Star Wars Thoughts: The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Foreboding (Before I see it)

I already don’t like this movie’s title. It is a bad omen. Because this is the story of the end of the Skywalker saga. That’s the idea, anyway. We also already know that there was some last-minute post-production a month from release, and we know that this is once again a JJ Abrams joint, and he is famously bad at endings. Is this going to be Lost-ending-bad? I remember the crushing feeling of watching A Phantom Menace and realizing I was in for a Terrible Movie. I hope that isn’t true again. I have to think that Disney wouldn’t do that.


The film is once again very much JJ Abrams, with characters shouting exposition to one another during action scenes. This isn’t in itself a bad thing in an action movie that demands some exposition, but the problem that I saw was that so much exposition was added in this, the final film. There wasn’t NEARLY enough time to give any character interactions or moments room to breathe and actually have an impact because we immediate raced to the next thing.

There’s the fakeout death and you’re not positive it isn’t a real death because nothing else in this thrill-ride has been given the slightest bit of time to develop so why would this? Then a scene later oh there it is, it’s a fake-out. But the characters don’t know that, and they are basically unmoved emotionally by what happened. Because we have to get to the next damn MacGuffin!

So Many MacGuffins!

This was just too much. Find the dagger and then find the person to reprogram the droid to read the dagger to find the planet to use the dagger to find the spot to find the Sith wayfinder to find the random ice-planet in the Unknown Regions so we can see the Infinite Fleet of Star Destroyers (who built them? Where did they find the millions of people to staff them? Have they just been sanding there waiting for 30 years!?) all so we can undo the climax of the original trilogy and then re-hash it with Palpatine giving the exact same speech.

It Couldn’t Have Been Enough (But it could have been better than this)

Ending a nine-film, 42-year saga on a note that resonated with millions and satisfied artistically and emotionally would have been an epic artistic achievement. This film was not that film. It was a Star Wars movie. I mostly had fun watching it, in the moment. Upon closer examination, it mostly falls apart as a film and as a narrative. That being said, yes I’m sure I’ll watch it again many times.

But it could have been better than this. Easily better. Even significantly better. Apparently it was significantly better, as far as Reddit is concerned – see below.

The JJ Edit (After reading about it)

A number of the stupid things in the movie were apparently straight from Disney for the purpose of merchandising (“They fly now”). There were also apparently more than 30 minutes knocked off of what JJ turned in, including some great scenes that absolutely should been in the movie – more Rose Tico, live Jedi and life Sith facing off through Rey and Palpatine, etc.

It Is What It Is

The greatness of Star Wars is ephemeral. It is a mix of the actual films, what we remember about the films, our feelings at the time, our memories of playing with the toys and various Star Wars games, and what it implies about the larger galaxy where the stories take place. It echoes some mythic themes and stories, but doesn’t quite do them justice. It delivers incredibly, and just as often fails spectacularly to deliver.

It’s mythology. I mean, if you really get into a mythology, including real-world ones, they are a huge mess. Stories contradict themselves. They reflect the deep flaws of their creators. They change over time, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. They include strangeness that we’ll never understand because we weren’t there. We return to them later in our lives and find them both deeper and more disappointing in turns.

Star Wars is mythology, and the core mythological cycle has ended. No one is satisfied. Very few are entirely dissatisfied. Everyone has different favorite moments. Thousands more stories will spin off of these stories. It isn’t better than mythology, but I wouldn’t say it’s worse either. At this point, 42 years later, Star Wars simply is.

Star Wars Thoughts: The Last Jedi

First Impressions

The bombing run is many kinds of stupid. One of the least space-like things to ever happen in space, I’m afraid. I kind of get the impression that Rian Johnson will be struggling with the material of a Star Wars story. I don’t remember my exact feelings when I saw this movie for the first time, but I think I was hopeful that a new director would mean a new direction. I was also expecting it to be an Empire-style second film with some darker events and themes perhaps. (Later I would learn that the true time of darkness would be for a contingent of Star Wars fans, apparently)

Rian Johnson doesn’t understand space. Bombers fall as they are taken out. Bombs have to drop from above a dreadnought. Etc. I guess there’s a limit to how much Star Wars can violate physics, at least for me. This sort of makes sense as an homage to the WWII air battle footage that inspired Lucas originally, but…I just can’t suspend enough disbelief here.

The opening with General Hugs was pretty funny. It’s a move that has come up in the past but is used at more length here – that is, a character temporarily trolling Imperial/First Order authorities to buy time.

“What did you think was going to happen here?” It’s like Rian Johnson is speaking to JJ Abrams directly through Luke speaking to Rey.

Some Significant Mistakes, and One Huge One

Tossing the lightsaber over Luke’s shoulder is such a clear “screw you” to JJ Abrams’ hand-off. It’s too bad that this part of the movie starts with a dick move, honestly.  Luke could have grimaced, quietly handed it back, and walked away to the same effect. His face was so eloquent at the end of TFA, we know that he’s not happy to see Rey or the weapon. But neither Johnson, nor Abrams in TROS, seem able to handle the other’s material respectfully. And the screw you to JJ’s mystery boxes, which I think is totally justified, was felt as a screw you to the fans as well. Handled better, I think there would have been a wider audience.

The big mistake with Luke, though, is the reveal of what happened with Ben Solo. It is many kinds of mistake:

  • What happened has nothing to do with the failure of the Jedi Order – it’s not connected to what Luke decided had to happen
  • The Rashamon-esque repeat of the same story from various points of view falls flat because…
  • The moment is not earned in the story itself. It feels like we were supposed to all read a novelization or comic or something to have any idea what was going on. We see none of Luke training Ben. We see none of Ben’s fall into darkness, somehow seduced by Snoke from light-years away. We don’t see Ben do anything bad, don’t see him kill the other students. We don’t learn what he did with the other students he made off with – are those supposed to be the Knights of Ren? Where does the name Ren even come from?

So we have a pivotal moment in the story, the moment that is supposed to explain Luke’s behavior, Ben Solo becoming Kylo Ren, Luke lying to Rey, everything, based on things we never saw for ourselves. In the context of the story as it exists on the screen, that’s nigh unforgivable. It is asking far too much of the audience to fill in an entire fall-from-grace story into a single moment, especially when the moment itself is so hard to buy. (“in a moment of pure instinct” does not account for it by a long shot)

The Good and the Great

Watching this again after having seen The Rise of Skywalker, you can really see how Rian Johnson gives the characters time to act, to have actual scenes, instead of shouting exposition at each other, periodically interrupted by action sequences.

The relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren is one of the best relationships in the whole of the saga. They are so fortunate to have such superb actors in this trilogy, to squeeze every drop from what they are given.

Everything having to do with Rey arriving on Snoke’s flagship to her escape is superb.  Still a retread of previous material, but a good one, and it takes a hard detour early on.

And the fact that Luke Skywalker ‘walks out with a laser sword and faces down the entire First Order’ is great. He does exactly the thing he bitterly tells Rey he can’t possibly do, and it has exactly the effect that Rey thought that it would all along.

But the story that is being told in The Last Jedi is echoed by the story that is being un-told. The Last Jedi is a reaction to all of the rest of Star Wars that has come before.

The Story That’s Being Un-Told

  • One hotshot pilot can save the Resistance no matter the odds. They disobey orders and are always right in the end.
  • Luke Skywalker was waiting this whole time to suddenly save the day.
  • You only matter in the grand scale if you have a certain name. Even Snoke is seduced by this idea. He sees it as Kylo’s main feature, and it is Kylo’s main fear that he won’t live up to his name.
  • The Jedi are right and good.
  • The rogue has a heart of gold.
  • (Women don’t know what they’re doing)
  • The galaxy is run on a bunch of exploitation that we just don’t think about.

And the thing is, many of the above things are elements of the stories that were first told. But Rian Johnson does something new with Star Wars, and I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s one of the things JJ Abrams failed to do. And it’s sad because this was the last chance, for this saga of sagas at least.

Star Wars Thoughts: The Force Awakens

Initial Questions the Movie Asks

Where is Luke Skywalker? Will Kylo Ren reconcile with Han and Leia? Who is Rey? Who is Finn? Is Finn Force-sensitive? Are Rey and Finn going to be A thing? How about ReyLo? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? How did yet another ravaged, elderly Force-user come to find himself in charge of another space-fascist organization?

Of course, this is just JJ being JJ. This’ll all probably be like Lost, and completely meaningless by the end. Mystery boxes with nothing inside.

We get some more questions from the visions that Rey has when she touches the lightsaber. Pretending we haven’t read anything about the movie beforehand – how did Luke fail Ben Kenobi so thoroughly? He’s already got some black-clad followers. Why isn’t R2 with Luke? (Later we’ll learn that it’s just in the immediate service of finding the Luke-guffin)

Also, as we progress, where is Luke’s green lightsaber?

The Luke-Guffin

Luke Skywalker is the McGuffin of the entire film. We learn that he’s disappeared from the world, and not only that, but hidden records of his journeys so that no one can follow him. Years have been spent hunting him and seeking his whereabouts. So, why would he have hidden himself away? There are only a few answers, and the most likely one is the one that Rian Johnson will explore, and which fans of Luke will in some cases detest – he’s hidden himself away to die, so that the Jedi will die out. The only real options are:

  1. He’s off seeking his own McGuffin
  2. He’s dead
  3. He’s delving into the mysteries of the Force so deeply he isn’t concerned with the rise of the First Order, the destruction of multiple Republic worlds, etc.
  4. He’s in hiding on purpose and doesn’t want to be found

So the things about him that some people didn’t like about The Last Jedi, that Luke is a broken man, hiding away from the world, refusing to intervene; that he is no longer his younger self – that is all set up from the very beginning.

Lazy Re-Hash

This has been discussed many times in the past couple of years, but it stands out every time I watch the film. We have Resistance = Rebel Alliance, New Order = Empire, Masked Kylo = Masked Vader, Snoke = Emperor, Desert Rey = Desert Luke, Mysterious Parents = Mysterious Parents, Starkiller Base = Death Star, Fly into Starkiller Base = Fly into Second Death Star; on and on and on. I can feel the storytelling opportunities die as I watch. And I don’t think this is what JJ had to do to get us invested again. It’s Star Wars. We’re invested. Tell a new damn story.

Fun Nonetheless

I genuinely enjoyed the experience of watching The Force Awakens, and I’ve watched it a few times since. There are some very funny moments (“That’s not how the Force works!”) and exciting moments, and I’ll be left hoping that FinnPoe was a thing. Because that should have been a thing.

So it’s a fun movie, but has a lot of flaws upon closer inspection. There is so much lost opportunity, in my opinion. At least with a stupid trade dispute and a soul-less romance, the Prequels tried to tell a different story.

Thanos: The Apocalypse of Unprocessed Grief

Image result for thanos tears

Thanos’s Core Grief

From the very beginning, Thanos’s plan seemed ridiculous to me. It was a significant hurdle for me to get over to get into the story of Avengers: Infinity War. Ultimately I did, of course, because it’s an amazing movie, and you have to get over logical problems to enjoy any superhero movie. I thought, OK, fine. They can’t just have Thanos want to kill trillions to impress Death, so I guess this is another reason. Balance in the universe. Whatever. Still a great movie.

Something struck me, though, when on Vormir Thanos said this: “I have ignored my destiny once. I will not do it again, even for you,” right before he murders his child for power. Then, it sealed the deal when Thanos explains what happened to Titan to Doctor Strange. His half-genocidal plan wasn’t listened to, and then somehow having a lack of food completely destroyed his planet and…killed everyone there? Ruined gravity? Again, don’t look too closely.

What struck me was that Thanos’s irrational plan was a lot like a lot of our irrational actions – it was rooted in unaddressed grief.

Thanos’s Grandiose, Idiotic Plan

Thanos’s plan is stupid. It’s the kind of stupid that is very human – he is fully able to rationalize it, but is unable to realize how irrational it actually is. Significant time is given, in Infinity War, to rationalizing Thanos’s plan. Apparently murdering half of the poeple on Gamora’s homeworld turned it into a paradise where everything is great. (I take this to be Thanos deluding himself, but it’s presented as a fact) After all, he’s been doing this to planets for what seems to be years. He has a whole system – the Maw even has a monologue.

In Endgame, we see a much more accurate depiction of the aftermath of such a horrific act. A whole planet, traumatized. That’s what Thanos’s plan does – it spreads trauma throughout the universe, multiplies his grief by Infinity. Thanos’s most human attribute is that he is so able to rationalize what he is doing, despite the pointless suffering it inflicts on others, and the fact that his grand plan will solve precisely zero of the problems he says he wants to solve.

Thanos Inflicting His Grief on the Universe

Thanos, driven by his own grief, is trapped in a cycle of inflicting grief on everyone around him. Whether it is his tortured “children” like Gamora or Nebula, or…every living thing in the universe.

“Hurt people hurt people”, and because Thanos refuses to have his hurt end with him, he ends up inflicting that hurt on everyone around him one way or another – mostly through genocide and torture, since he’s a supervillain, but in all of his relationships, in all of his plans, this hurt will be reiterated. On a smaller scale, this is something anyone could fall into, Mad Titan or no. Whatever hurt we don’t deal with on our own, we export. What we don’t come to terms with, we inflict on others, intentionally or not.

As a way to solve problems and achieve cosmic balance, Thanos’s plan is terrible. But as a very human character inflicting his pain on others, Thanos isn’t even unusual.

Don’t Be Thanos

I’m not an expert on grief – find a therapist. Talk to people you trust. Just commit to processing your own grief. Figure out the cycles that repeat in your life and change them. I’m saying as a geek who thinks that we can look to Thanos as an emblematic example of how, in Jung’s words,

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Or, in Thanos’s case, “I am inevitable.” He’s right, but not for the cosmic reasons he thinks. He’s inevitable because he is failing to take responsibility for himself, and ends up inevitably inflicting his grief on everyone else.

The Last Jedi: Themes Critique

***Yar! Here Be Spoilers!***



It’s too bad that JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson got into an argument about what Star Wars is about, because it makes for a somewhat jarring viewing experience. At least, it did for me, and I get the impression it did for a significant number of other fans as well. JJ did his stupid “mystery box” thing, and then Rian Johnson came and said “Fuck you and your mystery boxes,” basically. There are at least a half dozen huge questions that The Force Awakens asks, some explicitly but all quite clearly, which Rian Johnson just has no interest in answering. He had another agenda entirely, which was fine, but I wish they had worked more closely with one another.

The Last Jedi was in many ways a repudiation of what came before it: Episode 8 versus Episodes 1-7. It is an iconoclastic film in the Star Wars legendarium, and it only had two and a half hours during which to smash expectations and tropes. As a result, I think there were a number of themes touched upon that I would have liked to have seen explored more fully.


Early in the film, we have Kylo smashing his faux-Vader mask in another fit of rage. We get to see a bit of Gwendolyn Christie’s blue eye through the smashed chrome helmet at the end of her fight with Fin. We have a bit of unmasking on Casino Planet (Canto Bight), when Fin realizes the ugly nature of the beautiful place he sees. Supreme Leader Snoke himself could have been unmasked. This theme of unmasking could have been explored more deeply, and could have provided a bit of connective thread in a movie that was very busy severing connective threads with not only The Force Awakens but also every previous Star Wars film. If someone sets out to tell a story that defies strongly-established tropes, one also needs to offer something in place of those tropes, like a strong, consistent theme explored from multiple angles.

Hidden Origins

The Force Awakens asked a lot of pretty explicit questions: who were Rey’s parents? What happened between Luke and Ben Solo? Where did those other students of Luke’s go? How did Ben Solo become Kylo Ren? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? How is the First Order related to the Empire? How is the Resistance related to the Rebellion? Why did Luke go into hiding?

The Last Jedi clearly did not care about most of these questions. Of course, a few answers are offered. Luke had a moment when he thought he might murder Ben Solo and put an end to the growing influence of darkness in him (which just made no sense, I’m sorry), and subsequently returned to the birthplace of the Jedi to die of old age. Rey’s parents are (allegedly) nobodies who died in a pauper’s grave on Jakku. Those are unsatisfying answers, though at least the answer about Rey’s parentage ties directly into one of the core themes of the film, which we’ll talk about below.

I think this lack of thematic development around hidden origins would have been less of a problem if the directors had worked together more closely, or at least had not been at cross purposes. Those are a lot of huge questions, and only the question of Rey’s parentage is answered in a way that makes sense. Otherwise, there is just a cosmic shrug. Who cares who Snoke was, he’s dead. Who cares where the First Order came from, they’re here and inexplicably threatening, despite being led by a man who throws tantrums and an incompetent Hux. The Resistance is just the Rebellion with a new name for no good reason. Who cares where Luke’s other students are, they’ll show up in a video game or something.

Light and Dark End to become Balance

My impression of the progress of the story isn’t so much that Light and Dark must end, but rather light and dark changing shape somewhat but moving ahead, still in direct opposition. Kylo Ren might want to end the Sith, but he did the archetypal Sith thing, which is to betray and kill his master. He’s Sith through and through, whatever he might say. And Rey similarly does the archetypal Light-side thing, as we’ve seen with Obi-wan Kenobi and Luke, in that she ignores the instruction of her master and goes off half-cocked to save the world.

I was honestly expecting more nuance between Kylo and Rey. I expected Kylo to reveal more layers, and I expected Rey to be more tempted by what she was presented with. I could see Rey, disillusioned entirely by Luke, being more willing to hear a more-reasonable Snoke out. Maybe more actively consider joining Kylo to kill Snoke.

Luke and Rey said a lot of eloquent things about balance, but Kylo and Rey basically lived out the old pattern – a little Return of the Jedi and then a little Empire Strikes Back. But the whole second half of the film would have been even more interesting if Kylo and Rey had been a bit more grey.

Skywalkers with Power become Tyrants

Luke almost deciding to murder the only child of his sister and best friend just makes no damn sense. I’m sorry. No work was put in to explain why that would suddenly be in his character. It was there for the shock, and the iconoclasm, and to add some “See, Kylo has a point” to the story. But the filmmakers didn’t do the work to earn that moment.

They could have, though. What do we know of the Skywalkers? Anakin became the most famous villain in the galaxy. Leia actually seems to remain herself through her story, and would perhaps be the exception that proves the rule. Kylo is a mini-Vader, prone to ultraviolance and temper-tantrums. So what if we presented the theme that, actually, when Skywalkers get power, especially power through the Force, they become tyrants? What if we saw Luke, well-intentioned but without guidance from any other Jedi, slowly become more harsh and unyielding and doctrinaire? What if we saw Kylo eclipse him, winning the students over because he gives into his darker urges more readily than Luke, and this gives him greater power?

Any of these options could have been handled with a five-minute montage, at most. Probably one much shorter. And then when Luke and Kylo come to blows, Kylo wins, thinks he has killed Luke, burns his temple to the ground. Luke, maybe in voiceover, realizes that there is something corrupt about the Skywalker line and its relationship to the Force, and so that’s why he goes into hiding – to quarantine himself. He thinks he might even corrupt Leia, which is why he just ghosts her for years.

That would have been an amazing revelation to put on screen. Yes, this is the story of the Skywalker dynasty, but it is the story of the galaxy defeating the Skywalker dynasty, because they are inclined to become tyrants when they develop Force powers. So now we have the nobodies rising up, with their own power and their own agenda, to bring down the First Order and the Jedi – the last legacy of the Skywalkers themselves.

See? That’s how you earn that moment of shock and revelation.