In the absence of any of the original Marvel content that was supposed to debut this year, Disney+ is relying on a second season of its mega-hit The Mandalorian to keep subscribers satisfied with the streaming service: and yes, while it’s disheartening that we’re now probably getting two seasons of this one show before a proper trailer for either Marvel’s WandaVision or Falcon And The Winter Soldier, I’d be lying if I said that the irresistible duo of Pedro Pascal and his puppet sidekick Baby Yoda isn’t enough to tide me over for a while yet. And the first trailer for The Mandalorian‘s upcoming second season gives us plenty of the adorable single father/social media celebrity pairing that we can’t get enough of, no matter what other problems we (or is it only I?) might have with the series overall.
During the first season, I mostly took issue with the slow pacing and general sense of meandering that had me wondering, more and more with every episode, whether there was supposed to be a plot throughline or not. Everything worked out by the end, when the Mandalorian (whose real name is Din Djarin) had his epic confrontation with ex-Imperial Stormtroopers under the command of Moff Gideon, who was revealed in the finale to be in possession of an ancient, powerful weapon: the Darksaber of Mandalorian legend, once wielded by generations of Mandalorian leaders and even the tyrannical Sith Lord Darth Maul. But this time around, new problems have emerged: specifically the castings of Rosario Dawson as the Jedi Ahsoka and Gina Carano as Cara Dune. The former, who is joining the show for the first time this season, has allegations of transphobic abuse leveled against her by a former employee; the latter, a holdover from season one, has recently been embroiled in a number of online controversies, including urging people not to wear masks or stay in quarantine during coronavirus and appearing to mock the trans community with her new set of joke pronouns.
Will they detract from my enjoyment of the new season? I hope not, because the teaser trailer has me deeply invested already in the Mandalorian’s next adventure across the galaxy, but you can be sure I will continue to address it throughout my coverage of the season. We briefly catch a glimpse of Cara Dune in the teaser, and I have to admit feeling a bit of disappointment that I can’t get as excited about her appearance as I should be. It’s doubly unfortunate because, for the moment at least, Cara Dune is the show’s female lead and Ahsoka is supposed to be a major character too. Thankfully, other female characters are leveling up in the show, including Sabine Wren: who is possibly the hooded woman we see watching the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda in the teaser.
The teaser, thankfully, highlights a number of other things to get hyped about, including what looks like a more structured storyline revolving around the Mandalorian trying to reunite Baby Yoda with the infant’s kin; a bunch of new and old locations, including Tattooine and an ice-planet (Hoth? I don’t remember many other ice-planets in Star Wars); and an increase in violence. No sign of Moff Gideon or his legendary Darksaber just yet, but I’m sure he’ll pop up in future trailers. As for the Jedi, they seem to be remaining in the shadows for right now, but I have a feeling more are out there then we think (my theory is still that Jedi Master Yaddle survived the Great Purge and is Baby Yoda’s mother).
Speaking of Baby Yoda, the adorable little baby is still pint-sized and easily portable, something that comes in handy during action scenes I’m sure. Just so long as no one smacks the baby on his itty-bitty fragile little head this time around (looking at you, random Stormtrooper from season one), he should be doing pretty good: he’s learned how to quickly evade danger by disappearing into the safety of his floating cradle. He has the power to use the Force, but he’s just not in the mood to do so, and you know what?…I respect that.
So what do you think? How excited are you for The Mandalorian season two? Are you here for the plot, or for Baby Yoda? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Sackhoff is, however, an obvious choice to portray Bo-Katan, whom she has voiced in several seasons of the animated series, The Clone Wars – the fan-favorite character is a Mandalorian rebel aligned with the violent Deathwatch terrorists when we first meet her, but she quickly develops into a fascinating, nuanced woman, who hatches an elaborate plan to win her home planet back from the clutches of Sith Lord Darth Maul and his loyalists. After the death of her sister, the Duchess Satine, Bo-Katan becomes steely and frigid, but more devoted than ever to the Mandalorian way of life. By the end of The Clone Wars, she’s become the leader of Mandalore, and in Star Wars: Rebels, we see her accept the Darksaber, a symbol of Mandalorian patriotism, and embrace her destiny as the heroine who will unite the various Mandalorian clans. Sounds like she should be a pivotal figure in a story about the Mandalorians, right?
Unfortunately for Bo-Katan, we also learned in The Mandalorian that her destiny was unfulfilled – as the villain Moff Gideon was seen wielding the very same Darksaber in the season finale, with no explanation of how or when he obtained it. It’s very likely that Bo-Katan was killed prior to the events of the series and the Darksaber taken from her, meaning that any role she may have in these upcoming seasons of The Mandalorian could be limited to appearances in flashbacks. But the Bo-Katan fan in me desperately hopes she somehow survived the brutality of the rebellion and the war against the Galactic Empire, not only because she’s a fun character who deserves a prominent role, but because Katee Sackhoff is a very underrated actress who could benefit from the exposure in what has proven to be Disney+’s most successful original series.
Bo-Katan is only the latest in a steadily growing line of animated characters making the jump to live-action: others, however, like former Jedi Ahsoka Tano and Mandalorian Sabine Wren, have been or likely will be recast for their appearances in The Mandalorian‘s highly anticipated second season (Tano and Wren are also rumored to appear in just one episode of the season, which will serve as a backdoor pilot for their own spinoff series: if that is true, it makes sense why Disney and Lucasfilm would want to cast bigger, more recognizable talent for the roles). Boba Fett will also make his return to Star Wars in the upcoming season, though it is believed he will only have a small role.
Assuming that Bo-Katan did, in fact, survive her fateful encounter with Moff Gideon or his forces, she could conceivably run into Din Djarin and Baby Yoda while on the hunt for Gideon and her stolen Darksaber. The character lends herself nicely to cool action sequences – thanks to her jetpack, secret weapons and martial arts prowess – and I’d be eager to see her take on Gideon in a fight. If it’s only through flashbacks, and the outcome of the fight is predetermined, then so be it…but I really do think there are many more things that could be done with her character, and I hope that’s taken into consideration before a decision is made to kill her off.
So what do you think? How do you feel about seeing Bo-Katan in live-action for the first time ever, in The Mandalorian? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
You knew this day was coming. At some point, we would come to the end of all things, and I would inevitably make a Lord Of The Rings reference because, despite it having nothing to do with the situation at hand it’s still my go-to resource for quotes, and we would all start crying because, yes, The Clone Wars is actually over. And no, not over like it was over the last two times, but over as in it was resurrected from the dead by Disney, a final season was commissioned, and now we’ve breezed through that too. I have very mixed emotions about how I feel right now, so get ready for just a little ranting and rambling.
If you’re here, I assume you saw the warning at the top of the post, but one can’t be too careful – we’re about to get into SPOILERS! territory, and, what with this being a finale, there’s sort of a lot of spoilers.
First of all, it’s sad. You may think that’s obvious, given that this is the final episode of a beloved series, but The Clone Wars finale is sad on a whole new level – to a point where it doesn’t even feel sad, it just feels depressing. Other Star Wars stories have seen fit to close out their final chapters with at least a small glimmer of hope (think baby Luke arriving on Tattooine while the galaxy crumbles into chaos at the end of Revenge Of The Sith, or Leia’s shocking but inspiring appearance at the end of Rogue One), but not so The Clone Wars, whose finale abandons all hope and veers into territory so foreign to the series, it makes this episode feel almost like a standalone – an eerie, grimdark, post-apocalyptic dystopian short story.
The melancholy, and occasionally ominous, score accompanying this episode only works to make it even darker, as does the bleak gray color palette. Even the setting is designed to depress: remember the good old days when we could follow our sprawling cast of heroes all around the galaxy, to new and exciting planets untouched by war? Yeah, well, most of this finale takes place on the Republic (technically now Imperial) star-cruiser still hurtling through hyperspace towards Coruscant, and Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) spends most of the time trapped in the cruiser’s suffocating maze of passages, being hunted by her own clones and finding every escape route closed off to her.
With all of the main characters busy running for their lives, it’s unsurprising that nobody has time to suddenly recognize they’re in a finale and start monologuing dramatically to each other. But this episode has shockingly little dialogue at all, and there’s not really that many last words to be said. Ahsoka’s final scene with her old friend Captain Rex (voiced, like all clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) is, in fact, completely silent, as Ahsoka mourns her fallen troopers (what makes it doubly sad is that they were literally a gift to her from Anakin) by creating a vaguely creepy public art display out of their helmets, and Rex huddles by a cheerless fire, trying to stay warm. As for Darth Maul (Sam Witwer), he steals a ship and disappears into space, off on his own quest to cause chaos and exact vengeance on those who wronged him – which at this point is pretty much everyone. At least he tears apart the star-cruiser’s hyperspace engines before he goes, which inadvertently allows Ahsoka to make her escape (and keeps her from falling into Emperor Palpatine’s hands).
The Clone Wars used to be a pretty cheerful, even funny series: but that’s not the case in the finale. There’s no humor at all, and we’re even forced to watch the happy, helpful droids introduced in last week’s episode as they get blown to bits, screaming in their shrill voices, by a merciless clone firing squad. And soon afterwards, every clone on the star cruiser, including ARC Trooper Jesse, dies when their ship hurtles out of hyperspace and smashes into the surface of a remote planet.
The closest thing to a hopeful ending is the haunting final scene, which shows Darth Vader arriving on this planet and finding the strange grave-site built by Ahsoka, alongside one of her lightsabers. The following shot of Vader activating and brandishing the blue lightsaber is both a sad reminder of what he was before his fall, and a subtle nod towards the redemption he would still achieve: redemption that would make him worthy of once again carrying such a saber. But for the moment, Vader is still Vader – and he turns away from the desolate scene, leaving us to follow his diminishing silhouette reflected in the visor of a dead clone-trooper’s empty helmet. Is that what passes for hope these days?
I may sound like I’m complaining about the sadness, but…well, I am a little, actually, but I did enjoy every individual component that went into today’s episode. Everything from the animation to the action scenes was beautiful, even if it was sad – but it does make one wonder: does Star Wars have a problem with happy endings?
Now obviously, The Clone Wars was never a story that was going to end with all the main characters riding off into a double sunset: but for a series that started out as a cartoon meant for kids, this is certainly a dramatic and unexpected heel-turn. Let me try to explain: it’s fine, it’s perfectly natural in fact, for a series to mature as its audience does and get darker as times goes along – with The Clone Wars, it’s been more than a decade since the series’ first episode aired, so quite a lot of growing has been happening in the interim, and people who watched the show as kids are now adults. What I do take issue with, at least a little, is this cheerless, hopeless ending with which we’ve been left.
Star Wars as a whole started out much like The Clone Wars did, as pure, shameless escapism; that’s exactly why it became the pop culture phenomenon that it did. But in recent years, the franchise has become….much less fun. The prequels, by virtue of being the prequels, were expected to end in tragedy, misery and inescapable despair, of course – but then you’ve got the sequel trilogy, which avoided a traditional happy ending by basically reminding us that nothing, not even victory, is ever final in this universe: no matter how many times you try to balance the Force (which is what we all thought Anakin had done, back in Return Of The Jedi), it will never work. Rogue One ended with all the main cast dead, their bodies battered into specks of cosmic ash. Now The Clone Wars ends with much of the cast dead and the survivors scattered across the galaxy, and I’m left wondering: what did we accomplish, on that journey?
Well, it’s in the finale’s title: Victory And Death. But what that title conveniently leaves out is that the victory in question isn’t really one at all, because it could have happened at any time had not Emperor Palpatine personally constructed, initiated and drawn out the Clone Wars for years by cunningly manipulating both sides, and even his eventual defeat decades later will still only be a temporary one; and the death in the title isn’t just the demise of an individual, but the collapse of a society, the utter annihilation of a way of life, of an idea, of an idealistic concept upon which the Star Wars galaxy had been built. Is that all that Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and their friends actually achieved, after all that time?
It’s at moments like these that I begin to question whether Star Wars‘ recent trend of sad, cynical endings is actually a good one, or if the franchise is even trying anymore to be comforting. It doesn’t really feel brave anymore: in fact, much like how Pixar is increasingly being criticized for attempting to exploit audiences’ emotions, I sense that Star Wars is heading down a similar path, towards a place where all their stories are designed to leave viewers emotionally devastated. I hope that’s not the case, but after watching this episode, I can’t help but feel that way.
But yeah, happy May The 4th, everybody! Honestly, I don’t want to make it sound like I was left disappointed by the finale – I thought it was hauntingly beautiful, and, if despair was the emotion the showrunners were hoping to cultivate from their audiences, they succeeded. But at a time like this, when the real world is already so dark and the future so uncertain, I can’t say I wasn’t a little discouraged by this conclusion, even though, in the end, it won’t affect my overall rating of the episode.
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.
Aided by a magical combination of fabulous voice-acting, stunning animation and mind-blowing writing, the tenth episode of The Clone Wars‘ seventh and final season has not only managed to exceed my wildest expectations (which were already high!), but has also quickly emerged as one of my favorite episodes of the entire series: all seven seasons, every choice made along the way, has led us to this – and the payoff is just as rewarding as we all hoped it would be (and mind you, the real payoff is still ahead: this is just a warm-up exercise for what’s to come!).
Not a moment of screentime is wasted. This episode doesn’t even open with Tom Kane’s iconic voice-over recap, instead placing us directly into the action and drama, right where we left off last week – with Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), alone and outnumbered, standing against the massive, hulking might of Darth Maul (voiced by Sam Witwer) and his small but deadly army of loyal Mandalorian terrorists. But the fighting takes a moment to get started, because Maul, characteristically, has something he needs to say – and Witwer brings his all to the role this week (not that he ever doesn’t, but he’s particularly good now), truly elevating the material and dialogue he’s working with – which is already so well written that it’s sparked some jokes on the internet, where Maul is currently trending on social media platforms, about where the former Sith apprentice had time to take a crash course in political sciences. But along with an expanded vocabulary, Maul arrives on the scene newly equipped with a fascinating humanity and philosophical, introspective attitude: something that might have been hard to imagine back when Maul was first introduced in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace as the mute, cool-looking apprentice of Darth Sidious – in fact, it might still have been hard to imagine even when Maul was resurrected in an earlier season of The Clone Wars as a monstrous creature tormented by a lust for vengeance. But over time, as showrunners and screenwriters have slowly recognized his potential, he has transformed into one of the series’ most compelling characters: a villain, but one slowly moving into the extreme middle of the divide between the Sith and the Jedi. He may still fight with his classic, doubled-bladed red lightsaber, but he is just as much a neutral third party as Ahsoka Tano herself. Is he turning to the light side of the Force? No. Is he becoming more fair and just in his old age? No. But as he himself quips during the episode: “Justice is merely the construct of the current power base”. Maul is now working on his own, outside the influences of either Chancellor Palpatine’s Republic or Darth Sidious’ Separatist Union, looking to establish a place for himself in the coming chaos. But in the episode’s biggest, most shocking twist he reveals that he can’t do it alone – so he reaches out to Ahsoka for her help.
And Ahsoka wavers. Maul touches on all her weaknesses, pointing out that she left the Jedi Order willingly, because she could not stand for their hypocrisy and corrupt politics. He reminds her that the balance of power in the galaxy is about to shift, and that the Jedi will collapse in a matter of days, maybe even hours, or minutes. He informs her that Darth Sidious has been playing both sides of the Clone Wars, toying with the agendas of both the Jedi and the Sith. Ahsoka, whose entire arc has led her straight into the same neutral zone as Maul, can’t help but see the truth and reason in his words. She doesn’t hesitate long: she agrees to join him. But then Maul ruins his own masterfully crafted plan when he tells Ahsoka that her Jedi master, Anakin Skywalker, is destined to become Darth Sidious’ greatest tool and weapon in the fight to topple the balance of the Force. And Ahsoka, unable to reconcile with the idea that Anakin could ever betray her, makes her move, rejecting Maul’s proposal and initiating…a light-saber duel.
What a duel! With original Darth Maul actor Ray Park returning to perform the motion-capture for his character, and Lauren Mary Kim doing the same for Ahsoka Tano, the fight feels fully realized and unique. The action sweeps through the great throne room of Mandalore (which turns out to be an amazing set-piece, something that became clear to me when the hall’s stained-glass windows all simultaneously shattered inwards, ensnaring the duelists in a breeze of flying, multi-colored shards), and then gets carried out into the fiery hellscape of the city itself, where Maul’s loyalists are fighting the Mandalorians led by Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff). Everything you want from a light-saber fight, you get in this episode – there’s acrobatics and a precarious balancing-act at one point, the opponents both have dazzling elegance, and there’s a lot of Force use involved.
But in the end, it’s Ahsoka, surprisingly, who gets the upper hand – catching Maul with her Force powers as he falls, pleading to die, and holding him there until her clone troopers can take him hostage. With Maul’s forces already surrendering on the ground, it looks like the Siege of Mandalore might already be over: but the season isn’t, which means something big is still coming.
It’s not too hard to take a guess as to what that might be. On the margins of the episode’s story, we hear little snippets of news about how the Clone Wars is going: Count Dooku is dead by Anakin Skywalker’s hand, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) is on his way to kill General Grievous on Utapau, meaning it shouldn’t take very long to get to the great purge, and the systematic extermination of the Jedi across the galaxy. In this episode, we already saw ARC trooper Jesse (Dee Bradley Baker) become a prisoner of Darth Maul and surrender his mind to the powerful Sith – it’s possible that something occurred offscreen during their encounter that will cause Jesse’s programming to malfunction, leading him to attack Ahsoka before Order 66 has even begun. That could give Ahsoka some warning so that she can try and save some of the other clones under her command – or she might be forced to kill them all to save herself, which would be heartbreaking and utterly brutal to watch. All I know is that somehow, someway, Darth Maul is going to escape from his bonds – and a chaotic melee between his captors would pose the perfect opportunity for him to do just that.
So what do you think? How are you enjoying this final season of The Clone Wars, and what do you think will happen next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Some things never change – but the status quo gets a major shake-up in the tenth episode of The Clone Wars‘ final season, which kicks off the series’ last story arc: the long-awaited Siege of Mandalore. Old friends and enemies reunite with epic consequences; ancient pacts are broken; and events are set into motion that cannot be undone. From the moment the episode opens with the blood-red title card that has always signified the influence of Darth Maul (voiced by Sam Witwer), the action, drama and excitement is nonstop, fast-paced and intense.
Just to give you a sense of how close we are to the end: this episode begins a few hours before the attack on Coruscant at the beginning of The Revenge Of The Sith, in which Chancellor Palpatine is kidnapped by Separatist forces – an attack which plays a pivotal part in this episode’s events, as it drives a wedge between Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), and Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), preventing the trio from joining forces against Darth Maul. A brief montage in the opening recap also gives us a quick, but heartbreaking, look at some fan-favorite Jedi Knights departing on their final missions across the galaxy.
There’s been some sort of time-jump since last week’s episode, since Ahsoka is now firmly established as an ally of the rebel Mandalorian Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), whose mission to win back her home planet of Mandalore from Darth Maul and his tyrannical regime depends on the assistance of the Jedi – who, historically, have always been opponents of the Mandalorian way. Naturally, Ahsoka turns to her old mentor and friend Anakin, who is eager to help her – until Obi-Wan gets involved, counseling patience and prudence: some things really never change (like the infuriating way Obi-Wan scratches his chin every single time he has to make a decision: it’s one of those character quirks that gets repeated so many times it actually becomes vaguely irritating). Even a harsh reminder of the suppressed romantic tension between Obi-Wan and the recently deceased Duchess of Mandalore isn’t enough to change his mind.
Ahsoka, channeling everything that Trace and Rafa Martez taught her, gives the Jedi a piece of her mind – telling them bluntly and honestly that, by even questioning whether to rescue Palpatine or save Mandalore, they’re playing politics and betraying the oath they took as Jedi. Obi-Wan mutters something about how Ahsoka’s not being fair: to which the former Jedi padawan replies: “I’m not trying to be.” How far she’s come! All grown up and challenging the policies of a corrupt and bureaucratic government.
In the end, Obi-Wan wins the argument, much to Anakin’s dismay and frustration – more excellent foreshadowing of what’s to come, when the friends’ relationship reaches a breaking point. But thankfully, Anakin doesn’t let Ahsoka go without three gifts: a squadron of clone troopers, with their armor decked out in the colors of Ahsoka’s Togruta facial markings; her twin lightsabers, which she had given to him to keep after she left the Jedi Order; and the strength of their bond renewed – which, in the long run, is going to mean nothing once Anakin becomes seduced by the Dark Side, but, hey, it’s a nice gesture for right now. The lightsabers in particular come in handy when Ahsoka and Bo-Katan lead their small invasion force into Mandalore – and much to my delight, the whirling blades have also restored much of Ahsoka’s confident, unique fighting style. The gravity-defying mid-air fight scene in this episode makes up for the multitude of weak, low-energy street brawls that Ahsoka struggled through in the past few weeks.
But while Ahsoka has an easy time slicing through Mandalorian fighter ships, she’s met her match in the Sith Lord Darth Maul, whom she encounters in the sewer system underneath Mandalore (because it’s Darth Maul, so of course he’s hiding in a sewer, waiting to ambush people). Maul, as it turns out, was expecting his arch-nemesis Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the episode ends with Maul and Ahsoka rather awkwardly staring each other down, not knowing exactly what to say to each other. Will Maul try to kill Ahsoka? Will he imprison her? Or will he just kind of…talk to her? I’m intrigued to see what goes down next week, and honestly looking forward to some more of the quiet, conversational Maul who has been such a joy in previous seasons of the series.
So we’ve started out on the last leg of our journey to the conclusion of the Clone Wars. The Siege of Mandalore is already underway. The end of an era is approaching. But the good news is, some things never change. After all, Ahsoka, Anakin and Obi-Wan still only have, what, one brain-cell between the three of them? Just like old times.
Some will not be sorry to see the Martez Sisters story arc conclude this week on The Clone Wars, if it means we can move on to the long-awaited and highly-anticipated Siege of Mandalore. As for me, I have mixed feelings: am I undeniably excited to see if the entire story can wrap up in the next few episodes in an appropriately grandiose and epic fashion? Totally. But am I also very unhappy that the grounded, practical, no-nonsense Martez’s won’t be part of that finale? Absolutely.
When this week’s episode starts off, the dynamic trio of Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), Trace Martez (Brigitte Kali) and Rafa Martez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) are all locked away once again in a Pyke Syndicate dungeon, awaiting execution – but once again, they make what would otherwise be a boring scenario extremely engaging and compelling: and I firmly believe Ahsoka couldn’t have done that alone, without help from these two sassy amateur con-women, who imbue every scene they’re in with a bit of their fun, conversational attitude. There’s more talking (by which I mean real talking, not exposition) in these last few episodes than I feel like there has been for a very long time in The Clone Wars. Trace and Rafa gave Ahsoka a place to settle down and blend in, and at the same time they gave both her and us, the audience, a welcome respite from warfare, military strategy, and the politics of the Jedi Order.
Has this arc been filler? Maybe. I really can’t say for sure until the season is done. But I hope that the lessons Ahsoka has learned from the Martez’s will help her in the near future, making her prolonged adventures with them essential to her character arc. Ahsoka was forced to confront some dark truths about herself and her way of life in these last few episodes: worst of which was the revelation that Jedi intervention has only caused pain, misery and suffering for the people they claim to protect – for Ahsoka, who has always positioned herself as a champion of justice and morality, that hit hard. She almost has an obligation to distance herself even further from the Jedi Order: leaving them wasn’t enough. Now, she may have to confront them.
If she’s going to be doing that, though, I really hope she gets a weapon upgrade. At this point, it feels like The Clone Wars‘ final season is sadistically teasing us with promises of epic Ahsoka fight scenes – and then snatching them away. I thought it couldn’t get worse than last week, but this…this topped it. Surrounded on all sides by Pyke guards, Ahsoka moves into one of her characteristically graceful fighting stances. There’s that tense pause. Then, she springs into action…and gets maybe three or four punches and kicks in before being taken out with a stun-gun. Meanwhile, Trace and Rafa, neither of whom is gifted with any Force abilities, take on an entire swarm of aliens on the lower docks and get into some sort of Indiana Jones-esque fight on a wildly-swinging crane. I appreciated giving the Martez sisters a cool action scene, don’t get me wrong: but why couldn’t Ahsoka get one too?
Now, let’s move into SPOILERS! Obviously you’d expect a few, what with the Martez Sisters arc ending and a new one beginning. And thankfully, The Clone Wars delivers.
Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) is, as we all suspected, the link between the two storylines converging. Though for the majority of the episode she stands on the sidelines watching Ahsoka’s various escape attempts backfire, she pops in at the very end to whisk the former Jedi away on a mission to Mandalore – to take on their common enemy, Darth Maul (Sam Witwer). Yes, the Sith Lord has returned: here as a glowering hologram who nearly catches Ahsoka as she wanders through the Pyke citadel, in one of the episode’s more suspenseful scenes. But if a confrontation between Ahsoka and an intangible hologram seemed exciting, I can only imagine what the actual fight will be like: just, please, let Ahsoka actually fight. Darth Maul also throws in a shoutout to his criminal organization, Crimson Dawn, which was a crucial element of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and since then has never really proved to be of any importance. Maybe they’ll get something to do here.
The episode throws the core trio a bunch of curveballs, which they deflect or evade (or barrel into, head-on) as a group unit. Of course, there was no way the arc could end without Ahsoka revealing her secret identity to the Martez sisters – and though I wasn’t too keen on the way that reveal went over so abruptly, I admired how quick Trace and Rafa were to accept her, after everything she’s done for them. They even promised to have her bike waiting for her when she returns from Mandalore (will she be able to, though? If I’m not mistaken, we’re nearing the time when Palpatine will initiate Order 66, sparking the genocide of the Jedi: so Coruscant, at the heart of Palpatine’s Empire, may not be the safest place for Ahsoka to return home to after the war).
What did you think of this week’s episode? What do you want to see next on The Clone Wars? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Spoilers For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!
One of the biggest criticisms of The Rise Of Skywalker was the nature of Emperor Palpatine’s return, and the fact that he just sort of…showed up again, literally hanging out on a life-support crane suspended from the ceiling of an ancient Sith amphitheater hidden beneath a floating pyramid on the previously unknown planet of Exegol, which was described as a homeworld of the Sith – which, in and of itself, was confusing: wasn’t Moraband the homeworld of the Sith, according to The Clone Wars, season 6? As if that wasn’t enough, it was revealed soon afterwards that Palpatine had not been idle, and had built a massive army of mini Death Stars on Exegol (because the Death Star is an idea that will never not be reused in the Star Wars franchise), each manned by thousands of ex-Imperial warriors, including a new brand of bright red stormtroopers who were hyped up in the pre-release marketing and barely had a millisecond of screentime in the actual film.
Needless to say, Star Wars fans had a lot of questions about the mysterious planet after leaving the theater – and very few of them were answered at all satisfactorily. But because The Rise Of Skywalker developed something of a reputation for leaving questions unanswered, most fans have already moved on from the subject and stopped theorizing about things like “what even is an Exegol?”, taking it for granted that this, like many other unresolved subplots in the film, would probably be explained someday in a throwaway line from a producer or a semi-canonical graphic novel.
But I’m guessing that very few people, even those of us who actually enjoyed Rise Of Skywalker for what it was, suspected that we would ever get an entire movie set on Exegol. It’s not that a bleak, barren icy wasteland riddled with blinding lightning and haunted by Sith ghosts doesn’t sound like an interesting location for a movie, it’s just that…well, spending two hours there, maybe more, watching Palpatine’s limp dishrag of a body being wheeled around on a crane, overseeing the construction of a fleet of redundant planet-destroying weapons that we, the audience, know will be defeated in a few minutes by a nifty lightsaber trick? I don’t know, I think I’ll pass (I say that now).
We don’t yet know for certain whether the Exegol movie will be released theatrically, or on Disney+ – what we do know is that it is being developed by Sleight director J.D. Dillard and MCU writer Matt Owens, who crafted the two best seasons of the fantastic, underrated series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. We also don’t know anything about the plot, time period, or cast of characters. It could follow a young Sith acolyte during Palpatine’s Final Order, but it’s just as likely that it documents the story of some of the first Sith in the galaxy far, far away – such as the rise of Darth Bane, or one of the characters from the Knights Of The Old Republic video games. Villain origin stories are all the rage nowadays: though typically not from Disney, the studio which not too long ago canceled a planned streaming series, which would have focused on iconic animated villains like Ursula and Maleficent, for being “too dark”. If a business-savvy octopus is too dark for Disney, then I have to imagine that an ancient, bloodthirsty evil that demands human sacrifice and a form of government best described as “murder see-saw” would be too.
Who knows? Maybe it’ll be an ensemble movie about the Knights of Ren: you know, the ones who were rumored to be the greatest Sith warriors in the galaxy and were built up for two movies before becoming quick and easy lightsaber-fodder? You remember their names, right? Trudgen (Trenchen? Trunchen?), and something beginning with an A, and something with too many consonants (or was that the same one whose name began with A?), and the other one, the one whose job was to rebuild Kylo’s helmet? Remember them? Classic additions to Star Wars canon.
I actually did like The Rise Of Skywalker, I swear.
So what do you think of this news? Does the idea of watching a Star Wars movie focused on the Sith interest you, or does it seem too radically different from what we’ve seen before? Should the film follow Palpatine or a past Sith, or no Sith at all? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The final episode of The Mandalorian‘s first season on Disney+ is quite appropriately titled Redemption – for not only does the title work in-universe, but it’s also an amusingly apt reflection on the fact that Redemption very literally redeems the slow-paced series’ many mishaps. The plot itself often seemed like an afterthought while Mando (Pedro Pascal) and his tiny, adorable sidekick Baby Yoda traveled the galaxy, stopping in at random planets to marvel at the visual spectacle and meet new friends – or enemies. But in the season finale, masterfully directed by Taika Waititi, the story is rich, thrilling, entertaining and emotional; the characters feel more fleshed-out than they have appeared previously; and, most importantly, Baby Yoda is the cutest we’ve seen him yet.
And that’s all I’ll say in the non-spoilers section. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, but plan to, then turn away now! SPOILERS AHEAD!
The finale is chock-full of plot twists and gasp-out-loud revelations, but none more bewildering than the fact that Taika Waititi, who has never directed a Star Wars property previously, is somehow able to ease into the director’s chair for Redemption with all the graceful assurance of Dave Filoni, who at first glance would seem the natural choice to bring this series home to its epic (and thankfully, only temporary) conclusion. Waititi’s work here is surprisingly understated: you’d be hard-pressed to find any clues that this episode comes from the mind that brought you crazy, colorful comedies like Thor: Ragnarok or Jojo Rabbit (though it is amusingly unsurprising that the finale stars Waititi’s own character, assassin turned nurse droid IG-11, in a particularly prominent role). Obviously, directing a single good episode of TV doesn’t warrant immediately getting a three-picture deal with Lucasfilm, but hey, why not give Waititi a shot at his very own Star Wars trilogy?
Another surprise that boggled my mind, at least, was that Mandalorians are cool – for what I feel is the first time, despite everyone else in the world idolizing the very ground that Boba Fett walks upon. And one of the coolest things about them (apart from jetpacks and flamethrowers) is that they’re not a specific race of people, as Cara Dune (Gina Carano) reveals during an emotional moment in the episode: they’re a creed. Not only does it reinforce a particularly Rian Johnson theme in Disney’s Star Wars, that anyone can be a Mandalorian without having to have been born one, but it also makes the Mandalorians seem a lot more noble – in an extended flashback sequence which haunts our protagonist’s mind, we witness a squad of the flying, armored warriors acting as human shields for wounded refugees trying to escape from brutal droid-warfare: and it is revealed that during this battle, a young orphaned boy named Din Djarin was rescued by these Mandalorians and taken to safety with them – that boy was our very own “Mando”, whom I guess we can finally call Din Djarin? We’ve actually known that name for a while (Pedro Pascal ever-so-slightly spoiled it last month), but it’s only now canon, meaning I can only now use it. Yes, the Mandalorians are still vaguely cultish, and more than a little creepy, but at least they’re not solely defined by characters like Jango and Boba Fett anymore, or even just the term of “bounty hunter”. Djarin’s other biggest secret, his face, was also finally revealed in this episode…and, well, it’s Pedro Pascal’s face. I’m not entirely sure what we were all expecting, but honestly, that reveal was a bit underwhelming. It’s not like his face was even altered in any way: he didn’t have any scars or third-degree burns to speak of, no missing eyes or other distinguishing facial features. Not even a different hair color.
Djarin’s secrets weren’t the only ones brought to light: IG-11 is revealed to have been entirely reformed by Kuiil’s repairs, riding in to rescue Baby Yoda from a couple of monstrous stormtroopers who amuse themselves by punching and mocking the adorable little infant – the droid then straps The Child into a baby-backpack and goes on a killing spree around Nevarro, mowing down stormtroopers. He later sacrifices himself to rescue the whole team, self-destructing and blowing an entire legion of enemies sky-high. Baby Yoda himself is given his own hero moment when he faces down a flamethrower-wielding stormtrooper and deflects the attacker’s fire back at him: there’s a couple more reveals about his character, but I need to address those separately. Then there’s Cara Dune, whose home planet is revealed to be Alderaan (Princess Leia’s planet, infamously blown to pieces by the Death Star in A New Hope), thus explaining her undying grudge against the Empire. Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) turns out to have been an ex-Imperial himself, though that big secret falls a little flat due to the fact that we barely even know Karga, and have always been on-the-fence about whether or not to trust him and his Bounty Hunters Guild, anyway.
The person doing a lot of this dramatic-revealing is none other than Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), who is being set up to be the series’ big bad, and Din Djarin’s arch-nemesis. Gideon toys with his victims as they shelter in the burnt-out rubble of Werner Herzog’s lair, spilling their secrets to the world and promising them tantalizingly good deals if they’ll only hand over Baby Yoda. We never do find out what Gideon or Herzog wanted with The Child (and, come to think of it, we never even found out Herzog’s character name or purpose in the story, before he was unceremoniously murdered in the assault on his hideout), but considering how despicably evil Gideon is revealed to be, I’m going to assume it’s not because either of them just wanted cuddles and hugs. Gideon is also shown to have an alarmingly dangerous arsenal: not only can his tiny little handgun pierce through beskar steel, but the Moff is also a trained TIE-fighter pilot capable of handling his own in a dogfight. Oh yeah, and he just so happens to be in possession of the one black lightsaber in the entire galaxy, no biggie.
The lightsaber in question, better known as the Darksaber, has never been seen in live-action before this day, though it was seen in the animated series, Star Wars Rebels, which gave us a couple clues about the saber’s history. It was crafted by Tarre Vizsla, the first Mandalorian Jedi, during the reign of the Old Republic, and has since meandered across the universe, through the hands of a number of notable peoples and individuals, including the belligerent Mandalorian Clan Vizsla (to whose ranks Din Djarin appears to belong), the legendary Sith Lord Darth Maul, and Nite Owls leader Bo-Katan, who was the last known person to wield the blade, almost a decade before we seen Moff Gideon crawl from the wreckage of his TIE-fighter with the weapon in hand. The Darksaber is something of a mystical item, bestowing upon its wielder the title of Mand’alor, or leader of the Mandalorians – Gideon certainly has a fascination with the religious order, having been personally involved with eradicating them during the Great Purge and keeping tabs on those who survived. And now that he’s back on his feet, we can safely assume Din Djarin and Baby Yoda won’t be safe from his murderous rage anytime soon.
But for the moment, Din has a more urgent problem to worry about: while visiting his old friend The Armorer (Emily Swallow), he was gifted a number of odds-and-ends, including his very own jetpack, a personal sigil, and custody over Baby Yoda – which, apparently, is something that The Armorer can just hand out to anybody she feels like. But there’s a catch: while she tells Djarin to protect and train the baby (and even bestows upon them a title, the “Clan of Two”, which seems to hint at Star Wars’ common theme of duality), she also instructs him to seek out the child’s people – it’s not clearly indicated whether she’s referring specifically to Baby Yoda’s birth-family, or the Jedi in general, but it’s obvious that this will be a central plot-point in the series’ second season. But honestly, as much as we all want to see a whole planet of Baby Yodas, I think I’m just as excited to see The Child training as a Mandalorian – just so long as Din Djarin doesn’t try to make him wear a ridiculous helmet of his own: Baby Yoda’s adorable, expressive little puppet-face will not be hidden from the world, not if I and the internet have anything to say about the matter.
For the record, I think there’s a decent chance that we do actually see the home-planet of The Child’s species in The Mandalorian, and that the Jedi sage Yaddle will be revealed to be his mother. I know, I know, Yaddle is presumed dead – but there’s never been any conclusive evidence that that is the case, and honestly, she deserves so much more recognition than she gets. You know what, I’m just gonna say it: I think Yaddle is a better character than Yoda. Come at me, Yoda stans!
We’ve been left with a number of pressing questions from the season finale, but a bunch of mysteries have also been resolved, and we’ve left Din Djarin and Baby Yoda in a good place, all things considered. What did you think of the finale? Are you excited for Season 2? Share your thoughts and theories 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: The Last Jedi
If you’re reading this review, you’re probably aware that this film has sparked a very hostile, very aggressive reaction from both its defenders and detractors. The division in the Star Wars fandom over whether or not The Last Jedi is good, bad, or even an actual part of the series’ canon, has overshadowed many of those who attempt to talk about the film without suddenly veering into angry rants. You see, the thing is: there is no right answer, because opinions are subjective. Subjectively, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie: there, I said it. I’ll also say this – it’s a masterpiece of cinema, and, apart from a few iffy bits, a great film. And you don’t have to believe, listen to, or even acknowledge what I’m saying.
I do hope you’ll at least take some time to listen, though, because Jedi is a film I feel passionately about, and I hope my arguments for why are at least understandable.
The movie came at a crossroads in the saga’s history, and it’s not surprising that the story reflects that, touching on themes of evolution, and the process of adaptation: if you read between the lines, it’s not hard to see that Jedi is speaking directly to the fandom, and addressing the glaring generational divides within its ranks. “They are what we grow beyond”, Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) says at one point, and it’s like he’s talking about the new generation of Star Wars aficionados. If only the transition of power could be so peaceful in real life!
Unfortunately, Star Wars has always had a problem with a particular group of fans known as “gatekeepers”. These are typically the fans who grew up with the films back in the 70’s or early 2000’s, and now claim to be experts on the franchise. They can probably recite the names of several obscure Outer Rim planets, or give you the entire history of the Old Republic with textbook accuracy, or tell you the life-stories of every single person and alien inside the Mos Eisley cantina in A New Hope. The problem comes about when they start lecturing new, less experienced fans about how they’re the “real” fans, the films were made for them and their enjoyment, and anything that disagrees isn’t canon. The character of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who lectures the film’s heroine with a long-winded tirade about how she’s “a nobody” who doesn’t belong in the illustrious saga of the Skywalker family – he’s like the ultimate worst example of a gatekeeper: the type who doesn’t want to see women or minorities in “his” story.
But it’s not just diversity that gatekeepers have been afraid of for years: but also a new group of fans and movie-goers in general, who want to see the story branch out in new directions or take bold, new risks, rather than repeating past hits and highlights for the next decade. And director Rian Johnson has made a film appealing to those people – The Last Jedi is strongly reliant on the idea that there is no one Star Wars story: everybody has their own opinion on the beloved series, and that’s good. There are no right answers. There is no right Star Wars. It’s a theme he reinforces in many different ways, sometimes loudly, sometimes more subtly: since I previously mentioned Kylo Ren as a gatekeeper, let’s turn the tables and look at the villain’s mirror image and moral opposite, the mysterious Rey (Daisy Ridley). She’s been asked time and time again who she is, where she comes from, what makes her so special – but what she learns to accept in this movie is that, yes, as Kylo said, she’s a nobody, probably nothing more than the daughter of some nameless pair of scrap-traders on the desolate heap of Jakku. She (and we, the audience) have been waiting patiently to see who Rey’s parents will turn out to be, but the big revelation is that they don’t matter: because in the original Star Wars, long before “I am your father” or much less midi-chlorians, had been conceived, anybody could be a hero, no matter who they were or what background they came from. At the very end of the movie, we see it once again in the shape of a young, Force-sensitive boy on Canto Bight, who looks up at the stars with eyes full of wonder: this movie is as much about him as it is about anyone, because it’s a story about passing the torch from generation to generation, and about the legends we inspire in our lifetimes that will influence a new group of heroes.
Many people claim that The Last Jedi‘s overarching theme is best exemplified by Kylo Ren’s singularly pessimistic line: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” I could not disagree more. Jedi never once tells us to forget our past – in fact, on multiple occasions, it requires its cast of characters to confront their own pasts and learn from past failures. I mean, Yoda himself says it: “The greatest teacher, failure is”. That’s at least one of the themes of The Last Jedi – that you can’t run from your past, you need to embrace it and see if you can learn from it. If you can find a balance and live between your past and your future, then happy will you be.
And that word, “between”, is what will lead into the next section of this review, because I say so and I don’t have a better lead-in. The idea of duality has always been present in Star Wars, present in almost every aspect of the galaxy’s society, as we’ve discussed; but Jedi is the first film to tackle the theme head-on and explore the gray area in between any two things. It’s something most noticeable in the parallel journeys of Rey and Kylo Ren, who find themselves being pulled away from their respective sides of the Force and towards each other, in some neutral zone between the Light and the Dark, between Jedi and Sith, between Good and Evil. The struggle is great for both of them, as neither one truly understands what is happening, or why they are being called to each other. In their haste, they mistake it for a semi-romantic attraction (I don’t ship the “Reylo” pairing, and I think it works best when you look at it as merely an idea that Rey and Kylo got stuck in their heads during their many telepathic encounters: it’s notable that after they actually meet in person, neither one shows any romantic interest in the other). Rey and Kylo are very hesitant to inch away from their own separate corners of the Force, and even in their epic showdown neither one offers to turn, as they both had thought the other would: instead, they spout their own propaganda at each other. It’s Kylo who, surprisingly, comes closest to the truth when he begs Rey to join him in a world where there are no Jedi, no Sith, no First Order, no Resistance. But – surprise, surprise – his idea for how to achieve that perfect world involves intergalactic genocide. In the end, neither Kylo nor Rey is able to make the first move towards establishing a balanced universe, and Kylo ends up retreating back into the shadows, becoming Supreme Leader of the First Order and doubling down on his attempt to destroy the Resistance. But the meeting of these two champions still gives us reason to hope for a universal oneness someday – in their coup against Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis) Rey and Kylo stand back-to-back and fight side-by-side, without a side. They swap lightsabers for a minute, using opposing sides of the Force to fight. Even when they do move to fight each other, neither one is able to claim Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber for their own, to the point where the saber actually splits in half rather than choose an allegiance. These two are wholly separated, but also connected by a powerful bond. Whether we’ll see them stand together in Rise Of Skywalker or go their separate ways, is anyone’s guess.
But based on what Johnson started in his film, I wouldn’t count out the possibility of Rey and Kylo joining each other in the critical gray area between Good and Evil. In The Last Jedi, morality is a societal construct, and one that means little when held up to scrutiny: as codebreaker, jailbreaker and turncoat extraordinaire DJ (Benicio Del Toro) reveals, both the First Order and the Resistance are buying their weapons from the same suppliers, who in turn squander their money on the lavish – and possibly illegal – pleasures of Canto Bight. While we’re on the subject, I have to ask whether anyone actually likes the character of DJ, or wouldn’t have preferred if Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico‘s (Kelly Marie Tran) paths had led them to the person they were actually looking for in the first place, the Master Codebreakerall-too briefly portrayed by Justin Theroux?
Even heroes like the once-mighty Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) make questionable choices: arguably the biggest shocker in the movie is when it is revealed that Luke, in a moment of weakness, went to kill a young Kylo Ren as the boy slept. Many fans argue that this is a betrayal of Luke’s character, as we had previously seen him risk his life to try and bring Darth Vader back from the Dark Side. I get where they’re coming from, but it’s also not like Luke hadn’t exhausted much of his strength and stamina fighting Vader. He probably wasn’t too keen on the idea of spending the remaining half of his life struggling to redeem his nephew’s soul. And let’s not forget that, while under Palpatine’s corrupting influence, Luke did try to brutally murder Vader and started lopping off his limbs. Luke has always been a wild card: it’s in character for him to be conflicted.
It’s the same situation within the ranks of the Resistance, where people are more concerned with doing the right thing than looking like heroes: the violet-haired Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) even has to squash a mutiny led by “trigger-happy flyboy”Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), after he decides to disobey her orders and make up a new plan on the fly, as he so often does. The film at first makes us think that Holdo is a villainous or morally questionable character because she doesn’t tell her plans to Poe, but ultimately turns the tables on us and reveals that it was Holdo, all along, who had the right idea, and that she didn’t reveal her plans because Poe had been demonstrated earlier in the film to be unruly and unmanageable, and she knew he would never follow through with her last-ditch, self-sacrificial plan. But with the help of a little Leiaex machina, everything gets sorted out and Holdo proceeds to enjoy one of the coolest death scenes in film history, as she flies a spaceship at light-speed straight through the attacking First Order fleet, cutting star destroyers in half with blinding accuracy. For more on why Admiral Holdo is actually the best character in The Last Jedi, you can check out this article here.
Sadly, there’s another prominent theme in this movie: that of saying farewell, and going out on a high-note. Carrie Fisher, who had portrayed the indomitable Princess Leia Organa since 1977, passed away at the age of 60 just a year before The Last Jedi opened in theaters. When the film came out, it was clear that Carrie went out on a high-note, finally getting to use the Force in one of Jedi‘s most memorable moments. While there is suspicion that she will have a small appearance in The Rise Of Skywalker, it’s comforting to know that at least she got to be a true Skywalker before her passing.
In-universe, however, it’s Luke Skywalker who gets an epic send-off, using the last of his strength to distract Kylo Ren long enough to let the Resistance escape through his fingers. His death, alone and at peace, watching the sunset just as he did forty years previously when his journey began on Tatooine, is poetic and beautiful. Though he had been troubled in life by his own failure to stop the spread of evil, he was able to leave the world knowing that he had done his best. Think of it this way: at least he got a death scene. Poor old Admiral Ackbar was simply pulled out into the frozen vacuum of space without any warning. Luke also had the good fortune to die in some of the best lighting Star Wars has ever produced – seriously, what happened to the days of moodily lit, smoky underground space-pubs and dark Death Star corridors? Nowadays, a respectable Skywalker wouldn’t be caught dead walking around without at least two different setting suns shining down on him and perfectly illuminating him from every possible angle. And I haven’t even mentioned the cloak: I mean, let’s be honest here, Aragorn and Harry Potter wish they had cloaks like Luke Skywalker’s – the final scene of it blowing away across the oceans of Ahch-To is so sad in part because that beautiful accessory is going to land somewhere in the water where it’s impossible to salvage. Most of the scenes of Luke’s beautiful island hermitage were filmed on the remote island of Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland. Everyone likes to rant and complain about Luke turning into a weird old man drinking green milk and hunting giant codfish, but why don’t we ever talk about the fact that he lived, undisturbed, for however many years, in one of the most gorgeous places in the Star Wars universe? I mean, seriously, if you’re going to get angry, at least get angry about the fact that he never had the courtesy to invite anybody to his island getaway!
Speaking of which, let’s just run through some of the locations visited in The Last Jedi. Aside from Ahch-To, which, admittedly, is pretty lonely aside from the random group of Jedi nuns and a couple hundred adorable porgs, we also visit the glittering vistas of Canto Bight, the Star Wars version of Monte Carlo, and the planet Crait, a snowy planet covered in blood-red soil which allows for some of the most family-friendly goriness we’ve ever seen in Star Wars, even under the Lucasfilm banner. Maybe you don’t like the movie, maybe you hate the themes, the characters, the whatever…but can we all agree that these locations are amazing?
The Last Jedi also includes some epic action sequences: most notably an opening battle that rivals the similar opening of Revenge Of The Sith, except that this one has the instantly lovable, resilient Paige Tico (Ngo Thanh Van) giving up her own life to save the Resistance, and not a bratty teenage nightmare named Anakin Skywalker. Thus, this battle actually tops the opening battle of Sith in my opinion, and gets the film rolling along at breakneck speed. To add onto that, why don’t we give enough credit to the complexity of Rose Tico’s character, at least at first? There she was, having just lost her sister, and she finds Finn trying to flee in one of the escape-pods to go look for Rey (as if she needs his help). While Rose really doesn’t have anything to do beyond that initial scene, it’s infinitely amusing to watch her zap Finn into unconsciousness to prevent him from “deserting” – and, even though we never actually see any real deserters, the scene indicates that multiple people have tried to run from the fight, making the Resistance feel like an actual army rather than just a bunch of the most perfect, fearless people in the galaxy teaming up to fight evil.
There are multiple disappointing moments in the film beyond the usual ones that get brought up all the time, like about how “the escapade on Canto Bight serves virtually no purpose”, or “Snoke’s backstory was never explained”, two things that are certainly problematic. But in the name of originality, and mostly because I’m just a big Gwendoline Christie fan, here’s a complaint that doesn’t get brought up as much: the huge waste of a character that is Christie’s Captain Phasma. While it’s already frustrating that Christie was forced to hide under a heavy suit of metal throughout her time in the franchise, it’s even more annoying that, while male metal-clad characters like Darth Vader and The Mandalorian all get cool action scenes despite being helmeted and hidden, Phasma was never able to do anything truly impressive with her limited screentime. If they weren’t going to use her in any way in The Last Jedi, why didn’t they just leave her in some random trash-compactor on Starkiller Base back in the last movie? How did she even get off of Starkiller Base before it exploded? I have a lot of questions.
If you allow me to continue talking, I will begin to ramble, and rambling leads to meandering, which leads to whatever it is I’m doing right now. And that is why I must now say goodbye to you, dear reader. We’ve worked our way through more than four decades of Star Wars history to get to this point, and we’re finally here, at the end of all things. Very soon, I will have the pleasure of being able to see The Rise Of Skywalker, and I can only hope it lives up to not only my expectations, but those of fans around the world – some of whom have been waiting for this movie since 1977. Think about that, for a moment, and then consider the message of The Last Jedi, a movie that, at its core, is simply trying to make sure that the fire of rebellion never goes out.
Never stop watching Star Wars. Never stop sharing it with new people. Never stop fighting for hope and freedom, in any way you can. The Last Jedi reminds us that we are all part of the Skywalker Saga – no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we look like. Star Wars belongs to all of us, and that will never change.
We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.
To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
A lot gets made of the fact that, when designing the story structure of The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams used the first Star Wars movie as a template instead of trying to make sense of George Lucas’ fabulous script draft which would have explored the backstory of the mysterious, microbiotic Whills, yet another previously unknown species which apparently live inside Force-sensitive beings. Tell me, dear reader: would you rather be forced to sit through another trilogy about midi-chlorian biology, or something that actually focuses on…oh, I don’t know, an actual story? Doesn’t mean Abrams couldn’t have gone for something a little more fresh, but it’s a Star Wars tradition at this point to start out basic.
And let’s not pretend like A New Hope isn’t an awesome movie to try and repeat. The Force Awakens, thankfully, is a good copy of a very good movie. Could be worse: it could have been a clone of Attack Of The Clones, for instance!
There are several crucial differences between Lucas’ original film, and Abrams’ wildly successful remake, which is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Abrams’ Star Wars film, the first produced under the Disney banner, is more committed to having a diverse cast representing many different demographics. The story has a strong thematic core, and does break away from A New Hope at the very end to set up an intriguing cliffhanger and a fascinating conflict between our protagonist and her sworn enemy. And the film overall has a sense of self-awareness that allows for some fun bits of meta-humor: not quite as much as The Last Jedi, but still quite good.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) is not Luke Skywalker. Though she may live a nearly identical life on a nearly identical planet, she is in many ways his opposite. For instance, Rey is compelled to eventual action by her desire to do good, not by any personal motivation – in fact, if she had her way, she would be flying back to the dusty sand-pit of Jakku as fast as possible to await her parents’ return. Ridley does a very good job of selling Rey’s resilience, practicality and the feeling that she truly is a nobody. Rey clearly has a strong connection to Skywalkers of old, and it remains to be seen whether The Rise Of Skywalker will reveal a missing link between her family and theirs, but she is at first reluctant to accept any of the duties bestowed upon her. She doesn’t have any princesses to save, any helpful Kenobi to guide her (actually, there is a Kenobi-lookalike living not far away on Jakku, but he gets murdered by the First Order within the first five minutes), or any known reason to get involved besides wanting to help the Rebellion in their time to need. For her archenemy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), it’s a personal affront to his strong sense of heritage to see a “nobody” daring to intrude on the Skywalker Saga.
Kylo Ren is not Darth Vader, and the First Order is not the Empire. Whereas the Empire was modeled strongly after the Nazi regime, the First Order are their modern counterparts, neo-Nazis. Kylo Ren is no tragic hero in the style of Anakin Skywalker, no matter how much he yearns to wear the helm of Vader and declare himself a Sith Lord: Kylo, with his idiotic accouterments of darkness and unintelligible muffled voice, is Vader’s cheap knock-off – an elitist, privileged white boy who runs away from home only to be brainwashed by cultists and madmen. As for the First Order, we’ve never actually had a clear idea of where they came from or how they established power in the galaxy, but their acolytes are obviously under the impression that they’re following in the footsteps of history’s forgotten heroes, as you do when you’re a neo-Nazi. And yes, there were many ways to get this point across that didn’t involve the First Order somehow having all the same Imperial technology and agendas, all the way down to having Stormtroopers who are just as bad at firing weapons.
Speaking of Stormtroopers, the character of FN-2187 a.k.a. “Finn” (John Boyega) has no equal in the original trilogy. As a First Order foot-soldier sickened by the horrors of warfare and struggling between his fear of the Order and his instinct to run, Finn represents everybody trapped in a dark place, looking for a way to escape. But after he does achieve his freedom, the film really never has anything more to do with his character, and so slowly but surely he becomes comic relief, with even his few distinguishing features watered down or made into jokes: oops, no, he was never really a great stormtrooper after all – turns out, he was a janitor. Whoops, he got his hands on a lightsaber for a moment there – but he’ll be stuck with a random blaster-gun from now on. After a while, it’s simply pathetic to watch as he gets dumbed down, tripped up, or otherwise undermined by a script that never seems to remember it’s dealing with a literal Stormtrooper.
The original characters are not the same characters we knew. We see Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) only very briefly, but exposition allows us to understand that after the events of Return Of The Jedi, the legendary Skywalker went into hiding after his new Jedi temple produced the villainous Kylo Ren: much of the plot of The Force Awakens revolves around trying to track down the last Jedi and enlist him to fight the First Order. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), on the other hand, has aged gracefully into her responsibilities as commander of the Resistance, a group of battle-worn veterans who apparently only got to enjoy a decade or two of peace before going back onto the battlefield. Even C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is hardly recognizable anymore with his new red arm, while R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) has gone into low-power mode, awaiting the return of Skywalker (the latter development, besides being a necessary plot-point, also seems contrived to keep our attention on the new droid, BB-8). But the most startling change has come over Han Solo (Harrison Ford), whom we last cracking jokes and wooing Leia after the Battle of Endor. Han in The Force Awakens is no hero, but instead a worn-out pirate back to his old ways: he’s fled from his duties as a parent, having given up all hope on his wayward son, Kylo Ren (whose given-name is actually Ben Solo). It’s fun and charming to see Han seeking adventure in the great unknown with his usual rogue’s gallery of weird-looking alien villains, but it’s not long before he’s reluctantly drawn back into the fate of the Skywalker family, as he’s called upon to track down Kylo Ren and bring him home. The relationship that he develops with fellow pilot Rey has led to much speculation that the two are father and daughter, but that theory doesn’t make much sense to me (though Abrams plays his cards just right, so that every theory about Rey’s parentage seems like it could have a seed of truth): I think Han saw Rey as the child he never had, the child Kylo could have been if he had been a better father. When Han eventually comes face-to-face with his son, Kylo seems almost to hesitate, to waver, asking aloud for guidance and help. There are many theories about what exactly occurs in this moment, and what was going through both characters’ heads as they both realized what needed to happen. But whoever it was that ignited the blade, somehow Kylo Ren’s lightsaber ended up embedded in Han Solo’s chest. Most likely it was Kylo with the guidance of his Sith master Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis), but maybe it was Han acting quickly and selflessly to ensure that his son would be kept alive by the First Order; maybe that would ease the burden of patricide off of Kylo’s shoulders; maybe that would preserve a small glimmer of light within his dark, corrupted soul. Whatever you choose to believe, I think we can all agree that in this case, Han never even had a chance to shoot first.
He also never gets a proper burial, as Starkiller Base explodes shortly after his death, meaning that his body is merely stardust in the vacuum of space. Maybe that’s how he would have wanted it. It’s certainly how Harrison Ford wanted it: he had been waiting for that moment since 1983.
Starkiller Base is not…no, actually, Starkiller is basically just the Death Star, isn’t it? Except bigger and covered in trees for whatever reason. Is it an actual planet that was converted into a gigantic weapons-system for the First Order? If not, and it was man-made, why would you waste time terraforming the place – especially since you know the entire planet will get blown up in a couple of minutes by two or three fighter pilots? Beyond being annoying redundant, the reveal that Starkiller is 5.5 times the size of the Death Star is honestly insulting to the pilots and brave Rebels who lost their lives disabling that weapon back when it was considered the biggest thing in the franchise.
Pretty much everything else is precisely what you think it is: Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is a more morally-pure Han Solo (though even that is apparently set to change, with the character possibly meeting some unsavory rogues from his own past in The Rise Of Skywalker). The Resistance is virtually no different than the Rebellion of yesteryear – they’ve got the same tech, the same military commanders, the same call-signals.
The Force Awakens is not A New Hope.
It’s the same hope, with a different name, and a slightly different story, told from a new perspective and through the eyes of a modern, diverse cast of characters. It’s, admittedly, not the most groundbreaking installment in the saga’s history. But this same hope is what’s been keeping the Star Wars story going strong for over forty years, and it hasn’t failed yet: it’s the hope that rebellions are built on, the hope that lights a fire that will restore the Republic, or ignite Resistance, or burn the First Order down, or do pretty much anything you want it to – it’s all the classic charm of Lucasfilm, mixed in with a little sprinkle of Disney magic, and I must say, I quite enjoy the taste.