The First Trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Is Here, but Will the Movie Deliver?
The trailer for Episode XI: The Rise of Skywalker has dropped. When we last saw our heroes, the Rebellion — excuse me, the Resistance — had seemingly been reduced to something that could fit inside a YT-1300 freighter. One of the questions for Episode IX has been how the Resistance could possibly mount a credible assault on the First Order in this kind of condition.
The new trailer does not answer this question. In fact, it doesn’t really tell us much about the final chapter of the Skywalker saga, beyond that this is the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.
I have deeply mixed feelings here. On the one hand, lightsabers! Fragments of the Death Star! Palpatine laughing. Billy Dee Williams!
On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel like the shot of (presumably) Kylo Ren carefully repairing his old helmet represents JJ Abrams “repairing” the directions Rian Johnson took with The Last Jedi, in which Ren smashed that same helmet to a battered wreck. And while I am fully aware that some fans might love that idea in principle, I’d feel a lot better about the idea if I felt like The Force Awakens had been a good movie, in and of itself.
TFA was a hell of a lot more fun than the prequels and it wasn’t devoid of charm, but it ultimately stole a lot of its major plot points and story beats from A New Hope. It didn’t really establish JJ Abrams as someone interested in telling a new or different story in the Star Wars universe.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t think The Last Jedi was very good either, for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with Rey, Daisy Ridley, or the fact that the movie had women in a number of starring roles. Rian Johnson deserves credit for trying to actually do something with his characters and to evolve the universe in different ways, but the conceit of the long stern chase and the lengthy excursion to Canto Bight, combined with the way Luke served as irate, grouchy Yoda who taught Rey even less than Yoda taught him, didn’t sit well with me.
As a result, parts of this trailer don’t sit well, either. “We’ve passed on all we know,” Luke says. “A thousand generations live in you, now.” Short of some truly epic Force Ghost instruction, this kind of appellation couldn’t be less earned. (I will grant, given modern Hollywood trailers, this line could be drawn from the end of the movie or may not even be heard in the final film).
But the fact that it got stuck at the beginning of the movie bothers me. It’s an excellent example of what has bothered me about the new movies from the start. They seem far more interested in elbowing us in the ribs by reminding us how cool the past films were than in actually establishing their own continuity and adventures. Kylo Ren in a forest chopping up people looks exactly like the last time we saw Kylo Ren in a forest chopping up people. Oh look! A desert planet! Remember how cool desert planets are?
And, of course, inevitably… a Death Star.
I’m tired of Death Stars and Starkiller Bases. Is it a rule in the Star Wars universe that only giant spheres are allowed to threaten things? Are there no other evil platonic solids that we might do battle with? At this point, I’d kill for a Borg cube.
Ultimately, TFA and TLJ have both felt lighter and less weighty than the original Star Wars trilogy. I don’t feel like I know the characters as well. I don’t feel like we’ve seen them through to the same point in their own evolution as we had by the end of Empire Strikes Back. I realize this is vague, but it feels to me as if Rey, Finn, Poe, and the rest are still at an earlier stage of their own journey against the First Order. Rey’s journey doesn’t have to duplicate Luke’s in order to be valid, of course, but certain aspects of becoming a Jedi — like the idea of study and practice — are supposed to be common to the process regardless of when or how you do them.
I want to believe that Abrams has a plan to unify the two sagas and deliver an amazing ending. But based on what we’ve seen from the first two movies and the way this trailer can’t stop winking and nudging us, I’m not sure he does. I’m sure I’m supposed to be asking “Who’s the Skywalker — Kylo, Rey, or someone else?” Instead, I’m wondering “Will the movie actually be good, or just retread a film I’ve already seen? Will it actually earn any of the emotional beats it wants to trade on? Does JJ Abrams actually have a plan for using Palpatine, or is he in this movie because he was in the Return of the Jedi?”