Film News

Melancholy and the Infinite Star Wars

How is The Rise of Skywalkertagline=”the story of a generation comes to an end” – really the end when there are potentially two more Star Wars film trilogies in the works and more Disney+ shows than you can shake a lightsaber at?

Before all the internet hot takes, back and forth with Bruce Lee’s daughter, and deep-dive analyses, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was something which demanded our attention. Released last month to favorable reviews, Once Upon a Time is currently on track to outgross every other Tarantino film, save Django Unchained. While arguably boosted by the various controversies which have kept it in the headlines, Once Upon is thriving partially because the basic laws of supply and demand turned it into an event.

Most directors make a lot of movies. Tarantino does not. He has artificially set his limit at 10, and by his count Once Upon is lucky #9. (He counts Kill Bill as one movie. Don’t @ him about it. He won’t respond.) Beyond that, no director in recent film history has been more preoccupied with managing their own mythology than Tarantino. He picks his projects methodically and sits on them for years – in some cases a full decade – before pulling the trigger. So, whenever a new Tarantino film arrives it’s probably been 3-5 years since you saw his last one. Thus, every time Tarantino graces us with his latest western, revisionist history, or genre deconstruction, it feels special, the type of thing you have to see because everyone will be talking about it. (All the more so when he casts people like Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio.)

Star Wars’s Trilogy Cycle

Star Wars – a franchise that used to release individual installments three years apart – had that, that specialness through scarcity thing. Not so much anymore, not when we’ve been treated to four new Star Wars movies in the last 5 years and a handful of kids cartoons. Star Wars, however, still proudly owns the culture whenever it comes around. Heck, I highly doubt Star Wars will ever truly lose that. It is a cultural force like few others and will forever draw a sizable audience of diehards and casual lookie-loos compelled to see the big thing everyone is going to be talking about.

However, ever since Disney’s own Emperor, Bob Iger, gave George Lucas his go-away money the franchise has flirted with oversupply, testing the waters for a more Marvel-like model of releasing two films a year. Disney never quite got that far, but Solo – the ill-fated Han Solo prequel released 6 months after The Last Jedi – flopped and reportedly put the kybash on the franchise’s plans for year-round theatrical domination.

I, For One, Welcome Our New Streaming Overlord

There hasn’t been a new Star Wars movie in theaters since Solo, but that’s less about Solo and more about Iger’s decision to quadruple down on streaming, diverting the vast majority of Disney’s film and TV operations away from theatrical and cable considerations and over to Disney+. If you work for any of the various Disney-owned film and TV companies and you’re not helping out on some Disney+ project, do you truly work at Disney?

That’s how we ended up with an event like D23, last weekend’s “Disney Comic-Con” which broke the internet and further cemented the Mouse Houe’s stranglehold on our collective throat. After all, how can we possibly breath when Disney is shooting all of this at us like a cartoon fire hydrant: Lady and the Tramp, Pixar movies Onward and Soul, a Forky-from-Toy-Story-4 TV show, Muppets talk show, High School Musical: The Musical Series, Lizzy Maguire, Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe, Black Widow, The Eternals, WandaVision, Falcon and Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, What If?, a Jeff Goldblum travelogue series, a surprisingly cheap-looking Bill Hader/Anna Kendrick holiday comedy, and, oh yeah, The Mandalorian, an Obi-Wan series, a Rogue One prequel – making that a prequel to the prequel – and the final season of Clone Wars.

Plus, Disney premiered the new The Rise of Skywalker trailer.

Sidebar: Let’s talk “Evil Rey”

Hold your “Evil Rey” theories for the comments section. My take: you can do plenty of crazy, out-of-context shit with trailers. Imagine if back in the day the Empire Strikes Back trailer ended it with the shot of Luke’s face under the Darth Vader mask from:

In the context of the film, makes sense as part of his vision highlighting his fear of Vader and turning to the Dark Side. Out-of-context, WTF! Can you believe Luke was Darth Vader this whole time! Or maybe turns into him? Hold on, what’s going on there? No idea.

Point – as with so many things internet-related these days – just stop, take a deep breath, and move on. Or, if you are so inclined, start looking for or creating your own replica of Rey’s badass red lightsaber staff.

The End?

Before the trailer gets to that headline-worthy moment, however, there’s a bit of somewhat standard marketing commentary which jumps out at me. On-screen text solemnly informs us “This Christmas The Story of a Generation Comes to an End” and shortly thereafter a Palpaltine – truly one of cinema’s all-time great cacklers – spits out the following dialogue: “Your journey nears its end.”

The unanswered question is who exactly is he talking to. Rey? Kylo? Crimson Imperial Guard #3, whom Palpatine never liked and now desires to fire like some scene out of The Apprentice: Star Wars?

No idea, but the dialogue is clearly picked here to complement Disney’s marketing strategy for the film: this is the end. If you ever liked a Star Wars movie before, you need to watch this one to see it all ends because after this the Skywalker story will finally be put to rest.

Except by the time Rise of Skywalker hits theaters, we’ll have already seen roughly half of The Mandalorian’s first season. We’ll probably be mere months away from seeing Obi-Wan. The Rogue One show won’t be too far behind that, and who knows what other far-flung corners of the Star Wars universe will emerge as Disney+ candidates. It’s not that Disney is lying. Rise of Skywalker truly does seem like the end of one phase of the saga, but with Star Wars serving as one of the key pillars for Disney+ – the others being Disney back catalog, Pixar, Marvel, and National Geographic – we will not lack for new content set in the far, far away galaxy.

We’ve Been Burned Before, Pop Culture!

This is a far cry from prior “the end of everything” film history moments when a studio could sell us on showing up to see the definitive end of an era-defining story. Lord of the Rings got a prequel trilogy a decade later. Batman was rebooted four years after The Dark Knight Rises. Half of the Endgame Avengers are getting their own Disney+ shows.

That’s the way things are now. Technological advances allow productions to move faster. Ownership can’t fathom going three years without any new product from key IP.

Scarcity used to be the mother of hype, but I’m not naive enough to suggest such an approach was ever going to be possible during a Disney-run era of Star Wars. However, it’s worth pausing to note that something has been lost here. Arguably the defining cinematic saga of the past four decades is coming to an end this December, but it will come months after the opening of a Star Wars theme park and be surrounded by several Star Wars TV shows. Sure, you tell us we need to say goodbye to this group of characters, but when Ewan McGregor can return and get his own Obi-Wan TV series nearly two decades after the fact then excuse me if I ere on the side of “Daisy Ridley’s a couple of bad movies away from coming back as Rey.”

Still, Disney is steering Lucasfilm into uncharted waters here. Is there a general audience for a Star Wars story that doesn’t feature the Skywalker family and their friends and enemies? And will The Mandalorian or Obi-Wan truly appeal to anyone other than the hardcore? Will they, like the Marvel Netflix shows before them, ultimately feel like bonus content for the fans but inessential viewing for the casual?

These questions are all too common in the age of Hollywood IP overkill. However, they are new to Star Wars. When Rise of Skywalker arrives, we’ll look up at a screen and bask in the cinematic catharsis of seeing a new Star Wars movie in theaters. Then we might have to wonder, “How does this connect to The Mandalorian?” The answer will probably be “not at all,” but the mere fact that we might have to ask represents a new phase of Star Wars fandom.

So, pardon me, Palpatine, but change the characters, jump to a different era, whatever – it really, really doesn’t feel like this journey is ending anytime soon.

You. Comments. Now. Or what I just said, but nicer.

3 comments

  1. Star Wars lost something of its specialness even before the original trilogy was over. Really, the peak of Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon was the release of Empire in 1980. Would it be as good as the first one? It was, and in fact exceeded expectations. But after that it was hard to recapture that moment. Return of the Jedi was aggressively mediocre–a film that would have been forgettable standing on its own, but which we pretended to praise as the second (or third) coming of Christ because it was a Star Wars picture. Then came the long drought between 1983 and 1999. The prequels operated solely on the hope of hype, and we went to see them because we dared hope they’d measure up even though we didn’t expect them to, and they didn’t. Now Star Wars is a constant, not a scarcity. The age when hype was generated organically is long over. I agree with your analysis. It’s not special anymore.

  2. I’m surprised that Star Wars fatigue hit before superhero fatigue hit for most people.

    However, for me, superhero fatigue hit years ago.Yet I really enjoyed the anti-heroes vs super”heroes” TV series “The Boys”.

    1. I agree about Star Wars v superhero fatigue. I think the Star Wars fatigue might have hit harder simply because the debate over Force Awakens and Last Jedi was so intense and in some cases toxic that it sucked the fun out of it. Also, there’s so much more variety in the superhero space whereas with Star Wars it’s just, well, Star Wars.

      I, too, am feeling the superhero fatigue. I massively enjoyed Endgame, but I remember walking away from it feeling a bit wistful. Like, watching the saga effectively end sort of crystalized for me the true power to be had from stories actually ending. Knowing, however, that the ending was truly temporary and a new Spider-Man was just months away and then The Eternals, Doctor Strange 2, Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2, and all those Disney+ shows … I just started wondering how much more can I really get from these stories. I’m still a fan and I’m still interested in whatever comes next, but it takes something like The Boys to really excite me about the newness left in the material.

      I’ve heard The Boys referred to as the start of the Peckinpah period for this particular superhero movie era, that like Peckinpah deconstructing and dirtying up the western with The Wild Bunch in ’69 we are heading into a stretch where the superhero story is going to have to go to more extremes to stand out and feel artistically worthwhile. A bad or good example of that will be The Joker, which I haven’t seen and can’t totally judge. What comes after the Peckinpah, period, of course, is usually a cooling off period where the genre, either in its deconstructed or classical form, loses its appeal entirely and needs to go away before coming back again. It’s so hard for me to ever see that happening with the superhero story, but we are entering into such weird, new territory. I have a nephew in his early 20s who has grown up with nothing but superhero movies, and after Endgame he did feel kind of weird, like maybe it was time for new stories to tell. If more people his age feel the same way, then who knows what, but if not things ultimately won’t change much, not unless Marvel also tries its own hand at grittier movies like The Joker but I just don’t see that happening.

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