'Star Wars' Runtimes: Why 'The Rise of Skywalker' Needs to Be 3 Hours Long

Closing out nine Star Wars episodes means there's a lot of parsecs to cover. Why 'Episode IX' could — and should — be the longest Star Wars ever. 

At two hours and 32 minutes, the longest Star Wars movie is, by far, The Last Jedi. But, its direct sequel — The Rise of Skywalker — could and should be at least a half an hour longer. The scope of concluding the entire episodic Star Wars saga is just way too big to wrap up in roughly two hours and change. And, if Avengers: Endgame can be three hours without anyone blinking or running to the bathroom, there’s no reason why The Rise of Skywalker can’t join a club that used to be dominated by movies about Hobbits or, you know, films by Terrence Malick.

Speculative spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker maybe lie ahead.

I’d bet that every single day J.J. Abrams went to the set of The Rise of Skywalker he played David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” to pump himself up. (“Eye of the Tiger” feels too obvious; not to mention Adam Driver sort of made fun of that song in the movie While We’re Young in 2015, right before Force Awakens came out.) The point is, Abrams and everyone else involved in making Rise of Skywalker know that a lot is riding on this movie; not from a money perspective, but from a covering-all-the-Rebel-bases perspective. No one is worried about The Rise of Skywalker becoming a box office kerfuffle like Solo was in 2018. This movie is going to make money and be really, really important for a lot of people.

The real concern with this one is more of a deep-time zeitgeist thing. Will this movie feel like it’s actually wrapping up a saga? Will it somehow subsume all of Star Wars as a period on the end of a sentence? And how will it do that when you consider that the entire Star Wars saga is really tonally inconsistent and has never had a plan for its story?

Here’s a quick rundown of every Star Wars movie runtime:

  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace — 2 hours, 16 minutes
  • Star Wars: Attack of the Clones — 2 hours, 22 minutes
  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith — 2 hours, 20 minutes
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story — 2 hours, 15 minutes
  • Star Wars: A New Hope — 2 hours, 1 minute
  • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back —2 hours, 4 minutes
  • Star Wars: Return of the Jedi —2 hours, 11 minutes
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens —2 hours, 16 minutes
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi — 2 hours, 32 minutes
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — 2 hours, 13 minutes

1976 Star Wars promotional art


To extend the Lord of the Rings analogy, at least with those first three movies, Peter Jackson and screenwriter Fran Walsh had a consistent tone and story to draw upon in the J.R.R. Tolkien novels. Star Wars, on the other hand, feels similar but isn’t the same because it has no source material. Because Star Wars is pseudo-contemporary mythology, it’s as though we all imagine there are fake “real” Star Wars books that no one has read, and we’re only guessing about what they’re supposed to be about. (George Lucas would call this idea of a deeper, bigger story the Journal of the Whills.)

So, if you think about it in that way, Abrams and Chris Terrio doing the script for Episode IX would be like if Jackson and Walsh had to write Return of the King in a Yesterday-ish universe, where the Tolkien books had been erased from the collective memory, and they only vaguely had an idea of what the story was supposed to be about. Star Wars movies have always been made like this — totally without a plan. But the obviousness of that narrative wonkiness is a much bigger problem for Rise of Skywalker than any other Star Wars movie before it, because it’s the freaking ending.

So, how do you tackle all of this? If it were me, I’d just throw as much Star Wars shit at the wall and hope enough of it sticks, which means the movie needs to be three hours. If you stop to consider what a three-hour Star Wars movie would be like, you’ll find yourself probably already being mad about maybe not getting one. A three-hour Rise of Skywalker just makes sense. Constraints are good to make great art, but let’s get serious, The Rise of Skywalker isn’t going to be great art. It’s a film that manages eight other movies, some of which are great art, but mostly are movies in which a ton of stuff happens and the status quo of the galaxy doesn’t really change that much. I mean, the movies are about multiple wars in space, meaning the status quo is constant galactic upheaval.

Everyone knows Anakin Skywalker is the Chosen One, but what 'Episode IX' presupposes is ... maybe he isn't?

Star Wars

The specifics are why we care, which means The Rise of Skywalker is going to have to split hairs. How does Anakin Skywalker and the Clone Wars connect to the Knights of Ren? What does the Rebellion generation mean to the new kids? And just how the hell does the Force get balanced?

Each one of those questions could fill a whole movie. Which is why Abrams and company need the extra time. This isn’t the sequel to one movie or even the end of a trilogy. This is the end of nine movies that feel like 30 movies. An extra-long Rise of Skywalker would give the movie the chance it needs to be truly epic and satisfying. Let’s hope they take the risk. I know how Han Solo feels about betting odds, but odds are good that fans will love it.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is out in theaters everywhere on December 20, 2019.

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