Rise of Skywalker hits the Billion Dollar Club: Star Wars in the age of Trump

The final verdict for me on the new Star Wars movie the Rise of Skywalker is that I’m happy it crossed over the billion-dollar mark for the weekend. Disney needed that number to justify everything they had put into the effort, and that means more for the future, which is a good thing. I could rip the movie apart technically, and continue to be upset that Lucasfilm under Disney’s guidance veered away from the source material that was there for them for the plunder. We will never get the Jaina Solo that the series deserved and who lived dear to many people’s hearts before The Force Awakens ever appeared. But with all the mistakes made, I felt Disney turned the corner with Solo: A Star Wars Story and reached out to the fans who didn’t reach back. So Disney redoubled their efforts to win back fans with this latest movie with obvious hat in hand. That was enough for me. The most important thing to come out of this latest film is that it is one of the most positive movies I’ve seen in a very long time, everything is above the line and positive, which ultimately is what Star Wars is always about. And why people love to see the movies. We all understand reality and the nature of it. What we want to see in movies is hope, and optimism, and that is what Rise of Skywalker is all about.

The critical reception of the film I have said, and continue to, is solidified in the politics of our times and can be seen in the election of Donald Trump. For all the reasons that some people hate Trump they hate Star Wars. Some people don’t like optimism, they want artistic interpretations for the problems of their lives, not a “can do” spirit to take on anything and to win with perseverance. I think demographically, many fans of Star Wars are also Trump supporters even though Vanity Fair wants to believe that these movies are all about the resistance to Trump. The comparisons to modern politics and the way people vote with their money at the box office is synonymous. Where the rubber hits the road people pay to see hope and to walk away from a movie theater feeling good. And that is what Disney gave audiences finally after messing with the formula with experimental film makers several times in previous attempts. If Disney had just listened to George Lucas at the start of this journey, they’d be a lot better off, but at least they were able to make a recovery with these latest two films, Solo and Rise of Skywalker. Thankfully for them and the rest of us, they weren’t pig headed about it.

Even more importantly, the new ride at Disney World, The Rise of the Resistance continues to show enthusiastic support from a hungry audience. After going to Disney World the week after the ride opened at Hollywood Studios to ride it, my concern was that the movie would come out and people wouldn’t like it making the billion dollar investment that Disney made in the new Star Wars land not worth the effort. I was concerned that it was too little too late and that the brand damage to the property was too far gone. But still, well past the holidays people are showing up in the mornings to ride the most technical ride in the world and its selling out within an hour of the park opening still, meaning that the enthusiasm for Star Wars is still very high.

The most important part of the movie, Rise of Skywalker I think is at the end when Rey goes to the old farm of Luke to bury the lightsabers there for future generations. When Rey rides down the little sand dune as she did in the first movie it showed that J.J. Abrams and other writers for this latest movie understand that Star Wars isn’t about change, its about surviving and living to have a better day tomorrow. With all the events of the films in this recent trilogy Rey had shown that she was still that hopeful girl from the first movie unchanged by the tragedies she had endured. Even though Rey should have been Jaina Solo, and The Force Awakens shouldn’t have ruined the main characters from the original by dumbing them down into stumbling fathers or failed Jedi masters, or women who put their careers before their families only to breed the next generation of galaxy killers, acts like the one with Rey at the end are what Star Wars has always been about, and its great to see it get back on course.

My interest in all this is of course cultural. I don’t get much from a movie like Star Wars that inspires new thoughts in my mind. The movies are meant for children. I want the movies to do well for kids to have something to grab on to for a future where expansion into space and taking values with them for goodness late into their lives is key to establishing a wonderful future. Star Wars is key to that future, so I am very interested in how Disney uses the brand to shape goodness, and optimism in our society. But after The Last Jedi, which I liked because it had some interesting things in it, I wasn’t sure Disney would ever figure out what to do with the George Lucas creation.

But after visiting Galaxy’s Edge in Disney World and seeing The Rise of Skywalker several times at the movie theater, I can say that I am happy with the results and the mythic imprint it has on our society. There are a lot of very positive messages that are spawning off these efforts that will shape the intent of this next century so its all very exciting. It would have been a very sad story to see the brand disintegrate due to all the progressive political experimentation that has been going on, all the #METOO gestures in an attempt to win over the girls away from the boys in the audience. Star Wars is still a movie for boys ages 8 to 13. Girls can come, but its made for boy problems and no matter how much Disney wanted to change that, it was never meant to be. So at least The Rise of Skywalker returned to those roots as best they could, and the box office rewarded them with another billion-dollar money maker which they needed desperately.

Corporate filmmaking is a very different thing from a young George Lucas going to the bank to get the money to make Empire Strikes Back with all his hopes and dreams on the line, which showed in the final cut of the film. We may never see ambitions like that again in Star Wars due to the need of the films to make so much money to cover the corporate expenses. But there was a lot at stake with Rise of Skywalker even though Disney certainly has plenty of money to work with on a budget and advertising. It was good to see that a big company like Disney can gamble in a big way and come up winners when so many people need the win. Disney continues to show they don’t always understand what a winner looks like, as most big companies don’t, but they are always on the lookout for them, and they win more than they lose. And this time, its good that they won, because Star Wars will have new life, which I think is great for our future in many ways that are still undefined mythologically.

Rich Hoffman

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