I actually liked The Rise of Skywalker. It’s a big, loud, action movie where a million things happen at once. There are no egregiously bad lines of dialogue or performances, and a surprising number of issues from the prior films get cleared up in a satisfying way. There are many cool twists and lots of good fight scenes. Rey gets put in a lot of danger, and I cared about what was going to happen to her. After many false starts, Kylo Ren matures into an excellent foil for her. Give J.J. Abrams credit for at least managing this behemoth of a franchise to a conclusion without going mad from the strain.
But now that Star Wars is over—again—it’s time to let it be. Forever.
You can have the occasional movie, TV, or book spinoff, but it’s time to stop cranking out a new movie every other December that ratchets up the stakes even higher.
Stop shoehorning in new characters, new plot threads, and callbacks here, there, and everywhere.
Stop the endless debates over whether the series should be more like this or that episode. Stop putting more planet-destroying lasers on things, adding more ships to the battle scenes, having battle scenes every 5 seconds, teasing romances, retconning family trees, trying to “kill the past” and failing to do so, sticking in freeze-frame bonuses, introducing new ideas only to double back on them, killing people only to bring them back. IT’S TOO MUCH STAR WARS. STOP.
Debates over where and if Star Wars went wrong, and if it can be put right again, have been going on for my entire adult life. Everyone’s a Star Wars tinkerer, trying to mutate the franchise this way and that to replicate the culture-changing magic of the original for a new generation. It’s not enough that everyone goes to see the movies every year. Star Wars must be the perpetual motion machine. Everyone must see themselves in Star Wars, and Star Wars must permeate absolutely everything in return. As a result, the franchise has gotten impossibly unwieldy, to the point that this nearly 3-hour film can only barely cover all the ground it needs to.
And once we’re done with Star Wars for a few months, we need a Top Gun reboot, followed by a Black Widow origin story, and another ripped from the headlines dramatization of Roger Ailes’ downfall at Fox News. We need Charlie’s Angels films for a new generation, Terminator films for a new generation, another take on The Joker, a Wonder Woman sequel where she’s in the 1980’s this time, and so on, and on, and on.
It is almost impossible to remember that when Star Wars originally showed up 40 years ago, it felt fresh (even though it was a rip-off of a Kurosawa film), and whatever eventually takes us out of this death spiral of nostalgia will feel fresh as well. And like Star Wars 40 years ago, it will come out of nowhere, the brainchild of some relative unknown who relentlessly pursued their vision. We will look back on this era of reboots, retreads, remakes and rethinks as a time where creativity disappeared for a while, to be channeled into trying to resurrect things that can’t hope to measure up to the originals.
For now, let’s try to simplify things.
Stranger Things is hopefully the first move in this direction. The later seasons have gotten more complicated, but for now it remains the story of kids and their adult allies taking on an unknown and unknowable evil. This is important because we don’t need a Mind Flayer origin story. We don’t need to know why the Mind Flayer wants to take over the real world. We don’t need to know every detail about Eleven’s backstory or where her powers came from. So long as our minds can fill in the answers to these questions, Stranger Things will matter. There’s also the buzz around Uncut Gems, a movie that boasts Adam Sandler in a genuinely career-defining performance as a guy trying to get free of his gambling debts—a simple premise that hasn’t been beaten into the ground.
The future of the culture belongs to those who do more with less, who don’t try to explain everything, slow things down, and who don’t try to pander to everyone.
We eagerly await this breath of fresh air, not the next stagnant blockbuster remake.