Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Not all fan-fiction is bad, but the worst kind of fan-fiction is the absolute worst. Those are stories that fail to understand the characters and what motivates them. They ignore important themes outright, or worse misconstrue them. And they eschew logical, plot-driven storytelling to recreate past events, show moments fans “always wanted” to see, or force things to happen simply because they would be “cool.” They are inorganic and insincere stories that lack originality. And at its worst that’s what The Rise of Skywalker did, too. It’s slavish devotion to the past actively worked against both itself and the sequel trilogy as a whole, frequently coming across like the worst kind of fan-fic. In that way it suffered many of the same issues as another failed final installment in a beloved franchise. Because Episode IX was Star Wars‘ unfortunate answer to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child serves as the de facto eighth installment in Harry’s story, yet it frequently doesn’t understand the series’ characters. For example it tells us Hermione would have become a bitter and lonely person if she hadn’t married Ron (seriously). The overlong plot is also full of forced references that are neither clever or authentic. Characters and famous scenes only seem to exist so fans will say, “I know that!” That’s one of the lowest forms of storytelling, because it doesn’t respect the audience or its own story.
And even when the play is in the present it’s full of moments that are nostalgia on steroids. We’re back watching Cedric compete again. Harry has a tearful conversation with Dumbledore’s painting, then gets a dire warning from Bane the centaur. And, in the single worst scene in the place, Snape lives again. It’s like someone said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to get Snape in this play?” And the answer is no, not even a little bit. It’s a scene that thinks its gleefully giving fans what they want, but in reality its highlighting how absurd the premise really is. It’s not cool to see Snape alive in an alternate timeline, where Harry is dead, no one wants to see happen under any circumstances.
But he’s not the only deceased character resurrected in the story. Ultimately the two young boys, along with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco, band together to stop the big bad villain who threatens everything. Of course that villain is Voldemort, because Cursed Child can’t let go of the past anymore than The Rise of Skywalker. They both even feature villain offspring no one knew existed.
The present day villain in the play, the one trying to change the Dark Lord’s fate, is his secret daughter. Turns out both Palpatine and Voldemort found time during their evil reigns to partake in carnal pleasures. You know, something that was never once even remotely hinted at before it was convenient for the next story. They only had past sex lives when future writers needed them to.
That type of convenience, rather than authenticity and logical story-telling, is The Rise of Skywalker‘s biggest problem. How and why is Lando on that specific planet at that exact moment? Not because it makes sense, but because its fun to see him there. Hey, everyone loves Lando! But how did Palpatine manage to create and control Snoke, or raise an army of unimaginable size, all without anyone knowing he was still around for decades? Who cares! And why wasn’t any of this even hinted at before this film? Don’t think too hard about it! The guy who started everything is back and that’s fun! Right! Right?
And of course, just like we love Professor Snape, everyone loves Han Solo. So bring him back, too! There’s no logical way for him to return for another film, but The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t want you to worry about that. It just says he’s a “memory” (which is meaningless) and hopes you’ll turn off the part of your brain that makes you an active viewer. Like much of the film, it’s relying on how you feel as a viewer rather than how you think.
But the best stories don’t have to make you feel something by manipulating how you felt before. Truly powerful moments happen organically because they brought you along on the journey. What happened before frames the emotional end of each path. It’s why the best revelations hit you in the gut like a bomb and others fall with nary a thud. It’s the difference between Darth Vader telling Luke “I am your father” and Kylo Ren telling Rey, “Uh, your parents were nobodies because they chose to be. In truth they were actually super important people.” One hurts because the clues were there and the weight of what it means is enormous. The other feels conjured from thin air and has no relation to anything that came previously.
But The Rise of Skywalker‘s problem are much bigger. The sequel trilogy felt disjointed after the first two movies, but there’s barely any link between them at all now. This final film actively undid what came before it in a way Cursed Child only temporarily did with its time travel shenanigans. The Rise of Skywalker actually did change the past. It retconned, ignored, or openly mocked The Last Jedi, disregarding its character arcs, themes, and plot lines. It even did that to The Force Awakens. (Try making sense of anything Snoke did and why.) This movie didn’t tell a fitting final chapter that made sense for the trilogy because it was more concerned with old ideas and pleasing everyone. It was, quite literally, trying to service all Star Wars fans by being everything to everyone. Like bad fan-fiction, that’s the easiest way to mean nothing to anyone.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has its supporters, and unquestionably The Rise of Skywalker does, too. Some viewers love nothing more than experiencing fun moments and having old heartstrings pulled. But you can have both of those things and tell a coherent and logical story. And if both Star Wars and Harry Potter had done that with their final installments they’d each have a lot more supporters, Instead they focused on “fan service.”
All any good fan wants though is for their favorite franchises to service the story we loved in the first place.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm/Pottermore