Last year in May I wrote a blog titled, “Why Disney’s Star Wars Strategy Isn’t Going to Work and What They Should Do”. It was a followup to my post, “Why I Think Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a Bad Movie“.
It’s been over a year, and now the most recent Disney SW film, The Rise of Skywalker, has been released to reviews even more critical the TLJ was.
And right off the bat, let’s be clear here that Star Wars is not doing well. It’s not up for debate.
And even with increased ticket prices and adjusted for inflation, the tickets to the films aren’t selling as well. I don’t care what bias journalist wrote about box office records; the US dollar inflated by about 3% over the past year alone so these “box office records” that only look at the dollar numbers and ignore inflation are inaccurate. Ticket sales for theatres have been sliding for years, and this year is no exception. A handful of films make up the majority of the box office revenue. I myself watched Rise in a theatre in Anaheim, CA that had 3 of its rows empty on opening weekend.
And since the full budget to produce and market Rise was probably around $500M at the most conservative figure, they really need those toy sale royalties to compensate since theaters get to keep 35% of the receipts for a Disney movie. Even though Disney is notorious for using ‘Hollywood accounting’ to fudge the numbers, if Rise makes a billion they still only get 65% of that money domestically before foreign distributors take their own cuts with varying levels of ticket split (i.e. China, which has a unique structure for film distribution due to the local laws).
Besides, the film bombed in China anyway, and domestically has experienced a huge 60% drop over its low performing opening weekend. Despite some seemingly intentional misleading on behalf of anonymous Wikipedia article editors, it is nowhere near performing as well as The Force Awakens, and is performing worse than The Last Jedi.
So just in case you don’t get it, if you spend half a billion making and promoting a film (which Disney surely has done with Rise — there isn’t a single frame of this movie that doesn’t have expensive state-of-the-art CGI in it, they did numerous reshoots, most of the screen-time is devoted to action and that means expensive stuntwork, and the marketing / promotion they have done has been tremendous even for Disney, including producing an entirely new Star Tours ride experience in the parks to promote the film) you need to make way more than a billion to break even.
This article is somewhat of a cathartic release for me, since I both watched The Rise of Skywalker and visited Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland both within days of one another, and I’ve been watching The Mandalorian, too.
I could write this article a number of ways. I could make an entire article about EVERYTHING that is wrong with Rise of Skywalker, but I want to primarily just focus on what Disney is doing with the Star Wars brand as a whole, and why it’s been the wrong approach. But before I can do that I need to explain why I think Rise of Skywalker is trash.
Firstly, this is all going to come down to things that are J.J. Abrams’ fault. I think the cast and production crew did a good job with what they had to work with. But if the script is bad, it’s bad.
Is Rise as bad as The Last Jedi?
No, but I do think it is bad. Really bad. And I’m going to curse a lot, because I’m upset at myself that I gave Disney money to watch this trash when I already knew it would be this bad.
Lemme just quickly dive into a few of the big problem areas that sink the whole movie.
- Rey is a Mary Sue by the very literal definition of the term. She already had some minor Mary Sue-ist tendencies in The Force Awakens, as J.J. had her doing all kinds of impressive Force level feats with absolutely no training, which had previously been established in the universe as not possible to do without training. The Last Jedi with Rian Johnson’s script exaggerated this so she was a full blown Mary Sue who can even use the Force to lift a mountain so perhaps we can try to blame Rian for the huge power creep, but J.J. took it all up to 11 in this new script.
The thing is, Rey isn’t even a very good Mary Sue. The first shot we see of her she is literally flying in the air effortlessly, and moving dozens of rocks, too. She NEVER uses this flying power ever again anytime in the film, even during the scene where she needs to climb up a long tower inside the wrecked debris of the Death Star. I mean sure would be convenient to fucking fly when you need to climb up a bazillion floors inside the Death star, ya know? But if she flew up then we wouldn’t have that moment she almost falls to her death.
So like all poorly written Mary Sues in the worst of all fan fiction, she exhibits one-off powers to show how awesome she is and which are conveniently forgotten as the script requires in order to create tension in the plot as the writer desires, but not when it would make any actual real sense. And it doesn’t really create tension, since the suspension of disbelief among the audience has been lost already, as nothing makes sense.
The central premise of Rey being so amazingly powerful is supposed to be because she’s the “true” chosen one, and this retcons Vader being the chosen one (or Luke being the chosen one, as he redeems Vader). I, like the vast majority of Star Wars fans, absolutely hate this. It not only messes with lore established 36 years ago when in Return of the Jedi Vader was redeemed and threw the Emperor to his death, but it makes no fucking sense. What was the entire point of Vader being created by the midichlorians? Now there isn’t any point to it. They took an ending that everyone was happy and satisfied with, and they retconned it so that the Mary Sue character of Rey — OH SO PERFECT FUCKING REY — could now be the Chosen one.
Rey who, by the way, is apparently able to tap into dark side powers like force fucking lightning without actually going dark side. If that isn’t the very definition of a Mary Sue (a character who has absolutely no flaws or drawbacks to them, who upstages the other characters of the story in such a way they don’t matter — like you know, every other Jedi ever), I don’t know what is. Who never once in the trilogy gains any control over her emotions, and frequently makes poor decisions that just work out somehow in the end, because of “destiny”, apparently.
So it doesn’t matter what you think about whether you like the character or not; Rey being a Mary Sue is itself a mark of bad writing. Shes also just a terrible role model to begin with, constantly giving into her emotions, making rash decisions, not listening to anyone, etc. etc. and still everything works out dandy for her. She is literally everything that the Star Wars universe has been telling kids to not be for decades, and that’s why she’s not well liked by fans.
She even murdered a bunch of people using a dark side power like Force lighting in a moment of rage but hey, she’s the good guy, right? RIGHT?!
I’m pretty sure it was established that if you ever give into the dark side and use powers like that, it’ll always have you in its grip and “hold sway over your destiny”. That’s literally what Yoda said, ya know? It’s an important rule, and they broke this rule for Rey so she could be the messiah of Star Wars.
And you know what else? If all the spirits of every Jedi could aid a Jedi in their battle against the Emperor and give them super force powers, you’d think they would have chosen Luke as their champion when he was confronting the Emperor and being blasted with force lighting. Not fucking Rey who wasn’t even properly trained at all and who GIVES IN TO THE DARK SIDE. We’re supposed to believe all the spirits of every Jedi would dwell themselves in someone who is hurling around force lighting bolts, the ultimate manifestation of the dark side?
And don’t give me this bullshit about how it turns out Leia was really a Jedi trained by Luke, and she willingly gave up her lightsaber so that Luke could someday give it to Rey because she was afraid. That’s fucking stupid. Jedi are supposed to confront fear. Luke only said it himself in this movie. And there is nothing about Leia’s personality that indicates she would give in to fear.
They side-lined Luke and Leia so Rey could be awesome.
God, what a mess this movie is! So much just contradicts itself for the sole purpose of making Rey be awesome. That is why she is a Mary Sue character.
(For those who don’t know what a ‘Mary Sue’ is, a Mary Sue is a character that, per literary theory, is a “flawless” character. Rey demonstrates many negative personality traits like stubbornness, short temper, etc but as these traits do not negatively impact her ability to accomplish her goals they are not genuine character flaws within the framework of literary theory.
Further to this, Rey demonstrates abilities that far surpass those of all other characters in the story. The SW universe has long established rules for how the light and dark side of the Force work. Rey completely ignores those rules, and is the only character who does. Things like force lightning aren’t just ‘magic powers’ but manifestations of a Force sensitive user’s deep connection to the dark side, which manipulates those who connect with it. The dark side of the Force has its own will, which Rey is apparently immune to, and is the only character in all of SW canon who is.
The final nail in coffin for her being a Mary Sue is that this flawless, extremely overpowered character also replaces and overshadows the role of prior characters in the story such as Luke, becoming the “true chosen one” of the story while Luke is written as a failure, having failed to both defeat the Emperor for good and start a new Jedi order, which are retcons. Rey also overshadows the other new characters in her own story, in many cases making their efforts absolutely inconsequential since their actions do little to contribute to the accomplishment of the heroes’ goals in the story while she contributes the largest amount to everything.
Any character that breaks the long established rules of a fictional world, who outclasses all other characters so as to outstrip them in their own areas of expertise which define the role of those characters, and who never has any genuine failures that prevent them from succeeding at their goals, and who makes all other characters unimportant within the story to where they basically are just that character’s damsel in distress or cheerleader, well that character is a Mary Sue.
It’s not gender specific. It’s a character archetype and one that is to be avoided in fiction because this character cannot develop through the course of the story while also giving no other characters an opportunity to develop, either.)
2. Kylo Ren’s heel to face turn makes NO sense at all. Why should he give a shit if Leia dies? Why is that the thing that turns him back to the light? He murdered his dad in The Force Awakens, and then tried to murder his mother throughout basically the entirety of the next film. For the sole reason of trying to prove that he was powerful and strong. The character is very different than Vader, who at least never actually tried to seriously kill Luke and held back in his fight against him because he wanted to turn him to the dark side. And the redemption of Vader was possible we learn due to the prequels, because of Vader’s lingering attachment for Padme. This, at least, makes sense.
But, Kylo Ren abandoning the dark side because the mother he tried to kill is now dead, makes no sense whatsoever. And Han Solo appearing as a vision shouldn’t have made any difference at all. Honestly, why should he care? Nothing we ever learn in the films tells us he cares about anyone but himself and he only gave a crap about Rey because he needed her to help him kill Snoke.
Rather it is that Kylo Ren has a heel to face turn because J.J. Abrams wrote that he did for plot reasons, and not because the character naturally progressed in this direction. It’s just not believable, at all.
3. The Emperor surviving makes absolutely no sense at all. No real explanation is given in the films, and honestly even if they make a comic book that explains it, who gives a shit? The explanation should be within the film itself and not all this ancillary bullshit merchandise that the vast majority of people are not going to purchase. You judge a film based on what is in the film itself, not what is in all this surrounding media.
Here’s the frank truth of it all; the Emperor exploded when he fell down the energy shaft in Return of the Jedi. That’s dead as dead gets. Even if you want to say that he transferred his consciousness into another backup body or something using cloning and Sith alchemy, this explanation clashes with the other premise in Rise that claims when a Sith strikes down another Sith they absorb their power and consciousness. So that would mean Vader should have absorbed it all, and the Sith should have died with him when his life support systems failed.
And how exactly is it Rey’s “birth right” to become the next Sith lord because she’s a Palpatine? Sith isn’t a bloodline legacy. I mean, the Sith lord before Palpatine was an entirely different alien species than him. So were the original Sith.
I honestly cannot believe J.J. Abrams, and all these other folks at LucasFilms like Pablo Hidalgo came up with this bullshit. I expect this crap from Chris Terrio but Abrams and Hidalgo should have known better, and I no longer trust their judgement anymore. Abrams previous success’ have obviously made him far too comfortable to be in charge of screenwriting anymore. I still think he’s a good director but I wouldn’t trust him with any major IP again since he screwed up so badly here with the story of Rise.
Lastly, the Force Lighting Storm bullshit at the end of the film…..probably one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in a movie that is trying to take itself seriously. You honestly want the audience to believe that for the 3 minutes the emperor was blasting lighting into outer fucking space, none of those ships crashed into the ground? Or that as soon as he stopped, all the electrical circuitry that had previously cooking the pilots allowed their systems to just start back up again, no problem? That’s not how electricity works. And actually, even with our technology we can design airplanes that can safely handle lighting striking the plane. So if you’re telling me that aircraft intended to fly through outer space at the speed of light can have their systems malfunction because of the Force Lightning storm that the Emperor unleashed, it should have melted the ships and at least ruined their circuitry such that they could no longer regain control again. The whole premise is just absurd and stupid.
4. Tons of other shit makes no sense. Track vehicle bike thing keeping up with speeder bikes is ridiculous. For a track vehicle to keep up with what is essentially an ultra light airplane with a jet engine, the gears of the track vehicle would get so hot they would melt under the force of energy required to keep up. Official SW canon sets the max speed of a speeder bike at 310 mph. It’s completely impossible for a track vehicle to get anywhere near that speed, since the stress of just going 60 mph pushed the limits of the fastest track vehicle ever, the Hellcat tank.
Star Destroyers who can handle Death Star technology is ridiculous in universe; I mean, what was the point of making the First Order converting a planet into a Death Star if they could miniaturize the technology all along, and build like hundreds of these ships? That makes NO SENSE.
Snoke was created by the Emperor to trick Kylo Ren into joining the dark side? Why was that necessary, since First Order obviously was a continuation of the Empire so what does it matter if Kylo knew the Emperor still lived? It wouldn’t have stopped him from joining.
None of this makes any rational sense at all looking at it from the perspective of character motivations and personalities.
Things happen in the story because the story team started out with things like, “We need the Emperor to come back in the third movie so we can get fans to come buy tickets” and “We need to sell more toys; how about a fleet of Death Star guns mounted on Star Destroyers, and we’ll paint them black?“.
Things don’t happen because they make any actual sense within the context of the story’s fictional universe and the characters which live in there. The suspension of disbelief which the original trilogy did so well has been lost.
So those are my main gripes with Rise of Skywalker, and why it’s a bad movie. My complaints are similar to what I said about The Last Jedi in my prior post.
What about the rest of what Disney is doing with Star Wars?
I actually watched all of Rebels Disney channel series, which is basically the continuation of The Clone Wars TV series. It’s…..not bad, but it’s not great, either. Honestly I think the return of Darth Maul made no real sense whatsoever in The Clone Wars, although the storylines related to him are good. I do think George Lucas was mistaken to utilize Darth Maul as a one off character originally, so I can understand the desire to fix that and do more with him, but the story for how he survived is ridiculous and unbelievable. Setting that aside, I largely liked The Clone Wars and I wanted to like Rebels, but it just contributes basically nothing to the larger Star Wars universe and was so obviously made to sell toys to children. It also retcons Yoda telling Luke that he would be the last of the Jedi if Ezra Bridger is still alive somewhere by the time of Return of the Jedi.
This is also my issue with Star Wars: Fallen Order game, which I do otherwise very much enjoy and like. Quite honestly, Star Wars Fallen Order would have made a better film than any of the actual SW films Disney has made. But it is problematic for there to be Jedi survivors other than Luke by RTJ, and it retcons the story in a way that not only makes Yoda a liar, but it peels away the important themes of the original trilogy and the redemption arc of Vader.
I haven’t watched Star Wars: Resistance and from my understanding, it also has no real role in the rest of the series. It exists for the sole purpose of selling kids toys.
The comics are probably the worst thing Disney has done with Star Wars, since instead of putting important things like information about what Vader was doing before A New Hope or who the fuck the Knights of Ren actually are into movies, they put this information into comic books penned by people who from what I have read, quite honestly I don’t think would have been very good fan fiction writers let alone professional writers. I regard the Disney SW comic books as some of the worst Star Wars fan fiction there is, purely a means for certain writers to self-insert their own Mary Sue characters from their RPG sessions into the SW universe canon. Some people may be into this; the vast majority of SW fans are not and thus why the comics sell so poorly.
Yeah, I played the SW d20 tabletop game back in college, too. And I very much enjoyed the campaigns we did. I had tons of fun and great memories to this day. But I’d never stick any of my own invented characters from a tabletop session into the SW canon universe like many of these comic writers have done; that would be incredibly self-absorbed. The franchise and its fans deserve better than that. Stories should form in an organic way, not because you think the character is cool and you want to build a story around them so that your fucking self-insert munchkin can be an official Star Wars character.
The Star Wars comic book division is very mismanaged, and if I was Bob Iger I would shut it all down. The need to constantly pump out stories is causing a lot of garbage to get pushed out to meet schedules, and that is damaging the brand. What was the point of throwing out all the Expanded Universe stuff if they were just going to make brand new EU garbage to replace it? I don’t get it, and I think most fans don’t either. That’s why we don’t buy the comics. A small minority of Star Wars fans are willing to waste their money supporting this crap. The majority refuses to.
Galaxy’s Edge is another one of these garbage things in my opinion. Yes, the Imagineering team did a great job of re-creating the atmosphere and environment from the films. But the land usage itself is poor. I mean, why the hell is the Cantina so small? It’s basically surrounded by empty space. There’s very little seating inside, and guests are forced to share tables with strangers. Kids hate the experience. There’s no logical reason for why it needed to be so small when it should be obvious that it would be the #1 thing most Star Wars fans are going to want to have as a dining experience. So why doesn’t it have an actual kitchen so it can serve actual food? And why the hell are they serving Mexican food in the other eatery areas of Galaxy’s Edge? Why do those other eateries even exist at all? They could have made the Cantina 3 times larger with proper seating for guests, and actual food, and it would have been much, much better. As it stands I’ll never make a reservation for it ever again.
A lot of Galaxy’s Edge is designed to interact with the Disney Play app. But, you can’t even download that app from inside the park because the internet is so crap inside the park — at least it was for me. And when I frequently use four or more Fuel rod batteries a day per Disneyland visit just using the Disneyland park app, the last thing I want to do is play a game on my phone in Disneyland. It’s just ill-conceived all around. I didn’t see anybody else with their phone out in the land unless they were taking a photo.
Don’t even get me started on the Smugger’s Run ride. It should be cool to ride the Millennium Falcon, but it’s a mess. Being engineering with a pilot who crashes into everything means I basically spend the entire trip flipping flashing switches to restore the ship shield, instead of looking forward at the screen to see what is going on. And I was upset to discover they replaced Star Tours with a a new version meant to promote The Rise of Skywalker, which is less thrilling than the prior versions and actually seems a lot shorter of a ride.
Yes, I’ve complained about basically everything related to Star Wars under Disney, because I think the heart and love for the brand just is not there from key individuals who are overseeing projects. Decisions are being made commercially, and not creatively. There isn’t any marriage of commercial and art like there used to be in Disneyland, as the whole park has basically become a giant shopping center and rides have become less important. The design of Galaxy’s Edge really shows this poor philosophy; this is California Adventure 1.0 all over again, and it must be systematic of the overall Disney company as a whole since it’s clearly infected Star Wars.
The Mandalorian TV series is probably the only thing I cannot find anything to criticize about. Every episode is coming from a place of love for the Star Wars franchise and what it was built to love. It’s got that careful balance of old Western and Space serial feel to it. It’s a genuine space opera. I could write at length about this, but if you’ve seen the series and compare it to the rest of Disney Star Wars, you’ll understand what I am saying. It looks and feels like the original trilogy, not just visually but in terms of story and pacing. It has that love for the old serials, and that’s what the original Star Wars trilogy had that the other stuff has not. Even with the prequels, George Lucas seemed to forget why he made Star Wars in the first place. It’s tragic, really, when you think about it, because the original trilogy was so, so good because it came from that place of love.
And as I think about why I dislike almost everything Disney has done with Star Wars, that’s really what it comes down to; they abandoned the themes that made Star Wars great. They started retconning sacred cows and tearing down the achievements of past characters to build something new. Yet, The Mandalorian stayed true to those roots and didn’t need to destroy or retcon anything in order to tell an authentic story. It built on what had been created, and didn’t seek to supersede it. And that’s why it’s universally liked by everybody.
This isn’t rocket science. George Lucas created the monomyth formula back in 1977. All of Hollywood followed the formula for years, creating some of the best movies of all time by adhering to it.
Now storytellers of today are just trying to mess with the franchise that defines monomyth structure, and retconning and inserting their own Mary Sue characters, and pushing their own ideological bullshit agendas, and so on into the franchise. Instead of following the style guide, they are trying to insert their own personal style into it, and that’s why the brand has become such a mess. So yeah, it’s creating division among the fans. Obviously it would. You’re betraying the values of the brand.
I think my post from over a year ago still stands. Disney’s strategy isn’t working. They are damaging the brand the same way other brands like Alien and Terminator have been damaged by poorly created heartless corporate money grabs that betray the spirit of the franchise. Look at Ghostbusters (2016) and compare it to the new film coming out next year. 2016 GB didn’t come from a place of love for the franchise; the new one is. That’s the difference.
The people at Disney put in charge of Star Wars do not love Star Wars. I don’t care how long Kathleen Kennedy has been at LucasArts. She obviously doesn’t love Star Wars; It’s blatantly evident in what has been made under her direction that she doesn’t, which is why under her direction she has sought to change it.
What Should Disney Do To Repair Star Wars?
I think if Disney was smart they would shut down Galaxy’s Edge and revise it. Knock part of it down, rebuild the Cantina into a proper restaurant. Move Star Tours from Tomorrowland and stick it somewhere in there; get rid of some of those stupid stores, like the Droid store and whatever. Put back the old ‘Adventure Continues‘ experience into Star Tours, remove the ‘Rise‘ experience because it sucks. Re-design Smuggler’s Run ride into something that doesn’t have ‘Engineering’ since it is something someone came up with obviously as a desperate way for people to have something to do who were sitting in the back. I’d rather they have an animatronic Chewie piloting the thing instead of the current mess of a design they have, which is like a bad video game. Nobody wants to ride the Millennium Falcon if it means some kid is going to crash into literally everything onscreen and force them to focus on flipping blinking lights the whole ride.
Shelf the new trilogy. Dial back on promoting it. Go back to promoting the original trilogy. Redesign Galaxy’s Edge to look like Tatooine. Get rid of Kylo Ren and Rey. Have cast walk around dressed like Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Chewie, R2D2, C3PO, etc. You know the characters people actually want to see when they go to a Star Wars theme park?
Get rid of the Disney Play app nonsense in Galaxy’s Edge. Parents take their kids to amusement parks to get them off their phones and interact with something in the real world. Nobody wants to dick around with their cellphone in an amusement park for anything but taking photos, getting fast passes and skipping the line with mobile meal ordering. Why is this so difficult to understand?
And most importantly, get rid of the staff who obviously do not love Star Wars and want to change it into something new. They don’t get it. There is difference between expanding a property, and retconning it. Almost everything they have done is a retcon. And that’s why the audiences are hating it.
Stop making garbage. It’s not difficult. Just stop designing toys and thinking of ways to make fans happy so they will buy movie tickets, and start writing from a place of love for the franchise itself. Respect it and what values the brand represents. It really isn’t hard to do. The formula is there in the original trilogy. Just follow it. Sheesh!