'Star Wars: Episode 9' Ending Needs a Giant Space Battle With New Stakes
The title of the entire Star Wars franchise is misleading. The amount of warring that happens in the stars is insignificant next to angsty young men worrying about how to use the Force, fast-talking space pirates and lightsaber twirling. You could argue that there aren’t that many classic space battles in Star Wars outside of the original trilogy and maybe, maybe the opening of Revenge of the Sith. I’m not a Last Jedi or Force Awakens hater by a parsec or two, but neither of those movies delivered a truly original and classic space battle.
Star Wars has great space battles, but the good ones are all the same
Like many other aspects of Star Wars, the derivative nature of most Star Wars space battles post-A New Hope just proves Star Wars is a victim of its own success. After the thrilling and utterly classic Death Star trench run in the original film, the Star Wars franchise can’t seem to stop recreating these stakes with varying degrees of success.
In Return of the Jedi, there’s just another Death Star, and in all honesty, it feels easier to blow up than the first one. Plus, let’s face it, at that point Lando and Wedge are B-squad, which makes the stakes of that space battle inherently lower — these aren’t main characters! The Empire Strikes Back has a great action set piece with the Battle of Hoth, but that’s not really a space battle, so we’re not going to count it.
The prequels have almost no good space battles. The mission to destroy the droid control ship in The Phantom Menace is a cringe-worthy snooze fest (Bravo squadron? Come on!) and the spaceship chases in Attack of the Clones are rip-offs of Han Solo action in Empire Strikes Back.
This leaves only the brief opening scenes of Revenge of the Sith as being remotely cool in terms of a big space battle. Because this scene opened in a super-epic style — we zip along in what feels like actual zero-gravity free-fall with Obi-Wan and Anakin’s starfighters — it was probably the newest thing Star Wars had done with its space battles in a long time. (Watch the full scene if you haven’t seen it in a while. It’s pretty great.)
Since then, the space battles in the new movies have been good, but also not really new. Sure, we got those cool bombers in the opening of The Last Jedi, but those scenes are so short, and honestly so similar to what we’ve already seen that it’s hard to describe any of that as the most memorable or new Star Wars space battle ever. Cool? Yes. Really, truly shocking and thrilling? No.
The Force Awakens and Rogue One are even worse. Sure, these scenes look great, but the attacks on Starkiller Base and the Shield Gate are both derivative to the point where it feels like Star Wars is parodying itself. The nostalgia boxes are checked (and it was awesome to have Gold Leader return in Rogue One) but overall, these sequences just aren’t giving audiences a new kind of Star Wars space battle. (Also: Solo does not have a space battle. Only chases.)
How Episode IX could fix this problem
The problem with the space battles in Rogue One, The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi is that, like the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi, we’re mostly dealing with B-squad (with the possible exception of Poe Dameron).
This is why the Millennium Falcon chase on Jakku in The Force Awakens is so great: it involves the two most important heroes of the movie; Rey and Finn. Sure, Finn gets to fly a little speeder in The Last Jedi, but the looming stakes with Luke and Kylo Ren kind of overshadow that. The point is, Episode IX must put its main characters — Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren — in the pilot seats. This happened a little bit in The Last Jedi when we saw Kylo flying his creepy TIE Fighter, but again, that scene was pretty short.
Episode IX needs a nail-biting, space battle scene where Rey is flying a badass spaceship, racing against the clock to do … something … anything!
How to make it new
One of the cool things about the opening space battle in Revenge of the Sith is that it’s one of the only times Star Wars treated its spaceships like actual spaceships, rather than old-school airplanes. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s starfighters dive straight “down” and then pull up without it being too much of a big deal. The physics of being in space mean that these starfighters should be able to do all kinds of cool movements that don’t just simulate fighter jets. The reboot Battlestar Galactica did this a little bit when it put maneuvering jets on the front nose of its fighters, which is honestly something all these X-Wings should have.
So, if there’s going to be an epic space battle in Episode IX, it would be great if Industrial Light & Magic and J.J. Abrams tried to make it look like it was actually happening in space. I’m not saying they need to throw out everything about the feeling of a Star Wars space battle, but maybe add something spacey? What if Rey has to hide her starfighter in the tail of a comet? Could Finn get into a space suit and perform an extravehicular activity on the Falcon? All of these things could put the space adventure feeling back into this space adventure.
The closest thing to messing with space physics in a new space battle was obviously in The Last Jedi when Holdo jumped her ship into hyperspace and took out some big bad ships doing it. Episode IX need something like that, but way longer, involving the primary characters and perhaps with a bigger set-up to really hype up the big moment.
If Star Wars is going to survive beyond the conclusion of the Skywalker saga, it’s going to need to make the audience excited about the stars again. Cool lightsaber battles just aren’t enough.
Star Wars: Episode IX is out on December 20, 2019.