“The Mandalorian” Post-Credits Scene Reveals A Surprise 10th Spinoff!

SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AHEAD!

My complete review of The Mandalorian‘s season two finale went up earlier today, and I had plenty to say about my deeply conflicted feelings on the entire episode. As a loving and only slightly passive aggressive nod to the way in which The Mandalorian‘s showrunners and writing team have seemingly structured seasons two and three as a two-parter (because there’s no way the cliffhanger “ending” we got works for the self-contained story that the series liked to claim it was up until this point), I have similarly composed my thoughts into two separate posts, which exist symbiotically. The first dealt with the episode itself: the second, the one you’re reading right now, is all about that shocking post-credits scene.

The Mandalorian
Fennec Shand and Boba Fett | ew.com

A post-credits scene that, to be honest, I would have completely missed if I didn’t have a habit of watching through the credits – partly because, as someone who reviews films and TV, it’s important to know about the talented individuals who pour their heart and soul into making entertainment possible; partly because it’s an instinctive thing, from the days when Marvel movies still existed. I also had a feeling that, even though Star Wars hasn’t (to my knowledge) experimented with post-credits scenes before, there had to be something there, because the finale itself ended without any big stinger – whereas season one concluded with the iconic shot of Moff Gideon standing atop his wrecked TIE-fighter with the Darksaber in hand. No way was season two going to end with any less dramatic reveal.

What season two went for, however, was completely unexpected. The scene takes place back on Tatooine, presumably only a short while after the events of the finale, in a very specific location that Star Wars fans know well: the mountaintop monastery once possessed by Jabba the Hutt and transformed into his personal palace, den of vice, and center of his flourishing crime empire. I’d always just assumed the place was abandoned after Jabba’s death by strangulation and the destruction of his entire court, but apparently not – and even more shockingly, it seems that members of his inner circle outlived the Huttese crime lord: most notably Jabba’s former majordomo, the pale and sickly-looking Twi’lek, Bib Fortuna (voiced by Matthew Wood this time around, and easily one of the top ten most hideous Star Wars characters even before his transformation in this scene), who it seems survived the attack on Jabba’s pleasure-barge and took over for the deceased Hutt, carrying on his vile legacy. This is the first reference to Fortuna’s survival in the new Disney canon, but the outdated Legends canon long ago confirmed that the Twi’lek escaped the barge’s explosion in a sand-skiff and took control of the palace before his death.

The Mandalorian
Bib Fortuna | starwars.com

Fortuna was tall and thin during the events of Return Of The Jedi, but in just the five years since the Empire fell, he has become a pale, bloated shadow of his master’s former glory, perched atop the Hutt’s dais with his massive lekku horns encircling his whole upper body. A few miserable-looking individuals wander around his palace looking bored, while a single Twi’lek slave sits chained to Fortuna’s throne.

And that’s where Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) suddenly come in, quickly defeating the slight resistance from Fortuna’s followers. As they come down the stairs, there’s a truly touching and memorable interaction between Fennec Shand and the Twi’lek slave, who struggles to unwind herself from the royal dais – a callback to the Twi’lek dancer who valiantly tried to strangle Jabba in Return Of The Jedi, before being fed to the Rankor beast beneath the palace floor. This time around, Fennec simply shoots the chains, exchanging a sympathetic and understanding look with the escaping Twi’lek before turning to the urgent business at hand.

Bib Fortuna briefly tries to plead his case, putting on an air of excessive friendliness when welcoming Boba Fett, who wastes no time shooting him in the chest and kicking his body off the dais. I imagine we’ve seen the last of this bizarre and truly repulsive character, but I guess it’s always possible we could see another story from Legends adapted: the one in which the ancient monks living below Jabba’s palace harvested Fortuna’s brain and transplanted it into a mobile spider-droid. It’s probably unlikely, but I thought you should know all the options.

What we know for sure is that Boba Fett, who settles comfortably into the throne vacated by both Jabba and Bib, is probably about to take the reins of Jabba’s once mighty empire, with plenty of help from Fennec Shand, who sits on the throne’s armrest, swigging from a flagon. The camera pans out, and a title card helpfully informs us that a new Disney+ series called The Book Of Boba Fett is coming in December, 2021. There are two distinct possibilities for what this means, both for Boba and for the future of The Mandalorian franchise.

The most popular and plausible theory is that The Book Of Boba Fett will be a new spinoff, a tenth new original Disney+ Star Wars series to add to the nine previously announced at the Disney Investors Meeting last week. There have been rumors that a Boba Fett spinoff is either in the works or actually already filming, and its absence from the official Disney lineup surprised many fans who have been following the news closely. Now it seems they may have been concealing its existence to preserve the surprise of this post-credits scene. I would love for this to be its own spinoff, because a Boba Fett miniseries gives us much more time to explore Fett and Shand’s new lair in Jabba’s palace, and for them to interact with all of the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals. The Mandalorian, which most of us originally thought focused on the bounty hunting business, has since become its own thing, freeing up this niche for The Book Of Boba Fett to fill.

The Mandalorian
Jabba’s Palace | starwars.com

The other possibility, and one that I don’t even want to consider, is that this “spinoff” is actually the third season of The Mandalorian, focusing on Fett and Shand rather than Din Djarin and Grogu. The strongest reason to believe this could be the case is the fact that both series’ are set to debut in December of 2021, and Disney+ hasn’t ever pitted two high-profile series’ from the same franchise against each other like that before (though, granted, The Mandalorian has been pretty much their only high-profile series from any franchise they own, so far). It would certainly be unusual if the two debuted against each other. It’s also convenient that Boba Fett, a Mandalorian, would be in a position to take over as the Mandalorian. His storyline is certainly compelling, and I’d watch anything with Ming-Na Wen in it, but I’m definitely not ready to give up Din Djarin and Grogu yet, especially not now that Djarin has just accidentally come into possession of the Darksaber, and Grogu is studying with Luke Skywalker at the newly rebuilt Jedi Academy. There’s still too much story left to tell with (and from the viewpoints of) those two characters. Or at least, I have to hope so.

What do you think? Is The Book Of Boba Fett going to be its own thing, or a continuation of The Mandalorian with a new and improved focus? Which would you prefer? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Mandalorian” Season 2 Finale!

SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AHEAD!

How The Mandalorian‘s second season finale will be judged largely depends on what happens next, in either the sequel season it sets up with a not-so-subtle cliffhanger ending, or the spinoff it teases in an unexpected post-credits scene (or…are they are one and the same?), because what we got is very clearly not the resolution to a self-contained original story, but rather the prologue to a wider saga spanning the Star Wars universe. But right now, for this one blissful moment, my feelings are deeply conflicted yet generally positive…because you simply can’t do what The Mandalorian season two finale did in its closing minutes, and not excite the Star Wars fan in me.

The Mandalorian
The Mandalorian | deadline.com

Just as in season one, when Din Djarin (voiced and played by Pedro Pascal) had to assemble a team to defeat the unnamed Imperial client on Nevarro (the true identity of whom will likely remain one of the series’ many minor, irritating, unsolved mysteries), this season’s finale revolves around assembling a small gang of heavily-armed misfits and saving Baby Yoda – or Grogu, or The Child, or whatever you want to call him. Djarin had already gained the allegiances of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and Cara Dune (Gina Carano). The last piece in the puzzle is the Mandalorian princess Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who plays a pivotal role in the events of the finale, even though…well, it’s complicated, in a weird and somewhat unsatisfying way.

It’s nothing, however, compared to the intricacies of Mandalorian societal structures, which continue to grow increasingly messier the more we learn about them – today culminating in a face-off between Bo-Katan and Boba Fett where the two are barely able to resist from killing each other on the spot. The reasoning for that goes back a long way, to the animated Clone Wars series, in which it was revealed that most Mandalorians regard the entire House of Fett as outsiders to their creed and community – and Boba specifically as something entirely alien, due to the bounty hunter having been created inorganically as an identical clone of his father, Jango. Bo-Katan, who cast stones at Din Djarin for unknowingly belonging to a group of religious fanatics, now taunts Boba Fett with questions about his “donor”, and comparing him to other clones she’s known (and yes, that’s extremely hypocritical and uncharacteristic of her, since clone armies were instrumental in putting her in power after the Siege of Mandalore), causing a scuffle between Fett and Bo-Katan’s second-in-command, Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks). Fett, in turn, is utterly dismissive of Bo-Katan’s goal to unite the Mandalorian clans behind her and retake their ancestral home planet of Mandalore, which the Empire supposedly desecrated. In the end, the promise of finally being able to confront Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and win back the Darksaber is what convinces Bo-Katan to join: though Din Djarin valiantly tries the “they-took-the-Child” route with her. It’s worked for everyone else, and it seems to be almost be enough for Bo-Katan, but the show is painting her as a low-key antagonist to Djarin for whatever reason, so they can’t have her be too kindhearted.

This is one of two instances in The Mandalorian so far (the other being Ahsoka’s refusal to train Grogu because of attachments) that I would be tempted to classify as character assassination if the term hadn’t been hijacked by trolls who use it broadly to mean anything that ever happened in the sequel trilogy. There’s a difference between character assassination and character development that a lot of people don’t get: and Luke Skywalker’s journey in The Last Jedi, for example, is a textbook example of the latter. Character development is organic and typically serves a thematic purpose; whereas assassination is a shortcut used lazily to rush the story forward (in Ahsoka’s case), or to force a conflict where there was none (in Bo-Katan’s case). What’s particularly frustrating is that audiences who don’t know Bo-Katan from the animated series’ will now remember her best as the borderline ruthless, prejudiced, ambitious-to-a-fault schemer she is here.

Laying out an elaborate strategy for how to infiltrate Gideon’s star-cruiser, the gang sets out in a small Imperial shuttle stolen from its previous pilot (played by Thomas Sullivan, whom I immediately recognized from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The Mandalorian somehow has time to flesh out his character, and give him a pointless back-and-forth with Cara Dune, where he manipulates what I guess are supposed to be her traumatic memories of the destruction of Alderaan. The event has now been referenced twice this season, and, leaving aside the fact that Carano’s acting does nothing to convey the trauma of its aftermath (the dialogue literally mentions her shedding a tear, while Carano’s eyes are dry), it’s honestly just weird that people keep bringing it up in-universe.

Omid Abtahi briefly reprises the role of Dr. Pershing, the other occupant of the stolen shuttle, but there’s no time to interrogate him about Grogu’s exact midi-chlorian count. The fact that he was on his way to and not from Gideon’s cruiser bodes well for Grogu, as it implies he may not have had a chance to extract any further samples from the child (Gideon later confirms he’s taken his own samples of the child’s blood, but, well, that will be insignificant in the long run).

Director Peyton Reed is at his best while orchestrating the high-stakes, action-packed break-in – a stark contrast to his Ant-Man movies, which have mostly been low-stakes, filled with comedic action scenes and sight gags. Between this and the exhilarating spider chase he directed earlier in The Mandalorian‘s second season, he’s definitely given himself an upgrade before his next Marvel film, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania. His exceptional use of each character’s individual strengths makes for a very memorable string of fight scenes, and there’s a real sense of urgency and danger, even though most of our heroes are encased in beskar steel, which is nigh on impossible to shatter, dent, or damage in any way.

The Mandalorian
Din Djarin and Grogu | polygon.com

Din Djarin finds this out the hard way when he singlehandedly takes on Gideon’s elite platoon of robotic dark troopers – even with one of these super-sized metal juggernauts repeatedly hammering his face backwards into a wall with the force of a small battering ram, it’s the wall that gets broken to bits and Djarin who escapes unscathed, thanks to his beskar steel helmet. Hilariously, he’s then able to temporarily eliminate the dark trooper threat by blasting them all out an airlock.

While Bo-Katan and her all-female team storm the ship’s bridge looking for Gideon, Djarin accidentally but predictably encounters the Moff personally guarding his most prized possession, Grogu, with the Darksaber in hand. Finally, we can see why Lucasfilm hired Giancarlo Esposito for this role, as the ex-Imperial sneakily manipulates the conversation, feigning disinterest in the Mandalorian political situation while freely offering the child to Djarin. Although Djarin initially buys into his lies, it takes all of five seconds for Gideon to reveal his true colors and start hacking ferociously at Djarin with the Darksaber. The beskar steel gifted by Ahsoka Tano finally comes in handy, allowing Djarin the means to fight back in one of the series’ most hyped-up duels. The whole sequence is over suspiciously quickly, however, and Gideon is soon captured and dragged up to the bridge after being disarmed by Djarin.

When they reach the bridge, we find out just how cunning Gideon has been – possibly at the expense of established Star Wars canon. It was revealed a while ago in Rebels that, to wield the Darksaber and claim it as one’s own, one must first defeat the previous owner in combat. Or, at least, that was the case until Sabine Wren yielded the Darksaber willingly to Bo-Katan…who soon after lost it to Gideon himself, and spent years hunting him down, trying to make up for her failure and render her claim to the sword irrefutable. Gideon, by intentionally losing to Djarin, has now created a situation where Bo-Katan “can’t” take the sword unless she wins it in combat…from Din Djarin. Except she can. Sabine Wren set the precedent. Djarin offers it to her several times, only for Gideon to interject each time with a gleeful reminder of how Mandalorian law supposedly works. My best guess is that Bo-Katan blames her willingness to defy tradition and take the sword freely for all her failures, and for that reason won’t do so again. This whole thing is weirdly reminiscent of the Elder Wand debacle in Harry Potter.

It’s at this moment that the dark troopers return, flooding back onto the ship and charging towards the bridge, all while Gideon gleefully torments his captors with quips and boasts. His menace is rather undercut, though, by the sheer stupidity that compels him to grab a blaster and aim for Bo-Katan, who, reminder, is wearing beskar steel. He gets knocked unconscious by Cara Dune, and that’s literally the last we hear of him. A humiliating defeat for a villain that had just come into his own.

In the chaos, a single X-Wing fighter appears out of nowhere, heading for the cruiser. At first, I assumed it had to be the New Republic, come to save the day and convince us that a Rangers Of The New Republic spinoff series is actually necessary, but once the ship is confirmed to be flying solo and lands without communicating with the bridge, I figured I knew who its occupant had to be. Reed draws out the big reveal, forcing you to agonize and wrestle with your emotions and your “this can’t be happening” impulses, even as all the visual clues add up. And the brutal, beautiful suspense makes it that much more conflicting when the smoke clears, each and every dark trooper has been obliterated, and the person standing there is indeed Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)…but is also very much not.

The CGI replacement for young Luke – which uses Hamill’s digitally de-aged voice and likeness – is perhaps not quite as unnerving as the CGI Princess Leia in Rogue One, but nowhere near the seamless, stately elegance of CGI Tarkin in the same film. CGI Luke’s eyes are haunting and slightly unfocused, and his voice doesn’t quite seem to match the movement of his lips. He is, of course, revealed to be the Jedi that Grogu contacted back on Tython, but when they meet at last, Grogu waddles over immediately – only to spend most of the scene talking to Luke’s sidekick, R2-D2, in an excited chirping language matching the droid’s beeps, boops, and bops, while CGI Luke stands to the side; his ghastly top half purposefully out of frame, his lower half standing too still, like a background character in an animated movie.

The Mandalorian
Luke Skywalker and Grogu | menshealth.com

Disturbing digital effects aside, the Luke reveal is emotional and brilliantly executed, and it makes sense that he’ll be the one to train Grogu in the ways of the Force. But of course saying goodbye is hard: and so Djarin removes his helmet willingly, revealing his face to Grogu for the first (and hopefully not last) time. The puppet’s tiny claw reaches out to touch Djarin’s cheek, wide eyes take in every feature of his face…and yes, those muffled sobs you hear are mine. What can I say? I love character development.

And with that, CGI Luke sweeps Baby Yoda into his Ken doll arms, and takes off, concluding the second season of The Mandalorian. So much is still unresolved! Moff Gideon is defeated, Din Djarin commands the Darksaber and must now either embrace a new destiny or pass it on to Bo-Katan, and Grogu is headed to Ach-To, I guess. Oh yeah, and Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are getting a spinoff (or maybe just taking over The Mandalorian), which we’ll discuss in greater detail, in the second half of my finale review.

Because this show is so frustrating, one just wasn’t enough.

Episode Rating: 7.5/10

“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

“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.

"Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker" Spoiler Review! 1
themarysue.com

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: 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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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: 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: Return Of The 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.

(Before we begin, be aware that I’m going through the list by order of release date: I understand that George Lucas wanted movies 4, 5 and 6 to be movies 1, 2 and 3 and to be treated as such – but they’re not good enough to warrant that distinction. Sorry, George).

Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi

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The final chapter in the original Star Wars trilogy sags under the burden placed upon its shoulders by the two previous installments in the Skywalker Saga. Why? Because it follows the same basic principle of The Force Awakens, but without the benefit of coming out some twenty years after the original film – rather than looking like a dreamy, nostalgic callback to former glory, Return Of The Jedi instead feels mostly like a frantic cash-grab, capitalizing on all of A New Hope‘s flashes of ingenuity but ignoring that they cease to be ingenious when repeated time and time again. It doesn’t help the film’s image when you discover that George Lucas rewrote the entire movie to maximize toy sales, something that we’ll discuss in detail.

But first, because I don’t like to be negative about a franchise I love – does Return Of The Jedi have any redeeming qualities?

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Well, yes. Most films do. Even The Phantom Menace has some good moments (can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’ll have to think of some for my review of that film). But unfortunately, most of Return Of The Jedi‘s great moments are overshadowed by the larger flaws they contrast. For instance, having Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), and The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) get in a three-way battle to the death is a great idea, and lends itself nicely to some very cool scenes of action, lightsaber wizardry and Force-lightning madness. However, the fact that this battle takes place on a cheaper, less intimidating knockoff of the Death Star, whose crucial design flaw is basically identical to that on the first Death Star, rendering the object pointless and boring…well, that’s not quite as much fun. If you’re going to reuse old ideas, at least make them bigger and more epic – maybe don’t downgrade from “a weapon the size of a moon that can blow up other planets” to “a partially-constructed weapon the size of a large asteroid that can blow up spaceships one at a time”. Honestly, if you’re going to build a new Death Star, at least have the courtesy to give it to Alec Guinness (who reprised his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi) after you’re done using it, so he can promptly annihilate the entire Star Wars fandom – how he got roped in to doing a third Star Wars film, I have no idea, but it’s evident from his bored, mechanical line-readings that he was doing his level best to make the film unwatchable (apparently, early script drafts had him joining the action as a Force-ghost and helping to defeat The Emperor, but Guinness didn’t like using special effects. You can’t have it both ways, Alec; you’re either an expository ghost or a CGI wizard – there is no middle ground).

Return Of The Jedi is truly disappointing because of how many awesome what-if scenarios were originally going to make their way into the film: scenarios that would have to wait until decades later to be realized onscreen, because George Lucas was afraid that taking risks would minimize the sales of toys, action figures and other Star Wars merchandise. Most shockingly, the trilogy was at one point intended to end with Luke Skywalker removing his father’s mask – and claiming it for himself, having been so corrupted in his fight with The Emperor that he became a Sith Lord, channeling the Dark Side of the Force to turn on the Rebellion, leading to Han Solo’s heroic death during a raid on the Imperial base. Even after Lucas scrapped that idea (it was too sad for a kid’s movie, he claimed), there were still plans for the film to end on a bittersweet note, with Leia in charge of a last, desperate band of Rebels and war-torn heroes, while Luke would abandon the cause and go into hiding. While many of these concepts later found their way into The Force Awakens, they don’t fit particularly well in that film, coming off a trilogy that actually ended triumphantly, with the Empire destroyed, the Jedi supposedly restored to power, and the galaxy at peace. J.J. Abrams’ sequel trilogy is largely founded on an alternative version of Return Of The Jedi that never saw the light of day, a version that allowed for a sequel.

Even Lucas’ film, however, feels like it has multiple parts that belong to a completely different movie. For instance, the thirty-minute long detour on Tatooine to rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) might just be an excuse to revisit what is arguably the franchise’s most iconic locale, but it definitely seems to be setting up Solo’s story to actually…go somewhere. But beyond helping to shut down the energy-shields surrounding the Death Star, Solo is largely unimportant to the story. He’s still great, because he’s Han Solo – but why was it so important that we spend half an hour saving him from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, without any real payoff? Why, unless he was originally intended to do something essential, something heroic – something that would have resulted in his death, and thus fewer toys sold?

This is, unfortunately, the very same trap that J.J. Abrams and his team could fall into with The Rise Of Skywalker. Not with regard to toy sales, I don’t think, but they must similarly feel like ending their trilogy on anything other than a victorious high note would be disappointing after so much buildup. But I sincerely hope they have an incredible plan for the franchise’s climax, and it will be satisfyingly poignant, triumphant and original: if The Lord Of The Rings could end with a decent portion of the main cast setting sail into the West, than so can Star Wars!

There are a couple of characters for whom Return Of The Jedi is not a total mess: Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who is finally revealed as Luke Skywalker’s twin sister, and has some strong emotional moments handling the ramifications of that revelation – not to mention more action scenes than she’s ever had before or since, from single-handedly strangling Jabba the Hutt to a crazy speeder-bike chase through the forests of Endor, picking off stormtroopers; C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), who has one hilarious scene in which, mistaken for a deity by the Ewoks of Endor, he ends up nearly condemning Luke, Han and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to become the main course at a sacrificial banquet in his honor, because he’s too polite to refuse; and the oft-quoted Admiral Akbar (Timothy Rose), the Mon Calamari alien who becomes the first high-ranking non-human member of the Rebellion, gets one infamous line of dialogue, and then is seen afterwards partying with the Ewoks. Good for him.

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In Return Of The Jedi, George Lucas’ hand once again reaches in from the future to clumsily tinker with the special effects – and here, he has one particularly egregious use of CGI as well as one addition that I have to grudgingly admit is a nice way to keep continuity between all his trilogies. The former is the notorious addition of an entire alien musical number in Jabba’s palace, one which is apparently supposed to make the giant slug’s cavernous lair seem more like a family-friendly dance hall than a den of vice. The latter is the replacement of original Anakin Skywalker actor Sebastian Shaw’s Force-ghost with the likeness of Hayden Christensen, who portrayed Anakin in the prequel trilogy: while that change has always been controversial, I feel it’s actually a nice touch – as are the scenes of celebration in several prequel trilogy planets such as Naboo and Coruscant, lending the victory scene a larger, more epic scale. There’s also a couple of weird little alterations, from giving the Sarlacc a head to digitally shaving off Darth Vader’s eyebrows.

The connection between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is the original trilogy’s most powerful element, and the true heart of this story.  Luke is faced with many struggles and temptations, and is eventually brought face-to-face with The Emperor (who probably makes a lot more sense if you know who and what he is, thanks to the prequels). Luke’s battle to resist the darkness within him is fiercely compelling. Darth Vader’s redemption might seem to come out of the blue, but it does make sense when viewed in the context of future movies – as Vader watched his son writhe in agony beneath The Emperor’s whips of hellfire, it was impossible for him not to see in his child’s face the tortured eyes of Padmé Amidala, Luke’s mother and the love of Vader’s life – the person for whom he had turned to the Dark Side in a desperate attempt to save her life, only to realize that by doing so, he had actually brought about her anguished, ruinous death. Hearing his son’s pleas and realizing in a blinding flash that The Emperor was solely responsible for all the grievances, betrayals and nightmares visited upon him and his family, Anakin rebelled in that moment, ridding the Skywalkers of The Emperor, who had been their demonic guardian for three generations, giving up his own life to save his and Padmé’s children. It’s powerful stuff. Granted, audiences back in 1983 didn’t know any of that backstory: however, even without the assist of the prequels, you can easily understand and appreciate the poetry of The Emperor being destroyed by his apprentice, just as all Sith are and always have been.

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But of course, The Emperor is apparently returning in The Rise Of Skywalker…so does that make Vader’s sacrifice meaningless? Or is it a sign that as long as the Skywalker family exists in the galaxy, The Emperor’s malevolent spirit will haunt them? Probably best not to think about that yet.

In conclusion, Return Of The Jedi is not the best way to cap off a great trilogy, and not a good blueprint for The Rise Of Skywalker to follow – while there may be a handful of redeeming qualities in this movie, most of it is corrupted by the Dark Side of the Force.

Movie Rating: 5.9/10

“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” 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.

(Before we begin, be aware that I’m going through the list by order of release date: I understand that George Lucas wanted movies 4, 5 and 6 to be movies 1, 2 and 3 and to be treated as such – but they’re not good enough to warrant that distinction. Sorry, George).

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

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In Star Wars, the successor is always stronger than the predecessor: this is symbolized in both the Sith and the Jedi religions, where the apprentice always overcomes the master eventually, whether by force or fate – and it is symbolized in the film trilogies themselves, where each successive sequel is better than its precursor. And if A New Hope is the wise old Jedi master of Star Wars, then Empire is their fiery, free-spirited student (and that puts Last Jedi somewhere on an Anakin Skywalker level of chaotic energy).

A New Hope played by the rules, establishing a handful of lead characters, giving them a couple of fun, exhilarating obstacles to overcome, and then leaving them (and us, the audience) with a happy, satisfied feeling as we watched our plucky band of heroes rewarded with the highest honors. The Death Star had been destroyed, the terrible Darth Vader had been sent careening off into the depths of space, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was, um, well, he was a Jedi or something, right?

Wrong. When Empire opens, it immediately establishes that the story is far from over, as the Rebellion finds themselves back on the battlefield, with Imperial forces surrounding them on all sides, hunting relentlessly for the man named Skywalker. Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) is back, with a terrifying new overlord vaguely referred to as the Emperor, and worst of all, Luke himself is caught in a hurricane of new emotions as he struggles between his desire to fulfill his Jedi training and his instinctive need to confront the power of the Darkness. Yes, while he might have been a beacon of hope and moral purity in A New Hope, Empire finds Luke wavering between good and evil, just as his father before him.

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That balancing act makes Empire a thoroughly satisfying movie from a thematic point of view, and gives Hamill and the character of Luke Skywalker plenty of fascinating material to work with – watching Luke confront reality and slowly begin to understand that his youthful dream to follow in his noble father’s footsteps will in fact lead him to the Dark Side is utterly thrilling: and the movie ends just when it needs to, with Darth Vader finally breaking the young Skywalker’s steadfast resolve and destroying all of his last, desperate delusions – forcing the audience, along with Luke, to see that the concept of “destiny” can be a curse as well as a blessing. I say again, this movie is thrilling.

In many ways, Empire is the precursor to the premise of The Last Jedi – it takes the established Star Wars canon, takes one look at it, and tosses it over its shoulder. But whereas the new trilogy has been plagued by a mess of many conflicting directorial visions and an unwillingness to follow through with Last Jedi‘s promise, George Lucas’ original trilogy wasn’t afraid to “go there”. It broke the sheen of romanticism that it had built around itself, took risks, and changed the direction of the franchise – for the better. But since it was only the second movie in the entire series, fans were willing to “forgive” all of that: eight movies in…not so much.

And it’s not like Empire just made the series a little darker and more mature. It did a lot – from introducing the series’ first black character in roguish, charming heartthrob Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), to retconning one of the first film’s central plot points and making Darth Vader Luke’s father without any explanation (nowadays, Fantastic Beasts fans complain about having to wait a year or two to find out how Credence is a Dumbledore: original Star Wars fans had to wait about two decades to get answers – no wonder they’re embittered!).

In The Empires Strikes Back, the Star Wars story also moves away from the science-fiction serials and TV shows it had been based on, by taking what could very easily have been an episodic story and turning it into…a story that is definitely not episodic, but still insists on categorizing itself into episodes anyway, even forty years later. Empire builds the foundations of what would become the Skywalker Saga, by giving Luke a personal stake in the story and pitting him against a worthy enemy in Darth Vader.

Duality. Remember that from my A New Hope review? Empire expands upon the concept by throwing in the big shocker that Darth Vader is Luke’s biological father, his mirror image on the Dark Side of the Force, and supposedly the destiny that awaits him too. Vader and Skywalker orbit each other in Empire, waiting for their inevitable moment of eclipse when one will destroy the other. They are two inextricably linked forces of nature, and the greatest champions that the Force can conjure (though, there’s been a lot of theorizing recently that The Mandalorian‘s Baby Yoda, born in roughly the same year as Anakin Skywalker, might actually have been Vader’s true equal and nemesis: a bit late for that reveal, I think, but interesting nonetheless).

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The theme of duality is also seen in the characters of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who have a tumultuous and similarly circuitous trajectory toward becoming the series’ defining love story. While they’ve definitely got a lot of chemistry and romantic tension as they huddle in the frozen tunnels of their Hoth base-camp, it’s only when they’re separated from Luke that things get really interesting in their relationship – not only because it prevents all the awkward accidental-incest that might have otherwise resulted, but because it gives Leia and Han a chance to solve problems on their own, without Skywalker flying in to save the day every two seconds. And it only gets more romantic when, after nearly being crushed to death in the mynock-infested mouth of a giant space-slug, Han takes Leia to safety in the Cloud City of Bespin, only to be betrayed to the Empire by his best friend, turned into a tabletop, and sold to another giant space-slug on the far side of the galaxy. Meanwhile, on a much smaller scale, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), everyone’s favorite comedic duo, are separated and forced to survive mostly on their own – unintentionally mirroring each other’s hijinks from across the galaxy.

In Empire, we also get our first hint of Leia’s importance to the story and her mysterious connection to Luke, as she taps into the Force to see him hanging from the underbelly of Cloud City, just in time to rescue him (and yet we still pretend that Leia using the Force in The Last Jedi was a retcon). She is, of course, the infamous “another” that Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) spoke of – the Skywalker who would outlive and outlast Luke, and maybe – just maybe – save the entire universe in its darkest hour. Since Empire, that has been Leia’s established destiny: her character arc, from those first few moments of force-sensitivity, has been leading her to a confrontation with the Dark Side, just like her brother. It’s no secret anymore that, if Carrie Fisher had not tragically passed away in 2016, she would probably have been revealed to be a Jedi in The Rise Of Skywalker, getting her very own lightsaber and wielding the Force. Depending on how much footage director J.J. Abrams was able to use of her in this film, she still might do some of that – but it’s hard to believe that we’ll see a conclusion to her story that doesn’t disappoint, considering what could have been.

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Well, that’s depressing. So…um…space battles, anyone?

Empire features some of the franchise’s most impressive action sequences, from the siege of Hoth (featuring one of my favorite Star Wars droids, the Viper probe) to the incredible, gravity-defying lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the Cloud City engine rooms, where words cut just as deep as weapons. It also introduced the world to bounty hunters like Boba Fett, who was so epic, he actually made a deal with Darth Vader to have Han Solo turned into a carbonite table and shipped to Jabba the Hutt in a flying iron, before being pushed into a Sarlacc pit on Tatooine and eaten…okay, forgive me for asking, but why did we all collectively decide to idolize Boba Fett? We’ve all been wondering why The Mandalorian is a pretty boring character, but has it occurred to anyone that they were never all that interesting? If I’m being honest, I was always more intrigued by that weird insectoid bounty hunter who showed up in one scene – who apparently was named Zuckuss? Yeah, I cared more about a bug-man named Zuckuss than I ever did about Boba Fett. Or his flying iron. Is no one going to explain why his spaceship was designed to look like an iron?

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Boba Fett’s iron isn’t the only weird thing about Empire, a movie that also features: Luke being abducted by a yeti and shoved into the stomach of a space kangaroo; Muppets from space twenty years before Muppets From Space; and Darth Vader’s bizarrely well-choreographed surprise dinner party. But I’m willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy this deliciously unpredictable morsel of a movie – one that makes you want to wash it down with a tall glass of Last Jedi; the only other movie in the Star Wars…(frantically searches for a word describing a group of nine)…nonad that mixes wonderment, drama and originality so perfectly.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Star Wars: A New Hope” 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.

(Before we begin, be aware that I’m going through the list by order of release date: I understand that George Lucas wanted movies 4, 5 and 6 to be movies 1, 2 and 3 and to be treated as such – but they’re not good enough to warrant that distinction. Sorry, George).

Star Wars: A New Hope

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The movie that started it all: not just the opening chapter in the story of the Skywalker family and their tumultuous game of tug-of-war between opposing sides of the Force, but also the movie that birthed Hollywood’s current blockbuster trend (apart from the prequels, which were crushed under the hairy heels of hobbits, every Star Wars movie in the Skywalker Saga has been the highest-grossing movie in the year of its release). Star Wars is one of the defining checkpoints in cinematic history, and it will always have that distinction – few other films have shaped the entertainment industry, and pop culture in general, in the way that Star Wars did. Even in the days before the internet and social media, the film permeated every aspect of society, spawning merchandise, mantras, mannerisms, and that notorious Christmas special that George Lucas wants you to forget about. It makes Rise Of Skywalker all the more frightening – for the first time in forty-two years, the Star Wars franchise will have no clear direction, no overarching story, no Skywalker to follow into the future.

But as that future is still more than a week away, let us savor this moment of blissful ignorance and return to the craggy deserts of Tatooine, a remote planet nestled in a forgotten corner of the Outer Rim, somewhere long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away – an inconspicuous space rock that, for whatever reason birthed the Star Wars franchise’s most iconic hero and villain. The harsh sand is illuminated by the planet’s dual suns (duality is Star Wars‘ most constant theme: make a note of that), and crawling with Jawas, Tusken Raiders, and the handful of moisture farmers who call the desert home. It’s probably the most iconic locale in all of science-fiction. But after all this time, surely both Tatooine’s rugged charm and Luke Skywalker’s simplistic journey to heroism have been antiquated by the deluge of even larger, more epic sci-fi stories that erupted in the film’s wake?

Nope. That is to say: yes, some parts of A New Hope maybe aren’t quite as spectacular and compelling as they were in 1977 – but all in all, the film is still extremely entertaining, ridiculously fun, and brilliantly unique. There are things I love about the movie – there are also things that I strongly dislike. And, in a couple of situations, there are things which would work, but don’t anymore because of the events of other Star Wars movies. Let’s run through the list.

What is still great about A New Hope? So much. But above anything else – the film’s story. I called it simplistic, and it is: but it’s archetypal, so it has to be. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was never a very complex character in the original film – he was the standard white male protagonist whose inferior knockoffs have since infested every inch of genre fiction. Morally pure but headstrong, loyal but self-doubting, readily equipped with magic sword and grappling hook but pacifistic nevertheless (okay, the grappling hook is actually one of Luke’s more unique accessories: shamefully, it was only ever used once). Most of the ensemble cast are also fairly ordinary: the rogue with a heart of gold, the princess, the mentor figure unwillingly called out of retirement, the bumbling comic relief characters. And the film never does anything particularly unexpected or extraordinary with any of them – they go about their quest, and achieve it with a minimum amount of casualties (except for the mentor, of course: the mentor always dies). But there’s nothing wrong with a classic Hero’s Journey, and A New Hope arguably tells it better than almost any other example out there. And you have to first build a myth if you’re going to start deconstructing it.

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A New Hope also does a good job of disguising the fact that its characters are archetypes: for example, while Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is technically a “damsel in distress”, she never actually stresses or cracks under pressure. She resists the interrogations and torture methods employed upon her by the greatest Sith Lord in the universe, and even dares to lie to Grand Moff Tarkin (the fabulous Peter Cushing) in order to buy time for her friends: and once freed from prison, she grabs herself a blaster gun and takes part in the action. As soon as she returns to her Rebel hideout, she takes the reins and orchestrates the daredevil raid on the Death Star. And of course, she was the person entrusted with the Death Star plans in the first place.

And even if monomyths and archetypes are too cliché for some, they’re made new and invigorating by the story’s bold, high-concept sci-fi – a genre which has largely been synonymous with Star Wars ever since the first film’s release. George Lucas could easily have adapted the sleek, shiny, futuristic look of Star Trek into his own universe: but instead, he chose to go for a more realistic “used future”, one full of grit, grime, and rebel scum. This same basic principle – that a fantasy universe should and could feel lived-in, with a little help from a willing crew of craftspeople, costume designers and prop-makers –  would later be adopted by Peter Jackson when making The Lord Of The Rings, which is why I felt it was necessary to add to my list.

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Building off of that: spaceships and aliens. From the film’s opening shot (which has been mirrored and referred back to many times since), Star Wars has always been, at least partially, about building bigger and bigger spaceships and then finding ways to blow them up – after all, there wouldn’t be any star war to speak of if the Empire didn’t have a gazillion TIE-fighters and star destroyers, or if the Rebellion wasn’t armed with their battered fleet of X-Wings (and one Millennium Falcon). A New Hope has some great scenes in space, and some incredible spaceships – not to mention the mighty Death Star, a weapon of mass destruction that would be a lot more intimidating if it wasn’t basically the only idea the Empire ever had. Every ship in Star Wars, whether built to weather the sands of Tatooine or the cold void of space, has its own little quirks and characteristics: even if it’s often impossible to remember every spaceship’s name (the Falcon, Tantive IV, um…), they’re all still easily distinguishable.

The aliens, while undoubtedly being some of Star Wars‘ most iconic characters, are rather few and far between in A New Hope. With each new movie in the franchise, the Rebellion has become more and more diverse, but the original film’s trusty team of fighter pilots consisted entirely of white men. Chewbacca the Wookie (Peter Mayhew) is the only alien present in the film’s epic finale (and it feels mean to call him an alien: Chewie is part of the family). This is something that feels even weirder when you consider that the crew of pilots and soldiers in Rogue One (which is set only about a week before the events of A New Hope) is much more diverse, with women, people of color, and aliens all piloting spaceships and taking part in the Rebellion. But there are enough aliens packed into the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine to fill roughly thirty who’s-who books: Figrin D’an and his groovy band, the Modal Nodes; Greedo, the rubbery green rat who may or may not have shot first (more on that in a moment); Jawas, furtive junk-traders and robbers eternally swaddled in dark robes; the barbaric Tusken Raiders, who are indirectly responsible for Darth Vader; and of course, the mighty Jabba the Hutt, who was digitally added into the film during one of George Lucas’ many attempts to retouch the original trilogy with fancier special effects.

And now we have to get into the bad stuff: specifically, the awkward mishmash of VFX and practical effects that Lucas’ tampering is responsible for – in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, not content with allowing the original films to age gracefully, Lucas, who was at that point busy suffocating his prequel trilogy in horrendous CGI nonsense, decided to go back and insert some of his new favorite ingredient into the older films: the result is…unfortunate, to say the least. Not only because the CGI is bad, inconsistent, and messily applied, but also because it robs A New Hope of a lot of its charm. Is it kind of silly that spaceships and entire planets explode into sparkling smoke in the original film? Yes, of course: for example, it’s a bit of a downgrade to go from watching 2016’s Rogue One (which, again, is set only a few days before A New Hope), which does a great job of displaying the Death Star’s horrific powers – to the original Death Star, which just zaps planets out of existence in two seconds with a pyrotechnics flash, before itself being zapped. But that wasn’t even the only sort of thing that George Lucas was interested in changing: apparently dissatisfied with the story he had crafted, he also edited scenes differently to present different narratives – which is how we ended up with the “Han shot first” debacle.

"Star Wars: A New Hope" Review! 40
theverge.com

The “Han shot first” debacle is the Star Wars fandom’s equivalent of “do Balrogs have wings?”, or “how did Steve return the Soul Stone?”. Back in 1977, it wasn’t even a question: when Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was accosted by the green space alien mercenary Greedo (Paul Blake) in the Mos Eisley cantina, he undeniably shot first, before Greedo had a chance to move. And for most people, that was perfectly fine: it was totally in character for the rogue, and it was a cool, tense scene. But for George Lucas, it painted Han Solo as a merciless killer, so he tinkered with it to add in a few frames where Greedo shoots first, missing Han (which doesn’t even make sense, considering he was sitting about two feet away from him), and giving Han justification for firing back. In 2004, Lucas changed it again, having both Han and Greedo fire at the same time, with Han somehow dodging Greedo’s shot. And now, the controversy has been stirred up again by the Disney+ version of the film, which gives Greedo an added line of dialogue, in which he threatens Han with the menacing word “maclunkey” before shooting. The debacle has sparked outrage on both sides of the argument: Lucas claims that it was always meant to be that way (despite original scripts proving otherwise); Paul Blake is outraged that his character shot first, saying it makes Greedo look pathetic for missing at such short range; and Harrison Ford doesn’t know or care who shot first. The question of which version is “right” is bound to linger for many more years to come. For more info on the subject, you can check out Wikipedia’s entire article on “Han shot first”.

Lucas’ meddling has done a great deal of damage to the franchise: the attempt to blend the styles of the first two trilogies into one cohesive whole isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it doesn’t work; Lucas’ insistence that 1977 audiences accidentally fell in love with only “half a completed film” feels like a slap in the face to the franchise’s earliest fans; and his eventual decision to step away from Star Wars entirely seems, in hindsight, like sore losing, as if he can’t quite understand that his films don’t need to be 100% perfect in order to be good. They’re beloved classics already: they should remain classic.

"Star Wars: A New Hope" Review! 41
starwars.com

So does A New Hope still hold up after all this time? I think that, if you can look past the film’s very few flaws (most of which are the fault of George Lucas’ perfectionism), then you’ll find that the very first Star Wars movie is still one of the franchise’s very best. It’s not as visionary as The Empire Strikes Back or The Last Jedi, nor even as complex as The Revenge Of The Sith, but it’s still just as much (if not more) fun than all three of those entries.

Movie Rating: 8.5/10

“Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Final Trailer!

I’m not crying, you’re crying. Okay, well, I’m crying a little, but only a little…*I watch the trailer for the fifteenth time in a row, and get up to Carrie Fisher’s voice-over at the end*…okay, I’m officially sobbing again.

This stuff is pretty emotional. It’s the final trailer for the final movie in a saga that has spanned over forty years – I mean, that sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. We cried tears over the conclusion to a single decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe…imagine four decades of Star Wars, coming to a close at long last, delivering what may or may not be a satisfying conclusion to one of the most epic and legendary adventures of all time, one of the greatest stories ever told onscreen. Am I expected to hold back my tears when C-3PO, who’s been one of the few constants in this franchise (and has appeared in every single Star Wars film to date) tells his friends that he’s taking one last look at them, in case something happens to him? How about when we catch a fleeting glimpse of what looks to be the Tantive IV, the first starship to ever appear in Star Wars, crash-landing on an alien planet? Am I supposed to simply ignore Daisy Ridley being visibly moved to tears at multiple spots in the trailer? Am I supposed to just forget about – well, actually, I am trying to forget about “Reylo”, but am I supposed to forget about Reylo? No, I don’t think so! *voice cracks*

As you can imagine, I’m emotionally distraught right now. The trailer starts out a bit slow, but quickly builds up to a crescendo, giving us hints of the thrilling action and bittersweet emotions we should expect from the final chapter in this story: Resistance fighters riding horses in a cavalry charge across the shattered wreck of a star destroyer, vast Imperial star cruisers emerging from the ice of a frozen planet, Kylo and Rey dueling amid the ruins of the second Death Star. Palpatine is back, and seated once more on a throne – director J.J. Abrams loves his parallels, you know, so we might want to be prepared for a Vader-esque self-sacrifice moment at the end of the film, whether from Kylo Ren or Rey – is Rey going to be Dark Rey? Is that still a thing? Am I supposed to think about that right now, when I have so many things to cry about? Oh yeah, and for whatever reason Dominic Monaghan of The Lord Of The Rings is in this movie – I’m cool with that. He’ll probably make me cry even more: not for any particular reason, just because…Lord Of The Rings is sad. You know? I mean, that connection makes sense to me: it doesn’t to you?

But nothing makes the tears start flowing like the very ending, when Carrie Fisher’s voice-over delivers the final line in the final trailer for the final film in the final trilogy of this incredible saga, a trailer that “just-so-happened” to drop on what would have been Fisher’s 63rd birthday: just after Mark Hamill’s “The force will be with you”, her voice, soft and comforting, is heard, with a simple but passionate: “always”. The story of Star Wars lives on forever.

So don’t blame me for crying. The blame is solely with you, dear reader, if you are somehow unmoved by this nostalgic sob-fest. *cries dramatically, as the Star Wars theme plays for the twentieth time*

Trailer Rating: Off The Charts.