Who Cares If "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" Is Good?

What's the difference between Star Wars and Marvel and DC and literally every other blockbuster now? Pretty much nothing.

Star Wars is trending on Twitter. Again.

There's, of course, #TheRiseofSkywalker because that's the title of the new movie. "Kylo" and "Knights of Ren" and "Keri Russel" are also trending because Vanity Fair released "The Ultimate Preview." Kylo makes sense, considering he's the big Star Wars bad guy and people like memeing Adam Driver. But Knights of Ren and Keri Russell only received a single preview image each, with zero additional context (even the most "ultimate" preview is still a preview). Apparently, that's still enough to become two of the top trending subjects in the United States.

Knights of Ren The incredibly exciting Knights of Ren?PHOTOGRAPH BY ANNIE LEIBOVITZ, VARIETY FAIR

I don't intend to hate on the actual Star Wars movies. I've seen all of them and found them fun and watchable. I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the original trilogy (I'm a sucker for practical effects) and the influence they've had on pop culture, but the franchise never clicked with me the way it clicked with so many others. But that's okay, just because I don't love a specific movie doesn't mean it's not an important and integral part of many people's lives.

But when Vanity Fair merely sharing a few preview images is enough to make every one of those topics trends on Twitter, I can't help but wonder whether the quality of Star Wars even matters anymore.

zorri bliss Keri Russell as Zorri Bliss, whatever that means.PHOTOGRAPH BY ANNIE LEIBOVITZ, VARIETY FAIR

The original Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV, V, and VI) created a lasting legacy of lore and mythology that inspired countless spin-offs; from novels to video games, to Christmas specials. Regardless of personal opinion, it's impossible to argue that the movies weren't "special," at least in a cultural context. They changed the entire landscape of nerd culture and were the first real mainstream science-fiction/fantasy trilogy.

The prequel trilogy, on the other hand, was critically panned. With brilliant dialogue like, "I don't like sand," how could they not be? And yet, the Star Wars fandom persisted unfettered––so much so that Disney spent $4 billion dollars to buy Lucasfilm in 2012.

Now, in 2019, we're down to the last film in the resultant last trilogy––Episode IX. While watching the most recent trailer, half of which is a shot of the new Jedi hero jumping over a hovership, I realized that Star Wars has become indistinguishable from every other major action franchise currently oversaturating the market.

How is this Star Wars character jumping over a ship any different than a Marvel superhero jumping over a ship? Or a DC superhero pretending to be a Marvel superhero and jumping over a ship? Aside from their titles, what distinguishes any of these things from each other ?

Star Wars Episode IV Poster

Star Wars achieved its massive popularity by being the only piece of media like it––a massive space opera with rich, expansive worldbuilding. But now that everything is derivative, what gives the new Star Wars films their identity outside of licensing agreements? Why are these new reveals still so fresh and exciting that they trend on Twitter?

Take the "Knights of Ren," for instance. In the preview image, Vanity Fair describes them as "elite fearsome enforcers of Kylo Ren's dark will." They certainly look cool, but didn't Avengers: Infinity War have a similar shtick with the Children of Thanos? Weren't those guys also "elite fearsome enforcers" of Thanos' 50% malarkey? Moreover, a good chunk of the Marvel movies (and countless other movies) take place in space now, so the space setting doesn't distinguish Star Wars anymore either. So is it lightsabers? Guys calling themselves Darth?

children of thanos Children of Thanos

Disney's marketing strategy for Star Wars revolves around making every individual movie an "event." This requires the creation of hype, and regardless of whether or not I understand it, their hype-machine is clearly working. If one picture of the "Knights of Ren" can get people buzzing, okay, fine. But it's worth noting that, at least at one point, Star Wars movies really were events––not because of Disney's marketing, but because people deeply loved the distinct world George Lucas had created. Where does that leave Star Wars now?

Like most major franchises these days, Star Wars' cultural clout seems to live entirely off the fumes of its former greatness and originality. Its story and quality no longer matter any more than the quality of Game of Thrones' final season actually mattered. Regardless of whether it's good or bad or just okay, people turn out in droves because they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves—even if that means getting hyped up over random teaser images of something they've seen countless times before.

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