The Rise (and Fall) of Skywalker

“Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you have constructed” spoke Darth Vader in the 1977 classic A New Hope – a line that resonates with Disney’s handling of the Star Wars franchise.

It seems, after the release of the hugely successful box office hits of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, the company complacently believed they could bash out films faster than the Marvel franchise, but ended up with little success. After the hugely controversial release of The Last Jedi, which divided the Star Wars fanbase, the release of Solo met with a total box office failure of $393.2 million. But then The Rise of Skywalker emerged, a potential new hope for the disgruntled fans who have lost faith with all things Star Wars.

Image by Disney. Available on IMDb under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Unfortunately in the movie magic land of Disney Star Wars, if a film just manages to gross $1 billion, this is considered a disappointment. Such is the case with The Rise of Skywalker, earning half of The Force Awakens’ worldwide total of $2.066 billion. So what exactly has happened? Is it really the case that the number of Star Wars fans has halved from 2015 to 2019? If this is the case, is The Rise of Skywalker really the last we will see of the movie franchise? Was The Last Jedi, in fact, a warning to all Star Wars fans that this really is the last we will see of the Jedi?

Well, perhaps not. With Disney’s attempt to turn Star Wars into another Marvel-esque franchise failing – they have been forced to take a break, returning for their next movie in 2022 with the hopes of bringing back the fans they have lost over the last 4 years (and their wallets too). However, whilst you may not be making trips to your local cinema every weekend, with the release of the streaming platform Disney+, the diehard fan is promised quality content to keep them ticking over. Bringing with it The Mandalorian, season 7 of The Clone Wars and an Obi-Wan series, the future does not look like its totally heading towards the dark side. The Mandalorian has, in fact, been met with huge success (the only reason being, probably, Baby Yoda – whether the series can survive without this adorable green thing remains to be seen).

There have been speculations over a potential Rian Johnson movie franchise, but after his movie The Last Jedi’s diabolical audience score of 41% on Rotten Tomatoes, and Disney’s Star Wars earnings steadily falling, it’s safe to say that the president of Lucasfilm – Kathleen Kennedy – may want to reconsider whether Johnson is the man for the job. Perhaps not. Such was the case with the trilogy planned by Game of Thrones writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. After the very passionate response from fans towards the unremarkable season 8 of Game of Thrones – this plan went down the pan.

Perhaps, then, Baby Yoda is the only hope that remains for the Star Wars franchise. Help me Baby Yoda, you’re my only hope.

Over the last 4 years, Disney’s handling of the franchise has made it abundantly clear that Star Wars fans are notoriously hard to please. ‘I hate the sequel trilogy’, cries the impassioned fan, ‘and also the prequels, and perhaps even Return of the Jedi– well actually I hate it all, why am I even a Star Wars fan in the first place?’ What’s more, it has become clear that what the fans love is not necessarily what is rated by the critics. The Last Jedi scored a remarkable 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, differing hugely from the very angry response from many Star Wars fans. The hatred of Porgs, racism towards Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, and even Mark Hamill’s expression of contempt in interviews simply showed that this movie rubbed up Star Wars fans the wrong way.

Image by Disney. Available on IMDb under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

However, the table is not just turned but completely flipped over with The Rise of Skywalker, with an audience score of 86% but a critic response of 53%. So the question remains – why do critics adore what fans hate, and why do fans flock to see movies that the critics say are objectively terrible? The Rise of Skywalker was criticised for many reasons, namely because of its vast amounts of fan service. But since when has ‘fan service’ become synonymous for ‘bad movie’? Can’t you have both? If Disney continue to make Star Wars movies – can they be both good and attract the fans with their cash?

The hugely popular animated series says you can. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a very successful series amongst Star Wars fans, introducing the beloved character Ahsoka Tano and scoring a whopping 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (with its successor Star Wars Rebels beating that further with an insane 100%). The thing that such series do is expand the Star Wars franchise but in new, inspiring ways with original ideas that keep you coming back for more. The thing The Skywalker Saga has done wrong is rehashing the same ideas – the same ‘chosen one’ from the desert that comes and destroys a big battle station (be it the Death Star, the Death Star II or Starkiller Base – we get it).

So the way to attract fans is to produce original content that need not rely so much on excessive fan service but on good writing and good storytelling (although a little bit of fan service can go a long way – as evident by the beloved Baby Yoda.) Disney really needs to jump on this bandwagon with their theatrical films before Star Wars really does fall down the drain. Fans are expecting brand-spanking new material from the Old Republic and the Unknown Regions – introducing new characters fans can love and cherish (thus rolling the production lines of new toys, Lego and plush toys – feeding the forever-expanding Disney corporate machine).

So does Star Wars have a future? Absolutely. Star Wars fans are constantly reminded that the movies are set in a galaxy far, far away. Well, prove it then! Because at the moment the Star Wars galaxy is looking pretty small (if I see another desert planet I will spontaneously combust). The key to the critic’s heart is producing quality story lines not over-reliant on fan service. And the only way to do that is to produce original ideas that don’t depend on past nostalgia. Original ideas is the way to success – and with the release of The Mandalorian perhaps this is a step in the right direction. Just a step, mind you – we are yet to have a movie that ranges beyond the same 100 year time span (the galaxy is starting to look pretty small). But they can do it – the masses amounts of Star Wars novels, comics and series show that they can produce good, original content. We are yet to see this in the movies, but never say never. In a galaxy far, far away, anything is possible when it comes to Star Wars.


Featured image by Disney. Available on IMDb under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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