Editorials

The Rise of Skywalker and fandom dissonance

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To say that Star Wars means a lot to me is an understatement. My daughter’s middle name is Amidala, my wife walked down the aisle to ‘Across the Stars’ and my home is filled with various merchandise, collectables and memorabilia. Even in the off weeks where my fandom wanes, not a day passes that I’m not met with something Star Wars or other – from the Tatooine pot I keep my coffee in, to the plushies in my daughter’s room. My point is that I’m pretty invested in this franchise and my natural inclination is to like every piece of new media. And so we come to The Rise of Skywalker (TROS).

The release of every new Star Wars movie brings with it a strange disconnect in me. For a few weeks, I’ll stray away from the galaxy far far away and struggle to summon up any enthusiasm. That is until the day before and the morning of, when I’m so excited I’ll literally sing the various pieces of John Williams’ music at the top of my voice. It was the same for TROS, only this time the reviews were lukewarm at best where for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, they’d largely been favourable. While disappointed on seeing these three-star reviews, I comforted myself in the knowledge that, as a prequels fan, critical reception doesn’t matter much to me – it’s just nice to feel vindicated. With that in mind, my wife and I went and watched TROS for the first time and absolutely loved it. Such was my enthusiasm that after the credits rolled, I only had two criticisms – no Finn/Poe and some awkward utilisation of the leftover Leia footage. As we were enjoying our post-cinema quesadilla, we both had nothing but good things to say, that is after we recovered from crying. Hell, the film even turned Elisabeth into a Reylo, while I’d been on that ship since TLJ two years before. And then I saw social media.

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Confrontation on the Death Star

Turns out, the pocket of fandom that I’ve integrated with since starting this site in early 2018 found a lot to dislike. The Bendemptionists and Reylos, in particular, were aghast at his death and that’s saying nothing about how Rey’s parentage reveal has been received. I’ll be perfectly honest, finding my own thoughts and feelings so at odds with this crowd made me feel really anxious and depressed to the point where I just had to stay off social media while I figured my own views out. I could completely understand where these criticisms came from and I agreed that the film has its flaws and failings, and some major ones at that. But I felt as though I was wrong for enjoying it so thoroughly, as if I couldn’t possibly care for Ben and Rey as much as I claimed if I was happy with their fate. My head was in a spin and I felt such dissonance with my corner of fandom, but by the time we came to watch the obligatory second time, I was feeling more confident about what I liked and what was wrong.

For all that, I had a great time with my second watch of TROS. I laughed and cried and was exhilarated in all the same places, only the shiny veneer of that first viewing had worn off. I could see the flaws, the missteps and where improvements could have been made. My biggest issue is that Ben Solo should have survived, because he was never given a chance to really live. Since boyhood, Palpatine was in his head, whispering into his ear, and he was never able to enjoy his freedom. In his dying, Leia’s sacrifice loses much of its power. I appreciate that this was almost unavoidable, with the sad passing of Carrie Fisher seriously limiting what the film could do with the character. In terms of Rey’s parentage, I’m less concerned that she’s a Palpatine and more that the reveal undermines the themes and execution of TLJ. Then there’s the lack of Finn/Poe and queer representation in general, but that’s a whole other article.

 

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The destiny of the Jedi

With the overall gamified plot, the inconsistencies and unanswered questions, I don’t think TROS ties the entire saga together in the way it was marketed. It essentially offered a coda, rather than a concluding chapter bringing things full circle. As a prequels fan, I can’t help but mourn the dearth of connective tissue to my favourite trilogy. I waited with bated breath for any reference to Padmé or Shmi – especially when the film ends with Rey literally stood where Shmi is buried. Then there was the Anakin Force ghost I’d convinced myself was going to appear, having to settle for hearing Hayden’s voice instead (which I liked, incidentally).

Things I like and dislike continue to shift and evolve as I continue to analyse and add my own meaning. What I can say with certainty is that I really like TROS, a gothic pantomime with moments of genuine brilliance, in competition with some poor creative decisions, some half-baked ideas and a wobbly plot. I think its beautifully directed and although I wish that another writer had taken the reins, I don’t bemoan the finished product as I’ve seen elsewhere. It may not be the film we needed, wanted or deserved, but it is the film we got, and I’ll take the good with the bad. Rose was sidelined, the queer representation is abysmal, so much falls apart under close scrutiny, and yet I wouldn’t change Ben’s scene with his remembered father for anything. I hold on to those few moments and look forward to the future of the franchise like Rey, with determination, with a smile, and with hope.

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