Disney-owned Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was No. 1 on the domestic top 10 list of combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales for April 2020 according to the NPD Group’s VideoScan tracking service.
The latest “Star Wars” installment was released on disc March 31, and had been the No. 3 seller in March based on its single day of sales alone. Its April tally, when it spent three weeks atop the weekly charts, helped pushed it up two spots on the year-to-date list to become 2020’s No. 2 top seller.
The No. 2 seller in April is Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys for Life, the action sequel that arrived on disc April 21 and spent two weeks as the top seller. That wasn’t enough to place it on the top 10 yearly list though.
Universal’s Dolittle, an April 7 release, landed at No. 3 on the monthly chart, while Sony Pictures’ Jumanji: The Next Level ended up at No. 4, down two spots from the previous month.
Another Sony Pictures’ release, Greta Gerwig’s lauded Little Women remake, debuted at No. 5 on the monthly chart.
Universal’s 1917 slid two spots from the previous month to be April’s No. 6 seller.
Other April releases to crack the month’s top 10 include Warner’s Just Mercy at No. 8, Well Go USA’s Ip Man 4: The Finale at No. 9, and Universal’s The Gentlemen at No. 19.
The Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen II dropped to No. 7 in April after being the top seller the previous two months, though it remains the year’s top seller overall.
The rise of Skywalker on the annual list pushed Warner’s Joker down a spot to No. 3 for the year, and Jumanji: The Next Level to No. 4.
Otherwise, the list of the year’s top sellers was relatively unchanged from the previous month, with the exception of 1917 taking over the No. 9 spot. That and good sales for Lionsgate’s Knives Out (which remained at No. 10) pushed Fox’s Ford v. Ferrari dropped off the yearly top 10 list.
The week of “May the 4th Be With You” has been a banner one for Dave Filoni, the longtime animation veteran who is now one of the leading creatives of “Star Wars” content over at Lucasfilm.
Monday, May 4, marked the triumphant finale of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the CG-animated series executive produced by Filoni that was given a chance by Disney+ to finish storylines that were abandoned after Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and canceled the series.
Filoni later went on to earn praise from “Star Wars” fans for producing the likes of “Star Wars Rebels” and “The Mandalorian,” the latter alongside noted fanboy filmmaker Jon Favreau.
Having worked with George Lucas since before “Clone Wars” debuted in 2008, Filoni is something of a creative bridge between the Lucas and Disney eras of “Star Wars.”
In the first episode of the new Disney+ behind-the-scenes series “Disney Gallery: Star Wars — The Mandalorian,” which premiered May 4, Filoni talked about learning about live-action filmmaking from Lucas and applying those ideas to animation. All he expected from his initial meeting about doing a “Clone Wars” show was a story he could tell in line at Revenge of the Sith about being in a room as George Lucas ruminated to him about the zen philosophies of the Jedi. Filoni ended up getting the job, implying it had something to do with Lucas enjoying his work on “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
Yet when it came time to craft the sequels to Lucas’ films, the new regime turned to J.J. Abrams, not Favreau or Filoni. The new films have mostly divided fan loyalties over the creative direction of a franchise that seems to be in serious need of a producer along the lines of Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige who can oversee the coherence of the shared universe, an element that was noticeably absent from the recent sequel trilogy.
In the second episode of “Disney Gallery” that premiered today (May 8), Filoni delivers a soliloquy that should cement his status as the person who should fill that role. In it, he analyzes a key plot point from 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace from an angle many fans may not have approached it from before.
The “Disney Gallery” series features Favreu, Filoni and other filmmakers involved with the show and “Star Wars” engaged in a series of roundtable discussions about their approach to the material. At one point, the discussion turned to the nature of storytelling in the “Star Wars” universe.
“The prequels I thought were almost an impossible task,” Filoni says. “How do you tell the story that we’ve all grown up with, imagining who Anakin Skywalker was? You saw so many things in The Phantom Menace that you had just imagined, like the Jedi Council, and none of it really was what I had expected, but I know now that’s just like how creative George is, he just sees it differently.”
Filoni focuses on the climactic battle between Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Darth Maul, an agent of chaos working for the Sith Lord who would eventually become Emperor Palpatine.
“I love the lightsaber fight with Darth Maul, not because it’s a lightsaber fight, but because George is so good at crafting why that fight’s important,” Filoni says. “In Phantom Menace, you’re watching these two Jedi in their prime fight this evil villain. Maul couldn’t be more obviously the villain, he’s designed to look evil.”
Filoni compares the emotional stakes of the battle with that of the fight between the older Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in the 1977 original movie before continuing.
“What’s at stake is really how Anakin’s going to turn out,” Filoni says. “Because Qui-Gon is different from the rest of the Jedi. You get that in the movie, and Qui-Gon is fighting because he knows he’s the father that Anakin needs, because Qui-Gon hasn’t given up on the fact that the Jedi are supposed to actually care and love, and that’s not a bad thing. The rest of the Jedi are so detached, and have become so political that they’ve really lost their way, and Yoda starts to see that in the second film. But Qui-Gon is ahead of them all. That’s why he’s not part of the Council.”
Filoni then references “Duel of the Fates,” composer John Williams’ signature track written for Episode I.
“So he’s fighting for Anakin, and that’s why it’s the ‘Duel of the Fates,’ it’s the fate of this child. And depending on how this fight goes, Anakin is going to, his life is going to be dramatically different. So, Qui-Gon loses, of course. … He knew what it meant to take this kid away from his mother, when he had an attachment, and he’s left with Obi-Wan.
“Obi-Wan trains Anakin at first out of a promise he makes to Qui-Gon, not because he cares about him.”
Filoni points out that when Obi-Wan first hears about Anakin, he considers him a distraction in the same vein as Jar-Jar Binks, and thinks trying to save the boy from slavery is a waste of time. In that sense, Obi-Wan shares the detachment from empathy that Qui-Gon worries has engulfed the Jedi Order.
“So he’s a brother to Anakin, eventually, but he’s not a father figure,” Filoni says. “That’s a failing for Anakin. He doesn’t have the family that he needs. He loses his mother in the next film. He fails on this promise that he made, ‘mother I will come back and save you.’ So he’s left completely vulnerable. And ‘Star Wars’ ultimately is about family.
“It’s everything the entire three films of the prequels hangs on, is that one particular fight.”
At that point, Maul’s role in the story has been fulfilled as disposable tool of the Emperor, who then turns his attentions to Anakin, eventually manipulating Anakin’s sense of loss to turn him into the evil Darth Vader by filling the fatherly void in Anakin’s life.
Filoni then turns to 1983’s Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and the scene where Luke is tempted to join the dark side by killing the Emperor out of anger.
“The only thing that’s going to save Luke is not his connection to the Force, it’s not the powers he’s learned. It’s not all these things that are an advantage to him,” Filoni says. “That’s gotten him to the table. But what saves Luke is his ability to look at all that, and look at his father and say no, I’m going to throw away this weapon, I’m not going to do that, I’m going to let that go and be selfless. And he says ‘I’m a Jedi like my father before me,’ but what he’s really saying and why we connect, why I connect so powerfully to it is he’s saying ‘I love my father, and there’s nothing you can do that’s going to change that.’ And the Emperor can’t understand that connection. Why wouldn’t you take from the power of the galaxy? Why won’t you take this?
“And Anakin, in that moment, has to decide to be the father that he’s never had. He has to give up all the power in the galaxy and save his son. And that’s the selfless act that he does in return for his son. And that’s what saves him in turn. So the son saves the father, the father saves the son and it works out perfectly, and I draw that line all the way from The Phantom Menace to Jedi. That’s the story of ‘Star Wars.’”
The example, Filoni says, is emblematic of the core values that all “Star Wars” stories should strive for.
“It’s all part of the fated arc. It’s all part of why it works and why we care,” Filoni says. “It’s not about X-Wings. It’s not about all these things we decorate ‘Star Wars’ in. It’s important, it’s part of the genius of it, but we soulfully react to it. We don’t just want an action movie, we want to feel uplifted. And ‘Star Wars’ is an adventure that makes you feel good, you know?
“That’s what I always go back to with ‘Star Wars’ is this selfless act, this family dynamic, which is so important to George, so important to the foundation of ‘Star Wars.’”
Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker remained No. 1 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert sales chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended April 11.
The concluding chapter of what is now dubbed “The Skywalker Saga” debuted in the top spot a week earlier.
The top newcomer, at No. 2 on both charts, was Universal Pictures’ Dolittle, a reboot of the “Doctor Dolittle” franchise with Robert Downey Jr. in the title role of the adventurer who can talk to animals. The film earned $77 million at the domestic box office. Dolittle sold 55% as many copies in its first week as Skywalker did in its second.
Another newcomer, Sony Pictures’ lauded remake of Little Women from director Greta Gerwig, debuted at No. 3 on both charts after a domestic box office haul of $108.1 million.
Sony Pictures’ Jumanji: The Next Level dropped two spots to No. 4 on both charts in its fourth week.
Rounding out the top five on both charts was Universal Pictures’ war film 1917.
Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker scored a dominating debut on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended April 4.
The concluding chapter of the nine-film “Skywalker Saga” earned $515.2 million at the domestic box office.
Blu-ray Disc formats accounted for 79% of the film’s total unit sales, with 24% of the total coming from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition.
Notably, a pricey boxed set of all nine episodic films, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, also placed in the top 10 on both charts, at No. 7 overall and No. 5 on the Blu-ray chart, selling about 3% as many copies as the standalone Rise of Skywalker (which was included in the set).
The 27-disc boxed set includes a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, regular Blu-ray and bonus disc for each of the films (Rogue One and Solo are not included), and is a Best Buy exclusive priced at $249.99. Unlike Best Buy’s recent $500 Marvel Infinity Saga 4K/Blu-ray set (which sold out during preorders and are now being sold for thousands of dollars on eBay), Best Buy stills has plenty of copies of the “Star Wars” boxed set available online and in stores more than a week after the March 31 street date, which may point to a combination of increased stock and lower fan enthusiasm for the Disney era of “Star Wars.” Best Buy brick-and-mortar locations are closed during the coronavirus pandemic but do offer curbside pickups.
Otherwise, while physical disc sales have been declining for years, the recent shelter-in-place orders and store closures associated with the pandemic don’t seem to have tapered off disc sales on a week-to-week basis just yet, despite the expected boost for digital delivery and streaming by families looking for home entertainment options while stuck at home. Target and Walmart stores remain open as essential businesses, and Amazon still delivers (despite some politicians demanding retailers stop selling anything but food and household goods).
Sony Pictures’ Jumanji: The Next Level held onto the No. 2 spot on the overall sales chart for the week and slid a spot to No. 3 on the Blu-ray chart. The adventure sequel sold about 15% as many copies in its third week as the new “Star Wars” film did in its first.
The previous week’s top seller, Universal Pictures’ war film 1917, slipped to No. 3 on the overall sales chart and No. 2 on the Blu-ray chart.
No. 4 on both charts was Disney’s Frozen II, while the animated Spies in Disguise, from Disney-owned 20th Century Fox, was No. 5 on the overall sales chart and No. 6 on the Blu-ray chart.
On the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended April 5, Jumanji: The Next Level returned to the top spot, pushing 1917 to No. 2.
Spies in Disguise stayed at No. 3, followed by Sony Pictures’ The Grudge again at No. 4, and Lionsgate’s Knives Out remaining in the No. 5 spot.
Redbox has apparently not yet stocked copies of Rise of Skywalker as the title is not listed at the vendors’ website or available in its kiosks (some Redbox users reported a landing page for the film to take reservations was taken down in the week leading up to its disc release). Since Redbox doesn’t have a distribution deal with Disney, it needs to purchase bulk copies of Disney discs from retailers to stock its kiosks — a task made significantly more difficult by store closures, shipping delays, capacity restrictions and inventory limits imposed as a result of the pandemic. (Redbox’s distribution deals for Fox titles were in place prior to Disney’s purchase of the studio.)
The home video availability of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is sure to rekindle discussions over the legacy of the “Star Wars” franchise and the latest film’s contribution to it.
Star Wars fans mostly agree that Rise of Skywalker is a disappointing final chapter of the saga, but are embroiled in an online debate over which filmmaker is most responsible for “messing up” what has been termed “Disney’s trilogy.”
Fans of J.J. Abrams will say that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi deviated from the storylines set up in The Force Awakens, and that Abrams was merely doing the best he could with Rise of Skywalker. Johnson’s defenders will point out that Force Awakens was a superficial copy of better “Star Wars” movies, and Last Jedi at least tried to offer some depth to the new trilogy while simply extrapolating what was set up in Force Awakens. Last Jedi haters complain the film veers too much toward political messaging, and so forth. But it’s generally agreed upon that the trilogy as a whole suffers from a lack of planning a three-film storyline from the beginning of the production process. And this lack of planning has had a spillover effect on tie-in materials such as novels, comic books and reference books that suffer in quality for having to both explain the story gaps apparent in the new films, and exist with the new canon established therein.
Even the divisive qualities of the prequel trilogy haven’t sparked such animosity among the fanbase. So how did it come to this?
Certainly, the way the Internet tends to present some users with the false perception of expertise in any field of study has been a major contributing factor. But that’s true with just about any disagreement on anything these days. When it comes to the consideration of pop culture and fiction, there is definitely something deeper at play.
The reason that “Star Wars” endeared so many among the ranks of Generation X in the 1980s was the way it sparked our imaginations. Whether it was younger kids carrying on the battles between the Rebellion and the Empire on the playground, or older viewers pursuing careers in filmmaking and art, the franchise had an undeniable, tangible impact on the storytelling impulse of a generation.
There, in the backyard, we could swing our toy lightsabers to re-create epic moments of sacrifice; at the playground, we could chase each other with light-up blasters in pursuit of glory; in the sandbox, we could use our “Star Wars” action figures to continue the adventures of the characters we idolized on screen.
The unifying force through it all was the understanding that it was George Lucas’ story that was being told. He was the storyteller, and we were buying those action figures to play in his world. Even as some fans were disappointed by the prequels, there was still a grudging tolerance of them because Lucas had made them. Fans were willing to let him tell his story, absorb the lessons as they came, and react appropriately. And with many fans, they began to see the franchise in the new light of older eyes.
But the films of the Disney era are the first to be made by the generation influenced by the storyteller, not the storyteller himself.
As far as the fans were concerned, they had just as much a stake in the ongoing story as the likes of J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, who for all intents and purposes were just playing in the sandbox too. If they didn’t create the thing, then why should their interpretation of the stories be any more valid than any fan who had spent decades analyzing the franchise?
This potential perception of legitimacy makes it a smart move for any franchise to carry over creative forces from one regime to the next. So it’s not just J.J. Abrams working on The Force Awakens, but Lawrence Kasdan, one of the primary screenwriters Lucas worked with in creating the original trilogy. Or why the name of Dave Filoni, who worked with Lucas on the “Clone Wars” animated series, carries a lot of clout with fans.
Without the air of legitimacy in the fans’ eyes, subsequent adventures might seem like shallow re-creations of what came before.
Disney’s sequel trilogy itself offers a fitting metaphor for this phenomenon. Its villains, the First Order, come across as posers in their efforts to re-create the Galactic Empire, a generation of children seeking to emulate what their parents did, not unlike the way Abrams was just the templates of the earlier films without much regard to the lessons of them.
Johnson’s The Last Jedi, to its credit, pushes back on this a bit, allowing the characters to ruminate about the struggles of carrying on the legacy of the previous generation while recognizing the role their stories have in inspiring those who would come after them (symbolized quite literally at the end with a scene of kids on an alien planet playing with their own makeshift ‘Star Wars’ figures).
It’s Filoni, and even Jon Favreau to an extent, who are hailed by fans as the true heir to the “Star Wars” storytelling legacy, rather than the likes of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy or Abrams or Johnson, who are more prone to complaints of appropriating the saga for their own purposes. Hence, “The Mandalorian” served as something of a calming salve fans could unite behind.
Even such a respite, however, has done little to stop the kind of playground bickering we’ve seen from fans online when considering the movies, as if reduced to 10-year-olds arguing over their action figures by shouting “you’re doing it wrong!” Only the Internet lets them shout this at the studio itself.
But the Internet and the wide dissemination of information even down to the flimsiest of rumor has added a new wrinkle to the fans’ relationships with their favorite franchises. Instead of just going to see the new movie every few years, they now can follow nearly all aspects of the production, from casting news, to leaked photos from shooting locations, to potential in-fighting between producers and directors. The race to post spoilers is so intense that it seems some fans aren’t even going to the movies anymore to enjoy the films, but just to confirm that what they didn’t like in the production rumors they heard actually came to pass. And when the story being told doesn’t meet their approval, they will complain until the studio caves in, or they denounce the franchise as having lost its way, putting so much stock into fictional characters as if they don’t have anything else to fixate on.
And thus, we are left with a caricature of the modern fan who wants both to have the story told to them while also dictating the direction of that story.
It’s not unlike the phenomenon that impacted professional wrestling in the 1990s, when the Internet let fans in on all the behind-the-scenes details that flew in the face of the in-ring storylines, and rather than be turned off by the idea that wrestling was “fake” only became more enamored with it. As promotions began blurring the lines between their backstage and storyline realities, the fans who had been known in the industry as “marks” because they were meant to believe the in-ring story (generally referred to as “kayfabe,” a term that encompasses the fiction of the wrestlers’ characters), thus took on a new title, the “smart mark,” or “smark” — the fan who appreciates the in-ring performance as an exhibition representing the more complex realities of locker-room politics.
Another venerable franchise continuation being torn apart by the fan base lately is the CBS All Access revival of “Star Trek.”
Thus far, the new shows include “Star Trek: Discovery,” a prequel to the original 1960s series, and “Star Trek: Picard,” a sequel to “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” There are also a series of tie-in short films called “Short Treks” that expand upon the canon of the new Trek era.
While the shows exhibit high production values and dazzling visual effects, response from longtime “Trek” fans to these new shows has been overwhelmingly negative. “Discovery introduced so many bizarre plot elements right off the bat that it was hard to reconcile the show existing in the same timeline as the other “Trek” shows. It then spent its second season walking back all its high-concept ideas in an attempt to better conform to established canon — but the show’s attempt at self-negation makes it seem largely pointless. About the only aspect of the two seasons fans reacted positively to was the addition of Anson Mount as Capt. Pike, reintroducing the character from the 1960s show’s original unused pilot episode.
“Picard” at least started with some sense of hope, anchored by the assured presence of Patrick Stewart returning to the title role. Yet the story-arc of the 10-episode first season quickly began to spiral out of control with slow pacing, poor character development, disparate story threads and a muddled attempt to add to established “Trek” mythology.
Despite the high budgets and production values, these shows just aren’t that good on their own, never mind how they’re supposed to fit in the franchise (though on this latter point, most fans agree they don’t fit very well).
Tonally, these shows stem from Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot movie, an ill-conceived attempt to turn “Star Trek” into “Star Wars” simply to match Abrams’ own proclivities toward science-fiction. Much like Abrams’ “Star Wars” efforts, the reboot films were a shallow re-creation of established “Trek” lore and fizzled out once they squandered the audiences’ nostalgia for the property.
The new stewards of the brand who emerged from the Abrams films, such as Alex Kurtzman, aren’t even copying what “Star Trek” has done before as much as they are borrowing from other sci-fi franchises. The “Discovery” A.I. gone rogue plot smacks of “The Terminator.” And “Picard” bears similarities to the likes of “Blade Runner,” “Battlestar Galactica.” “Mass Effect” and even “Game of Thrones.” These connections are well documented on YouTube.
It is just another prime example of the gulf between audience expectation for a favored franchise, and the ability for new producers to deliver when they aren’t tied to the creative teams that gave life to the franchise to begin with.
The “TNG”-era shows of the 1990s, themselves viewed skeptically at first by fans of the original series, at least had executive producer Rick Berman, who worked with “Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry on formulating the philosophies of the new shows, and worked to maintain them after Roddenberry died in 1991.
At the very least, in the absence of a connective creative presence, fans at least want to think the new shepherds of their favorite franchises are just as much fans as they are. Part of the problem with response to Johnson’s Last Jedi is that it exposed a rift in the fanbase about the interpretation of the “Star Wars” mythology (and Rise of Skywalker’s attempt to placate once set of fans over the other didn’t do anyone any favors).
“Star Trek,” it seems, has had the opposite problem, with new writers and producers coming in claiming to be fans and yet demonstrating a serious ignorance of the sandbox in which they’re supposed to be playing, not so much from an interpretative point of view, but just details of the canon that should have some impact on the new stories.
Unlike the kind of pass-the-baton storytelling fans didn’t like about the new “Star Wars,” the new “Star Trek” seems to have too many runners. The abundance of creative minds, very few of which having actually worked on “Star Trek” before, and some of which have hardly worked on anything good before, just leads to muddled story arcs, resulting in several attempts to retooling the show to respond to poor feedback and backlash.
“Picard” comes off as a bizarre appropriation of canon, excising what would be appropriate and fan-appreciated references to specific, relevant story points, in exchange for vague generalities about how established characters progressed from where we last saw them to where they are on this show.
Nostalgia, it seems, is the only thing keeping “Picard” afloat, but it’s hard to say how long that will last.
Without a course correction to deliver the type of “Star Trek” fans can enjoy again on a consistent basis, these new shows might end up tipping the scales the other way, enticing fans to tune in simply out of sheer morbid curiosity to see how bad it can get, almost to the point of wanting something to complain about if only to appreciate the earlier shows more (not unlike how the “Star Wars” prequels have earned a bit more appreciation from fans disenchanted by Disney’s sequels).
The ironic twist in all this, of course, is how the long (and overstated) rivalry between “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” fans would find itself defused by J.J. Abrams, uniting them over a shared distaste for his efforts to restart both their beloved franchises.
Street Date 3/31/20; Disney/Lucasfilm; Sci-Fi; Box Office $515.2 million; $29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD; Rated ‘PG-13’ for sci-fi violence and action. Stars Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams.
In the wake of divisive fan response to Disney’s approach to “Star Wars” since its purchase of Lucasfilm, the studio turned to J.J. Abrams to deliver a final chapter to the nine-episode trilogy of trilogies that has been dubbed “The Skywalker Saga.”
Watching Rise of Skywalker, however, it quickly becomes evident that the studio and the creative team in place to make these new “Star Wars” films had no firm plans in place for the overarching story they were trying to tell, let alone connecting them to the previous six chapters.
The resulting concluding chapter, while a fun, entertaining, grand-scale adventure filled with franchise references for fans to enjoy, still comes across as a bit of a disjointed mess, picking and choosing which story threads from the previous films to carry through (if not outright retconning them) as if on a whim, while introducing vast and sometimes bizarre new ones that don’t stand up to too much scrutiny (or, worse, require fans to turn to myriad tie-in books to explain it). While the “Star Wars” franchise has never been a stranger to these kinds of strained plot mechanics, the rumored behind-the-scenes troubles at Lucasfilm have made the seams of Rise of Skywalker especially noticeable, and the accompanying plot developments rather jarring.
So there are two ways to look at Rise of Skywalker — it’s fine for what it is, and there’s plenty to like in it, but it’s also a reminder of what could have been.
Instead of flowing from the natural plot implications of the previous episode, The Last Jedi (which, contrary to the vocal complaints of a few haters, were abundant enough to fuel a decent third act, as evidenced by the earlier script drafts floating around the Internet), the new film decides to drop a plot nuke right at the beginning: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) never really died and has been manipulating things the whole time. Leia’s Resistance, still recovering from the previous film, then turns its focus on fighting Palpatine, sending Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca, C-3PO and BB-8 on a mission to find a device containing the location of the Emperor’s hidden base. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wants to eliminate Rey in exchange for the Emperor’s powers. Be prepared for some big reveals.
While reintroducing the Emperor, who was the underlying threat for the first six movies, is as good enough a reveal as any for how the Empire returned in the guise of The First Order for these films, its sudden inclusion in the third film without any clues planted in the previous two just calls attention to the lack of planning. For example, a properly planned trilogy with Palpatine as the hidden villain wouldn’t have bothered to make Snoke an actual person in the second chapter when the hologram form he displayed in the first movie serves as the perfect cover, a la The Wizard of Oz.
There’s also the fact that the Emperor’s return smacks of similarity to storylines from the “expanded universe” of “Star Wars” books, comics and video games that the studio and Abrams had very publicly said were no longer canon. If the end result is just going to borrow ideas from them anyway, why not adapt them outright? The problem with trying to replace them with something new usually means that if whatever you replace them with isn’t better, fans aren’t going to be too happy.
The big wrinkle in the plan, of course, was the unfortunate death of Carrie Fisher after the filming of Last Jedi. With Leia poised to play a significant role in Episode IX, original story plans were scrapped, and a new screenplay was constructed to build scenes around unused footage of Fisher shot by Abrams for 2015’s The Force Awakens. The obvious limitations of this had a ripple effect on the rest of the story, while Abrams’ presence in the director’s chair was meant to assure fans that the saga was in good hands, given how much of a box office hit Force Awakens turned out to be.
Of course, the dirty little secret that many fans didn’t want to admit about The Force Awakens when it first came out was how, as a shallow remake of the original 1977 movie, it wasn’t a very meaty beginning for a new trilogy meant to continue the larger story. For all its faults, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi at least tried to be about more than the sum of its parts, while re-framing the franchise for a new generation.
Abrams’ return to Rise of Skywalker means the film, at the very least, benefits from his strengths of striking visuals and dynamic action. There are some great scenes in the film that will make fans smile, and truth be told, it’s a more enjoyable viewing experience than Force Awakens simply for being bold enough in its own right and not just wholly remaking an earlier film. However, when adding Rise of Skywalker to the context of Abrams’ whole career, it’s clear he talks a better game than he delivers.
This is readily on display in the two-hour The Skywalker Legacy behind-the-scenes documentary included with the film’s home video presentation. The program is a masterstroke in editing as it contrasts scenes being filmed for Rise of Skywalker with similar scenes from the original trilogy, complete with new and archival interviews with the same actors discussing their roles and the saga in general. It’s a fascinating piece filled with wonderful nostalgia, but also serves to highlight what a lesser copy these new films have been to those of the George Lucas era.
Speaking of which, for a film meant to conclude a nine-chapter saga, Abrams’ films are rather devoid of references to the prequels, despite where revisiting them would make more sense for the story. But, really, who can blame him for focusing almost all the screentime on the new characters he created for this new trilogy, since he was given the chance to do so? In Rise of Skywalker, Abrams even introduces a new little droid called D-O that looks like it was made from a desk lamp, which he himself voices as the droid comments on the scene going on, as if telling the audience how they’re supposed to feel about it (literally saying “sad” or “happy,” etc.).
In addition to the visual candy, the film’s most reliable highlight, as usual, is the score by John Williams, who does his level best to inject depth into the proceedings through his music. His efforts are the focus of an 11-minute digital exclusive featurette, but there’s also a segment about his work in the feature-length documentary. In his cameo as an alien bartender, Williams is surrounded by mementos of the first 51 of his Oscar-nominated scores. His 52nd nomination came via Rise of Skywalker itself.
The remaining extras are all behind-the-scenes featurettes, the best of which is “Warwick & Son,” a five-and-a-half-minute look at actor Warwick Davis’ previous roles in the franchise and how he was joined by his son for a cameo in Rise of Skywalker.
Other featurettes include a 14-minute look at filming a speeder chase, a six-minute video about creating an alien celebration in the deserts of Jordan, a five-and-a-half video about the creation of D-O, and an eight-minute look at the puppetry and makeup effects used to create the film’s creatures.
Vudu offers a couple of additional videos: a three-minute “Legacy” trailer and an eight-minute “End of the Saga” featurette.
It’s a bit disappointing that there were no deleted scenes included, given how much the filmmakers have been discussing in promotional interviews all that was cut from the film, but don’t be surprised if those and additional extras, like an audio commentary track, are one day included in an expanded home video release.
The sci-fi/fantasy blockbuster Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be available through digital retailers March 17, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 31 from Lucasfilm and Disney.
The film is “Episode IX” in the nine-film Skywalker saga and the concluding chapter of the sequel trilogy that began with 2015’s The Force Awakens and continued in 2017’s The Last Jedi.
The story finds Rey (Daisy Ridley) leading a mission to uncover ancient secrets to help the remnants of the resistance fight the resurrected Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has promised great power to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to rule the galaxy.
The cast also includes John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Naomi Ackie as Jannah, Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, Richard E. Grant as General Pryde, Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata, Keri Russell as Zorii Bliss, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, and Carrie Fisher as General Leia.
The appearance of Fisher, who died in 2016, was achieved using unused footage from the earlier films.
Directed by J.J. Abrams, The Rise of Skywalker earned more than $513 million at the domestic box office and just over $1 billion worldwide.
Bonus material includes the feature-length making-of documentary “The Skywalker Legacy.” Additional extras include the featurettes “Pasaana Pursuit: Creating the Speeder Chase,” a look at one of the film’s key action scenes; “Aliens in the Desert,” a look at creating the desert world of Pasaana; “D-O: Key to the Past,” which focuses on the film’s new droid character; “Warwick & Son,” about actor Warwick Davis returning to play an Ewok; and “Cast of Creatures,” in which the team the created the record 584 creatures and droids for the film reveal the puppetry, makeup, prosthetics and digital magic that bring them to life.
Exclusive to the film’s digital version will be “The Maestro’s Finale,” a featurette about composer John Williams, who reflects on his body of work for the “Star Wars” saga.
The “Star Wars” saga was created by George Lucas, who directed the original film that was released in 1977 and has since come to be known as Episode IV: A New Hope. The original trilogy consisted of 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Lucas also directed the prequel trilogy, beginning in 1999 with Episode I: The Phantom Menace and continuing with 2002’s Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.
A nine-film 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray “Saga Collection” boxed set will be available exclusively through Best Buy. Individual 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc releases also are slated for each film.
Pending retirement and 20/20 hindsight can do wonders for the printed page.
With his departure from The Walt Disney Co. set for 2021, CEO Bob Iger has already authored a memoir on his long-running stint heading the world famous brand.
The book, “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company,” is available everywhere Sept. 23, including Amazon.
In excerpts disclosed on Vanity Fair’s website, Iger delves into his relationship with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and how he was stunned to find out 10 minutes before announcing Disney’s $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar in 2006 that Jobs’ cancer had returned.
Iger suggests that had Jobs lived (he died in 2011), he believes — surprisingly — that the two would have facilitated a merger of sorts between Disney and Apple.
It’s an interesting revelation, if not unrealistic considering who Jobs was.
The mercurial executive was a majority shareholder of Pixar and a member of Disney’s board. He was also notoriously self-centered in his vision for Apple and the world revolving around it — not the other way around.
While fighting a return of terminal cancer (despite being one of the richest people on Earth) would cloud anyone’s judgment, when it comes to streaming video and content IP, Jobs’ insolence toward the emerging distribution model and owning content was glaring.
Despite pioneering music, TV show and movie distribution through iTunes, Jobs infamously dismissed Apple TV as a “little hobby,” to be re-evaluated in the distant future.
That attitude contributed to Apple (with more than $200 billion in cash) sitting on the sidelines as Iger-led Disney swooped in to buy Pixar, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm (Star Wars) — the latter two properties for a combined $8 billion.
Disney has made more than $18 billion on its Marvel investment. The first four Star Wars movies produced by Disney-owned Lucasfilm have already paid for that acquisition. And Pixar’s Toy Story 4 is the fourth film from that studio to top $1 billion at the global box office.
It seems doubtful that had Jobs lived, Apple would have jumped into content ownership. Jobs’ successor Tim Cook has only now decided to push Apple TV into the SVOD ecosystem.
Indeed, Iger, in his book, said Jobs had grown frustrated dealing with the Disney culture and former CEO Michael Eisner.
“Among his many frustrations was a feeling that it was often too difficult to get anything done with Disney,” Iger wrote.
Yet, today Apple has ratcheted up original content, spending Netflix-like billions on programming featuring ‘A’-list talent such as Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.
The move has generated headlines but comes as Disney, AT&T/WarnerMedia, Comcast and Viacom all bow separate and competing over-the-top video platforms.
Instead of being an innovator as it was with the PC, iTunes, smart phones and tablets, Apple is chasing the competition, a reality noted earlier this year by Netflix’s Ted Sarandos.
“We’ve been competing with 500 channels of cable and penetrated nearly every household in the world for a long time,” Sarandos told the media in March. “So, it’s the same stable of competitors [Apple, Disney, AT&T, Viacom]; just very late to the game.”
Disney+ unveiled six series in development, a slate of original series and films, and details about the service during a showcase presentation at Disney’s D23 Expo Aug. 23 in Anaheim, Calif.
The Disney+ app made its debut on the show floor, with features and functionality confirmed for theglobal launch dates in November. Disney+ ($6.99 per month; $69.99 annually in the U.S.) offers viewers:
• Unlimited Downloads: Subscribers have access to unlimited downloads of shows and movies on the Disney+ app to watch offline later on up to 10 mobile or tablet devices, with no constraints on the number of times a title can be downloaded per year. Once downloaded, subscribers can watch on the go and without an internet connection. The number of titles stored at one time on a device is dependent upon the available storage space on a subscriber’s device.
• High-Quality Viewing: Subscribers can get ultra-high-definition viewing with up to 4K Ultra HD video playback in Dolby Vision, HDR10, and Dolby Atmos immersive audio on supported devices for available programming.
• Commercial-free Viewing: Subscribers can access unlimited viewing of Disney+ content without having to watch commercials.
•Profile Customizations: Subscribers can set up to seven different profiles and choose an avatar tailored to their favorite Disney, Pixar, Marvel or “Star Wars” characters, with more than 200 avatars available.
•Concurrent Streaming: Disney+ allows subscribers to concurrently stream video content on up to four registered devices with no up-charges.
• Multiple Languages: At launch, Disney+ will offer support for English, Spanish, French and Dutch languages, including both user interface as well as audio support and/or subtitles for library content, with additional languages available for Disney+ originals.
• Accessibility: The app offers support for closed captioning, descriptive audio and navigation assistance for subscribers with disabilities.
Actress Yvette Nicole Brown, who stars in the Disney+ original film Lady and the Tramp, hosted the content presentation, welcoming Kevin Mayer, chairman, direct-to-consumer and international.
“With less than three months until launch, Disney+ will soon entertain and inspire audiences of all ages for generations to come, and we’re excited to preview some of the amazing original content being created for the service exclusively from our world-class brands today at the D23 Expo,” said Mayer. “Storytelling is the cornerstone of The Walt Disney Company and we’re thrilled to unveil a new slate of original shows from the Star Wars and Marvel cinematic universes, along with popular television franchises set to return with all-new series streaming only on Disney+.”
Executives behind the Disney+ content slate also appeared, including Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production; Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios; Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm; and Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channel Worldwide.
The executives discussed the status of previously announced content as well as introduced additions to the slate:
• Ewan McGregor was on hand to confirm his return as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a new series from Lucasfilm, presumably set between the events of the “Star Wars” prequel and original trilogies, when the character was exiled on Tatooine watching over young Luke Skywalker. Alec Guinness played the role in the original “Star Wars” in 1977, as well as 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi. McGregor played the younger version of the character in the prequels from 1999 to 2005. Reports about the series had been swirling in the week leading up to the D23 Expo, following years of speculation that McGregor would return to the role in a spinoff movie;
• Feige announced that Marvel Studios is developing three new live-action series, “Ms. Marvel,” “Moon Knight” and “She-Hulk,” all derived from Marvel comics;
• Hilary Duff surprised the audience with an appearance to announce she will reprise the role she made famous in an all-new Lizzie McGuire series from Terri Minsky; and
• Forty years after leaving the swamp in his big screen debut in The Muppet Movie, Kermit the Frog along with the Muppets gang will appear in their first-ever unscripted short-form series, “Muppets Now.”
Disney+ also showcased original movies and shows set to stream when the service launches on Nov. 12.
• For Lucasfilm’s “The Mandalorian,” executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni joined series stars Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers and Giancarlo Esposito, along with Taika Waititi, who brings the droid IG-11 to life, to premiere the teaser trailer for the first Star Wars live-action series. Earlier in the day at the Disney Legends Awards Ceremony, Robert A. Iger,chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Co., announced that new Disney Legend Ming-Na Wen will join the cast of the series. Set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order, “The Mandalorian” follows the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy far from the authority of the New Republic.
• The cast of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” participated in a live performance of the multi-platinum hit song, “We’re All In This Together.” Following the presentation, cast members Joshua Bassett, Olivia Rodrigo, Matt Cornett, Sofia Wylie, Julia Lester, Larry Saperstein, Dara Reneé, Frankie A. Rodriguez, Kate Reinders, Mark St. Cyr, and Showrunner Tim Federle invited 3,600 fans to watch the first episode in the D23 Expo Arena and revealed the series’ teaser trailer. The 10-episode scripted series, set at the real-life East High, where the original movie was filmed, follows a group of students as they countdown to opening night of their school’s first-ever production of “High School Musical.”
• Host Brown joined fellow Lady and the Tramp cast members Rose (“Lady”) and Monty (“Tramp”) — the canine stars of the film — to premiere the first trailer of the live-action remake of the 1955 animated classic, In the film, a pampered house dog and a tough but lovable stray embark on an unexpected adventure and, despite their differences, grow closer and come to understand the value of home.
• Noelle stars Anna Kendrick and Billy Eichner joined Sean Bailey to announce their film will premiere on Disney+ Nov. 12 before sharing a new trailer. In the holiday comedy, Kris Kringle’s daughter is full of Christmas spirit and holiday fun, but wishes she could do something important like her beloved brother Nick, who will take over from their father this Christmas. When Nick is about to crumble from all the pressure, Noelle suggests he take a break and get away. When he doesn’t return, Noelle must find her brother and bring him back in time to save Christmas.
• Jeff Goldblum, who stars in and hosts 12-episode “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” from National Geographic, gave fans a peek inside the series including a new trailer for the show.
• Executive producer Kristen Bell shared a first-look trailer and a taste of what’s to come in the unscripted series “Encore!” that brings together former castmates of high school musicals, tasking them with re-creating their original performance years after they last performed it.
• Tony Hale, who reprises role as Forky from Toy Story 4 in the new collection of Pixar animated shorts “Forky Asks a Question,” premiered the first short (“What is Money?”). In the 10 shorts, Forky explores important questions about how the world works, such as: What is love? What is time?
Disney+ also detailed titles set to premiere after the service launches:
• The audience was treated to a scene from the Disney+ original film Togo, an untold true story set in the winter of 1925 in the Alaskan tundra. The film, which will launch on the service in December, stars four-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe and is directed by Ericson Core. It also stars Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl, Richard Dormer, Michael Greyeyes, Michael McElhatton and Michael Gaston.
• Director Kari Skogland introduced Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, the stars of Marvel Studios’ The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, which finds Falcon and the Winter Soldier teaming up after Avengers: Endgame. Emily VanCamp came on stage and Feige revealed that she will reprise her role as Sharon Carter. Then, he introduced the crowd to Wyatt Russell who will play John Walker — a character from the comics coming to the screen for the first time. Head writer Malcom Spellman was also on hand to greet the crowd. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier will launch on Disney+ in 2020.
• Stars Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen were on hand for their new series, Marvel Studios’ “WandaVision.” Bettany returns as Vision and Olsen as Wanda Maximoff — two super-powered beings living their ideal suburban lives who begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems. Feige surprised the audience by bringing to the stage Kat Dennings and Randall Park who will reprise their roles from Thor and Ant-Man and The Wasp, and then he introduced Kathryn Hahn who has been cast as a new character in the series. Director Matt Shakman and head writer Jac Schaeffer joined everyone on stage to reveal that the streaming series will blend the style of classic sitcoms with Marvel Cinematic Universe. “WandaVision” premieres on Disney+ in 2021.
• Feige welcomed the director, Kate Herron, and head writer, Michael Waldron, of “Loki” to the stage. In Marvel Studios’ series “Loki,” Tom Hiddleston returns as the mercurial Loki, the god of mischief, in stories that take place after the events of Avengers: Endgame. “Loki” debuts on Disney+ in 2021.
• For Marvel Studios’ “What If …?” Hayley Atwell was on hand to greet the audience. Atwell will voice Peggy Carter in Marvel Studios’ first animated series that focuses on different heroes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and imagines what would happen if the events in the films worked out differently. Feige also introduced director Bryan Andrews and head writer Ashley Bradley to the crowd. “What If…?” premieres on Disney+ in 2021.
• Kennedy announced that the new season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” will stream on Disney+ in February 2020. The Emmy award-winning animated series will be returning with 12 new episodes and will mark the return of classic characters Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex.
• Stars Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk joined Kennedy to introduce the audience to the second Lucasfilm live-action series for Disney+, which is now in development. Both actors are reprising their roles from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and the stories follow Cassian Andor’s adventures as a rebel spy during the formative years of the Rebellion, before the events of A New Hope.
• Executive producer and recurring guest star Gina Rodriguez joined “Diary of a Female President” lead Tess Romero to announce the series will premiere on Disney+ in January. Told using the narration from her diary, the half-hour single camera comedy follows 12-year-old Cuban-American girl Elena’s journey through the trials of middle school, which set her on the path to ultimately become president of the United States.
• Bailey shared a first look at the original film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made based on the best-selling book series by Stephan Pastis and launching on the service in early 2020. The film follows the exploits of a quirky, deadpan hero, Timmy Failure, who, along with his 1,500-pound polar bear partner Total, operates Total Failure Inc., a Portland detective agency.
• The stars of Stargirl, Grace VanderWaal and Graham Verchere, helped introduce the coming-of-age film based on the New York Times best-selling young adult novel. The film also stars Karan Brar, Maximiliano Hernandez, Darby Stanchfield and Giancarlo Esposito. It will launch on Disney+ in early 2020.
• “Monsters at Work” stars Ben Feldman and Aisha Tyler unveiled the latest design of their characters Tylor and Millie. Inspired by Disney and Pixar’s Academy Award-winning feature film Monsters, Inc., the new series from Disney Television Animation returns to Monstropolis and follows a new cast of monsters with special appearances from Mike and Sulley (voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman).
Lucasfilm and Disney will release Star Wars Resistance: Complete Season One on DVD Aug. 20.
The set includes all 21 episodes, 12 bonus shorts, four audio commentaries, a “Path of Resistance” behind-the-scenes featurette, and 22 “Resistance Rewind” featurettes.
Set in the lead-up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the season follows Kazuda “Kaz” Xiono, a young pilot recruited by Resistance hero Poe Dameron for a top-secret mission to spy on the growing threat of the First Order. Stationed aboard an aircraft refueling station, Kaz quickly finds himself in over his head as he struggles to keep his cover as a mechanic while gaining the trust of his newfound friends. They find themselves entangled with ace pilots, marauding pirates and creatures of all shapes and sizes.
The second season will air in fall 2019 on the Disney Channel.