I just want to thank everyone who participated in the thread on The Last Jedi. It was great to hear people critique the movie for reasons that never occurred to me. It was great to hear from fans of the movie, who had lots of good reasons for enjoying Rian Johnson’s unorthodox take on Star Wars. And most importantly, it was great to hear from both sides without anyone being shouted down or insulted.
That thread is now one of my favorite discussions in the history of the site.
But I’m not here to talk about Last Jedi. Today we’re going to talk about…
The Rise of Skywalker
I should have watched The Rise of Skywalker before writing about The Last Jedi / Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order EA™. But I really didn’t want to. I knew it was supposedly bad, and who wants to spend time watching something bad? This isn’t like Mass Effect where I had a strong attachment to the original and I needed to see how it turned out. I was largely indifferent to Rey, Finn, and Poe. I was content to know their story was over and I felt I didn’t need to know the messy details.
But there I was on Saturday afternoon. I’d just finished my second binge through The Mandalorian, I was in a Star Wars kinda mood, and I figured I might be able to have some fun if I went in with my expectations sufficiently lowered.
This movie was… an experience? I guess that’s the most diplomatic way of saying it?
I don’t even know how to critique it. It feels like trying to review an automobile accident. This doesn’t feel like a movie. Instead it feels like something that can only be explained via analogy:
- It’s like Abrams and his team held a brainstorming session on how to finish up this mess of a trilogy. After six hours of arguments and bitter debates over the contents of Wookiepedia, someone suggested they just take whatever notes had been scribbled on the dry-erase board and call that the movie.
- It’s like someone opened up their pen, poured the ink all over the page, and then handed me the result with the request that I “Proofread this essay”.
- It’s like babysitting a child while they play with their Star Wars toys. They run around the room shouting lines from the movies and hurling handfuls of action figures at the walls. After two and a half hours of toy-smashing and ear-splitting screams, the parents get home and ask if you have any advice for the kid in terms of narrative structure and characterization.
- It’s like watching a young man get dumped. He doesn’t even seem to understand why he’s being dumped, so he keeps flailing around and trying to say or do ANYTHING that might make the girl love him again. The longer he goes on, the more desperate and improbable his pleas become. In the end, he’s promising things he can’t possibly give her, but he won’t pause his mad filibuster for long enough to stop and listen to why she lost interest in him to begin with. PLEASE LOVE ME! I’LL GIVE YOU ANYTHING. DO YOU WANT CHEWBACCA TO HAVE A MEDAL? I’LL GIVE CHEWBACCAA A MEDAL!
- It’s like J. J. Abrams wants to pitch another LOST-style television show about Star Wars, so he shot one scene from each of the 26 episodes he plans to produce. Disney misunderstood and released the scenes as if they were a single movie.
- It’s like Ian McDiarmid obtained a genie and for his three wishes he chose:
- I want to somehow play Palpatine again.
- I want Palpatine to be the most powerful character in the entire universe.
- I want the story to revolve around my character, from the opening crawl to the final scenes.
I have to say: The genie did his best to bend time, space, and common sense to make these wishes possible. Whatever the rest of us think of this movie, it’s obvious that Ian was having the time of his life while making it. I know I will never be as happy as the great Ian McDiarmid getting to say “Do it!” for the second time in his career.
RoS had one or two moments of brief charm or wit. It had several ideas that – if one were inclined – could be developed into a story set in the Star Wars universe. But the central structure of the movie was an onslaught of contrivance, convoluted nonsense, manufactured conflict, and obvious desperation on the part of the storyteller.
What a mess.
The opening of the movie was so ridiculous I laughed. The last movie had us worrying about where fuel comes from for the first time, and this movie has Palpatine summon an immense fleet of STAR DESTROYER DEATH STARS, literally out of the dirt like an army of zombies.
Suddenly the Emperor has a whole brand-new galaxy-conquering fleet. Not just the machinery and supplies, but also a vast army of loyal battle-ready servants. All of this was apparently built in secret on planet TIM. I know I’m famous for always asking, “But what do they EAT!?”, but this opening scene had me asking, “But what do they MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX!?”
But that’s just the first scene. The movie got more implausible from there.
Where Did it all go Wrong?
Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I just sort of took it for granted that once enough money is on the line, the Disney machinery will produce the requisite amount of Disney Magic™. (I guess I’ve been overlooking what a mess the live-action remakes have been.) The Disney of my youthActually the Disney of my 20s. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Mulan, and a bunch of other now-classic movies. They seemed unstoppable. was a company that could do no wrong, but that was decades ago and their ambitions are so much higher now.
For decades, the Disney corporation has been the unrivaled masters of formulaic storytelling. I just sort of took it for granted that this company knows how to steer a trillion-dollar property. The Marvel Cinematic Universe just wrapped up a 12-year, 23-movie adventure. It wasn’t perfect, but it managed to glue all these disparate stories together to form a coherent climax and a mostly satisfying ending. The ending wasn’t too dark or too indulgent. Everyone got a moment in the spotlight. It ended with a huge special effects / fanservice blowout that felt earned. The story was constructed to fit with the realities of cast members and their various contracts, and yet none of that artifice intruded into the storyHaving Iron Man die at the end felt like a natural and thematically complete conclusion without resorting to out-of-story excuses like, “Well, RDJ’s contract was up, what could they do?”. The MCU put 23 movies on Rotten Tomatoes without a single entry ending up on the “rotten” list.
By contrast, the Sequel Trilogy looks like a cakewalk. They just had to make three movies in four years. Yes, juggling the needs of our new leads with the needs of our returning heroes was a little tricky, but that seems trivial compared to the absurd task of reconciling so many superheroes from the visually and tonally disparate worlds of the MCU. The Star Wars team was free to steal ideas from the EU, without being obligated to adhere to the parts of the EU they didn’t like. On top of that was a nice collection of Clone Wars alumni that could be freely integrated or ignored at will. They were free to essentially make a “greatest hits” mixtape of Star Wars adventures. The blueprints were there, the actors were all still alive, and all they needed to do was tell a coherent 3-part story in this world.
I don’t want to claim that making a new trilogy is “easy”, but it seems monumentally less difficult than the stunt Disney just pulled off with superhero movies. Comparing Disney’s success in Avengers: Endgame with Rise of Skywalker is like watching an athlete reach the top of Mt. Everest in record time, and then break their leg when they get back to the hotel.
The Future of Long, Long Ago…
It’s a financial certainty that Disney is going to keep trying, but I wonder what their Star Wars plans will be going forward.
If you’re a risk-averse Disney exec, then the most obvious move is to gently nudge JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy off to one side and hand the franchise to Jon Favreau. I’m not saying that’s a good idea or anything. I love everything Favreau is doing right now, but I’m old and I’m not the future for this franchise. It’s smart to make some stuff for old-timers like me, but their big expensive tentpole movies really ought to be aimed at young people, and I don’t know if Favreau’s work is resonating with the younger set or not.
Actually, crediting Jon Favreau is over-simplifying things a bit. Favreau is credited as creator and executive producer on the Mandalorian, but the various episodes have been written and directed by a variety of people. Favreau is the most visible person to us non-Disney muggles, but it’s possible that behind the scenes there’s some other creative writer / director / editor who could rightfully claim credit for the overall success of The Mandalorian. For example, Taika Waititi is also involved with The Mandalorian, and he’s also been on an absolute tear lately. For the sake of simplicity, when I talk about “Favreau” in the following paragraphs, I’m talking about any of these creative leads, whether or not that person is really Favreau himself.
Favreau is getting lots of acclaim for his work on The Mandalorian. If you’re an executive with no idea how to correct the problems with the Sequel Trilogy, then the most obvious way to stop the cavalcade of box-office let-downsYes, I’m sure all the movies made money. But you know how executives think. They’re not going to be delighted with making 500 million when their similar-sized franchise made $3 billion or whatever. and critical backlash is to give the property to whoever seems to be doing well right now. Which means starting with Favreau’s Star Wars as a baseline, and experimenting from there.
I’m really surprised this hasn’t happened already. Again, I’m not saying this would necessarily be a good move. I’m just saying it would be the most stereotypically Disney thing to do at this point. What I would expect is that Favreau would “join” Kathleen Kennedy’s team from a public relations standpoint. The company would make it sound like a team-up, while behind the scenes Favreau would be given a lot of creative control and would decide the cinematic direction of the franchise. This would let Disney course-correct without openly admitting error or throwing Kennedy under the bus.
Then again, it’s been a year since Rise of Skywalker was released. I think if this was going to happen, it would have by now. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I find this drama more interesting than anything that’s happened in the last 3 movies.
 Actually the Disney of my 20s. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Mulan, and a bunch of other now-classic movies. They seemed unstoppable.
 Having Iron Man die at the end felt like a natural and thematically complete conclusion without resorting to out-of-story excuses like, “Well, RDJ’s contract was up, what could they do?”
 Yes, I’m sure all the movies made money. But you know how executives think. They’re not going to be delighted with making 500 million when their similar-sized franchise made $3 billion or whatever.
Shamus Plays LOTRO
As someone who loves Tolkein lore and despises silly MMO quests, this game left me deeply conflicted.
A game I love. It has a solid main story and a couple of really obnoxious, cringy, incoherent side-plots in it. What happened here?
The Mistakes DOOM Didn't Make
How did this game avoid all the usual stupidity that ruins remakes of classic titles?
Dead or Alive 5 Last Round
I'm not surprised a fighting game has an absurd story. I just can't figure out why they bothered with the story at all.
Quakecon 2011 Keynote Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.