As a hard-core Star Wars fan, Disney's bold new direction fills me with joy

Commentary: I can't wait to see The Rise of Skywalker. Oh, and I love The Last Jedi.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
Expertise Culture, Video Games, Breaking News
Sean Keane
6 min read

Fight me. Star Wars has never been better.


Every Star Wars conversation I've had since December 2017 leads to an inevitable question: "What did you think of The Last Jedi?" 

Rian Johnson's 2017 entry into the saga was bold and daring but got swept up in an astounding amount of negativity, with death threats for the director, harassment that forced Kelly Marie Tran off Instagram and demands from angry viewers that the movie be remade.

It's shameful stuff that almost made me embarrassed to call myself a Star Wars fan. The ongoing negativity surrounding Disney's impact on a galaxy far, far away continues to astound me, and as the The Rise of Skywalker fast approaches, I can't help but feel like I live in a different world than all those angry fans. 

I've loved Star Wars for more than two decades, and I've never been happier with the direction the franchise is going.

That glorious cackle at the end of the first Rise of Skywalker trailer revealed that my favorite Star Wars character had cheated death and would terrorize a new generation of heroes. I was fortunate enough to be at the Star Wars Celebration Chicago panel when that trailer was shown for the first time, and it may have been the greatest moment of my life.

And there are more incredible moments ahead for us Star Wars fans. 

The Mandalorian, a much-anticipated live-action TV show focusing on a group that's never even named in the movies, is streaming on Disney Plus, and we can play the fun game Jedi: Fallen Order. We can kinda visit a Star Wars planet at Disney Parks. Resistance is bringing us on fun adventures, and more of the flipping amazing Clone Wars is coming next year. Rogue One's most intriguing character is getting a TV series. And a more experienced Ewan McGregor will return to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi

Aside from that last one, I'd never have predicted or even hoped for any of this. Disney has ushered in a golden age of Star Wars.


The Mandalorian will go on the hunt on Disney Plus.


I've been enchanted with this universe since my mum gave me a copy of the original movie's novelization, which I consumed shortly before the special editions hit theaters. For those who aren't familiar, 1997 saw George Lucas tweaking A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with some questionable CGI upgrades.

It didn't matter to my 10-year-old self. Those rereleases meant my first full experience of the Original Trilogy was on the silver screen. I knew that these movies had embedded themselves in my mind for the rest of my days.

The worlds Lucas built captured my imagination, and I was all in -- movies, books, comics and video games . I was a young lad in Ireland in the '90s, and had to trek across five fields in the pouring rain to get the latest Star Wars news from our local pub. Or maybe just wait for dialup internet -- my memory of that period is hazy.


Who wasn't entranced by this lightsaber battle in 1999?


When The Phantom Menace hit in 1999, I declared to my parents that it was (apologies in advance) "better than the originals." What can I say? That lightsaber battle with Darth Maul ran on loop in my head afterwards (and kinda still does, but I'm used to it now). 

I wasn't quite as hyperbolic when Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith hit in 2002 and 2005, but I lapped them up regardless. We got glorious moments like Obi-Wan's battle with Jango Fett, the battle over Coruscant and tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise. For all their flaws, the prequels were the Star Wars of my teenage years, and nostalgia is a powerful Force indeed.

Then in 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm and jettisoned my beloved Expanded Universe from canon  two years later. The books, comics and games I'd consumed and loved up to that point no longer counted, but I was pragmatic about that. The canon was pretty messy, and it would've been near-impossible for future movies to work around while appealing to the casual viewer. 

At least CGI animated series The Clone Wars stayed in canon, and the equally wonderful followup show Rebels filled more of the gaps in the timeline.

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Fast forward to December 2015, when J.J. Abrams woke the Force up and suddenly everyone had a theory about Rey's parents and Snoke's origin. The Force Awakens was a safe movie in many ways, but its diverse cast freshened things up. Moments like Han Solo's fatal encounter with Kylo Ren -- who could look away as he stepped onto that bridge? -- were as exhilarating as anything in the Original Trilogy.

Gareth Edwards' Rogue One came out soon afterward, bringing us back to a familiar point in the timeline, but also killing every single new character it introduced and boldly resurrecting the late Peter Cushing (not to mention de-aging Carrie Fisher shortly before her sudden passing) through some mildly unsettling CGI. Wild, surprising stuff, but firmly rooted in the past.

Then came the most divisive Star Wars movie of them all -- The Last Jedi. It reshaped Luke Skywalker as a bitter recluse, seemingly threw away the mysteries about Rey's parentage and sliced all those Snoke theories in half.


Shortly before The Last Jedi's first surprise.


I came out of my initial midnight viewing a little dazed by all this, but subsequent viewings cemented my opinion: The Last Jedi is beautiful, brave stuff. It used the Original Trilogy's aging actors ingeniously, gradually passing the baton to its new heroes. And who could forget beautiful, perfect porgs?

Sure, the Canto Bight subplot dragged a bit and things felt a bit too familiar -- Rey tries to turn Kylo Ren from the dark side and gets brought before smug Supreme Leader Snoke. So far, so Return of the Jedi.

Then Kylo slices Snoke in two, Rey pulls the lightsaber into her hand and the pair spin around in slo-mo to face Snoke's guards. What. The. Force. Suddenly, I had no clue where this movie was going, and I was thrilled.


The next generation.


Luke's return to action on Crait is similarly glorious. He reunites with Leia and utters the line, "No one's ever really gone" -- foreshadowing his own death and offering us some catharsis over the loss of Carrie Fisher (something Mark Hamill continues to do).

Then he walks out with a laser sword and faces down the whole First Order, keeping a spark of hope alive without violence. The hero of the Original Trilogy ascends to become one with the Force, and we have to let go of Luke Skywalker. It isn't an easy thing to accept.

I was about to get a dose of that in real life.

A few months after this movie came out, my mum, who helped start my Star Wars obsession by giving me the novelization in 1997, died suddenly. It was pretty rough, to put it mildly. But Luke's comforting words to Leia echoed through my mind -- the people we love live on through us, one generation inspiring the next. Sometimes movies are more than just movies: Their messages can get us through the most difficult moments of our lives.


Thinking of porgs can help too.


Solo turned out to be a light adventure compared with The Last Jedi, and it certainly came out too soon afterward. Seeing the Kessel Run was epic, and I loved that cameo, but even I need about a year to miss theatrical Star Wars. We'll soon see if the upcoming Disney Plus show, The Mandalorian, results in another overload or proves to be a breath of fresh air. I predict it'll be the latter.

And we're just days away from the finale of the Skywalker saga. I'm trying to manage my expectations. Bringing back the Emperor is a gamble, but J.J. Abrams has earned my trust. The Rise of Skywalker promises to be the longest Star Wars movie ever made, but I'm sure I won't want it to end. 

We'd better see some porgs, though.

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Originally published Oct. 31.