A bit of this, a bit of that, all thrown in together, heated and stirred: religion soup, in other words. Or, if you prefer, a non-specific kind of spiritualism, free of structure, hierarchy, church or cant.
Back in 1977, Obi-Wan Kenobi explained Lucas’ hocus-pocus thus: “The Force is what gives the Jedi his power – it’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
It was nice and vague, with a bit of something for everyone; the monotheists could read that as God, the mystics as an iteration of Brahman, the atheists as a poetic rendering of universal matter.
By the time of The Last Jedi, that soup had become the main course. And now The Rise of Skywalker demands we sit down to a massive second serve.
Much of the plot of film eight revolved around Luke Skywalker’s crisis of faith, prompted by the realisation that the power invested in the Jedi order, a power that was meant to safeguard the balance between light and dark in the universe, was in fact the gravest threat to that balance. In other words, the nominal guardians of our spiritual and corporeal wellbeing couldn’t be trusted not to abuse that power.
There are clear real-world corollaries in that, and it’s not where the film’s problem lay. But the way that power manifested was.
The first film in this final trilogy, The Force Awakens, had largely sidelined the spiritual aspects in favour of what the Star Wars films have done best: stunning action sequences, deftly drawn (if somewhat cartoonish) characters, and wise-cracking minimalist dialogue. It may have felt a bit like a retread of the first trilogy – almost like the film Lucas would have made in the first instance had he been a better director with better technology at hand – but after the turgidity of the middle trilogy, it came as a blessed relief.
But The Last Jedi elevated the mystical elements, and fleshed them out, so that suddenly we got to see the full force of The Force: Luke hovering above ground in the lotus position; Leia being blasted to pieces in space, then floating to safety; Luke being in two places at once, albeit at the cost of having to vacate his corporeal shell.
The more The Force took on concrete form, the sillier it seemed.
Now, in the conclusion to the saga that Lucas promised would consist of at least nine films as far back as 1978, the silliness has reached new heights.
The dead aren’t dead at all, and they’re not merely ghosts either: though they manifest as semi-translucent forms, they can grasp objects in the material world, move them around, effect physical changes on people and things. Luke – or his spirit – is able to levitate an X-wing fighter to help Rey out of a tight spot. Palpatine is able to conjure an entire fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers out of nothingness. Rey is able to project herself 20 metres in the air, and to perform triple backflips, all while wielding a light sabre without accidentally slicing off her own leg; amazing. Kylo Ren is able to engage her in a duel even when he is on an entirely different planet.
It’s just too stupid for words.
The more the Force took on concrete form, the sillier it seemed.
There has been much talk about where to next for the Star Wars franchise Disney bought in 2012. There has been growing disquiet over the performance of some recent films – The Last Jedi was divisive among fans, and the 2018 spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story underwhelmed at the box office, becoming the first film in the franchise’s history to lose money. Already, The Rise of Skywalker has drawn the worst reviews of any Star Wars film since the much-loathed Phantom Menace 20 years ago.
Talk of Star Wars fatigue and a lack of clear direction was compounded by news in October that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and DB Weiss had bailed on plans to develop a new Star Wars trilogy. Meanwhile, Disney had stunned fans the previous month by announcing that Kevin Feige, the man responsible for turning Marvel into the biggest franchise in the movie business, would take the reins on a future Star Wars film.
In a sense, though, it already feels like the Star Wars universe has been invaded by Marvel, to its detriment.
In The Last Jedi and even more so in The Rise of Skywalker, The Force resembles nothing so much as the powers of Marvel’s superheroes. What once had been an intriguing added philosophical dimension has become just another bit of comic-book nonsense.
Clearly there is a disturbance in The Force. But maybe it’s time the people in charge of all things Star Wars began asking if the problem mightn’t be The Force itself.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.