With The Rise of Skywalker (TROS), the Star Wars sequel trilogy and nine-film Skywalker saga reaches its conclusion. Of all the sequels produced by Disney following their multi-billion dollar acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, it is undoubtedly the pick of the bunch.
The plot is engaging and interesting. Characters introduced in this trilogy, particularly Kylo Ren and Rey, are well developed. And the audience is treated to a spectacular lightsaber battle, as well as all the customary sounds and sights that Star Wars fans love the films for.
But, perhaps most importantly, it almost manages to tie this trilogy together and make the three films – The Force Awakens (TFA), The Last Jedi (TLJ), and TROS – feel like a cohesive whole. A lot of the questions raised by the two preceding films are addressed, albeit not always satisfactorily. However, it feels like this overarching plot was decided post hoc and shoehorned into TROS, which points towards the fundamental problem of this trilogy.
For all their faults, the prequels, released between 1999-2005, had a clear vision. There was a reason for their creation: despite weak scripts and even worse acting, the prequels clearly charted Anakin’s journey from Jedi prodigy to Sith Lord. They showed the downfall of the Jedi, and the rise of the Empire out of the Republic. They contextualised the original trilogy and enriched the Star Wars canon.
In contrast, the sequel trilogy has felt largely purposeless from the fans’ point of view. You wonder how close it was to Lucas’ original 1976 plan for 12 episodes.
TFA was largely a rehash of A New Hope, the original 1977 film which started the whole thing off. TLJ’s plot was lacking and sought to commodify diversity and anti-establishment sentiment, despite the moral of the story (insofar as one existed) being that we should trust our leaders because they know best. It has been left to TROS to try to tie them all together.
They have not, however, been purposeless from the point of view of Disney. TFA brought in $2.1 billion worldwide at the box office; TLJ $1.3 billion. These two films alone near enough paid for the purchase of Lucasfilms, never mind the takings from TROS and less-successful spin-offs such as Rogue One and Solo.
And this is before merchandising is even taken into account. This, too, has no doubt been extremely profitable, with the Porgs from TLJ and the internet’s most recent phenomenon, The Mandalorian’s Baby Yoda, helping this venture greatly.
If we look at modern cinema, genuinely original and unique contributions are few and far between. Whether it is relaunching the Star Wars saga; re-making classics such as Ghostbusters and The Lion King; or filling films with already popular comic-book characters, like The Avengers and Birds of Pre: a clear pattern is visible. The big Hollywood monopolies play it safe by churning out reliable cash cows to be milked at the box office. Audiences suffer as they are denied something genuinely new. But their loss is shareholders’ gain.
The distinctive hum of lightsabers and the fizz of blasters might be enough to make any Star Wars fan excited. But only a superficial understanding of the Star Wars universe would lead someone to think that this is what made the original films so special. And yet, this seems to be the exact premise from which Disney relaunched the Skywalker saga – no plot was necessary; all that was needed was the Star Wars brand in order to sell out cinemas.
As a result we’ve seen the same repetitive plot tropes wheeled out again and again. Genuinely interesting new characters introduced in the sequel trilogy - such as Captain Phasma, Snoke, and the Knights of Ren - are not developed. Instead, the writers and producers fall back on fan favourites who are a popular and safe box-office choice. Sadly, TROS is just as guilty as the other sequel films in this respect.
Star Wars fans will enjoy TROS. Had it been a standalone film, few criticisms could be levelled against. But, it is a component part of the Sequel Trilogy. It is therefore not immune from the larger problems that have plagued these new additions to the Skywalker saga - all as a result of Disney’s barely concealed search for quick profits.