Brian Truitt, USA TODAY
Published 6:31 p.m. ET Dec. 24, 2019 | Updated 6:46 p.m. ET Dec. 24, 2019
“Star Wars” has come to an end. Not the end, of course – there’s much more money for Disney to make, plus Scrooge McDuck’s coffers go to infinity and beyond. But “The Rise of Skywalker” both wraps up 42 years of galactic storytelling and proves it’s time for “Star Wars” movies to go away. For a while.
There’s no pleasure in typing that because I don’t want to say goodbye. “Star Wars” is something that’s been there essentially my whole life. It’s in my DNA. I was there on opening day of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” when I was 7 the same way I was there on opening day of the 1997 special edition of George Lucas’ original film with my college friends. Granted, “Rise of Skywalker” isn’t great but I lived through the prequels and those were plenty worse.
“Star Wars” has overstayed its welcome to a degree, though. That whole thing about supply and demand? It applies to geek-friendly sci-fi mega-franchises. There was a 16-year gap between “Return of the Jedi” and the first prequel, “The Phantom Menace.” When J.J. Abrams’ new trilogy starter “The Force Awakens” propelled “Star Wars” into pop-culture hyperspace in 2015, it had been a decade since “Revenge of the Sith” completed the first six episodes of the Skywalker saga.
In the last four years, we’ve had five “Star Wars” movies – the result of Disney buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012 and making hay with an A-list property. Not to mention the various comic books, novels, animated series and the first live-action “Star Wars” TV show, “The Mandalorian.” It’s been an exciting time for a fanbase that previously waited years for a lightsaber battle on the big screen, though now we’ve gone to the opposite extreme.
That whole thing about absence making the heart grow fonder? It also applies to geek-friendly sci-fi mega-franchises. “Star Wars” needs to feel special again, and the recent deluge of content has undermined that. Fans seem to take these movies for granted now that there’s been so many in such a short amount of time – they were true events, and a big deal because no one knew if another would ever come. Now thanks to corporate press releases, movies have been slated for Christmases in 2022, 2024 and 2026, although they are officially on a “hiatus.” (If they took even more time, that wouldn’t be the end of the world.)
The Jedi-loving contingent, though, is a problem in itself. Rian Johnson’s 2017 “The Last Jedi” drew out an unnerving amount of online trolls, but even sensible viewers voiced their concerns about Mark Hamill’s hero Luke Skywalker becoming a hermit and not getting back in the fight against the Empire-esque First Order.
“Last Jedi” did draw critical acclaim with 91% on RottenTomatoes and an A Cinemascore. With “Rise of Skywalker,” reviewers were mixed – with a 56% positive rating, it’s the lowest since “Phantom Menace” – and it snagged a B+ Cinemascore yet it opened with the lowest amount of the new trilogy films. “Skywalker” debuted with only $176 million compared to $248 million for “Force Awakens” and $220 million for “Last Jedi.” Those diminishing figures (which most movie series wouldlove to have) aren’t indicative of a franchise with a ton of momentum.
Do fans even deserve a “Star Wars” in its prime with the way people snipe at each other on social media? Baby Yoda brought everybody together for a few weeks but it’s since devolved back into petty comment wars and exhausting Twitter tribalism: On Monday night, the hashtag #thankyourianjohnson was trending, the next morning someone had started #thankyoujjabrams, and trolls found their way into the mentions of both. “Anger leads to hate,” old Jedi master Yoda once warned, impressively predicting the Internet.
A long break from “Star Wars” could be a path away from the cultural dark side as well as creatively fortuitous for a braintrust that’s lost some mojo. “Force Awakens” introduced new heroes such as Daisy Ridley’s Rey, John Boyega’s Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and succeeded using a template not unlike Lucas’ 1977 film, while “Last Jedi” subverted narrative expectation and took more risks. Abrams’ “Rise of Skywalker,” though, suffers from story logic problems, 11th-hour reveals that don’t work and an overabundance of fan service.
Looking at the third trilogy as a whole shows a trio of parts that don’t work together. Add that to the behind-the-scenes drama of the spinoffs, “Rogue One” and especially “Solo” (which fired its original directors weeks before filming ended), and bigger issues seem afoot. Meanwhile, the interconnected Marvel movies have lapped “Star Wars” in relevance, with “Avengers: Endgame,” unlike “Skywalker,” sticking its saga landing. Perhaps “Star Wars” needs a George Lucas-type creative puppet master akin to Marvel’s superhero honcho Kevin Feige.
Or maybe it’s just me. Sorry, no one can have my X-wing pilot action-figure collection, but it’s probably the right time for a movie series built to sell toys to find a new generation of devotees. The Skywalker saga is over, Han, Luke and Leia (or Rey, Finn and Poe for that matter) don’t mean the same to my daughter as they do to me, and starting over completely doesn’t sound like a bad idea. And to do that right, yes, shelve “Star Wars” films for a while and return when ready with the raw power of a fully operational Death Star.
One “Last Jedi” quote keeps coming back and seems fitting in this instance: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) didn’t have the best of intentions when saying it, although he’s not wrong. The Force will always be with us but an evolution into something refreshingly new will help keep it strong for another 42 years.
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