Disney’s Star Wars: A little more of the same

Lucasfilm Ltd.

"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is a disappointing, unoriginal entry into the Star Wars universe.

On May 25, 1977, a young film director by the name of George Lucas was preparing for an extended stay in Hawaii. Lucas’s most recent film had just released in theaters across the United States. The film was a space-opera that involved weird aliens, mystic religion monks and a moon-sized space station. All of these factors seemed to be the recipe for a box-office flop, and Lucas knew that he would not be able to recover from the embarrassment that “Star Wars” was bound to be.

To Lucas’s and Hollywood’s great surprise, “Star Wars” became the biggest hit of 1977. Millions of Americans fell in love with the film’s relatable characters, unique settings and the mystical power known as “the force.” Two sequels, three prequels, and a plethora of TV shows, comics and novelizations later, Star Wars has become one of the most powerful entertainment franchises on the planet.

In 2012, Lucas sold his beloved company, Lucasfilm, and the rights of “Star Wars” to Disney for $4.05 billion. The move was embraced by millions as Disney promised to bring a new trilogy of Star Wars films to a new generation.

Fast forward to the year 2019. Five Star Wars films have been released by Disney since 2015 and the fan base of the franchise could not be more split. Under Disney, Lucasfilm produced three new episodic films for the grander “Star Wars” saga: “The Force Awakens” (2015), “The Last Jedi” (2017) and “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019). Lucasfilm also produced “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (2018), two Star Wars “side stories.”

The release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” signaled the end of a rushed and divisive series of Star Wars films. The film itself was a jumbled mess of a plot that worked so hard to please everyone that it failed to be a good film. 

“The Rise of Skywalker” took upon itself the impossible task of trying to appeal to all Star Wars fans. The previous film in the saga, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” was received well by critics but split the Star Wars fan base due to its plot twists and subversion of expectations. Herein lies the fatal flaw of “The Rise of Skywalker.” The final film of the Skywalker saga works so hard to break down the foundations of the previous plan, that it fails to progress the story of the trilogy in a natural way. Instead, the film becomes preoccupied with satisfying countless fan theories that have been circulating around the internet since 2015.

On a storytelling level, “The Rise of Skywalker” is a bigger, more bombastic version of the last film of the original trilogy, “Return of the Jedi.” The protagonist of the sequel trilogy, Rey, repeats the character arc of Luke from “Return of the Jedi.” Similar to Luke, Rey feels a pull to the dark side throughout the film only to emerge as a Jedi, a beacon of light, by the end of the film. On the other hand, Kylo Ren is brought back to the light side in this film and then sacrifices himself to save Rey, the main protagonist of the film. Sound familiar? That is because this was the same exact character arc of Darth Vader in “Return of the Jedi.”

The issues of “The Rise of Skywalker” can be summed up with one aspect of the film’s lazily written plot: the return of Emperor Palpatine. The main villain of the original six Star Wars films returns from the dead in this final installment of the saga to serve as the main villain of this film. No explanation is given at any point during the film to indicate how Palpatine is still alive, given that he exploded in “Return of the Jedi.” It is blatantly obvious that Palpatine was shoved into “The Rise of Skywalker” in a last ditch effort to win fan approval for the sequel trilogy. However, the revival of this character only indicates how the sequel trilogy was disorganized and lacked a general story direction.

Why would Disney create new Star Wars films if they did not have a road map for a new trilogy? The answer is simple: Money. That isn’t to say that George Lucas did not create Star Wars for financial purposes as well. He clearly profited greatly from this franchise. However, every new Star Wars story Lucas told contributed to his grander vision of the entire saga. Even the divisive prequel films had a clear direction for where they were going and told a unique new story.

Throughout the trailers for the sequel trilogy, Disney heavily marketed the idea that “Every Generation has a Story.” So what is the new story Disney told through the sequel trilogy? Unfortunately, there is no new story. The new Star Wars sequel trilogy developed into a basic, retelling of the original trilogy. With their new films, Disney tried so hard to emulate the beloved original trilogy that it resulted in the sequel trilogy lacking new or creative substance.

Where does the Star Wars franchise go next? The answer seems to be away from the big screen. At the moment, the Star Wars franchise has had numerous amounts of success outside of the films. “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” showed how fun exploring new worlds within the Star Wars universe could be in a video game. “The Mandalorian” proved how a big-budget Star Wars television show could take the internet by storm through an adorable little baby Yoda. Books such as the “Star Wars: Aftermath” series continue to add to the mythos of the Star Wars universe while also telling unique stories. Even if the newer Star Wars films have been subpar, the exciting new additions to the Star Wars universe through other media prove that there is still a glimmer of hope for this incredible franchise.