Every Star Wars film, even the less than stellar ones, has left me with a sense of wonder when I watch the credits roll. Leaving the cinema for The Rise of Skywalker, I could only feel numb. Now, I’m not going to pretend Star Wars was never a corporate juggernaut (there’s probably a one to one ratio of R2D2 merchandise to human beings on planet Earth that exist to prove me otherwise), but for the first time in my Star Wars fandom-fueled life, I felt I was watching a product. In every passing moment of this movie, I could imagine a meeting between our corporate overlords at Disney, puppeteering every piece of this film’s mass-market machine. Is this a film for the sequel trilogy fans? Is this a film for winning back The Last Jedi haters? Is this a film for internet fandom? Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker wants so desperately to be liked by everyone that it ends up satisfying almost no one.Continue reading “‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Wants So Desperately To Be Liked”
The Self-Destructing Message
Many film critics and industry publications will tell you a version of the same concept, that the age of the Hollywood star is over.
What they mean has more to do with power behind the camera than screen presence. Where we still find visible old-school star power doubling as negotiating power seems to rest mostly with an older generation of actors who also run production companies. Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment, Leonardo DiCaprio and Appian Way Productions,Tom Cruise and Cruise/Wagner Productions.
Rarer still is the helming of an extended franchise, from production to release, at the hands of a single person, with that same person as its star. There are a few franchises that have done this successfully, molding them into cinematic touchstones: Sylvester Stallone with Rocky, Vin Diesel with the Fast and the Furious franchise (though this arrangement took place later in the series’ history), and Tom Cruise with Mission: Impossible.
These are case studies in what it means to have outsized power in a landscape that is already wildly unequal. These are predominantly action franchises willed into being, or into continuation, by men who command extensive studio contracts numbering in the ten of millions of dollars. These are endeavors commanded by a kind of arrogance (or “ambition”) that has to exist for such an idea to gain traction. These are structures built on the auspices of “family”, moral fortitude, trust in the loyalty of others, and the singular conviction of their protagonists to succeed against impossible odds.
These are idealized redemption stories about what it means to make movies.
On December 13, 2013, American singer Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth body of work, along with visuals dedicated to each song, was released in the early hours of the morning without any prior announcement or promotion, exclusively on the iTunes Store — in a move following the footsteps of David Bowie, who himself had launched his comeback single, Where Are We Now, without any prior warning during the January of the same year. “I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it,” she commented on her unexpected business technique. “I am bored with that.” The album went on the sale 617,000 copies in the United States in its first three days of availability, becoming the fastest-selling album in the history of the iTunes Store up to that point.
More than four years later, popular American film director Ava DuVernay tweeted that, quote, “#FilmTwitter is going to explode tonight. Something is coming that I can hardly believe. Lawd. History in the making.” Just hours later, Netflix announced during the Super Bowl LII that it would be dropping the latest entry to the J. J. Abrams’ science-fiction horror series Cloverfield, titled “Cloverfield Paradox” immediately after the game.
DuVernay commented on that “something”, now revealed to be the movie, again after the announcement on her Twitter account: “No advance press, ads, trailer. Straight to the people. Gamechanger.”