Entertainment

The Rise of Skywalker trailer and the battle for the soul of Star Wars

The new trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker suggest the franchise is still caught in the tractor beam of nostalgia as director J.J. Abrams attempts to move the sci-fi series forward.

Fan favourites reappear in final film of modern Star Wars trilogy.

Daisy Ridley stars as Rey in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment in the trilogy that began in 2015. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

It's almost here. 

The new Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer gives us a glimpse of a battle between two titanic forces.

One, a near-omnipotent master looking to carve a bold new path forward. 

The other, a former student, brimming with talent, attempting to keep sacred traditions alive. 

The question is, which one is director J.J. Abrams? 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker isn't just the end of a saga that began in 1977, it's a battle for the fandom that made the franchise the most successful series in film history (before Marvel came along). 

Rise of Skywalker opens on Dec. 20, bringing to conclusion the events set in motion in 2015 when J.J. Abrams reanimated the Star War universe with Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, the first instalment in a new trilogy.

The film gave fans everything they wanted — perhaps too much.

Droids trapped on desert planets? Check.

Supersized Death Star? Check.

Lost space orphan looking for answers? Check.  

Then came director Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi, which attempted to escape the tractor beam of nostalgia. Johnson filled the screen with a diverse range of heroes and bold new visions, putting to rest the question of Rey's parentage and sacrificing another beloved character.

 
'She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts.' The fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon, is just one vessel in what appears to be a small armada. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

While The Last Jedi earned more than $1.3 billion US worldwide, it divided fans, receiving a 91 per cent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes but an audience score of 44 per cent.  

(For the record, I thought it rocked.)

Some fans expressed frustration with the depiction of Luke Skywalker as a cranky space hobo living on a mountain.  Others complained that by featuring a plethora of strong female roles, the film was valuing equality and representation over good storytelling.

It all culminated in a petition with more than a 100,000 signatures calling for the film to be obliterated from the official Star Wars canon.

With the increasing power of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy's contracts ending in 2021, The Rise of Skywalker doesn't just represent the end of the series, it's a battle for the soul of Star Wars. Will J.J. Abrams serve up more cinematic comfort food and visions of déja vu, or will he continue what Rian Johnson started, by challenging fans with bold new additions to the familiar space opera?

In The Last Jedi, the villainous Kylo Ren tells Rey, "Let the past die." But the new trailer suggests the past is the power source on which the franchise depends.

Director J.J. Abrams, left, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy participate in a Star Wars panel in Chicago back in April. (Rob Grabowski/Invision/The Associated Press)

WARNING: There may be some spoilers, or at least speculation, below. 

The new trailer begins with Rey on the run, lightsaber in hand, as her voiceover says: "People keep telling me they know me. No one does." 

Soon after we hear the voice of the original Skywalker nemesis: Emperor Palpatine.

A rocky throne sits empty, but the grave words of actor Ian McDiarmid echo as we then see what appears to be a vintage Star Destroyer emerging from the darkness. 

In two minutes and 37 seconds, Abrams packs the trailer with a trove of treasured images. There is Rey smiling at her favourite furry co-pilot, Chewbacca, followed by Rey and Leia embracing. Then, if the reworked John Williams themes don't already have your heartstrings vibrating, we see long-suffering C3PO taking what the droid calls "one last look" at its friends.

Rey and Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, smash what appears to be a statue with a Darth Vader-ish silhouette in an image from The Rise of Skywalker trailer. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Shots of Rey and Kylo smashing a black statue to pieces leave you wondering what exactly they're destroying. The shattered shape suggests a bust of grandaddy Darth Vader. Could these two aspects of the force, one good, one evil, finally put the past behind them?  

Judging by the armada of spacecraft shown gathering, if nothing else, Rise of Skywalker is gearing up for an epic final battle.  

But, how final?

As the owners of Lucasfilm, the company that produces Star Wars, Disney has much more in store, including the upcoming Disney+ Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, and new film trilogies from director Rian Johnson and Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. 

Given the seemingly endless galaxy of Star Wars content, what audiences deserve most from J.J. Abrams isn't more fan service, but something more powerful: Closure. 

Not the end of a chapter, but a true finale to the Skywalker series that sparked the imaginations of millions decades ago.  

In this still from the trailer, Leia, played by late actress Carrie Fisher, is seen hugging Rey. Fisher's performance was pieced together from unused footage from The Force Awakens. (Lucasfilms Ltd.)

About the Author

Eli Glasner

Entertainment reporter and film critic

Eli Glasner is a national entertainment reporter and film critic for CBC News. Each Friday he reviews films on CBC News Network as well as appearing on CBC radio programs coast to coast. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee, Ont. to the Oscars red carpet.

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