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A Tale of Superheroes, Sith Lords... and the Almighty Dollar

[The following essay may contain MINOR SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame; you have been warned!]

In the months preceding Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s theatrical release, J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy repeatedly referred to it as the epic final chapter of the Skywalker Saga. Now that it’s out, all I can ask is… why? It didn’t need to be a grand finale; indeed, attempting to (artificially) lend the movie such (unwarranted) pop-cultural significance is arguably what ended up crippling it, as it required the writers to introduce more plot twists and conflicts than they could realistically (and/or satisfactorily) resolve in only two-and-a-half hours.

In many ways, this situation reminds me of another 2019 blockbuster that didn’t quite connect with me: Captain Marvel. The post-credits scene of Infinity War teased that Brie Larson’s intergalactic adventurer would be playing a major role in Endgame, generating a great deal of fan interest in her solo outing—which, not so coincidentally, was scheduled to hit cinemas right in between the two Avengers films. The implication was clear: “In order to get the full MCU experience,” the studio executives cried, “you must see Captain Marvel!”

The ploy was, of course, resoundingly successful: Captain Marvel raked in record-breaking profits despite its numerous narrative inconsistencies and timeline contradictions… and all of the buildup, foreshadowing, and hype associated with the title character ultimately culminated in a glorified cameo appearance during the climactic battle against Thanos.

In both of these cases, cold commercialism compromised artistic integrity. These products are obvious examples of marketing campaigns, revenue projections, and excessive focus group testing dictating the creative process—a pitfall that previous entries in each franchise managed to elegantly avoid. And that’s what makes these otherwise perfectly enjoyable movies sting just a bit worse than they should: Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Disney are capable of much better than mere adequacy… when they deign to scrub the dollar signs out of their eyes, anyway.

At the very least, they’re usually somewhat less transparently greedy…

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