To appropriate R.E.M.’s rapid-fire 1987 anthem: It’s the end of “Star Wars” as we know it, and I feel fine.
This isn’t a knock on the groundbreaking franchise. Far from it. But the arrival of this weekend’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” promoted as the end of the Skywalker saga, comes with more relief than sadness.
The latest trilogy began with an unimaginably emotional burst of nostalgia in 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” Seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca reunited with their Millennium Falcon and droid life partners C-3PO and R2-D2 together again brought, as the kids used to say, all the feels. But that was replaced by a divisive, ugly response to 2017’s “The Last Jedi.”
It’s fair to say that sequel wasn’t everyone’s cup of Luke Skywalker’s green alien teat milk. But with the new film, “The Force Awakens” writer-director J.J. Abrams has set out to undo most everything progressive about Rian Johnson’s “Last Jedi” by de-emphasizing the decisions that spawned the most vitriol.
Take Kelly Marie Tran’s refreshing Rose Tico. The character was hated by a small but vocal subset of the fandom — the same one that has an almost visceral resistance to characters of color who aren’t Lando Calrissian or Yoda — for being Asian, a woman or both. She’s barely along for the ride this time around.
Abrams seems to have spent more time guessing what fans wanted than telling a cohesive story. For his troubles, #JJAbramsIsOverParty was trending on Twitter, less than 24 hours after the film’s world premiere, based on what angry “fans” had only heard about the movie.
Little reason to care
“The Rise of Skywalker” finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) racing to quell the latest threat to that galaxy far, far away.
The result is … adequate?
The overstuffed adventure makes for a reasonably satisfying conclusion to this trilogy, if not the nine-movie opus begun in 1977. That’s mostly thanks to some of the emotional beats and John Williams’ iconic score. The movie’s plot is almost instantly forgettable.
The new characters — the lead trio plus Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren/Ben Solo — are serviceable enough, and they make perfectly suitable bridges from the past to the future, but they don’t have 40 years of memories at their backs. There’s simply little reason to care about them outside the context of the original stars.
With Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker having been taken off the board in previous installments — and Leia Organa mostly sidelined as a result of the untimely death of Carrie Fisher — the relative newbies are, more than ever, left to their own devices. Despite the actors’ best efforts, it’s difficult to care about the stakes or their characters’ fates.
Now that this trilogy — the first since Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 — has concluded, it’s clearly time to move on to other stories. Closing the door on the Skywalkers and focusing on wholly new tales could dampen some of the toxicity surrounding the franchise. Plus, it will just be creatively refreshing.
But where does “Star Wars” go from here?
Most of that is still up in the air, thanks to the disastrous reception to last year’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” That needless prequel caused Disney to pump the brakes on what had been envisioned as a new “Star Wars” movie every year until the end of time. For a while, there were so many spinoffs in the works, it looked for all the world as though we were destined for “That Blue Critter at the Cantina: A Star Wars Story.”
With reactions so scattershot it can feel as though fans don’t even know what they want — not that servicing fans should ever be the primary goal of a filmmaker — Disney and Lucasfilm are taking a cautious approach to the next movie project.
When “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss walked away from their planned “Star Wars” trilogy in October, that left a trilogy from “The Last Jedi’s” Johnson and a stand-alone movie from Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige as the only films still believed to be in development.
While the movie side is in disarray — the next offering isn’t expected before the end of 2022 at the earliest — the TV division is thriving.
Disney Plus, the new behemoth streaming service, already has announced shows focusing on Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi from the prequel trilogy and Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor from “Rogue One.”
If the excitement of the streamer’s first dramatic series, “The Mandalorian,” and the collective freak-out over the show’s “Baby Yoda” is any indication, there’s plenty of The Force left in the “Star Wars” universe.
It just may be confined to television for the foreseeable future.