By Chris Ovens
DISCLAIMER: This is a personal piece about my own emotional journey and how my relationship with Star Wars has shifted after TROS. My intention for this article is not for it to be an angry anti-TROS rant, though it will contain some TROS-negative vibes where necessary.
CW: Binge drinking in Chapter 3.
ALSO: This article is at least a little pretentious. That I won’t apologize for.
The myth is dead.
This is how I felt when I walked out of the IMAX Theatre after the midnight screening of The Rise of Skywalker.
I walked in with so much hope, so much certainty that it would be the satisfying fairytale ending that had been promised, and walked out feeling so deflated, so angry, so uncertain about what to even do with myself.
Star Wars had once inspired me to tell stories of my own, and without Star Wars to inspire me, to comfort me, to fill me with child-like wonder and relentless hope, I felt lost.
I had put so much hope into my expectations for this movie – and they weren’t unreasonable expectations. The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie, and I know that a lot of people had felt this way walking out of The Last Jedi. That, in some form or fashion, it hadn’t gone the way they had expected, and in doing so had ruined what they love about Star Wars.
Whether it was the direction of Luke’s character, or Finn’s subplot, or Poe’s, or Rey’s parentage, or Snoke’s lack of backstory, or the lack of Knights of Ren – I know that many people held strong expectations following The Force Awakens that they had held onto for two years and felt incredibly let down by some or all of the answers they were given.
To a certain extent, though it is my favorite Star Wars film and I endlessly adore everything about it, I can understand that disappointment. Two years is a long time to imagine where a story is going to go next, especially given The Force Awakens’ ending required a very direct follow-up, so there were some pretty clear guidelines for where things would start off.
The Force Awakens, quite deliberately, creates a semi-reliable trajectory for the next chapter to follow. Through this, and its lean on nostalgia, it’s a very comforting film.
Having rigid expectations for a middle chapter isn’t quite the same as having rigid expectations for an ending, though. A middle chapter’s job is to take the story in unexpected directions that challenge the characters to grow into the positions they need to be in in the final chapter. Whether or not it went the direction you wanted it to go in, it is indisputable that The Last Jedi did exactly this.
But an ending’s job is different. Where the middle chapter is wide open and filled with endless possibility, an ending must re-focus down to a fine point that creates a resonant cohesion with the rest of the story; it must collide the threads of the narrative in a way that reveals the point of it all, make the entire story feel like it was building to this one point.
I know for many that Ben reuniting with his mother in the Force and Rey taking the Skywalker name in honor of their legacy felt like it checked that box, and I am happy for them. My despair at those narrative choices can never take away from their joy. It just doesn’t work for me, and never will. Simply put, I will never understand those choices to be reflective of the resonant, singular, thematic, and narrative point of the saga.
I had a number of expectations, speculations, and ideas in which a theoretical final chapter of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga could bring things to a close in a way that would reflect back and resonate with the themes and ideas of the entire saga, making the entire story feel like a cohesive whole that had all built to a single point. Some of these were quite specific, but many of them were much broader ideas that could have been executed in a number of different ways.
And I didn’t expect to have been able to predict absolutely everything, but I certainly expected the broad strokes and general resolution to be more or less correct. And if I was truly to be entirely wrong with my projections, I expected the film to at least be in line with the core philosophies of George Lucas and why he created the saga; that it would be a relentlessly hopeful, mythic fairytale about the incredible, all-defying power of redemption, rebellion, and compassionate love – intended to show children how to embrace the responsibility of being an adult.
If you felt like you got that from The Rise of Skywalker, I’m glad. And I could never, would never take that joy from you. I wish that this ending made me feel complete like that, left me satisfied with investing in this story for a good 80% of my life.
But for me, it simply did not. And with the pieces that the story was assembled with, the intent under which they were assembled, and the execution of that assembly, it never, ever can.
So, I walked out of the theatre feeling shocked and betrayed. I alternated wildly between stunned speechlessness and distraught, frantic rambling to my poor friends. I oscillated between praising the few beautiful things that almost came together, that almost worked, that felt like pieces of a story that was right; and spurning the vast swaths of soulless cynicism those moments of almost-beauty were entangled with.
And I said, between it all, over and over: “The myth is dead.”
The myth within me.
Well, I ranted on Twitter a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I immediately started an attempt at a rewrite.
To engage with fiction is to engage certain complex and specific emotions in the pursuit of catharsis. It’s to say that every story holds a feeling that is universal to human experience, and that engaging in stories that hold that feeling shall pull it out of you. It’s an act of vulnerability, of self-discovery, and of release.
So, to say that a story – any story – disappointed you is, on some level, to say that it didn’t engage with the emotion you believed it had promised it would pull from you, that it didn’t elicit that feeling of release. Therefore, a story that was this important to me failing to create that release for me meant that I had all this bottled up feeling that wasn’t going anywhere, that wasn’t being pulled from me by other stories. Ranting on Twitter was a band-aid, I needed to create that release for myself.
Hence, I rewrote. It wasn’t out of pure spite; it was an exercise in pulling the myth from within myself to find a story that would reveal why I wanted to write at all.
Now, trying to engage with my creativity during a time in which I had never felt less motivated to do… anything at all, was a constant struggle.
I rewatched Lord of the Rings (Extended Editions) to reignite some of that spark and to get some of the big, mythic, happy-ending catharsis that I had been craving – and that worked. For a while. I got an outline together, rewrote the outline a couple times, then finally landed on something that felt right. It felt like the story I had wanted to see.
By this point, it was March. I wrote the first draft in just over two months. It was a 214-page screenplay – by far the largest project I have ever written, especially in such a short timeframe. Gathering feedback and making the amendments for the second draft took another month.
As I write this article, I’m currently getting stuck into the third – hopefully final – draft, with some much more ambitious amendments than the second. Do I need to put this much work into, ultimately, fanfiction? Yes, absolutely I do. Star Wars was the myth that inspired me to write. It seems only fitting that it would be the story that would reveal to me – through this exercise in self-discovery – the ultimate, driving purpose of my writing; that it would be my creative manifesto, of sorts.
Maybe it was the natural life cycle of grieving a piece of fiction, but to me, it has felt as though instead of experiencing an emotional catharsis over two and a half hours in a cinema, I’ve felt it spool from me, slowly, over six months. It hasn’t reached the same level of clarity or intensity as it might have to see it on a big screen, overwhelmed with the emotion of a midnight release, hearing the soaring score and seeing the dazzling visuals, but it’s an approximation. It’s a start. It’s a piece of the healing that I needed to do.
You’re not alone.
Feeling this distressed over something that seems so trivial is incredibly lonely. It’s much easier to say that the current state of the world or the fact that I don’t have stable income are what’s troubling me than to say that much of my emotional distress is stemming from something as pathetic as not liking a movie. But, simply, that is how I feel. Attempting to reason those feelings away only amplifies them.
My significant other has been my constant support, always listening to me rant about TROS at whatever hour I need to.
I felt myself fall away from many of my real-life friends, speaking much more with my online friends. It helped that my online friends were all going through more or less the same thing, I was less afraid of judgment.
And with isolation, I hadn’t seen many of my real-life friends face-to-face in months. My birthday passed without much care; I felt too lonely to organize a video call or something, and restrictions meant I couldn’t go to the pub with my rowdiest mates, drink beer and eat fried chicken as I wanted.
My dearest friend moved back in with her family over isolation and we didn’t really speak for a while, but we started messaging and calling in the last weeks of the isolation period to finally catch up again. The first time we called it went for four hours. We mostly talked about the state of the world and both of us feeling serious cabin fever after living with our families (and their awful, awful politics) for so long.
A while back, after what we had agreed was a fairly reckless opening to our 20s, we had decided to go sober for the foreseeable future, but on our call, we decided that it had been long enough – when she came back, we needed a big night.
And it was decided that we would watch The Rise of Skywalker. I had joked that if no one told me to stop talking, that I could probably rant about it for three days straight if I wanted to, and she said, “let’s do it then.”
My family had planned a weekend trip shortly after the date of my friend’s return, I elected to stay behind to look after the dog. Oh, and get absolutely plastered with my bestie and watch a Star War.
Or, at least, I got plastered. Truly, mortal. She was a bit more responsible, bless her.
We started with The Legacy of Skywalker, as a prelude, so that by the time we got to Rise we would be drunk enough to handle it. Honestly, the documentary was really worth watching. It confirmed much of what I already suspected about the production and the general creative intent behind many of the story choices but allowed me to properly explore what had happened to the story and why in a way that made me feel more at peace with it.
Not that I could enjoy it, or that my feelings had lessened, but they were now more grounded in an understanding of the circumstances under which the film had spawned in a way that made me feel a lot more sympathy for the cast and crew, particularly J.J. Abrams.
In a lot of ways, I respect that they were up against a near-impossible deadline, trying to achieve a near-impossible task in the world of storytelling and filmmaking. It’s insane and impressive as hell that a watchable 2-hour 22-minute movie was made on that scale in that short a timeframe.
They did try, and they tried damn hard. J.J. really earnestly thought he was making a movie that would “please the fans” – which he saw as the highest priority – and, for many, he did. And I respect his effort and the sincerity behind what he was trying to do, even though I still condemn many story choices – particularly surrounding Rose Tico – as bad faith reactions to The Last Jedi.
To be honest the movie itself all kind of blurred together. We laughed at certain bits, paused to yell at certain others, paused in the middle for a political discussion, conducted a structured debate against Chris Terrio’s rhetoric used to justify his story choices in the documentary we’d just watched. We had a blast.
This had been the first Star Wars movie I had watched since my first and second viewings of The Rise of Skywalker in cinemas had damn-near killed my love for Star Wars entirely. And I had so much fun mocking its ridiculousness, drunk out of my mind with my best friend in the world.
After the movie was done, we had another extended discussion, ranting at each other about our feelings toward this movie. She stayed true to her word, telling me to just go for as long as I wanted. I don’t even remember what time it was, but I remember it was getting to some obscene hour of the morning, so I reigned myself in after a solid 20 minutes. But my god. That was so cathartic to just let out all the built-up rage I had for this movie in one spiel.
It felt like, finally, a release. It wasn’t bottled up inside me anymore, I wasn’t keeping it to myself anymore.
Finally, I didn’t feel so alone.
The myth is alive.
After so many months, I had finally reached a truce of sorts with The Rise of Skywalker. I would no longer agonize over what I saw as lost potential, and it would no longer tell me how to feel about the entire rest of Star Wars.
The true power of myth is that it endures; there is a reason some stories are named a “tale as old as time.” They cannot be truly killed; they cannot be broken. They can adapt and change, but the heart will always be there. If they are changed in a way that is so mythically dissonant that it ruptures the fundamental storytelling of what originally resonated, those changes will not survive.
I watched Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure – a hopeful, sincere fairy-tale adventure story that strongly features themes of redemption, the power of friendship, compassion and forgiveness, people coming together for a common cause, and family – of blood and bond.
I watched She Ra and the Princesses of Power – a hopeful, sincere sci-fi fairy-tale about redemption and the healing power of love, the power of friendship, compassion and forgiveness, rebellion, and found family.
Both of these shows gave me a resonant Heroine’s Journey that each embrace the respective heroines’ self-identities, and powerful redemption arcs – of which She Ra’s is also strongly intertwined with a romance arc with the heroine. Over the broad strokes of both shows – and seeing where their narratives overlap with the Sequel Trilogy – there appears a kind of blurry approximation of an alternate Episode IX, resting beneath the collective subconscious.
And, having experienced this “blurry” Episode IX, I felt I was able to watch Star Wars again. I watched The Force Awakens – a litmus test of fun and comfort, of returning to the familiar. There was a sadness at seeing several finale set-ups that had been overlooked or contradicted, but I pushed through them and eventually just laughed them off. I found the joy in the legend reawakening, as I had in 2015, only now it meant so much more because of the journey I had gone through since then.
I spent the two years between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi very much on the speculation train. I still herald The Force Awakens as the greatest implementation of J.J.’s Mystery Box technique – each new beat presents some new layer of excitement and intrigue, making that two years of speculation so rich with so many varying theories, all buzzing to find out what was inside the box.
When it came, The Last Jedi was, as it was for many, nothing like what I expected, and, yet, I felt it in my soul; it was everything I could have ever wanted, and I hadn’t even known it when I walked in. I left the theatre in 2017 knowing that I had just seen my favorite Star Wars movie. I was so fascinated by how it managed to go so completely against so many expectations, yet still felt so effortlessly synergetic with The Force Awakens.
I launched into reading metas and theories, trying to understand what it all meant and where it was all going and stumbled across one titled Kill the King and take the Crown: Kylo Ren, Rey, and the Usurper/Holy Mother. It outlined core themes and literary tropes tracked over the entire saga, particularly in how the events of the Prequel Trilogy echo through the Sequel Trilogy.
It also explained how the romance between Rey and Ben was to be the connective tissue between it all, and that their love was the most important piece of the Star Wars story in how it all would come together in a grand culmination, an epic of epics.
It was so well-cited and backed up with literary evidence – and the meta itself points out that Reylo shippers were the only group who managed to predict the majority of The Last Jedi accurately – I saw the light. I believed. It was true, all of it. And that was the day I became a Reylo, changing my entire life in the process.
Having survived watching The Force Awakens, a couple nights later I decided it was finally time. I watched The Last Jedi. And I still felt the sheer joy that resonates through my entire soul every time I watch it; I knew that I still love Star Wars.
The myth of Star Wars is alive. I’m sure it will still be found in everything Dave Filoni touches, as well as in The High Republic. I might even go as far as to say that Rise may have been some bizarre cosmic fluke, borne of studio meddling and executive egos, and that all other Star Wars from here on out will be A-Okay. But even if it isn’t, I know I’ll be OK.
As I learned through writing my own IX, and through Tangled and She Ra – even when the myth of Star Wars isn’t in Star Wars, it still lives in other stories. It will live in everything I write, and through those stories I know that it lives forever.
So, I come away from my long journey of coming to terms with The Rise of Skywalker heeding the words of my king, Rian Johnson:
1: Defy every cynical narrative.
2: That’s how we’re gonna win; not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.
3: No one is ever really gone.