Fixing a franchise after the fact is a sign of trouble.
Fading from movie screens right now is ‘’The Rise Of Skywalker’’, a Christmastime release that was the culmination of the cinematic storyline of the ‘’Star Wars’’ franchise. It seems off-center to suggest that a film that has grossed $500 million domestically, and over $1 billion globally, can be looked at as a failure but in relation to the movie franchise ‘’Skywalker’’ at the very least underperformed. Parent studio Disney is still attempting to rectify things.
In an upcoming release the novelization of ‘’The Rise Of Skywalker’’ will carry some passages that alter the storyline in the ‘’Star Wars’’ canon. Now one need not be a devoted fan with an obsessive knowledge of the entire universe of this property to grasp the issues this narrative shift represents. Less about the dramatic details, this is more an indication of just how sideways things have become with the Star Wars property. Even with a big name attached to oversee the property, it has not been a smooth road for Disney.
The book is set to come on the market March 17, but with some advance copies fans have poured over the text and they are puzzled by some of the revelations. In the novel, what is taking place is your basic case of retconning the storyline. One of the most dramatic moments on film occurred when the two leads, Rey and Kylo Ren, share an intimate kiss. But in the novelization, it has been completely diffused.
His heart was full as Rey reached for his face, let her fingers linger against his cheek. And then, wonder of wonders, she leaned forward and kissed him. A kiss of gratitude, acknowledgment of their connection, celebration that they’d found each other at last. But then she drew back, concern on her face. She could feel him growing cold.
And just like that, the scene that resonated the most with fans has been neutered. More problematic however was another passage that addresses Rey’s backstory, and in the process tosses all sorts of questions at the Star Wars canon. Rey, it is revealed in one paragraph, is actually the byproduct of Emperor Palpatine, who it is explained had been cloned a number of times in the past, and one of the versions became the grandparent to Rey. There are indications that this was possibly a detail addressed in ‘’RoS’’, but had been edited out for time streamlining. But this detail has some far-reaching effects.
For one, within the span of one film, this alters the provenance of Rey. In ‘’The Last Jedi’’ Rey is described as being from nowhere, the child of nobodies who rose to Jedi heights. Now we are learning she is actually a byproduct of the lineage. This also has implications going as far back as ‘’Return Of The Jedi’’, when Palpatine is shown to meet his end. So with this bit of literary brevity, we have severe retconning of the Star Wars history.
It is something that could have been addressed on screen. For a major repair like this to exist within the span of a paragraph in a novel would not require much screentime. Trim a chase scene, or shorten a battle sequence by a portion of a minute, and you would have room for some of this narrative heft to be included in the film. Instead, fans are left either debating the plot holes, or those filled in with details that feel like the movies are now detracted as a result.
Again, these are arcane plot details, but the larger issue is how these ‘’fixes’’ were thought to be needed — for a franchise that has concluded. This has been a storyline generations in the making, and in the films that wrap up the entire epic plot, they managed to get things wrong and needed a patch after it all. This underscores the issues seen in the final trilogy of this beloved property. Over the course of the last three films, you have over seven hours of screentime, at a cost of approximately $675 million. For the production to be unable to find room in all of that for a plot point that is summarized into a solitary paragraph in the novelization defies logic.
It has been a dichotomy between the two major acquisitions by Disney in the Bob Iger era. Marvel has become such a successful division that it has transformed Hollywood. ‘’Star Wars’’ meanwhile has seen mixed results. Sure, the box office numbers have been solid — even huge at times — but when it comes to the narrative and how these releases are embraced by the fanbase, for the long term things have not been near as celebrated. When held up in comparison, ‘’Skywalker’’ shows many issues.
The final three films in the ‘’Star Wars’’ saga were going to cap off a beloved intellectual property, and it started off well enough. ‘’The Force Awakens’’ was a juggernaut, earning over $930 million stateside, and over $2 billion globally. Disney appeared primed for an earth-shattering finale to things, with records in its reach for all-time results. Then things went awry in the next installment.
Writer-director J.J. Abrams stepped aside to allow Rian Johnson to take over those roles in ‘’The Last Jedi’’. His impression of the storyline was met with resistance from the fan base. That film is loudly decried in Star Wars circles, and it performed with a sharp dropoff of at least 30% at the box office. Those fans normally relied upon to go to repeat viewings avoided those return trips. Abrams returned to the helm for the franchise finale, and you saw the attempt at righting the ship with the revamped story elements.
It did not work as planned, however. To date ‘’Rise Of Skywalker’’ has done a little over half of the business of ‘’Force Awakens’’. It has lagged behind ‘’Rogue One’’, another Star Wars entry, but one that exists outside of the storyline of the main franchise. Understand, this was the film that was to wrap up the entire Star Wars saga, the culmination of generations of plotlines for beloved characters. For it to go out with a muted total, instead of a movie screen-blistering performance on par with ‘’Avengers Endgame’’ is a severe disappointment.
And now that a follow-up novelization is actually resorting to a last-minute ‘’fix’’ — a Deus Ex Kinkos, if you will — it indicates that the problems seen in the franchise are deep. Little wonder so many fans are outraged.