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The Fall of Skywalker

My daughter hasn’t seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and this troubles me greatly.

But it doesn’t trouble me enough to insist that she watch it, and here’s why: I did that with my son, and I regret it mightily.

[NOTE: THIS ESSAY CONTAINS SPOILERS. Although, unless you are my daughter, you’ve probably already seen Skywalker so it should be ok. But take heed.]

Some backstory is warranted. I saw Star Wars in the back of a station wagon at a drive-in in 1977. (There are many words in that sentence that have zero meaning for millennials and Gen Z’s but hang with me another moment or two.) I was instantly hooked. I didn’t care what was going on in the front seat; I didn’t care about who was with me in the back. I was transported in a way I can honestly say I never have been, before or since, watching another movie. I didn’t become one of those people – you know, the people who read every novelization, see every animated spinoff, argue about what is canon and what is unsubstantiated. No, I’m not one of those guys, but I am a fan, a huge fan. Not just of the movies themselves but how they make me feel.

So when The Force Awakens came out, and people everywhere vented their spleen all over it, saying “It’s a frame-for-frame rehash of the original!” I didn’t listen, and I didn’t care. It did what JJ wanted it to do: It engaged those neuroceptors that had been unattended so, so long. I was happy.

When The Last Jedi came out, and people everywhere lost their literal minds, threatening to murder director Rian Johnson for completely departing from the original in the most disrespectful of ways, I didn’t listen, and I didn’t care. I liked Rey’s character arc, I liked the theme of not needing to be of “royal” bloodline to be powerful, and I was amused, not repulsed, by Luke Skywalker squeezing blue milk out of a large alien animal’s teat. Come on, people, you have to laugh a little more. And I loved the ending – not just the triumph of it but also the downfall brought on by hubris. It connected with me.

Flash forward to The Rise of Skywalker. There was more written about this movie in the weeks leading up to it than most movies get in their entire lifetime. And then after it premiered, whoa boy! Holy crap. More whining! What was JJ Abrams thinking? What about all the things Rian Johnson did that we hated – he just threw them away! (Hold up, you hated them. Why are you mad he threw them away?) JJ went back to formula and found every thread he could pull from the original trilogy and then tried to tie them together for us. And if not tie them together, at least use the dangly little threads to tickle our Star Wars pleasure centers that get neglected for years at a time.

I mean, Lando Calrissian, leading the cavalry charge? Supreme Emperor Kylo Ren renouncing the Sith to come to the aid of our hero? Even a shameless Ewok cameo? Oh JJ, you naughty, naughty boy. You really know how to get our juices flowing.

So when my wife, my 21-year-old son and I were channel surfing over the weekend and clicked past Rise of Skywalker and my son – who lives at college when not under quarantine – said, “Huh, I never actually saw that,” I bought it on-demand before another breath was drawn. What great luck! I had the evening figured for another 3-hour marathon of, “I don’t know, what do you want to watch,” ending with resignation and reruns of Scrubs or Parks and Rec. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Things started going poorly when Nathan wouldn’t put his phone down.

They got worse when something would happen on screen and he would look at me, sadly, judging, and shake his head. (I always knew the abbreviation SMH but I never actually saw someone DO it in real life. It sucks!)

And things ended with a moist thud when the credits rolled and he said, “You’re not going to tell me you think that’s a good movie.” It was not a question.

I was furious. I wanted to punch him in his handsome, talented face. But I didn’t. Instead, I said, “No.”

But I thought for a minute, and then I continued, “It’s not supposed to be a good movie. It’s supposed to be a satisfying movie. It’s supposed to take all the seven thousand things I have loved about Star Wars since I was 14 and tap on each one of those nerves with a little gold hammer, and make me smile.”

And he shook his head again. Smug bastard.

“How is it any different from Avengers: Endgame? That wasn’t a good movie either, but it was a great event. It did exactly the same thing and you didn’t pee all over that!”

He shrugged, admitting as much, and then had the balls to say, “Yeah well that was after, what, like 10 years.”

“Eleven years,” I snapped, “And 22 films. Whereas this was 43 years and at least 11 feature length films, novels, animated series, video games. Star Wars created more in the modern film industry than existed before it! How dare you!”

He shrugged again, got up, walked away. “It wasn’t good.”

A few days later we were in front of the tube again, this time with my daughter and her boyfriend.

“Can you believe your brother hadn’t seen The Rise of Skywalker until this past weekend? We just watched it.”

She said, “We never saw it either.”

I blacked out, and when I awoke I said, “Why not? We should watch it.” And she said, “Nah. It’s not supposed to be any good.”

So I’m in the market for new children.

No, seriously. I can appreciate someone who came along in time to see the prequels before the original trilogy never really got invested in the franchise in a way that me and my O.G. peers did. There’s something about experiencing the content in the order it was created and appreciating not only all the great things but also all the crappy things, too. To paraphrase someone famous, “I don’t like Jar Jar Binks, but I will defend to the death his right to exist in the Star Wars universe.”

Clearly I don’t demand everyone share my subjective likes and dislikes. I would find that more creepy than reassuring, frankly. But I am troubled, as I’ve said, by the unwillingness I sense in my children to indulge what is simple, principled and elegant in the Star Wars saga. It started as a space western, and has grown into so much more. It has embraced the best of science fiction themes, using other worlds and strange beings to reinforce the universal challenges and demons we face as humans here on Earth.

I feel like there are universal, objective elements of Star Wars that are engaging and timeless. Unless of course you’re dead inside and can only look at life through a cold, cynical glass. I don’t think that’s who my kids are; in fact I’m sure of it.

And then I think maybe I ruined it for them. Maybe my Darth Vader bank that plays John Williams’ Imperial March when you put money in it (ditto my cell phone ring tone) dulled their interest. Maybe they heard me say, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” too often.

There are a thousand things in the Star Wars movies that are flat-out ridiculous, or silly, or contrived, or just poorly written. Beyond Jar Jar and Ewoks, there’s the Deathstar, that becomes the NEW Deathstar in Return of the Jedi, that becomes Starkiller Base (the NEW NEW Deathstar) in The Force Awakens. There’s Carrie Fisher’s ill-advised British accent in the original; God rest her soul. There’s giving the Emperor a three-film backstory; and then reincarnating him as the singular source of evil in the entire universe three movies later. A thousand things.

I love all of them.

I believe wars do not make one great, and when judging someone, size matters not. I know the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1, and to be frank, I don’t ever want to know the odds. I hope to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs someday, and when my wife tells me she loves me, I tell her, “I know.”

I love the whole damn thing. And kids: I don’t know, maybe when you get a little older, a little softer, a little more grateful and a little less graceful, maybe you’ll grow to love it, too.

Happy Star Wars Day. May the Fourth be with you.

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