Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Legacy of Skywalker

I hadn’t planned on doing another post about the Star Wars saga. For me, as I said in my last outing on this subject, my Star Wars fandom is firmly rooted in the past triumphs of the IP, and I have no interest in whatever Disney has created for the galaxy far, far away beyond the top notch Rogue One. However, on occasion when I’ve run out of gaming news to read, I’ll do a quick search on the subject to see what others around the Internet are saying because, quite frankly, it actually can be more entertaining than the movies themselves. What has struck me, now that the final outing for the Skywalker Saga has been completed is how there are so many out there, fans and critics alike, who consider the conclusion an epic failure for the series. What makes this so ironic is the fact that the movies have brought in over a billion dollars each, world-wide. It’s incredible to see that in today’s world we can have billion dollar failures. That’s the current state of Hollywood for you, I guess. But the thing that has struck me the most, reading all these opinions on this trilogy, is that fans, critics, and the Disney suits alike really just don’t get it.

As I mentioned previously (and to avoid rehashing some of my arguments, I encourage everyone to go ahead and take a look at my previous blog entries on Star Wars if you haven’t read them already), I had no interest in seeing Episode IX. However, through my readings, I have read through the plot, and must say that I am just as glad that I skipped watching the conclusion to the trilogy as much as I wish I had done the same for Episode VIII. I didn’t think that the absolute crap writing of The Last Jedi could be matched by Rise of Skywalker, but it seems J.J. Abrams managed to do just that. And as a result, it has become painfully obvious that there was simply no overarching plan or plot for this trilogy of movies other than to sell a product and rake in associated merchandising tie-in money. Kathleen Kennedy’s statement that the plan to bring back Palpatine all along is not only a joke, but an outright lie, as evidenced by the plot of the original script written by Colin Trevorrow. I mean, wow, talk about no captain being at the helm of a ship. And the complaints or suggestions that Episode IX would have been better served story-wise by being split into two movies, so some backstory can be shown in one is just laughable. Once again, this was a trilogy of films and part of the job of one film is to set up events in the next. Episode VIII and Episode IX essentially have nothing that ties anything resembling a coherent story together. They are two separate films on two separate topics and that is an utter failure of management on the part of those in charge.

Naturally of course, the reviews for the final outing reflect just the opposite of what we saw with the previous film. Fans liked this one as much as the critics did the last, and vice versa. But for me, they were both equally badly written movies. I will restate this – it’s obvious the filmmaking mantra is just to go from one visually impressive storyboard moment to the next with no real rhyme or reason except to show off the technical visual effects and make people go “Wow!” in their seats in the theater. But let’s get back to the root of the issue, because, at the end of the day, the failures of Rise of Skywalker all hinge upon the failures of The Last Jedi. It’s also ironic that fans of TLJ have the same complaints and are saying the exact same things about how TROS is bad and ruined Star Wars as those who made those exact same statements about TLJ two years ago. But everyone complaining two years ago were wrong and just anti-inclusive. Funny, now that the shoe is on the other foot, how all of those complaints are now legitimate. Let’s take the Holdo maneuver for instance. I mentioned this in my previous posts on The Last Jedi, and the problems it posed for storytelling past and future in the Star Wars universe. Fans of TLJ and the scene in particular don’t care about that. It just looked cool. But in The Rise of Skywalker, the maneuver is retconned to be nothing but a big ole luck of the draw lottery hit. Those same fans, who see this as a major detractor to Holdo’s sacrifice don’t like the fact that the maneuver was retconned in such a manner. But they have absolutely no issue with the maneuver retconning every single Star Wars space battle that came before, and necessitating the need why the maneuver can’t be done in every space battle hereafter. Very interesting, and probably the one key point to just how poorly The Last Jedi was written.

Critical complaints about the conclusion of the saga rest upon the fact that it pays homage to the past outings of the series and essentially is a fan service movie. It’s seems that movie critics really hate fans of franchises because they never seem to like a movie that actually appeals to them and makes them want to go spend money to see that movie – especially when those fans are primarily white males it seems. I guess we’re just supposed to go spend money on things that don’t appeal to us. But that’s side-tracking down another path we have already discussed over the past year. But, let’s also remember that it is all of those fans that actually kept the universe alive and going for decades after it ended. It was because of this fandom that George Lucas finally decided to make the Prequel Trilogy. Star Wars is only relevant today, and worth a $4 billion buyout because of those fans. But fuck them. They don’t matter. That’s just great, isn’t it? So, the critical darling of the series is such because it was bold and subverted expectations, and Rise of Skywalker is bad because it walked back on a lot of those decisions. But what exactly was bold about The Last Jedi?

It was already pretty much established from the first six movies that anyone can be a force-user, and thusly train to become a Jedi. A farmboy. A slave. A princess. Then there’s the whole slew of Jedi we get to see in the prequel trilogy. As far as I know none of them were actually related to a Skywalker or Palpatine in any way, we can presume they came from all walks of life. So there was nothing bold about that idea. And the fact that everyone seems to be related to a Skywalker or Palpatine in the last movie is a bit of a hyperbole to say the least. But let’s remember that this series of movies is about the Skywalker family. I don’t know, but I mean I would think that there ought to be at least one or two main characters that should have something to do with that, right?
But really, what else was bold in the movie? Luke was a grumpy old man waiting to die? Snoke was a red herring? Hux was slapstick comedy relief? Women were in charge in the Resistance? Lest we forget that Women were in charge in the Rebellion as well. Two strong, competent women as I recall. Well, it guess it was bold the make the women in charge in this one incompetent leaders. Wouldn’t really have a story otherwise, would we? I haven’t really seen anything that really explains what was so bold about the decisions made for The Last Jedi. Like I said before, as much as The Force Awakens (and The Phantom Menace) were rehashes of A New Hope, this one was a poor writing attempt at rehashing The Empire Strikes Back, virtually beat for beat. The only expectation that seems to have been subverted (aside from all the asinine fan theories that were put forth – Rey a Kenobi, Jesus, get with it people) was going to see The Last Jedi and expecting another great Skywalker Saga story, and instead we get poorly written fan fiction. So let’s take this bold and subversion of expectations things to a couple of other areas here as a comparison.

What would be considered bold to me? Stephen King writing a Romcom. AC/DC doing an album featuring Arias. Heck, both Pat Boone and Christopher Lee (yes the actor) released heavy metal albums. I find that kind of bold. For some reason critics seem to hate formulas. Perhaps they were just bad at math and chemistry and only had creative writing to fall back upon as a career so they are a little salty about not actually being able to be an astronaut or rocket scientist despite how people tell their kids “you can be anything you want.” Sorry, that’s not reality. But I digress. Stephen King writes horror. That’s what he’s good at. AC/DC makes riff centric rock n’ roll. That’s what they are good at. The James Bond movies follow a formulaic plot in each and every one. That’s what a James Bond movie is. Stephen King isn’t popular because he went out and subverted expectations. AC/DC continue to be popular and well-liked by their fan base because they keep doing what they do, as repetitive as it may sound. People go to a James Bond movie expecting to see a certain style that they get enjoyment out of. That’s why they go spend money to see the movies. Sometimes the old adage actually does ring true – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you don’t like the Star Wars movies following a certain formula or retreading certain themes and ideas, perhaps you simply don’t like Star Wars movies about the Skywalker family. That’s actually OK. You don’t have to. But don’t go complaining about it. Don’t complain that AC/DC doesn’t do anything different and that they need to be bold and do something different. They don’t. They got to where they are because of what they do. And there are a great many people who like that. Why does that need to change to suit the fancy of someone who clearly is not a fan? That’s just asinine.

The current iteration of Star Wars movies are billion dollar failures, not because of the long time fans. They are not billion dollar failures because of the lore and the history of the universe established in the previous outings. That’s like saying it’s too hard to write a history novel because the North won the Civil War. There are a hell of a lot of compelling stories that can be told by staying true to real life history, and the same goes for made up histories in things like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and every single deep and long running franchise. I’ll say it again, any writer who complains they are hamstrung by the load of lore and history in a universe is simply an unimaginative writer and not very good at their craft at the end of the day.

You know what would have been bold and launched the final trilogy in the Skywalker saga forward? Rey and Kylo Ren joining forces and becoming Grey Jedi at the end of The Last Jedi. That would have been something fresh, exciting, and truly subverting expectations. What fans, critics, and Disney itself failed to see with this trilogy is that the most compelling character in the whole thing was Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. The killing of Snoke was a shock, but it was the perfect set up to tell the tale of the fallen Jedi, Ben Solo, and would have been the perfect jumping off point to create a really engaging story with the interaction and conflicts between Kylo, Hux, and Phasma as they vie for power and attempt to defeat the Resistance lead by the strong female leader of Leia Organa (something else the PC crowd tends to forget when they bash the white male fans – we had no problem with the competent leadership of the rebellion being two intelligent and strong women as opposed to the incompetence and weak leadership of Laura Dern’s character). But of course, Hux was relegated to being a Stooge and Phasma was unceremoniously killed off. What a waste of compelling supporting characters.

And that’s where Rise of Skywalker ultimately fails. The Last Jedi failed the Star Wars franchise as a whole, and the conclusion only cemented the failure by taking away agency from the most compelling and important character in the whole damn trilogy. There was absolutely no need to throw away the ending of the original trilogy to bring back what amounts to as a deus ex machinima to try to have some big baddy to fight against in the third movie. Even without the team-up of Kylo and Rey, we have the silver platter with Kylo and the Knights of Ren right on it for Christ’s sake. And the dynamic of Kylo and Rey pulling and pushing against one another as each battled with the Light and Dark within themselves? What better and brilliant story could have been told, while keeping Rey’s parentage either meaningless or shrouded in mystery?

Mismanagement and amateur writing are the true culprits here in the billion dollar failure of a forty year old franchise. You want to take the IP in bold new directions? That’s great! There’s plenty of opportunity to do so in things like The Madalorian and the Anthology movies, and all the new series that are, or were, planned. Those are the perfect stomping grounds to build upon the legacy that is Star Wars. It’s truly a shame that Disney really doesn’t get what made the Skywalker Legacy so great, and that even carried over into the first trilogy of books written by Chuck Wendig (who got the job because he tweeted out that he wanted to write a Star Wars novel. Wow. Just … wow) that were the tie-ins for the new trilogy. Two of those books sit, unread, on my bookshelf because I simply cannot enjoy reading them due to the narrative style chosen for the books. I don’t know if this is Wendig’s usual style, or just an experiment for this trilogy of books, but it’s just bad. I could barely get through the first novel, and it took a long time for me to finally finish it. This type of experimentation is not what you do for a long-running story like the Skywalker saga – in book or film. We could have had an awesome series of movies that brought the story of this family to a satisfying conclusion. But whether it’s because of hubris or just plain incompetence, we get what amounts to the worst possible ending to a storied franchise. Sorry Kathleen, JJ, and Rian, but you guys really blew it, and it’s sad that that will be your legacies.