“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 7 Review!

If this seventh and final season of The Clone Wars were the normal length of twenty-two episodes, I would probably be more willing to excuse the aimless, roundabout nature of this seventh episode, Dangerous Debt. But as it is, the long-running series only has six more episodes left: we simply don’t have time to bring the story to a standstill – especially not now, right after last week’s exciting, suspenseful installment in the voyages of Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) and the Martez sisters.

As I guessed, today’s episode opens with the three characters trapped in a Pyke Syndicate prison chamber, while the Pykes take turns torturing them for information about the missing spice that Trace Martez (Brigitte Kali) dumped from her starship in an angry rage last week. Obviously, they make attempts to escape – and the results are…well, questionable. But without getting into spoilers yet, let’s discuss what makes this episode at least decent – in fact, right up until the end, it shows every sign of being a very good chapter in what is proving to be an excellent story.

Clone Wars Ahsoka
slashfilm.com

As with last week’s episode, the unexpected core of this Clone Wars story arc is the dynamic between Ahsoka and the Martez sisters, both of whom have very different opinions on her (which lends itself to particularly snappy, back-and-forth arguments between all three of them). Trace, trying to emulate her dead mother’s compassion, gives the Jedi-turned-rogue a shoulder to lean on, while her more brusque and practical older sister Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is naturally suspicious of Ahsoka’s surprising talents and intelligence. When the Martez sisters entered the picture, I’ll admit I was worried: at first, they seemed one-dimensional and a little boring. But that’s not the case anymore – we keep finding out new details about them, their personalities and their complex worldviews, and each one is more interesting than the last. I’m hoping we don’t abandon them and their storylines before the end of the series.

As for Ahsoka, this is some of the best material she’s ever been given: despite being forced to hide her identity from everyone around her, the former Jedi is still put in dangerous situations where the only thing she can do is use her Force-training to protect herself and her friends – which results in a lot more suspicion from Rafa Martez, who seems more perceptive of these incidents than her younger sister. But Ahsoka gets extra incentive not to reveal the truth about her past in this week’s episode, which shows us that Rafa and Trace’s hatred of the Jedi Order is very, very personal.

One disappointing aspect of Ahsoka’s character in this final season is that, because she herself is no longer the showy, flashy warrior she used to be, her fighting style has evolved to reflect that: now, her action sequences are quick, punchy and, for the most part, grounded – which might not be so shocking if Ahsoka hadn’t been the character deemed most likely to use unnecessary acrobatic skills in combat in previous seasons. If this is an intentional decision made to underscore Ahsoka’s journey, I appreciate it – if not, I can’t see why they would change something that had been such an important fixture of the character’s persona.

Overall, however, this episode is nowhere near as good as last week’s – and that comes down to one glaring issue, which I will address in today’s SPOILER section! You’ve been warned.

Clone Wars
denofgeek.com

Ahsoka, Trace and Rafa start the episode in prison. They also end the episode in prison – in fact, in the very same prison cell. The purpose for their short-lived escapade seems to have been so that the Mandalorian Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) could spot them fleeing through the city. Will she be the one to break them out of the Pyke dungeons next week? Maybe, but why couldn’t she do that…today? It’s not like we still have more than half of the series left to finish the story of the Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano, and the rest of this beloved ensemble cast: we only have a couple of episodes left, and we just wasted one on a story that took us full-circle.

The episode seems to have been intended as an introspective one, where Rafa and Trace could see Ahsoka in a new light, and vice versa. But the effort to achieve that effect falls flat too – not because Rafa’s reveal that Jedi killed their parents after deciding that taking a few lives was better than risking many more is a bad idea (in fact, it’s an awesome concept, because Ahsoka knows that it’s what the Jedi would, in fact, do), but because the excessively long and detailed speech in which she reveals this is composed of dry, emotionless exposition. After suffering through it, I was hoping that Rafa would throw in some witty one-liner to at least make the scene worthwhile: no such luck. Other than that, it’s a cool reveal, and it further convinces Ahsoka to hide her true identity – something that won’t be possible when she and the Martez sisters (hopefully) run into Bo-Katan, who knows Ahsoka was a Jedi, and, in fact, had memorable fights with her in previous seasons, when the two fought on opposing sides of the Clone Wars.

Oh yeah, and the Clone Wars themselves? Once again, relegated to the background. Once again, this wouldn’t be a problem if the series were longer and could devote more time to those wars, but it’s not, so every minute we spend away from the battlefront is time we’re losing – I’m not willing to make exceptions just because we’re spending time instead with Ahsoka, Trace and Rafa, regardless of how fun they are. Fingers crossed that Bo-Katan does rescue them next week, and gets them entangled in the tumultuous civil war currently raging on her home planet of Mandalore, bringing them (and us, the viewers) back to the forefront of the Clone Wars.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 4.9/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 6 Review!

For some, I’m sure it’s a bit of a disappointment that the final season of The Clone Wars has so far devoted less time to the Clone Wars than the interpersonal dynamics of our main characters, with small-scale, introspective interludes providing insight into our heroes’ motives and agendas. So far, there’s only been a handful of battles, and for the most part they too have been smaller than in previous seasons.

But while I too felt the same way, my feelings on the current season have changed since watching today’s episode: as far as The Clone Wars stories go, this is one of the best I’ve seen – not because of showy action-scenes (there are none!) or shocking revelations concerning Star Wars lore, but because of the fascinating relationships between the core trio in this new story arc, and the surprising depth and complexity of their motivations.

The Clone Wars
meaww.com

Once again, I have to hand it to Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein): the Jedi padawan turned exiled Coruscant rogue has always been one of The Clone Wars‘ greatest weapons in its fight to maintain relevance and pop culture significance – her lovable character, burdened as she is with regret, sadness and longing, touched our heartstrings when she made the bold decision to leave the Jedi Order, after being framed for a horrible crime and forced to turn against her friends. Now, stuck in the criminal underworld far below the surface of Coruscant, Ahsoka relies on her wits and social skills to carry her expertly through even the most dangerous situations.

Joining her for the ride (or rather, inviting her on the ride in the first place) are sisters Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and Trace Martez (Brigitte Kali), a tough, wise-cracking duo. I found both characters to be mildly interesting in last week’s episode, which introduced viewers and Ahsoka to them for the first time, but now, with much better writing, both women come off as clearly defined, charismatic characters. Rafa, the older of the two, endangers them all when she enters into a risky bargain with the Pyke Crime Syndicate, which involves a journey through hyperspace to the planet Kessel (an important location in Han Solo’s origin story as a smuggler), but her heart is in the right place and she made the deal to try and buy herself and her sister an escape ticket from Coruscant. Trace and Ahsoka, who have developed a very close bond during their time together, quickly become entangled in the bargain as Rafa’s plan begins to unravel, with Trace having to pilot her work-in-progress starship The Silver Angel to carry out Rafa’s illegal scheme – and Ahsoka having to use all her Jedi training to figure out a way to keep the trio safe.

This task is made more difficult because Ahsoka is currently trying to keep her past a secret, especially since discovering that, in Coruscant’s lower levels, Jedi are looked upon as a corrupt police force prone to violence: when pressed about how she knows so much about everything from starship engineering to the political situation on Kessel, Ahsoka has to come up with more and more elaborate explanations – one of her best excuses is when she claims she graduated from “Skywalker Academy” in the upper levels of Coruscant. Another fabulously constructed moment involves Ahsoka nearly running into her former Jedi master by chance when Trace Martez accidentally steers her amateur ship directly into a military flight lane, prompting Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and Admiral Yularen (Tom Kane) to question the ship’s crew over the radio. But it’s Anakin who tells the Admiral to back down when he reaches out into the Force and senses Ahsoka on the ship. The moment is absolutely heartbreaking: but Ahsoka’s subsequent silence only reinforces the divide between the two characters, who were once as close as siblings. Later in the episode, Ahsoka has no qualms about making a pointed jab at the Republic she used to serve for not shutting down the slave-worked spice mines of Kessel.

The Clone Wars
cheatsheet.com

Nonetheless, despite how cleverly Ahsoka is able to disguise herself, it’s very clear that Rafa has her doubts about the Martez sisters’ new working partner. She drives a wedge between Trace and Ahsoka’s close friendship, which in turn causes them to argue, which then leads to…well, SPOILERS.

Basically, the end result of the episode is that Trace Martez dumps three-thousand credits worth of quality Kessel spice into the void of hyperspace, an action she quickly regrets after she realizes she was misinterpreting Ahsoka’s “ethical argument”. Ahsoka, for her part, might have been wise to clarify that when she said she didn’t want to hand over spice to the Pykes, that didn’t actually mean she wanted to get rid of the spice entirely. But when the trio do come face to face with the Pyke Crime Syndicate at the end of the episode, it’s Ahsoka who briefly saves them all when she utilizes a hasty Jedi mind trick against the Pyke leader – which would have worked, had there not been other Pykes present: we leave our heroines stuck in a Pyke tractor beam, their escape plan foiled, their futures uncertain. Will Ahsoka be revealed as a Jedi in next week’s episode, as the three women presumably find themselves locked up in a Pyke prison? Will Rafa and Trace ride Ahsoka’s coattails to freedom, or devise their own plan? We must wait and see.

What did you think of this episode of The Clone Wars? Personally, I’d say it’s been my favorite of the final season so far, but I’m hoping the series can find a way to outdo itself next week. Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 9/10

“The Clone Wars” Season 7, Episode 5 Review!

Not a whole lot actually happens in the fifth episode of The Clone Wars, and the Clone Wars themselves might as well be background noise barely audible over the clamor of Coruscant’s criminal underworld, but that doesn’t make this episode forgettable or weak. How could it be, when it features the long (and I mean long) awaited return of fan-favorite Ahsoka Tano?

After the turbulent events that caused Ahsoka Tano (voiced once again by Ashley Eckstein) to abandon the Jedi Order, the former Clone Wars commander and optimistic padawan has found herself living a miserable life in the depths of Coruscant’s lower levels, where she operates a malfunctioning speeder bike – a far cry from the days when she piloted entire fleets of Republic warriors. In this small-scale episode, Tano teams up with the Martez sisters, Trace (Brigitte Kali) and Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez), two struggling mechanics trying to navigate a dangerous world of smugglers, crime bosses and villains, after crash-landing into their repair shop.

Ahsoka Tano The Clone Wars
collider.com

The episode gives us a great opportunity to see the Clone Wars through the eyes of the ordinary civilians whose lives have been affected by it: Ahsoka soon discovers that Trace and Rafa, for instance, are no fans of the Jedi Order. In their eyes (and, clearly, in the eyes of many), the Jedi are a brutal police force responsible for most of the galaxy’s wars and problems. Ahsoka was already undercover and on the run from her past, but the revelation that her new friends would view her as a murderer and warmonger if they knew her true identity only adds to the insane amount of pressure on her shoulders.

Ahsoka has always been one of The Clone Wars‘ most brilliant fighters, so it’s a bit of a shame that she only gets one action sequence in this episode – and it’s both brief and one-sided. Much more notable is her vague comment about having learned these exceptional martial arts skills from her “older brother”, which will bring to mind happier times when Ahsoka used to be Anakin Skywalker’s young, inexperienced apprentice. She’s come a long way, and her journey is still only just beginning.

Ahsoka Tano The Clone Wars
collider.com

There are no noteworthy spoilers from this episode. Of course, there’s a little bit of conflict – and a couple of fun moments where Ahsoka has to find ways to explain her profound knowledge of droid warfare that don’t include any mention of her once being a military leader – but other than that there’s not much to say about this charming little interlude in the final chapter of the Clone Wars. I would definitely have appreciated a couple of cameos from some of Coruscant’s most notable scum, such as the ex-Sith antiheroine Asajj Ventress or even Cadmus Bane and company.

Overall, however, Ashoka Tano’s return is a win, maybe because the episode is so much smaller in scale than what we’re used to, and so much more introspective and quiet. That reflects how Ahsoka has changed since we saw her choose to leave the Jedi Order because she could no longer trust them to do the right thing: she’s quieter, more reserved, and less outgoing and exuberant than she was when she believed in a higher purpose. On her own, fighting for herself and with no faith to turn to, she’s still figuring out who she is. Maybe next week’s episode will give us a clearer insight into what that might be.

What did you think of the fifth episode of The Clone Wars? What do you want Ahsoka to do next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 5.8/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 4 Review!

In its fourth episode, the final season of The Clone Wars expands the scope while simultaneously scaling back the action that was so extraordinary last week, resulting in a slow-paced, uneventful story that doesn’t quite seem to know where to focus: on the Bad Batch team, whose debut in the season premiere made them instant favorites in the series fandom; or on Echo (who, like all Clones, is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), whose journey from being a frostbitten Separatist puppet to regaining his former status among the Grand Army of the Republic has been a strangely underwhelming one.

Clone Wars
denofgeek.com

In this episode, the mission led by Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) to rescue Echo from the clutches of the Techno Union is revealed to have been successful: all the main characters are reunited and focused on delivering a crushing blow to the Separatist forces led by Admiral Trench (Dee Bradley Baker). And what’s more, they have Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) and Mace Windu (TC Carson) with them, giving the Jedi a strong presence in this episode that you would think would lend itself to cool lightsaber battles: alas, that is not the case, as Skywalker stands on guard duty for most of the episode, while Kenobi and Windu basically stand still and deflect laser bolts (though I have to give a shout-out to Windu for trying to convince the Separatist droids to surrender in what was ultimately an unsuccessful, but endearing, moment: I particularly liked how it gave us an insight into how tired and war-weary Windu and the other Jedi are as the Clone Wars drag on).

But while the Jedi are sidelined, the Clones themselves still get a scattering of great character moments: Echo is technically the focus, as the former Separatist prisoner struggles to gain his team’s trust, but it’s the Bad Batch who make a stronger impression, particularly Wrecker and Crosshair, who compete to destroy the most droids, leading to some of the best action sequences the episode has to offer. On the other hand, there’s Captain Rex, who just seems to be taking time away from other, more compelling, members of his team: despite being the character who initially cooked up the plan to rescue Echo, he has been completely ignored and overlooked ever since. I’m hoping there’s still time for him to make a comeback as The Clone Wars moves into more unfamiliar territory.

Now we move on into SPOILERS! And there’s actually two major ones – or at least, one which is major mainly because of what it signifies, and another which I really hope is major but also might not be depending on where the series goes from here.

Admiral Trench
inverse.com

The first is the death of Admiral Trench. A long-time The Clone Wars villain, Trench has been a thorn in the Republic’s side ever since the Battle of Christophsis. His effective tactics and deadly precision made him a particularly ominous villain, as did his ability to cheat death on multiple occasions. But the Separatist commander made one fatal mistake: thinking that Anakin Skywalker, like the rest of his Jedi brethren, would refrain from killing him. In a thrilling – but also brutal – moment of Darth Vader foreshadowing, Anakin sliced off a number of the Admiral’s arms before viciously impaling him. In the long run, this isn’t likely to be a major event: Admiral Trench was a notable villain, but he wasn’t exactly General Grievous or Count Dooku. This is more significant because it means we’re finally going to see the Separatist ranks whittled down as the series comes to its close. We’re in the endgame now.

Then there’s Echo, who makes a decision in the final seconds of the episode to leave the Clone Army and join the Bad Batch. It’s a logical conclusion to his arc, considering that he’s not the same Clone he was before being plugged into a Separatist database and enhanced with mechanical limbs, but it comes as a total shock: much as I liked On The Wings Of Keeradaks, I feel like we deserved one more episode in between Echo’s escape from the Techno Union and his decision to join the Bad Batch: an episode that could have given us a better look into the range of emotions he must have been feeling, his inability to fit in with his former friends, and his instant camaraderie with the team of mutants. As it is, we have barely any time to go on that journey of self-discovery alongside him. I would love to see Echo return sometime before the end of the series, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

So what did you think of this episode of The Clone Wars? Will Echo and the Bad Batch return next week, or will we be moving on? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 5/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 3 Review!

We’re three episodes into The Clone Wars‘ final season on Disney+, and I’m finally beginning to see the appeal of the Bad Batch, whose team unit is the focus of this season’s first story arc. Today’s episode, On The Wings Of Keeradaks, is short (clocking in at just eighteen minutes) and simple, but has the benefit of being exquisitely animated, something that I feel this season’s first two episodes weren’t. With the same fluid, graceful cinematography that made the series’ earlier seasons so iconic and beloved among animation fans, this episode shows off the many ways in which the Jedi Order’s unique fighting techniques can be used to great effect onscreen (something that the Star Wars films, despite having considerably more resources available to them, have often fallen short of achieving).

Last week, we left off with our protagonists, whose mission is led by the legendary Jedi general Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter), trapped in the Skako Minor citadel of the Techno Union, having just successfully rescued their long-lost friend and comrade Echo (who, like all Clones, is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker). Now, they fight to escape from the clutches of the Separatist commander Wat Tambor (Matthew Wood), who unleashes a number of exciting new weapons upon them in an effort to reclaim the Clone – whose brain, as you may remember, was steadily feeding the Separatist war effort with inside information about the Republic’s military strategies.

The Clone Wars
denofgeek.com

As the title suggests, our heroes fight back with some interesting methods of their own, which includes employing the aid of the winged dragons known as Keeradaks, who showed up in last week’s episode alongside a new species of Star Wars aliens known as Poletecans. Surprisingly, though I wrote them off last week as seeming superfluous, these aliens do actually have a purpose.

Specifically, they are crucial to the episode’s climax, which simultaneously thrills the eye with swooping camera movements (complemented by Anakin’s similarly elegant leaps, fighting moves and usage of the Force) and relieves my fears that this season would tone down the series’ relatively aggressive action sequences. People get hurt in battle, and some of them happen to die: and that’s something from which previous seasons of The Clone Wars never shied away. Thankfully, even under the Disney banner, people still get hurt in Star Wars battles, and Clones and droids, unlike the stormtroopers of later years, actually know how to aim (I’d be ashamed if they couldn’t, considering one of the most prominent members of the Bad Batch team so far is an expert sniper literally named Crosshair). However, not everything will fly past Disney’s censors: a scene deemed too violent for the streaming service was supposedly cut from this week’s episode. It was non-essential, so I’ll let it go, but it’s unfortunate that The Clone Wars‘ creators have to work with Disney breathing down their back.

Now for some SPOILERS! Haven’t seen the episode yet? Then turn away, because we’re about to discuss a couple of small but significant surprises.

The Clone Wars
laughingplace.com

Firstly, though they’re probably not important to the overall plot and we’ll probably never see them again, I have to admit that I loved the new Separatist droids seen defending Wat Tambor’s castle on Skako Minor. The reveal that they fly – and on glassy, rainbow-colored wings, no less – was genuinely shocking and gave the Bad Batch a completely unforeseen new obstacle. Basically, this was how I should have felt about the flying stormtroopers in The Rise Of Skywalker but didn’t, because stormtroopers are underwhelming no matter how many times they get overused. Droids themselves have been underwhelming on occasion even in The Clone Wars, but this twist was fun and completely unexpected. The fact that these droids moved like prehistoric birds even while walking probably didn’t hurt their image either.

The episode teased us with some fake-out deaths: we nearly said goodbye to Wat Tambor after the Separatist leader was caught in the explosion of one of his new super-weapons (itself an exciting cross between a bomb and the sadistic interrogation droid from A New Hope), and I thought that Wrecker, another Bad Batch member, was done for on a few occasions. I still feel his days are numbered, in fact.

As for Echo, I have to imagine his story is just beginning: the Clone easily walks off the effects of being locked in a cryogenic compartment for a year or two, and seems to know his way around Tambor’s citadel pretty well. Could he be hiding something? Will he have a part to play in the action that will unfold in the very near future, as the Sith and Jedi collide? We’ll just have to wait and see.

What did you think of the third episode of The Clone Wars? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 8.5/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 2 Review!

The Clone Wars‘ final season has the unfortunate burden of having to start its thirteen-episode run with a story arc that was revealed to the public some years ago, before it was known that a seventh season would be developed to close out the hit TV series’ long and impressive tenure on the screen. The “Bad Batch” saga, which got off to an okay start in last week’s episode, doesn’t have the element of surprise going for it, and thus there’s very little for fans to talk about yet – though before long, we should get into uncharted territory with events like the Siege of Mandalore, and a retelling of the Jedi Purge through the eyes of characters like Ahsoka Tano.

But for now, we have to get through the “Bad Batch” arc. Thankfully, this second episode ups the ante and gives us a bit more action, as well as a welcome dose of drama, with small, quiet moments between characters allowing us more time and reason to sympathize with them and their individual plights – whether that’s Captain Rex (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, as are all the Clone Troopers) covering up for his friend Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) while the Jedi tries unsuccessfully to hide his relationship with his secret wife Padme Amidala (Catherine Taber), in what has to be the episode’s most touching and humorous moment; or something as small as the Bad Batch’s strongman Wrecker revealing, and then working past, his fear of heights. This episode has time to breathe, something that is hard to achieve in just twenty-four minutes, but which The Clone Wars used to excel at, in its heyday. I’m tentatively beginning to hope that may be the case with the rest of the season’s episodes, too, even once we get past this recycled material.

The Clone Wars
usatoday.com

There’s still a surprising lack of action, even with two Separatist antagonists – Admiral Trench (Dee Bradley Baker) and Wat Tambor (Matthew Wood) standing in the Clones’ way as they break into the prison facilities on Skako Minor to try and rescue their long-lost Clone companion, Echo. As in last week’s episode, the sniper Crosshair is still the Bad Batch’s most visually-interesting character, and he gets a couple more opportunities to shine here, even single-handedly taking on a very random squad of dinosaur-flying aliens.

Aliens are a bit of a mixed bag in The Clone Wars: you get some really good ones, and then you get the ones who are usually described as “primitive” and whose exposition-heavy monologues have to be manually translated by other characters – a job that is best left to C-3PO, who at least gives his line-readings some sassy attitude. On the other hand, the use of translators does help to make the series more realistic, and adds a valuable lesson about linguistic diversity, so I’m not going to complain about this too much. I will, however, note that the aliens in this episode fall into the latter category, and, considering how little they do to advance the plot, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the minutes we spend watching their conversations get translated could have been used in other areas of the episode, particularly the end.

Spoiler Warning, but Captain Rex and his band of Clones find their missing friend Echo at the very end of the episode, as we knew they would. He’s frostbitten and hooked into a device that’s been using his mind to power the Separatist war effort, but he’s still alive. His extremely brief reunion with Rex is the only part of the episode that feels rushed, or at least could have been fleshed out a little more. However, there will be plenty of time for the two to catch each other up on everything that’s happened in the next episode, which will likely see the squadron trying to escape from Skako Minor.

What did you think of the episode? Are you enjoying the Bad Batch arc, or are you ready to move on? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 7/10

A New “Star Wars” Movie Has Been Announced!

Spoilers For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!

Palpatine, Rey, the Sith and Star Wars
elitedaily.com

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
slashfilm.com

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 Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 1 Review!

The Clone Wars returns

The long-running (and long-canceled) hit TV series The Clone Wars returns for its final season on Disney+ with a solid, if a bit wooden, pilot episode that gets the focus back on the Clones themselves. While the entire “Bad Batch” story arc that will kick off this season was written several years ago, this is the first time we’ve seen it played out onscreen: we’ll need to wait to see how it plays out before passing judgement, but for the moment we can assume that the clues and hints being dropped will lead to some pretty interesting interactions between our core cast of characters in the very near future.

The Clone Wars returns
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In the pilot, the Grand Army of the Republic, led by Jedi commanders Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) find themselves fighting Separatist droids using their own strategies against them. Captain Rex (who, like all Clones, is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), enlists the help of Clone Unit 99, known simply as the Bad Batch, after whom the pilot is titled, to sneak behind the enemy’s front lines and get to the truth. The Bad Batch’s tactics are unconventional, to say the least, as one would expect from a team comprised of “defective clones with desirable mutations”.

The few action sequences with the Bad Batch are simply okay, however. Since the Batch’s strength comes from their individuality, I would have liked to have seen each of the characters’ skills exploited in clever ways: but only Crosshair, the team’s ultra-precise sniper, gets anything resembling a cool hero moment. Wrecker, the strongman, should have had one when he carries a wounded soldier out of the wreckage of an explosion he caused (one which he prefaces with the word “Boom”, delivered appropriately deadpan), but the shot is strangely framed as a close-up of Wrecker’s face, preventing you from getting the full effect.

Most of my complaints about the episode stem from the editing, which I felt was lacking. Despite ostensibly being the most violent Clones to date, the episode is cautious when it comes to actually depicting that violence: in one scene that I feel I’m probably nitpicking way too much, a transport ship is shot down by enemy fire and crashes – but where was the customary reaction shot of the pilot letting loose one final Wilhelm scream? Such a shot would surely have been shown in earlier seasons, and the whole scene feels oddly incomplete without it. Considering that The Clone Wars has never shied away from showing characters get shot, eaten by alien monsters, cut down by lightsabers, or sucked into the vacuum of space, and had built a reputation (before its cancellation for exactly this reason) of telling mature stories with a kid-friendly twist, this feels like a very different approach to storytelling, and one with which I’m not comfortable yet. Then again, we’re only a single episode in and we haven’t reached what are sure to be some of the entire series’ darkest moments.

Overall, the episode is less focused on the action than it is on the mystery, which it sets up very effectively. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, and are concerned about the SPOILERS AHEAD, then read no further.

Rex’s suspicions about the Separatists are confirmed when he and the Bad Batch break into a cyber station and decode secret communications with a human on the planet Skako Minor, who has been feeding the Separatists top-secret battle strategies. Rex is quickly able to determine that this human is none other than his long-lost teammate Echo, who was believed to have died in the battle of Lola Sayu. The operation to rescue him from the clutches of the Separatists, and specifically the repulsive Admiral Trench (also voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), will be the focus of the next few episodes – after that, we’re all in the dark as to what comes next, and how The Clone Wars, after six incredible seasons, will wrap up this final chapter of the story.

What did you think of the episode, and what are you excited to see next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 5.9/10

“Locke & Key” Review!

Netflix’s Locke & Key opens a doorway into an expansive world of dark, cosmic magic that can only be described as deep: there are keys that lead to other keys, which open doors within doors, which then lead to puzzles, which connect back to clues, which are all supposed to interlock(e) – the problem comes toward the middle of the ten-part series, when it becomes clear that there’s no good way for everything to come together, because of a single plot point that splits the series’ focal point in two rapidly diverging directions, which never reunite (and never seem likely to, assuming there is a second season – there’s certainly set-up for one).

"Locke & Key" Review! 1
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Without getting into spoilers, I’ll explain it like this: after a couple of really strong episodes, Locke & Key introduces an idea that immediately forces the adult characters – including the series’ most compelling character, recovering alcoholic and traumatized widow Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) – and the teen or young adult characters – specifically her children, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) – to pursue two very different paths. The adults are left with many of the hard-hitting emotional and dramatic moments, but the kids have to awkwardly carry the horror/fantasy plotline to its conclusion. This divide is…uncomfortable, to say the least, and it also makes both parties look bad: the adults seem naive and negligent for barely ever interfering in their kids’ lives; the kids come off as idiotic and downright mean for never going to the adults for help or advice. And again, this is all because of one plot-point that is never even properly explained: this particular plot-point also seems oddly kiddish in a series that tries to be more edgy, dark and mature than it probably needs to be.

That darker vibe, while inconsistent, does allow for a somewhat memorable antagonist: the beautiful, haunting demon lurking in the well, whose actual name – “Dodge” – is far less threatening than either of her nicknames, “Well-Lady” or “Echo”. Portrayed by Laysla De Oliveira, the ancient demonic entity is able to do a fair bit of damage and wrack up an impressive kill-count, all with style and grace, even while being restricted by another very specific plot-point that forbids her from murdering absolutely everybody in her path towards…whatever it is she’s fighting for (it’s never actually explained what that is, making her sudden shift from “haunted house ghost” to “immortal Lovecraftian shadow goddess” inexplicable, yet still entertaining).

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Like Dodge, the entire series gets an upgrade about halfway through – which is both a blessing and a curse, as it simultaneously raises the stakes for all the protagonists while also closing the door on the fun, spooky treasure-hunt adventure that made the first few episodes so unique. The central trio of Locke children splits up, with the two older kids pursuing the main plot with their rapidly expanding group of high-school friends and enemies, while Bode (the most interesting of the three by far) is left at home, shoved to the sidelines, and kept in the dark…despite being the one who initially found the keys and unleashed Dodge. This series has a hard time remembering who its main characters are, at times. The high school story is intermittently dull, with subplots related to clam chowder, charity fundraisers, poorly-developed love triangles and generic bullies. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the sudden, strange decision to make the story all about Tyler Locke, the most boring, familiar, and downright annoying of the main trio (he seems to have a smoking addiction in the first episode, yet turns on his mother for drinking later in the series: hypocritical much, Tyler?) and the one who seems to have the least interest in the plot.

I might sound like I’m coming down hard on this show. But the series does have moments – sometimes even scenes – of true greatness: especially when it comes to the many inventive or witty ways in which the characters use their magic keys, either for good, evil, or stupid pranks. Kinsey using the Head Key to step inside her brain and battle it out with the personification of her own fears and insecurities? Excellent stuff. Dodge using the Anywhere Key to order breakfast at a small-town diner, go shopping at a high-end fashion mall, pull off a diamond-heist and attend a nightclub party all within a few moments? Fantastic. Anything involving the Ghost Key? Brilliant.

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Unfortunately, the scenes involving magic often require…magic, a.k.a. a CGI budget that this show clearly does not have at its disposal. The fight scenes with monsters, ghouls and demons are often all too brief, and darkly-lit (probably for the best, as the notable exception to this rule, involving a zombie-type creature attacking someone in broad daylight, looks painfully fake), while keys like the Matchstick and Ghost Key are used sparingly. This wouldn’t even be a problem if the series didn’t try to make itself larger than it had to be – when you’re just running around a spooky mansion, you don’t really need a whole bunch of special effects: when you’re on the brink of unleashing primordial powers from beyond the edge of the world into your small coastal town, that’s something else entirely.

Another issue with the magic system is that it never gets explained: why does it exist? Who made the keys, and why? What is Dodge? What is she doing? Who are the Lockes, and where did they come from? These are questions that are not only never answered, but never get raised in the first place. It’s not like there’s no reason to bring up any of these very important points: the Locke family are fighting to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, yet they never even seem to question how freaky and terrifying their lives have become. By the end of the series, they seem to have all nonchalantly settled down into a daily routine of nightmares, monstrous encounters in the woods, murderous escapees, demons breaking-and-entering, and a weirdly high number of people attacking each other with hammers (I mean, I get it, Nina is a carpenter and all, but are there no other available weapons in Keyhouse? They’ve got not one, but two wicked-looking swords mounted on the mantelpiece, and yet they choose hammers and plastic lightsabers to vend off intruders? Seriously?)

The series is fairly progressive, though fans of the original Locke & Key graphic novels will be disappointed to hear that Duncan Locke (Aaron Ashmore), an openly gay, happily married character in the comic, has a very small recurring role, and is nowhere shown to be gay, as he’s conveniently separated from his husband (whose name is, to be fair, mentioned once or twice) throughout the series.

All in all, Locke & Key has an amazing premise, and a couple of really good episodes: but it doesn’t take long before the plot, the characters and the entire series get lost in the dark. Will you find what you’re looking for amid the Gothic splendor of Keyhouse? I certainly hope so, because I feel like there’s potential somewhere in this story: potential that could be unlocked in a second season.

Series Rating: 5.9/10

“Captain Marvel 2” In The Works At Marvel!

To nobody’s surprise, the wildly successful Captain Marvel, released last March, is getting a sequel: the cosmic superhero film, Marvel Studios’ first to be headlined by a female hero, crossed into the billion-dollar club within a couple weeks, and introduced audiences to star Brie Larson as the sassy, headstrong Carol Danvers a month before her small but pivotal role in the mega-hit Avengers: Endgame. And while a tiny, toxic group of angry moviegoers complained that Larson and Danvers were “ruining Marvel”, most people simply ignored the loud discourse that surrounded the film’s release, and found Danvers and her supporting cast to be perfectly likable and fun: her movie was enjoyable, the writing was average (with a couple outstanding exceptions that I will defend to the death), and the directing was fine. Turns out, Carol Danvers was absolutely no different from many of her male Marvel co-stars – in that her debut movie was a strong, if safe, jumping-off point into future installments of her solo saga.

But now, with a new setting, a new screenwriter, and new directors, the Space Stone-powered heroine’s sequel movie could be something truly extraordinary: something that could prove once and for all why Danvers is the perfect candidate to lead the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the new decade. So let’s discuss everything we now know about Captain Marvel 2.

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It appears that Carol Danvers’ sequel will shake things up by giving us a change of scenery: while her origin movie was set in 1995, a couple years after the young fighter pilot was abducted by Kree aliens after absorbing the powers of an Infinity Stone, her second solo outing will take place in the present day (or, rather, the future day), after the events of Avengers: Endgame (which is set in the year 2023, in case you’ve forgotten). That means the Carol we see next will be an older, wiser Carol, a Carol who will have spent almost three decades traveling the stars, helping end wars across the galaxy. There’s no indication yet of who she’ll interact with in her sequel: will her best friend Maria Rambeau still be around to help her? Most importantly to comic-book fans, will Maria’s impressionable young daughter Monica have matured into the superhero known as Photon?

Considering who the sequel’s screenwriter is going to be, I’d guess the answer is “yes”. Megan McDonnell is supposedly set to write the scripts for Carol’s upcoming follow-up film, and her current credits include WandaVision, the hotly-anticipated Disney+ streaming series that will introduce a grown-up version of Monica Rambeau. Considering everything we now know about WandaVision, from the fact that it’s been fast-tracked for a late 2020 release, to the fact that its writers are now being moved into other key positions at Marvel, it looks like the series, which will star Elizabeth Olsen as a dangerously unbalanced Scarlet Witch, is going to be a big hit for the studio, and everybody involved with its production will probably leave with their heads held high.

Captain Marvel directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, on the other hand, may not be able to walk away from their tenure at Marvel with such honor – the directing duo are suspected to be moving on to other projects, and will not be helming Danvers’ sequel: Marvel is supposedly searching for a female director to take on the project, and guide it to its projected 2022 release date. Honestly, while I bear no ill will towards Boden and Fleck, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad idea: they didn’t do a bad job directing Captain Marvel, but they also didn’t do anything particularly new or invigorating – though, as I mentioned, I think the film does have some really good elements, including on-point humor, a subtly campy 90’s vibe, and strong performances. The sequel can do whatever it wants with that: it can go all Thor: The Dark World (a bad decision: don’t do that, Marvel) and double down on everything from the first film, or it can try for a more Thor: Ragnarok approach and branch out in a new direction, test the waters, give us a surprisingly fresh perspective on the character. Personally, I’d love to see Carol spend more time in space in her sequel, rather than moving about undercover on earth – that would also allow her to take on opponents her own size, and face some real challenges: since there’s probably very few villains on Earth who are going to stand a chance against her laser-punches and indestructible, fiery aura.

So what do you think? Carol’s story will have major changes both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, but will all turn out well? Where do you want to see her go next? Should she spend more time in space or on Earth? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Lost In Space” Season Two Review!

In its second season, the family-friendly Netflix sci-fi drama Lost In Space takes our gallant team of heroes on an invigoratingly suspenseful new mission across the galaxy, searching for a planet to call home – preferably a planet that’s not about to be sucked into a black hole, but hey, sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got: and nobody is better at that than the Robinsons, a family of five plucky, over-achieving geniuses each armed with their own specific arsenal of unbelievable skills.

"Lost In Space" Season Two Review! 5
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After the Season 1 finale that left the family stranded in an alien region of the universe far from their spaceship, the Resolute, and even farther from their planned destination, the supposedly-peaceful human colony of Alpha Centauri, the Robinsons are forced to take shelter on a tiny beach somewhere on a vast ocean planet. There, they set up a base-camp and settle down – for seven months. And there we find them in the Season 2 pilot, as their collective restlessness is once again spurring them into action, forcing them to move quickly to escape the planet and find their friends onboard the Resolute – if they still can.

In Season 1, the narrative focus was largely on the characters of John (Toby Stephens), Maureen (Molly Parker) and Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins), who mostly shared the responsibility of trying to get the family off the aforementioned black-hole planet: all three had big hero moments, leaving little room for their supporting cast to develop into strong, well-rounded characters. The second season does manage to fit in a pretty decent character arc for the eldest daughter, medical student Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell), but its attempts to try and find a narrative purpose for aspiring author Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall) feel forced and unconvincing – especially since the attempt is half-hearted, and simply fizzles out halfway through this ten-episode series, leaving the younger daughter with no conclusion to her arc (back in Season 1, a lot was made of the fact that Will Robinson didn’t feel special compared to his more naturally talented siblings, and that he was the only one in the family who had actually failed to make the cut to go to Alpha Centauri, before his mother cheated the system to get him through – but can someone explain to me why Will, with his advanced knowledge of mathematics, geometry and geology, feels like the odd one out, when Penny’s entire personality consists of making unnecessary jokes during dramatic moments, and the brief snippets of her writing revealed in this season seem half-baked, to say the least? Though I’m willing to cut her some slack if it’s just a first draft).

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The Robinsons’ ally, mechanic Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), has evolved into something of a brusque, headstrong antihero between seasons: some might call him a Han Solo type, but I actually see more similarities to Poe Dameron, a similarly trigger-happy flyboy with a humorous nature, rugged Latino charisma, a shady past, a tendency to disobey superiors, and a strong devotion to a diminutive sidekick (in this case a lucky chicken called Debbie, but the point remains). He doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this season, but I’m hopeful that he’ll have much more time to shine in a third season of the series – which we had better be getting, considering that this season leaves us with a few gut-punch revelations and more than a couple of unanswered questions.

But Season 2’s real star, and the woman who deserves to be the face of this series just as much as The Robot (Brian Steele), is comedian Parker Posey as the Robinsons’ unwilling ally?/friend?/antagonist? Dr. Smith – or Jessica Harris, or June Harris, or whatever name she’s going by at any given moment. Posey’s interpretation of the beloved character is a master manipulator, capable of twisting anyone around her finger with the help of what seems to be a legitimate background in psychology. I don’t think it’s unpopular or controversial to suggest that she’s even a better liar and sneak than, say, Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and she’s cheated death just as many times. It’s impossible to ever fully trust her or guess at her motives, but the show has a fantastic job of giving the other characters logical reasons to place her faith in her – even if it continuously backfires or places everybody in more danger. Posey was brilliant in Season 1, of course, but here she also has a slightly more zany, vibrant personality: from her slouchy, casual attire to her sudden nautical expertise.

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The true emotional core of the show is still Will’s relationship with The Robot, who went missing in the Season 1 finale and to whom Will feels telepathically connected. While their subplot (or, well, I guess it’s technically the main plot) is certainly compelling, it’s also a bit more confusing than the other characters’ relatively simple arcs: there’s a whole bunch of new robots, and new questions about the robots, and about the humans’ connection to the robots, and about the robot culture, and about that weird-looking alien engine that the robots are looking for, and about a million other little things that just show up without any explanation. And while, yes, the story of Will and The Robot has a couple unique complexities, it largely follows the same general structure as any story in which a young child encounters an alien that the powers-that-be would want to hide or abuse, making it the most well-worn of Lost In Space‘s tropes.

Overall, though, the series has largely avoided predictability, and continues to throw curveballs at the Robinsons, masterfully blending wholesome, family-friendly whimsy with darker, more mature themes and genuine thrills, scares and moments of suspense – though, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure any of the most suspenseful moments in Season 2 quite equal the sensational tension of Season 1, the pilot episode of which opened with Judy trapped under the ice of an alien lake with a mere five hours of oxygen left to breathe, Maureen weaving in and out of consciousness while Penny performed amateur surgery on her wounded leg, Will stuck in a forest fire, about to be killed by The Robot, and John forced to choose which of his children he could save without dooming the others to death. There are a couple moments in this season that come close – but, obviously, they’re sort of spoilers.

So if you’re looking for some wildly exciting science-fiction to dive into, I strongly encourage you to set sail for the stars and get lost in all the emotional drama, CGI spectacle and jaw-dropping action of Lost In Space, Season 2. Unless Netflix doesn’t renew the series for a third season, leaving us with no resolution to this season’s epic finale (unlikely, but you never know), then I can pretty much guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Series Rating: 8.7/10

“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

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Review! 8
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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