I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker yesterday, and it was the movie I expected — and I expected good things. The worst I could say was that it was formulaic, but it’s a guaranteed successful formula, so that’s not all bad. There were also a lot of fast plot twists and little surprises and jokes, even Ewoks and whatever those red-eyed sand critters were from the start of the first movie. Loose ends got tied up, and a few things were added just for nostalgia. Good fun.
As I said, it met expectations. Samuel R. Delaney had something to say about that in Shorter Views (page 121):
“Fiction exists as an extraordinary complex of expectations. Texts that fulfill all these expectations register as moderately good or mediocre fiction: the sort that one reads, more or less enjoys, but forgets immediately. What strikes us as extraordinary, excellent, or superb fiction must fulfill some of those expectations and at the same time violate others. It’s a very fancy dance of fulfillment and violation that produces the “Wow!” of wonder that greets a truly fine piece of writing — a truly wonderful story.”
The series from the beginning never sought to violate any story-telling expectations. It tried to recreate Buck Rogers-style movies, just with better production values. In a sense, those high values — revolutionarily high for their time — were the violation. Movie-goers could easily believe they were seeing strange alien worlds and beings, and watching amazing futuristic technology. Since then, every movie strives for top-quality special effects, although there’s a certain imaginative flair that Star Wars consistently delivers about its big, beautiful, believable galaxy, long ago and far away….
Perhaps Star Wars’ violation is that it brings viewers into the craft of creation even as it delivers a high-quality finished product. It consistently shows that much more exists in its galaxy, little details that add nothing except to create a richer-than-necessary setting. There’s more to explore than what falls within the confines of the story, and viewers can explore that in their own imaginations.
Is that exuberant and excessive world-building enough to vault it into the category of Wow!? Maybe. Critics complain, rightly, about problems with plots and characters, and the movie had its share, but I came away thinking about that glorious galaxy I had just visited.