I liked The Last Jedi, and I also liked The Rise of Skywalker, so put that in your pipe and smoke it

23 Dec

This is 100% spoilery spoilerage of the most spoilerish variety. Here’s a cute pic of something cute that I still haven’t blimmin seen yet, to give you a chance to turn back:

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So that’s it. The “Skywalker Saga” is at an end. Looking back, I’ve realised I didn’t write any words here about The Last Jedi, which I feel funny about because so many people hated that film, and I loved it (not unequivocally, but still deeply.) Put it down to life getting in the way or something. Anyway, I should say from the start that I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. It was fast paced (maybe too fast paced, as others have commented), exciting, and felt like a proper Star Wars movie. I cried loads in the last third of the film. I loved Rey and Kylo Ren fighting over that shuttle. I loved zombie-cyborg Palpatine and his planet-spanning force lightning. I loved those horse things, and the endless vista of Star Destroyers. I even liked that kiss! The movie was so much fun and I enjoyed pretty much every minute. But…. BUT…

I’ll start by saying that I never go to the movies completely blind – I have to read at least one or two reviews, and one thing I’d read ahead of time was, If you liked The Last Jedi, prepare to be disappointed. The summary was that The Rise of Skywalker undoes much of what The Last Jedi did. And yes, I did feel that; most brazenly when Luke’s force ghost said, “That’s no way to treat a light saber” or some such, when Rey tried to throw hers away. For the most part, I didn’t mind the little digs and the backtracking. The only thing that really irked me, and it irked me big time, was the big reveal that Rey is a Palpatine.

For a moment, I’m going to set aside my annoyance that this totally undoes one of my favourite aspects of The Last Jedi; that anyone can be born with a talent for using the force, that you don’t have to come from a particular noble line, and that the force is something for all. My main gripe is that on a purely narrative level, within the context of this film, it was completely unnecessary for Rey to be a Palpatine. Palpatine knew of Rey because he sensed her strength in the force and tracked her down. She could have been anyone. A despot like Palpatine will destroy (or seek to turn to the dark side and then use as an avatar for himself and all the generations of Sith… whatever) anyone who is significantly skilled in the force. It didn’t need to be his own granddaughter. He was not shown to have had a particular interest in her specifically because she was his offspring. Likewise, the only real evidence of Rey wrestling against a pull to the dark side was when she unwittingly summoned force lightning. She showed no dark tendencies, and only worried about the pull of the dark because of the revelation about her lineage, and because of one dream that was possibly placed in her mind by Palpatine anyway. So there was no emotional weight to her being a Palptine or destined for darkness, within the context of the film. It felt as though the only reason for this choice was to undo the work of The Last Jedi, and I found it really unnecessary.

I know there is a certain satisfying symmetry to Rey and Ben Solo/ Kylo Ren both being descendants of great lines, but honestly, I loved the idea of Rey being just anyone. Here are some more reasons why I liked The Last Jedi. I don’t entirely love Kylo Ren as a villain, but do like him as an antihero (I feel that the sequel trilogy as a whole lacked a really solid villain, despite agreeing with this.) I loved that final shot in The Last Jedi when the stable boy uses the force to grab a broom. This is a big part of why I enjoyed The Last Jedi – because it deliberately moved away from the idea of inherited worth, instead positing the notion of skill in the force being just like any other talent… music or sport or anything else; yes, it sometimes runs in families, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes talent just appears in the most unexpected of places. And given the social and economic inequalities we are shown as being still prevalent across the Star Wars galaxy, there must be millions of force-talented individuals living undiscovered in poverty.

To a lesser degree, I was also irritated by the number of questions left unanswered. I haven’t played any of the video games, or watched much of The Clone Wars TV series (might try to remedy the latter at some point, but I was put off by the animated movie, which I really disliked), but to my knowledge, we still don’t know for sure the truth about Anakin’s immaculate conception, and a lot of us thought this might be answered here, particularly given that this was a movie that focused so heavily on Palpatine, and that it is supposed to conclude all things Skywalker (and surely this is the biggest thing?) It’s strongly hinted that Palpatine created Anakin (making Kylo Ren and Rey cousins of some sort, since they share a grandfather / great grandfather) and given this movie’s focus on the symmetry between Rey and Ben, I find it frustrating that this wasn’t addressed at all.

In addition: how did Papatine survive? He seems to be a corpse, so does that mean the electrical energy of his mind is all he needs to remain alive? Was he part of that contraption, and therefore, could his mind have escaped into it (and therefore still be alive)? I know Rey blasted it with reflected force lightning, but I dunno, did Palpatine make backups of himself? Were all those Sith in the background some kind of Sith variation of force ghosts? Or were they an illusion created by Palpatine? How are objects now able to travel (or be created) by force projection, and does this only work between them because of Rey and Ben’s connection? (I did love the exchange of light sabers, but the whole concept feels kinda Sith to me…)

I really hope the fact that this is the end of the Skywalker Saga doesn’t mean we are now heading for movies that focus on a Palpatine Saga. Much as I’d love to know more about Sheev Palapatine, and his training, and his master, it also feels like it’s time to move away from this whole set of characters… all of them. I really want more stories about the Sith when they were at the height of their powers, or perhaps more to do with the origins of the Jedi and the Sith. And much as I love these sequels (and think they’re a thousand times better than the prequels) it also felt as though they held back. Much of this is, I’m sure, due to all the changes with directors and no single person having an overarching vision for this trilogy. But I hope the full potential of the Star Wars universe will be unleashed in the new set of films.

But anyway, despite all this, I really enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to re-watch it. And since everyone’s doing it, for what it’s worth, here is my take on the Skywalker Saga from favourite film to least favourite. I know I’m in a minority of one with my ordering here. Sorry not sorry. And yes, Return of the Jedi really is my favourite, and yes, I really will put The Phantom Menace above The Force Awakens, because that end battle with Darth Maul, Obi Wan, and Qui-Gon Jinn is absolutely everything.

1 Return of the Jedi
2 The Empire Strikes Back
3 The Last Jedi / The Rise of Skywalker I KNOW I KNOW BUT I CAN’T CHOOSE AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!
5 A New Hope
6 The Phantom Menace
7 The Force Awakens
8 Revenge of the Sith
9 Attack of the Clones

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