Sebastian Stan Vs. “Avengers: Endgame” Explained!

Ah, the drama. Earlier this morning, Marvel Cinematic Universe star Sebastian Stan made headlines by seemingly expressing his disappointment with the ending of his Marvel character’s story arc in Avengers: Endgame (and was welcomed by Star Wars star John Boyega into the small but steadily growing community of actors unhappy with how they were treated in the final installment of their respective franchises). I say “seemingly” because it’s kind of unclear whether or not Stan’s vague, single-emoji response to an angry fan’s social media post was an expression of sympathy or not. But since Stan hasn’t clarified his position, and the internet is having a field-day with this story, let’s assume for a moment that Stan really doesn’t like the conclusion to the long and tumultuous history of Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. The Winter Soldier, in the MCU.

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First of all, we have to take a look at the post which stirred up all this controversy and drama. The tweet, itself a response to an official Marvel post about Bucky’s relationship with Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, read: “Together until the end of the line. Or until bad, inconsistent, out-of-character writing turns Steve Rogers into his own anti-thesis. Shouldn’t it be “together until the end of the lie” now?” The author’s harsh condemnation of certain Avengers: Endgame plotlines would have been controversial regardless of whether it was spotted by a certain Marvel actor (who doesn’t even have Twitter, which makes the whole situation even weirder), but the fact that Stan posted a single wide-eyed emoji (which, according to the internet, could mean anything from shock to embarrassment), is what’s got everyone talking. Why is he angry about this whole “end of the line” business anyway, and what would he have preferred to the ending we got?

Before we go any further, let me make it clear that I don’t necessarily disagree with either Stan or the fan, but that doesn’t mean this post is going to devolve into an embittered, anti-Endgame tirade. I like Endgame: I like it less now than I did upon first viewing, because I’ve identified many of the film’s flaws, and I’m not entirely satisfied with the many of the film’s decision, especially with regards to the final choices of characters like Tony Stark, Natasha Romanoff, and, yes, Steve Rogers, but I still really like it. I don’t think the Russo Brothers are bad directors, or that Disney/Marvel are evil for not creating the perfect movie, or that anybody has to be “cancelled” by the MCU fandom. I’m not the type to start unnecessary drama (though, if you’d like me to, I could start by saying that Avengers: Infinity War is a complete and utter mess: but I won’t). No, I just want to discuss what I feel is one of the most uninspired and uncomfortable decisions made by the Avengers: Endgame writing team.

Which just so happens to be the conclusion to Steve Rogers’ and Bucky Barnes’ relationship.

In the MCU, these two characters, more than probably any other duo (with the exception of Thor and his brother Loki), have constantly been paired up in increasingly dramatic and thrilling situations that have tested their loyalty to each other time and time again: and yet, despite everything, they’ve always found a way back to each other’s side. Steve gets frozen in the Arctic Ocean for seventy years? No biggie. Bucky is horribly maimed in a wartime accident and becomes the brainwashed servant of a malicious organization operating deep within the most secure counter-intelligence group in the world? Not a problem. Their relationship was important to the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger, crucial (obviously) to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and pivotal to Captain America: Civil War, in which it was a dispute over Bucky’s safety that led Steve to disobey the Sokovia Accords and start a conflict with Tony Stark that led to the titular civil war which broke up the Avengers, which in turn led to Steve and Bucky going on the run, which in part contributed to Thanos’ victory in Avengers: Infinity War, which set in motion all the events of Avengers: Endgame and thus everything that will happen in the MCU for decades to come. It’s not like Bucky is some side-character: he’s a really big deal.

And then, suddenly, he wasn’t.

At the end of Civil War, Bucky was sent to the African nation of Wakanda to recuperate from his injuries, and since then has shown up a handful of times onscreen, spoken a couple lines of dialogue, and has acted as little more than an extra in fight-scenes. In the post-credits scene of Black Panther, he’s not even that – he wakes up in Wakanda and gets the title of “White Wolf”, which seems to forebode big developments down the line. In Infinity War, he is gifted a seriously cool new vibranium arm that seems designed to wreak havoc on the battlefield but…doesn’t; and then, after being dusted by Thanos, he disappears for five years until the Endgame finale, where he has little more than a cameo as the guy standing silently but supportively behind Steve as he, Steve, makes some of the stupidest decisions of his unnaturally long life. And yes, he’s now getting his own Disney+ series (in which he will co-star alongside Anthony Mackie’s Falcon), but that can’t erase the fact that the conclusion of his relationship with the most important person in his life amounted to a brief exchange using dialogue recycled from their first movie. Meanwhile, Steve gets to enjoy a fairytale ending while everyone else in the MCU suffers irreversible pain and hardship; he goes back in time and unabashedly robs a strong, independent woman of her own agency and story arc, just so he can make good on a promise he made twenty-something movies ago. Was it so absolutely necessary that he have his dance with Peggy Carter, thereby creating his own alternate universe in which she never remarried after his disappearance, or had her own family, or moved on with her life?

No. It was, in my opinion, blatant fan-service that makes little to no sense given everything that has happened to Steve over the years. His entire arc has been one of trying to survive in the modern world, to find purpose and meaning in an era that no longer requires his antiquated morals and services, trying to adapt to society. At first, he fought with tooth and nail and Frisbee-shield: he pined after Peggy and he clung to Bucky, and he shook his head at newfangled customs. But he was beginning to change, to evolve, when Endgame happened – in Winter Soldier, he was forced to take a good long look at the government he had blindly followed into battle for decades, and in Civil War he actually fought back against all forms of government, becoming a rogue anarchist. He even had a new love-interest (albeit one who was related to his former love-interest, which made the whole situation highly disturbing and awkward). And then, after all that development, what does he do, first chance he gets? Hops in a time-machine and fills out an entire lifespan with Peggy Carter, thereby shattering any hope that he would move on with his own life, and stealing Peggy’s own opportunity to do so. And for Sebastian Stan and many other outraged viewers, the worst part of this was that it prevented Steve from having any time to interact with Bucky, a friend he had actually known for some time in both the past and present, and with whom he had a complex, meaningful relationship – for whom he had fought the entire world, for whom he had risked his own life countless times: a friend he had believed in when no one else would.

Steve’s ending is uninspired because it does nothing new with the character, but instead harps back on what made him interesting ten years ago: it reverses years of development in an attempt to make his story come full-circle. And unfortunately, this is similar to what happens to many other Avengers in the same movie: Tony Stark, who spent much of his life wondering how he would die and how many people he could save while doing it, died saving the entire world; Natasha Romanoff, whose every waking moment was spent giving thanks to her family and wondering when she would have to sacrifice everything for them, sacrificed everything, including her life, for them; Clint Barton, who just wanted a boring, middle-American family and a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, got all that after briefly turning into a bloodthirsty ninja and exacting vengeance on all the Asian crime-lords who had absolutely nothing to do with his family getting dusted by Thanos. Each of those endings tries to employ the full-circle trick, but they almost all fail because the full-circle trick doesn’t always work, and isn’t always that interesting, for the same reason why most people like the concept of free will more than fate – the idea that your destiny is predetermined is, honestly, kind of boring. There’s no surprise, no tension.

I can’t claim to understand what went into the making of Avengers: Endgame, or why the screenwriters and directors chose to do what they did with the story: but one thing that most Marvel fans have noticed (and have already speculated could explain the sudden disappearance of Bucky Barnes) is that soon after The Winter Soldier‘s release, a vocal division of the fandom rose up to demand that Steve and Bucky’s relationship go an extra step further and develop into a romantic dynamic. While both actors, Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan, were very supportive of the idea, it seems that higher-ups at Marvel were nervous even to acknowledge the idea of a Steve/Bucky love story, and tried to backpedal: they gave Steve a new, temporary female love interest, and even wrote in a conversation between the two where they talk about the extremely-straight-and-not-at-all-gay relationships that they had back in the 1940’s. And it didn’t take long before Bucky suddenly started vanishing from the movies and getting less and less screen-time. Maybe this is because of cowardice, or maybe it’s simply because the Russo Brothers didn’t want another gay character distracting from that crucial five-second cameo from the Unnamed Gay Man in Avengers: Endgame, but either way it does seem to have had a negative impact on how Marvel treated Bucky Barnes.

Now, we don’t know if this is why Stan doesn’t like the ending to Steve and Bucky’s relationship (technically, we don’t even know if he doesn’t like their ending). A single emoji can say a lot, but in this case it’s vague enough that I’m basing most of my assumptions off the original tweet, which said the Endgame plotline was “bad” (which is entirely subjective), “inconsistent” (which I’ve argued is an accurate assertion), and “out-of-character” (there’s no good answer to this one: after all, Steve is the character who rebelled against the very political structure that created him, but he’s also the same character who couldn’t even find a prospective date outside of his 1945 girlfriend’s immediate family). Now I leave it up to you, my dear jury, to decide for yourselves who’s right and who’s wrong in this debate. In my personal opinion, I have to agree with many of the claims made in the original tweet, but I’m also not going to sit here and say that Avengers: Endgame is poorly-written, as if it didn’t masterfully handle the extraordinarily large cast of characters across several timelines and in multiple parallel realities, right up until that iffy ending.

So what do you think? Is Sebastian Stan well within his rights to raise his voice, despite still being employed by Marvel (even John Boyega waited until after he was done with Star Wars to give them a piece of his mind), or does he come off as merely disgruntled? What do you, personally, think of the ending to Steve and Bucky’s story, and if you could rewrite it, would you? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Why “Star Wars”‘ LGBTQ+ Representation Is A Crushing Disappointment.

Minor SPOILERS For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!

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First up, an apology: in my Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Spoiler Review, I made the fictitious claim that a couple depicted kissing near the end of the movie was a lesbian couple. There is, in fact, no clear indication of the sexual orientations of either Commander Larma D’Acy or her partner – they could be lesbian, but there’s also nothing to suggest they aren’t pansexual, bisexual, or a different sexual orientation entirely. And that is part of the problem with Star Wars‘ small, misguided attempt at LGBTQ+ representation.

For years now, but especially since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, fans of the series have been urging Disney Studios and Lucasfilm to introduce meaningful LGBTQ+ representation into the franchise – emphasis on “meaningful”, as in: an LGBTQ+ character with an established identity, whom audiences actually know and care about. Star Wars has long been near the forefront of the push for diversity in genre fiction, much fellow sci-fi series Star Trek (which, overall, has actually done a better job, though not always with LGBTQ+ representation specifically): even back in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Wars was including women (or rather, two white women) in positions of power and strength, and including dynamic and complex people of color (or rather, one person of color) in the central narrative. The prequel trilogy gave us memorable characters such as Mace Windu, Padmé Amidala, and Jango Fett, while also introducing a number of other problems; the racially insensitive Gungans, the racially insensitive Neimoidians, and the fact that Jango Fett’s army of clones were little more than expendable cannon fodder, among them. The Disney-produced sequel trilogy, on the other hand, started off with a female protagonist, alongside prominent black and Latino characters – naturally, it seemed like the perfect place to try and include some LGBTQ+ representation.

And it’s not like there wasn’t room in the story for that representation to emerge in a natural, organic method. Fans have long sensed an undercurrent of semi-romantic tension between Star Wars leads Finn (played by John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and even the actors themselves have made it pretty clear that they would have had no problems if the story had headed in that direction. Boyega himself has been a bit back-and-forth on the subject, and has made friendly jokes about the pairing, while also suggesting that he doesn’t “know how that would work”. But nobody has been onboard with the popular coupling like Oscar Isaac, who has been the unofficial voice of the LGBTQ+ Star Wars fanbase for years: at first, his support seemed like the typical sort of vague hand-waving, with comments like “Poe’s open to any kind of adventure”, but starting this year, the actor has been avidly on the side of Finnpoe fans: “I think he takes his love for Finn very seriously”, Isaac said of his character at Star Wars: Celebration. Since then, he’s noted that a gay romance between the two would be “a great way for the story to go”, admitted that “if they would’ve been boyfriends, that would have been fun”, and just yesterday confessed that, though he tried to advocate behind-the-scenes for a love story between the two men, “Disney overlords were not ready to do that”. Isaac’s strong approval is encouraging, but unfortunately, he’s only an actor and can’t really do much to influence the film’s scripts.

And yet, Rise Of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams himself has revealed that the diversity of Star Wars‘ ensemble cast is supposedly very important to him, and that he felt it necessary that it be increased in the franchise’s final chapter. “And in the case of the LGBTQ community,” he noted, “it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film”. When pressed on the issue, Abrams commented with vague assurance that “I did just say what I just said”.

Abrams’ comments should sound eerily (auto-correct suggested wearily, which also works) familiar to fans who may remember Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo saying virtually the same thing about the LGBTQ+ representation in their blockbuster hit back in April: “It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them…it is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity”.

The similarities don’t stop there, though, because when it comes down to it, the LGBTQ+ representation in both films is also strangely identical. In Endgame, a minor, unnamed character played by Joe Russo himself, mentions dating another man in a throwaway line: this character has no purpose in the story, nor any significance beyond being gay, and is only shown this one time – the fact that he’s played by Joe Russo also makes the moment into a surprising cameo, distracting attention from the significance of his words. In Star Wars, the crucial representation is even less noticeable, though technically more significant: here, Commander Larma D’Acy, a minor character portrayed by Amanda Lawrence, is shown kissing another woman in an exceedingly brief moment – due to taking place in a crowd shot, during an emotional scene, you could easily watch the film without even noticing that you had just witnessed LGBTQ+ history. And I’m left wondering…was that the point?

A same-sex kiss of any kind is a strikingly powerful statement in a big franchise film such as this one, but Disney’s use of the kiss feels cheap, as if it’s reducing what should be important into a meaningless moment that, on the surface, looks like great representation. The audience has no emotional attachment to D’Acy and especially not to her girlfriend, who isn’t even named in the film (the newest Star Wars Visual Dictionary apparently does give her a name: Wrobbie Tryce). They have no reason to care about these two women or their two-second long relationship – and since the characters are so minor, and so deliberately overshadowed by other, more important characters, audiences don’t even have any good reason to notice them or their kiss. If it had been Finn and Poe kissing, even if only for two seconds or one, you would notice because it’s Finn and Poe: they’re lead characters, and the audience is familiar with them. Two extras somewhere in a crowd shot? Not so much.

Disney has just proven that simply including a gay kiss isn’t enough to constitute meaningful representation. People around the world have been rightfully outraged, since the film’s release, that this moment was what Abrams was referring to when he claimed that LGBTQ+ representation was one of his priorities when making The Rise Of Skywalker.

And here’s the thing: Abrams didn’t need to put LGBTQ+ representation into the film at all. As far as we know, this was his decision: nobody was forcing him to do it. And that should be applauded, because it is a step forward. What shouldn’t be applauded is the fact that Abrams, knowing full well just how brief and insignificant the kiss was, went around claiming that the two-second snippet of footage could or would make up for all of the lost opportunities with the Finnpoe relationship, or even amount to anything more than what it was – a two-second snippet of footage. Why not just admit upfront that there would be a small nod to the LGBTQ+ community, without stirring up more controversy and trouble for himself?

Because this is queer-baiting 101. Queer-baiting refers to the process of luring LGBTQ+ audiences to consume a product, be it a movie, TV show, book, etc, with the promise or hint of LGBTQ+ representation, only to reveal that there was little to no representation to begin with. Endgame was heavily criticized for queer-baiting, prompting the Russo Brothers to respond with the claim, as yet unverified, that more major Marvel characters will come out as LGBTQ+ in future movies. 2017’s Beauty And The Beast faced queer-baiting critiques after an “exclusively gay” scene hyped up in the film’s pre-release marketing turned out to be a single shot of two male characters dancing. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald was one of those especially awful cases where a director actually tells the truth and goes on record to say that a character will not be depicted as LGBTQ+ in his movie, only to have his working partner release a tweet disputing that claim – the latter being J.K. Rowling, who apparently didn’t realize she was lying, or simply didn’t care: the promised LGBTQ+ representation in that case actually referred to a single line of dialogue with only slightly gay connotations.

And now Star Wars faces those same complaints, for good reason. By promising something he couldn’t deliver, Abrams dug himself into his own grave. He wasn’t obliged to make any statement at all, but he did – and now he’s paying the price, as audiences riot against the director.

What could he have done to rectify the situation? Well, the easiest solution would have been to make D’Acy and her partner more prominent in the film. If that would have taken time away from the main cast, then why not have it be one of the main cast who turns out to be gay? Finn and Poe are literally right there. But if neither option was viable, then Abrams should simply have kept his mouth shut and not said anything at all. His idea of representation is outdated and honestly offensive, making it an unnecessarily problematic element in a movie that already has plenty of those.

I really don’t want to make a scene, and we know Larma D’Acy wouldn’t want me to (that’s her only significant line in two movies: you thought I wasn’t going to use it in some way?): I wish I could simply talk about how nobody, no matter how far away their galaxy is, should have to live with a name with Wrobbie – or Larma, for that matter. But I can’t stay silent when directors and filmmakers continue to shamelessly bait and trap LGBTQ+ audiences, taking their money in exchange for empty, unfulfilled promises. Hollywood is making progress, or at least, I hope that they are: Disney is making a big deal out of having their first openly gay character in next year’s Jungle Cruise (though the fact that the character is played by a straight comedian and described by test audiences as “hugely effete” isn’t exactly encouraging), and Marvel has promised their first gay character in The Eternals – rumored to be the demigod Phastos, a happily married man with children. But until these claims are backed up by hard facts (i.e. the films themselves), be wary of could be just another queer-baiting incident.

For now, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that, no matter how briefly their relationship may be depicted onscreen, Larma D’Acy and Wrobbie Tryce are, canonically, Star Wars‘ very first same-sex couple, and the two characters deserve a little more respect and congratulatory praise than they received from J.J. Abrams. Hopefully they’ll be joined in the near future by a number of other LGBTQ+ characters: ones who aren’t betrayed by their own creators.

“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 Last Jedi” 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 Last Jedi

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Review! 9
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If you’re reading this review, you’re probably aware that this film has sparked a very hostile, very aggressive reaction from both its defenders and detractors. The division in the Star Wars fandom over whether or not The Last Jedi is good, bad, or even an actual part of the series’ canon, has overshadowed many of those who attempt to talk about the film without suddenly veering into angry rants. You see, the thing is: there is no right answer, because opinions are subjective. Subjectively, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie: there, I said it. I’ll also say this – it’s a masterpiece of cinema, and, apart from a few iffy bits, a great film. And you don’t have to believe, listen to, or even acknowledge what I’m saying.

I do hope you’ll at least take some time to listen, though, because Jedi is a film I feel passionately about, and I hope my arguments for why are at least understandable.

The movie came at a crossroads in the saga’s history, and it’s not surprising that the story reflects that, touching on themes of evolution, and the process of adaptation: if you read between the lines, it’s not hard to see that Jedi is speaking directly to the fandom, and addressing the glaring generational divides within its ranks. “They are what we grow beyond”, Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) says at one point, and it’s like he’s talking about the new generation of Star Wars aficionados. If only the transition of power could be so peaceful in real life!

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Unfortunately, Star Wars has always had a problem with a particular group of fans known as “gatekeepers”. These are typically the fans who grew up with the films back in the 70’s or early 2000’s, and now claim to be experts on the franchise. They can probably recite the names of several obscure Outer Rim planets, or give you the entire history of the Old Republic with textbook accuracy, or tell you the life-stories of every single person and alien inside the Mos Eisley cantina in A New Hope. The problem comes about when they start lecturing new, less experienced fans about how they’re the “real” fans, the films were made for them and their enjoyment, and anything that disagrees isn’t canon. The character of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who lectures the film’s heroine with a long-winded tirade about how she’s “a nobody” who doesn’t belong in the illustrious saga of the Skywalker family – he’s like the ultimate worst example of a gatekeeper: the type who doesn’t want to see women or minorities in “his” story.

But it’s not just diversity that gatekeepers have been afraid of for years: but also a new group of fans and movie-goers in general, who want to see the story branch out in new directions or take bold, new risks, rather than repeating past hits and highlights for the next decade. And director Rian Johnson has made a film appealing to those people – The Last Jedi is strongly reliant on the idea that there is no one Star Wars story: everybody has their own opinion on the beloved series, and that’s good. There are no right answers. There is no right Star Wars. It’s a theme he reinforces in many different ways, sometimes loudly, sometimes more subtly: since I previously mentioned Kylo Ren as a gatekeeper, let’s turn the tables and look at the villain’s mirror image and moral opposite, the mysterious Rey (Daisy Ridley). She’s been asked time and time again who she is, where she comes from, what makes her so special – but what she learns to accept in this movie is that, yes, as Kylo said, she’s a nobody, probably nothing more than the daughter of some nameless pair of scrap-traders on the desolate heap of Jakku. She (and we, the audience) have been waiting patiently to see who Rey’s parents will turn out to be, but the big revelation is that they don’t matter: because in the original Star Wars, long before “I am your father” or much less midi-chlorians, had been conceived, anybody could be a hero, no matter who they were or what background they came from. At the very end of the movie, we see it once again in the shape of a young, Force-sensitive boy on Canto Bight, who looks up at the stars with eyes full of wonder: this movie is as much about him as it is about anyone, because it’s a story about passing the torch from generation to generation, and about the legends we inspire in our lifetimes that will influence a new group of heroes.

Many people claim that The Last Jedi‘s overarching theme is best exemplified by Kylo Ren’s singularly pessimistic line: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” I could not disagree more. Jedi never once tells us to forget our past – in fact, on multiple occasions, it requires its cast of characters to confront their own pasts and learn from past failures. I mean, Yoda himself says it: “The greatest teacher, failure is”. That’s at least one of the themes of The Last Jedi – that you can’t run from your past, you need to embrace it and see if you can learn from it. If you can find a balance and live between your past and your future, then happy will you be.

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And that word, “between”, is what will lead into the next section of this review, because I say so and I don’t have a better lead-in. The idea of duality has always been present in Star Wars, present in almost every aspect of the galaxy’s society, as we’ve discussed; but Jedi is the first film to tackle the theme head-on and explore the gray area in between any two things. It’s something most noticeable in the parallel journeys of Rey and Kylo Ren, who find themselves being pulled away from their respective sides of the Force and towards each other, in some neutral zone between the Light and the Dark, between Jedi and Sith, between Good and Evil. The struggle is great for both of them, as neither one truly understands what is happening, or why they are being called to each other. In their haste, they mistake it for a semi-romantic attraction (I don’t ship the “Reylo” pairing, and I think it works best when you look at it as merely an idea that Rey and Kylo got stuck in their heads during their many telepathic encounters: it’s notable that after they actually meet in person, neither one shows any romantic interest in the other). Rey and Kylo are very hesitant to inch away from their own separate corners of the Force, and even in their epic showdown neither one offers to turn, as they both had thought the other would: instead, they spout their own propaganda at each other. It’s Kylo who, surprisingly, comes closest to the truth when he begs Rey to join him in a world where there are no Jedi, no Sith, no First Order, no Resistance. But – surprise, surprise – his idea for how to achieve that perfect world involves intergalactic genocide. In the end, neither Kylo nor Rey is able to make the first move towards establishing a balanced universe, and Kylo ends up retreating back into the shadows, becoming Supreme Leader of the First Order and doubling down on his attempt to destroy the Resistance. But the meeting of these two champions still gives us reason to hope for a universal oneness someday – in their coup against Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis) Rey and Kylo stand back-to-back and fight side-by-side, without a side. They swap lightsabers for a minute, using opposing sides of the Force to fight. Even when they do move to fight each other, neither one is able to claim Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber for their own, to the point where the saber actually splits in half rather than choose an allegiance. These two are wholly separated, but also connected by a powerful bond. Whether we’ll see them stand together in Rise Of Skywalker or go their separate ways, is anyone’s guess.

But based on what Johnson started in his film, I wouldn’t count out the possibility of Rey and Kylo joining each other in the critical gray area between Good and Evil. In The Last Jedi, morality is a societal construct, and one that means little when held up to scrutiny: as codebreaker, jailbreaker and turncoat extraordinaire DJ (Benicio Del Toro) reveals, both the First Order and the Resistance are buying their weapons from the same suppliers, who in turn squander their money on the lavish – and possibly illegal – pleasures of Canto Bight. While we’re on the subject, I have to ask whether anyone actually likes the character of DJ, or wouldn’t have preferred if Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico‘s (Kelly Marie Tran) paths had led them to the person they were actually looking for in the first place, the Master Codebreaker all-too briefly portrayed by Justin Theroux?

Even heroes like the once-mighty Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) make questionable choices: arguably the biggest shocker in the movie is when it is revealed that Luke, in a moment of weakness, went to kill a young Kylo Ren as the boy slept. Many fans argue that this is a betrayal of Luke’s character, as we had previously seen him risk his life to try and bring Darth Vader back from the Dark Side. I get where they’re coming from, but it’s also not like Luke hadn’t exhausted much of his strength and stamina fighting Vader. He probably wasn’t too keen on the idea of spending the remaining half of his life struggling to redeem his nephew’s soul. And let’s not forget that, while under Palpatine’s corrupting influence, Luke did try to brutally murder Vader and started lopping off his limbs. Luke has always been a wild card: it’s in character for him to be conflicted.

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It’s the same situation within the ranks of the Resistance, where people are more concerned with doing the right thing than looking like heroes: the violet-haired Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) even has to squash a mutiny led by “trigger-happy flyboy” Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), after he decides to disobey her orders and make up a new plan on the fly, as he so often does. The film at first makes us think that Holdo is a villainous or morally questionable character because she doesn’t tell her plans to Poe, but ultimately turns the tables on us and reveals that it was Holdo, all along, who had the right idea, and that she didn’t reveal her plans because Poe had been demonstrated earlier in the film to be unruly and unmanageable, and she knew he would never follow through with her last-ditch, self-sacrificial plan. But with the help of a little Leia ex machina, everything gets sorted out and Holdo proceeds to enjoy one of the coolest death scenes in film history, as she flies a spaceship at light-speed straight through the attacking First Order fleet, cutting star destroyers in half with blinding accuracy. For more on why Admiral Holdo is actually the best character in The Last Jedi, you can check out this article here.

Sadly, there’s another prominent theme in this movie: that of saying farewell, and going out on a high-note. Carrie Fisher, who had portrayed the indomitable Princess Leia Organa since 1977, passed away at the age of 60 just a year before The Last Jedi opened in theaters. When the film came out, it was clear that Carrie went out on a high-note, finally getting to use the Force in one of Jedi‘s most memorable moments. While there is suspicion that she will have a small appearance in The Rise Of Skywalker, it’s comforting to know that at least she got to be a true Skywalker before her passing.

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In-universe, however, it’s Luke Skywalker who gets an epic send-off, using the last of his strength to distract Kylo Ren long enough to let the Resistance escape through his fingers. His death, alone and at peace, watching the sunset just as he did forty years previously when his journey began on Tatooine, is poetic and beautiful. Though he had been troubled in life by his own failure to stop the spread of evil, he was able to leave the world knowing that he had done his best. Think of it this way: at least he got a death scene. Poor old Admiral Ackbar was simply pulled out into the frozen vacuum of space without any warning. Luke also had the good fortune to die in some of the best lighting Star Wars has ever produced – seriously, what happened to the days of moodily lit, smoky underground space-pubs and dark Death Star corridors? Nowadays, a respectable Skywalker wouldn’t be caught dead walking around without at least two different setting suns shining down on him and perfectly illuminating him from every possible angle. And I haven’t even mentioned the cloak: I mean, let’s be honest here, Aragorn and Harry Potter wish they had cloaks like Luke Skywalker’s – the final scene of it blowing away across the oceans of Ahch-To is so sad in part because that beautiful accessory is going to land somewhere in the water where it’s impossible to salvage. Most of the scenes of Luke’s beautiful island hermitage were filmed on the remote island of Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland. Everyone likes to rant and complain about Luke turning into a weird old man drinking green milk and hunting giant codfish, but why don’t we ever talk about the fact that he lived, undisturbed, for however many years, in one of the most gorgeous places in the Star Wars universe? I mean, seriously, if you’re going to get angry, at least get angry about the fact that he never had the courtesy to invite anybody to his island getaway!

Speaking of which, let’s just run through some of the locations visited in The Last Jedi. Aside from Ahch-To, which, admittedly, is pretty lonely aside from the random group of Jedi nuns and a couple hundred adorable porgs, we also visit the glittering vistas of Canto Bight, the Star Wars version of Monte Carlo, and the planet Crait, a snowy planet covered in blood-red soil which allows for some of the most family-friendly goriness we’ve ever seen in Star Wars, even under the Lucasfilm banner. Maybe you don’t like the movie, maybe you hate the themes, the characters, the whatever…but can we all agree that these locations are amazing?

The Last Jedi also includes some epic action sequences: most notably an opening battle that rivals the similar opening of Revenge Of The Sith, except that this one has the instantly lovable, resilient Paige Tico (Ngo Thanh Van) giving up her own life to save the Resistance, and not a bratty teenage nightmare named Anakin Skywalker. Thus, this battle actually tops the opening battle of Sith in my opinion, and gets the film rolling along at breakneck speed. To add onto that, why don’t we give enough credit to the complexity of Rose Tico’s character, at least at first? There she was, having just lost her sister, and she finds Finn trying to flee in one of the escape-pods to go look for Rey (as if she needs his help). While Rose really doesn’t have anything to do beyond that initial scene, it’s infinitely amusing to watch her zap Finn into unconsciousness to prevent him from “deserting” – and, even though we never actually see any real deserters, the scene indicates that multiple people have tried to run from the fight, making the Resistance feel like an actual army rather than just a bunch of the most perfect, fearless people in the galaxy teaming up to fight evil.

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There are multiple disappointing moments in the film beyond the usual ones that get brought up all the time, like about how “the escapade on Canto Bight serves virtually no purpose”, or “Snoke’s backstory was never explained”, two things that are certainly problematic. But in the name of originality, and mostly because I’m just a big Gwendoline Christie fan, here’s a complaint that doesn’t get brought up as much: the huge waste of a character that is Christie’s Captain Phasma. While it’s already frustrating that Christie was forced to hide under a heavy suit of metal throughout her time in the franchise, it’s even more annoying that, while male metal-clad characters like Darth Vader and The Mandalorian all get cool action scenes despite being helmeted and hidden, Phasma was never able to do anything truly impressive with her limited screentime. If they weren’t going to use her in any way in The Last Jedi, why didn’t they just leave her in some random trash-compactor on Starkiller Base back in the last movie? How did she even get off of Starkiller Base before it exploded? I have a lot of questions.

If you allow me to continue talking, I will begin to ramble, and rambling leads to meandering, which leads to whatever it is I’m doing right now. And that is why I must now say goodbye to you, dear reader. We’ve worked our way through more than four decades of Star Wars history to get to this point, and we’re finally here, at the end of all things. Very soon, I will have the pleasure of being able to see The Rise Of Skywalker, and I can only hope it lives up to not only my expectations, but those of fans around the world – some of whom have been waiting for this movie since 1977. Think about that, for a moment, and then consider the message of The Last Jedi, a movie that, at its core, is simply trying to make sure that the fire of rebellion never goes out.

Never stop watching Star Wars. Never stop sharing it with new people. Never stop fighting for hope and freedom, in any way you can. The Last Jedi reminds us that we are all part of the Skywalker Saga – no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we look like. Star Wars belongs to all of us, and that will never change.

May the Force be with you.

Movie Rating: 9.9/10

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” 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 Force Awakens

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Review! 15
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A lot gets made of the fact that, when designing the story structure of The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams used the first Star Wars movie as a template instead of trying to make sense of George Lucas’ fabulous script draft which would have explored the backstory of the mysterious, microbiotic Whills, yet another previously unknown species which apparently live inside Force-sensitive beings. Tell me, dear reader: would you rather be forced to sit through another trilogy about midi-chlorian biology, or something that actually focuses on…oh, I don’t know, an actual story? Doesn’t mean Abrams couldn’t have gone for something a little more fresh, but it’s a Star Wars tradition at this point to start out basic.

And let’s not pretend like A New Hope isn’t an awesome movie to try and repeat. The Force Awakens, thankfully, is a good copy of a very good movie. Could be worse: it could have been a clone of Attack Of The Clones, for instance!

There are several crucial differences between Lucas’ original film, and Abrams’ wildly successful remake, which is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Abrams’ Star Wars film, the first produced under the Disney banner, is more committed to having a diverse cast representing many different demographics. The story has a strong thematic core, and does break away from A New Hope at the very end to set up an intriguing cliffhanger and a fascinating conflict between our protagonist and her sworn enemy. And the film overall has a sense of self-awareness that allows for some fun bits of meta-humor: not quite as much as The Last Jedi, but still quite good.

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) is not Luke Skywalker. Though she may live a nearly identical life on a nearly identical planet, she is in many ways his opposite. For instance, Rey is compelled to eventual action by her desire to do good, not by any personal motivation – in fact, if she had her way, she would be flying back to the dusty sand-pit of Jakku as fast as possible to await her parents’ return. Ridley does a very good job of selling Rey’s resilience, practicality and the feeling that she truly is a nobody. Rey clearly has a strong connection to Skywalkers of old, and it remains to be seen whether The Rise Of Skywalker will reveal a missing link between her family and theirs, but she is at first reluctant to accept any of the duties bestowed upon her. She doesn’t have any princesses to save, any helpful Kenobi to guide her (actually, there is a Kenobi-lookalike living not far away on Jakku, but he gets murdered by the First Order within the first five minutes), or any known reason to get involved besides wanting to help the Rebellion in their time to need. For her archenemy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), it’s a personal affront to his strong sense of heritage to see a “nobody” daring to intrude on the Skywalker Saga.

Kylo Ren is not Darth Vader, and the First Order is not the Empire. Whereas the Empire was modeled strongly after the Nazi regime, the First Order are their modern counterparts, neo-Nazis. Kylo Ren is no tragic hero in the style of Anakin Skywalker, no matter how much he yearns to wear the helm of Vader and declare himself a Sith Lord: Kylo, with his idiotic accouterments of darkness and unintelligible muffled voice, is Vader’s cheap knock-off – an elitist, privileged white boy who runs away from home only to be brainwashed by cultists and madmen. As for the First Order, we’ve never actually had a clear idea of where they came from or how they established power in the galaxy, but their acolytes are obviously under the impression that they’re following in the footsteps of history’s forgotten heroes, as you do when you’re a neo-Nazi. And yes, there were many ways to get this point across that didn’t involve the First Order somehow having all the same Imperial technology and agendas, all the way down to having Stormtroopers who are just as bad at firing weapons.

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Speaking of Stormtroopers, the character of FN-2187 a.k.a. “Finn” (John Boyega) has no equal in the original trilogy. As a First Order foot-soldier sickened by the horrors of warfare and struggling between his fear of the Order and his instinct to run, Finn represents everybody trapped in a dark place, looking for a way to escape. But after he does achieve his freedom, the film really never has anything more to do with his character, and so slowly but surely he becomes comic relief, with even his few distinguishing features watered down or made into jokes: oops, no, he was never really a great stormtrooper after all – turns out, he was a janitor. Whoops, he got his hands on a lightsaber for a moment there – but he’ll be stuck with a random blaster-gun from now on. After a while, it’s simply pathetic to watch as he gets dumbed down, tripped up, or otherwise undermined by a script that never seems to remember it’s dealing with a literal Stormtrooper.

The original characters are not the same characters we knew. We see Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) only very briefly, but exposition allows us to understand that after the events of Return Of The Jedi, the legendary Skywalker went into hiding after his new Jedi temple produced the villainous Kylo Ren: much of the plot of The Force Awakens revolves around trying to track down the last Jedi and enlist him to fight the First Order. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), on the other hand, has aged gracefully into her responsibilities as commander of the Resistance, a group of battle-worn veterans who apparently only got to enjoy a decade or two of peace before going back onto the battlefield. Even C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is hardly recognizable anymore with his new red arm, while R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) has gone into low-power mode, awaiting the return of Skywalker (the latter development, besides being a necessary plot-point, also seems contrived to keep our attention on the new droid, BB-8). But the most startling change has come over Han Solo (Harrison Ford), whom we last cracking jokes and wooing Leia after the Battle of Endor. Han in The Force Awakens is no hero, but instead a worn-out pirate back to his old ways: he’s fled from his duties as a parent, having given up all hope on his wayward son, Kylo Ren (whose given-name is actually Ben Solo). It’s fun and charming to see Han seeking adventure in the great unknown with his usual rogue’s gallery of weird-looking alien villains, but it’s not long before he’s reluctantly drawn back into the fate of the Skywalker family, as he’s called upon to track down Kylo Ren and bring him home. The relationship that he develops with fellow pilot Rey has led to much speculation that the two are father and daughter, but that theory doesn’t make much sense to me (though Abrams plays his cards just right, so that every theory about Rey’s parentage seems like it could have a seed of truth): I think Han saw Rey as the child he never had, the child Kylo could have been if he had been a better father. When Han eventually comes face-to-face with his son, Kylo seems almost to hesitate, to waver, asking aloud for guidance and help. There are many theories about what exactly occurs in this moment, and what was going through both characters’ heads as they both realized what needed to happen. But whoever it was that ignited the blade, somehow Kylo Ren’s lightsaber ended up embedded in Han Solo’s chest. Most likely it was Kylo with the guidance of his Sith master Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis), but maybe it was Han acting quickly and selflessly to ensure that his son would be kept alive by the First Order; maybe that would ease the burden of patricide off of Kylo’s shoulders; maybe that would preserve a small glimmer of light within his dark, corrupted soul. Whatever you choose to believe, I think we can all agree that in this case, Han never even had a chance to shoot first.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Review! 18
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He also never gets a proper burial, as Starkiller Base explodes shortly after his death, meaning that his body is merely stardust in the vacuum of space. Maybe that’s how he would have wanted it. It’s certainly how Harrison Ford wanted it: he had been waiting for that moment since 1983.

Starkiller Base is not…no, actually, Starkiller is basically just the Death Star, isn’t it? Except bigger and covered in trees for whatever reason. Is it an actual planet that was converted into a gigantic weapons-system for the First Order? If not, and it was man-made, why would you waste time terraforming the place – especially since you know the entire planet will get blown up in a couple of minutes by two or three fighter pilots? Beyond being annoying redundant, the reveal that Starkiller is 5.5 times the size of the Death Star is honestly insulting to the pilots and brave Rebels who lost their lives disabling that weapon back when it was considered the biggest thing in the franchise.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Review! 19
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Pretty much everything else is precisely what you think it is: Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is a more morally-pure Han Solo (though even that is apparently set to change, with the character possibly meeting some unsavory rogues from his own past in The Rise Of Skywalker). The Resistance is virtually no different than the Rebellion of yesteryear – they’ve got the same tech, the same military commanders, the same call-signals.

The Force Awakens is not A New Hope.

It’s the same hope, with a different name, and a slightly different story, told from a new perspective and through the eyes of a modern, diverse cast of characters. It’s, admittedly, not the most groundbreaking installment in the saga’s history. But this same hope is what’s been keeping the Star Wars story going strong for over forty years, and it hasn’t failed yet: it’s the hope that rebellions are built on, the hope that lights a fire that will restore the Republic, or ignite Resistance, or burn the First Order down, or do pretty much anything you want it to – it’s all the classic charm of Lucasfilm, mixed in with a little sprinkle of Disney magic, and I must say, I quite enjoy the taste.

Movie Rating: 7.9/10

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