Skywalker Rises – again!

Hey everybody!
So I’ve been a little late getting around to this, but I have finally gotten around to watching The Rise of Skywalker for the second time. It’s taken me so long because I’ve been feeling a bit let-down by the whole hype thing for this movie, which has been marketed unto death as the epic conclusion to the nine-film Skywalker Saga, etc.

I mean, it’s really not. It’s the conclusion to the Disney trilogy of films that happened to use returning characters from the original Star Wars trilogy in bit-parts, and that is that. I’ll try to get this out of the way at the start – the central character for this new trilogy has been Rey, I think we can all agree. While Finn and Poe have had their generous share of the limelight as well, Rey has been front and centre all the way through. It’s been her great mystery that has driven a lot of the hype around the trilogy, and in this conclusion, it is definitely Rey that proves to be the charge that keeps this film moving.

But Rey has no familial connection to the Skywalkers. She adopts the name seconds before the closing credits, but she has no bearing on the six-movie family saga that came before it. She’s the daughter of a clone of Palpatine, and that’s as far as it goes. This trilogy has only been the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga insofar as it kills off every last member of that family, but the main character of the movie is not related to them at all.

There.

Let’s move on!

The Rise of Skywalker had a hell of a lot of ground to cover, after the debacle that was The Last Jedi. As a result, it does tend to feel like at least one-and-a-half movies, possibly even two movies, in one. There were a number of points along the way where I feel this is shown up – when Poe and Zorii are talking on Kijimi, the plot broadens out a bit and we’re close to learning more about Poe’s backstory. The film needed more of those moments, so when we get them, their absence is felt elsewhere. Does the similar moment between Finn and Jannah on Kef Bir have the same sort of gravity? No, because the plot needs to keep moving. I do feel that we should have learnt more from this – hell, we should have learnt a lot more anyway, but the first hour or so is just one long chase across the galaxy on the hunt for “the thing”.

I always find myself wanting to know more about the background stuff after seeing a Star Wars movie, because they’re so good at giving us that richness of texture. Kijimi is a classic example of this, and I would love to find out more, but we don’t have the time before the planet is destroyed. It definitely feels rushed, and that’s one of the major downfalls of the film.

Upon a second viewing of The Last Jedi, I was a bit nonplussed by the fact that movie was supposed to be a Star Wars film. This time, however, I’m in no doubt about the fact this is a Star Wars film, and I think that’s partly due to the fact that, whatever else I may say about him, JJ Abrams knows his stuff. The Force Awakens was very similar in this respect – it felt real, which is something of a hallmark of Star Wars as a space opera. There are a lot of sweeping vistas in the movie, such as that festival on Pasaana, above, which feel so real, especially when you get down into the thick of things.

Much like with George Lucas’ movies, there is a definite sense of the story moving along in fairly obvious chunks – set pieces, I guess. The fact that it does so because of the “search for x” thing does make it perhaps more formulaic than I’d like, as those chunks are sometimes a little smaller than, say, the Hoth sequence in Empire Strikes Back.

Now, I know that a lot of people liked the fact that Palpatine was behind everything, and returned to crown the final episode, but I found myself inwardly groaning when it turned out to be the case. I suppose I just hoped for a little more originality. The whole point of Palpatine’s death in Return of the Jedi was to conclude Vader/Anakin’s redemption. The fact that he’s back kinda cheapens that, for me, and feels a bit like a soft option – of course, Palpatine is the big bad of the original six films, a Sith mastermind and all the rest of it. How could you top that? Especially when Snoke has been dealt with in such a weird, stupid manner.

However, Palpatine is back, so we have to deal with it. In that respect, I find myself again wanting to know more about Exegol. The Lost World of the Sith, or somesuch – it needs more explanation, for me. It all comes out of nowhere, the whole Final Empire thing, and I wish we’d had a better idea of what had been going on since The Force Awakens. Stuff like the Aftermath trilogy has set up the idea of there being an Imperial remnant hiding in the Unknown Regions and stealing children for indoctrination etc, but it feels like there was too much of a need for secrecy and mystery when the trilogy began, and then the story seemed to go nowhere in the last movie.

So here we are, with a film that feels a bit light on the detail, and a little bit rushed. Part of that is the fault of the previous film, as I’ve been saying for most of this blog it seems, and I feel that part of it is down to there being no clear trajectory for this trilogy from the start. Sure, it’s arguable how much of a trajectory the original trilogy had, though the Prequels benefited so much from having that clear end point in sight. Here, though… it’s all been a bit of a muddle until we get to the third film, when there is so much that needs to be wrapped up and we have to rush through to hit all of the points.

It does wrap up the sequel trilogy fairly neatly, as we chuck Palpatine in to be a kind of deus ex machina for most of the mystery. It could have been great, but instead… yeah…

The Rise of Skywalker (spoilers within!)

The Rise of Skywalker

So folks, I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, last night. The finale to the nine-movie saga of the Skywalker series, there was a lot of hype for this film in the run up, and I was getting a bit concerned that it might not live up to that, when it came down to it.

The story of the film picks up around a year following the last movie. There have been reports of the return of Emperor Palpatine, and Kylo Ren has obtained a Sith wayfinder device that he uses to travel to the planet Exegol, and finds the weirdly reanimated Sith Lord, who reveals that the whole First Order has been part of his plan, and that he created Snoke as a puppet to lure Ren to the dark side. Palpatine has an entire Sith fleet in orbit around the planet, and he promises to turn over the whole of his Final Order to Ren in exchange for the death of Rey.

Poe, Finn and Chewie gain intel from a spy in the First Order that confirms Palpatine has returned, and return to the Resistance with the news. Rey has read of a device within the Jedi texts she had from Luke, which can lead to the lost Sith world of Exegol. Luke had traced such a device to Pasaana with the help of a mysterious contact, and so Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewie travel there to pick up the trail. There, they meet Lando Calrissian, who helps them escape a First Order patrol, but through their Force bond, Kylo Ren discovers Rey’s location and travels there to confront her. Poe and Finn discover a Sith dagger on the that C-3PO translates, although he is forbidden from speaking the words due to his programming. However, the First Order captures the Falcon, and Chewie with the dagger – while attempting to bring the prison transport back to the surface, Rey accidentally destroys the ship with Force lightning. The Resistance heroes escape on the ship left behind by Luke’s contact.

Poe suggests they travel to Kijimi, where they can get the text out of Threepio’s memory. Unfortunately, this will come at the cost of wiping his memory completely. They go through with it, and while there Rey senses Chewie is alive on the First Order ship in orbit, which arrived following the Knights of Ren having tracked them. While Kylo Ren travels to the surface to find Rey, the Resistance fighters travel to the ship with the help of an old contact of Poe’s, Zorii Bliss. While Finn and Poe rescue Chewie, Rey recovers the Sith dagger and receives a vision of Luke’s contact killing her parents with it. The First Order discovers Finn, Poe and Chewie, but they are aided by General Hux, who reveals himself as the spy. Kylo Ren reveals to Rey that she is the granddaughter of Palpatine, who had ordered her killed as a child as he feared her power. He asks her to join him, and together they can defeat Palpatine, but she escapes with Finn, Poe and Chewie. Hux is executed by Allegiant General Pryde, who speaks to his former master, the Emperor, and orders the destruction of Kijimi.

Threepio’s memory banks have given the location of the Sith wayfinder device as Kef Bir, a moon in the Endor system. There, Rey uses the dagger to discover the location of the device in the remains of the second Death Star, but upon finding it, she is confronted by Kylo Ren once more. The two duel, and at a critical moment Kylo feels Leia calling to him through the Force as she dies. Rey impales him on his own lightsaber, but then manages to heal him through the Force before fleeing the planet in his ship. She returns to Ahch-To, and attempts to exile herself, but the Force ghost of Luke encourages her to face Palpatine and her destiny, and she leaves in his old X-Wing and with Leia’s lightsaber, using the wayfinder from Kylo’s ship to travel to Exegol. Kylo Ren realizes the errors of his ways, and after a hallucination of his father Han Solo, he throws away his lightsaber. The Resistance tracks her through the call sign on Luke’s X-Wing and follows her there, to be confronted with the massed Sith fleet headed up by General Pryde.

Rey confronts Palpatine on the surface, and the Emperor demands that she kill him, to allow him to transfer his consciousness into her and live anew. While the Resistance fleet attempts to battle the full might of the Sith, aiming to knock out a navigation tower to prevent the fleet from leaving orbit, Ben arrives to aid her and is confronted by the Knights of Ren. Through their Force bond, Rey manages to give Ben her lightsaber and he defeats them all. He joins Rey to confront Palpatine, but he manages to drain their essence to empower himself back to full health. While he Force-pushes Ben away, Rey is galvanised by the combined strength of previous Jedi (including Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi-Wan) and, using both Leia’s and Luke’s lightsabers, deflects Palpatine’s Force lightning back at him, and defeats him.

The effort of doing so is too much and she seemingly dies, but Ben returns and manages to heal her through the Force. The two kiss, and Ben becomes one with the Force. As he does so, Leia’s body follows. When all seems lost, Lando arrives in-system with a massive, rag-tag fleet of reinforcements and they manage to destroy the Sith armada, finally eliminating the threat of the First Order. While the galaxy celebrates freedom once more, Rey travels to the Lars homestead on Tatooine, and buries both Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers in the sand, having now built her own. A passing local asks who she is, and she reveals her name as “Rey Skywalker”.

As I said at the start, I was prepared to feel let down by this film, after the sheer amount of hype that it had received. On my way out of the movie theatre, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, but we had a 2 hour car ride home after meeting up with some friends, and talking it through really helped me to think about that. After sleeping on it, I’m pretty much convinced that it is a satisfying conclusion, but only to the sequel trilogy.

Let me explain.

I grew up with the original trilogy, but was in high school when the prequels started coming out. So I hadn’t quite formed that sort of opinion about things, but rather I was just enjoying the fact that there were more Star Wars movies being made, and I was around this time to see them. I think the fact that their numerical order helped: having always had IV, V and VI, it felt right that we were finally getting I, II and III. When the sequel trilogy was announced, I think it just felt like, “Oh, Disney has just spent a lot of money acquiring this IP, and they want to start playing in that sandbox”. I have never felt like the sequel trilogy needed to be made, in the same way that making the prequel trilogy made some amount of sense.

These films were originally about Luke Skywalker – he is the hero whose journey we are on. Vader is the villain who, in one of the most shocking plot twists in movie history, turns out to be Luke’s father and is eventually redeemed, but I don’t think anybody thought that the movies were about Vader until George Lucas started to make the prequels, and told us that, actually, these movies are about Anakin Skywalker, his fall and eventual redemption by his son. It was an interesting way of looking at things, and I guess I was suckered into that because, since the early 2000s, it’s been really nice to have that six-part film series that tells the whole story of Anakin Skywalker.

Now, we have the sequel trilogy, and the main protagonist is the granddaughter of the Emperor, but we’re being told that these films continue the saga of the Skywalker family. I’ve got to say – no, they don’t. If Rey had turned out to be the hidden twin of Ben Solo, then maybe. But she’s not, so the only way that these films can logically be said to continue the Skywalker saga is insofar as they kill off the Big Three from the original trilogy, providing that sense of closure while passing the torch to the next generation. Suddenly, the nine-part film series is mostly about Anakin, but is more about… what? There is now a lack of focus if we’re to look at these as one long saga. There is no central protagonist, because Anakin/Vader only lives through two-thirds of the movies, just like Luke is only present for two-thirds of the movies.

To my mind, the sequel trilogy did not need to be made, as it blurs those boundaries of a family soap opera that Lucas had intended all along. In his own ideas for the sequel trilogy – a pretty fascinating topic that I want to save for another blog – we’d get the grandchildren of Anakin Skywalker, making each trilogy about him, his children, and then his grandchildren. As it stands, while Ben/Kylo Ren is certainly a grandchild of Anakin, he is most certainly put into the antagonist camp, and I don’t think anybody could really say the trilogy has been about him, in the way that it has quite blatantly focused instead on Rey.

However.

When viewed as a film that wraps up the most recent trilogy, this works really nicely. There is so much that can be said about The Last Jedi having ruined Star Wars – again, I think I want to talk about this more in another blog – but seeing The Rise of Skywalker now, and thinking about how it fits into the third act of the trilogy, it seems pretty clear that JJ Abrams should have been in the director’s chair for all three. Things that we had seen in The Force Awakens should have continued into The Last Jedi, meaning that The Rise of Skywalker could then have maybe paused a little to actually explore some of these things in greater depth. As it is, there is a lot of story crammed into that 142 minutes. A lot. The first half of the film deals with some pretty frenetic searches for maguffins, and I think some of that could perhaps have been dealt with better if it had been set up in The Last Jedi, rather than JJ having to set things up and then resolve them in the same movie.

I suppose that is nowhere more apparent than with the reveal of who Rey really is. This, I feel, should have been explored further in The Last Jedi – a lot of the first part of the film should, I think, have been in that movie, especially her use of Force lightning on Pasaana, before we finally learn of her heritage here. I think more explanation of how, in fact, she is related to Palpatine is needed, as well – I’m no prude, but I don’t think the Sith Lord is the sort to go sleeping around, and while Darth Plagueis does paint him as something of a dapper senator, we’re still at the theory stage right now. For my own theory, I think it will either be a case of Palpatine having used the Force to create life again, or else some form of cloning experiment. I just hope that we’ll get to see something of that explored further soon, because it’s one of those niggling plot points for a huge nerd like myself, who will obsess over it until the shaaks come home…

Something else that I’d like to mention is how impressed I was with Leia’s inclusion. Considering the pledge was made to use nothing but deleted scenes, she actually has a much more substantial role in the film than I’d been expecting. Just when I thought we might have seen the last of her, she turns up again for more! Sure, some clever use of stand-ins has been made, but it was really nicely done, and I think it forms a fitting end for her character, as she passes the baton to the last generation.

It’s a busy movie, but it does have the time for some really nice sequences. JJ’s love of practical effects and real sets comes through once more, and I absolutely love it for that. Much like what we’re seeing with The Mandalorian right now, it’s stuff like this that helps give the show or the film that veracity that allows you to immerse yourself in the universe.

There are some incredibly wonderful little details that we see throughout the movie, I felt myself again getting sucked into the world, and wanting to know more about, for example, the Emperor’s creepy robed minions, or the denizens of Kijimi, or the “Sith assassin” contact Luke had been working with, etc etc etc. It’s such a real, lived-in universe feel, which is exactly the same feeling that we get when we watch the cantina scene of A New Hope, or the Jabba’s Palace scenes of Return of the Jedi.

It was a pretty good ending to the sequel trilogy, and I don’t think it’s going to come under anywhere near as much fire as The Last Jedi has. I don’t think of it as being a conclusion to the entire Star Wars saga, though, but it functions perfectly well as the capstone to the new sequel trilogy.

And I just can’t wait to see where we go in the Star Wars universe next!

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (final trailer)

So the final trailer has dropped, and the little Star Wars fanboy in me has gotten really quite excited once again, as we look upon the final Episode movie in the Skywalker saga.

You know, this could well fall flat, it could well be a dreadful series of set-piece action scenes with no substance to them, or it could be a fitting end to what began back in 2015. Personally, I’m still not entirely sure we even needed a sequel trilogy, but given what has happened with episodes 7 and 8, I’m feeling pretty much that the film will at least draw those films to a decent conclusion. Will it also be a satisfying one? Well, we’ll just have to wait another couple of months to find out.

I’ve been a little busy with real life for the last few weeks, so haven’t had all that much time to take a look into it all. As such, I may well be coming to the film almost as blind as I did for The Force Awakens back in the day. We’re due for so much Star Wars content now, I’m expecting the saturation point to reach critical level, so it might be real nice to approach this bookend with (almost) fresh eyes…

Star Wars thoughts

Oh my word, have you guys seen this?!

I have been in a bit of a Star Wars flunk lately, after having been burned by mediocre (or less) Star Wars novels and comics coming out from Disney. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been enjoying the new films, it just feels a bit like everything else on offer has been just stale, somehow, and uninteresting at best.

Well, I think I’ve just stumbled across the thing that will get me back among the stars, with the announcement of Star Wars: Outer Rim, from Fantasy Flight Games! It’s not a co-op game, but looks like it can be played solo, which is always an interesting point for me these days.

There’s no mention in the article of any kind of AI or beating a game engine, but rather just trying to become the best scoundrel in the galaxy. Of course, I imagine there would be some kind of way to make it enjoyable solo, though I do feel it might end up a bit like playing a deck-building game without any opponents. Certainly sounds like a fun time with more players, as you each race across the galaxy trying to gain influence and the like! Sounds a bit like the much-vaunted Firefly game, which I’ve never played but hear pretty much nothing but good things about!

It looks like an encounter-based system that should be a lot of fun, and being designed by Corey Konieczka – the man behind Eldritch Horror and Rune Age among others – I have high hopes that it will be an immersive experience as well.

My love of Star Wars has been on a definite decline recently, though, so I’m really glad there has been something like this come along to kick-start it once again. The upcoming release of the ninth installment of the main Saga hasn’t even got me this interested, though I think this has a lot to do with internet-fatigue. You know, I kinda liked how different The Last Jedi was from all the other movies, in the same way that I’ve come to appreciate the Prequels more and more for being different to the Original Trilogy. The Sequel Trilogy (are we calling it that, now?) has been markedly different, for me, and while there have been some hiccups for me along the way, nevertheless I think they’re telling an interesting story in their own way. If all of my frustrations with these sequels could be boiled down to one thing, it would be that we still haven’t really yet gone wider in the universe. I guess that’s my own problem, because the OT wasn’t particularly wide, but the EU we had for years did a very good job of filling the rest in, so it still felt like a whole universe. I suppose once we’ve had all of the plot holes filled in with Episode IX, we’ll hopefully get some novels that can go back and tell us more about Snoke, the First Order, how the Rebellion became the New Republic which became the Resistance (though I believe that is starting already). I suppose I just need to try and give it some more time.

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And now, this! #StarWars #Solo #nowReading

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I started to read Last Shot back in July last year, and had to give it up as a bad job roughly halfway through. I read a few more books, got married, and then came back to finish it in, I think, October – mainly because I hate to leave a book unfinished, even if it’s a bad book. And this, in my opinion, was a bad book. It suffered, for me, from having an author who seems determined to only use the movies as reference material, and begins to incorporate all manner of ridiculous, annoying things in here, because he doesn’t know anything else. The Ewok slicer just got on my nerves, and the Gungan prison warden in Kessel made me want to punch the book multiple times. I mean, there was just so much wrong about this book that it just annoyed me to pick it up and try to read it.

I’m not going to attempt to do a full review of it on my blog, because I’ve been trying to cast all memory of it from my mind, but suffice it to say, I did not enjoy this one, and as it happens, I’ve been pretty much away from Star Wars since. I suppose it’s just part of this burn-out, where I’ve still not really read an enjoyable SW novel since the excellent Bloodline, and the comics are so bad I’ve actually stopped buying them month after month, as I’ve only marginally found one or two interesting, at best. I’ll probably do another catch up with them at some point, but otherwise, I’ve just been feeling decidedly unimpressed with the new stuff.

In all honesty, I don’t think this has got a lot to do with my nostalgia for the old EU, either, as there was plenty there that was, shall we say, less than inspiring? But it’s a shame, because I think there has been some good stuff to come out since the Disney take-over, and for me, one of these has actually been the Solo movie. I’ve been quite disappointed with the internet reaction to this, as while there were some odd things, and some unnecessary things, overall I thought it was actually a good movie, and definitely worth its place in the movie-verse.

Details seem to be pretty scant as to what new movies we can expect from Disney post-episode 9, which I find to be quite curious. Solo was, apparently, the most expensive Star Wars movie ever made, and that it failed to make that back at the box office seems to have put the nail in the coffin – or at least, the brakes on – any further movies being developed. Maybe they’re just waiting to see how well IX does before they announce anything further? At any rate, while I’ve not been enjoying the new films anywhere near as much as I enjoyed a movie with Lucas at the helm, I’ve still been finding a lot to enjoy in these new offerings, and I think I’m over that initial fear of Star Wars-saturation. It’s been a long slog since The Force Awakens started us on this road, but I’m hopeful that, once we’re out of the communications blackout that always seems to surround making an “episode” movie, we’ll have a lot more to look forward to. And, y’know, I hope they finally go wide and let some really talented and imaginative authors explore this new universe and finally flesh it out for the fans!