Star Wars began as a mashup of a lot of influences, including Western and samurai films, old Flash Gordon serials, and Nazi propaganda documentaries. Every other episode since then has added other ingredients to make it a perfect pop culture composite.
Some of these elements and allusions have carried through to the end of the Skywalker Saga and the release of The Rise of Skywalker. But there aren’t a lot of new inspirations and homages to be found. Not immediately, anyway. I may just need further viewings to spot more of them.
So, for now, rather than highlight all the references to Raiders of the Lost Ark or acknowledge the probably accidental Hellbound: Hellraiser II Easter egg, I’ve decided to use the ninth episode of the saga to spotlight movies from only this year that the movie reminded me of.
Here are nine Movies to Watch After… Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker:
Ad Astra (2019)
Star Wars and Apocalypse Now are cinematic cousins and have been linked even before either ever existed. George Lucas was supposed to make the latter. J.J. Abrams visually references Apocalypse Now in The Force Awakens. There have been other references throughout the Star Wars franchise, as well. So, it’s fitting that the Skywalker Saga ends the same year that we finally get what’s essentially Apocalypse Now in space.
Inspired by Heart of Darkness, James Gray’s Ad Astra is aesthetically more 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Wars, but it’s no throwback and definitely doesn’t deserve to be missing from the visual effects Oscar shortlist. Just compare the chase sequence on the Moon to the similar chase sequence on Pasaana and you’ll agree the former isn’t just directed better as an action sequence but it looks more believable in its VFX work. It’s also a more emotional movie about a protagonist searching for information about their parent(s).
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
I get it, finales are tough. We’ve seen it a lot lately with huge pop culture properties where fanbases are way too invested in the destination over the journey. Game of Thrones was never going to appease everyone. And Star Wars couldn’t possibly satisfy all audiences. But what about the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Avengers: Endgame managed to close out a series more than 20 movies deep and do so while closing the book on subplots we didn’t even know we needed to be wrapped up.
The Rise of Skywalker, a movie produced by the same company, actually reminded me a lot of Endgame at times. The part where Lando arrives with the fleet of allies, for example. was like the moment when all the Avengers and their friends show up through Doctor Strange’s portals. But Star Wars didn’t succeed anywhere near as well as Marvel did. Maybe The Rise of Skywalker needed to be divided into two parts, a la Infinity War and Endgame. Or maybe it just needed to be simpler without new storylines and characters added in for the denouement of a nine-part story.
Carrie Fisher’s legacy, at least in her role as Princess/General Leia Organa/Skywalker, is honored fairly well in The Rise of Skywalker. Sure, there’s some of that uncanny valley in the young Leia depicted in a flashback, similar to the facsimile in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and sure, the repurposed shots of her used posthumously are a little weird, but director J.J. Abrams did the best he could under the circumstances of her death three years ago.
But Fisher’s legacy also exists in her daughter, Billie Lourd, who appears alongside her (sometimes clearly with a back-turned double) as a member of the Resistance in The Rise of Skywalker. Her character, Lieutenant Connix, doesn’t have much to do in the Star Wars movies, though. For a display of her true talents, check out her scene-stealing performance in Booksmart. Critics love her so much in the movie they were calling for an Oscar nomination. That’s a bit overboard, but she is hilarious as the free-spirited teenager Gigi.
Child’s Play (2019)
Luke Skywalker isn’t in much of The Rise of Skywalker, so if you want more of Mark Hamill, at least just his voice, then you may want to check out this remake of the 1988 killer doll movie of the same name. Hamill provides the voice of the doll, Chucky, who was previously performed vocally by Brad Dourif in the original incarnation and its sequels.
Because apparently it’s impossible to cast a Star Wars actor in a movie without making reference to Star Wars, there’s a bit of a winking joke in Child’s Play involving the franchise. When the kid Andy first gets his new toy, the doll asks for a name. Andy says “Han Solo.” Yuk yuk. Of course, Hamill didn’t play Han Solo so he gets pissed and just names himself Chucky.
The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan zombie movie is too simple for most of the filmmaker’s fans and too little for horror fans, but it has a lot of things going for it. One of them is Tilda Swinton as a samurai-sword-wielding mortician. It’s not hard to imagine her swinging a lightsaber instead. She’ll wind up in a Star Wars project at some point, right? Maybe she can appear in the Obi-Wan series as Kenobi’s lover and there’s a scene in which they have a food fight that turns into a messy sex scene (if you get this reference, good for you!).
Another fine element of The Dead Don’t Die is Kylo Ren himself, Adam Driver, who is all over the place this year. He’s a source of meta-humor in the movie, constantly referencing the script for the story he’s in and stating that it’s not going to end well. The fact that his character is so knowing makes a certain prop all the more ridiculous. He has a Star Wars keychain. “Excellent fiction,” Swinton’s character says when she sees it. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, well, yeah,” Driver responds.
Frozen II (2019)
Another Disney movie that fits with some of the themes of Star Wars is this Frozen sequel. Two years before Rey came along in The Force Awakens, Elsa arrived in theaters in the 2013 original and gave young girls a magical superheroine to look up to. Frozen II, like The Rise of Skywalker, reveals the true origins of that immediately iconic character and then follows through on her identity for the future.
As it turns out, both Rey and Elsa were left behind by their parents, who took off in a ship and were just trying to do what was best for the safety of the girls and their world. Eventually, these special women learn their true ancestry and source of their powers, head out into giant waves on their own, find out they have an evil grandfather, and arrive at the mysterious place that endangers not just their lives but everyone else’s, too. In the end, they die then come back to life and bring peace and balance to all while affirming a new identity for themselves.
See Frozen II now in theaters
Knives Out (2019)
There was a time when Rian Johnson, the writer and director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was going to be involved with The Rise of Skywalker. Instead, he followed up that episode with Knives Out, a mystery movie inspired by Agatha Christie, Clue, and many other favorites of the genre.
Knives Out doesn’t really have any explicit references to Star Wars, but it does feature Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda, and stars Daniel Craig, who had a cameo in The Force Awakens. The most interesting connection, however, is there is a character inspired by the internet trolls, mainly The Last Jedi haters, Johnson had to put up with after his Star Wars installment divided fans.
See Knives Out now in theaters
Little Monsters (2019)
Here’s another movie that features both a Star Wars actor and a Star Wars reference. Lupita Nyong’o, who plays, via performance capture, the little ancient Resistance ally Moz Kanata, is the female lead of this zombie comedy (and speaking of zombie comedies, this is the second one being recommended, which is also fitting since Palpatine is basically a zombie). But because her character in The Rise of Skywalker and the previous two episodes looks nothing like the actress (who also does double duty in Us this year), some viewers may not even make the connection.
That’s why I wasn’t as concerned with her being in a movie that makes heavy acknowledgment of the Star Wars franchise. One of Nyong’o’s character’s kindergarten students, who is the nephew of the awful protagonist, likes to wear a Darth Vader costume and pretend he’s the Star Wars villain while helping out his uncle or fleeing from the undead. If Nyong’o’s character were to watch the new Star Wars movies, she wouldn’t see a doppelganger on the screen.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Adventure Awaits (2019)
This week’s documentary selection is a reminder that there’s a lot more out there for Star Wars fans (and not just The Mandalorian) even if you’re disappointed with The Rise of Skywalker. And while it may take you a long time to experience it yourself, the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attractions at Disney theme parks can be virtually enjoyed through Neil Patrick Harris and Keegan-Michael Key’s encounters (specifically at Disneyland) in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Adventure Awaits.
In the documentary, which was produced for the Disney-owned cable channel Freeform, there are also interviews with the people behind the design and construction of the Star Wars-themed land and rides as well as celebrity guests including one of the current movie ensemble, John Boyega.
BONUS: all of the following 2019 movie releases also make some kind of reference to the Star Wars franchise: 6 Underground, Breakthrough, Good Boys, Happy Death Day 2U, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, Murder Mystery, Playing with Fire, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Toy Story 4. And maybe Uncut Gems.