Definite Article: The Rise of Skywalker Unpacking Your Disappointment (or How Nerds Need to Learn to Calm Down)

Love it or hate it, The Rise of Skywalker is a movie.

Perhaps the greatest question in the modern age of Star Wars fandom isn’t directly related to the content of the films whatsoever. It wasn’t about Rey’s lineage, or what younger Han Solo was up to, or even how the plans to the Death Star were stolen by the rebels. It’s gotten to the point now where I just have one question, and it’s about the fans themselves. 

What the hell happened?

When The Force Awakens was released, a new time period in the Star Wars universe was opened up to the world and a new generation of viewers. Like the prequel trilogy before it (released from 1999-2005) there were mixed reviews. Did it rely too heavily on the original trilogy references? Did the humor fit the overall tone? Are they really doing the Death Star thing all over again? The complaints were mild, and at times it felt like the worst of it was just nitpicking. It didn’t even stack up against the prequel hate, which itself has now largely been boiled down to cheesy dialog, aged CGI, and some pacing issues.

This strange, cross-generational franchise imploded with the next sequel film, The Last Jedi. There was an awakening. Did you feel it? The entire internet seemed to revolve around this film for a time, and mostly for all the wrong reasons. With Force Awakens, some were upset that it was old Star Wars with a fresh new coat of paint, a rehash that tried to revisit the old adventures and bring them to a new generation.

Where Force Awakens largely looked back, Last Jedi was starting to look forward. Kylo Ren, the Darth Vader analog, was conflicted enough to kill his evil master. He looked to the light but still felt Rey belonged with him in the darkness. Elsewhere, on a distant planet ruled by the wealthy elite, a pair of resistance fighters secure a codebreaker (not the one they were sent to retrieve, mind you) that is their only hope of infiltrating a monstrous First Order mega-star destroyer. This “pointless” scene explored that even when the good guys are buying weapons to fight a great evil, they still might be helping neutral parties profit from war.

And for some reason, Last Jedi brought out every weird racist, amateur film critic, and right-wing drone of the hive mind crawling out from the woodwork. Finn is black? Yep, people hate that. Rose Tico exists? The internet drove the actress from social media with trolling and hate speech. Luke Skywalker got old and was grumpy, which he had every right to be? Not my Star Wars. And these are just the things that happened I can think of off the top of my head, because deep diving into the hate threads, calls for boycotts, and all that nonsense honestly gives me a migraine.

The Rise of Skywalker was given an impossible task. No, it wasn’t to satisfy the internet after the “betrayal” a small sect of commenters believed had been committed by The Last Jedi. The movie had to satisfy “the viewers.” What’s a viewer? Well, viewers are like you and me. They are you and me, strictly speaking. But not all viewers view equally. Not every viewer reads the books to get side stories, extended backstories, or connective tissue between the films that didn’t fit into the films. A viewer’s goal is simple – to just watch the damn movie and enjoy it. They aren’t all like me or maybe you even, who reads every comic and as many novels as possible trying to get the most complete picture of the galaxy as a whole. Your normal viewer doesn’t scream on Reddit about “decanonizing” any of the films and odds are they don’t even know what “canon” means, or how it differs from “cannon.” 

So what makes that task so hard? Well, the viewers encompass both those categories. The people seeing this movie are both the people who scream at the actors on Twitter and the lady at your work who took their grandson to the movies over his Christmas break from school, and he just loves Star Wars. And the viewers are everyone else in between, too. The guy from your school who has never seen one of these movies and binged all the rest in like a week to see this one? Viewer. Your girlfriend who wondered where Rey and Finn were about halfway through Rogue One? Viewer. Annoying YouTubers who have found a way to monetize dissing Star Wars movies? You guessed it, viewer. 

What did I think of The Rise of Skywalker? I think it’s a mess. But it’s a Star Wars mess so I love it. This one wasn’t my favorite of the sequels, but I also know this isn’t where the story ends – it’s a farewell to the old and some hints at the new. People claiming there’s a secret unreleased cut of the film that’s totally better. . .look, this stuff is made up. You have to accept that your favorite movie franchise is just that, a franchise. It’s all made up, trying to please millions of people and a huge parent company. We’re on the eleventh movie in this franchise, odds are you aren’t going to like at least a couple of them, and there’s no need to attack the directors, actors, or behind the scenes creators for trying to make the best film given the circumstances (Carrie Fisher’s death chief among them, also the exit of previous director Colin Trevorrow, and of course Last Jedi’s um. . .”passionate fan response.”)

Rise of Skywalker, in my opinion, isn’t dissing Last Jedi or undoing that film’s radical changes to the storyline. That’s my opinion, you don’t have to agree with it. I don’t believe for a minute that the third movie in a trilogy would actively undo several plot twists in the middle part. Granted I’ve only seen the film once so far, but I think more general viewers would be much more pissed off if they paid to see both movies and the last movie they say just kept saying “no no, we really meant this” the whole time. I think some of those things they went back and explored and recontextualized added depth to the third movie of the trilogy. Snoke being a weird Force creation made in a lab? Kinda cool. Rey is a Palpatine instead of a total nobody? Well, she still got dumped on a junk planet so she still really is no one, just happens to have a famous evil grandpa (note to self, get T-shirts with the Emperor that say “Famous Evil Grandpa” on them.) Poe being terrified of being a general after his mistakes in TLJ? Pretty awesome. And Rey being the Skywalker doing the aforementioned rising from the title? Yeah, we all knew that was coming, and it was still cool.

So back to the fans and viewers, it’s really the chatter surrounding this movie that irks me more than any of the problems with Rise of Skywalker. I can’t stand seeing the threads on Reddit that always get downvoted into oblivion, which just take key scenes and rewrite them worse and call it a “corrected” scene. There’s so many commenters out there that seem to think they’re the greatest creator ever, and if they’d just been consulted beforehand, then the Star Wars sequels would just be so unequivocally good, so perfect that the entire audience shed tears at its greatness. If you follow the Star Wars subreddit or saw me call it out on Instagram, there was also this guy who wanted to start his own story group thing that would use a ‘legal loophole’ to ‘ignore Disney’ and evaluate what is ‘good’ and make that the canon instead. I’d like to point out there is no loophole, legal or otherwise, that will let you A.) Create content using the Star Wars license while you actively tell the content owners to piss off, and B.) Have a weird cabal recognized as the legal guardians of a multi-billion dollar IP due to a loophole. I can’t wrap my mind about how people went from ‘head canon,’ the idea that something that hasn’t been explicitly explained on-screen that in your mind informs the story or character in a unique way, twisted and evolved into overzealous nerds wanting their own individual canon all their own. That’s entitlement, plain and simple.

Rise of Skywalker may not be beloved now, but it will be one day. You know how I know? The same people that hated The Last Jedi moved onto hating this new movie and they’re praising Last Jedi now. The hate isn’t all that serious, it’s not even a big deal. People have mostly turned around on the prequels, and although it took a while, the characters and themes of the prequel era are getting great novels, comics, and even a new season of Clone Wars. Rise of Skywalker will gain more fans and respect over time. If you didn’t like this movie, I’m not saying you can’t have criticisms or opinions on it. Just don’t be “that guy” in the comment section. There’s bigger problems in the world than trying to ‘fix’ a movie, although taking the toxic edge off of this fandom would be nice.

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-SLD