I just got home from seeing Rise of Skywalker.
In short, I thought it was good. I think it was a little overstuffed, and sloppily put together, but overall takes you places you’re surprised you enjoy going to.
What I can say, without spoilers, is that it rather makes three trilogies feel like one big trilogy, and in way, that’s pretty boss. It does it sloppily, like I said, but gets there. That’s why I want to talk a bit about my personal journey with Star Wars. Sorry that it’s going to get long and rambly, but I did grow up with this franchise and have had a weird life.
I was born in 1985, so obviously too young to have seen them in the cinemas when they first came out, but not by much. My memory of when I saw the first movies are hazy, I think we had a laserdisc version. To be honest, I can’t remember when I exactly saw them. I’m pretty sure I saw them as young as 7 years old, maybe 9. I grew up with Star Wars books and videogames. I devoured a lot of Expanded Universe books, played all the Dark Forces games, among others. I remember wishing throughout my entire childhood to get a joystick so I could try the X-Wing or TIE Fighter games, but never had one. I played both Rebel Alliance games, trying to pilot a T-16 through Beggars Canyon on a 1991 IBM Thinkpad using only what I call the clit-mouse, which is very awkward. I liked the second one, which was a full motion video rail shooter which somehow solidified my love for the B-Wing.
Embarrassingly, I’m pretty sure I wrote a fanfic as an 8 year old about being a rancor and somehow the story involved a girl I had a crush on.
I distinctly remember getting the 1997 Special Editions on VHS. For those who don’t know, they were the official rerelease with the first digital touchups and additions. There was also, as I remember, a behind the scenes explanation of what scenes were added and how they did it. I’m pretty sure at that age that was my first introduction to behind the scenes work on movies, and it made an impression on me that wouldn’t pay off until later.
I was 13 or 14 when The Phantom Menace came out in 1999. I had been reading the promotional material in the magazines my dad would order, and I was excited for it. I was the right age to like it back then too. We had the VHS tape later, and I really liked the final act battle and would rewatch just that part. I didn’t see Attack of the Clones until a little after it had come out, but I distinctly remember visiting a friend in Singapore and him telling me how cool it was that Yoda fought and my sister and I were impressed.
At that point though, it did start to feel a little wrong. I didn’t know how to put it into words, but it was there and I wasn’t sure.
Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005 at an odd time of my life. I was in the process of dropping out of college in the US, but had several friends there who much bigger film nerds and pop culture geeks than I was. We would even watch the Tartakovsky Clone Wars series together.
I don’t remember if I saw it in the theater, and that bugs me. What I distinctly remember is, after having dropped out and moved to Switzerland where my parents were, watching the infamous pirated Chinese version of the movie which renamed it “The Backslap of the West.” My dad took a long time to get over getting pirated DVDs from Asia (which is how it worked for a long time) so I’m pretty sure I watched that on the small TV we had in that first flat in Zürich.
I remember liking some parts of it but definitely feeling like something was wrong and like I was starting to grow out of it somehow.
Jump ahead to 2011. I spent most of this year sort of backpacking in Asia. I still liked Star Wars but mostly through videogames. I loved the KotOR games, and was still sharing that fan love with a friend from the US, who told me I had to watch this YouTube review of The Phantom Menace which was going viral. It somehow put into words a lot of the feelings I had about that movie and the prequels in general. That’s honestly the best thing a review can do: not just tell you whether something is good or bad, but educate you about why this is so.
And that’s how I got introduced to Red Letter Media, which is how I got started educating myself about how to watch movies.
This was a big deal to me, and I think for a lot of people their early understanding of what makes movies good or not by tapping into our extreme emotions, amplifying the things we love and the things we hate. So it was easy to hate the prequels.
Eventually I grew up a little more and was more interested in just what made them bad. I discovered the Phantom Edit and its sequel The Attack of the Phantom, which was a great education in how editing has the potential to make a bad movie much better.
RLM also recommended watching a documentary called “The People vs. George Lucas” which was about who owns such a classic film, the filmmaker or culture as a whole. It’s a pretty good documentary about the history of Star Wars fandom and their relationship to those movies, especially in terms of Lucas’ changes since the Special Edition and onwards. It’s also horribly out of date now, since Disney bought the franchise.
I was definitely excited in the build up to The Force Awakens. I think I saw it 4 times in the cinema. This time I was living in Zürich again, and had been educating my flatmates in film geekness… semi-successfully. Okay, only slightly. I liked the movie.
Voooom-Kraksshhhhhhh. Yes, that was an intentional photo.
For a lot of us who had just either not liked the prequels or had their growing up moments realising how bad they were, it was a breath of fresh air. It managed to capture quite a bit of the feeling of the original trilogy while making a solid effort to bring it to a new generation.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was safe and it was fun. There was Internet backlash later about it, but honestly, that felt like a lot of people were having their first love-hate film educational experiences. There was even a resurgence in people defending the prequels.
And now, as an older person looking back… They’re still bad, but I can credit them for trying to be original. Still, being original doesn’t make it good. There are many, many technical problems with those movies which just suck all the life out of them and betray that Lucas didn’t even really understand what he was working with. A lot of good things came out of the prequels, when handled by better creators, but that doesn’t make those movies any better.
In the last few years though, seeing how other people really do have a right to like whatever they want to, it’s been easier for me to just look at the franchise as one big messy thing. Suffice it to say, I’ve kind of lived Star Wars my whole life at some level or another.
George Lucas is definitely an auteur director. He made the films he wanted to make, and it shows. He’s a pretty weird guy, and not very good on his own. Disney has gone on to make new movies, and I’ve had mixed feelings about them. The Force Awakens was fun, but safe. The Last Jedi I had mixed feelings about from the beginning. It felt like an over-stuffed, overly ambitious movie trying to do too many things at once. There were many small ideas at play, each of which seemed alright if they either had enough time to breathe or were less important to the too many stories it was trying to tell at once.
I didn’t hate The Last Jedi. I will say that I only watched it that one time in the cinema. I meant to watch it again, but couldn’t bring myself to.
Just a few days ago, I started it but got bizarrely emotional and couldn’t continue. A friend wanted to rewatch it to catch up for Rise of Skywalker so we ended up finishing it together. I still had problems with it, but I still don’t hate it. I don’t know why I got so emotional early on.
I am not someone who really likes to show his fandom colours. I don’t own Star Wars merchandise. I’ve loved Marvel stuff for just as long as Star Wars and I don’t have anything from Marvel in my clothes or gear or anything. I don’t like showing it. I can love a thing without getting in cosplay. While cosplay is nice, I feel weirder about buying merchandise for a thing. Getting a T-shirt just to show you like a thing is a bit weird to me. Star Wars is this big merchandising empire, and was one long before Disney bought it, and I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with that. I just like the stories and the worlds. Brand loyalty died in me when I saw straight through the Marvel vs. DC comics collaborations as a kid.
I saw Rise of Skywalker just now, and, without spoilers, I can tell you that it somehow manages to make the prequels feel like part of Star Wars that you just accept and say yeah that’s the weird bad part of the story but it’s still part of it. The trailer for the movie dropped the idea that Palpatine was still alive, and like so many people I felt like that wasn’t a good sign, like they were pandering again, but I was open to find out what they were going to do with it.
It’s not a spoiler to say that in a way, Palpatine has been part of all the Star Wars movies, just like the generations of Skywalkers have. So it suits George Lucas’ desire for things to be like poetry, like they rhyme, for all these 9 movies to sort of be about that dance between Palpatine and the Skywalkers.
And that’s all I’ll say above the spoiler cut, which will just be rambling thoughts about the movie. Well, very rambly. Still liked it. Just remember that you can love or hate it but you don’t have to, and you definitely don’t need to hate what other people think of it either way.
Again, SPOILERS below.