The Missed Rey Opportunity In RISE OF SKYWALKER

This contains full spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

As the ending of the “Skywalker Saga” part of Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker had a lot of lifting to do at the end. Sadly, for me, it didn’t quite get where I wanted it to go and I walked out of the movie feeling like JJ Abrams had just missed a dozen opportunities. The possibilities open to him were incredible, but he kept himself boxed in with a strange adherence to just a small part of George Lucas’ vision. 

There’s a lot of talk about how The Last Jedi subverts Star Wars, but I think that talk comes from folks who simply are not familiar with the Prequels. Half the Star Wars movies George Lucas made subverted Star Wars; the reality is that many of us simply didn’t understand it at the time. It wasn’t clear to us that Lucas knew what he was doing when he made the Jedi chumps, when he made the Jedi Council full of shit and when he revealed that the shortsighted pride of characters like Yoda was what led to the rise of the Empire. 

This is important because I think many of the missed opportunities in Rise of Skywalker come from Abrams simply not vibing with the Prequels; for him Star Wars is the OT. His films are rehashes of/homages to those initial three films and they largely ignore business and themes from the Prequels. The idea that Star Wars is a story about family is sort of true – that’s what the OT is – but when we bring the PT into it we see that Star Wars is a story with family but that is actually about power and how that power is wielded and by whom. That’s the holistic theme of the six films. 

The biggest missed opportunity is about Rey, but before I address that, I want to talk about a couple of other missed opportunities that could have improved TROS, or at least firmly established it as part of a nine film story. 

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KNIVES OUT: The Kindest Murder Mystery Ever

The first few paragraphs of this are spoiler free, but major spoilers do arrive.

Who knew murder could be so fun? More importantly, who knew murder could be so nice? Rian Johnson’s whodunnit, Knives Out, may be the singularly nicest and most kind murder mystery anyone has ever made, an Agatha Christie-style sleuthfest with kindness and love as its guiding principle. 

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Kylo Ren vs Cancel Culture

Ben Solo is going to get redeemed. You can count on it, at least if JJ Abrams understands even the smallest thing about the moral universe that George Lucas created in the first six Star Wars films. Redemption is as baked into the DNA of Star Wars as lightsabers and space battles, and to swerve away from that in the supposed final chapter of the Skywalker saga would be far more shocking than killing off all the characters at the end of Rogue One. Whether that redemption involves a love scene with Rey remains to be seen (don’t count on it), but by the end of the film Kylo Ren will have returned to being Ben Solo, and he will have found redemption. 

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[Reprint] Saving What We Love: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out one year ago today. It quickly became one of the most controversial films in a famously controversial franchise, even as it is the absolute best since the 1980s. A reader recommended I celebrate the anniversary of this great film by reprinting my review, and I liked that idea (thanks, Scott!).

I wrote other things about The Last Jedi – a piece about how Rose Tico’s widely derided quote is the greatest wisdom yet found in Star Wars, a piece about Vice-Admiral Holdo’s smarts and a piece examining the connection between the Jedi and Taoism – but this initial review contains a lot of my thinking on the film, thinking I still hold a year later. 

For Star Wars to live, Star Wars must die. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrilling, layered and goddamned fun meditation on the tension between our need for legends and myths and the ways those legends and myth constrain and reduce us. Star Wars is the film series that popularized the monomyth in the modern era, and Johnson walks right up to old Joe Campbell, kicks him in the nuts… and then gives him a hearty bear hug. The Last Jedi struggles with and embraces the paradoxical duality at the center of the meaning of legends and heroes, leaving thoughtful audiences with more to chew on than any other blockbuster in recent memory.

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STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE INCELS

This short film is, frankly, INCREDIBLE. A parody of BrickRian Johnson’s debut film, but retold through the lens of the vocal minority of fans who hate The Last Jedi and specifically Kelly Marie Tran. As far as I can tell, these are the actual locations from Brickand the filmmaking and acting are absolutely on point. I love this – it’s pointed, it’s funny, and it’s damn well made.

The Tao of the Jedi

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

Among the exciting things that Star Wars: The Last Jedi does for the larger Star Wars universe is that it expands and deepens the mythology of The Force in a way that we haven’t seen since The Empire Strikes Back. And it does so in a way that has learned a lesson from the fiasco of Midichlorians – The Last Jedi returns The Force to its status as a mysterious and truly powerful concept that is far beyond silly tricks like picking up rocks. In fact, it returns it to a concept that is far beyond such silly tricks like violence and physical force in general.

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Rose Tico’s Beautiful Wisdom

Rose Tico has the wisdom of the Buddha.

“That’s how we’ll win,” she tells Finn in The Last Jedi. “Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

Those words echo the Buddha’s in The Dhammapada:

“Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.”

Eternal as in, it’s also true in a galaxy far, far away.

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Saving What We Love: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

For Star Wars to live, Star Wars must die. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrilling, layered and goddamned fun meditation on the tension between our need for legends and myths and the ways those legends and myth constrain and reduce us. Star Wars is the film series that popularized the monomyth in the modern era, and Johnson walks right up to old Joe Campbell, kicks him in the nuts… and then gives him a hearty bear hug. The Last Jedi struggles with and embraces the paradoxical duality at the center of the meaning of legends and heroes, leaving thoughtful audiences with more to chew on than any other blockbuster in recent memory.

Continue reading “Saving What We Love: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI”