A New “Star Wars” Movie Has Been Announced!

Spoilers For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!

Palpatine, Rey, the Sith and Star Wars
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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.

Sith Knights from Star Wars
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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 Mandalorian: Chapter 8” Review!

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

Episode Rating: 9/10

“Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Spoiler Review!

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

This is the ending we’ve been looking for.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Review!

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

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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!

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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.

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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 Codebreaker all-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.

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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 Leia ex 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.

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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.

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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.

May the Force be with you.

Movie Rating: 9.9/10

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Review!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Movie Rating: 7.9/10

“Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith

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Despite being the continuation of George Lucas’ underwhelming prequel trilogy (and the last Star Wars film he’s directed), Revenge Of The Sith is not a fitting conclusion to this chapter in the Skywalker Saga. Why do I say that? Because, while it may be sacrilegious to some, I feel strongly that Sith is miles ahead of both its predecessors, and deserves far more praise than it has gotten (to be fair, its Rotten Tomatoes score is actually pretty good).

There are several things that make Sith the best movie in the prequel trilogy and a good movie regardless. The story has a singular focus on Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), and all the other subplots, from the Clone Wars to the Trade Federation, finally find a way to tie into his story without Lucas having to force him into theirs. The themes are stronger than before, with Lucas finally plunging bravely into Anakin’s darkness – it’s too late to understand him or sympathize with his journey, but we’re no longer called upon to do so: instead, Lucas merely asks us to marvel at the horror and spectacle of it all. And isn’t that what moviegoers do best? And there are several scenes, characters and plot-points here that are among the strongest in the entire franchise.

The first and least surprising of many revelations is Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine a.k.a Darth Sidious. While Phantom Menace and Clones wasted the actor’s talents on rambling monologues about trade reform and taxation, he was gifted some of the trilogy’s best dialogue in Sith – where he also finally gets to shed his disguise and become the horrible, cackling, wild-eyed goblin we all know and love. In the scenes immediately preceding his grotesque transformation, where he slowly but surely seduces Anakin over to the Dark Side of the Force, McDiarmid is at his finest: a silver-tongued charlatan selling the promise of immortality with ease, grace and dignity. As the film’s title suggests, the power of the Sith has grown unstoppable: despite there only ever being two Sith Lords at a time, their ability to manipulate is their greatest weapon, as we learn that Palpatine has been using lies and deception to grow stronger in the Senate, until he finally takes the mantle of Emperor, and begins his reign of terror. And he has help from all over the galaxy, even briefly from Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) who fails him early in the film and is executed by Anakin, and the legendary General Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood), a lightsaber-wielding quadrupedal cyborg with a nasty cough, who lurches his way through a series of epic battles. And the Emperor’s most secret weapon, and the one which ultimately gives him the advantage over his age-old enemy, is Order 66.

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It’s one of those scenes that screams “instant classic”. Though we had heard of the Purge that wiped out thousands of Jedi across the galaxy, seeing it was something else entirely: John Williams’ haunting music, the beautiful imagery, and the sheer nightmare of watching vast clone armies turn against their commanders at the push of a button. Honestly, it’s even more painful to watch than the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Lord Of The Rings, where the Elves of Lórien are brutally slaughtered in battle, because of how quickly and easily this massacre is carried out: from Plo Koon’s violent death, blown to pieces in the explosion of his spacecraft, to Aayla Secura gunned down before she could even comprehend the click of loaded blaster-guns behind her, her body tumbling peacefully into a field of giant flowers. Only a handful of Jedi escape the purge, whether through their own quick-thinking – as in the case of Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) – or because of a very helpful accident, as with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor).

But despite how sad we all are about the Jedi Purge (or maybe because of it), we can’t help but love every second of Anakin Skywalker’s long, slow, agonizingly painful transformation from man to machine. Not only is it great to see him bested in battle by Obi-Wan Kenobi and left for dead, a burning husk of a ruined man, on the lava shores of Mustafar, but it’s fantastic to watch what happens next, as this man-thing is brought back from death’s brink, stitched together by the Emperor’s medics and minions, clothed in darkness and wreathed in horror – and also blessed with the rich, powerful voice of James Earl Jones.

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Anakin’s meandering journey through two previous movies left aside, Sith finally gives us what we were looking for from this character: an actual explanation for why he turned to the darkness, one that is every bit as dark, horrific and irredeemable as it needed to be. In this final movie, George Lucas works overtime to come up with a good reason for his hero’s sudden shift in loyalties, and he comes up with something that, while not startlingly original, at least feels legitimate, given what we know already about Anakin’s character, and the lengths he will go to to protect those that he loves. The explanation is simply this: Anakin, in his desperate need to save the life of his wife Padmé (Natalie Portman), ends up being lured to the Dark Side to explore the promise of immortality, a promise which he learns too late is nothing but a lie. Yes, stronger chemistry between Portman and Christensen would have gone a long way in selling this idea, and the prequel trilogy in general, but I can hardly fault the actors for not being able to conjure up much genuine emotion, considering the poorly underwritten dialogue. But at least it’s something – and Lucas, for what feels like the first time in this trilogy, understands that Anakin is a villain at his core. Rather than try to make him sympathetic or understandable, Lucas shows us just how irrational and horrible he is, even falling back on the Anakin-murders-innocent-children trope from the last movie, but this time without having anybody come up with stupid, clumsy excuses for why he did what he did. He’s not a good person: he never was. The evil spirit of Darth Vader always lived inside Anakin – it just needed to be coaxed out by the Emperor’s cunning words. I don’t even think that Anakin being a truly evil person makes his “redemption” and sacrifice in Return Of The Jedi unearned: as I wrote in my review of that film, I feel Vader’s choice to betray the Emperor was his attempt to do right by Padmé, who I think he truly loved. In Return Of The Jedi, he was motivated exclusively by his desire to save the life of his own children, not by any concern for the Rebellion, or the Jedi. He was a selfish and overly protective person until the day he died: was there light in him, as Luke claimed? I believe there was, but it expressed itself in his love for a woman whose death he had caused, and whose children he had tormented.

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Speaking of that particular woman’s death, however, we do have to address the biggest issue in Revenge Of The Sith: Padmé being fridged, or to be precise, pre-fridged. “Fridging”, a term which refers to a female character being killed or harmed to further a male character’s storyline, is not strictly applicable in this case, because it wasn’t Padmé’s death, but rather the fear of her death, that motivated Anakin to madness. But regardless of what happened when, Padmé is barely even a character in this movie, having little more to do than act as Anakin’s muse and the mother of his children. She makes one powerful decision near the end of the movie, when she chooses to leave her husband for good – but even afterwards, she’s still haunted by him. How she dies is something of a mystery: her doctor droid says something about her losing the will to live, but the clever juxtaposition of her death with Anakin’s painful resurrection, combined with Palpatine’s remark to Anakin that “it seems, in your anger…you killed her”, almost implies that it was Anakin’s grief and the burning fires of his anguish that somehow drained her of her stamina. A semi-telepathic link between the two is possibly teased earlier in the film, when Anakin and Padmé seem to “see” each other from opposite sides of the city of Coruscant, or at least can feel the other’s presence very strongly. While it’s not explained if this is the case, it makes more sense than the resilient Padmé Amidala dying of sorrow.

Another interesting fact about Padmé’s death, mere moments after both her children are born into the fluorescent light of the Polis Massa maternity ward: Leia is born just after her twin brother Luke, almost seeming to underscore her birth as the more notable of the two. Given everything we know about Leia’s character arc, it wouldn’t be entirely implausible to believe that this was yet another hint that Leia Organa was destined to be the true heroine of the Skywalker Saga. Just a thought.

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Finally, we have to talk about the film’s action sequences, which range from “meh” to “magnificent”. There are two in particular that stand out to me: the battle on Utapau that pits Obi-Wan Kenobi against Grievous, who, as previously mentioned, wields four lightsabers at once, with metal arms spinning and swirling like helicopter-blades as he uses all of Count Dooku’s fighting techniques. Kenobi has never been the franchise’s most skilled dueler, preferring brute force tactics, which makes the fight a little unbalanced until he wrenches open the cyborg’s chest cavity and puts a few laser-bolts into his heart – I’m not precisely sure on the mechanics of why Grievous promptly goes up in flames, with fire erupting from his eye-sockets, but it’s a cool visual. And then, of course, there’s a much bigger, more epic battle in which Yoda and Emperor Palpatine chase each other through the cavernous Senate Building, employing force lightning and insanely fast-paced lightsaber action. It’s Palpatine’s best moment in the series’ history, and McDiarmid (not to mention his CGI stand-in) nails it. After that high, the final battle between Skywalker and Kenobi on Mustafar is bound to be disappointing, not least of all because the CGI lava is spectacularly unconvincing.

So Revenge Of The Sith is not only a return to form for the franchise, but a fun, thrilling, and tragic conclusion to a trilogy that could so easily have ended with a resounding thud. It’s cool to witness Anakin’s ruinous downfall in real-time, as the whiny teen becomes the impressive Sith Lord we were all just waiting to see. It’s satisfying to be present at Luke and Leia’s birth, and see them brought to their new homes on Tatooine and Alderaan, respectively. It’s nice to be able to have seen this chapter of Star Wars history, even if it wasn’t always great, or good, for that matter. And it’s also nice to close out this chapter with a film that, for all the flaws it’s burdened with by two prior failures, somehow manages to tell a decent story about light, darkness, and the enduring nature of hope.

Movie Rating: 7.9/10

“Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones

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With the second movie in his hyped-up prequel trilogy, George Lucas doubled down on the much-maligned formula that made The Phantom Menace one of the Star Wars franchise’s most critically abhorred entries – leading yet another promising story to the Dark Side and leaving audiences with a bitter aftertaste of crudely overabundant CGI, meandering subplots upon subplots, emotionless acting, and what have to be some of the series’ worst-written (and consequently, most meme-able) moments. Unfortunately, while it manages to increase the stakes and introduce some fun new characters, Attack Of The Clones is largely set-up for the trilogy’s final (and best) installment.

It has to have been unintentional that the series’ protagonist Anakin Skywalker (here aged up by a couple of years and played by Hayden Christensen) is consistently the trilogy’s biggest problem. Even as the story desperately tries to probe deeper into his mind – and convince the viewer that there’s something there worth seeing – Anakin pulls away from the camera, becoming more and more distanced, as if Lucas was still too afraid to follow him on his path into darkness. Instead of being privy to this character’s decisions and consequential life-choices, we’re constantly shut out, or given the bare minimum of details that we need to understand who he is, and how he became Darth Vader (remember, that was this whole trilogy’s purpose!). For instance, Anakin has a crucial scene in this movie where, having learned that his mother Shmi (Pernilla August) was killed by Tusken Raiders, he goes about blindly massacring every Raider he can find, including women and children. Now an unrepentant butcher of innocents, a wild-eyed Anakin promptly boasts about how good it felt to slaughter them like “animals”, a horrific comment which provokes a tame response from Anakin’s girlfriend, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) – “To be angry is to be human”, she says, while trying to calm him down. This entire scene does nothing to establish Anakin as a “tortured soul” of some kind: instead, it paints him as a sociopathic serial killer incapable of even grasping the concept of empathy. But there’s no lead-up to that revelation, nor is it even treated as a big deal. Within a few scenes, Anakin is back to being the film’s default hero, and we’re supposed to buy into his romance with Padmé, as if we don’t all know very well that Anakin shows signs of being or becoming the galaxy’s most abusive and nightmarish boyfriend. It’s already far too late to even try and understand what motivates Anakin’s terrifying aggression, much less rationalize whatever it might be.

And while Anakin is reduced to little more than a killing machine in this movie (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, compared to what he does in Revenge Of The Sith), Padmé’s characterization is even worse. Natalie Portman, who would go on to win an Academy Award in 2010, is wasted in a thankless role that amounts to little more than window dressing. She stands by and supports Anakin’s violent outbursts, and can’t help falling in love with him regardless of his obvious evil. The foundation of their romance is a single conversation where Anakin infamously rants about how much he hates sand. And then, of course, there’s the tiny little detail that Anakin and Padmé have a very apparent age-gap – Anakin having been about nine when he first met the teenage princess and fell in love with her. But it’s apparently okay,  because in Attack Of The Clones Anakin has aged into a full-grown man while Padmé is…still a teenager. And uh, yeah, that’s definitely how time works.

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The film’s MVP is Obi-Wan Kenobi (delightfully portrayed by Ewan McGregor), who is blessed with all of Luke Skywalker’s moral purity and Han Solo’s charismatic, no-nonsense attitude. If only his subplot had anything to do with Anakin Skywalker! Then again, perhaps it’s a good thing that it doesn’t, because Obi-Wan Kenobi doing cool things by himself is far more entertaining than Obi-Wan Kenobi pretending to care about Anakin’s Jedi training. While the relationship between mentor and padawan apprentice reinforces Star Wars‘ constant theme of duality, it’s here undermined by the fact that Obi-Wan and Anakin barely ever have a relationship. Instead, Obi-Wan has a completely unrelated subplot that manages to tie back into Anakin’s story at the end of the movie because Anakin has to go rescue him, which…well, no, actually, it’s just there for cool action scenes. It does nothing to advance the plot, honestly.

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The subplot of which I speak is, of course, the Clone Wars: a very interesting story, told in a very boring way. Just as before, George Lucas’ vivid imagination bogs down the story, as he tries to cram in more unnecessary information and backstory about the histories of the Droid Separatist Armies and the clone army commissioned by Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. It’s a shame, because the war itself is a very clever idea, and it gives the Jedi Order something to do as they become the commanders of the clone army – united, with all their lightsabers aglow and Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) leading them into battle, the Order finally looks like a formidable fighting force. And it’s a good thing too, because they’re up against the menacing Christopher Lee as Count Dooku a.k.a Darth Tyrannus, a charmingly classic addition to Star Wars canon, and another wonderful villain. The film doesn’t introduce him until relatively late in the game, and his backstory is largely left to the audience to piece together, but he doesn’t really need to be anything but Christopher Lee, dressed in aristocratic finery and expertly wielding two curved-bladed lightsabers, gently mocking his opponents’ inferior fighting skills. His battle with Yoda, in which the two masters go head-to-head, using every last trick from the Jedi rulebook, is not only one of the film’s highlights but one of the best reasons to watch the prequels at all – that and another Yoda battle in the next movie. Shamefully, however, there’s a large part of the movie that does nothing with either Yoda or Count Dooku, and instead tries to sell the idea that Boba Fett’s father is an interesting character because…he’s Boba Fett’s father?

You know how I feel about Boba Fett. I’ve simply never cared about him one way or the other. But now, I’m expected to care that his father, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), was the model for Sifo-Dyas’ clone army because of a familial connection that means nothing to the story. Jango could have been literally anyone else, and it would not have mattered. All that Boba does in the movie is watch as Mace Windu decapitates his father – as if there’s some sort of revenge arc to be set up, even though nothing of the kind ever occurs, either in the prequels or in the original trilogy, where Boba meets an untimely fate even more ridiculous than that of his dad. And worse, the whole situation is exemplary of everything that so often goes wrong with prequels in general: it makes the Star Wars universe smaller, by implying that the only people worth following are the characters we all know from the first trilogy, or their parents and extended family. Luckily, all these characters just so happen to be in the same place at the same time! Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) is there, as a moody little kid; Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) is there; R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is there; C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is there because he was apparently built by Anakin Skywalker, a retcon that serves no purpose, as Anakin and C-3PO share only a handful of scenes, and Darth Vader never even acknowledges the droid; Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) is in there too, somewhere; the Death Star is there because why not at this point. The Death Star gets shoved into so many Star Wars movies, it barely even registers anymore.

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Just as obnoxious as the fan-service is George Lucas’ usage of CGI technology. I will never understand how a movie like Attack Of The Clones could have come out the same year as The Two Towers, which was a brilliant display of everything that special effects can achieve when applied to film. Clones‘ CGI has aged spectacularly badly, from the fight-scenes on Geonosis that look like video-game cutscenes, to Jedi stunts that attempt to resemble wuxia wire-work martial arts – but without the wire-work. And then, of course, there are the clone armies…again, how could Lord Of The Rings get this technology so right, while Star Wars got it so, so wrong?

And at last we come to the film’s finale, which basically exists to tease the next movie. Droids and clones erupt onto the battlefields of Geonosis to wage warfare, the Jedi and the Sith prepare for the conflict of the century, and then…well, then comes Revenge Of The Sith, which takes place at the very end of the Clone Wars, before we’ve even had a chance to actually witness them onscreen. There’s a long-running animated TV show that covers the events between the two films, but for moviegoers, the Clone Wars themselves are barely a blip in the Star Wars timeline. The irony of the matter is that the epic ending of Clones finally indicated that Lucas’ preference for plot over character might actually pay off – but in Revenge Of The Sith, he changed course and made the movie all about Anakin, giving us little more than hints and glimpses of the warfare, political intrigue and intergalactic trade law that had been the series’ defining feature. Just as it was beginning to get good!

It’s worth noting that another high-profile prequel franchise, the Fantastic Beasts series, has similarly promised us a war of wizards and dark magic, and it’s to be hoped that they take a hint from the failure of the Star Wars prequels, and choose to show the warfare onscreen. But that series has its own problems, anyway.

Anakin and Padmé’s ill-fated secret wedding at the end of Clones is obviously intended to be an emotional moment, the culmination of a hopelessly beautiful love story: and it probably would have been, if the couple had any chemistry. But we’re dealing with one character who’s a raging lunatic with anger-management issues and a whiny, pessimistic attitude toward literally everything, and the other who’s…um, does Padmé even have a defining character trait? She was a politician in Phantom Menace, but Clones reduces that idea to “hey, we’ll have her spurt random political metaphors at inopportune moments!”. The film also tries to hint at a concept which would become a major plot point in Revenge Of The Sith; that Anakin was jealous of Obi-Wan and Padmé’s nonexistent relationship – but seriously, why? Because Obi-Wan helped him rescue Padmé from a couple of killer centipedes? It’s just yet another abusive boyfriend trope that makes Anakin even more unlikable and unsympathetic.

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And so we are left with a film that can’t figure out the difference between a plot and a subplot; a film that tries to push a scarily nerve-wracking relationship as a cute love story; a film that wants to be thought-provoking and deep, but can’t even put together a comprehensive line of dialogue. It’s still better than the first movie for various reasons (a notable absence of Jar-Jar Binks being one of them), but not by enough to make this film a memorable – or even strictly necessary – addition to the series.

Movie Rating: 5.8/10

“Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

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It’s finally time to explain my decision not to start my eight-part review of the Star Wars franchise with what is now technically referred to as the first movie. The idea of having to wade, Gungan-style, through three intermittently bad movies before getting to the series’ real gems was simply not appealing to me, so I took what we’ll call a detour – by going through the films in the order of release, rather than where they fall in the official timeline. But, of course, destiny arrives regardless, and now we have finally set foot on the soggy, pleasantly pastel planet where humans and sentient dinosaurs live together in harmony among a picturesque landscape of waterfalls, rainforests and Renaissance cities…yes, it’s Dinotopia.

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No, wait, that’s not right. Sorry, it’s Dinotopia’s identical twin, Naboo.

Here, amid all that lush greenery and damp air, our story begins: it is the story of a boy who would become a man who would become a machine, a child born into the world to serve a dark power’s nefarious purposes, a Jedi who would turn to the Dark Side of the Force and join the ranks of the Sith. Here, on the planet Naboo, begins the story of Anakin Skywalker.

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Wait, that’s not right either. Anakin’s story doesn’t start here. So then…why does the movie start here?

Unfortunately, there’s no good answer to that question, which lingers over the whole prequel trilogy. The point of the prequels was supposedly to go deep into the psyche of the man who became Darth Vader, to discover what went so horribly wrong in his life that he would turn away from the light and succumb to darkness. And yet somewhere along the way, director George Lucas realized that he actually wanted to make an entire movie about intergalactic politics and shipping blockades – and, uh, sure that has something to do with Anakin Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side! How? Well…because Padmé Amidala, Anakin’s wife, came from Naboo, that’s how. And so the story of Anakin Skywalker actually begins with Padmé, the young, seemingly naive Queen of the Naboo people, being rescued from her home planet by the Jedi and…wait, you’re telling me we spend the first half-hour of the movie on a rescue mission to free Padmé only to find out in the film’s last thirty-five minutes that it’s not even the real Padmé?

This is, unfortunately, only one example of the problem with the prequel trilogy, but it highlights one of Phantom Menace‘s biggest structural flaws. Rather than focusing on the character of Anakin Skywalker (who was likable enough here, portrayed by Jake Lloyd), the movie wastes valuable screentime on supporting characters and three or four different political subplots that have no bearing on Anakin’s story whatsoever. This epic failure is comparable to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald, a movie in which plot took precedence over character development, to the detriment of both – a huge, complex plot means nothing if there aren’t sturdy, strong characters to hoist it on their shoulders when the going gets rough and carry the audience’s interest across the finish line. In both Crimes Of Grindelwald and Phantom Menace, the “characters” are mostly cardboard cutouts barely capable of carrying a single scene, much less an entire movie.

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There’s a trio central to the story of Phantom Menace, but it’s sometimes hard to tell whether it consists of Anakin Skywalker, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) or Anakin, Padmé and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). Obi-Wan is the more important of the two in the long run, but he does virtually nothing in Phantom Menace except stand by Qui-Gon’s side and argue with him about whether or not Anakin should be trained as a Jedi. And then at the very end of the movie, he gets to kill the Sith apprentice Darth Maul in one epic lightsaber fight that makes his earlier irrelevance not only confusing but frustrating. As previously mentioned, Padmé is actually disguised as a different character for most of the film, while Sabé (Keira Knightley) wears her identity. Anakin isn’t in the movie’s first half-hour, and even when he does show up, he’s still initially a supporting character – at best, he’s a walking plot device until he takes command of his very own starship in the finale. Until the second film, I think it’s safe to say that most of this defining chapter in Anakin’s life is told from the viewpoint of Qui-Gon Jinn as he tries, unsuccessfully, to decipher the child’s parentage and account for his abnormally high midi-chlorian count (yes, this film also establishes that your strength in the Force is determined by the amount of alien blood-cells living in your body, which just…no).

And it’s not like anybody else ever figures out what Anakin is, either. Even to this day, Star Wars canon is conflicted about where he came from – the predominant theory being that he was “conceived by the midi-chlorians”, meaning that, in essence, he’s the son of the Force itself. That’s all well and good, but why wasn’t it ever explained in the movie? The only hint we get about his parentage is one vague quote from his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August), who tells Qui-Gon that “There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him, I can’t explain what happened.” Yeah, well, try. Any explanation would be better than simply giving us yet another unanswered question about the character whose backstory we were supposed to be learning!

I think that, even without making the movie about Anakin (since George Lucas was clearly resistant to that idea, for whatever reason), a compelling story could still have been told – if the actual focus hadn’t instead been directed on the impossibly complicated political system of Naboo, and their relations with the Gungan aliens, Viceroy Gunray’s Trade Federation and the Old Republic’s corrupt, bureaucratic system. Now, I love political intrigue: it’s one of my favorite tropes in sci-fi, fantasy or fiction in general. But intrigue has to revolve around character in order to work properly – simply having shipping blockades and assassination attempts and coups isn’t interesting, unless we care about the characters that these things are happening to: for instance, look at Game Of Thrones, which, in its first few seasons, expertly handled political intrigue by pitting fleshed-out characters against each other in interesting ways and giving them real motivations and agendas that audiences could become invested in. It’s hard to become invested in Naboo’s fight for independence when we know next to nothing about the handful of characters in the movie who actually hail from Naboo – especially when one of them is Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best).

Now, I just want to preface this by saying that I bear no ill-will towards Ahmed Best, who was simply doing his job and the best that he could in extremely difficult circumstances: I wish him well, and I’m very glad to hear that he’s just landed a role as the host of a Star Wars game show on Disney+. That’s fantastic. But the character he happens to portray, the notorious alien by the name of Binks, is without a doubt the most pointless and pathetic character in the Star Wars universe – and it’s a big universe. But between his…jokes?…and his voice, and his unnervingly long tongue, there is not a single thing about Jar-Jar that helps the prequel trilogy in any way. Worse, he’s actually damaged the trilogy’s reputation.

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On the other side of the galaxy but almost as useless, the Jedi Order loses all of its mystique and magic when glimpsed in The Phantom Menace, where they’re basically just a group of squabbling elders blind to the disintegration of the society they’re sworn to protect. Seeing them here, at what was apparently the height of their glory, it’s hard to imagine they stayed in business as long as they did. It’s even harder to imagine that they could ever be brought back, or that they would be effective, if they were.

The Sith, however, have never looked so appealing as they did here, operating in secret from behind thrones and senate-seats across the galaxy, a cult based on the duality of master and apprentice. While the master himself, Chancellor Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) is busy getting “elected” to ever-loftier positions of power in the New Republic, his apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park) is on assignment like a mysterious ninja, or a ghostly assassin, or a…phantom menace. While Maul would look cool regardless of his weaponry (dude’s literally a six-foot tall Dathomirian Dark Lord covered in horns and red-and-black full-body tattoos), having a freaky, double-bladed lightsaber probably doesn’t hurt his image. Sadly, while he was undeniably one of the Dark Side’s most photogenic champions (in the days before Kylo Ren), he was cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of the movie, preventing him from ever realizing his true potential. One thing that can be said of the prequel trilogy is that it had some epic villains – it just didn’t keep them around long enough to make much of a difference.

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And that’s the biggest problem with The Phantom Menace: huge potential, but nothing to do with it. It’s a movie that spends more time explaining the mechanics of pod-racing and the structure of the intergalactic Senate than the dynamics of its core cast of characters, or the psychology of our protagonist…who, as time goes by, becomes only more distanced from the audience, because he was never close to us to begin with.

Movie Rating: 4.9/10

“Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi” Review!

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.

(Before we begin, be aware that I’m going through the list by order of release date: I understand that George Lucas wanted movies 4, 5 and 6 to be movies 1, 2 and 3 and to be treated as such – but they’re not good enough to warrant that distinction. Sorry, George).

Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi

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The final chapter in the original Star Wars trilogy sags under the burden placed upon its shoulders by the two previous installments in the Skywalker Saga. Why? Because it follows the same basic principle of The Force Awakens, but without the benefit of coming out some twenty years after the original film – rather than looking like a dreamy, nostalgic callback to former glory, Return Of The Jedi instead feels mostly like a frantic cash-grab, capitalizing on all of A New Hope‘s flashes of ingenuity but ignoring that they cease to be ingenious when repeated time and time again. It doesn’t help the film’s image when you discover that George Lucas rewrote the entire movie to maximize toy sales, something that we’ll discuss in detail.

But first, because I don’t like to be negative about a franchise I love – does Return Of The Jedi have any redeeming qualities?

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Well, yes. Most films do. Even The Phantom Menace has some good moments (can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’ll have to think of some for my review of that film). But unfortunately, most of Return Of The Jedi‘s great moments are overshadowed by the larger flaws they contrast. For instance, having Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), and The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) get in a three-way battle to the death is a great idea, and lends itself nicely to some very cool scenes of action, lightsaber wizardry and Force-lightning madness. However, the fact that this battle takes place on a cheaper, less intimidating knockoff of the Death Star, whose crucial design flaw is basically identical to that on the first Death Star, rendering the object pointless and boring…well, that’s not quite as much fun. If you’re going to reuse old ideas, at least make them bigger and more epic – maybe don’t downgrade from “a weapon the size of a moon that can blow up other planets” to “a partially-constructed weapon the size of a large asteroid that can blow up spaceships one at a time”. Honestly, if you’re going to build a new Death Star, at least have the courtesy to give it to Alec Guinness (who reprised his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi) after you’re done using it, so he can promptly annihilate the entire Star Wars fandom – how he got roped in to doing a third Star Wars film, I have no idea, but it’s evident from his bored, mechanical line-readings that he was doing his level best to make the film unwatchable (apparently, early script drafts had him joining the action as a Force-ghost and helping to defeat The Emperor, but Guinness didn’t like using special effects. You can’t have it both ways, Alec; you’re either an expository ghost or a CGI wizard – there is no middle ground).

Return Of The Jedi is truly disappointing because of how many awesome what-if scenarios were originally going to make their way into the film: scenarios that would have to wait until decades later to be realized onscreen, because George Lucas was afraid that taking risks would minimize the sales of toys, action figures and other Star Wars merchandise. Most shockingly, the trilogy was at one point intended to end with Luke Skywalker removing his father’s mask – and claiming it for himself, having been so corrupted in his fight with The Emperor that he became a Sith Lord, channeling the Dark Side of the Force to turn on the Rebellion, leading to Han Solo’s heroic death during a raid on the Imperial base. Even after Lucas scrapped that idea (it was too sad for a kid’s movie, he claimed), there were still plans for the film to end on a bittersweet note, with Leia in charge of a last, desperate band of Rebels and war-torn heroes, while Luke would abandon the cause and go into hiding. While many of these concepts later found their way into The Force Awakens, they don’t fit particularly well in that film, coming off a trilogy that actually ended triumphantly, with the Empire destroyed, the Jedi supposedly restored to power, and the galaxy at peace. J.J. Abrams’ sequel trilogy is largely founded on an alternative version of Return Of The Jedi that never saw the light of day, a version that allowed for a sequel.

Even Lucas’ film, however, feels like it has multiple parts that belong to a completely different movie. For instance, the thirty-minute long detour on Tatooine to rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) might just be an excuse to revisit what is arguably the franchise’s most iconic locale, but it definitely seems to be setting up Solo’s story to actually…go somewhere. But beyond helping to shut down the energy-shields surrounding the Death Star, Solo is largely unimportant to the story. He’s still great, because he’s Han Solo – but why was it so important that we spend half an hour saving him from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, without any real payoff? Why, unless he was originally intended to do something essential, something heroic – something that would have resulted in his death, and thus fewer toys sold?

This is, unfortunately, the very same trap that J.J. Abrams and his team could fall into with The Rise Of Skywalker. Not with regard to toy sales, I don’t think, but they must similarly feel like ending their trilogy on anything other than a victorious high note would be disappointing after so much buildup. But I sincerely hope they have an incredible plan for the franchise’s climax, and it will be satisfyingly poignant, triumphant and original: if The Lord Of The Rings could end with a decent portion of the main cast setting sail into the West, than so can Star Wars!

There are a couple of characters for whom Return Of The Jedi is not a total mess: Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who is finally revealed as Luke Skywalker’s twin sister, and has some strong emotional moments handling the ramifications of that revelation – not to mention more action scenes than she’s ever had before or since, from single-handedly strangling Jabba the Hutt to a crazy speeder-bike chase through the forests of Endor, picking off stormtroopers; C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), who has one hilarious scene in which, mistaken for a deity by the Ewoks of Endor, he ends up nearly condemning Luke, Han and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to become the main course at a sacrificial banquet in his honor, because he’s too polite to refuse; and the oft-quoted Admiral Akbar (Timothy Rose), the Mon Calamari alien who becomes the first high-ranking non-human member of the Rebellion, gets one infamous line of dialogue, and then is seen afterwards partying with the Ewoks. Good for him.

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In Return Of The Jedi, George Lucas’ hand once again reaches in from the future to clumsily tinker with the special effects – and here, he has one particularly egregious use of CGI as well as one addition that I have to grudgingly admit is a nice way to keep continuity between all his trilogies. The former is the notorious addition of an entire alien musical number in Jabba’s palace, one which is apparently supposed to make the giant slug’s cavernous lair seem more like a family-friendly dance hall than a den of vice. The latter is the replacement of original Anakin Skywalker actor Sebastian Shaw’s Force-ghost with the likeness of Hayden Christensen, who portrayed Anakin in the prequel trilogy: while that change has always been controversial, I feel it’s actually a nice touch – as are the scenes of celebration in several prequel trilogy planets such as Naboo and Coruscant, lending the victory scene a larger, more epic scale. There’s also a couple of weird little alterations, from giving the Sarlacc a head to digitally shaving off Darth Vader’s eyebrows.

The connection between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is the original trilogy’s most powerful element, and the true heart of this story.  Luke is faced with many struggles and temptations, and is eventually brought face-to-face with The Emperor (who probably makes a lot more sense if you know who and what he is, thanks to the prequels). Luke’s battle to resist the darkness within him is fiercely compelling. Darth Vader’s redemption might seem to come out of the blue, but it does make sense when viewed in the context of future movies – as Vader watched his son writhe in agony beneath The Emperor’s whips of hellfire, it was impossible for him not to see in his child’s face the tortured eyes of Padmé Amidala, Luke’s mother and the love of Vader’s life – the person for whom he had turned to the Dark Side in a desperate attempt to save her life, only to realize that by doing so, he had actually brought about her anguished, ruinous death. Hearing his son’s pleas and realizing in a blinding flash that The Emperor was solely responsible for all the grievances, betrayals and nightmares visited upon him and his family, Anakin rebelled in that moment, ridding the Skywalkers of The Emperor, who had been their demonic guardian for three generations, giving up his own life to save his and Padmé’s children. It’s powerful stuff. Granted, audiences back in 1983 didn’t know any of that backstory: however, even without the assist of the prequels, you can easily understand and appreciate the poetry of The Emperor being destroyed by his apprentice, just as all Sith are and always have been.

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But of course, The Emperor is apparently returning in The Rise Of Skywalker…so does that make Vader’s sacrifice meaningless? Or is it a sign that as long as the Skywalker family exists in the galaxy, The Emperor’s malevolent spirit will haunt them? Probably best not to think about that yet.

In conclusion, Return Of The Jedi is not the best way to cap off a great trilogy, and not a good blueprint for The Rise Of Skywalker to follow – while there may be a handful of redeeming qualities in this movie, most of it is corrupted by the Dark Side of the Force.

Movie Rating: 5.9/10

“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” Review!

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.

(Before we begin, be aware that I’m going through the list by order of release date: I understand that George Lucas wanted movies 4, 5 and 6 to be movies 1, 2 and 3 and to be treated as such – but they’re not good enough to warrant that distinction. Sorry, George).

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

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In Star Wars, the successor is always stronger than the predecessor: this is symbolized in both the Sith and the Jedi religions, where the apprentice always overcomes the master eventually, whether by force or fate – and it is symbolized in the film trilogies themselves, where each successive sequel is better than its precursor. And if A New Hope is the wise old Jedi master of Star Wars, then Empire is their fiery, free-spirited student (and that puts Last Jedi somewhere on an Anakin Skywalker level of chaotic energy).

A New Hope played by the rules, establishing a handful of lead characters, giving them a couple of fun, exhilarating obstacles to overcome, and then leaving them (and us, the audience) with a happy, satisfied feeling as we watched our plucky band of heroes rewarded with the highest honors. The Death Star had been destroyed, the terrible Darth Vader had been sent careening off into the depths of space, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was, um, well, he was a Jedi or something, right?

Wrong. When Empire opens, it immediately establishes that the story is far from over, as the Rebellion finds themselves back on the battlefield, with Imperial forces surrounding them on all sides, hunting relentlessly for the man named Skywalker. Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) is back, with a terrifying new overlord vaguely referred to as the Emperor, and worst of all, Luke himself is caught in a hurricane of new emotions as he struggles between his desire to fulfill his Jedi training and his instinctive need to confront the power of the Darkness. Yes, while he might have been a beacon of hope and moral purity in A New Hope, Empire finds Luke wavering between good and evil, just as his father before him.

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That balancing act makes Empire a thoroughly satisfying movie from a thematic point of view, and gives Hamill and the character of Luke Skywalker plenty of fascinating material to work with – watching Luke confront reality and slowly begin to understand that his youthful dream to follow in his noble father’s footsteps will in fact lead him to the Dark Side is utterly thrilling: and the movie ends just when it needs to, with Darth Vader finally breaking the young Skywalker’s steadfast resolve and destroying all of his last, desperate delusions – forcing the audience, along with Luke, to see that the concept of “destiny” can be a curse as well as a blessing. I say again, this movie is thrilling.

In many ways, Empire is the precursor to the premise of The Last Jedi – it takes the established Star Wars canon, takes one look at it, and tosses it over its shoulder. But whereas the new trilogy has been plagued by a mess of many conflicting directorial visions and an unwillingness to follow through with Last Jedi‘s promise, George Lucas’ original trilogy wasn’t afraid to “go there”. It broke the sheen of romanticism that it had built around itself, took risks, and changed the direction of the franchise – for the better. But since it was only the second movie in the entire series, fans were willing to “forgive” all of that: eight movies in…not so much.

And it’s not like Empire just made the series a little darker and more mature. It did a lot – from introducing the series’ first black character in roguish, charming heartthrob Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), to retconning one of the first film’s central plot points and making Darth Vader Luke’s father without any explanation (nowadays, Fantastic Beasts fans complain about having to wait a year or two to find out how Credence is a Dumbledore: original Star Wars fans had to wait about two decades to get answers – no wonder they’re embittered!).

In The Empires Strikes Back, the Star Wars story also moves away from the science-fiction serials and TV shows it had been based on, by taking what could very easily have been an episodic story and turning it into…a story that is definitely not episodic, but still insists on categorizing itself into episodes anyway, even forty years later. Empire builds the foundations of what would become the Skywalker Saga, by giving Luke a personal stake in the story and pitting him against a worthy enemy in Darth Vader.

Duality. Remember that from my A New Hope review? Empire expands upon the concept by throwing in the big shocker that Darth Vader is Luke’s biological father, his mirror image on the Dark Side of the Force, and supposedly the destiny that awaits him too. Vader and Skywalker orbit each other in Empire, waiting for their inevitable moment of eclipse when one will destroy the other. They are two inextricably linked forces of nature, and the greatest champions that the Force can conjure (though, there’s been a lot of theorizing recently that The Mandalorian‘s Baby Yoda, born in roughly the same year as Anakin Skywalker, might actually have been Vader’s true equal and nemesis: a bit late for that reveal, I think, but interesting nonetheless).

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The theme of duality is also seen in the characters of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who have a tumultuous and similarly circuitous trajectory toward becoming the series’ defining love story. While they’ve definitely got a lot of chemistry and romantic tension as they huddle in the frozen tunnels of their Hoth base-camp, it’s only when they’re separated from Luke that things get really interesting in their relationship – not only because it prevents all the awkward accidental-incest that might have otherwise resulted, but because it gives Leia and Han a chance to solve problems on their own, without Skywalker flying in to save the day every two seconds. And it only gets more romantic when, after nearly being crushed to death in the mynock-infested mouth of a giant space-slug, Han takes Leia to safety in the Cloud City of Bespin, only to be betrayed to the Empire by his best friend, turned into a tabletop, and sold to another giant space-slug on the far side of the galaxy. Meanwhile, on a much smaller scale, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), everyone’s favorite comedic duo, are separated and forced to survive mostly on their own – unintentionally mirroring each other’s hijinks from across the galaxy.

In Empire, we also get our first hint of Leia’s importance to the story and her mysterious connection to Luke, as she taps into the Force to see him hanging from the underbelly of Cloud City, just in time to rescue him (and yet we still pretend that Leia using the Force in The Last Jedi was a retcon). She is, of course, the infamous “another” that Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) spoke of – the Skywalker who would outlive and outlast Luke, and maybe – just maybe – save the entire universe in its darkest hour. Since Empire, that has been Leia’s established destiny: her character arc, from those first few moments of force-sensitivity, has been leading her to a confrontation with the Dark Side, just like her brother. It’s no secret anymore that, if Carrie Fisher had not tragically passed away in 2016, she would probably have been revealed to be a Jedi in The Rise Of Skywalker, getting her very own lightsaber and wielding the Force. Depending on how much footage director J.J. Abrams was able to use of her in this film, she still might do some of that – but it’s hard to believe that we’ll see a conclusion to her story that doesn’t disappoint, considering what could have been.

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Well, that’s depressing. So…um…space battles, anyone?

Empire features some of the franchise’s most impressive action sequences, from the siege of Hoth (featuring one of my favorite Star Wars droids, the Viper probe) to the incredible, gravity-defying lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the Cloud City engine rooms, where words cut just as deep as weapons. It also introduced the world to bounty hunters like Boba Fett, who was so epic, he actually made a deal with Darth Vader to have Han Solo turned into a carbonite table and shipped to Jabba the Hutt in a flying iron, before being pushed into a Sarlacc pit on Tatooine and eaten…okay, forgive me for asking, but why did we all collectively decide to idolize Boba Fett? We’ve all been wondering why The Mandalorian is a pretty boring character, but has it occurred to anyone that they were never all that interesting? If I’m being honest, I was always more intrigued by that weird insectoid bounty hunter who showed up in one scene – who apparently was named Zuckuss? Yeah, I cared more about a bug-man named Zuckuss than I ever did about Boba Fett. Or his flying iron. Is no one going to explain why his spaceship was designed to look like an iron?

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Boba Fett’s iron isn’t the only weird thing about Empire, a movie that also features: Luke being abducted by a yeti and shoved into the stomach of a space kangaroo; Muppets from space twenty years before Muppets From Space; and Darth Vader’s bizarrely well-choreographed surprise dinner party. But I’m willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy this deliciously unpredictable morsel of a movie – one that makes you want to wash it down with a tall glass of Last Jedi; the only other movie in the Star Wars…(frantically searches for a word describing a group of nine)…nonad that mixes wonderment, drama and originality so perfectly.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Star Wars: A New Hope” Review!

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.

(Before we begin, be aware that I’m going through the list by order of release date: I understand that George Lucas wanted movies 4, 5 and 6 to be movies 1, 2 and 3 and to be treated as such – but they’re not good enough to warrant that distinction. Sorry, George).

Star Wars: A New Hope

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The movie that started it all: not just the opening chapter in the story of the Skywalker family and their tumultuous game of tug-of-war between opposing sides of the Force, but also the movie that birthed Hollywood’s current blockbuster trend (apart from the prequels, which were crushed under the hairy heels of hobbits, every Star Wars movie in the Skywalker Saga has been the highest-grossing movie in the year of its release). Star Wars is one of the defining checkpoints in cinematic history, and it will always have that distinction – few other films have shaped the entertainment industry, and pop culture in general, in the way that Star Wars did. Even in the days before the internet and social media, the film permeated every aspect of society, spawning merchandise, mantras, mannerisms, and that notorious Christmas special that George Lucas wants you to forget about. It makes Rise Of Skywalker all the more frightening – for the first time in forty-two years, the Star Wars franchise will have no clear direction, no overarching story, no Skywalker to follow into the future.

But as that future is still more than a week away, let us savor this moment of blissful ignorance and return to the craggy deserts of Tatooine, a remote planet nestled in a forgotten corner of the Outer Rim, somewhere long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away – an inconspicuous space rock that, for whatever reason birthed the Star Wars franchise’s most iconic hero and villain. The harsh sand is illuminated by the planet’s dual suns (duality is Star Wars‘ most constant theme: make a note of that), and crawling with Jawas, Tusken Raiders, and the handful of moisture farmers who call the desert home. It’s probably the most iconic locale in all of science-fiction. But after all this time, surely both Tatooine’s rugged charm and Luke Skywalker’s simplistic journey to heroism have been antiquated by the deluge of even larger, more epic sci-fi stories that erupted in the film’s wake?

Nope. That is to say: yes, some parts of A New Hope maybe aren’t quite as spectacular and compelling as they were in 1977 – but all in all, the film is still extremely entertaining, ridiculously fun, and brilliantly unique. There are things I love about the movie – there are also things that I strongly dislike. And, in a couple of situations, there are things which would work, but don’t anymore because of the events of other Star Wars movies. Let’s run through the list.

What is still great about A New Hope? So much. But above anything else – the film’s story. I called it simplistic, and it is: but it’s archetypal, so it has to be. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was never a very complex character in the original film – he was the standard white male protagonist whose inferior knockoffs have since infested every inch of genre fiction. Morally pure but headstrong, loyal but self-doubting, readily equipped with magic sword and grappling hook but pacifistic nevertheless (okay, the grappling hook is actually one of Luke’s more unique accessories: shamefully, it was only ever used once). Most of the ensemble cast are also fairly ordinary: the rogue with a heart of gold, the princess, the mentor figure unwillingly called out of retirement, the bumbling comic relief characters. And the film never does anything particularly unexpected or extraordinary with any of them – they go about their quest, and achieve it with a minimum amount of casualties (except for the mentor, of course: the mentor always dies). But there’s nothing wrong with a classic Hero’s Journey, and A New Hope arguably tells it better than almost any other example out there. And you have to first build a myth if you’re going to start deconstructing it.

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A New Hope also does a good job of disguising the fact that its characters are archetypes: for example, while Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is technically a “damsel in distress”, she never actually stresses or cracks under pressure. She resists the interrogations and torture methods employed upon her by the greatest Sith Lord in the universe, and even dares to lie to Grand Moff Tarkin (the fabulous Peter Cushing) in order to buy time for her friends: and once freed from prison, she grabs herself a blaster gun and takes part in the action. As soon as she returns to her Rebel hideout, she takes the reins and orchestrates the daredevil raid on the Death Star. And of course, she was the person entrusted with the Death Star plans in the first place.

And even if monomyths and archetypes are too cliché for some, they’re made new and invigorating by the story’s bold, high-concept sci-fi – a genre which has largely been synonymous with Star Wars ever since the first film’s release. George Lucas could easily have adapted the sleek, shiny, futuristic look of Star Trek into his own universe: but instead, he chose to go for a more realistic “used future”, one full of grit, grime, and rebel scum. This same basic principle – that a fantasy universe should and could feel lived-in, with a little help from a willing crew of craftspeople, costume designers and prop-makers –  would later be adopted by Peter Jackson when making The Lord Of The Rings, which is why I felt it was necessary to add to my list.

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Building off of that: spaceships and aliens. From the film’s opening shot (which has been mirrored and referred back to many times since), Star Wars has always been, at least partially, about building bigger and bigger spaceships and then finding ways to blow them up – after all, there wouldn’t be any star war to speak of if the Empire didn’t have a gazillion TIE-fighters and star destroyers, or if the Rebellion wasn’t armed with their battered fleet of X-Wings (and one Millennium Falcon). A New Hope has some great scenes in space, and some incredible spaceships – not to mention the mighty Death Star, a weapon of mass destruction that would be a lot more intimidating if it wasn’t basically the only idea the Empire ever had. Every ship in Star Wars, whether built to weather the sands of Tatooine or the cold void of space, has its own little quirks and characteristics: even if it’s often impossible to remember every spaceship’s name (the Falcon, Tantive IV, um…), they’re all still easily distinguishable.

The aliens, while undoubtedly being some of Star Wars‘ most iconic characters, are rather few and far between in A New Hope. With each new movie in the franchise, the Rebellion has become more and more diverse, but the original film’s trusty team of fighter pilots consisted entirely of white men. Chewbacca the Wookie (Peter Mayhew) is the only alien present in the film’s epic finale (and it feels mean to call him an alien: Chewie is part of the family). This is something that feels even weirder when you consider that the crew of pilots and soldiers in Rogue One (which is set only about a week before the events of A New Hope) is much more diverse, with women, people of color, and aliens all piloting spaceships and taking part in the Rebellion. But there are enough aliens packed into the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine to fill roughly thirty who’s-who books: Figrin D’an and his groovy band, the Modal Nodes; Greedo, the rubbery green rat who may or may not have shot first (more on that in a moment); Jawas, furtive junk-traders and robbers eternally swaddled in dark robes; the barbaric Tusken Raiders, who are indirectly responsible for Darth Vader; and of course, the mighty Jabba the Hutt, who was digitally added into the film during one of George Lucas’ many attempts to retouch the original trilogy with fancier special effects.

And now we have to get into the bad stuff: specifically, the awkward mishmash of VFX and practical effects that Lucas’ tampering is responsible for – in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, not content with allowing the original films to age gracefully, Lucas, who was at that point busy suffocating his prequel trilogy in horrendous CGI nonsense, decided to go back and insert some of his new favorite ingredient into the older films: the result is…unfortunate, to say the least. Not only because the CGI is bad, inconsistent, and messily applied, but also because it robs A New Hope of a lot of its charm. Is it kind of silly that spaceships and entire planets explode into sparkling smoke in the original film? Yes, of course: for example, it’s a bit of a downgrade to go from watching 2016’s Rogue One (which, again, is set only a few days before A New Hope), which does a great job of displaying the Death Star’s horrific powers – to the original Death Star, which just zaps planets out of existence in two seconds with a pyrotechnics flash, before itself being zapped. But that wasn’t even the only sort of thing that George Lucas was interested in changing: apparently dissatisfied with the story he had crafted, he also edited scenes differently to present different narratives – which is how we ended up with the “Han shot first” debacle.

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The “Han shot first” debacle is the Star Wars fandom’s equivalent of “do Balrogs have wings?”, or “how did Steve return the Soul Stone?”. Back in 1977, it wasn’t even a question: when Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was accosted by the green space alien mercenary Greedo (Paul Blake) in the Mos Eisley cantina, he undeniably shot first, before Greedo had a chance to move. And for most people, that was perfectly fine: it was totally in character for the rogue, and it was a cool, tense scene. But for George Lucas, it painted Han Solo as a merciless killer, so he tinkered with it to add in a few frames where Greedo shoots first, missing Han (which doesn’t even make sense, considering he was sitting about two feet away from him), and giving Han justification for firing back. In 2004, Lucas changed it again, having both Han and Greedo fire at the same time, with Han somehow dodging Greedo’s shot. And now, the controversy has been stirred up again by the Disney+ version of the film, which gives Greedo an added line of dialogue, in which he threatens Han with the menacing word “maclunkey” before shooting. The debacle has sparked outrage on both sides of the argument: Lucas claims that it was always meant to be that way (despite original scripts proving otherwise); Paul Blake is outraged that his character shot first, saying it makes Greedo look pathetic for missing at such short range; and Harrison Ford doesn’t know or care who shot first. The question of which version is “right” is bound to linger for many more years to come. For more info on the subject, you can check out Wikipedia’s entire article on “Han shot first”.

Lucas’ meddling has done a great deal of damage to the franchise: the attempt to blend the styles of the first two trilogies into one cohesive whole isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it doesn’t work; Lucas’ insistence that 1977 audiences accidentally fell in love with only “half a completed film” feels like a slap in the face to the franchise’s earliest fans; and his eventual decision to step away from Star Wars entirely seems, in hindsight, like sore losing, as if he can’t quite understand that his films don’t need to be 100% perfect in order to be good. They’re beloved classics already: they should remain classic.

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So does A New Hope still hold up after all this time? I think that, if you can look past the film’s very few flaws (most of which are the fault of George Lucas’ perfectionism), then you’ll find that the very first Star Wars movie is still one of the franchise’s very best. It’s not as visionary as The Empire Strikes Back or The Last Jedi, nor even as complex as The Revenge Of The Sith, but it’s still just as much (if not more) fun than all three of those entries.

Movie Rating: 8.5/10

The Mystery Of Dark Rey…

In an otherwise largely uneventful day at the D23 Expo (you know, if you ignore Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt trying to outdo each other with dramatic entrances), Star Wars was the main talking-point: while not even a snippet of the new Rise of Skywalker footage has leaked online, it’s still all that the internet is discussing – specifically, the final shot of this unseen footage, which apparently shows a major protagonist wavering between the Light and the Dark.

I guess I should include a warning for potential spoilers, but all of this footage is expected to officially drop on Monday – so I don’t know if you should be too worried about it. And, yes, that also means that I’m rather premature with this news, but it’s one of the few things we have to talk about that will make for an interesting post today.

So what am I talking about? Well, apparently, the Star Wars presentation at D23 revealed a few things to the audience of several thousand fans: apart from a brand-new poster that looks epic, director J.J. Abrams also showed a brief sizzle reel of footage from the upcoming installment in the franchise, which is expected to be the last in the forty-year long Skywalker Saga. And so it was that those spectators got to witness a shocking reveal: Rey, the unwavering heroine of the franchise’s last two entries, might be reconsidering her values and moral code.

She was apparently seen dressed in a black cloak with a hood, holding a double-bladed red lightsaber that apparently strongly resembles the one carried by Darth Maul, the central antagonist of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. While we can’t yet know for certain what this means, there are already hundreds of theories floating around the internet. Some believe it’s merely a trick: that this scene is probably only part of a vision or nightmare-sequence which will end up having no real impact in the film itself. Others, however, are rather less cynical: Rey could be the daughter of Darth Maul, apparently, or even the daughter of the long-dead Emperor Palpatine, who will be making a comeback in some form for this film. She and her nemesis/possible love interest Kylo Ren might switch sides, with Rey becoming an embittered Sith Lord while Ren joins the Jedi. She could be using this appearance as a disguise, in order to work her way up through the ranks of the First Order. Palpatine could be manipulating her. There’s endless possibilities.

Some of them make sense, some don’t. For instance, the theory that Ren and Rey switch, while very cool, could seem contrived: yes, Rey was obsessed with that weird evil cave on Luke’s island in The Last Jedi, but she hasn’t ever seemed interested in the dark side or the ways of the Sith – she’s been mostly focused on trying to lure Kylo Ren over to the light, in fact. So changing that now could result in an outcry similar to that which followed the decision to randomly turn Game of Thrones‘ heroine, Daenerys, into a psychotic genocidal war criminal for no apparent reason other than that it looked cool and justified her being murdered at the end of the show. And in both cases, it would be a female protagonist who gets retconned to be evil – not a good look for Star Wars, just as it wasn’t a good look for Game of Thrones. As for Kylo: well, he’s stared longingly at the light many times before, and he seems like he might be doubting his lifestyle choices, but making the jump to the Jedi is a big commitment – something that doesn’t seem like it could be adequately covered in a single film.

Me, I’m actually ever so slightly more concerned about another shot from the footage: supposedly, a glimpse of C-3PO with glowing red eyes, implying that the lovable droid is also heading down a dark path. We’ve seen evil droids in Star Wars before, but never one that actively chooses to pursue a career with the Dark Side (correct me if I’m wrong, hardcore Star Wars fans). And if he gets hacked and destroyed by agents of the First Order, I swear to Yoda I will boycott.

So what do you think? What’s Rey doing? Is she Sith or not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!