Back at the end of 2014, the very first trailer dropped for The Force Awakens. The film was still a year away at that point; I think there was such an early trailer because the trailer was about to be leaked anyway. The first trailer did not show any of the original characters, but instead gave us glimpses of the new characters. Nonetheless, it was breathtaking, but not nearly as much as the second trailer, and that Han and Chewbacca reveal.
By the time of the third and final trailer, I was very excited. The Force Awakens looked and felt like a classic Star Wars adventure, more so perhaps than any of the prequels. It would soon become apparent just how much of a classic adventure it was.
My initial review was very positive and my position that film hasn’t changed. It delivered some satisfying moments, it was visually gorgeous and it had an emotional punch too. The death of Han Solo at the hands of his son was telegraphed to me the moment Han stepped out onto the bridge, but I still remember my wife’s horrified ‘no!’ as that scene unfolded. I was very satisfied as Rey sliced Kylo Ren up in the climatic battle, and it was fun watching Poe and a new generation of X-Wings take out Starkiller Base. Christmas 2015 had arrived a few days early!
The Last Jedi has proven to be an apparently divisive film, if you are to believe the rabid fans who were extremely vocal in their hatred of the film. Personally, I think most of their criticism are mired in a massive misunderstanding of the film, which took risks and refused to become the Sequel Trilogy’s ‘Empire Strikes Back’. There was in particular protest at how Luke was refusing to train Rey and how he’d abandoned everything. It seems strange to me that he would be unchanged by the thirty or so years of experiences (some of them devastating and self-inflicted) and remain the same as he was at the end of Return of the Jedi. In fact, the seeds of who Luke would be were planted in The Force Awakens, but it would seem this was an inconvenient fact to remember.
It wasn’t perfect, and the whole casino planet scene could have been cut, but it had genuine tension and intrigue. It pushed the trilogy in an interesting direction… which was promptly wasted.
The Rise of Skywalker is not without its plus points, but for me, the negatives outweigh the positives. From bringing back Palpatine (seriously, the film already had villains, in the form of Kylo Ren and General Hux), to overriding The Last Jedi at every turn (in turn denied The Rise of Skywalker its own identity), to needless, over-used tropes to raise the stakes (every star destroyer having planet-busting weapons), the film felt tired and jaded. It had a lot of pointless filler, it turned Rey into a Palpatine (because they needed an ‘I am your father’ moment but it fell desperately flat here), and fell for the obvious and easy route of having Kylo Ren turn back to the light, because they needed the Vader-turns-good moment.
The film seriously under-used Rose, one of the more compelling characters of The Last Jedi (in response to some absurd hatred of the character and actress from misogynistic fanboys), it pretended to kill Chewbacca only to swiftly reveal he was still alive, and set up an easy way out of a memory wipe for C3PO, denying that scene of any real meaning. The film played it safe to appease the fanbase and ended up becoming something that united it in dismay.
In short, The Force Awakens indulged in nostalgia but it worked. The Last Jedi did something new and different and that worked too. The Rise of Skywalker tried to undo the previous film and overdid the nostalgia, in a flawed way. I can’t help but feel there’s been a missed opportunity here.
Is that down to the directors, or Disney’s overall plan, or possibly because there was no plan? JJ Abrams wrote and directed the first film and the final film. Rian Johnson wrote and directed The Last Jedi. However, JJ only directed Episode IX because Colin Trevorrow had creative differences with Disney and left the project, having delivered several scripts that Disney just wouldn’t use. It feels to me that JJ rushed his script, and was afraid to take a chance. He relied on rehashing the past with The Force Awakens but got away with it, because it was well executed. With The Rise of Skywalker, it was about desperate fan service, and it wasn’t well executed.
For all of that being said, it was uplifting to see the people’s fleet rise up against the First Order. There’s a potent message about not being defined by your bloodline. A great person can come from anywhere. Star Wars is at its core a tale of good versus evil, and about not giving up, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. That’s certainly a message that all three sequel films possess. It’s a message we need, more than ever.