Daisy Ridley is Rey and Adam Driver is Kylo Ren in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
No matter what happens to Star Wars, be it on buzzy shows on Disney+ or the next batch of hopefully well-liked movies, Lucasfilm and Disney will have blown the self-proclaimed ending to the “Skywalker Saga.”
Today is the two-month anniversary of the domestic debut of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Star Wars Episode IX debuted on Thursday, December 19 amid mixed-negative reviews and lower audience polling scores than any previous live-action theatrical Star Wars movie. In pure financial terms, it’s a hit. It earned $514 million domestic from a $177 million budget and around $1.069 billion worldwide. To the extent that it may look disappointing, it’s partially about the many Disney mega-hits (Avengers: Endgame, Frozen II, The Lion King, etc.) that ended up dwarfing Star Wars IX’s cumes. Had it opened in 2020, it may have been this year’s biggest grosser. Had it opened this year; it probably would have been a better movie. Instead, its final gross puts it on the defensive while the artistic reception imperils the entire franchise.
Lucasfilm and Disney will still have to cope with the fact that they botched the endgame to the Skywalker Saga. No matter what comes next, no matter how well the next batch of Star Wars movies and Star Wars TV shows are received by the masses, the core Phantom Menace-to-Rise of Skywalker narrative will be hamstrung by a poorly-received finale. Heck, as much as Rise of Skywalker repeated the mistakes of Spectre, Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, those franchises either get a chance to set things right in further installments or, in the case of Spider-Man, represents just one variation of an oft-told franchise. But as far as theatrical Star Wars movies about the Skywalker clan is concerned, these nine movies are it, and Rise of Skywalker badly blew the landing.
Star Wars, as a brand, will, uh, live long and prosper. The Mandalorian went over like gangbusters and the first five Disney Star Wars films earned $5.92 billion worldwide on a combined $1.2 billion budget. Whatever drop-off it takes now that the “Skywalker Saga” is done was inevitable from the start. The last five Star Wars movies weren’t just new Star Wars movies, they were explicitly linked to the original Star Wars trilogy, with the three “episodes” acting as sequels to Return of the Jedi complete with returning cast members three decades after the fact. Whatever comes next, be it a Knights of the Old Republic movie or what-have-you, is going to have to contend with being “some movie that happens to be set in the Star Wars universe.” But Star Wars IX now puts the franchise on the defensive.
It’s no secret that the production was rushed, with J.J. Abrams subbing in for Colin Trevorrow in September of 2017 with the intent of hitting a May 24, 2019 release date. And, to their credit, Disney eventually delayed the film to December 20, 2019, giving each Star Wars “episode” a two-year gap. Alas, the final theatrical cut has all the signs of a rushed production and behind-the-scenes melodrama, in a way that wasn’t obviously evident with The Force Awakens, Rogue One and Solo. The film we got, putting aside plot choices for a moment, was a glorified “find the thing” video game, with little-to-no time for character interaction, human bonding, world building exposition or even grandiose action sequences. To be fair, some of that was due to crafting a film which featured footage from Carrie Fisher’s General Leia.
That was arguably a necessary evil after Fisher died in December of 2016. Fisher’s death, by the way, would have led to major revamps for Colin Trevorrow’s discarded Duel of the Fates screenplay even if he had stuck around. Even with that caveat, the final product still felt damn-well unfinished. What was John Boyega’s Finn trying to tell Rey? What happened between Leia, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley’s Rey during the second-act climax? Who were the folks Kylo was slaughtering in the opening scene? Those were just a few relevant plot points which were explained in post-release interviews or secondary media because the content was unclear or absent from the movie. The film story didn’t require every blank be filled, but it’s telling when, two months later, we’re still getting expository details that fill in the gaps.
I was expecting a well-made movie that occasionally made me roll my eyes in relation to how it walked back or retconned The Last Jedi. I was not expecting an almost objectively bad movie, one with little purpose save for undoing the prior sequel, the retconned reveals and delivering a finale that validated the “original trilogy” Star Wars fans as the proverbial chosen ones, and lacking meat-and-potatoes entertainment value. At the very least, delaying the film would have likely resulted in a more coherent and disciplined narrative. That extra time would likely have ironed out at least some of the nitpicky issues, even if the broader story beats and certain choices (like the near erasure of Rose Tico) still would have stung. Its eventual box office take wouldn’t have been compared to the deluge of $1 billion grosses in 2019.
Would $1.069 billion have looked better as the first or second-biggest grossing movie of 2020 instead of the ninth-biggest earner of the year, behind even Warner Bros.’ R-rated Joker? Whatever value there was in making sure that Star Wars IX was included in Disney’s 2019 fire sale (arguably to get these films onto Disney+ faster, and to act as a grand finale if Bob Iger actually retired last year) came at a rather large price. Star Wars will live beyond the middling reception of Episode IX. Tempered expectations going forward, where nobody is chasing the $2.068 billion gross of The Force Awakens, may make a world of difference. However, the core nine-movie arc will now be hampered by a series finale that was about as well-liked as the finales of Game of Thrones and How I Met Your Mother.
That was the risk with selling The Rise of Skywalker not just as the trilogy capper to the first batch of Disney Star Wars movies but as the grand finale to the Skywalker/Solo narrative. In a world where Logan, The Dark Knight Rises, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II and even The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II ended their franchises on (financial) high notes, selling Rise of Skywalker as the end of all things made 104% commercial sense. However, Star Wars IX thus had to be A) a good movie, B) a satisfying trilogy caper and C) a winning finale to the whole Star Wars saga. It arguably was none of those things, in a way that discolored the entire nine-film episodic saga. There’s no do over. Star Wars will survive, but the Skywalker Saga may not.
This content was originally published here.