The Skywalker Legacy and The Last Watch are similar in many ways, but above all they’re both about the challenges of trying to create a satisfying conclusion to a beloved fantasy epic. Neither Game of Thrones: Season 8 nor The Rise of Skywalker necessarily lived up to fan expectations (hence the online petition to completely re-do Game of Thrones’ controversial final season). But there’s perhaps no better way to make peace with these disappointing finales than to see how they were made.
Star Wars: 17 Ways The Rise of Skywalker Novelization Adds to the Movie
The Skywalker Legacy succeeds in putting a human face on this massive undertaking. It spotlights not just director J.J. Abrams and the familiar cast members, but the many VFX artists, puppeteers and stunt workers who were instrumental in translating the screenplay into an actual film. The documentary offers an illuminating look at just how much of the movie’s effects were achieved through practical means. Fans might assume the various delays and pre-production troubles stemming from Carrie Fisher’s death and Colin Trevorrow’s firing meant Abrams and his team had to cut a lot of corners to get Episode IX into theaters by December 2019. The documentary strenuously argues otherwise.
One especially memorable sequence shows the labor-intensive process of bringing the vexis snake to life, a process that required multiple puppeteers to climb inside a full-scale puppet. For all that technology has evolved since the days of Return of the Jedi’s Jabba the Hutt, some things haven’t really changed. This material is all the more fascinating because, as we learn, the vexis puppet was essentially covered over by a CG recreation in the finished film. The details matter, even if they aren’t necessarily obvious onscreen.
Another sequence shows us the incredibly in-depth process of achieving the dance sequence on Pasaana, with the filmmakers recruiting the aid of the Jordanian military and hundreds of locals as extras. It surely would have been both cheaper and more efficient to simply build a completely digital Aki-Aki crowd in the same way the prequels conjured entire clone and droid armies out of thin air. But when you’re striving for that authentic, lived-in Original Trilogy quality, there’s no substitute for real people wearing real costumes.
On that note, the greatest strength of The Skywalker Legacy is in how it ties itself back to the original movies through the use of archival footage. It offers fascinating behind-the-scenes looks at all three classic Star Wars movies, both through on-set footage and older interviews. There’s nothing quite like seeing Harrison Ford aboard the Millennium Falcon, flubbing lines and goofing around with Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew.But more than just entertaining throwbacks, these scenes create a powerful sense of history and connectivity with the sequels. They help reinforce the idea that the Skywalker Saga is a singular story nearly half a century in the making. That story has certainly seen its low points over the years, but never because of a lack of passion from the storytellers. The new footage included of Abrams and his team hard at work shows how committed everyone was to giving the series a worthy finale. As someone who walked out of the theater in December feeling disappointed and disheartened, it honestly does help put things in perspective and encourage me to accept the movie we got rather than wonder what might have been.
More and more, the feeling is that The Rise of Skywalker’s greatest flaw is its inability to fully communicate its themes and ideas. The movie is full of unanswered questions and apparent plot holes, but a lot of those questions are actually addressed in Rae Carson’s Episode IX novelization. Similarly, the documentary is great about shedding light on various major and minor details in the film and showing the countless ways the cast and crew tried to honor the legacy of the older movies. Maybe the final product could have done a better job of overtly reflecting these hidden plot points and small details, but knowing they exist regardless is a source of comfort.
Regardless of your thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker, it’s worth purchasing the Digital HD or Blu-ray releases just to watch The Skywalker Legacy. More so than the film itself, this making-of documentary conveys the full weight of this monumental conclusion to an epic space fantasy saga.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.