“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

Rosario Dawson Is Ahsoka Tano In “The Mandalorian”!

By a bizarre coincidence, the same day that Ahsoka Tano made her hotly-anticipated return to The Clone Wars in the series’ final season, news also broke that the former Jedi warrior would make her very first live-action appearance in the second season of The Mandalorian on the Disney+ streaming platform. The report, since verified by a number of other sources and trades, states that actress Rosario Dawson will portray Tano in the Star Wars spinoff, which will find Pedro Pascal’s titular Mandalorian and his adorable sidekick Baby Yoda hunting for the few living Jedi spread out across the galaxy in the aftermath of the Empire’s fall.

Ahsoka Tano
polygon.com

Obviously, Ahsoka Tano is exactly the type of character one would expect to run into the duo, so the fact that she’s showing up isn’t surprising at all (especially considering that Dave Filoni created Ahsoka’s character for The Clone Wars and is now part of The Mandalorian‘s creative team). Along with Luke Skywalker (and possibly the oft-forgotten Yaddle), Ahsoka is one of only a couple of Jedi who were still around during the time period between the fall of the Empire and the beginning of the sequel trilogy. But now that she’s supposedly making her live-action debut, the reaction has been…mixed, to say the least.

That’s not because people dislike Ahsoka. The optimistic, idealistic Jedi started out as Anakin Skywalker’s opinionated apprentice and went on to become a nuanced, introspective character betrayed by her own faith. Forced to survive on her own without friends or family, Ahsoka quickly became one of the Star Wars franchise’s most beloved heroines. The controversy surrounding this casting has everything to do with the actress chosen to play the coveted part.

Rosario Dawson, best known for her roles in Daredevil, Rent and Alexander (and for being the girlfriend of 2020 Presidential hopeful Cory Booker, whose campaign she endorsed), was the subject of a shocking lawsuit last year: an openly transgender man employed as a handyman by Dawson and her mother, and charged with renovating the family’s Los Angeles home, claimed that both women subjected him to verbal and physical abuse, which included repeatedly misgendering and mocking him. Their harassment of him apparently culminated in Dawson and her mother restraining the man while beating him up and threatening to kill his pet cat, before allegedly stealing his cellphone. The victim claims all of these events had to do with his gender identity, and the case, if verified, would incriminate Dawson as a violent aggressor guilty of a serious hate crime.

Rosario Dawson
slashfilm.com

As of yet, there is no other evidence to suggest that Dawson is transphobic, and we only know a little about her views on the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. The alleged victim was said to have been close with the Dawson family before coming out as transgender, when they only knew him as a lesbian woman, and this year, Dawson appeared to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself. However, the allegation has had long-lasting impacts, and has made the casting of Ahsoka Tano a tumultuous and hostile occasion rather than a joyous one, as it should have been (and probably could have been, with any other actress). Unfortunately, even (or perhaps, especially) if no further evidence comes out against her, there’s simply no way of determining whether Rosario Dawson is transphobic or did commit a hate crime, and so this case will loom over The Mandalorian like a dark cloud. What with the show having just recently united Star Wars fans in their love for Baby Yoda, it would be a shame to disunite the fandom once again over something as serious as this.

What do you think of the casting of Rosario Dawson? Would you have cast someone else in the role of Ahsoka Tano, and how would you feel if the gentle, lovable character was played by someone who may or may not have committed serious crimes (for reference, I’d be really angry and disappointed)? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

“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
nerdist.com

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

“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

Why “Star Wars”‘ LGBTQ+ Representation Is A Crushing Disappointment.

Minor SPOILERS For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!

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First up, an apology: in my Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Spoiler Review, I made the fictitious claim that a couple depicted kissing near the end of the movie was a lesbian couple. There is, in fact, no clear indication of the sexual orientations of either Commander Larma D’Acy or her partner – they could be lesbian, but there’s also nothing to suggest they aren’t pansexual, bisexual, or a different sexual orientation entirely. And that is part of the problem with Star Wars‘ small, misguided attempt at LGBTQ+ representation.

For years now, but especially since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, fans of the series have been urging Disney Studios and Lucasfilm to introduce meaningful LGBTQ+ representation into the franchise – emphasis on “meaningful”, as in: an LGBTQ+ character with an established identity, whom audiences actually know and care about. Star Wars has long been near the forefront of the push for diversity in genre fiction, much fellow sci-fi series Star Trek (which, overall, has actually done a better job, though not always with LGBTQ+ representation specifically): even back in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Wars was including women (or rather, two white women) in positions of power and strength, and including dynamic and complex people of color (or rather, one person of color) in the central narrative. The prequel trilogy gave us memorable characters such as Mace Windu, Padmé Amidala, and Jango Fett, while also introducing a number of other problems; the racially insensitive Gungans, the racially insensitive Neimoidians, and the fact that Jango Fett’s army of clones were little more than expendable cannon fodder, among them. The Disney-produced sequel trilogy, on the other hand, started off with a female protagonist, alongside prominent black and Latino characters – naturally, it seemed like the perfect place to try and include some LGBTQ+ representation.

And it’s not like there wasn’t room in the story for that representation to emerge in a natural, organic method. Fans have long sensed an undercurrent of semi-romantic tension between Star Wars leads Finn (played by John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and even the actors themselves have made it pretty clear that they would have had no problems if the story had headed in that direction. Boyega himself has been a bit back-and-forth on the subject, and has made friendly jokes about the pairing, while also suggesting that he doesn’t “know how that would work”. But nobody has been onboard with the popular coupling like Oscar Isaac, who has been the unofficial voice of the LGBTQ+ Star Wars fanbase for years: at first, his support seemed like the typical sort of vague hand-waving, with comments like “Poe’s open to any kind of adventure”, but starting this year, the actor has been avidly on the side of Finnpoe fans: “I think he takes his love for Finn very seriously”, Isaac said of his character at Star Wars: Celebration. Since then, he’s noted that a gay romance between the two would be “a great way for the story to go”, admitted that “if they would’ve been boyfriends, that would have been fun”, and just yesterday confessed that, though he tried to advocate behind-the-scenes for a love story between the two men, “Disney overlords were not ready to do that”. Isaac’s strong approval is encouraging, but unfortunately, he’s only an actor and can’t really do much to influence the film’s scripts.

And yet, Rise Of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams himself has revealed that the diversity of Star Wars‘ ensemble cast is supposedly very important to him, and that he felt it necessary that it be increased in the franchise’s final chapter. “And in the case of the LGBTQ community,” he noted, “it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film”. When pressed on the issue, Abrams commented with vague assurance that “I did just say what I just said”.

Abrams’ comments should sound eerily (auto-correct suggested wearily, which also works) familiar to fans who may remember Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo saying virtually the same thing about the LGBTQ+ representation in their blockbuster hit back in April: “It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them…it is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity”.

The similarities don’t stop there, though, because when it comes down to it, the LGBTQ+ representation in both films is also strangely identical. In Endgame, a minor, unnamed character played by Joe Russo himself, mentions dating another man in a throwaway line: this character has no purpose in the story, nor any significance beyond being gay, and is only shown this one time – the fact that he’s played by Joe Russo also makes the moment into a surprising cameo, distracting attention from the significance of his words. In Star Wars, the crucial representation is even less noticeable, though technically more significant: here, Commander Larma D’Acy, a minor character portrayed by Amanda Lawrence, is shown kissing another woman in an exceedingly brief moment – due to taking place in a crowd shot, during an emotional scene, you could easily watch the film without even noticing that you had just witnessed LGBTQ+ history. And I’m left wondering…was that the point?

A same-sex kiss of any kind is a strikingly powerful statement in a big franchise film such as this one, but Disney’s use of the kiss feels cheap, as if it’s reducing what should be important into a meaningless moment that, on the surface, looks like great representation. The audience has no emotional attachment to D’Acy and especially not to her girlfriend, who isn’t even named in the film (the newest Star Wars Visual Dictionary apparently does give her a name: Wrobbie Tryce). They have no reason to care about these two women or their two-second long relationship – and since the characters are so minor, and so deliberately overshadowed by other, more important characters, audiences don’t even have any good reason to notice them or their kiss. If it had been Finn and Poe kissing, even if only for two seconds or one, you would notice because it’s Finn and Poe: they’re lead characters, and the audience is familiar with them. Two extras somewhere in a crowd shot? Not so much.

Disney has just proven that simply including a gay kiss isn’t enough to constitute meaningful representation. People around the world have been rightfully outraged, since the film’s release, that this moment was what Abrams was referring to when he claimed that LGBTQ+ representation was one of his priorities when making The Rise Of Skywalker.

And here’s the thing: Abrams didn’t need to put LGBTQ+ representation into the film at all. As far as we know, this was his decision: nobody was forcing him to do it. And that should be applauded, because it is a step forward. What shouldn’t be applauded is the fact that Abrams, knowing full well just how brief and insignificant the kiss was, went around claiming that the two-second snippet of footage could or would make up for all of the lost opportunities with the Finnpoe relationship, or even amount to anything more than what it was – a two-second snippet of footage. Why not just admit upfront that there would be a small nod to the LGBTQ+ community, without stirring up more controversy and trouble for himself?

Because this is queer-baiting 101. Queer-baiting refers to the process of luring LGBTQ+ audiences to consume a product, be it a movie, TV show, book, etc, with the promise or hint of LGBTQ+ representation, only to reveal that there was little to no representation to begin with. Endgame was heavily criticized for queer-baiting, prompting the Russo Brothers to respond with the claim, as yet unverified, that more major Marvel characters will come out as LGBTQ+ in future movies. 2017’s Beauty And The Beast faced queer-baiting critiques after an “exclusively gay” scene hyped up in the film’s pre-release marketing turned out to be a single shot of two male characters dancing. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald was one of those especially awful cases where a director actually tells the truth and goes on record to say that a character will not be depicted as LGBTQ+ in his movie, only to have his working partner release a tweet disputing that claim – the latter being J.K. Rowling, who apparently didn’t realize she was lying, or simply didn’t care: the promised LGBTQ+ representation in that case actually referred to a single line of dialogue with only slightly gay connotations.

And now Star Wars faces those same complaints, for good reason. By promising something he couldn’t deliver, Abrams dug himself into his own grave. He wasn’t obliged to make any statement at all, but he did – and now he’s paying the price, as audiences riot against the director.

What could he have done to rectify the situation? Well, the easiest solution would have been to make D’Acy and her partner more prominent in the film. If that would have taken time away from the main cast, then why not have it be one of the main cast who turns out to be gay? Finn and Poe are literally right there. But if neither option was viable, then Abrams should simply have kept his mouth shut and not said anything at all. His idea of representation is outdated and honestly offensive, making it an unnecessarily problematic element in a movie that already has plenty of those.

I really don’t want to make a scene, and we know Larma D’Acy wouldn’t want me to (that’s her only significant line in two movies: you thought I wasn’t going to use it in some way?): I wish I could simply talk about how nobody, no matter how far away their galaxy is, should have to live with a name with Wrobbie – or Larma, for that matter. But I can’t stay silent when directors and filmmakers continue to shamelessly bait and trap LGBTQ+ audiences, taking their money in exchange for empty, unfulfilled promises. Hollywood is making progress, or at least, I hope that they are: Disney is making a big deal out of having their first openly gay character in next year’s Jungle Cruise (though the fact that the character is played by a straight comedian and described by test audiences as “hugely effete” isn’t exactly encouraging), and Marvel has promised their first gay character in The Eternals – rumored to be the demigod Phastos, a happily married man with children. But until these claims are backed up by hard facts (i.e. the films themselves), be wary of could be just another queer-baiting incident.

For now, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that, no matter how briefly their relationship may be depicted onscreen, Larma D’Acy and Wrobbie Tryce are, canonically, Star Wars‘ very first same-sex couple, and the two characters deserve a little more respect and congratulatory praise than they received from J.J. Abrams. Hopefully they’ll be joined in the near future by a number of other LGBTQ+ characters: ones who aren’t betrayed by their own creators.

“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.

"Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker" Spoiler Review! 7
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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 Rise Of Skywalker” Non-Spoiler Review!

If I was both confident enough and proud enough to say that The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie, then I definitely have no qualms about admitting that The Rise Of Skywalker, while similarly reviled by a sizable portion of the fandom (already!), is an entertaining, thrilling, emotional and bittersweet conclusion to one of the greatest stories in cinematic history. Rise Of Skywalker as a whole is not quite on the level of Jedi for me, at least not yet, but there are several moments and scenes in the movie that have quickly taken their place on my list of all-time franchise favorites. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil any of them here.

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The movie starts out very slow, and for the first ten or even twenty minutes, I grew increasingly worried that the Skywalker Saga might conclude in a very unappealing way. Director J.J. Abrams received a lot of flak from the Star Wars fandom for largely pulling the plot of The Force Awakens from A New Hope, without even bothering to alter many of the little details. I can assure you that Rise Of Skywalker does not follow that same copy-and-paste method, or if it does, then it pulls from so many of the Star Wars films that it’s much harder to guess, at points, where the story is headed. For instance, while there are certainly elements of Return Of The Jedi (as many of us had suspected), there are also hints of several other films in the canon, including, most shockingly, Revenge Of The Sith. If you are a fan of Sith, or the Sith in general, I think you’ll find a lot to love about this movie, as it sometimes veers into territory previously explored only by tie-in comics, novels and video games. But don’t worry, fellow wielders of the Light Side of the Force! There’s plenty of Jedi magic and mind-tricks to go around in this finale to their long, often troubled history, including some new techniques and tactics that are both epic and unpredictable. And as for the film itself, it starts getting good once the two powers, as represented by the characters of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), begin to clash.

These two have always had the most tumultuous and exciting journey in the sequel trilogy, and Skywalker is no different: once again, the focus is mostly on them and the powerful, fiercely difficult relationship between them. It’s often unclear just how much Abrams is using of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, but the tense, will-they-won’t-they dynamic between Light Side user Rey and Supreme Leader Kylo is definitely something that has been carried over from Jedi into this new film, despite Abrams being against it initially.

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In my recent reviews of all the eight previous Star Wars movies, we’ve discussed the theme of duality – the idea that the universe is ruled by the balance of all things: life and death, Jedi and Sith, good and evil. And at almost every crucial moment in this movie, duality makes an appearance, whether subtly or, to my surprise, in the dialogue itself. Rey and Ren, with their opposing ideologies but mysterious attraction, are the theme’s most obvious physical representation, but be on the lookout for it many other places: without giving it away, I’ll just say that it’s very apparent in the film’s third act and final scenes.

Now, how good is the payoff to this forty-two year long journey that we, as fans, have witnessed? Abrams obviously isn’t going to be able to tie up every loose end or finish out every character’s story, but he does his best with what he has. In many ways, the film itself has had to do that as well: the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher in 2016 prevented her character, the beloved Princess Leia, from having a particularly prominent role in the movie; something that is especially sad after watching the entire Skywalker saga, and seeing all the accumulated hints and clues that point to her being the Chosen One. But Abrams masterfully uses everything at his disposal, employing all the old footage of Leia that he can, and giving her not one, but three important moments in the movie. There are appropriate sendoffs to a number of fan-favorites, from the exuberant Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to petulant C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) – the latter, especially, having a large and hilariously funny role in this movie.

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The humor is provided by many of the characters, but especially the supporting cast of Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the droids. It’s sometimes apparent that Abrams is straining to have that same “holy trinity” dynamic that was seen between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia and Han Solo, but this particular trinity actually works best when they’re apart: onscreen together, their relationship is a bit of a messy, especially when you take into consideration the film’s rapidly changing romantic dynamics, which we will talk about in the spoiler review. Suffice it to say, characters like Poe and Finn are fleshed-out enough that they can sustain subplots, and Rey is too busy hanging out with Kylo Ren to actually spend much time with her co-stars: the trio does argue a lot, but their best moments are undoubtedly when they’re joking around in their sarcastic, super-witty fashion.

As for the locations they visit and the new characters they meet, some of them are interesting and entertaining, others less so. Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), two new female characters who were hyped up in the film’s marketing, are largely unimportant to the story, but still have more screentime than Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), whose large role in The Last Jedi perhaps gave off the impression that she would continue to be a lead character: but her role, which had been bombarded by angry fans, has been cut down to a mere handful of appearances. Honestly, if you didn’t remember her from the last movie, you would probably just think she was another one of the nameless extras who populate the film’s many crowd shots. The coolest and funniest new characters have to be diminutive mechanic Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson), who pops in with a number of unexpected but delightful jokes, and Richard E. Grant as the sinister, leering General Pryde.

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But the antagonist you’ve all been waiting for is, of course, the one and only Emperor Palpatine, portrayed once again by the fabulous Ian McDiarmid. Obviously, there are a lot of spoilers involved in this character’s return and sudden rise to power, but it’s not too much of a shocker to know that yes, he’s evil and just as terrifying as ever. He may lack the element of surprise now, but his inevitability is frightening all on its own. He’s still the master manipulator that he always was, and his talents are put to good use in this film, which finally shows him once again using the unlimited power that he wielded in Revenge Of The Sith.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is not a perfect movie, not by any means. It will be met with backlash, fan outrage, and more of the division and debate that has defined the Star Wars brand in recent years. But it’s time to move past all that. This is the end of the Skywalker Saga: forty-two years ago, Luke Skywalker started an incredible journey across galaxies, through the deep, uncharted expanses of space, to new planets and star systems: and we followed him. We followed his father Anakin from purity to darkness, and stood by his side as he fell through the ranks of the Jedi and tumbled into the embrace of the Sith. And now, with The Rise Of Skywalker, we’ve followed his apprentice on her quest to finish what the Skywalkers started, and bring balance and order to the universe, with all the guidance of a thousand generations of Jedi. Will you follow her to the end, as you followed Luke and Anakin? Will you finish out this story?

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The choice is yours, and I’m not going to try and push you one way or the other. All I can say is this: if you do make the choice to see the film in theaters, be prepared to cry, and allow yourself to cry. There are moments when you’ll tear up because something is sad or emotional; there are moments where you’ll cry out of relief or pain; and there are many, many moments in this film where you’ll just start crying because…we’ve done it.

The final word in the story of Skywalker has been spoken.

Movie Rating: 9.8/10