I have a confession to make — I’ve never seen Star Wars.
Well, okay, that’s not exactly true, not anymore. Right before Christmas, like most of the rest of the world, I went and saw Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker in theatres on opening weekend. I even went back with my sister the following week to take it in again in 4DX, a recent addition to my local theatre.
The only difference is that, unlike most of the rest of the world, for me it was my first, not my ninth, Star Wars. Before The Rise of Skywalker, I hadn’t seen a single Star Wars film, let alone watched the shows or read any of the novelisations. I was not a Star Wars fan, but I didn’t hate the franchise, either — I just didn’t know it. This was simply because I’d just never really been exposed to this decades-long saga in any tangible, meaningful way.
This used to be a bizarre point of pride with me — and it remains true for some other all-encompassing pop culture behemoths, like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings — I had somehow managed, for years, to stay completely ignorant of this franchise. I only began to realise it was unusual when this revelation started to be met with incredulous responses of ‘What? You’ve never seen Star Wars?!’ from the people I talked to.
Earlier this year, another monumental, franchise-ending film was released, Avengers: Endgame. You might have heard of it.
There are a lot of similarities regarding the circumstances surrounding the release of these two films, with each being touted as the concluding chapter in their respective multi-year and multi-film saga, but I’m not going to get into that here — there are plenty of other articles out there that achieve exactly that. Instead, the reason I bring up Endgame at all is that watching it made me wonder, as an admittedly avid Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, just how confused would I have been if I had seen that movie without all the in-universe backstory of twenty-one movies under my belt?
Sometime this summer, I came across a particularly hilarious video of a person who answered this question — they subjected their brother to Endgame without him having seen any of the other MCU films at all. This account is what inspired me to essentially replicate the scenario for myself, only with Episode IX. After all, when else was I going to be in the position of witnessing the so-called ‘conclusion’ of a massive — and massively popular — movie franchise that I knew next to nothing about?
Prior to The Rise of Skywalker, my greatest amount of Star Wars exposure was honestly just a fun spoof video that a group of upperclassmen presented to my school a few years back. I remember thinking that their video wouldn’t have much relevance to me, but I was surprised by just how many of the parodied references that I actually, inexplicably, understood.
Of course, being a child of the nineties, and one that spends time online every day, I did know a bit about Star Wars, but it was exclusively limited to whatever elements of franchise lore that had infiltrated the public consciousness over the past forty-two years since the original film’s release — so basically, just Princess Leia buns, lightsabers, the dark side, and the Force. That’s where my knowledge ended.
And it was with all this in mind that I entered the theatre on December 20th — cautiously optimistic and more than a little concerned about my sanity. What on earth was I getting myself into?
It was a thought that would enter my head twice throughout the evening — first, when I walked into the theatre lobby and spotted someone dressed in what my uneducated mind could only identify as a black version of the stormtrooper costume — didn’t know those were a thing — and again, when the famous opening crawl began, and name after unfamiliar name whipped past my eyes, only serving to deepen my already-escalating confusion.
Two hours and twenty-two minutes later, I emerged from the theatre, and I was…shocked.
I really enjoyed this movie.
This was not what I was expecting — apart from the obvious barrier of my nonexistent comprehension of anything Star Wars-related, I had been seeing a plethora of subpar reactions and reviews making their way online in the days leading up to Episode IX’s release. It seemed like the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga wasn’t impressing people as much as they’d hoped. So then how did I, a total Star Wars rookie, end up enjoying this finale seemingly more than many of the people who have literally grown up with this franchise?
After doing some further investigating online, it became apparent that this movie really didn’t work for a lot of people. I came to realise that elements of the plot that I’d found exciting or unexpected or heartwarming were actually being regarded as inconsistent or unearned or derivative in the context of the eight previous films, according to moviegoers who know much more about all this than I do.
It turns out, my apparent lack of understanding of this world was a blessing in disguise. I could just take the storyline at face value and subconsciously assess its logic and consistency within the context of this one, isolated film.
Rey having her own yellow lightsaber at the very end was a neat moment to me, but I later learned that this logically doesn’t make much sense, since the primary planetary source of the crystals that power lightsabers was destroyed in Episode VII. I loved the Force-healing that Rey and subsequently Ben Solo demonstrate in this film, but apparently this was the first time the Force has ever been shown to possess this capability. I didn’t notice the blatant absence of Rose Tico scenes, and I didn’t pick up on the fact that ghost Luke Skywalker was essentially contradicting himself from Episode VIII. I nearly cheered during Lando and Chewie‘s 11th-hour return with reinforcements during the climactic battle — even if it did remind me of a certain portals scene from Endgame — not realizing the frustrating convenience of that arrival.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this was not a failure of a movie. If it was, then a general audience member like myself wouldn’t have exited the screening with a smile on my face and John Williams’ score still playing in my head. While it seems like this movie failed fans and critics in multiple ways, especially with regards to severely retconning its predecessor, Episode VIII, this doesn’t make it a failure. It just makes it an unsatisfactory movie that suffered from the near-impossible expectations placed upon it, but it was still good enough to convert me from clueless moviegoer to wannabe-Jedi in less than three hours. I might give the rest of the trilogy a try now. Hell, maybe even the whole saga.
And at the very least, I’ll keep rewatching that scene where Rey Force-transfers the lightsaber to Ben Solo — because that shit was awesome.