Friday 1 May 2020

Is the Force still strong with Star Wars?

Star Wars fans can look forward to an unprecedented intergalactic bounty on Disney+ on May Fourth AKA Star Wars Day: Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, the final ever episode of The Clone Wars and The Rise of Skywalker.

Whilst I'll be eagerly watching The Rise of Skywalker for the first time since seeing it at the cinema last December. Other fans will be approaching the conclusion to the Skywalker saga from a certain point of view.

Guest post by Simon Judges

The Rise of Skywalker hitting Disney+ earlier than expected got me to thinking about my relationship with the saga.

I was there at the beginning. When I was six years old, my dad took me to see the original Star Wars at the local “fleapit”. I’d be lying if I said I could remember how I felt coming out of the film, but I do know I saw it again at a bigger, better-equipped cinema not long afterwards. And it dominated my childhood. Playground games, comics, books, toys, stickers. I lived and breathed Star Wars, and wanted more. Luckily, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi fed my hunger.

My love of Star Wars hasn’t diminished much in the 42 years since. It’s true that, as I approach 50, I tend not to play at being Han Solo so much, but I regularly watch the films, read the books, play the video games, and generally keep up with all things Star Wars.

In December last year, however, something strange happened. For the first time ever, I watched a Star Wars film and left the cinema underwhelmed.

Now, while I didn’t love the prequels, I did find something in each of them to enjoy. The pod race, the duel of the fates, the battle of Geonosis, the opening and closing moments of Episode III (although the less said about Vader’s “Nooooooo…” the better).

I really enjoyed The Force Awakens. Yes, it was a retread of A New Hope, but it had energy, pace, and genuine wit and humour. And I still don’t understand the hate for The Last Jedi. It’s certainly not the best of the bunch, but it ain’t that bad. Rightly or wrongly, Rian Johnson made some bold decisions. Personally, I loved Luke as a grumpy old man. (That’s my opinion - don’t @ me.)

But The Rise of Skywalker just felt wrong. On first viewing, it seemed to be a bad story, badly written and badly acted. A friend described it as the worst kind of fan fiction up on the screen. And I think that was the problem. JJ Abrams was facing a double-edged sword. He had to service the story, and he had to serve the fans; fans who, if Twitter and YouTube were to be believed, were VERY unhappy about the way things were going. In doing so, he managed to create a glorious mess. To me, it felt rushed and sloppy. There was just too much crammed in. The story and the characters had no time to breathe. Worse, the two main plot points - Palpatine’s return and his connection with Rey - just felt lazy.

I’ve seen it a couple of times since - once, again, at the cinema. Going in with lower expectations, I didn’t find it quite so… bad. I’ve also seen it at home. Somehow, TV seemed kinder to its flaws; while still present, they’re less glaring. And of course, I’ll be watching it again now that it’s on Disney+.

I love Star Wars. I love everything about Star Wars. I always have. And I’ll always defend the rights of Abrams and Johnson et al to make mistakes. Their intentions are good; they come from the right place. You just can’t please everyone, especially with a property as hot as Star Wars. But I think I’ll always be disappointed with the way this current saga ended.

The Mandalorian has given me hope. It’s clearly affectionate for the past - you only have to watch the Mos Eisley episode to see that - but it’s already ploughing its own furrow. Let’s see what season two brings. But, while I am looking forward to what the future holds, I’ll admit to a tiny bit of trepidation. For the first time ever, I’ve felt let down by a Star Wars film. “Faster, more intense!” may have worked for Lucas, 45 years ago. But it’s a phrase I think should be best avoided by whoever’s next in the director’s chair.

What do you think? Is The Mandalorian and further live-action spin-offs the future of Star Wars? Let me know in the comments below.

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