…in which JJ Abrams performs a sky-walk of shame, walking back all kinds of ideas that just didn’t work for the Star Wars universe. Abrams, of course, seemed to herald a new kind of film-making when he took to the big screen after the success of Lost. Where once George Lucas had struggled to create a consistent universe in his reviled prequel trilogy, Abrams was seen as the cure for the disease, a fan-boy who knew exactly what fans wanted and would give it to them. The Force Awakens was heralded as the beginning of a golden era for Star Wars, new characters, new worlds, a new on-message PC mind-set, and a blockbuster franchise to last a lifetime.
Fast forward to 2019, and fans can’t wait for the Abrams Star Wars era to end. Sure, there are some satisfied customers, but they’re few and far between; complaint is the main content of any Star Wars conversation. And fatigue is part of the issue; The Rise of Skywalker fights for advertising space alongside a glut of licenced products including the Fallen Order video game, the Galaxy’s Edge theme park, and a new TV show (The Mandalorian) which has ignited genuine interest. With characters like Finn and Rey failing to engage audiences, legions of fans are looking elsewhere rather than the flagship trilogy.
The third of the four trilogies originally mooted circa 1978, The Rise of Skywalker has continuity issues; Abrams has killed off too many of the key characters too early, and his faith in the new recruits seems misplaced. Does anyone care if Rey (Daisy Ridley) goes to the dark or light side of the force? Does Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his redemption hold much water after he killed his father in The Force Awakens? Will Poe (Oscar Isaac) ever find, erm, whatever he’s looking for? And as for Finn (John Boyega), who knows? He’s side-lined as effectively as Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), discarded toys tossed asunder due to a lack of traction in key markets. Meanwhile Han and Luke are gone, but not forgotten, reduced to motivational-trainer ghosts shouting encouragement from the side-lines like soccer-moms, while poor Carrie Fisher has her grave comprehensively robbed as deleted scenes are artlessly repurposed to create the illusion that she’s still alive.
The Empire Strikes Back’s climactic plot twist has proved a mill-stone around the neck of Star Wars in terms of creating soap-opera rather than space-opera expectations; the revelation that Rey is, spoiler alert, the grand-daughter of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) doesn’t resonate at all, other than to throw up the series complete lack of interest in this villainous character as anything other than a get out clause. When did Palpatine have time to have kids, or even grand-kids? Abrams, as with Lost, is far better at asking questions than providing answers; when the solutions finally appear, the audience has lost interest.
Fan-service is a dirty word, and yet it’s the one thing, other than casting and packaging, which Abrams does so well; the call-backs to personnel, themes and scenes all create some genuine connection to a beloved universe, and for some, that will be enough. But in terms of plot and character, the third Star Wars trilogy has been a misbegotten, stuttering disaster. There’s no more films scheduled beyond this, and rightly so; the inverted pyramid of expectations that snuffed out George Lucas’s talent seems to have claimed further victims in the undoubted abilities of Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams. Until some new talent emerges, it’s probably best to keep the fourth and final trilogy on the shelf for now.