The opening crawls of Star Wars movies have traditionally caught audiences up on the passage of time between films. That proved to be rather unnecessary between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi since we pick up pretty much immediately after the end of the first installment of the new trilogy. But since roughly a year has passed in-universe between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, we have some catching up to do, and the opening crawl has to do some heavy lifting before it throws us into the fast-paced conclusion of the Skywalker saga.
In a sea of truly perplexing decisions made in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, one of the strangest is relegating the reveal of Emperor Palpatine’s return from the dead to a mere mention in the opening crawl. At one point, it was intended for us to hear this message, but director J.J. Abrams couldn’t figure out where to make it fit without interrupting the pacing of the story. So what happened to it? The message debuted in the special Star Wars event within the video game Fortnite last week and you can hear it now.
The opening crawl of The Rise of Skywalker begins with “The dead speak!” and then teases a mysterious broadcast from the Emperor that threatens revenge. It’s a point that is later reiterated by Poe Dameron while talking to the Resistance. And yet, we never hear the message. But it was recorded by Ian McDiarmid, and it ended up being played as a sort of teaser within the Fortnite video game, where a clip from the movie was revealed before release. Here’s the Emperor Palpatine message in Fortnite:
So an important revelation that should have some significance in the narrative of this movie was not only relegated to the opening crawl, but tossed into a video game event. That feels pretty lazy since that kind of reveal should have been a huge deal onscreen. That just goes to show you how messy this movie’s narrative can be – it doesn’t even have time to set up something like that and give it any real weight. It’s established with a line of text, followed by a mention later in the movie. Even when it’s mentioned in the movie, there’s only one quick line of dialogue that even addresses how this is possible, and by a character we don’t even know Dominic Monaghan as Beaumont Kin.
Honestly, when you look at The Rise of Skywalker as a whole, the opening sequence with Kylo Ren feels like it should have taken place at the end of a previous Star Wars movie we never got to see. Hell, even if you were to tack it on to The Last Jedi, it would have been far more satisfying. Imagine it. Kylo Ren is in Snoke’s throne room and hears something rattling inside the dead Supreme Leader’s throne. It’s the Sith wayfinder. Upon touching it, he hears something, and immediately rushes off to his ship. The entire sequence plays out as it does in The Rise of Skywalker, and the cliffhanger ending is the Emperor telling Kylo Ren that Rey is not who he thinks she is. That would have been immensely satisfying, and it would have made the mystery of Rey’s story even more exciting in the time that we waited for the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.
But that’s not what happened, and we have to accept Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker for what it is, for better or worse. It’s playing in theaters everywhere now, and will be for the next few months. We’ll probably be talking about it for much longer than that too. We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.
There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...