fan boys; creatively, it feels so weak. There could have been a real exploration of Snoke, or even a delving into the madness that consumes Kylo Ren with the rise of a young and more ardent fascist First Order. But no. Instead, we’re going back again to the original trilogy just like with The Force Awakens, and placing the onus of all that is bad on a one dimensional, purely evil, individual. Because it’s safe and comfortable and familiar, and I don’t know, makes us all feel like kids again?
I recognize that Star Wars has a history of revisionism, going back to Lucas’ first outlines. There’s contradictions from movie to movie to trilogy to trilogy. Then there’s the Special Editions (shudder). Rewriting and ignoring what came before is baked in the very foundation of the franchise. And generally speaking, the fans look the other way, or devise elaborate explanations for why it actually all makes sense, because really, if they’d just kept the Expanded Universe canon, it would have worked because Mara Jade! Or something (but at least we got Thrawn back, right?). I’m not saying I’ve spent hours on YouTube watching video essays explaining away every mistake, but I’m not saying I haven’t, either.
So maybe getting upset here doesn’t make sense. By all accounts, the Skywalker saga will end as it lived; glorious to behold, but more than a little creatively stunted. That shouldn’t bother me, but it does, and maybe it should bother you, too, because this is the end of the line for the Skywalkers, and I’ll bet you a slightly beat up Millennium Falcon that Rey ends up being a Skywalker (“but ewww, there was sexual tension between her and Kylo in The Last Jedi!” Par for the course in the series, par for the course).
Love it or hate it, no one can deny The Last Jedi took risks. And Rogue One? It showed us that not every hero has to be a Jedi or a Skywalker to change the galaxy. The idea of Rey being-other-was important in that capacity because it meant that the hero, who we idolize (when we’re not tearing them down) doesn’t have to be a descendant of immaculate conception to fight evil head on and change things for the better. They could be a nobody that isn’t a secret prince or princess. There doesn’t have to be a prophecy about them to make them important. They could just be an abandoned scavenger, and that’s pure magic, right there.
I’m terrified it’s all- nine movies and 42 years- going to conclude on a special effects bonanza of a by-the-numbers predictable, but still strangely forced, nostalgia filled emotionally driven but ultimately vacant and off the mark production, that makes Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi look like genius storytelling in a modern Shakespeare work by comparison. From Episode 7 to 8 to 9 it’s been a tug of war for the very soul of the franchise and in the end, who has won is as clear as the fact that Kylo is back to wearing his helmet that he so dramatically destroyed in The Last Jedi. He’s trying to be Vader 2.0 rather than himself again. It doesn’t have to make sense if just looks cooler. And it definitely sells more toys.
The real question though, is going to be whether there’ll be a bigger and more powerful and fully operational Starkiller Base to destroy. At least we’ve got Lando back!
Of course, all this could be pointless pessimistic speculation, and all my disappointment and apprehensions could prove unfounded. It might be that J.J. is pulling another “John Harrison isn’t Khan” on us, and I might be eating these words after I walk out of the theater on December 20th, and yeah, of course I’m going to see it in the theater, because it is Star Wars, and I can admit that, while I’m probably right, I really, really, hope I’m wrong. I frickin New Hope I’m wrong.