More than a year after Emilia Clarke declared she was going to take a break from big franchise roles following the, shall we say, highly controversial (read: absolutely disastrous) ending of Game Of Thrones, she’s back – and her triumphant return to franchise roles is going to be a big one, befitting the woman who brought Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons, to life; and scored four Emmy nominations in the process. Clarke is in final talks to join Marvel’s upcoming Disney+ series, Secret Invasion, one of the studio’s most hotly-anticipated crossover events.
Funnily enough, Marvel is the one studio Emilia Clarke said she’d consider breaking her no-franchise rule for if they approached her – saying that “I want to do something stupid and silly, like, you know, the Avengers or whatever. Something where I got to have a giggle with mates.” I’m sure it won’t be long before a certain faction of perpetually embittered MCU stans freak out at her over that quote, but Clarke wants to have fun with a Marvel role, and I can’t blame her. The popularity of Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness proves that silly, campy, supervillains are back in style, at least.
Right now, we don’t know anything about Emilia Clarke’s role in Secret Invasion, but I hope she gets a chance to have that “giggle with mates”, because she deserves it. As soon as I heard about her casting (a bit belatedly, thanks to a poorly-timed dentist appointment), my mind jumped straight to the character of Abigail Brand, who seems like an obvious candidate for a leading role in Secret Invasion that would still give someone of Clarke’s stature a chance to do some real acting. She won’t be commanding fleets of dragons or battling hordes of the undead, but Abigail Brand is a character I’m very excited to see in live-action.
First of all, she’s a extraterrestrial mutant with tattoos on her biceps and choppy green hair to go with her bright green goggles and uniform, whose half-brother is a furry alien – so Clarke has an opportunity to do something silly with the role, if that’s still what she wants. Secondly, Brand’s mutant power is classified as “tactile pyrokinesis”, allowing her hands to turn into burning-hot energy-balls – which is both silly and potentially very cool. I mean, Emilia Clarke with arm-tats and green hair is already going to be intrinsically cool, but add the ability to throw around multicolored fireballs, and my hype-levels just keep increasing. Thirdly, Brand is the commander of S.W.O.R.D., and that’s where things get a bit more complicated.
In the MCU, we’ve only seen the earth-based division of S.W.O.R.D., and the organization’s mission was depicted as being completely different from the comics (observing “sentient weapons” rather than “sentient worlds”). It was revealed that S.W.O.R.D. has a space division in the MCU, but that it was scrapped in the five years following the Blip due to a personnel shortage. And while S.W.O.R.D.’s antagonistic director Tyler Hayward was the one who gave the order to halt manned missions to space, he was arrested at the end of WandaVision, so his seat is now vacant…and it won’t be filled by Monica Rambeau, who’s on her way to space to join Nick Fury. WandaVision indirectly allowed for Abigail Brand to make her MCU debut as Hayward’s successor.
That arc could potentially give Emilia Clarke an opportunity to do some real dramatic acting as well as silly stuff like shoot fireballs out of her hands (something her Secret Invasion costar, Oscar-winner Olivia Colman, said she wanted to do way back in 2016). In the comics, Brand plays a crucial part in the Secret Invasion storyline, which involves villainous shapeshifting Skrulls infiltrating Earth while disguised as prominent superheroes. As one of Nick Fury’s top agents at S.W.O.R.D., Brand is trapped on the organization’s interstellar headquarters when a Skrull terrorist blows it to bits, forcing Brand and other S.W.O.R.D. to don life-support systems and try to survive the vacuum of space (she does, but it would make for some very harrowing television).
Later, Brand joins Alpha Flight, the organization that essentially replaces S.W.O.R.D. in the comics, where she has a hostile relationship with the team’s leader, Carol Danvers. If Danvers does have a cameo in Secret Invasion, as I’ve long believed she may, the seeds of this dynamic could be planted (unless Clarke’s role is a one-and-done type of thing, but I sincerely hope that’s not the case). But Brand isn’t really friendly with anyone – she’s frequently antagonistic to Nick Fury, and his second-in-command, Maria Hill. And now I need to see Emilia Clarke getting her sass game on in heated arguments with Samuel L. Jackson. There’s too many reasons to love this casting.
Of course, it’s possible Clarke won’t be playing Brand – some fans think she’ll portray Spider-Woman, though there’s the underlying question of whether Sony would agree to allow the character to debut in a Disney+ series. A lot of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans seem resigned to the fact that Daisy Johnson will appear in Secret Invasion with a new actress (to which I say: don’t give up hope!), but even if Marvel does recast Chloe Bennet, the optics of rewriting the studio’s first Asian-American heroine as a white woman would be downright awful, and I don’t see them doing that. But my money’s on Brand, and it’s the option for which I’d be most excited.
That being said, I’m happy for Emilia Clarke no matter who she’s playing. She’s been through a lot, and I hope working with Marvel, alongside talent like Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Olivia Coleman, gives her all the giggles she wants from her superhero debut.
But what do you think? Which character do you want Emilia Clarke to play? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
If a Fantastic Four movie announcement hadn’t overshadowed everything else at the Marvel presentation during the Disney Investors Meeting, Secret Invasion definitely would have been the big headline coming out of the event. The Skrulls are literally about to invade the Marvel Cinematic Universe and don the skins and personalities of all your favorite MCU heroes; this is big news, people. Why it didn’t make more of an impression is a mystery to me – though, personally, I feel it has to do with how dreadfully ugly the logo for the new series turned out to be (yes, I know it’s a direct nod to the comics upon which this storyline is based; no, I don’t care, it’s still ugly).
The Secret Invasion will start out as a Disney+ series (though technically it was foreshadowed in the post-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home, which revealed that Nick Fury and Maria Hill were both being impersonated by shapeshifting Skrull aliens), but it will likely expand across the entire slate of MCU movies and series. If it’s going to play out at all like the comics, it has to be on an epic scale: otherwise, they might as well call it Secret Skirmish. The Ms. Marvel series will likely include some Skrull action, thanks to its new connection to Captain Marvel 2: which will almost certainly be where the Secret Invasion reaches its full extent – unless the Secret Invasion series gets renewed for multiple seasons, and becomes Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. (more on that in a moment).
Samuel L. Jackson will return to reprise the role of Nick Fury, and star in the new series – which means that yes, this is the Nick Fury show we heard rumors about just a few months ago. Not a prequel exploring his backstory, thank goodness, but something actually relevant (I swear that’s not a jab at the long-delayed Black Widow movie). Fury will have a key role in the Secret Invasion, heading up the S.W.O.R.D. team from his headquarters in space. On earth, his Skrull ally Talos is probably still impersonating him, so there’s ways for Jackson to appear even when Fury technically isn’t onscreen.
Ben Mendelsohn will be co-starring alongside Jackson, as Talos: suggesting that he will spend more time as himself than as Fury or other characters, which is great, because Mendelsohn is an incredibly charismatic and underrated actor. Talos will be in a tricky position in Secret Invasion, having to battle misguided friends (and perhaps even members of his own family). With the Skrulls currently being depicted as good guys in the MCU, it’ll take something drastic for even a few to turn against Fury and Talos and infiltrate the ranks of Earth’s mightiest heroes: something that drastic could easily divide Talos’ own loyalties, causing him to question his allegiances to Fury – and perhaps even betray him. I expect his character to have plenty to do.
But…the show still needs a female lead. There are some great candidates: Maria Rambeau is presumably still out there, and I’ve long hoped she’ll be a prominent member of the S.W.O.R.D. organization by this point in the MCU timeline; Monica Rambeau, her daughter, could rise through the ranks during the events of WandaVision; and Abigail Brand, S.W.O.R.D.’s leader in the comics, might show up to fill this role. Personally, I hope all three feature heavily in this series. But I also want another woman to appear in Secret Invasion, and that woman is – you guessed it – Quake. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Daisy Johnson, seismic Inhuman superheroine and the most well-written character in the Marvel Universe (you heard me), appearing via Multiverse shenanigans or just plain and simple S.H.I.E.L.D. canonization. It appears I can’t write a single post about the MCU without mentioning Quake, but that’s because the entire MCU seems to be leading up to a place where her inclusion is not only beneficial but necessary.
Oh, and, uh, in case this wasn’t clear already: just bring back Chloe Bennet as Quake. She is the character. She’s lived and breathed Quake for the past seven years, and she’s made it abundantly clear she’s not ready to call it quits. And the series finale this year left Daisy wandering on an emissary mission through space, headed for some sort of weird-looking space anomaly. That could easily have been a portal to another reality, and if Marvel wants, they can just leave Daniel Sousa and Kora out of the equation. Say they’re off somewhere else, or don’t say anything at all. I don’t care. I only need Quake in the MCU, and I need her because she’s far too good a character to waste, or to throw aside just because she comes from Marvel TV. Reminder: Charlie Cox’s Daredevil is also a Marvel TV character, and yet is strongly suspected to be appearing in Spider-Man 3.
Quake is a crucial character in the Secret Invasion storyline in the comics, personally assigned by Nick Fury with the task of assembling a Secret Warriors team to combat the Skrulls that made it down to Earth and were wreaking havoc while in disguise. As one of Marvel’s only widely-known Inhuman characters besides Ms. Marvel and maybe Black Bolt (if we’re pushing it), she’s also a great character to help introduce that complicated concept in the MCU. And besides all that, she’s resonated with viewers because of her courage, resilience, and complexity. She’s also Marvel’s first (and to date only) Asian-American lead character, Marvel’s first female lead in live-action, and one of their first superpowered heroines.
Now that I’ve derailed this post completely, it’s time to wrap up with a cheery reminder that Secret Invasion doesn’t yet have a director attached, or a release date. So it’s still a long way off, and there’s still plenty of time for Marvel to see the light and cast Chloe Bennet as Quake.
What do you think? Are you excited for Secret Invasion? Do you also want to see Quake in the MCU? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
Today’s episode of The Mandalorian was practically overflowing with Star Wars deep lore, including several big reveals, Easter eggs, and hints and teases of even more exciting things to come. But whereas many of those things (like Ahsoka’s future, and the location of Grand Admiral Thrawn) may be explored in spinoff series’ down the line, the true identity of Baby Yoda – sorry, Grogu – and the details of his mysterious backstory are almost sure to be explored in The Mandalorian itself. So let’s discuss the new biggest mystery surrounding Grogu’s past: who saved him from Order 66.
Thanks to Ahsoka Tano, we now know that Grogu was raised in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in the last years of the Old Republic. He was mentored by many Jedi Masters, and presumably became fairly strong in the Force – but in the intervening years between the fall of the Jedi Order and his reappearance in The Mandalorian shortly after the fall of the Empire, he has somehow forgotten much of his Jedi training and distanced himself from the Force. Ahsoka explains that this is because Grogu is afraid of something; probably the trauma of having survived the Jedi Purge and the execution of Order 66, when Emperor Palpatine turned on the Jedi and slaughtered all but a few in a massive bloodbath. In one of Revenge Of The Sith‘s most memorable sequences, Palpatine’s disciple Anakin Skywalker stormed the Jedi Temple and murdered pretty much everybody, including children. But somehow, Grogu survived the Purge, thanks to an unnamed rescuer who got him out of the Temple and kept him hidden from Anakin, Palpatine, and the long arm of the Empire for years. While the Emperor continued his hunt for Jedi survivors with the help of Darth Vader and a small army of Jedi traitors known as Inquisitors, Grogu remained alone in a secret location until somehow being brought to the attention of ex-Imperials in the aftermath of the Empire’s collapse. The rest is history.
But now, let’s look at a few characters who could have been Grogu’s secret savior (and one or two who definitely weren’t) – and who could be very important players in The Mandalorian‘s future storylines, as we continue to explore the child’s backstory and purpose.
6: Anakin Skywalker. This is a bizarre theory I saw making the rounds on social media, though it seems very out of character for young Skywalker. In Revenge Of The Sith, we saw Anakin go from senselessly murdering children in the Jedi Temple to mowing down an entire Separatist council, Force-choking his wife, and trying to kill his mentor. I’m not sure there’s any space in between those events for Anakin to suddenly have a change of heart, randomly decide to spare a single padawan‘s life, and then go back to being an out-of-control killing machine. In his later years, as he witnessed first-hand the horrors he had helped to bring about, Anakin quietly (and sometimes subconsciously) started helping his enemies in small, secretive ways – such as destroying a Jedi holocron that would have supplied Palpatine with the names of every Force-sensitive child in the galaxy: which means that, technically, older Anakin actually did save Grogu’s life. But young Anakin? Not a chance.
5: Yaddle.The Mandalorian introduced a new complication in the story of Yoda’s female counterpart, Jedi Master Yaddle, with Ahsoka Tano stating definitively that, in all her time as a Jedi, she’s only ever known one other member of Grogu’s species, besides Grogu himself – Yoda. It’s a big slap in the face to all of Yaddle’s fans, who are still waiting for her to return. She hasn’t been seen in live-action since her very first appearance in The Phantom Menace, and it’s been way too long if you ask me: especially since the current canon doesn’t provide any information about Yaddle’s fate in the Purge (and, in fact, hints that she survived). So why doesn’t Ahsoka know about her? Well, Yaddle is believed to have retired from her post on the Jedi High Council before Attack Of The Clones, meaning that Ahsoka might have never come into contact with her if she left the Temple completely. But if that’s the case, that means Yaddle probably wasn’t anywhere nearby when Anakin attacked and Grogu needed saving. So I think we have to rule her out as a likely option, but take comfort in the fact that it means Yaddle’s survival is even more plausible!
4: Shaak Ti. I feel kind of sorry for Master Shaak Ti – who, coincidentally, filled Yaddle’s seat on the Jedi High Council. Ti was given a very important role in the Jedi hierarchy, overseeing the training of the Clone armies on Kamino. But in this role, she failed to thoroughly examine the nefarious secret behind the purpose of the inhibitor chips hidden inside each Clone soldier, despite all the warning signs. It would have been cruelly poetic if she had been killed by one of those same Clones at the same time as most of her fellow Jedi, but she was actually murdered by Anakin Skywalker himself: impaled while meditating in the Jedi Temple. That would seem to rule her out as a potential Grogu savior, but she did record a final hologram message before her death telling any surviving Jedi to rise up and rebuild the Order – so clearly, she knew what was going on before Anakin got to her. Could she have had time to rescue Grogu in that brief space of time and make up for many of her failings? Possibly. I doubt it, but never say never.
3: Mace Windu. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t Mace Windu literally one of the first Jedi to die in Order 66? Doesn’t the Emperor personally kill him, with help from Anakin? Well…maybe. Windu’s death is something that’s been debated in the fandom recently, with some (including Samuel L. Jackson himself, and George Lucas) theorizing that such a powerful Jedi could have withstood losing a limb, being electrocuted by Force lightning, and then getting thrown out a skyscraper window. This is Samuel L. Jackson we’re talking about here, so I’m prepared to buy that. And if he did survive his apparent death, maybe he could have gotten back to the Jedi Temple before Anakin and rescued Grogu: though I’d be interested to hear his reasoning for why only Grogu warranted saving. This theory raises a lot of questions. Too many, if you ask me. But if it means we get SLJ/Baby Yoda content, I’m prepared to forgive even the most random of retcons.
2: Yoda. We still don’t know whether Yoda and Grogu are related in any way, despite being two of only three known members of their unidentified and incredibly secretive species, but Yoda would definitely have known who Grogu was during the child’s time in the Jedi Temple. He probably also selected some of Grogu’s Masters, and might have taken a role in mentoring the child – when Ahsoka mentioned Yoda’s name in her conversation with Din Djarin, Grogu’s ears immediately perked up, indicating that he recognized the name, at least. Yoda was one of the wisest and most far-seeing Jedi: if Grogu has any huge relevance to the overall story of Star Wars, it wouldn’t be surprising if Yoda knew that well in advance, and decided to protect the child from harm so he could one day grow up to become…whoever he becomes. Yoda did visit the Jedi Temple the morning after Anakin’s attack, so he could have found Grogu, if the child had hidden during the assault on the Temple. But why wouldn’t he have taken Grogu with him to hide on Dagobah?
1: Jocasta Nu. If anybody had the motive and means of smuggling Grogu out of the Jedi Temple, it was Jocasta Nu. The elderly Jedi librarian who briefly interacted with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Attack Of The Clones may not have been of much assistance when trying to track down Kamino, but she became instrumental in rescuing and preserving Jedi knowledge after the Empire rose to power. According to the new Disney canon, she was able to escape from the Jedi Temple on the night of Anakin’s attack with a treasure trove of books, holocrons, artifacts – and potentially one stray padawan? Nu tried her best to locate other surviving Jedi, particularly Force-sensitive children; a list of whose names she kept in a valuable holocron. Although Darth Vader eventually killed her, she didn’t fail entirely in her goal: Vader destroyed the holocron without telling Emperor Palpatine of its existence, and the information Nu snuck out of the Temple provided the blueprint for Luke Skywalker’s later attempts to rebuild the Jedi Order. And it’s possible that, if she was Grogu’s savior, she may have played an even more important role in saving the galaxy.
As you can probably tell, there aren’t a whole lot of Jedi who could have saved Grogu: some of the ones on this list were probably either too far gone to the Dark Side, too far away, or just too dead, to help out. It’s possible this is a completely unimportant conversation, too: maybe Grogu was rescued by someone random, a Jedi we’ve never met before in any story. But I don’t think so. The way this reveal was set up – combined with the revelation that more Jedi are coming in future episodes of The Mandalorian – makes me think we will learn the identity of Grogu’s savior, and it will be someone we already know. It also makes me think we’ll be getting flashbacks to the attack on the Jedi Temple: just like the flashbacks we saw of Din Djarin’s own childhood trauma, and the slaughter of his people by Separatist battle droids, in The Mandalorian‘s first season.
So what do you think? Who saved Grogu? Somebody on this list? Somebody completely different? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
Nicholas Joseph Fury (better known to general audiences as Nick Fury, and to his friends and family simply as “Fury”) has long been the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most enigmatic mastermind, the figurative man behind the curtain: subtly moving and manipulating the events of the MCU to better suit his own purposes while cloaking his motives in secrecy. It took us over ten years just to find out why he put together the Avengers Initiative in the first place, or how he lost his eye. But now, Marvel is about to spill some of Fury’s darkest secrets in a new Disney+ series, which will find the spotlight turned on Nick Fury for the first time – with Samuel L. Jackson reprising the now-iconic role, of course. Although the only other real information we have about the series is that Kyle Bradstreet is attached to write and executive produce, there’s actually a good deal of speculation already going on…in which I am about to shamelessly partake, because why not? We’ve been so hungry for Marvel content these past couple of months: allow me this opportunity to indulge myself. I encourage you to join me, because we’re about to have a lot of fun wildly theorizing, and I’m also going to gush about Daisy Johnson for the first time in forever (okay, so it’s been, like, a month, but whatever), so there’s that.
There are several big questions everybody seems to have about this series, but the most urgent one by far is: will this be a prequel, or a sequel set after the events of Avengers: Endgame? If it’s the former, my hype will have plummeted – I just can’t imagine getting excited about only having Samuel L. Jackson return so that he can act as a framing device while a younger actor assumes his role for extensive flashback sequences set prior to Captain Marvel. As we saw in that film, Nick Fury’s life wasn’t actually all that eventful until the superheroine crashed into his life and a nearby Blockbuster. But everything happening right now, all the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes in the MCU that Nick Fury is very much a part of?…that’s what has me intrigued, and has me hoping that this series is not entirely new but is, in fact, one of two or three series’ rumored to be in early stages of pre-production some time ago. I am, of course, talking about Secret Invasion, Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. (which might also be the same thing as Secret Invasion), and Secret Warriors.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to combine Secret Invasion and Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. into just one category. It was rumored that Disney+ was making a series which would follow the Agents of S.W.O.R.D. post-Endgame as they deal with a variety of intergalactic threats and generally try to prevent anything on the scale of worldwide decimation from ever happening again. Since we’ve already seen a tiny glimpse of the S.W.O.R.D. organization in the post-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home, which clearly indicated that Nick Fury is overseeing the entire operation, it’s not a stretch to assume that a series about this team would necessarily involve Fury, probably in a starring role. My theory has always been that an eventual Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. series on Disney+ will start out with the team (comprised of humans and shape-shifting Skrull aliens) already formed and working overtime from their in-orbit space station, but will inevitably grow, over the course of one or maybe two seasons, into a full-scale, Secret Invasion storyline. For those unfamiliar with the notion, let’s break it down: basically, in the comics, the Skrull aliens are villains, and eventually attempt to overrun Earth by force, disguising themselves as well-known superheroes and wreaking havoc. In the MCU, this will have to happen for a very different reason, because the Skrulls have thus far been depicted as peaceful refugees trying to establish a new homeworld after their entire way of life was obliterated by the militaristic Kree aliens – but that reason has already presented itself. In Far From Home, it was revealed that the Kree already have sleeper agents on Earth – making it extremely likely that the Skrulls will want to eradicate them before they pose a problem. If this causes rifts between them and the humans on the S.W.O.R.D. team, we could see several Skrulls go rogue and use their abilities to sneak off the space-station and down to Earth – a secret invasion in more ways than one. I’ve talked at length about how certain characters could get roped into this, but the one we need to focus on today is Nick Fury, because of course, all of this will be happening under his watch. A Secret Invasion series would find the S.W.O.R.D. Director attempting to stop the invasion with the help of his team – which, in my opinion, would consist of established characters like the Skrull general Talos, American Air-Force pilot Maria Rambeau, Maria’s daughter Monica, the half-Skrull Hulkling, the infamous Flerken cat Goose…and “astro-ambassador” Daisy Johnson, who will finally make the jump from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the MCU proper. Daisy’s space-faring partners, Kora and Daniel Sousa, are give-or-take: I don’t mind them sticking around, but Daisy is currently my top priority, and if we have to make sacrifices to ensure she shows up as an Agent of S.W.O.R.D., then I’m prepared to do so.
When Secret Invasion becomes a massive hit for the Disney+ streaming service thanks to Daisy Johnson’s as-yet hypothetical involvement, the spin-offs will start – and that’s where Secret Warriors comes in. We might as well just refer to this one as the Quake Spinoff, because that’s essentially what it has to be. Another rumored project, this series is said to revolve around a storyline in the comics where Nick Fury enlists Daisy Johnson and a small, elite team of superhumans to take care of the Skrulls that have made it to Earth. This, of course, is where I anticipate Daisy reuniting with S.H.I.E.L.D. teammates like Yo-Yo Rodriguez, but it’s also the other potential series that Nick Fury could lead. That being said, it’s far more likely to be an eventual spin-off of Secret Invasion, and Fury himself will probably have a smaller role. So don’t get your hopes up for Secret Warriors just yet.
At the moment, I think what we’re seeing is the first step towards Secret Invasion. For those of us who love Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s a first tentative step towards making that show officially canon to the MCU. For those of us who love Nick Fury and just appreciate seeing Black characters in leading roles, it’s about time that this fascinating super-spy moves to the forefront of the action, after more than a decade spent on the sidelines. For those of us who love both, it’s a win-win situation. And for the rest of you…well, I don’t know why you’ve read this far but I hope you’ve gotten something out of this.
So how do you feel about Nick Fury leading a series on Disney+, and which series do you think it will be? Do you think Daisy Johnson will show up in the MCU? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The Secret Invasion saga is a Marvel comics storyline that many fans have been asking to see depicted on the big screen since it was revealed that Captain Marvel would introduce the story’s chief antagonists, the Skrulls, into the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside their nemeses, the Kree. But it seems that, while the repercussions of the storyline will probably be felt in the films, much or even the entirety of the Secret Invasion saga will occur exclusively on Disney+, in the form of a new series for the streaming service, according to a new rumor.
That means that the details of the story will have to be changed for the MCU adaptation, because the scale will likely be far smaller – but that doesn’t come as too much of a blow, because we already knew that the storyline would have to be changed a lot after Captain Marvel revealed that the Skrulls were actually a largely peaceful people of exiled refugees, rather than the diabolical shape-shifting troublemakers they are in the comics. We actually have yet to meet any evil Skrulls in the MCU, though for a Secret Invasion storyline to work, there will have to be some: the whole premise revolves around a group of Skrulls led by the conniving queen Veranke, infiltrating earth by disguising themselves as prominent government officials and superheroes. In the comics, this story sprawls across the entire Marvel universe: it’s still possible that could work in the MCU as well, but we now know that the main characters standing in the way of Veranke (or whoever leads the Invasion in this adaptation) will be the Agents of S.W.O.R.D.
S.W.O.R.D., also known as the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, made what was almost certainly its MCU debut last year in an incredible Spider-Man: Far From Home post-credits scene which showed former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury leisurely strolling around the hallways of a massive space-station manned by benevolent Skrull and human workers, while simultaneously giving orders to Skrull operatives Talos and Soren, who were posing on earth as Fury and his assistant Maria Hill, respectively. Since then we’ve also been given evidence to suggest that S.W.O.R.D. will have a large presence in the WandaVision Disney+ series. Now, it looks like the agents of S.W.O.R.D. will be getting their own series, in which we may be able to explore the inner workings of their organization, and fully understand their various responsibilities as protectors of earth against cosmic and extraterrestrial threats.
Obviously, we already have an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. series, and it’s quite good, so it does seem likely that at least part of the inspiration for this Secret Invasion story was borrowed from that MCU-adjacent TV program, which is set to premiere its seventh and final season this very month. In the MCU, S.H.I.E.L.D. ceased to exist several years ago, and the TV series, while popular with a small and devoted fandom (including myself), has drifted further and further away from MCU canon with each successive season. So, despite how unfair it is, there likely won’t be any reference made to the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or their many exploits across space and time (though if there is, I have a few ideas for how they could be implemented into a Secret Invasion storyline, which I’ll discuss).
Barring a surprise cameo in Black Widow or The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, S.W.O.R.D.’s first official appearance is likely to come in WandaVision – which, on the surface, seems like a strange place to introduce a group of space-based characters whose mission involves fighting aliens. But the tie-in to Wanda Maximoff’s multiverse adventure probably comes through the character of Hulkling, a half-Skrull, half-human superhero and member of the Young Avengers, who is the boyfriend of Wanda’s son Wiccan and is already rumored to appear in the WandaVision series. While he may not yet be a full-fledged agent in the series, his status as a bridge between humans and Skrulls makes him a key player in the relationship between the two peoples and, occasionally, a pawn in their politics. Certain members of the WandaVision cast, most notably Monica Rambeau and Thor fan-favorite Darcy, are also presumably more closely linked to S.W.O.R.D. than to Wanda herself – as a child in Captain Marvel, Rambeau was shown to have developed a close connection with the Skrulls and her comics counterpart is a cosmically-powered superheroine, while Darcy is an intrepid scientist specializing in the study of astrological abnormalities, a niche talent that came in handy in Thor: The Dark World and could make her an invaluable member of the S.W.O.R.D. team.
So already we have at least three characters who could easily be introduced as S.W.O.R.D. members who find themselves caught in the middle of Wanda Maximoff’s inner turmoil – perhaps due to Hulkling’s relationship with Wiccan, perhaps for another reason: it’s even possible that Wanda’s attempts to scramble the multiverse might endanger the earth, leaving it vulnerable to alien hostiles, something which could easily make her a target for S.W.O.R.D., though if that’s the case it’s hard to imagine why someone else, with a better understanding of the threat, wouldn’t be sent to deal with her instead. Again, I’m thinking Darcy’s experience with the Convergence incident could prepare her for dealing with this event, which might similarly feature a powerful and dangerous character trying to open a portal between worlds – though in this case, it would be Wanda, and her motives would be more sympathetic than Malekith’s.
The Secret Invasion series will most likely follow soon after – “soon” being a relative term in this case, considering that nothing is going to be happening truly soon with coronavirus still posing a threat to any filming in the foreseeable future. It is said to lead into the events of Captain Marvel 2, and could potentially feature a crossover with a Young Avengers series on Disney+, again because of Hulkling, who is a prominent member of that superhero team. Let’s start wildly theorizing now, shall we?
My guess is that the Secret Invasion series will start out with the core S.W.O.R.D. team already firmly established, having been assembled by Nick Fury prior to the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home but only just now emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the MCU. Apart from Hulkling, Monica Rambeau and Darcy, the team will be headed by a group of powerful individuals including Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Talos and Soren, and Monica’s mother Maria Rambeau, who was last seen in Captain Marvel, where she was Carol Danvers’ best friend and helped the heroine protect the Skrulls from an entire Kree army. The team’s commander in the comics, mysterious green-haired Abigail Brand, will also serve in a key leadership position. In the comics, a number of notable cosmic characters also stop in for guest appearances – some we’ve already met in the MCU like Captain Marvel, Peter Quill and Gamora; some we haven’t, like Thor’s long-lost half-sister Angela, and the bizarre alien warrior Beta Ray Bill. If we’re lucky, certain S.H.I.E.L.D. members might also make the jump to space, like Daisy Johnson, Melinda May, or the FitzSimmons duo: there are already rumors that Johnson, an Inhuman, could make a cameo in the Ms. Marvel Disney+ series, which will star another Inhuman character – if that is the case, I wouldn’t rule out Johnson and even Ms. Marvel showing up as part-time S.W.O.R.D. allies.
The plot of the series will revolve around this team of characters working on the space station known as The Peak when the Skrull invasion occurs. The invasion itself will be led by Veranke, and could be motivated for a number of reasons: it’s possible Hulkling could have something to do with it, and that the fight breaks out over him, but he’s already getting a lot of attention, so I’d rather that Veranke be inspired to attack earth when she hears of the secret Kree sleeper agents already established on the planet – these agents were briefly mentioned by Talos in Far From Home, in a manner that felt very significant. This way, Veranke and her Skrulls are inherently fighting for a good cause, but they’re also positioned as enemies to S.W.O.R.D., who will of course want to defend earth and deal with the Kree in their own way. If Marvel really wants to rip off Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., they could even have Veranke be a S.W.O.R.D. member herself, who betrays the organization, though in this case she could do so because she feels like her and her peoples’ concerns are being ignored. She might also try to get Hulkling to join her on her mission, which could give his character a fascinating dilemma but doesn’t make him the chief focus of a Secret Invasion storyline.
Of course, there would have to be some shape-shifting happening, or what would even be the point of a Secret Invasion? In the comics, Veranke herself takes the form of Spider-Woman, but Sony owns the rights to that character and is unlikely to want to stick her in a Disney+ series. Besides which, Veranke impersonating Spider-Woman only works if Spider-Woman is already an established and trusted character in the MCU, which she isn’t. And beyond that, the scope of this series will probably be far smaller than it would be if it were a film – meaning that whoever Veranke does impersonate will probably be someone like Nick Fury, or someone else in the core S.W.O.R.D. team, rather than a big-name Avenger.
In the comics, The Peak is destroyed during the Secret Invasion by a Skrull posing as “Dum Dum” Dugan, a character who has long been deceased in the MCU and thus will have to be replaced. Abigail Brand and a few other agents will, as in the comics, escape the annihilation of their headquarters with the help of emergency space-suits (though, as this event will likely happen at the end of the series, this could be a fitting place to kill off certain characters, even fan-favorites like Talos, who presumably wouldn’t have a large place in the MCU after a Secret Invasion storyline anyway). They will be saved by Monica Rambeau – who basically has to have gained her own superpowers and adopted the Photon mantle by that point, right? – and Captain Marvel, who could show up as a finale guest star. Having Captain Marvel there also sets up the events of her sequel film, in which she may have to team up with the remaining S.W.O.R.D. agents to take down both Veranke and the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, which is still a considerable threat to the security of the galaxy.
After this story is concluded, I imagine we’ll continue to see the S.W.O.R.D. team in the MCU: Rambeau, thanks to her similar set of powers, can easily become Carol Danvers’ sidekick, and Hulkling will join the Young Avengers as a full-time member. It’s also worth noting at this point that the finale of this series has the potential to introduce – or at least tease – both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Mutants such as Lockheed the dragon and Hank McCoy both serve under Abigail Brand as agents of S.W.O.R.D., and Brand runs into Mister Fantastic while he’s being held prisoner on a Skrull starship after the destruction of The Peak. If either of these things happens in the series, even near the end, it has the potential to be the next big MCU crossover event.
So that’s what I think of a Secret Invasion/Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. series, and how it could work. These are all just my personal theories and educated guesses: nothing based in substantial fact. This whole story is also only a rumor at this point – nothing has even been confirmed by Disney, so it’s possible I’m moving too quickly. Nonetheless, I’m very interested to hear what you have to say on the matter, so be sure to share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
In its penultimate episode, The Clone Wars ties back into the events of the main Star Wars films in a way that could almost have felt jarring under worse direction – but with all the ingenuity and creative thinking that has made the series beloved by fans, this episode, fittingly titled Shattered, actually finds very clever ways to keep us, the audience, firmly invested in the stories of the series’ original characters while also throwing them into the midst of one of the films’ most memorable sequences: the brutal execution of Order 66.
All through the episode’s opening minutes, the haunting score keeps us on edge, waiting for that moment when millions of clone troopers all around the galaxy – clone troopers who, through the series’ run, we’ve come to love for their individuality – will simultaneously become mindless servants of Chancellor Palpatine (voiced here by Ian McDiarmid, using dialogue from Revenge Of The Sith) and turn on the Jedi Order with guns blazing, bringing the Clone Wars to an abrupt, violent end. After last week’s episode, where Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) was captured by the forces of former Jedi commander Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), one would expect a triumphant, victorious atmosphere – but there’s little joy or comfort to be found on the planet Mandalore as new leader Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) turns her attention to the grim task of rebuilding her peoples’ society from the ground up, and Ahsoka prepares to bring Darth Maul into the custody of the Jedi on Coruscant, while still weighing in her mind the Sith Lord’s terrible prophecies.
As I suspected, the Jedi Purge is set into motion during Ahsoka’s journey through hyperspace, moments after she has a telepathic Force vision of Anakin Skywalker‘s (partially voiced by Matt Lanter, partially using Hayden Christensen’s dialogue) turn to the Dark Side and the violent death of Jedi Master Mace Windu (voiced by TC Carson, with some dialogue by Samuel L. Jackson) during his fight with Palpatine in the Chancellor’s offices. Thankfully, The Clone Wars‘ method of showing the Purge doesn’t involve actually reenacting any of the notable Jedi deaths from Revenge Of The Sith through another devastating montage – instead, we witness the whole event through Ahsoka’s eyes, as her entire crew begins firing on her without warning, forcing her to make a daring escape. Despite the fact that, earlier in the episode, Mace Windu insists on calling Ahsoka a “citizen” rather than a Jedi and other members of the Order seem to subtly demean her for her choice to become a neutral rogue, it appears that Palpatine wasn’t willing to make an exception for the padawan whose banishment he had partially orchestrated.
Ahsoka isn’t completely alone in the episode, however: during the initial attack, she can easily see that her long-time friend Captain Rex (voiced, like all clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) has tears streaming down his face as he pulls the trigger on her with shaking fingers – meaning that, despite how effective Palpatine’s brainwashing has been, there’s still hope for any clone who can successfully remove the inhibitor chip planted inside their brain. When she unearths sealed documents and testimonies from Rex, she also stumbles upon evidence regarding the mysterious cases of Fives, who, in the series’ sixth season, discovered the plot to exterminate the Jedi far too early and was personally tortured by Palpatine to the point of madness. It’s a harsh reminder of another of The Clone Wars‘ most powerful, emotional story arcs, but a beautifully fitting way to give Fives the justice he deserves, even if it is a little too late to save most of the Jedi. The main thrust of the narrative in this episode follows Ahsoka as she tries to corner Rex and get him into the medical bay, with the intention of removing the inhibitor and freeing him.
Another character she has to free is Darth Maul himself, whom she actually saves from execution – somewhere along the line, Palpatine must have added Maul’s name to his long hit-list. Maul, even without the aid of his classic lightsaber, is still able to give Ahsoka the distraction she needs, keeping the clone troopers busy with his savage fighting techniques: he beheads people, he slices people in half, he even uses the Force to cut one man’s arm off in an automatic door. As of the end of the episode, we don’t know where he is now or what he plans to do once the ship is cleared of hostiles – will he and Ahsoka have to make a deal in the series’ final episode? Will he have already escaped by the time she and Rex are free? We have no clue, yet. But, since one of the unexpected joys of this season has been watching Ahsoka and Darth Maul put aside their differences to fight a common enemy, I really hope they get at least one final encounter.
There are a bunch of notable moments from this episode. Ahsoka and Master Yoda (Tom Kane) have their last conversation ever, via hologram: both are reluctant to say too much to the other, unfortunately, which makes their dialogue far sadder – neither one gets to say all the things that should have been said in that moment. Ahsoka also chooses to withhold the information Maul gave her last week regarding Anakin and his pull to the Dark Side: information which would definitely have been helpful just a few minutes later. There’s a cute scene where Ahsoka recruits her starship’s team of maintenance droids for help – which provides some organic cheerfulness in an otherwise dark and ominous story. The episode ends with Ahsoka connecting to Rex through the Force and locating his inhibitor chip – something which causes Rex to see through his brainwashing, convincing him to help Ahsoka. But, judging by the huge army of clones currently trying to break down the medical bay doors, I suspect the duo will need help if they’re going to escape from the starship: which is also, if I’m not mistaken, still on its way to Coruscant, the new heart of the Galactic Empire and Palpatine’s reign of terror.
All in all, it’s been an emotional journey, and I’m excited (though also sad) that we’ll get to finish it on May the 4th, when the series finale premieres. In the meantime, we have the whole weekend to cry over the thousands of dead Jedi now littering the Star Wars galaxy, the uncertain fate of Ahsoka Tano, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. Like most Star Wars stories, The Clone Wars seems destined to end in bittersweet tragedy – but I’ve had a great time getting here. We’ve traveled from one corner of the universe to the other alongside Ahsoka, Rex, and the gang, and I’m glad we’ll at least get the chance to properly say goodbye to them as well.
To nobody’s surprise, the wildly successful Captain Marvel, released last March, is getting a sequel: the cosmic superhero film, Marvel Studios’ first to be headlined by a female hero, crossed into the billion-dollar club within a couple weeks, and introduced audiences to star Brie Larson as the sassy, headstrong Carol Danvers a month before her small but pivotal role in the mega-hit Avengers: Endgame. And while a tiny, toxic group of angry moviegoers complained that Larson and Danvers were “ruining Marvel”, most people simply ignored the loud discourse that surrounded the film’s release, and found Danvers and her supporting cast to be perfectly likable and fun: her movie was enjoyable, the writing was average (with a couple outstanding exceptions that I will defend to the death), and the directing was fine. Turns out, Carol Danvers was absolutely no different from many of her male Marvel co-stars – in that her debut movie was a strong, if safe, jumping-off point into future installments of her solo saga.
But now, with a new setting, a new screenwriter, and new directors, the Space Stone-powered heroine’s sequel movie could be something truly extraordinary: something that could prove once and for all why Danvers is the perfect candidate to lead the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the new decade. So let’s discuss everything we now know about Captain Marvel 2.
It appears that Carol Danvers’ sequel will shake things up by giving us a change of scenery: while her origin movie was set in 1995, a couple years after the young fighter pilot was abducted by Kree aliens after absorbing the powers of an Infinity Stone, her second solo outing will take place in the present day (or, rather, the future day), after the events of Avengers: Endgame (which is set in the year 2023, in case you’ve forgotten). That means the Carol we see next will be an older, wiser Carol, a Carol who will have spent almost three decades traveling the stars, helping end wars across the galaxy. There’s no indication yet of who she’ll interact with in her sequel: will her best friend Maria Rambeau still be around to help her? Most importantly to comic-book fans, will Maria’s impressionable young daughter Monica have matured into the superhero known as Photon?
Considering who the sequel’s screenwriter is going to be, I’d guess the answer is “yes”. Megan McDonnell is supposedly set to write the scripts for Carol’s upcoming follow-up film, and her current credits include WandaVision, the hotly-anticipated Disney+ streaming series that will introduce a grown-up version of Monica Rambeau. Considering everything we now know about WandaVision, from the fact that it’s been fast-tracked for a late 2020 release, to the fact that its writers are now being moved into other key positions at Marvel, it looks like the series, which will star Elizabeth Olsen as a dangerously unbalanced Scarlet Witch, is going to be a big hit for the studio, and everybody involved with its production will probably leave with their heads held high.
Captain Marvel directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, on the other hand, may not be able to walk away from their tenure at Marvel with such honor – the directing duo are suspected to be moving on to other projects, and will not be helming Danvers’ sequel: Marvel is supposedly searching for a female director to take on the project, and guide it to its projected 2022 release date. Honestly, while I bear no ill will towards Boden and Fleck, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad idea: they didn’t do a bad job directing Captain Marvel, but they also didn’t do anything particularly new or invigorating – though, as I mentioned, I think the film does have some really good elements, including on-point humor, a subtly campy 90’s vibe, and strong performances. The sequel can do whatever it wants with that: it can go all Thor: The Dark World (a bad decision: don’t do that, Marvel) and double down on everything from the first film, or it can try for a more Thor: Ragnarok approach and branch out in a new direction, test the waters, give us a surprisingly fresh perspective on the character. Personally, I’d love to see Carol spend more time in space in her sequel, rather than moving about undercover on earth – that would also allow her to take on opponents her own size, and face some real challenges: since there’s probably very few villains on Earth who are going to stand a chance against her laser-punches and indestructible, fiery aura.
So what do you think? Carol’s story will have major changes both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, but will all turn out well? Where do you want to see her go next? Should she spend more time in space or on Earth? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.
To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.
Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones
With the second movie in his hyped-up prequel trilogy, George Lucas doubled down on the much-maligned formula that made ThePhantom Menace one of the Star Wars franchise’s most critically abhorred entries – leading yet another promising story to the Dark Side and leaving audiences with a bitter aftertaste of crudely overabundant CGI, meandering subplots upon subplots, emotionless acting, and what have to be some of the series’ worst-written (and consequently, most meme-able) moments. Unfortunately, while it manages to increase the stakes and introduce some fun new characters, Attack Of The Clones is largely set-up for the trilogy’s final (and best) installment.
It has to have been unintentional that the series’ protagonist Anakin Skywalker (here aged up by a couple of years and played by Hayden Christensen) is consistently the trilogy’s biggest problem. Even as the story desperately tries to probe deeper into his mind – and convince the viewer that there’s something there worth seeing – Anakin pulls away from the camera, becoming more and more distanced, as if Lucas was still too afraid to follow him on his path into darkness. Instead of being privy to this character’s decisions and consequential life-choices, we’re constantly shut out, or given the bare minimum of details that we need to understand who he is, and how he became Darth Vader (remember, that was this whole trilogy’s purpose!). For instance, Anakin has a crucial scene in this movie where, having learned that his mother Shmi (Pernilla August) was killed by Tusken Raiders, he goes about blindly massacring every Raider he can find, including women and children. Now an unrepentant butcher of innocents, a wild-eyed Anakin promptly boasts about how good it felt to slaughter them like “animals”, a horrific comment which provokes a tame response from Anakin’s girlfriend, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) – “To be angry is to be human”, she says, while trying to calm him down. This entire scene does nothing to establish Anakin as a “tortured soul” of some kind: instead, it paints him as a sociopathic serial killer incapable of even grasping the concept of empathy. But there’s no lead-up to that revelation, nor is it even treated as a big deal. Within a few scenes, Anakin is back to being the film’s default hero, and we’re supposed to buy into his romance with Padmé, as if we don’t all know very well that Anakin shows signs of being or becoming the galaxy’s most abusive and nightmarish boyfriend. It’s already far too late to even try and understand what motivates Anakin’s terrifying aggression, much less rationalize whatever it might be.
And while Anakin is reduced to little more than a killing machine in this movie (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, compared to what he does in Revenge Of The Sith), Padmé’s characterization is even worse. Natalie Portman, who would go on to win an Academy Award in 2010, is wasted in a thankless role that amounts to little more than window dressing. She stands by and supports Anakin’s violent outbursts, and can’t help falling in love with him regardless of his obvious evil. The foundation of their romance is a single conversation where Anakin infamously rants about how much he hates sand. And then, of course, there’s the tiny little detail that Anakin and Padmé have a very apparent age-gap – Anakin having been about nine when he first met the teenage princess and fell in love with her. But it’s apparently okay, because in Attack Of The Clones Anakin has aged into a full-grown man while Padmé is…still a teenager. And uh, yeah, that’s definitely how time works.
The film’s MVP is Obi-Wan Kenobi (delightfully portrayed by Ewan McGregor), who is blessed with all of Luke Skywalker’s moral purity and Han Solo’s charismatic, no-nonsense attitude. If only his subplot had anything to do with Anakin Skywalker! Then again, perhaps it’s a good thing that it doesn’t, because Obi-Wan Kenobi doing cool things by himself is far more entertaining than Obi-Wan Kenobi pretending to care about Anakin’s Jedi training. While the relationship between mentor and padawan apprentice reinforces Star Wars‘ constant theme of duality, it’s here undermined by the fact that Obi-Wan and Anakin barely ever have a relationship. Instead, Obi-Wan has a completely unrelated subplot that manages to tie back into Anakin’s story at the end of the movie because Anakin has to go rescue him, which…well, no, actually, it’s just there for cool action scenes. It does nothing to advance the plot, honestly.
The subplot of which I speak is, of course, the Clone Wars: a very interesting story, told in a very boring way. Just as before, George Lucas’ vivid imagination bogs down the story, as he tries to cram in more unnecessary information and backstory about the histories of the Droid Separatist Armies and the clone army commissioned by Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. It’s a shame, because the war itself is a very clever idea, and it gives the Jedi Order something to do as they become the commanders of the clone army – united, with all their lightsabers aglow and Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) leading them into battle, the Order finally looks like a formidable fighting force. And it’s a good thing too, because they’re up against the menacing Christopher Lee as Count Dooku a.k.a Darth Tyrannus, a charmingly classic addition to Star Wars canon, and another wonderful villain. The film doesn’t introduce him until relatively late in the game, and his backstory is largely left to the audience to piece together, but he doesn’t really need to be anything but Christopher Lee, dressed in aristocratic finery and expertly wielding two curved-bladed lightsabers, gently mocking his opponents’ inferior fighting skills. His battle with Yoda, in which the two masters go head-to-head, using every last trick from the Jedi rulebook, is not only one of the film’s highlights but one of the best reasons to watch the prequels at all – that and another Yoda battle in the next movie. Shamefully, however, there’s a large part of the movie that does nothing with either Yoda or Count Dooku, and instead tries to sell the idea that Boba Fett’s father is an interesting character because…he’s Boba Fett’s father?
You know how I feel about Boba Fett. I’ve simply never cared about him one way or the other. But now, I’m expected to care that his father, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), was the model for Sifo-Dyas’ clone army because of a familial connection that means nothing to the story. Jango could have been literally anyone else, and it would not have mattered. All that Boba does in the movie is watch as Mace Windu decapitates his father – as if there’s some sort of revenge arc to be set up, even though nothing of the kind ever occurs, either in the prequels or in the original trilogy, where Boba meets an untimely fate even more ridiculous than that of his dad. And worse, the whole situation is exemplary of everything that so often goes wrong with prequels in general: it makes the Star Wars universe smaller, by implying that the only people worth following are the characters we all know from the first trilogy, or their parents and extended family. Luckily, all these characters just so happen to be in the same place at the same time! Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) is there, as a moody little kid; Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) is there; R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is there; C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is there because he was apparently built by Anakin Skywalker, a retcon that serves no purpose, as Anakin and C-3PO share only a handful of scenes, and Darth Vader never even acknowledges the droid; Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) is in there too, somewhere; the Death Star is there because why not at this point. The Death Star gets shoved into so many Star Wars movies, it barely even registers anymore.
Just as obnoxious as the fan-service is George Lucas’ usage of CGI technology. I will never understand how a movie like Attack Of The Clones could have come out the same year as The Two Towers, which was a brilliant display of everything that special effects can achieve when applied to film. Clones‘ CGI has aged spectacularly badly, from the fight-scenes on Geonosis that look like video-game cutscenes, to Jedi stunts that attempt to resemble wuxia wire-work martial arts – but without the wire-work. And then, of course, there are the clone armies…again, how could Lord Of The Rings get this technology so right, while Star Wars got it so, so wrong?
And at last we come to the film’s finale, which basically exists to tease the next movie. Droids and clones erupt onto the battlefields of Geonosis to wage warfare, the Jedi and the Sith prepare for the conflict of the century, and then…well, then comes Revenge Of The Sith, which takes place at the very end of the Clone Wars, before we’ve even had a chance to actually witness them onscreen. There’s a long-running animated TV show that covers the events between the two films, but for moviegoers, the Clone Wars themselves are barely a blip in the Star Wars timeline. The irony of the matter is that the epic ending of Clones finally indicated that Lucas’ preference for plot over character might actually pay off – but in Revenge Of The Sith, he changed course and made the movie all about Anakin, giving us little more than hints and glimpses of the warfare, political intrigue and intergalactic trade law that had been the series’ defining feature. Just as it was beginning to get good!
It’s worth noting that another high-profile prequel franchise, the Fantastic Beasts series, has similarly promised us a war of wizards and dark magic, and it’s to be hoped that they take a hint from the failure of the Star Wars prequels, and choose to show the warfare onscreen. But that series has its own problems, anyway.
Anakin and Padmé’s ill-fated secret wedding at the end of Clones is obviously intended to be an emotional moment, the culmination of a hopelessly beautiful love story: and it probably would have been, if the couple had any chemistry. But we’re dealing with one character who’s a raging lunatic with anger-management issues and a whiny, pessimistic attitude toward literally everything, and the other who’s…um, does Padmé even have a defining character trait? She was a politician in Phantom Menace, but Clones reduces that idea to “hey, we’ll have her spurt random political metaphors at inopportune moments!”. The film also tries to hint at a concept which would become a major plot point in Revenge Of The Sith; that Anakin was jealous of Obi-Wan and Padmé’s nonexistent relationship – but seriously, why? Because Obi-Wan helped him rescue Padmé from a couple of killer centipedes? It’s just yet another abusive boyfriend trope that makes Anakin even more unlikable and unsympathetic.
And so we are left with a film that can’t figure out the difference between a plot and a subplot; a film that tries to push a scarily nerve-wracking relationship as a cute love story; a film that wants to be thought-provoking and deep, but can’t even put together a comprehensive line of dialogue. It’s still better than the first movie for various reasons (a notable absence of Jar-Jar Binks being one of them), but not by enough to make this film a memorable – or even strictly necessary – addition to the series.
We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.
To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
It’s finally time to explain my decision not to start my eight-part review of the Star Wars franchise with what is now technically referred to as the first movie. The idea of having to wade, Gungan-style, through three intermittently bad movies before getting to the series’ real gems was simply not appealing to me, so I took what we’ll call a detour – by going through the films in the order of release, rather than where they fall in the official timeline. But, of course, destiny arrives regardless, and now we have finally set foot on the soggy, pleasantly pastel planet where humans and sentient dinosaurs live together in harmony among a picturesque landscape of waterfalls, rainforests and Renaissance cities…yes, it’s Dinotopia.
No, wait, that’s not right. Sorry, it’s Dinotopia’s identical twin, Naboo.
Here, amid all that lush greenery and damp air, our story begins: it is the story of a boy who would become a man who would become a machine, a child born into the world to serve a dark power’s nefarious purposes, a Jedi who would turn to the Dark Side of the Force and join the ranks of the Sith. Here, on the planet Naboo, begins the story of Anakin Skywalker.
Wait, that’s not right either. Anakin’s story doesn’t start here. So then…why does the movie start here?
Unfortunately, there’s no good answer to that question, which lingers over the whole prequel trilogy. The point of the prequels was supposedly to go deep into the psyche of the man who became Darth Vader, to discover what went so horribly wrong in his life that he would turn away from the light and succumb to darkness. And yet somewhere along the way, director George Lucas realized that he actually wanted to make an entire movie about intergalactic politics and shipping blockades – and, uh, sure that has something to do with Anakin Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side! How? Well…because Padmé Amidala, Anakin’s wife, came from Naboo, that’s how. And so the story of Anakin Skywalker actually begins with Padmé, the young, seemingly naive Queen of the Naboo people, being rescued from her home planet by the Jedi and…wait, you’re telling me we spend the first half-hour of the movie on a rescue mission to free Padmé only to find out in the film’s last thirty-five minutes that it’s not even the real Padmé?
This is, unfortunately, only one example of the problem with the prequel trilogy, but it highlights one of Phantom Menace‘s biggest structural flaws. Rather than focusing on the character of Anakin Skywalker (who was likable enough here, portrayed by Jake Lloyd), the movie wastes valuable screentime on supporting characters and three or four different political subplots that have no bearing on Anakin’s story whatsoever. This epic failure is comparable to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald, a movie in which plot took precedence over character development, to the detriment of both – a huge, complex plot means nothing if there aren’t sturdy, strong characters to hoist it on their shoulders when the going gets rough and carry the audience’s interest across the finish line. In both Crimes Of Grindelwald and Phantom Menace, the “characters” are mostly cardboard cutouts barely capable of carrying a single scene, much less an entire movie.
There’s a trio central to the story of Phantom Menace, but it’s sometimes hard to tell whether it consists of Anakin Skywalker, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) or Anakin, Padmé and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). Obi-Wan is the more important of the two in the long run, but he does virtually nothing in Phantom Menace except stand by Qui-Gon’s side and argue with him about whether or not Anakin should be trained as a Jedi. And then at the very end of the movie, he gets to kill the Sith apprentice Darth Maul in one epic lightsaber fight that makes his earlier irrelevance not only confusing but frustrating. As previously mentioned, Padmé is actually disguised as a different character for most of the film, while Sabé (Keira Knightley) wears her identity. Anakin isn’t in the movie’s first half-hour, and even when he does show up, he’s still initially a supporting character – at best, he’s a walking plot device until he takes command of his very own starship in the finale. Until the second film, I think it’s safe to say that most of this defining chapter in Anakin’s life is told from the viewpoint of Qui-Gon Jinn as he tries, unsuccessfully, to decipher the child’s parentage and account for his abnormally high midi-chlorian count (yes, this film also establishes that your strength in the Force is determined by the amount of alien blood-cells living in your body, which just…no).
And it’s not like anybody else ever figures out what Anakin is, either. Even to this day, Star Wars canon is conflicted about where he came from – the predominant theory being that he was “conceived by the midi-chlorians”, meaning that, in essence, he’s the son of the Force itself. That’s all well and good, but why wasn’t it ever explained in the movie? The only hint we get about his parentage is one vague quote from his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August), who tells Qui-Gon that “There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him, I can’t explain what happened.” Yeah, well, try. Any explanation would be better than simply giving us yet another unanswered question about the character whose backstory we were supposed to be learning!
I think that, even without making the movie about Anakin (since George Lucas was clearly resistant to that idea, for whatever reason), a compelling story could still have been told – if the actual focus hadn’t instead been directed on the impossibly complicated political system of Naboo, and their relations with the Gungan aliens, Viceroy Gunray’s Trade Federation and the Old Republic’s corrupt, bureaucratic system. Now, I love political intrigue: it’s one of my favorite tropes in sci-fi, fantasy or fiction in general. But intrigue has to revolve around character in order to work properly – simply having shipping blockades and assassination attempts and coups isn’t interesting, unless we care about the characters that these things are happening to: for instance, look at Game Of Thrones, which, in its first few seasons, expertly handled political intrigue by pitting fleshed-out characters against each other in interesting ways and giving them real motivations and agendas that audiences could become invested in. It’s hard to become invested in Naboo’s fight for independence when we know next to nothing about the handful of characters in the movie who actually hail from Naboo – especially when one of them is Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best).
Now, I just want to preface this by saying that I bear no ill-will towards Ahmed Best, who was simply doing his job and the best that he could in extremely difficult circumstances: I wish him well, and I’m very glad to hear that he’s just landed a role as the host of a Star Wars game show on Disney+. That’s fantastic. But the character he happens to portray, the notorious alien by the name of Binks, is without a doubt the most pointless and pathetic character in the Star Wars universe – and it’s a big universe. But between his…jokes?…and his voice, and his unnervingly long tongue, there is not a single thing about Jar-Jar that helps the prequel trilogy in any way. Worse, he’s actually damaged the trilogy’s reputation.
On the other side of the galaxy but almost as useless, the Jedi Order loses all of its mystique and magic when glimpsed in The Phantom Menace, where they’re basically just a group of squabbling elders blind to the disintegration of the society they’re sworn to protect. Seeing them here, at what was apparently the height of their glory, it’s hard to imagine they stayed in business as long as they did. It’s even harder to imagine that they could ever be brought back, or that they would be effective, if they were.
The Sith, however, have never looked so appealing as they did here, operating in secret from behind thrones and senate-seats across the galaxy, a cult based on the duality of master and apprentice. While the master himself, Chancellor Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) is busy getting “elected” to ever-loftier positions of power in the New Republic, his apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park) is on assignment like a mysterious ninja, or a ghostly assassin, or a…phantom menace. While Maul would look cool regardless of his weaponry (dude’s literally a six-foot tall Dathomirian Dark Lord covered in horns and red-and-black full-body tattoos), having a freaky, double-bladed lightsaber probably doesn’t hurt his image. Sadly, while he was undeniably one of the Dark Side’s most photogenic champions (in the days before Kylo Ren), he was cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of the movie, preventing him from ever realizing his true potential. One thing that can be said of the prequel trilogy is that it had some epic villains – it just didn’t keep them around long enough to make much of a difference.
And that’s the biggest problem with The Phantom Menace: huge potential, but nothing to do with it. It’s a movie that spends more time explaining the mechanics of pod-racing and the structure of the intergalactic Senate than the dynamics of its core cast of characters, or the psychology of our protagonist…who, as time goes by, becomes only more distanced from the audience, because he was never close to us to begin with.
If you haven’t seen Spider-man: Far From Home yet, make sure you get out of here and into a theater now, because you don’t want to miss it, and you definitely don’t want to get spoiled!
I have a feeling that the spoilers are, in large part, what make Far From Home such a fun movie: as I wrote in my nonspoiler review, it’s virtually impossible to talk about the film without giving anything away, because there are dozens of little shocks and surprises, not to mention a couple of huge, mind-blowing plot twists. And we can talk about them all now! We’ll discuss them in order of importance.
Surprisingly, one of the smallest, most insignificant surprises in the movie has to do with the consequences of Avengers: Endgame – or, rather, the lack thereof. The film opens with an emotional tribute to fallen heroes of previous movies, set to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, which then gives way to some exposition about what happened after Endgame: namely, the moment at which half of the human population suddenly reappeared. Unfortunately, this is all covered in a matter of seconds, with just one quick shot of dusted highschool students suddenly reappearing on the basketball court where they had been dusted five years earlier by Thanos’ infamous Snap. Thanos would be outraged to hear that people have begun calling this moment…the Blip. It’s a dumb name, and it does kind of undermine the huge drama of Endgame, but it is exactly what people these days would call such an event – a blip, a minor nuisance for those who were dusted.
But let’s talk about that, actually. In Far From Home, we mostly see things from the perspective of those who were Dusted, and have since Blipped back into existence, five years later, but still the same age. Peter Parker (Tom Holland), and all but one of his classmates were victims of the Snap, as was Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Leaving aside the fact that this is highly implausible considering that the Dusting was random and indiscriminate, these characters all have something in common, something I couldn’t quite place a finger on while watching the film: entitlement. The Dusted make up the vast majority of this film’s cast, and almost all of them have the same attitude of nonchalance and, dare I say, arrogance. They died and came back to life, but for them, the entire span of time between the Snap and the Blip was a matter of minutes: meanwhile, in the world around them, people have gotten married, had kids, died. One Dusted character comments on “how weird” it is that his younger brother is now older than him, but why don’t we stop to think about how it must feel for that younger/older brother, who has probably been dealing with emotional trauma, possibly even living as an only child, but now has to re-adapt to life with a sibling? The film only focuses on one character who survived the Dusting and has grown up in the intervening five years – Brad Davis (Remy Hii), who is treated throughout the film as a threat to Peter’s relationship with MJ (Zendaya), and something of an antagonist. But it’s the Dusted who actually come off as ungrateful and selfish, willfully endangering their lives time and time again. A lot of people wondered why, if Peter had just been Dusted, Aunt May would immediately thereafter let him go on a field-trip to Europe. Well, because Aunt May was just as dismissive of the Snap as any of the Dusted: sure, she had a funny experience where she reappeared in her old apartment only to discover that a new family had moved in – but she still got the apartment back, didn’t she?
Anyway…while we’re on the subject of Aunt May, let me move on from my angry tirade – May is not an important character in the film, but she does have a very adorable flirtatious relationship with Tony Stark’s aide, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). And at the end of the movie, when Peter confronts them and asks for the truth, May breaks Happy’s heart by revealing that it wasn’t meant to be a serious relationship – just a fling. Hopefully May rethinks that, because these two made one cute couple (honestly, when you think about it, it’s another example of how ungrateful the Dusted are).
Happy isn’t the only constant reminder of Tony Stark in Far From Home: aside from a brief mention of Tony’s wife Pepper Potts, there’s also some new surprises. We learn early on in the film that, before his death, Tony built a pair of glasses which control the hugely dangerous E.D.I.T.H (Even Dead, I’m The Hero) technology: this includes an almost infinite supply of killer drones and some really scary satellites orbiting the planet. Naturally, he also entrusted these glasses to Peter Parker, a scared and overwhelmed teenage boy. Just like any of Tony’s creations, these E.D.I.T.H glasses can be used for good or bad purposes – Peter makes this clear when he accidentally uses them to call a drone-strike on his rival, Brad Davis: even worse, he then gives the glasses to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man he’s known for a couple of days – even though he does eventually get them back, the E.D.I.T.H drones also capture him on camera, killing Beck. We’ll get to that later, though.
First, let’s talk about Beck himself. This one honestly shouldn’t have come as a surprise: we learn about halfway through the movie that Beck, who seems really nice and friendly, is actually a mentally unstable con-man trying to get revenge on his former boss, Tony Stark, who he believes stole his life-work and gave him no credit. With a team of disgruntled former Stark Industries employees, Beck has created an elaborate smoke-and-mirrors ruse – he pretends to be from another world in the Marvel multiverse, a warrior hunting huge creatures called Elementals, which wreak havoc across Europe. In reality, the Elementals are all special effects, and Beck is hunting Peter Parker, trying to win him over with kindness and get the E.D.I.T.H glasses from him. Jake Gyllenhaal brings a lot of charisma to the role – and his abrupt transformation from sweet, gentle Quentin Beck, to the over-the-top theatrical villainy of “Mysterio”, as he calls himself, is handled with ease. Granted, the actual scene in which his evil plans are revealed is…not quite as great. Gyllenhaal has to dump a lot of exposition and backstory while monologuing to his henchmen, and the dialogue itself is a bit wooden – but the delivery is as good as it can be, and Gyllenhaal was clearly having the time of his life while filming. He reminded me a great deal of Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events in that one scene. And he was detestable: from his snarky smile to his outfit, I wanted to punch him in the face. I didn’t think he could get worse.
He got worse.
I mentioned in my nonspoiler review that fans of Peter Parker will be traumatized by this movie: I stand by that. After getting the E.D.I.T.H glasses, Mysterio learns that Peter and MJ have uncovered his secret identity and are trying to reach Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at a S.H.I.E.L.D office in Berlin. Mysterio lures Peter into a trap, using special effects and illusions to fool him into an abandoned warehouse where he tries to murder him. What follows is some of the most nightmarish and imaginative stuff I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie: a sequence reminiscent of the “A Friend Like Me” musical number in Aladdin – but with disorienting green fog, spiders, and hundreds of Mysterio clones instead of singing genies and magic carpets. There are moments of dead silence, where we follow Peter as he tries to find a way out of the CGI darkness, only to run into a graveyard where he is confronted by a zombie apparition of Tony Stark. There’s a scene where Peter is surrounded by mirror images of himself, which suddenly come to life and try to strangle him. It goes on for an excruciatingly long time, with no end in sight – there’s one point at which you think the illusion is over, when Nick Fury shoots Mysterio in the back…but that’s a deception too. And then Peter Parker gets hit by a train.
He survives this, of course. How, I don’t know, but at least he manages to finally break free from Mysterio’s illusions – watching Peter be tortured both physically and mentally, not knowing who he could trust or what he could do to escape: it was heartbreaking. I nearly cried when Peter climbed, bloodied and bruised, up onto the side of the speeding bullet-train. I nearly cried again when he was wandering, lost and confused, through a picturesque Dutch village. I did cry when he finally met up with Happy Hogan again: he was crying, I was crying.
Then Led Zeppelin started playing. That dried my tears pretty quickly.
One more thing about Mysterio before we move to the third act surprises: the whole concept of the Multiverse, teased in the first few trailers for the film – it’s all a lie, concocted by Quentin Beck’s professional scriptwriters. There is no rift between dimensions, no Earth 616 – as of right now, there is still only one reality in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is honestly fine by me. It does mean we can probably dismiss all those rumors about the X-Men or the Fantastic Four coming from an alternate world in the Multiverse.
Now, for the big battle at the end. This happens in London, on the Tower Bridge, where Mysterio uses the E.D.I.T.H drones to create one “Avengers-level threat” for him to single-handedly defeat. Things get a little messy when Peter Parker disables the drones and exposes the illusion, leading to an epic battle where Peter has to go through Mysterio’s nightmare world again in order to get to him. Meanwhile, his friends, such as MJ and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are trapped in a museum, using medieval weapons to take on the killer-bots: this is what I called a Disney-Channel moment in my nonspoiler review – it’s silly, but fun. In the end, though, no amount of plot armor was going to save those kids from being horribly murdered – it’s only when Mysterio shuts down E.D.I.T.H by himself, while trying to fool Peter into thinking that he’s surrendered, that the teens are able to escape. But here’s where things get really cool – and, again, traumatic. Mysterio falls back, seemingly humbled, telling Peter that he regrets everything. For a few moments, the audience is fooled – and then, suddenly, Peter spins around and grabs a gun from the real Mysterio, who has been standing nearby, invisible. There’s a single gunshot in the dead silence, and Mysterio slumps to the ground, dead – all thanks to Peter’s “spidey-sense” (though, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a running joke in the movie where everybody refers to “spidey-sense” as the “Peter-tingle”, something that Peter loudly objects to on multiple occasions).
But Mysterio’s legacy lives on, just as he wanted it to: turns out, he was filming the whole battle, and his henchmen edited the preserved footage to make it look like Mysterio was murdered. This is revealed in a shocking mid-credits scene, in which the footage is broadcast on national television by conspiracy network, The Daily Bugle, along with Peter Parker’s name and image: in a horrifying parallel to Tony Stark’s own declaration “I am Iron Man” at the end of the first Iron Man movie, Peter’s own identity has now been unintentionally revealed to the world. It’s likely that the third Spider-man movie will see the young web-slinger, armed with E.D.I.T.H, on the run from a host of villains who will be coming after him, not to mention his family and friends.
And, finally, one more surprise is revealed at the very end of the movie, but it’s so big that I think it warrants its own post, so I’ll only cover it a little here: basically, in the post-credits scene, Nick Fury and his partner Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are revealed to have been Skrulls – specifically, Talos and Soren, who we already know from the Captain Marvel solo movie. We overhear their conversation with the real Nick Fury, as they inform him that they’ve successfully delivered Tony’s glasses to Peter. Nick Fury himself is shown to be lounging on a tropical beach, which itself is merely a hologram: turns out, Fury is in space, on a vast starship manned by Skrulls, commanding what looks to be an army of soldiers or workers in a sort of cosmic version of S.H.I.E.L.D., again paralleling the end of the first Iron Man, in which Nick Fury first appeared onscreen and recruited Tony Stark into the Avengers Initiative. Eleven years later, Fury is assembling some sort of new team for Phase 4. I have a few guesses as to what might be going on there, but we’ll discuss that another time.
With the end of that post-credits scene, the Infinity Saga is officially over. The story of Tony Stark has been concluded, but there are dozens of new stories we can’t wait to see unfold on the big screen. We even have a bunch of new questions: is Spider-man going to be the next face of the MCU? Will he be forced to hide, or will he confront his enemies head-on? Is Mysterio really dead? What is Nick Fury doing up in space? Can all the Skrulls be trusted? How long have Skrulls been impersonating people on earth? Will the E.D.I.T.H tech play a large part going forward?