For the past few weeks, I’ve been telling fans who love Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that I was happy for them. That’s only part of the truth. The full truth is: I’m happy they found enjoyment in the film, yes, but I’m also filled with jealousy. Because I, a lifelong Star Wars fan, absolutely did not like the movie and I really, really wish I had.
I’ve seen The Rise of Skywalker three times now and with each viewing, I’ve continually struggled. That unsettling feeling of not just dismissing, but actively disliking, a piece of something you love is disheartening. It’s difficult. And ultimately, I’ve begun to think of it as a sign of maturation. Not even 40 years of Star Wars fandom can stop an unbiased opinion.
Now, I’m not saying that’s the case for other fans. I’m saying, for me, if this was 20 years ago, I probably would have forgiven the many flaws I found in The Rise of Skywalker simply because it was Star Wars and Star Wars has consistently brought me joy. Four or five Star Wars movies ago, I can’t confidently say that’s the case. I simply loved it too much. Today, though, I almost feel a sense of pride that I can separate the two things, though I admit that it could just be a subconscious reaction to justify and cover the disappointment. Still, the way I see it—or am trying to see it—is: Here’s a movie about something I love, that I don’t love, but that doesn’t change my feelings about the franchise overall. Maybe the movies aren’t what’s changed. Maybe it’s me.
For some context, we have to go back to 1999. I saw The Phantom Menace in the theater nine times when it came out. Nine. Times. And I remember, as clear as day, that in my very first screening (May 19, 10 a.m. Destinta Theaters, Newburgh, NY...why I wasn’t at a midnight showing is another story), when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan start swimming underwater I had the confused, sinking thought of “Wait, what is happening?” But I ignored it, said I loved the movie and went back, time and time again. The hype and joy of Star Wars brought me back. By viewings four and five, I was so at peace with my uneasy reaction that I would basically just check out until the third act, eager to watch the three simultaneous battles unfold.
That obsession continued with Attack of the Clones. The first screening had me hooting and hollering as Yoda fought Count Dooku and an army of Jedi ran across a Geonosis arena. With my four subsequent screenings, I just sat there waiting for those moments. Ditto with Revenge of the Sith and the Anakin vs. Obi-Wan duel. By the next decade, I eventually realized I wasn’t actually enjoying watching these movies. I was enjoying waiting for the parts I knew I liked and forgetting about the rest.
On viewings two and three of The Rise of Skywalker, I did that a little bit, but it wasn’t as cut and dried. For one thing, the action is more evenly spread out in The Rise of Skywalker than the prequels. So even if you dislike the movie, every 10-15 minutes there’s something cool to watch. Also, the film’s big third-act action beats don’t really (at least in my mind) carry the weight or excitement of those moments in the prequels or even Skywalker’s two predecessors. (If we’re ranking third-act mega action in the prequels and sequels, for me the armada of ships arriving on Exegol along with Rey and Ben Solo teaming up rank near the bottom based on goosebump-inducing excitement.)
And so with each viewing, knowing that I don’t love the ending moments and that I have huge problems with the movie as a whole, I’ve tried to find little spotlights for myself along the way in order to relish the ride. Aliens and creatures in the background, for example, like that armored elephant thing on Pasaana. Or some of the humor, like C-3PO continually being forgotten. And even, dare I say it, places I wish things were tweaked ever so slightly to give the whole trilogy some cohesion. (One example: Wouldn’t it have been perfect if the puppet show on Pasaana was the myth of Luke Skywalker, subtly showing how that legend had spread?) By focusing on those things instead of the big picture, the Star Wars-ness of Rise of Skywalker has made it increasingly enjoyable for me. Because if there’s one thing the film definitely is, it’s Star Wars, through and through. Every alien, ship, planet, weapon, etc., is quintessential Star Wars. I just happen to think it’s all in service of an unsatisfying narrative and thematic conclusion.
Of course, just about every Star Wars fan is having their own opinion after their viewing(s), and navigating opposing reactions has become another eye-opening piece of my post-Rise of Skywalker experience. After my negative review of the film, I never thought I’d encounter people challenging my Star Wars fandom. It was a revealing glimpse behind the curtain of what my friends and colleagues who aren’t straight white men on the internet have to deal with on a daily basis—an absurd notion that only straight white men can like something. [Editor’s Note: Oh, the stories I could tell...-Jill P.] Now, here I am, a straight white man, and even that’s not good enough for other straight white men. Without comparing names, dates, or lightsaber collections, it’s important to realize gatekeeping is bullshit. Anyone can be a fan. Plus, you’d think since I chose, as a profession, to write about movies like Star Wars, it would be enough.
Then you step back and think about that reaction. Someone who asks that kind of thing is pretty much just looking to argue. They generally don’t want to know your opinion. They want to prove that theirs is right. And that’s just silly. Nothing is universally beloved. Everything and everyone is different. It’s part of what makes us all human. There’s so much art out there, we can all find things to latch onto and love.
Ultimately, that’s how I’m going to remember and live with The Rise of Skywalker over the years. While I personally found it disappointing, it gave Star Wars fans plenty to discuss and debate. Long after I’m dead and gone, my hypothetical grandchildren and their friends will be debating if Rey Skywalker makes sense or is a cop-out, how exactly the Emperor came back, and so much more. So, if The Rise of Skywalker is just a piece of art that sparks discussion, that’s absolutely fine. That’s a worthy legacy.
Plus, Star Wars has been pretty amazing to me over the years. Save for this movie and The Clone Wars movie, I’ve basically loved every single thing the franchise has put in front of my face. I even liked Solo. So think of it this way. In baseball, if you get a hit 35 percent of the time, you will probably make the Hall of Fame. For me, Star Wars gets a hit like 95 percent of the time. It’s not just Hall of Fame-level, it’s an all-time legend.
And though this film is “the end of the Skywalker saga,” of course it isn’t the end of Star Wars. More movies, TV, books, games, and more are all coming—probably some things we’ve yet to imagine too. Since Disney took over in 2012, Star Wars has been more prevalent than it ever had been in the 30 years prior. As time marches on, there’s a distinct possibility that there will be way too much Star Wars, if there isn’t already. With all that happening, a few missteps don’t undercut one’s love for everything prior. Han Solo still says “I know” when Leia tells him she loves him. Young Anakin still finds podracing in the middle of a space battle. Luke Skywalker still sacrificed his life to inspire hope in the galaxy. Those and a million other moments are still there. Just because I disliked one movie doesn’t change my fandom. I’m still a Star Wars fan and I always will be.
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