The Rise of Skywalker is a Paul McCartney Concert. Let It Be.

This summer, I saw Paul McCartney in concert for the first time. Though he was ostensibly promoting a new album, the show fit neatly into what I understand has been Macca’s live performance template for years, if not decades: a few new tracks and a deep cut or two, all buried within a hard day’s night of hardcore Beatles fan service.

The most famous living ex-Beatle and the Star Wars franchise share a rarified space in the cultural consciousness: a McCartney concert and a new Star Wars movie are creative undertakings that are ultimately, on some level, about themselves. Therefore, the question to ask is not, “is this mere fan service?” Instead, let us ask, “is this fan service created with love rather than cynicism?” “Does the creator still take joy in the work?” “Is the audience respected?”

With this approach in mind, you can either be the guy walking out of Dodger Stadium grumbling because “Dance Tonight” is corny and why doesn’t Paul do more Tug of War material, or you can be the guy whose spirits are sublimely lifted because damn if he can’t still sing “Hey Jude,” and for one night, your voices were joined. Similarly, you can walk out of The Rise of Skywalker incensed and insulted over any number of plot inanities (they are legion), pandering contrivances (they are constant and shameless), or unmet expectations (they are inevitable), or you can give over. When Ringo came out for the encore this summer at Dodger Stadium, did I feel pure, unadulterated joy? No. This kind of joy is cut with peculiar strains of disappointment, melancholy, embarrassment, even. But it is joy nonetheless. The Force is calling to you. Let it in.

Suffice it to say, Ringo appears again and again in The Rise of Skywalker. As many have noted, this is a film that features dead actors playing living characters and living actors playing dead characters. This summer’s Yesterday did bring John Lennon back from the dead (spolier alert — too late, sorry) but if we wish to extend the Beatles analogy here, Skywalker not only brings John back, it brings back George, Pete BestStu Sutcliffe and the Maharishi, too.

I am pretty sure that at least one of the long-lost actors who pops up was reading his lines off cue cards taped to the chests of his scene partners — I’ll let you guess who I’m referring to — but what does it matter?

It doesn’t, really, because it is the overall execution that matters most here. I am an unabashed Last Jedi fan, and Skywalker does not come close to that film in terms of personal style and a willingness to bend the narrative in interesting, forward-looking ways. J.J. Abrams’ galactic wheelhouse is preservation and celebration, not subversion. Skywalker does leave a bit of a bad taste due to its almost algorithmic hitting of beats, tying up of loose ends and resolving of call-backs. Your emotions will be roused and yes, you will feel manipulated, but all in all, we still feel that we are in the world we wish to inhabit when entering a darkened theater to see a Star Wars Movie. It looks right, and for the most part,  feels right.

Abrams takes on the near-impossible task of ending this latter-day trilogy in an acceptable fashion and largely pulls it off. I have spent my entire morning reading online takes, which are multitudinous and often valid, but here we risk falling into a “what if” Sarlacc pit. Like a McCartney concert, this film honors the many years its fans have lived with and loved the source material. It is not cynical (unless you think too deeply about the never-ending Disney IP cycle this film must surely be a part of; Disney as Empire analogies are difficult to resist here) and it is not perfect. But it might make you feel good, if you let it. And you know that can’t be bad.

8 thoughts on “The Rise of Skywalker is a Paul McCartney Concert. Let It Be.

  1. Gosh it’s hard for me to have the Beatles and Star Wars in the same arena, because the Beatles changed music forever and for the good, and Star Wars went from amazing to total garbage in a few decades. I just saw The Rise of Skywalker last night, and it made the fatal mistake that all bad stories make: we don’t care about the characters!!! If you’re going on a ride (in this case a supposedly epic War in the Stars ride), we absolutely need to care if anyone lives or dies. We didn’t. Not even a little. In fact, I wanted them all to die so we didn’t have to suffer the rest of the movie. The lack of any meaningful story, the wooden performances, and the pathetic forced drama made us feel badly cheated. It was all so CONTRIVED. I found myself rolling my eyes at the silly dialogue that is so played out, flat, and meaningless. I think it’s sickening when these writers and directors are paid millions and can’t create even the slightest bit of magic. No sound effects and shaking seats in this Dolby theatre, no war in the stars, no cinematic tricks could save it. I thought I might be alone, but I looked the crowd behind me and saw they there were equally bored. Some left in the middle, and I envied them. The Beatles and their music will live forever, but this movie is a waste of time and popcorn calories.

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  2. Well, it is certainly is true: Star Wars: ANH and The Beatles were game changers. A very well written music-film analogy that never crossed my mind.

    I think most everyone got off the Paul solo wagon after ’83s Pipes of Peace, but my gosh, ’97s ignored Flaming Pie is a rocker and so is 2001’s Driving Rain. Two of his best works, IMO. And “Cut Me Some Slack” from Sound City is an incredible song that leaves me incensed that U.S radio ignored it. It’s a Beatle with Nirvana for cryin’ out loud and Paul tears it up!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts! Yeah Star Wars and Macca are not necessarily the most obvious connection, but Beatles obsession kind of makes you see Fab analogies everywhere (see my 2 most recent posts for more on Beatles obsession lol). Agree about Paul solo. I think for many people it kind of crests with Tug of War and yeah, Pipes of Peace. Tough listen. Flaming Pie has some great stuff on it, though. I even like the new one, Egypt Station. The guy is still rocking at 77! Thanks for stopping by

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  3. Lots of great points. Is it true to itself? Falling into the ‘what if’ Sarlacc pit that drove me crazy with The Last Jedi. It was all super thoughtful. And I think based on those thoughts I find that the movie parodied itself too much. Like after all these years of going to the well none of it felt authentic. Really got me thinking. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for reading! Yeah, I think I wrote this kind of in response to the onslaught of takes/reviews/”reviews”/think pieces that came out along with the movie. I felt like they all kind of missed the point. I’m kind of old and pretty much don’t consider anything beyond the original 3 to be canon, so the question to me, then, is are those extra-canonical efforts undertaken in good faith or not? Whether or not they succeed is not really the point. I guess it also kind of feels like watching an old guy die a long and protracted death hooked up to life support. It’s like, just let the whole thing die with some dignity. I don’t know. Anyway, thanks for reading and do you have site?

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