The way of the fan: a brief retrospective of Disney’s ‘Star Wars’

January 17, 2020

If it isn’t already clear from the headline, I am a huge Star Wars fan and have loved the franchise ever since I watched the original trilogy on my grandparents’ VHS. Throughout these three films, George Lucas and company created a vast science-fiction/fantasy universe that spawned worlds and creatures beyond our wildest dreams and characters that audiences could relate to on a basic human level. Flash forward to October 2012, when the Walt Disney Corporation officially bought the Star Wars property from Lucas, receiving plenty of media scrutiny from both sides of the fandom.

Seven years and four movies later, Disney released two major Star Wars products in 2019: “The Mandalorian,” a weekly live action television series that launched with Disney’s very own streaming service, Disney+, and the more recently released “Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker,” which has been heavily marketed as both the final chapter of Disney’s new trilogy and the final chapter to the Skywalker Saga as a whole. Since I have seen Season 1 of “The Mandalorian” and “The Rise of Skywalker,” I would like to give my thoughts on both works, and briefly discuss where Disney could possibly go with this property in the future.

As a disclaimer, I watched “The Rise of Skywalker” prior to finishing Season 1 of The Mandalorian so I want to start with my thoughts on the former work before moving onto the latter. The film in question comes from J.J. Abrams, the well-known co-writer/director behind “Episode VII—The Force Awakens” from 2015. More importantly, “Skywalker” is meant to cap off a storyline over 40 years in the making and potentially win back the many fans who were less than happy with its official predecessor “The Last Jedi” from 2017. “The Last Jedi” was the only entry in this new trilogy that Abrams neither wrote nor directed. Unfortunately for “The Rise of Skywalker,” it currently holds a less-than-stellar 53 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the 91 percent score of “The Last Jedi.” After seeing the movie myself, I can understand why.

“The Rise of Skywalker” is not only a disappointing conclusion to the Skywalker Saga, but also fails as a movie in its own right. For one thing, the movie is almost two-and-a-half hours yet it still feels rushed and uneven; it also lacks much of the excitement and character moments from both “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” Moreover, “The Rise of Skywalker” goes out of its way to either change or flat out ignore almost everything from “The Last Jedi.” These creative choices are so infuriating and so mind boggling that it somewhat makes me like “The Force Awakens” less in retrospect since the answers that “The Rise of Skywalker” give its viewers are most likely not what Abrams initially had in mind when he made “The Force Awakens.”

“The Mandalorian,” on the other hand, is a much more enjoyable addition to the Star Wars universe. It is a stand-alone story that introduces new characters and elements to the current Star Wars canon while still feeling as if it is part of the larger universe. The new trilogy does feature new characters at the forefront but the movies they are a part of, specifically Episodes VII and IX, rely too much on the nostalgia of the original trilogy.

Another reason why Season 1 of “The Mandalorian” succeeds where “The Rise of Skywalker” fails comes down to how “The Mandalorian” handles emotion compared to “The Rise of Skywalker.” “The Mandalorian” has much of what viewers associate with Star Wars—exciting vistas, colorful characters and unique production design. At the heart of its story, however, is the titular protagonist trying to protect a mysterious alien child, whom the internet has nicknamed “Baby Yoda” due to his noticeable resemblance to the iconic Star Wars character, Yoda. This little creature gives meaning to The Mandalorian’s life and makes him feel like more than just a bounty hunter. The show is still filled with nods and callbacks to the larger Star Wars universe, but they almost never distract from the characters and locations that showrunner Jon Favreau has created for this series.

Many of the emotional moments in “The Rise of Skywalker,” on the other hand, usually come down to a pandering moment meant to elicit a reaction from the audience. I understand if certain fans did not like how “The Last Jedi” followed through with the character arcs and plot threads that were initially set up in “The Force Awakens,” but at least writer/director Rian Johnson acknowledged them at all. Johnson also expanded on the foundations that Abrams initially set up instead of making them feel almost meaningless in the long run, which is exactly what “The Rise of Skywalker” did to “The Last Jedi.”

Now the big question is: where can Disney and Lucasfilm possibly go with this franchise in the coming years, specifically if “The Rise of Skywalker” is not as profitable as both companies initially expected? The obvious solution would be for them to focus on Disney+ shows such as “The Mandalorian” (which has already been renewed for another season set to release this fall), especially since Disney doesn’t currently have any Star Wars movies set to release after “The Rise of Skywalker.” 

One thing I know for certain is that Disney and Lucasfilm have a lot of work to do if they ever want to win back the good will of the larger Star Wars fan community, which just so happens to include the author of this article.

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