“The Bad Batch” 1st Trailer!

Lucasfilm’s animation department had only a little to offer longtime fans last night during Disney’s crowded Investors Meeting – and unfortunately, what we did get wasn’t an announcement of the Star Wars: Rebels sequel that many of us have been hoping for. But The Bad Batch, currently the studio’s only major upcoming animated series, will surely unite fans of Rebels, The Clone Wars, and even The Mandalorian, as it explores a unique time period at the intersection of all three series.

Bad Batch
The Bad Batch | syfy.com

The Bad Batch might sound familiar to you, and that’s because they’ve been around for a while: even before they officially showed up in the final season of The Clone Wars on Disney+, earlier this year. The small, loyal team of defective clones (each of whom has heightened abilities thanks to individual genetic mutations) first appeared in drafts for the final season that were revealed to fans back when The Clone Wars was off the air and a revival seemed impossible. Everything turned out well in the end, though: showrunner Dave Filoni was able to complete the story he had planned, and the Bad Batch did appear as expected. But when their season arc was completed, fans wanted more – and so, early next year, we’ll be treated to a new series following the Bad Batch as they navigate the rapidly changing political scene in the aftermath of the Jedi Purge and the rise of the Galactic Empire. This is a time of upheaval across the galaxy: and so far we haven’t seen it properly fleshed out in the new, Disney-approved canon.

Bad Batch
The Bad Batch | starwars.fandom.com

One of the most fascinating events during this dark age is the seemingly abrupt shift from well-trained, skilled clone armies to fallible, clearly inferior, stormtroopers. In Rebels, we learned a little bit about this: how it was Emperor Palpatine that gave the order to disband the clones and abandon them. Real shocker there. By the time that Rebels rolled around, about a decade after the fact, almost all the clones had disappeared – and the few stragglers that were left (like Rex) were homeless and destitute, just barely getting by. Needless to say, it doesn’t seem that the Empire had any plan to compensate veterans for their sacrifice. The Bad Batch seems to be focused primarily on this event, and hopefully it will clear up the question of why stormtroopers (whose universally faulty aim is a running gag in Star Wars at this point) were viewed as more practical to the Empire than clones. Was it out of fear of betrayal? Or simply for cost-effective purposes, since the cloning facilities on Kamino can’t have been cheap to operate? Whatever the case, it looks like the Bad Batch will pull a classic “you can’t fire me! I quit!” move on the Empire, because we can see them fighting stormtroopers at several points during the trailer.

The scarred and weather-worn faces of clone troopers Echo, Hunter, Tech, Wrecker and Crosshair won’t be the only ones familiar to Star Wars fans. A shocking reveal was that Fennec Shand, the ex-Imperial sniper played by Ming-Na Wen on The Mandalorian will be returning (voiced, I presume, by Wen, a longtime Disney favorite and the voice of Princess Mulan), although here she’s not a scrappy, desert-dwelling rogue with a bounty on her head: she’s new on the scene and backed by the full might of the Empire. I assume she’ll be one of the series’ villains – though we already know she outlasts the Empire’s fall and eventually softens up a little, becoming Boba Fett’s partner in crime on Tatooine.

Bad Batch
Fennec Shand | comicbook.com

Presumably, the show will include cameos from many other Clone Wars characters (Grand Admiral Tarkin, who appears in the trailer, is obviously a lock; and wherever he goes, Wullf Yularen can’t be far behind), and even some from Rebels – though it’s still too early for the Rebellion itself to exist, except as a far off hope. Appearances from either a young Hera Syndulla or Kanan Jarrus (or both!) would blow my mind. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll even witness some of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s secretive backstory, as he rises to power in the ranks of the Imperial Navy.

Trailer Rating: 6/10

6 Characters Who Could Have Saved Grogu From Order 66

SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AHEAD!

Today’s episode of The Mandalorian was practically overflowing with Star Wars deep lore, including several big reveals, Easter eggs, and hints and teases of even more exciting things to come. But whereas many of those things (like Ahsoka’s future, and the location of Grand Admiral Thrawn) may be explored in spinoff series’ down the line, the true identity of Baby Yoda – sorry, Grogu – and the details of his mysterious backstory are almost sure to be explored in The Mandalorian itself. So let’s discuss the new biggest mystery surrounding Grogu’s past: who saved him from Order 66.

Grogu
Grogu | insider.com

Thanks to Ahsoka Tano, we now know that Grogu was raised in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in the last years of the Old Republic. He was mentored by many Jedi Masters, and presumably became fairly strong in the Force – but in the intervening years between the fall of the Jedi Order and his reappearance in The Mandalorian shortly after the fall of the Empire, he has somehow forgotten much of his Jedi training and distanced himself from the Force. Ahsoka explains that this is because Grogu is afraid of something; probably the trauma of having survived the Jedi Purge and the execution of Order 66, when Emperor Palpatine turned on the Jedi and slaughtered all but a few in a massive bloodbath. In one of Revenge Of The Sith‘s most memorable sequences, Palpatine’s disciple Anakin Skywalker stormed the Jedi Temple and murdered pretty much everybody, including children. But somehow, Grogu survived the Purge, thanks to an unnamed rescuer who got him out of the Temple and kept him hidden from Anakin, Palpatine, and the long arm of the Empire for years. While the Emperor continued his hunt for Jedi survivors with the help of Darth Vader and a small army of Jedi traitors known as Inquisitors, Grogu remained alone in a secret location until somehow being brought to the attention of ex-Imperials in the aftermath of the Empire’s collapse. The rest is history.

But now, let’s look at a few characters who could have been Grogu’s secret savior (and one or two who definitely weren’t) – and who could be very important players in The Mandalorian‘s future storylines, as we continue to explore the child’s backstory and purpose.

Grogu
This is not the face of someone about to rescue a baby | express.co.uk

6: Anakin Skywalker. This is a bizarre theory I saw making the rounds on social media, though it seems very out of character for young Skywalker. In Revenge Of The Sith, we saw Anakin go from senselessly murdering children in the Jedi Temple to mowing down an entire Separatist council, Force-choking his wife, and trying to kill his mentor. I’m not sure there’s any space in between those events for Anakin to suddenly have a change of heart, randomly decide to spare a single padawan‘s life, and then go back to being an out-of-control killing machine. In his later years, as he witnessed first-hand the horrors he had helped to bring about, Anakin quietly (and sometimes subconsciously) started helping his enemies in small, secretive ways – such as destroying a Jedi holocron that would have supplied Palpatine with the names of every Force-sensitive child in the galaxy: which means that, technically, older Anakin actually did save Grogu’s life. But young Anakin? Not a chance.

Grogu
Yaddle | starwars.com

5: Yaddle. The Mandalorian introduced a new complication in the story of Yoda’s female counterpart, Jedi Master Yaddle, with Ahsoka Tano stating definitively that, in all her time as a Jedi, she’s only ever known one other member of Grogu’s species, besides Grogu himself – Yoda. It’s a big slap in the face to all of Yaddle’s fans, who are still waiting for her to return. She hasn’t been seen in live-action since her very first appearance in The Phantom Menace, and it’s been way too long if you ask me: especially since the current canon doesn’t provide any information about Yaddle’s fate in the Purge (and, in fact, hints that she survived). So why doesn’t Ahsoka know about her? Well, Yaddle is believed to have retired from her post on the Jedi High Council before Attack Of The Clones, meaning that Ahsoka might have never come into contact with her if she left the Temple completely. But if that’s the case, that means Yaddle probably wasn’t anywhere nearby when Anakin attacked and Grogu needed saving. So I think we have to rule her out as a likely option, but take comfort in the fact that it means Yaddle’s survival is even more plausible!

Grogu
Shaak Ti | aminoapps.com

4: Shaak Ti. I feel kind of sorry for Master Shaak Ti – who, coincidentally, filled Yaddle’s seat on the Jedi High Council. Ti was given a very important role in the Jedi hierarchy, overseeing the training of the Clone armies on Kamino. But in this role, she failed to thoroughly examine the nefarious secret behind the purpose of the inhibitor chips hidden inside each Clone soldier, despite all the warning signs. It would have been cruelly poetic if she had been killed by one of those same Clones at the same time as most of her fellow Jedi, but she was actually murdered by Anakin Skywalker himself: impaled while meditating in the Jedi Temple. That would seem to rule her out as a potential Grogu savior, but she did record a final hologram message before her death telling any surviving Jedi to rise up and rebuild the Order – so clearly, she knew what was going on before Anakin got to her. Could she have had time to rescue Grogu in that brief space of time and make up for many of her failings? Possibly. I doubt it, but never say never.

Grogu
He…survives this? | starwars.com

3: Mace Windu. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t Mace Windu literally one of the first Jedi to die in Order 66? Doesn’t the Emperor personally kill him, with help from Anakin? Well…maybe. Windu’s death is something that’s been debated in the fandom recently, with some (including Samuel L. Jackson himself, and George Lucas) theorizing that such a powerful Jedi could have withstood losing a limb, being electrocuted by Force lightning, and then getting thrown out a skyscraper window. This is Samuel L. Jackson we’re talking about here, so I’m prepared to buy that. And if he did survive his apparent death, maybe he could have gotten back to the Jedi Temple before Anakin and rescued Grogu: though I’d be interested to hear his reasoning for why only Grogu warranted saving. This theory raises a lot of questions. Too many, if you ask me. But if it means we get SLJ/Baby Yoda content, I’m prepared to forgive even the most random of retcons.

Grogu
Yoda | observer.com

2: Yoda. We still don’t know whether Yoda and Grogu are related in any way, despite being two of only three known members of their unidentified and incredibly secretive species, but Yoda would definitely have known who Grogu was during the child’s time in the Jedi Temple. He probably also selected some of Grogu’s Masters, and might have taken a role in mentoring the child – when Ahsoka mentioned Yoda’s name in her conversation with Din Djarin, Grogu’s ears immediately perked up, indicating that he recognized the name, at least. Yoda was one of the wisest and most far-seeing Jedi: if Grogu has any huge relevance to the overall story of Star Wars, it wouldn’t be surprising if Yoda knew that well in advance, and decided to protect the child from harm so he could one day grow up to become…whoever he becomes. Yoda did visit the Jedi Temple the morning after Anakin’s attack, so he could have found Grogu, if the child had hidden during the assault on the Temple. But why wouldn’t he have taken Grogu with him to hide on Dagobah?

Grogu
Jocasta Nu, the galaxy’s coolest librarian | themarvelreport.com

1: Jocasta Nu. If anybody had the motive and means of smuggling Grogu out of the Jedi Temple, it was Jocasta Nu. The elderly Jedi librarian who briefly interacted with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Attack Of The Clones may not have been of much assistance when trying to track down Kamino, but she became instrumental in rescuing and preserving Jedi knowledge after the Empire rose to power. According to the new Disney canon, she was able to escape from the Jedi Temple on the night of Anakin’s attack with a treasure trove of books, holocrons, artifacts – and potentially one stray padawan? Nu tried her best to locate other surviving Jedi, particularly Force-sensitive children; a list of whose names she kept in a valuable holocron. Although Darth Vader eventually killed her, she didn’t fail entirely in her goal: Vader destroyed the holocron without telling Emperor Palpatine of its existence, and the information Nu snuck out of the Temple provided the blueprint for Luke Skywalker’s later attempts to rebuild the Jedi Order. And it’s possible that, if she was Grogu’s savior, she may have played an even more important role in saving the galaxy.

As you can probably tell, there aren’t a whole lot of Jedi who could have saved Grogu: some of the ones on this list were probably either too far gone to the Dark Side, too far away, or just too dead, to help out. It’s possible this is a completely unimportant conversation, too: maybe Grogu was rescued by someone random, a Jedi we’ve never met before in any story. But I don’t think so. The way this reveal was set up – combined with the revelation that more Jedi are coming in future episodes of The Mandalorian – makes me think we will learn the identity of Grogu’s savior, and it will be someone we already know. It also makes me think we’ll be getting flashbacks to the attack on the Jedi Temple: just like the flashbacks we saw of Din Djarin’s own childhood trauma, and the slaughter of his people by Separatist battle droids, in The Mandalorian‘s first season.

So what do you think? Who saved Grogu? Somebody on this list? Somebody completely different? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” Review!

Lego’s holiday-themed parody of the Star Wars universe probably won’t become a cult classic like its predecessor, the notoriously unwatchable Holiday Special that aired in 1978, but…that’s probably okay. Lego’s Holiday Special is a brief, hilarious, and surprisingly action-packed story that takes us further forward into the Star Wars timeline (albeit, non-canonical and made out of animated building blocks) than ever before, and all the way back to its beginnings in the prequel trilogy, in a charming mini-adventure that allows characters from every trilogy (and even some of the expanded material) to interact, duel, or share memorable moments together. In so doing, the Special also very gently (and in some ways imperfectly) fixes some of the biggest problems that fans have pointed out about The Rise Of Skywalker, which is one of those movies that I’ll probably always have an irrational soft spot for, but definitely don’t feel as positively about now as I did when it came out.

Lego Holiday Special
cnn.com

The Special takes place soon after the end of The Rise Of Skywalker, during the Star Wars universe’s “Life Day” – an all-inclusive holiday that has existed on the peripheries of Star Wars canon since the original Holiday Special. In all that time, however, no one behind the scenes has done anything to sketch out the in-universe customs or traditions of Life Day, and so it still just borrows most of the standard trappings of Christmas anyway: the decorated tree, the lights, gift-giving, ugly sweaters. The Special’s setting on Chewbacca’s homeworld of Kashyyk is another throwback to the original Special, which centered around Chewbacca’s family on Kashyyk (and, side-note, also introduced the world to the Mandalorian bounty hunter Boba Fett). But Wookiees are less crucial to the overall plot in Lego’s version than they were in the original: most of the action revolves around a time-hopping quest to learn forgotten Jedi secrets.

Early on we find out that, in this timeline, Rey (voiced by Helen Sadler) has started mentoring her best friend Finn (Omar Miller) in the ways of the Force, and her apprentice has already begun training with a lightsaber, using the same time-honored methods as countless Jedi padawans before him – a natural part of his character arc that many of us hoped we’d get to see in live-action. Sadly, the Star Wars films mishandled and mistreated Finn’s character: only revealing him to be Force-sensitive after The Rise Of Skywalker‘s release, not unlike dozens of other crucial bits of plot information that were vaguely alluded to in the movie itself and then later confirmed by people behind-the-scenes or by tie-in material. Lego certainly tries to right that wrong by making Finn visibly (though non-canonically) Force-sensitive, but it still makes the same egregious mistake that the films did – by sidelining him, and all of the franchise’s living characters of color to a side-quest (better described as decorating duty and cooking, in this case) while Rey and BB-8 get to go on the actual adventure. And even though that adventure gives Rey plenty of opportunities to cross paths with characters like Mace Windu or a younger Lando Calrissian, both prominent and beloved Black Star Wars heroes, those encounters don’t happen (Mace Windu is present in the background, but never speaks). It’s simply unforgivable that Finn, at the very least, doesn’t get to participate in the action – his Force powers come in handy just once, and well…it’s not quite as epic as one would hope.

On the bright side, it is great to be able to welcome Kelly Marie Tran back to Star Wars as Rose Tico, after her character was treated so horribly by the franchise. Tran will soon be getting even more attention and recognition for her voice-acting talents with the upcoming release of Disney’s Raya And The Last Dragon, where she voices the film’s heroine, Raya. It would be hard to determine anything about her performance in that role from the cameo she has here, however – especially since, for some reason, it seems like every other line she delivers is “are you crying?”, while Poe (voiced by Jake Green), visibly in tears, tries to pass it off as allergies. Other notable Star Wars actors reprising their roles include Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Billy Dee Williams as Lando, Matt Lanter as Anakin Skywalker, and James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Lego Holiday Special
nerdist.com

Rey, meanwhile, discovers a magical Jedi gemstone that allows her to travel through time – a nod to the World Between Worlds, a mystical location outside of space and time that was first explored in Star Wars: Rebels, but never really reappeared until now…sort of. Rey’s misadventures start out slow, with her basically just listening in on conversations between various Jedi master/apprentice duos – going all the way back to her master’s father’s master and his master before him. But once she meets Darth Vader (voiced by Matt Sloan) and Emperor Palpatine (voiced by Trevor Devall), the action picks up and hilarity ensues. The duel between Vader and Rey has been one of the most hyped-up events in this Holiday Special, and luckily it does not disappoint: in fact, it takes place across several different planets, in several different eras, and eventually grows to become an all-out battle on Luke Skywalker’s farm back on Tatooine, involving three different Obi-Wan Kenobi’s, at least two Han Solo’s (and one Greedo), pod-racers, a bunch of very confused stormtroopers, and a legless (but no less fearsome) Darth Maul, among others. Baby Yoda is even featured, and neither Rey nor Darth Vader can resist pausing their fight to adore the infant alien – who is apparently just as much of a celebrity in-universe as he is in real-life.

But where the Special really hits its peak is when it unites Vader, Palpatine, and the First Order’s Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (voiced by Matthew Wood), after the Emperor decides to time-travel to the future and see what he’s managed to accomplish. Sure, it’s not a bizarre musical number by Jefferson Starship (yes, that really happened in the original), but for all the grumbling from Palpatine about “less talky-talky, more fighty-fighty”, the intensely awkward comedic interactions between Kylo and his Dark Side predecessors are the highlight of the entire Special and culminate in a dramatic shake-up of the Sith power structure – and some fabulous one-liners and sight gags. Fans of the Reylo romantic pairing, however, might be disappointed that Rey and Kylo don’t share many scenes – and when they do, the Holiday Special makes some…interesting choices regarding their dynamic, that are sure to have Star Wars Twitter in a bit of a frenzy. No spoilers here, though.

Lego Holiday Special
inverse.com

All in all, the Lego Holiday Special basically achieves what the original Special probably intended – and failed – to accomplish: which is to just be harmless fun for the whole family. It’s ironic, then, that the original’s failure to do that has given it a staying power it never should have had, but will continue to enjoy – probably until Disney releases it on Disney+ eventually, and it becomes that week’s most popular hate-watch before finally being allowed to rest in peace.

Rating: 7/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 12 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE CLONE WARS FINALE AHEAD

You knew this day was coming. At some point, we would come to the end of all things, and I would inevitably make a Lord Of The Rings reference because, despite it having nothing to do with the situation at hand it’s still my go-to resource for quotes, and we would all start crying because, yes, The Clone Wars is actually over. And no, not over like it was over the last two times, but over as in it was resurrected from the dead by Disney, a final season was commissioned, and now we’ve breezed through that too. I have very mixed emotions about how I feel right now, so get ready for just a little ranting and rambling.

Clone Wars finale
cinemablend.com

If you’re here, I assume you saw the warning at the top of the post, but one can’t be too careful – we’re about to get into SPOILERS! territory, and, what with this being a finale, there’s sort of a lot of spoilers.

First of all, it’s sad. You may think that’s obvious, given that this is the final episode of a beloved series, but The Clone Wars finale is sad on a whole new level – to a point where it doesn’t even feel sad, it just feels depressing. Other Star Wars stories have seen fit to close out their final chapters with at least a small glimmer of hope (think baby Luke arriving on Tattooine while the galaxy crumbles into chaos at the end of Revenge Of The Sith, or Leia’s shocking but inspiring appearance at the end of Rogue One), but not so The Clone Wars, whose finale abandons all hope and veers into territory so foreign to the series, it makes this episode feel almost like a standalone – an eerie, grimdark, post-apocalyptic dystopian short story.

The melancholy, and occasionally ominous, score accompanying this episode only works to make it even darker, as does the bleak gray color palette. Even the setting is designed to depress: remember the good old days when we could follow our sprawling cast of heroes all around the galaxy, to new and exciting planets untouched by war? Yeah, well, most of this finale takes place on the Republic (technically now Imperial) star-cruiser still hurtling through hyperspace towards Coruscant, and Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) spends most of the time trapped in the cruiser’s suffocating maze of passages, being hunted by her own clones and finding every escape route closed off to her.

Clone Wars finale
cbr.com

With all of the main characters busy running for their lives, it’s unsurprising that nobody has time to suddenly recognize they’re in a finale and start monologuing dramatically to each other. But this episode has shockingly little dialogue at all, and there’s not really that many last words to be said. Ahsoka’s final scene with her old friend Captain Rex (voiced, like all clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) is, in fact, completely silent, as Ahsoka mourns her fallen troopers (what makes it doubly sad is that they were literally a gift to her from Anakin) by creating a vaguely creepy public art display out of their helmets, and Rex huddles by a cheerless fire, trying to stay warm. As for Darth Maul (Sam Witwer), he steals a ship and disappears into space, off on his own quest to cause chaos and exact vengeance on those who wronged him – which at this point is pretty much everyone. At least he tears apart the star-cruiser’s hyperspace engines before he goes, which inadvertently allows Ahsoka to make her escape (and keeps her from falling into Emperor Palpatine’s hands).

The Clone Wars used to be a pretty cheerful, even funny series: but that’s not the case in the finale. There’s no humor at all, and we’re even forced to watch the happy, helpful droids introduced in last week’s episode as they get blown to bits, screaming in their shrill voices, by a merciless clone firing squad. And soon afterwards, every clone on the star cruiser, including ARC Trooper Jesse, dies when their ship hurtles out of hyperspace and smashes into the surface of a remote planet.

Clone Wars finale
cbr.com

The closest thing to a hopeful ending is the haunting final scene, which shows Darth Vader arriving on this planet and finding the strange grave-site built by Ahsoka, alongside one of her lightsabers. The following shot of Vader activating and brandishing the blue lightsaber is both a sad reminder of what he was before his fall, and a subtle nod towards the redemption he would still achieve: redemption that would make him worthy of once again carrying such a saber. But for the moment, Vader is still Vader – and he turns away from the desolate scene, leaving us to follow his diminishing silhouette reflected in the visor of a dead clone-trooper’s empty helmet. Is that what passes for hope these days?

I may sound like I’m complaining about the sadness, but…well, I am a little, actually, but I did enjoy every individual component that went into today’s episode. Everything from the animation to the action scenes was beautiful, even if it was sad – but it does make one wonder: does Star Wars have a problem with happy endings?

Now obviously, The Clone Wars was never a story that was going to end with all the main characters riding off into a double sunset: but for a series that started out as a cartoon meant for kids, this is certainly a dramatic and unexpected heel-turn. Let me try to explain: it’s fine, it’s perfectly natural in fact, for a series to mature as its audience does and get darker as times goes along – with The Clone Wars, it’s been more than a decade since the series’ first episode aired, so quite a lot of growing has been happening in the interim, and people who watched the show as kids are now adults. What I do take issue with, at least a little, is this cheerless, hopeless ending with which we’ve been left.

Clone Wars finale
comicbook.com

Star Wars as a whole started out much like The Clone Wars did, as pure, shameless escapism; that’s exactly why it became the pop culture phenomenon that it did. But in recent years, the franchise has become….much less fun. The prequels, by virtue of being the prequels, were expected to end in tragedy, misery and inescapable despair, of course – but then you’ve got the sequel trilogy, which avoided a traditional happy ending by basically reminding us that nothing, not even victory, is ever final in this universe: no matter how many times you try to balance the Force (which is what we all thought Anakin had done, back in Return Of The Jedi), it will never work. Rogue One ended with all the main cast dead, their bodies battered into specks of cosmic ash. Now The Clone Wars ends with much of the cast dead and the survivors scattered across the galaxy, and I’m left wondering: what did we accomplish, on that journey?

Well, it’s in the finale’s title: Victory And Death. But what that title conveniently leaves out is that the victory in question isn’t really one at all, because it could have happened at any time had not Emperor Palpatine personally constructed, initiated and drawn out the Clone Wars for years by cunningly manipulating both sides, and even his eventual defeat decades later will still only be a temporary one; and the death in the title isn’t just the demise of an individual, but the collapse of a society, the utter annihilation of a way of life, of an idea, of an idealistic concept upon which the Star Wars galaxy had been built. Is that all that Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and their friends actually achieved, after all that time?

It’s at moments like these that I begin to question whether Star Wars‘ recent trend of sad, cynical endings is actually a good one, or if the franchise is even trying anymore to be comforting. It doesn’t really feel brave anymore: in fact, much like how Pixar is increasingly being criticized for attempting to exploit audiences’ emotions, I sense that Star Wars is heading down a similar path, towards a place where all their stories are designed to leave viewers emotionally devastated. I hope that’s not the case, but after watching this episode, I can’t help but feel that way.

But yeah, happy May The 4th, everybody! Honestly, I don’t want to make it sound like I was left disappointed by the finale – I thought it was hauntingly beautiful, and, if despair was the emotion the showrunners were hoping to cultivate from their audiences, they succeeded. But at a time like this, when the real world is already so dark and the future so uncertain, I can’t say I wasn’t a little discouraged by this conclusion, even though, in the end, it won’t affect my overall rating of the episode.

Episode Rating: 8.5/10

A New “Star Wars” Movie Has Been Announced!

Spoilers For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!

Palpatine, Rey, the Sith and Star Wars
elitedaily.com

One of the biggest criticisms of The Rise Of Skywalker was the nature of Emperor Palpatine’s return, and the fact that he just sort of…showed up again, literally hanging out on a life-support crane suspended from the ceiling of an ancient Sith amphitheater hidden beneath a floating pyramid on the previously unknown planet of Exegol, which was described as a homeworld of the Sith – which, in and of itself, was confusing: wasn’t Moraband the homeworld of the Sith, according to The Clone Wars, season 6? As if that wasn’t enough, it was revealed soon afterwards that Palpatine had not been idle, and had built a massive army of mini Death Stars on Exegol (because the Death Star is an idea that will never not be reused in the Star Wars franchise), each manned by thousands of ex-Imperial warriors, including a new brand of bright red stormtroopers who were hyped up in the pre-release marketing and barely had a millisecond of screentime in the actual film.

Needless to say, Star Wars fans had a lot of questions about the mysterious planet after leaving the theater – and very few of them were answered at all satisfactorily. But because The Rise Of Skywalker developed something of a reputation for leaving questions unanswered, most fans have already moved on from the subject and stopped theorizing about things like “what even is an Exegol?”, taking it for granted that this, like many other unresolved subplots in the film, would probably be explained someday in a throwaway line from a producer or a semi-canonical graphic novel.

But I’m guessing that very few people, even those of us who actually enjoyed Rise Of Skywalker for what it was, suspected that we would ever get an entire movie set on Exegol. It’s not that a bleak, barren icy wasteland riddled with blinding lightning and haunted by Sith ghosts doesn’t sound like an interesting location for a movie, it’s just that…well, spending two hours there, maybe more, watching Palpatine’s limp dishrag of a body being wheeled around on a crane, overseeing the construction of a fleet of redundant planet-destroying weapons that we, the audience, know will be defeated in a few minutes by a nifty lightsaber trick? I don’t know, I think I’ll pass (I say that now).

We don’t yet know for certain whether the Exegol movie will be released theatrically, or on Disney+ – what we do know is that it is being developed by Sleight director J.D. Dillard and MCU writer Matt Owens, who crafted the two best seasons of the fantastic, underrated series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. We also don’t know anything about the plot, time period, or cast of characters. It could follow a young Sith acolyte during Palpatine’s Final Order, but it’s just as likely that it documents the story of some of the first Sith in the galaxy far, far away – such as the rise of Darth Bane, or one of the characters from the Knights Of The Old Republic video games. Villain origin stories are all the rage nowadays: though typically not from Disney, the studio which not too long ago canceled a planned streaming series, which would have focused on iconic animated villains like Ursula and Maleficent, for being “too dark”. If a business-savvy octopus is too dark for Disney, then I have to imagine that an ancient, bloodthirsty evil that demands human sacrifice and a form of government best described as “murder see-saw” would be too.

Sith Knights from Star Wars
slashfilm.com

Who knows? Maybe it’ll be an ensemble movie about the Knights of Ren: you know, the ones who were rumored to be the greatest Sith warriors in the galaxy and were built up for two movies before becoming quick and easy lightsaber-fodder? You remember their names, right? Trudgen (Trenchen? Trunchen?), and something beginning with an A, and something with too many consonants (or was that the same one whose name began with A?), and the other one, the one whose job was to rebuild Kylo’s helmet? Remember them? Classic additions to Star Wars canon.

I actually did like The Rise Of Skywalker, I swear.

So what do you think of this news? Does the idea of watching a Star Wars movie focused on the Sith interest you, or does it seem too radically different from what we’ve seen before? Should the film follow Palpatine or a past Sith, or no Sith at all? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Spoiler Review!

The Skywalker Saga has concluded in fire, blood and Force lightning. After forty-two years of incredible journeys across the stars, from Naboo to Mustafar to Tatooine and Endor, from clone wars and intergalactic trade disputes to hopeless rebellions, empires, and the like, we have finally reached the story’s final, and defining, chapter. And that means it’s time to discuss all the major reveals, revelations and shocking surprises in a movie that is largely made up of such moments, in my spoiler review of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.

And, um, SPOILERS AHEAD, obviously.

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There is a lot to love in this film, and a lot of elements and plot-points that have already been generating arguments and heated debates throughout the Star Wars fandom. We’re going to go through each of the film’s most divisive surprises, from low-stakes squabbles to the-fate-of-the-universe-hangs-in-the-balance battles.

Let’s start the ball rolling with two moments that absolutely could have been high-stakes scenes, but were quickly undermined. The first involved everybody’s favorite Wookie, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and his fakeout death on the desert planet of Pasaana. Chewie is captured by stormtroopers and almost gets carried away in a transport shuttle, before Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) use the Force to drag the ship this way and that in a potentially fatal game of tug-and-war. This moment echoes an iconic The Last Jedi scene in which Rey and Kylo struggle for mastery over Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber, but here the outcome is that Rey suddenly unleashes a fiery explosion of Force lightning to try and overcome Kylo’s grip, blowing up the shuttle and giving us a hint of her Sith heritage. Fortunately for Rey, Chewie wasn’t killed in the explosion after all, and survives all the ensuing violence to finally get rewarded with his very own medal, having waited forty-two years to get recognition for his help in destroying the Death Star. Later in the movie, the same sort of scenario involves C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), who has to have his memory completely wiped so that he can be made to speak Sith, so that Rey can find the ruins of the Death Star, so that she can discover a Sith Wayfinder which Kylo ultimately destroys in the palm of his hand, so…there was no reason for C-3PO to have his memory wiped at all. Thankfully the movie remembers this and has an irate R2-D2 (Hassan Taj/Lee Towersey) reverse the override and restore C-3PO’s fond recollections of his best friend. The moment when he “dies” is still emotional, and does lead to some funny jokes, as all good C-3PO scenes do, but all of those theories about “Sith-3PO” were making mountains out of one very small, unimportant molehill.

The relationship dynamics in Rise Of Skywalker are next on the list, not only because of how screentime is wasted on them, but because of how unbearably messy they are. It’s no secret anymore that director J.J. Abrams and The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson couldn’t ever figure out any sort of continuity between their films, but the whiplash of seeing our protagonists leap at light-speed from one relationship to the next here seems to imply that Abrams can’t even establish continuity with…himself. Rey and her possibly Force-sensitive friend Finn (John Boyega) were the sequel trilogy’s “original” love story, back when Finn was cool for about five minutes, but that was before the fandom collectively went crazy for “Reylo”, the popular coupling of Rey and Kylo Ren that finally gets payoff in Rise Of Skywalker with the pair’s first kiss and declarations of mutual love – sort of: Driver and Ridley speak volumes with subtle gestures, and don’t really need to say anything at all. Such is not the case for Finn, who spends a large part of the movie waiting to tell Rey something, presumably something romantic, before just…forgetting? Moving on? He clearly has some emotions for her at the beginning of the film, despite having been caught up in a romantic entanglement with fellow Resistance fighter Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) in The Last Jedi, and with fellow ex-stormtrooper Jannah (Naomi Ackie) here in Skywalker. But then again, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) also maybe has a thing for Rey, or was I the only one getting that from their weirdly flirtatious exasperated argument in the film’s opening scenes, which even features droid BB-8 humorously looking back and forth between the two characters as Rey reprimands Poe for lightspeed-skipping in the Millennium Falcon, and Poe tells her off for damaging BB-8 (even as relationships crash and burn around them, Poe and BB-8 are resolutely loyal to each other: there’s a love story for you, and it would still be less weird than whatever was going on between Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and the much-younger Jannah during the film’s finale). Meanwhile the film continues to tease the idea of semi-romantic tension between Finn and Poe in the subtlest possible way, while also giving Poe a former female love interest of his own, one who doesn’t really have a whole lot to do except be Poe’s former female love interest. I think the crucial element here is that she’s female: after all, gotta squash all those gay rumors. Having a two-second lesbian kiss is surely enough to make up for no substantial LGBTQ+ representation in forty-two years (and for certain countries, it was apparently too much).

Let’s move on to female characters, who, with the obvious exceptions of Rey and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, in her final, posthumous appearance), tend to get the bare minimum of screen-time or development. I’d be hard pressed to tell you what I thought of Jannah, Rose Tico or Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), none of whom actually has anything to do except look cool, stand around, or stand around and look cool. Both Jannah and Zorii are at least technically supposed to have a handful of emotional beats each, but Rose especially seems to exist solely to make sure angry audience-members don’t ask where she went. But she might as well just not be here at all – she has maybe two or three throwaway lines, few if any character-building moments, and seemingly no acknowledgement of the fact that she was Finn’s love interest in the previous movie. I didn’t even think they were a particularly cute couple, but after the nightmare that actress Kelly Marie Tran went through, experiencing bullying and harassment from toxic fans, it seems suspiciously convenient that she’s little more than an extra in this film.

Other characters who fail to make an impression (and don’t worry, we’re almost done with the film’s big negatives), even after being hyped-up in the marketing, include Dominic Monaghan as another extra whose name I have already forgotten; Lupita Nyong’o reprising her role as Maz Kanata (another female character pretty much wasted); the super-creepy alien assassin Ochi of Bestoon (Liam Cook), who killed Rey’s parents and was then devoured by a giant sand-worm; and, unfortunately, Rey’s actual parents, played by Billy Howle and Jodie Comer. Yes, the very same Jodie Comer who is one of the Hollywood’s biggest rising stars at the moment – how are we not talking about the fact that she is in Star Wars, people?

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J.J. Abrams was always going to have to struggle to come up with an explanation for how Rey’s parents could technically be nobodies, but also somebodies: what he devised is pretty complex, so stick with me here. Rey’s grandfather is Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), and her father is Palpatine’s hitherto-unknown son. Before this extraordinary reveal, it was never indicated that Palpatine ever had a son, or a family, or a life, for that matter: not as the Emperor, not even as Sheev Palpatine, Senator from Naboo. Not only are we never told the son’s name, or when he was born, where he came from, or whether he was Force-sensitive himself, but we are never given the answer to the most glaringly obvious question that arises as a result of this reveal: who, dare I ask, was the poor unfortunate soul that birthed Palpatine’s son, and…um, why? Was he born when Palpatine was still a relatively human person, or after Palps had transformed into the ghastly, shriveled-up hobgoblin that we’re most familiar with? Anyway, Rey’s Father, it is revealed, chose to be a nobody instead of embracing his family name, and that’s why he and his wife sold their daughter into a torturous life of basically slavery, to protect her from Palpatine – because of course any good parent, knowing they’re about to die, would choose to sell their own child to an abusive community of junk-traders and scavengers rather than, oh I don’t know, leaving her with people who might actually care about her safety! And of course it makes sense that, after killing the parents, Ochi of Bestoon didn’t fly back to Jakku and hunt down the only human girl in a village that we saw in The Force Awakens was probably less than a mile wide. In other words, while the parents were marginally necessary, it would’ve probably made more sense to have her be, like Anakin, the result of Palpatine’s meddling with midi-chlorians (or are we still trying to ignore those were ever a thing?). She could still have been a Palpatine, and we wouldn’t be left with the horrifying implied revelation that Palpatine actually fathered a child.

Apart from the messiness of the Rey Palpatine reveal, the Emperor’s return is a welcome one. His resurrection is completely unexplained (“The dead speak!”, the film’s opening crawl reads, and that’s about as much explanation as you’re gonna get), but it’s nice to see that he isn’t totally back in shape after being tossed into the hellfire that was the second Death Star’s utter obliteration: now, the Emperor’s limp, skeletal body moves around on the end of a long metal crane-arm extended from the ceiling of his throne room on the Sith planet Exegol, like a creepy ventriloquist doll speaking with the voices of a thousand generations of Jedi. McDiarmid is obviously fabulous, and even gets to briefly return to a form we last saw him take in Revenge Of The Sith, as he sucks the life force out of Rey and Kylo Ren to repair his broken body and restore his strength. This time around he’s extra moody, having just discovered that his granddaughter doesn’t want to take part in the Palpatine family photo-op with his millions of ghostly Sith followers. And so, with no choice left to him but to destroy the universe, he unleashes the Final Order.

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The Final Order is appropriately ominous at first, as we see hundreds of titanic star destroyers rise from beneath the ice of Exegol, each armed with a planet-destroying weapon, to wreak havoc on the galaxy and establish Palpatine’s dominion. But these weapons are only used, to obliterate a single planet, and as a result the Final Order is ultimately defeated by a cavalry of space-goats. For the record, I have no complaints about that – in Star Wars, the underdog always comes out on top, and we love to see it. The film’s epic finale has Lando Calrissian and about a billion other spaceships pop out of hyperspace to come rescue the goat-riders and put an end to General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) and his menacing fleet – though not before a couple more deaths, including that of pilot Snap Wexley (Greg Grunberg), who gets shot down just before the battle turns in the Resistance’s favor. Bad timing, Snap.

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But few of the film’s scenes hit home quite like Leia Organa’s death, and the extensive use of ghosts, Force-ghosts and Jedi voice-overs. Midway through the movie, as Kylo Ren and Rey duel to the death amongst the shattered ruins of the Death Star, Leia finally reaches out to her son through the Force, using all of her Jedi training to find her son, the Ben Solo she knew and still loved, and bring him back to the Light Side. She succeeds, but has to use all of her remaining strength to achieve victory over the corrupting influence of Palpatine and his puppet Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis), who had stolen Ben away from her and turned him into Kylo Ren. In the end, though Leia passes away in the attempt, she is a crucial element in the Skywalker Family’s victory over the Sith, just as we had all hoped she would be. There is no doubt that, if Carrie Fisher were still alive, then Leia would have had a much larger role in this film, but what we get is still powerful and emotionally satisfying – Luke Skywalker’s Force-ghost tells Rey that Leia actually trained to be a Jedi after the fall of the Empire, and he even gives her Leia’s very own lightsaber, which Rey subsequently uses, along with Luke’s a.k.a Anakin’s, to defeat Palpatine, symbolically uniting the power of all the previous Skywalkers against the Emperor. But it’s not just the Skywalkers who stand with Rey – it’s all of the past Jedi, who visit Rey as voices in her head as she lies, almost lifeless, on the ground at Palpatine’s feet: and I’m not even just talking Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Yoda (Frank Oz). A whole bunch of fallen Jedi give advice and courage to our protagonist in that moment, from Obi-Wan Kenobi (voiced by Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness) Qui-Gon Jinn (voiced by Liam Neeson) and Mace Windu (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), to some of the extended universe’s most notable heroes like Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), who apparently died a Jedi despite (a) being alive the last time we saw her, and (b) leaving the Jedi Order in The Clone Wars. Fittingly, the final word is given to Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) himself, as the Jedi-turned-Sith-turned-Jedi tells Rey to restore balance to the Force and finish what he started. But even as a thousand generations of Jedi live inside Rey (something she acknowledges in an Iron Man-esque growl of determination, with her “I am all the Jedi” line), so too does Ben Solo have his own ghosts. Soon after being redeemed by his mother’s purifying love, Ben has a conversation with the ghost of his father, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who actually appears physically – and, weirdly, also has audible footsteps, despite being intangible – and, in typical Han fashion, abruptly cuts his son off before he can start apologizing for all his sins with a quick “I know”, echoing his long-ago declaration of love to Princess Leia.

There are many echoes reverberating in The Rise Of Skywalker, from quick but powerful payoffs, to a number of startlingly poetic parallels. Even Luke Skywalker is still developing as a character even after his death, finally managing to lift his X-Wing fighter jet from the waters of Ahch-To even after infamously failing to do so on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. Ben Solo echoes Anakin’s redemption arc by turning to the Light at the end of the movie, helping Rey to defeat Palpatine. And it’s Palpatine’s own Force-lightning which Rey deflects back into his hideous face, ultimately disintegrating the Emperor (in what appears to be a Raiders Of The Lost Ark callback) and preventing Rey herself from succumbing to the Dark Side. And then, she sort of dies.

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But thankfully, all those Force-phone calls between Rey and Ben were actually leading up to something, and something big: while in The Last Jedi they mostly just provided the two characters a way to communicate, Rise Of Skywalker adds a new wrinkle to the relationship, allowing Rey and Ben the ability to transfer physical objects via telepathy, including a beaded necklace, Darth Vader’s helmet, and a helpful lightsaber. Ben, cradling Rey’s dead body in his arms after the battle, is able to take things one step further by physically transferring his own life to Rey, reviving her but also killing himself in the process. Rey is quick on the uptake and manages to steal a kiss from the redeemed Jedi, just before he fades away into the Force, leaving Rey Palpatine to carry on with the massive burden placed upon her by generations of Jedi, Sith and Force meddling.

One thing she will not be carrying anymore is the Palpatine family name, which she abandons in the film’s final scene in exchange for “Skywalker”. The scene is a poignant one: Rey goes to Tatooine and buries Luke and Leia’s twin lightsabers just outside the Lars moisture-farm where the story began back in 1977. The Skywalker siblings’ Force-ghosts, united in death, look on as she takes up their family name and sets out into the double sunset with BB-8 beside her, and a lightsaber of her own (a lightsaber that I and many others think is yellow, while others claim it’s white). This is undoubtedly the film’s most controversial move: on the one hand, it makes sense that Rey wouldn’t want to be a Palpatine, and it’s poetic for her to adopt the Skywalker name, making sure that their name never dies out from the galaxy. On the other hand, fans are upset that Rey didn’t simply choose to keep the Palpatine name and redefine her grandfather’s legacy, proving that you can still be a good person, no matter where you come from or who your family happens to be. Both arguments are understandable, but at the end of the day it comes down to the fact that Star Wars has always been the story of the Skywalker family – to let their memory die out, buried in the sands of Tatooine, would be a dishonor to their legacy.

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And with that, the story of Skywalker is finished, once and for all. Peace has been restored to the galaxy. Balance in the Force has been achieved, through the actions of Rey Skywalker and Ben Solo, champions of the Light and Dark, who came together in what they called a “Force dyad” to become the “two that are one” – remember my Star Wars recap reviews, where I told you that duality would have a part to play in this last movie? I didn’t even expect that sort of shoutout in the film’s own dialogue (I expected it to be all in the subtext), but the confirmation was highly appreciated. The Empire, The First Order, and The Final Order have all been vanquished, and nobody needs to build any more Death Stars. For the first time, the galaxy is completely tranquil, and we no longer need to worry about what Sith Lord will rise next, because there won’t be another Sith Lord. This is it. This is the end.

We, the fans of this incredible franchise, have finally brought the story home. There will undoubtedly be much more Star Wars to come in future years, whether in the form of prequels or sequels, but I hope that Disney never feels the need to resurrect Palpatine once again, or bring the Skywalkers back. Any tampering along those lines would serve only to ruin the perfection of this pure, beautiful moment.

This is the ending we’ve been looking for.

“Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Non-Spoiler Review!

If I was both confident enough and proud enough to say that The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie, then I definitely have no qualms about admitting that The Rise Of Skywalker, while similarly reviled by a sizable portion of the fandom (already!), is an entertaining, thrilling, emotional and bittersweet conclusion to one of the greatest stories in cinematic history. Rise Of Skywalker as a whole is not quite on the level of Jedi for me, at least not yet, but there are several moments and scenes in the movie that have quickly taken their place on my list of all-time franchise favorites. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil any of them here.

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The movie starts out very slow, and for the first ten or even twenty minutes, I grew increasingly worried that the Skywalker Saga might conclude in a very unappealing way. Director J.J. Abrams received a lot of flak from the Star Wars fandom for largely pulling the plot of The Force Awakens from A New Hope, without even bothering to alter many of the little details. I can assure you that Rise Of Skywalker does not follow that same copy-and-paste method, or if it does, then it pulls from so many of the Star Wars films that it’s much harder to guess, at points, where the story is headed. For instance, while there are certainly elements of Return Of The Jedi (as many of us had suspected), there are also hints of several other films in the canon, including, most shockingly, Revenge Of The Sith. If you are a fan of Sith, or the Sith in general, I think you’ll find a lot to love about this movie, as it sometimes veers into territory previously explored only by tie-in comics, novels and video games. But don’t worry, fellow wielders of the Light Side of the Force! There’s plenty of Jedi magic and mind-tricks to go around in this finale to their long, often troubled history, including some new techniques and tactics that are both epic and unpredictable. And as for the film itself, it starts getting good once the two powers, as represented by the characters of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), begin to clash.

These two have always had the most tumultuous and exciting journey in the sequel trilogy, and Skywalker is no different: once again, the focus is mostly on them and the powerful, fiercely difficult relationship between them. It’s often unclear just how much Abrams is using of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, but the tense, will-they-won’t-they dynamic between Light Side user Rey and Supreme Leader Kylo is definitely something that has been carried over from Jedi into this new film, despite Abrams being against it initially.

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In my recent reviews of all the eight previous Star Wars movies, we’ve discussed the theme of duality – the idea that the universe is ruled by the balance of all things: life and death, Jedi and Sith, good and evil. And at almost every crucial moment in this movie, duality makes an appearance, whether subtly or, to my surprise, in the dialogue itself. Rey and Ren, with their opposing ideologies but mysterious attraction, are the theme’s most obvious physical representation, but be on the lookout for it many other places: without giving it away, I’ll just say that it’s very apparent in the film’s third act and final scenes.

Now, how good is the payoff to this forty-two year long journey that we, as fans, have witnessed? Abrams obviously isn’t going to be able to tie up every loose end or finish out every character’s story, but he does his best with what he has. In many ways, the film itself has had to do that as well: the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher in 2016 prevented her character, the beloved Princess Leia, from having a particularly prominent role in the movie; something that is especially sad after watching the entire Skywalker saga, and seeing all the accumulated hints and clues that point to her being the Chosen One. But Abrams masterfully uses everything at his disposal, employing all the old footage of Leia that he can, and giving her not one, but three important moments in the movie. There are appropriate sendoffs to a number of fan-favorites, from the exuberant Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to petulant C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) – the latter, especially, having a large and hilariously funny role in this movie.

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The humor is provided by many of the characters, but especially the supporting cast of Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the droids. It’s sometimes apparent that Abrams is straining to have that same “holy trinity” dynamic that was seen between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia and Han Solo, but this particular trinity actually works best when they’re apart: onscreen together, their relationship is a bit of a messy, especially when you take into consideration the film’s rapidly changing romantic dynamics, which we will talk about in the spoiler review. Suffice it to say, characters like Poe and Finn are fleshed-out enough that they can sustain subplots, and Rey is too busy hanging out with Kylo Ren to actually spend much time with her co-stars: the trio does argue a lot, but their best moments are undoubtedly when they’re joking around in their sarcastic, super-witty fashion.

As for the locations they visit and the new characters they meet, some of them are interesting and entertaining, others less so. Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), two new female characters who were hyped up in the film’s marketing, are largely unimportant to the story, but still have more screentime than Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), whose large role in The Last Jedi perhaps gave off the impression that she would continue to be a lead character: but her role, which had been bombarded by angry fans, has been cut down to a mere handful of appearances. Honestly, if you didn’t remember her from the last movie, you would probably just think she was another one of the nameless extras who populate the film’s many crowd shots. The coolest and funniest new characters have to be diminutive mechanic Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson), who pops in with a number of unexpected but delightful jokes, and Richard E. Grant as the sinister, leering General Pryde.

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But the antagonist you’ve all been waiting for is, of course, the one and only Emperor Palpatine, portrayed once again by the fabulous Ian McDiarmid. Obviously, there are a lot of spoilers involved in this character’s return and sudden rise to power, but it’s not too much of a shocker to know that yes, he’s evil and just as terrifying as ever. He may lack the element of surprise now, but his inevitability is frightening all on its own. He’s still the master manipulator that he always was, and his talents are put to good use in this film, which finally shows him once again using the unlimited power that he wielded in Revenge Of The Sith.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is not a perfect movie, not by any means. It will be met with backlash, fan outrage, and more of the division and debate that has defined the Star Wars brand in recent years. But it’s time to move past all that. This is the end of the Skywalker Saga: forty-two years ago, Luke Skywalker started an incredible journey across galaxies, through the deep, uncharted expanses of space, to new planets and star systems: and we followed him. We followed his father Anakin from purity to darkness, and stood by his side as he fell through the ranks of the Jedi and tumbled into the embrace of the Sith. And now, with The Rise Of Skywalker, we’ve followed his apprentice on her quest to finish what the Skywalkers started, and bring balance and order to the universe, with all the guidance of a thousand generations of Jedi. Will you follow her to the end, as you followed Luke and Anakin? Will you finish out this story?

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The choice is yours, and I’m not going to try and push you one way or the other. All I can say is this: if you do make the choice to see the film in theaters, be prepared to cry, and allow yourself to cry. There are moments when you’ll tear up because something is sad or emotional; there are moments where you’ll cry out of relief or pain; and there are many, many moments in this film where you’ll just start crying because…we’ve done it.

The final word in the story of Skywalker has been spoken.

Movie Rating: 9.8/10

“Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith

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Despite being the continuation of George Lucas’ underwhelming prequel trilogy (and the last Star Wars film he’s directed), Revenge Of The Sith is not a fitting conclusion to this chapter in the Skywalker Saga. Why do I say that? Because, while it may be sacrilegious to some, I feel strongly that Sith is miles ahead of both its predecessors, and deserves far more praise than it has gotten (to be fair, its Rotten Tomatoes score is actually pretty good).

There are several things that make Sith the best movie in the prequel trilogy and a good movie regardless. The story has a singular focus on Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), and all the other subplots, from the Clone Wars to the Trade Federation, finally find a way to tie into his story without Lucas having to force him into theirs. The themes are stronger than before, with Lucas finally plunging bravely into Anakin’s darkness – it’s too late to understand him or sympathize with his journey, but we’re no longer called upon to do so: instead, Lucas merely asks us to marvel at the horror and spectacle of it all. And isn’t that what moviegoers do best? And there are several scenes, characters and plot-points here that are among the strongest in the entire franchise.

The first and least surprising of many revelations is Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine a.k.a Darth Sidious. While Phantom Menace and Clones wasted the actor’s talents on rambling monologues about trade reform and taxation, he was gifted some of the trilogy’s best dialogue in Sith – where he also finally gets to shed his disguise and become the horrible, cackling, wild-eyed goblin we all know and love. In the scenes immediately preceding his grotesque transformation, where he slowly but surely seduces Anakin over to the Dark Side of the Force, McDiarmid is at his finest: a silver-tongued charlatan selling the promise of immortality with ease, grace and dignity. As the film’s title suggests, the power of the Sith has grown unstoppable: despite there only ever being two Sith Lords at a time, their ability to manipulate is their greatest weapon, as we learn that Palpatine has been using lies and deception to grow stronger in the Senate, until he finally takes the mantle of Emperor, and begins his reign of terror. And he has help from all over the galaxy, even briefly from Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) who fails him early in the film and is executed by Anakin, and the legendary General Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood), a lightsaber-wielding quadrupedal cyborg with a nasty cough, who lurches his way through a series of epic battles. And the Emperor’s most secret weapon, and the one which ultimately gives him the advantage over his age-old enemy, is Order 66.

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It’s one of those scenes that screams “instant classic”. Though we had heard of the Purge that wiped out thousands of Jedi across the galaxy, seeing it was something else entirely: John Williams’ haunting music, the beautiful imagery, and the sheer nightmare of watching vast clone armies turn against their commanders at the push of a button. Honestly, it’s even more painful to watch than the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Lord Of The Rings, where the Elves of Lórien are brutally slaughtered in battle, because of how quickly and easily this massacre is carried out: from Plo Koon’s violent death, blown to pieces in the explosion of his spacecraft, to Aayla Secura gunned down before she could even comprehend the click of loaded blaster-guns behind her, her body tumbling peacefully into a field of giant flowers. Only a handful of Jedi escape the purge, whether through their own quick-thinking – as in the case of Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) – or because of a very helpful accident, as with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor).

But despite how sad we all are about the Jedi Purge (or maybe because of it), we can’t help but love every second of Anakin Skywalker’s long, slow, agonizingly painful transformation from man to machine. Not only is it great to see him bested in battle by Obi-Wan Kenobi and left for dead, a burning husk of a ruined man, on the lava shores of Mustafar, but it’s fantastic to watch what happens next, as this man-thing is brought back from death’s brink, stitched together by the Emperor’s medics and minions, clothed in darkness and wreathed in horror – and also blessed with the rich, powerful voice of James Earl Jones.

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Anakin’s meandering journey through two previous movies left aside, Sith finally gives us what we were looking for from this character: an actual explanation for why he turned to the darkness, one that is every bit as dark, horrific and irredeemable as it needed to be. In this final movie, George Lucas works overtime to come up with a good reason for his hero’s sudden shift in loyalties, and he comes up with something that, while not startlingly original, at least feels legitimate, given what we know already about Anakin’s character, and the lengths he will go to to protect those that he loves. The explanation is simply this: Anakin, in his desperate need to save the life of his wife Padmé (Natalie Portman), ends up being lured to the Dark Side to explore the promise of immortality, a promise which he learns too late is nothing but a lie. Yes, stronger chemistry between Portman and Christensen would have gone a long way in selling this idea, and the prequel trilogy in general, but I can hardly fault the actors for not being able to conjure up much genuine emotion, considering the poorly underwritten dialogue. But at least it’s something – and Lucas, for what feels like the first time in this trilogy, understands that Anakin is a villain at his core. Rather than try to make him sympathetic or understandable, Lucas shows us just how irrational and horrible he is, even falling back on the Anakin-murders-innocent-children trope from the last movie, but this time without having anybody come up with stupid, clumsy excuses for why he did what he did. He’s not a good person: he never was. The evil spirit of Darth Vader always lived inside Anakin – it just needed to be coaxed out by the Emperor’s cunning words. I don’t even think that Anakin being a truly evil person makes his “redemption” and sacrifice in Return Of The Jedi unearned: as I wrote in my review of that film, I feel Vader’s choice to betray the Emperor was his attempt to do right by Padmé, who I think he truly loved. In Return Of The Jedi, he was motivated exclusively by his desire to save the life of his own children, not by any concern for the Rebellion, or the Jedi. He was a selfish and overly protective person until the day he died: was there light in him, as Luke claimed? I believe there was, but it expressed itself in his love for a woman whose death he had caused, and whose children he had tormented.

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Speaking of that particular woman’s death, however, we do have to address the biggest issue in Revenge Of The Sith: Padmé being fridged, or to be precise, pre-fridged. “Fridging”, a term which refers to a female character being killed or harmed to further a male character’s storyline, is not strictly applicable in this case, because it wasn’t Padmé’s death, but rather the fear of her death, that motivated Anakin to madness. But regardless of what happened when, Padmé is barely even a character in this movie, having little more to do than act as Anakin’s muse and the mother of his children. She makes one powerful decision near the end of the movie, when she chooses to leave her husband for good – but even afterwards, she’s still haunted by him. How she dies is something of a mystery: her doctor droid says something about her losing the will to live, but the clever juxtaposition of her death with Anakin’s painful resurrection, combined with Palpatine’s remark to Anakin that “it seems, in your anger…you killed her”, almost implies that it was Anakin’s grief and the burning fires of his anguish that somehow drained her of her stamina. A semi-telepathic link between the two is possibly teased earlier in the film, when Anakin and Padmé seem to “see” each other from opposite sides of the city of Coruscant, or at least can feel the other’s presence very strongly. While it’s not explained if this is the case, it makes more sense than the resilient Padmé Amidala dying of sorrow.

Another interesting fact about Padmé’s death, mere moments after both her children are born into the fluorescent light of the Polis Massa maternity ward: Leia is born just after her twin brother Luke, almost seeming to underscore her birth as the more notable of the two. Given everything we know about Leia’s character arc, it wouldn’t be entirely implausible to believe that this was yet another hint that Leia Organa was destined to be the true heroine of the Skywalker Saga. Just a thought.

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Finally, we have to talk about the film’s action sequences, which range from “meh” to “magnificent”. There are two in particular that stand out to me: the battle on Utapau that pits Obi-Wan Kenobi against Grievous, who, as previously mentioned, wields four lightsabers at once, with metal arms spinning and swirling like helicopter-blades as he uses all of Count Dooku’s fighting techniques. Kenobi has never been the franchise’s most skilled dueler, preferring brute force tactics, which makes the fight a little unbalanced until he wrenches open the cyborg’s chest cavity and puts a few laser-bolts into his heart – I’m not precisely sure on the mechanics of why Grievous promptly goes up in flames, with fire erupting from his eye-sockets, but it’s a cool visual. And then, of course, there’s a much bigger, more epic battle in which Yoda and Emperor Palpatine chase each other through the cavernous Senate Building, employing force lightning and insanely fast-paced lightsaber action. It’s Palpatine’s best moment in the series’ history, and McDiarmid (not to mention his CGI stand-in) nails it. After that high, the final battle between Skywalker and Kenobi on Mustafar is bound to be disappointing, not least of all because the CGI lava is spectacularly unconvincing.

So Revenge Of The Sith is not only a return to form for the franchise, but a fun, thrilling, and tragic conclusion to a trilogy that could so easily have ended with a resounding thud. It’s cool to witness Anakin’s ruinous downfall in real-time, as the whiny teen becomes the impressive Sith Lord we were all just waiting to see. It’s satisfying to be present at Luke and Leia’s birth, and see them brought to their new homes on Tatooine and Alderaan, respectively. It’s nice to be able to have seen this chapter of Star Wars history, even if it wasn’t always great, or good, for that matter. And it’s also nice to close out this chapter with a film that, for all the flaws it’s burdened with by two prior failures, somehow manages to tell a decent story about light, darkness, and the enduring nature of hope.

Movie Rating: 7.9/10

“Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones

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With the second movie in his hyped-up prequel trilogy, George Lucas doubled down on the much-maligned formula that made The Phantom Menace one of the Star Wars franchise’s most critically abhorred entries – leading yet another promising story to the Dark Side and leaving audiences with a bitter aftertaste of crudely overabundant CGI, meandering subplots upon subplots, emotionless acting, and what have to be some of the series’ worst-written (and consequently, most meme-able) moments. Unfortunately, while it manages to increase the stakes and introduce some fun new characters, Attack Of The Clones is largely set-up for the trilogy’s final (and best) installment.

It has to have been unintentional that the series’ protagonist Anakin Skywalker (here aged up by a couple of years and played by Hayden Christensen) is consistently the trilogy’s biggest problem. Even as the story desperately tries to probe deeper into his mind – and convince the viewer that there’s something there worth seeing – Anakin pulls away from the camera, becoming more and more distanced, as if Lucas was still too afraid to follow him on his path into darkness. Instead of being privy to this character’s decisions and consequential life-choices, we’re constantly shut out, or given the bare minimum of details that we need to understand who he is, and how he became Darth Vader (remember, that was this whole trilogy’s purpose!). For instance, Anakin has a crucial scene in this movie where, having learned that his mother Shmi (Pernilla August) was killed by Tusken Raiders, he goes about blindly massacring every Raider he can find, including women and children. Now an unrepentant butcher of innocents, a wild-eyed Anakin promptly boasts about how good it felt to slaughter them like “animals”, a horrific comment which provokes a tame response from Anakin’s girlfriend, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) – “To be angry is to be human”, she says, while trying to calm him down. This entire scene does nothing to establish Anakin as a “tortured soul” of some kind: instead, it paints him as a sociopathic serial killer incapable of even grasping the concept of empathy. But there’s no lead-up to that revelation, nor is it even treated as a big deal. Within a few scenes, Anakin is back to being the film’s default hero, and we’re supposed to buy into his romance with Padmé, as if we don’t all know very well that Anakin shows signs of being or becoming the galaxy’s most abusive and nightmarish boyfriend. It’s already far too late to even try and understand what motivates Anakin’s terrifying aggression, much less rationalize whatever it might be.

And while Anakin is reduced to little more than a killing machine in this movie (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, compared to what he does in Revenge Of The Sith), Padmé’s characterization is even worse. Natalie Portman, who would go on to win an Academy Award in 2010, is wasted in a thankless role that amounts to little more than window dressing. She stands by and supports Anakin’s violent outbursts, and can’t help falling in love with him regardless of his obvious evil. The foundation of their romance is a single conversation where Anakin infamously rants about how much he hates sand. And then, of course, there’s the tiny little detail that Anakin and Padmé have a very apparent age-gap – Anakin having been about nine when he first met the teenage princess and fell in love with her. But it’s apparently okay,  because in Attack Of The Clones Anakin has aged into a full-grown man while Padmé is…still a teenager. And uh, yeah, that’s definitely how time works.

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The film’s MVP is Obi-Wan Kenobi (delightfully portrayed by Ewan McGregor), who is blessed with all of Luke Skywalker’s moral purity and Han Solo’s charismatic, no-nonsense attitude. If only his subplot had anything to do with Anakin Skywalker! Then again, perhaps it’s a good thing that it doesn’t, because Obi-Wan Kenobi doing cool things by himself is far more entertaining than Obi-Wan Kenobi pretending to care about Anakin’s Jedi training. While the relationship between mentor and padawan apprentice reinforces Star Wars‘ constant theme of duality, it’s here undermined by the fact that Obi-Wan and Anakin barely ever have a relationship. Instead, Obi-Wan has a completely unrelated subplot that manages to tie back into Anakin’s story at the end of the movie because Anakin has to go rescue him, which…well, no, actually, it’s just there for cool action scenes. It does nothing to advance the plot, honestly.

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The subplot of which I speak is, of course, the Clone Wars: a very interesting story, told in a very boring way. Just as before, George Lucas’ vivid imagination bogs down the story, as he tries to cram in more unnecessary information and backstory about the histories of the Droid Separatist Armies and the clone army commissioned by Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. It’s a shame, because the war itself is a very clever idea, and it gives the Jedi Order something to do as they become the commanders of the clone army – united, with all their lightsabers aglow and Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) leading them into battle, the Order finally looks like a formidable fighting force. And it’s a good thing too, because they’re up against the menacing Christopher Lee as Count Dooku a.k.a Darth Tyrannus, a charmingly classic addition to Star Wars canon, and another wonderful villain. The film doesn’t introduce him until relatively late in the game, and his backstory is largely left to the audience to piece together, but he doesn’t really need to be anything but Christopher Lee, dressed in aristocratic finery and expertly wielding two curved-bladed lightsabers, gently mocking his opponents’ inferior fighting skills. His battle with Yoda, in which the two masters go head-to-head, using every last trick from the Jedi rulebook, is not only one of the film’s highlights but one of the best reasons to watch the prequels at all – that and another Yoda battle in the next movie. Shamefully, however, there’s a large part of the movie that does nothing with either Yoda or Count Dooku, and instead tries to sell the idea that Boba Fett’s father is an interesting character because…he’s Boba Fett’s father?

You know how I feel about Boba Fett. I’ve simply never cared about him one way or the other. But now, I’m expected to care that his father, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), was the model for Sifo-Dyas’ clone army because of a familial connection that means nothing to the story. Jango could have been literally anyone else, and it would not have mattered. All that Boba does in the movie is watch as Mace Windu decapitates his father – as if there’s some sort of revenge arc to be set up, even though nothing of the kind ever occurs, either in the prequels or in the original trilogy, where Boba meets an untimely fate even more ridiculous than that of his dad. And worse, the whole situation is exemplary of everything that so often goes wrong with prequels in general: it makes the Star Wars universe smaller, by implying that the only people worth following are the characters we all know from the first trilogy, or their parents and extended family. Luckily, all these characters just so happen to be in the same place at the same time! Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) is there, as a moody little kid; Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) is there; R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is there; C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is there because he was apparently built by Anakin Skywalker, a retcon that serves no purpose, as Anakin and C-3PO share only a handful of scenes, and Darth Vader never even acknowledges the droid; Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) is in there too, somewhere; the Death Star is there because why not at this point. The Death Star gets shoved into so many Star Wars movies, it barely even registers anymore.

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Just as obnoxious as the fan-service is George Lucas’ usage of CGI technology. I will never understand how a movie like Attack Of The Clones could have come out the same year as The Two Towers, which was a brilliant display of everything that special effects can achieve when applied to film. Clones‘ CGI has aged spectacularly badly, from the fight-scenes on Geonosis that look like video-game cutscenes, to Jedi stunts that attempt to resemble wuxia wire-work martial arts – but without the wire-work. And then, of course, there are the clone armies…again, how could Lord Of The Rings get this technology so right, while Star Wars got it so, so wrong?

And at last we come to the film’s finale, which basically exists to tease the next movie. Droids and clones erupt onto the battlefields of Geonosis to wage warfare, the Jedi and the Sith prepare for the conflict of the century, and then…well, then comes Revenge Of The Sith, which takes place at the very end of the Clone Wars, before we’ve even had a chance to actually witness them onscreen. There’s a long-running animated TV show that covers the events between the two films, but for moviegoers, the Clone Wars themselves are barely a blip in the Star Wars timeline. The irony of the matter is that the epic ending of Clones finally indicated that Lucas’ preference for plot over character might actually pay off – but in Revenge Of The Sith, he changed course and made the movie all about Anakin, giving us little more than hints and glimpses of the warfare, political intrigue and intergalactic trade law that had been the series’ defining feature. Just as it was beginning to get good!

It’s worth noting that another high-profile prequel franchise, the Fantastic Beasts series, has similarly promised us a war of wizards and dark magic, and it’s to be hoped that they take a hint from the failure of the Star Wars prequels, and choose to show the warfare onscreen. But that series has its own problems, anyway.

Anakin and Padmé’s ill-fated secret wedding at the end of Clones is obviously intended to be an emotional moment, the culmination of a hopelessly beautiful love story: and it probably would have been, if the couple had any chemistry. But we’re dealing with one character who’s a raging lunatic with anger-management issues and a whiny, pessimistic attitude toward literally everything, and the other who’s…um, does Padmé even have a defining character trait? She was a politician in Phantom Menace, but Clones reduces that idea to “hey, we’ll have her spurt random political metaphors at inopportune moments!”. The film also tries to hint at a concept which would become a major plot point in Revenge Of The Sith; that Anakin was jealous of Obi-Wan and Padmé’s nonexistent relationship – but seriously, why? Because Obi-Wan helped him rescue Padmé from a couple of killer centipedes? It’s just yet another abusive boyfriend trope that makes Anakin even more unlikable and unsympathetic.

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And so we are left with a film that can’t figure out the difference between a plot and a subplot; a film that tries to push a scarily nerve-wracking relationship as a cute love story; a film that wants to be thought-provoking and deep, but can’t even put together a comprehensive line of dialogue. It’s still better than the first movie for various reasons (a notable absence of Jar-Jar Binks being one of them), but not by enough to make this film a memorable – or even strictly necessary – addition to the series.

Movie Rating: 5.8/10

“Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

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It’s finally time to explain my decision not to start my eight-part review of the Star Wars franchise with what is now technically referred to as the first movie. The idea of having to wade, Gungan-style, through three intermittently bad movies before getting to the series’ real gems was simply not appealing to me, so I took what we’ll call a detour – by going through the films in the order of release, rather than where they fall in the official timeline. But, of course, destiny arrives regardless, and now we have finally set foot on the soggy, pleasantly pastel planet where humans and sentient dinosaurs live together in harmony among a picturesque landscape of waterfalls, rainforests and Renaissance cities…yes, it’s Dinotopia.

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No, wait, that’s not right. Sorry, it’s Dinotopia’s identical twin, Naboo.

Here, amid all that lush greenery and damp air, our story begins: it is the story of a boy who would become a man who would become a machine, a child born into the world to serve a dark power’s nefarious purposes, a Jedi who would turn to the Dark Side of the Force and join the ranks of the Sith. Here, on the planet Naboo, begins the story of Anakin Skywalker.

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Wait, that’s not right either. Anakin’s story doesn’t start here. So then…why does the movie start here?

Unfortunately, there’s no good answer to that question, which lingers over the whole prequel trilogy. The point of the prequels was supposedly to go deep into the psyche of the man who became Darth Vader, to discover what went so horribly wrong in his life that he would turn away from the light and succumb to darkness. And yet somewhere along the way, director George Lucas realized that he actually wanted to make an entire movie about intergalactic politics and shipping blockades – and, uh, sure that has something to do with Anakin Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side! How? Well…because Padmé Amidala, Anakin’s wife, came from Naboo, that’s how. And so the story of Anakin Skywalker actually begins with Padmé, the young, seemingly naive Queen of the Naboo people, being rescued from her home planet by the Jedi and…wait, you’re telling me we spend the first half-hour of the movie on a rescue mission to free Padmé only to find out in the film’s last thirty-five minutes that it’s not even the real Padmé?

This is, unfortunately, only one example of the problem with the prequel trilogy, but it highlights one of Phantom Menace‘s biggest structural flaws. Rather than focusing on the character of Anakin Skywalker (who was likable enough here, portrayed by Jake Lloyd), the movie wastes valuable screentime on supporting characters and three or four different political subplots that have no bearing on Anakin’s story whatsoever. This epic failure is comparable to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald, a movie in which plot took precedence over character development, to the detriment of both – a huge, complex plot means nothing if there aren’t sturdy, strong characters to hoist it on their shoulders when the going gets rough and carry the audience’s interest across the finish line. In both Crimes Of Grindelwald and Phantom Menace, the “characters” are mostly cardboard cutouts barely capable of carrying a single scene, much less an entire movie.

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There’s a trio central to the story of Phantom Menace, but it’s sometimes hard to tell whether it consists of Anakin Skywalker, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) or Anakin, Padmé and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). Obi-Wan is the more important of the two in the long run, but he does virtually nothing in Phantom Menace except stand by Qui-Gon’s side and argue with him about whether or not Anakin should be trained as a Jedi. And then at the very end of the movie, he gets to kill the Sith apprentice Darth Maul in one epic lightsaber fight that makes his earlier irrelevance not only confusing but frustrating. As previously mentioned, Padmé is actually disguised as a different character for most of the film, while Sabé (Keira Knightley) wears her identity. Anakin isn’t in the movie’s first half-hour, and even when he does show up, he’s still initially a supporting character – at best, he’s a walking plot device until he takes command of his very own starship in the finale. Until the second film, I think it’s safe to say that most of this defining chapter in Anakin’s life is told from the viewpoint of Qui-Gon Jinn as he tries, unsuccessfully, to decipher the child’s parentage and account for his abnormally high midi-chlorian count (yes, this film also establishes that your strength in the Force is determined by the amount of alien blood-cells living in your body, which just…no).

And it’s not like anybody else ever figures out what Anakin is, either. Even to this day, Star Wars canon is conflicted about where he came from – the predominant theory being that he was “conceived by the midi-chlorians”, meaning that, in essence, he’s the son of the Force itself. That’s all well and good, but why wasn’t it ever explained in the movie? The only hint we get about his parentage is one vague quote from his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August), who tells Qui-Gon that “There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him, I can’t explain what happened.” Yeah, well, try. Any explanation would be better than simply giving us yet another unanswered question about the character whose backstory we were supposed to be learning!

I think that, even without making the movie about Anakin (since George Lucas was clearly resistant to that idea, for whatever reason), a compelling story could still have been told – if the actual focus hadn’t instead been directed on the impossibly complicated political system of Naboo, and their relations with the Gungan aliens, Viceroy Gunray’s Trade Federation and the Old Republic’s corrupt, bureaucratic system. Now, I love political intrigue: it’s one of my favorite tropes in sci-fi, fantasy or fiction in general. But intrigue has to revolve around character in order to work properly – simply having shipping blockades and assassination attempts and coups isn’t interesting, unless we care about the characters that these things are happening to: for instance, look at Game Of Thrones, which, in its first few seasons, expertly handled political intrigue by pitting fleshed-out characters against each other in interesting ways and giving them real motivations and agendas that audiences could become invested in. It’s hard to become invested in Naboo’s fight for independence when we know next to nothing about the handful of characters in the movie who actually hail from Naboo – especially when one of them is Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best).

Now, I just want to preface this by saying that I bear no ill-will towards Ahmed Best, who was simply doing his job and the best that he could in extremely difficult circumstances: I wish him well, and I’m very glad to hear that he’s just landed a role as the host of a Star Wars game show on Disney+. That’s fantastic. But the character he happens to portray, the notorious alien by the name of Binks, is without a doubt the most pointless and pathetic character in the Star Wars universe – and it’s a big universe. But between his…jokes?…and his voice, and his unnervingly long tongue, there is not a single thing about Jar-Jar that helps the prequel trilogy in any way. Worse, he’s actually damaged the trilogy’s reputation.

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On the other side of the galaxy but almost as useless, the Jedi Order loses all of its mystique and magic when glimpsed in The Phantom Menace, where they’re basically just a group of squabbling elders blind to the disintegration of the society they’re sworn to protect. Seeing them here, at what was apparently the height of their glory, it’s hard to imagine they stayed in business as long as they did. It’s even harder to imagine that they could ever be brought back, or that they would be effective, if they were.

The Sith, however, have never looked so appealing as they did here, operating in secret from behind thrones and senate-seats across the galaxy, a cult based on the duality of master and apprentice. While the master himself, Chancellor Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) is busy getting “elected” to ever-loftier positions of power in the New Republic, his apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park) is on assignment like a mysterious ninja, or a ghostly assassin, or a…phantom menace. While Maul would look cool regardless of his weaponry (dude’s literally a six-foot tall Dathomirian Dark Lord covered in horns and red-and-black full-body tattoos), having a freaky, double-bladed lightsaber probably doesn’t hurt his image. Sadly, while he was undeniably one of the Dark Side’s most photogenic champions (in the days before Kylo Ren), he was cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of the movie, preventing him from ever realizing his true potential. One thing that can be said of the prequel trilogy is that it had some epic villains – it just didn’t keep them around long enough to make much of a difference.

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And that’s the biggest problem with The Phantom Menace: huge potential, but nothing to do with it. It’s a movie that spends more time explaining the mechanics of pod-racing and the structure of the intergalactic Senate than the dynamics of its core cast of characters, or the psychology of our protagonist…who, as time goes by, becomes only more distanced from the audience, because he was never close to us to begin with.

Movie Rating: 4.9/10

The Mystery Of Dark Rey…

In an otherwise largely uneventful day at the D23 Expo (you know, if you ignore Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt trying to outdo each other with dramatic entrances), Star Wars was the main talking-point: while not even a snippet of the new Rise of Skywalker footage has leaked online, it’s still all that the internet is discussing – specifically, the final shot of this unseen footage, which apparently shows a major protagonist wavering between the Light and the Dark.

I guess I should include a warning for potential spoilers, but all of this footage is expected to officially drop on Monday – so I don’t know if you should be too worried about it. And, yes, that also means that I’m rather premature with this news, but it’s one of the few things we have to talk about that will make for an interesting post today.

So what am I talking about? Well, apparently, the Star Wars presentation at D23 revealed a few things to the audience of several thousand fans: apart from a brand-new poster that looks epic, director J.J. Abrams also showed a brief sizzle reel of footage from the upcoming installment in the franchise, which is expected to be the last in the forty-year long Skywalker Saga. And so it was that those spectators got to witness a shocking reveal: Rey, the unwavering heroine of the franchise’s last two entries, might be reconsidering her values and moral code.

She was apparently seen dressed in a black cloak with a hood, holding a double-bladed red lightsaber that apparently strongly resembles the one carried by Darth Maul, the central antagonist of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. While we can’t yet know for certain what this means, there are already hundreds of theories floating around the internet. Some believe it’s merely a trick: that this scene is probably only part of a vision or nightmare-sequence which will end up having no real impact in the film itself. Others, however, are rather less cynical: Rey could be the daughter of Darth Maul, apparently, or even the daughter of the long-dead Emperor Palpatine, who will be making a comeback in some form for this film. She and her nemesis/possible love interest Kylo Ren might switch sides, with Rey becoming an embittered Sith Lord while Ren joins the Jedi. She could be using this appearance as a disguise, in order to work her way up through the ranks of the First Order. Palpatine could be manipulating her. There’s endless possibilities.

Some of them make sense, some don’t. For instance, the theory that Ren and Rey switch, while very cool, could seem contrived: yes, Rey was obsessed with that weird evil cave on Luke’s island in The Last Jedi, but she hasn’t ever seemed interested in the dark side or the ways of the Sith – she’s been mostly focused on trying to lure Kylo Ren over to the light, in fact. So changing that now could result in an outcry similar to that which followed the decision to randomly turn Game of Thrones‘ heroine, Daenerys, into a psychotic genocidal war criminal for no apparent reason other than that it looked cool and justified her being murdered at the end of the show. And in both cases, it would be a female protagonist who gets retconned to be evil – not a good look for Star Wars, just as it wasn’t a good look for Game of Thrones. As for Kylo: well, he’s stared longingly at the light many times before, and he seems like he might be doubting his lifestyle choices, but making the jump to the Jedi is a big commitment – something that doesn’t seem like it could be adequately covered in a single film.

Me, I’m actually ever so slightly more concerned about another shot from the footage: supposedly, a glimpse of C-3PO with glowing red eyes, implying that the lovable droid is also heading down a dark path. We’ve seen evil droids in Star Wars before, but never one that actively chooses to pursue a career with the Dark Side (correct me if I’m wrong, hardcore Star Wars fans). And if he gets hacked and destroyed by agents of the First Order, I swear to Yoda I will boycott.

So what do you think? What’s Rey doing? Is she Sith or not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Star Wars Episode IX Teaser Trailer!

This is going to be something of an unusual review. I will admit why right up front.

The truth is, I haven’t watched the last few Star Wars movies. The original trilogy? The prequels? I’ve watched those, multiple times. But this new saga had never appealed to me until now, when, suddenly, I find myself standing dazed and confused wondering what on earth, or what on Tattooine, this trailer means. And that is very unfortunate, because this trailer looks pretty awesome, even though a good bit of its symbolism is probably lost on me.

We’ll discuss the big stuff first though, just because this is the stuff I do understand pretty much entirely. SPOILERS AHEAD, for those of you, who, like me, had never watched the last two Star Wars movies.

1: The Title. The film’s long-anticipated title has been revealed to be Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which is very cool – “Every Generation Has A Legend” is the movie’s slogan. I am aware that Luke Skywalker is dead, and I have no clue whether this title is supposed to refer to him returning, or something like that. We hear Luke’s voice in the first part of the trailer, as he tells Rey about her inner power, and how a thousand generations live within her.

2: Princess Leia! The late great Carrie Fisher is in the movie, as expected, and gets a beautiful and heart-warming moment in the trailer, tearfully embracing Rey (Daisy Ridley). Having not watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I can’t give any opinion on Rey herself, except that she looks like an incredible heroine: there’s a moment here, at the 1:08 mark, where she backflips onto a very fast moving spaceship that seems to be trying to mow her down. It’s a great shot.

3: THE EMPEROR IS BACK? I didn’t even realize what I was seeing, at the 1:39 mark, when we see Rey and her team looking out over a wide barren landscape, gazing towards some distant mass of broken metal: I probably should have realized immediately that this is the remains of the literal Death Star – and, at the very end of the trailer, we hear the ominous laughter of Emperor Palpatine: who I, at least, thought was dead. Was this common knowledge to people, that the Emperor is back? That the Death Star is still out there, somewhere in the universe? Though, to be fair, the Death Star looks pretty dead and lifeless at this point, but it looked only half-built in The Return of the Jedi and turned out to be fully functional, so I don’t trust that megalithic weapon, however broken it might look. There’s something really scary about the Death Star, honestly, that makes its appearance here really awe-inspiring.

Those are most of the big things, I think, that this trailer shows. One surprising reveal, at least for me, was the appearance of Billy Dee Williams reprising his role as Lando from the original trilogy. We see characters like Chewbacca and C-3P0 again, though, of course, there’s also appearances from the newer generation, such as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega). The backstories of these new characters are a total mystery to me, and I’m eager to fill this gap in my knowledge, because they all look pretty interesting. The droid BB-8, I could do without: I’ve seen this character pretty much everywhere for years now – like Olaf from Frozen, or Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, these “mascot” characters always become really annoying to me, really quickly.

The trailer looks really awesome, and there’s no way I’m gonna miss seeing this in theaters: this is the end of an incredible and beloved era. I used to love the Star Wars movies, but lost my enthusiasm for them – now, as the story comes to an end, my passion for this brilliant universe has been renewed. Maybe I’ll even get around to watching The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi sometime in between now and December, when The Rise of Skywalker will come out.

Trailer Rating: 9.5/10