On The Eve Of The Saga's Conclusion
I know I won't get everything I want out of Episode IX, but mostly I go see Star Wars movies for the Star Wars.
When The Return of the Jedi premiered in 1983, it brought about a satisfying emotional resolution to a storyline that absolutely did not exist in any form when Star Wars debuted in 1977. When we met Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader in what would later be retroactively titled "Episode IV: A New Hope", we had no idea that they were part of a shared lineage entangled with the very fabric of a far-far-away galaxy's political and spiritual existence, and neither did anyone else, least of all the people making the movie.
Star Wars was a magical adventure in space. It was a trashy-chic tribute to Flash Gordon, to samurai movies and cowboy movies, to war movies and WWII aerial dogfights. It was a loveletter to everything that George Lucas found exciting, a lot of set pieces and big ideas and high concepts crammed into one movie with little preamble and less explanation.
I don't know many people who would rank the first film as the best Star Wars movie, but I think perhaps it was in its own way Star Wars at its very best, Star Wars the way that most people can only ever encounter Star Wars once: for the first time, with the eyes of a child. Some people manage to stay in that space for the span of longer than a single movie. Some lucky, blessed few may spend their entire lives in that place. But it's a state that, once fallen from, can be difficult to regain.
The conflict in Episode VI between revenge and redemption was only introduced in the previous film. Perhaps it was more powerful for the fact that Luke had met Vader first as an enemy, as a walking embodiment of darkness who not only killed his father and then struck down the only link he'd ever found to him. He was the black knight and the evil wizard and a faceless, implacable force of nature, a perfect villain and a perfect movie monster... a role that we were reminded of when he made his climactic appearance in Rogue One and a synthesis that was lampshaded in the second Night at the Museum movie when his Smithsonian simulacrum tried to join the forces of evil and was rejected for having too much going on.
Darth Vader's redemption was powerful because, on a meta level, he was constructed as the ultimate villain and we had most of two whole movies before we learned anything about what else he might ever have been.
Of course, most of the audiences who have seen the original trilogy since it came out went in knowing the broad strokes of his story in advance. That's sort of what happens when you create a cultural icon. And the attempts to elaborate on his background beyond the level of a morality play buried in set pieces leavened with quiet character moments were met with mixed results. Neither he nor the universe he inhabited were created out of logic or small details so much as big ideas. Star Wars was an opera play-acted by an excitable child with action figures, a tale full of bombast and blasters, signifying PEW PEW PEW and VROOOOM and WHOA.
I have not seen Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker yet. I gather it's getting mixed reviews. I'm not saying the critics are wrong (I don't know what they're saying and I don't know enough about the subject to refute them if I did), but for my part, when I do see it my intention is to go in expecting to see a magical adventure in space, made by people who hopefully managed to fill it with the fun and the cool and the small moments of meaning that make Star Wars enjoyable.
It's impossible to make anything that pleases everybody. At this point, I think Star Wars is a victim of its own success insofar as the very normal phenomenon where no movie pleases everyone and no movie is entirely what any one person would want now means that, from a certain point of view, no Star Wars movie can be successful. The people who are disappointed won't just say "Well, that wasn't the movie for me." because too many people feel that Star Wars should be for them.
By all accounts, it seems like Disney attempted some sort of course correction when this phenomenon played out over The Last Jedi, but it's not something you can fix by making the right movie because there is no right movie. There's not ever going to be a perfect Star Wars film, any more than there could be a perfect season of Saturday Night Live or a perfect era for comic books or Mad Magazine. Perfection is when you encountered the imperfect thing with the eyes of a child, when the excitement was genuine and new and the possibilities seemed infinite.
By closing the book on the Skywalker Saga for good, Disney announced that the possibilities aren't infinite. We've gone from a galaxy where anything can happen to a set of events that did happen, and that's it. That's all we'll ever get, not in the Star Wars universe as a whole but for this story. It's ending, as stories do, and people aren't ready for that.
Now, I don't actually expect it to necessarily be a satisfying ending to the trilogy or the saga... J.J. Abrams is such a bizarre choice to write the ending for anything. Wrapping things up is not his wheelhouse.
But I expect it to be Star Wars, and I expect I will enjoy it.
I don't think anyone is wrong for expecting more, especially when the new trilogy has tried to deliver more. I would like to see what Rian Johnson could do with a slightly freer hand. But the movie they made is the movie we have, and I'm going to go in with as few expectations as possible, with a firm reminder to myself that the original trilogy was not one master storyteller's grand vision and that the threads we see as so intrinsic to the saga were largely identified after they were woven.
If the ending comes out of nowhere... well, that's a long and storied tradition in the Star Wars universe. It's called "making it up as we go along" and decades of mythmaking to the contrary, it's how they've always done things.
And of course, there will be more Star Wars. I will not be surprised if in the not-too-distant future, the powers that be announce their plans for Episodes X through XII and bring back as many of the cast members as are available and willing to return to tell more stories about them.
And characters who die or reach their story's end on screen will undoubtedly be resurrected in tie-in novels and comic books and video games because other storytellers decide they still have things to say.
This, too, is how they've always done things in Star Wars land.
But the movie is the movie and will remain the movie. There will not be a do-over, any more than there was a remake of The Last Jedi. We can take it as it is, we can ignore it, we can wish it was something else. I expect I'll have some critical things to say about it after I've seen it... my plans outlined here are geared towards giving myself an enjoyable couple of hours of cinema. They're not an oath of loyalty towards a franchise film I haven't even seen.
I will only have one chance to see the new Star Wars movie for the first time. I'm going to make the most of that.