Is "fan service" in a film really such a bad thing? Kraig Taylor-Bryant takes a spoiler-free look at Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to find out...
“Fan service”. A term that is thrown around so much in the reviews for Star Wars the Rise of Skywalker. All you need to do is look on IMDb, or YouTube, or other famous film review sites, to see the phrase used to describe the film. In fact, it’s a phrase I too used in a pretty negative way, following my first viewing of the film, even to a point where I thought I hated the film. But fan service isn’t a term that you should really be able to throw at a film so easily, because whilst it might seem “obvious,” it may also serve the plot well.
That’s something I came to realise on my second viewing. Actually, I found that there were three forms of fan service in the film, at least to what my definition of what "fan service" is. There’s the obvious one, of throwing in loads of familiar objects/people to appease the audience, when it’s not entirely needed, these objects or people may also interact or have an effect on characters. There’s fan service that only the audience can see, sort of like at the end of return of the Jedi, where the camera shows us familiar planets from the prequel trilogy, celebrating the defeat of the empire. In the less obvious sense, there’s also dialogue “fan service” where the film tries to make the audience laugh by having the characters say something that may or may not be relevant to the characters situation.
I think Avengers Endgame did that a lot [read Kraig's review of that here - Ed]. In that film I know there were a lot of moments where you kinda had to be there to “just have fun” when watching the film. Otherwise I think you’d be annoyed as much as I was, walking out of Avengers Endgame, feeling like some of the jokes (like Thor yelling at fellow Fortnite players), didn’t feel like a thing the God of Thunder would really be doing.
Star Wars fortunately, can’t really have an obvious moment like that, considering it’s in a galaxy far away, but there are still moments that might not entirely fit. However, I think if you’re able to accept Thor playing Fortnite, then you can accept the dialogue in this Star Wars film, if you just walk in (or sit down at home) to have fun watching.
Another complaint is that J.J Abrams’ sort of hit the brakes and changed course with this film. Which I would say might be clear (with the return of the Emperor being obvious in the trailer), but in other moments, it almost seems like Abrams is embracing some of Rian Johnson's ideas. The idea of it not mattering what your bloodline is, among other concepts is still clear in this film, which you might have to watch all the film to see clearly, but it’s there, nevertheless. On the second viewing I even noticed that the message of winning a war “not by fighting what we hate but saving those we love” was also carried to this film, which, if you pay close attention, will pop up a couple of times. I think that kinda helps to tie up the knot of a message that I thought was actually quite a nice way to some up what the ‘good guys’ were really fighting for.
When it comes down to tying up “loose ends” for the saga, and the new sequel trilogy, I’d say J.J and Chris Terrio did a damn good job of having these films still link together. At the same time, they also managed to keep the characters consistent, and establish early on, that some time has passed since the previous film.
Speaking of the previous film, it’s clear that there were some hardcore fans that had questions that they wanted answering. Whilst I personally was okay with filling in the gaps for these events with my imagination, of what must have caused these crazy moments of Star Wars the Last Jedi, J.J Abrams still revisited these things in the Rise of Skywalker, to provide some closure to the fans that may have felt confused by them, which I understand wasn’t something he had to do, but did so to appease people.
I think, walking out of Rise of Skywalker after seeing it for the first time, it was things like that that annoyed me, the fact that he revisited things that I didn’t care about and filled in blanks that could be filled with the story of the current antagonist. However, I think it was watching it with my younger brother the second time around, that helped me realise that it was by filling in the blanks, that things became more obvious to him, why certain things were possible in The Last Jedi and possible/not possible in this film.
Another thing that I couldn’t help but criticise after my first viewing of the film, was how fast paced everything was. I felt as if I was being pushed to the perspective of so many characters, that it even felt disorienting but, again, it was after watching it with my younger brother that I realised that actually there were a few moments that were actually quite slow. It’s just harder to remember those moments, when there’s a lot of blanks that J.J chooses to fill in, to give background and a little more explanation behind the ancient Sith, and give a rough idea behind how Palpatine (to quote the trailer) “was never really gone”.
Whilst the film does end with a lot of loose ends being tied up, there are also a few new “knots” that the film leaves us with, not exactly massive holes that would break the saga, but rather intriguing aspects of characters and there situations by the end of the film, that leave us wondering what could come next, if we see those characters again. What was also done really when it came to this, was that some of these moments were actually done subtly enough for it to be almost unnoticeable on the first watch, but after a second watch, it may leave you wanting to know more, intrigued but not really unfulfilled.
Overall I think there were definitely a few one liners that you could call “out of character” and there were even cameos thrown in there that you could title as “fan service” as I did on the first watch. Although, I think this doesn’t really harm the film if you go into it just looking for a nice escape from the real world. If I had to offer advice before watching it, I'd say that you have to be open to all possibilities, much like the fans of the trilogies before this one had to be, such as when a new idea was introduced in those films; like Luke being able to just “replace his hand” after losing an old one, or young Anakin appearing at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Ultimately, though, there’s not really such thing as bad fan service, as long as you’re willing to have a good time when watching it.
Follow Kraig on Twitter @Kraigandhismac
Images - IMDb/Disney