Rebels Revisited: Part of the Family

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Mike: Well, you can debate whether or not this was inevitable—lord knows we have—but you can’t debate that it’s happened: Kanan Jarrus is no more.1 There are two angles, I think, from which to discuss this development—did it really need to happen, and did they handle it well? I reject the notion that it was absolutely necessary from any sort of continuity standpoint, but I do think in the context of this story it’s dramatically justified. And since fans have been perfectly happy to spend the last few years debating whether Kanan should die, I’d rather not rehash that again here, and instead focus on how he died, and whether Star Wars Rebels managed to earn this moment that, arguably, they knew all along was going to happen.

Just in terms of the artistry involved, the score, the pacing, the characters’ reactions, I thought it was beautifully and naturalistically done rather than some kind of idiot-ball situation where the plot gods reached down and smooshed him because they wanted to (though okay, I could argue that his eyes randomly healing for two seconds was a smidge over the top). But while I never didn’t like it, the more I think about it the more I appreciate how it seems to fit into not just Rebels‘ larger narrative but the overall Star Wars story at this point in time.

In the heat of the moment, and with a couple months off between this episode and “Rebel Assault”, it’s easy to forget how important the TIE Defender factory has been to the last couple seasons, and underestimate how big a deal it is for Pryce to effectively destroy it just to take Kanan down. Both “Jedi Night” and “DUME” even take the extra step of establishing a competition for resources between Thrawn’s Defenders and Krennic’s Death Star project, meaning that the films could have gone very differently with that factory operational and Thrawn coming out on top. And speaking of Thrawn, it sure looks like his and Pryce’s happy working relationship has come to an end—once again, he’s undone not by his own failure but by the rash decision of an underling. Whether Thrawn or Pryce emerge from this mess intact remains to be seen, but unless Rebels gets too wrapped up in Mortis shenanigans to give this plotline a satisfying payoff, I suspect Kanan’s messy demise will prove to be one of the most important events the show has portrayed—and thus, I’d call it very much earned. » Read more..

  1. Okay, this is Dave Filoni and it’s possible he’s a wolf now, but that’s beside the point. []

No Easy Wins: The Case For Draven

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Going into Rogue One my only thoughts on the character of Draven had to do with the since-debunked speculation that he was really Agent Kallus from Star Wars Rebels. After walking out of the film, however, I found that I was fixated upon the Alliance general. Many fans I have talked to say that they disliked the character, or that while they understood his purpose and saw him as a necessary irredeemable jerk they still did not have much love for him. I was honestly surprised by this reaction because for me he was incredibly interesting and I wanted to see more of him as soon as possible.

Throughout Rogue One we see a lot of shades of grey within the Alliance. Jyn, Saw, Cassian, and Draven are the biggest examples of this. Within each of those two duos is one protégé and one old warrior who has given everything to this war dating as far back as the Clone Wars. Saw and Draven are incredibly fascinating to compare to one another. Each man is an embodiment of the shades of grey within the Rebellion, and yet they are vastly different people.

Saw was hardened due to being a ground-level revolutionary. He lost his sister Steela early on and has sworn to do whatever it takes to win. As he explained to Jyn in Rebel Rising, “Steela was the best part of me”. When Saw’s new war against the Empire began, “I was smarter that time. I didn’t make the same mistakes I had when Steela was still alive.” Saw never got to stop fighting. He never stopped being the revolutionary with nothing to lose, and that shaped him into a brutal, violent soldier who would do whatever it takes even if he had to be a monster. Saw lost his sister, his soul, and has to force away his daughter to protect her. » Read more..

Twin Institutions: Luke, Leia, and the Dueling Legacies of Vader

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When no one answers the Resistance’s call for reinforcements on Crait in the final act of The Last Jedi, one can reach for a number of explanations: the chaos following the destruction of the New Republic government, individual systems’ lack of weaponry given the disarmament acts following the Battle of Jakku. One possible factor, however, plays into the heart of one of the sequel trilogy’s chief concerns, the idea of legacy. In the novel Bloodline by Claudia Grey, the truth of Darth Vader’s progeny is revealed, causing a massive scandal that forces Leia to leave the New Republic senate and tarnishes her name. That level of public disgrace could have easily endured the six years leading to the Battle of Crait, potential allies’ silence translating to a deep sense of distrust.

The weight of this scandal is something Leia must seemingly carry on her own—Luke’s place in the galaxy as a legend comes through unscathed, and again arises the idea of legacy. The starkly different effect this news has on Luke and Leia’s public standings is influenced by which institutional legacies they embody—the Jedi or the political—and reflects the splintered nature of Darth Vader’s identity over the course of his life.

Luke Skywalker’s reputation precedes him by light years, tales of heroism during the Rebellion having solidified into legend and spread across the galaxy, from the destitute stable children in Canto Bight to the isolated planet Jakku. The inherent resilience of legends aside, Luke’s own is given an immense amount of power by the nature of the position he steps into over the course of the Empire’s fall: the galaxy’s only Jedi. “Jedi” is a loaded title, evoking not only the idea of a time before the Clone Wars and the rise of the Empire but also a potential return to it. Of course, that era was not without its problems, nor were the Jedi themselves, but nearly fifty years and countless Imperial-inflicted traumas lie between Order 66 and the parentage scandal. That is more than enough time and fodder to build the rose-colored glasses making the Old Republic out as an ideal, especially when the generation who actually lived through it has mostly passed. » Read more..

Doing/Talking: The Importance of Being Rose

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“The biggest problem in the universe is that no one helps each other” are words uttered by one of the more barbaric characters in the Star Wars canon. But freed of their heavily ironic context the sentiment remains at the core of what drives the story: conflict and action. That’s not unique to Star Wars by any means, and neither is the quote attributed to that character’s daughter in the original film’s novelization: “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes.” Both thoughts, however, would serve as highly appropriate taglines for Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, particularly when it comes to the newest addition that roster of heroes, Rose Tico.

Much has been made of The Last Jedi’s shunning of the typical conceits and objectives that drive people in Star Wars — this is of course done knowingly by Johnson as he comments on motivation and character throughout the feature, across all story lines. With Rose, he starts with as little as possible: she’s stuck on the boat with everyone else, her remit is extremely narrow (don’t let people inspect escape pods from the inside) — she has just lost her sister, yes, but there no natural outlet for action or resolution in the way that, say, Luke has Obi-Wan waiting for him back at the sandcrawler, or Rey has First Order troops hunting for BB-8. In establishing Rose’s involvement in the plot, Johnson inverts a key moment from The Force Awakens: the meeting of Poe and Finn. In that instance, individuals from opposing sides band together for practical purposes, in the interest of survival. There is of course the gag of Finn liberating Poe because “it’s the right thing to do.” Poe cynically sees through this and recognizes it for what it is, identifying Finn’s true need immediately.

Rose, on the other hand, is drawn into the fight because it is indeed the right thing to do. Her insight and knowledge grant her the opportunity to go along for the ride, rather than the luck she sheepishly attributes it to. Whether she or Finn are fit for purpose with regard to the mission they eventually go on is material enough for an entirely separate piece, but for her to earn her seat at the table on merit rather than potential, duty, or coincidence is a refreshing change. There is a lure of the swashbuckling derring-do that she (initially) so breathlessly admires Finn for, but her core drive is an idealistic one. This makes her a fine counterpoint to Johnson’s transformation of Kylo Ren into an ideologically-driven big bad for this particular trilogy, and lies at the heart of how this film propels the saga out of its dynastic dogfight and into something more essential. » Read more..

Rey and Kylo: Identically Different

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One of the most prominent themes in The Last Jedi is the contrast between the haves and the have-nots. A dichotomy present not only within the city of Canto Bight or in organizations like the First Order and the Resistance, but also between characters.

Emblematic of this idea are Rey and Kylo Ren. Indeed, never in the Star Wars franchise have we seen such a clear distinction between one character who has nothing and everything and another who has everything and nothing.

“Kylo failed you. I won’t.”

This contrast is particularly evident with regard to the theme of betrayal. Whether it is Rey’s parents abandoning her or Luke igniting his lightsaber that night in Ben’s hut, the journeys of both hero and villain begin with an act of familial betrayal. Yet while Kylo answers like with like—one dark side trait (fear) with others (anger, aggression)—Rey’s reaction is markedly different.

In the throne room scene, she has the chance to abandon the Resistance as her parents did to her. Yet even as she reels from both this painful acknowledgement and the recognition that her waiting and harsh upbringing on Jakku were for nothing, Rey refuses.

To have suffered an act of familial betrayal far worse than Ben’s and yet choose to be better than what came before demonstrates that Rey has a strength Kylo could never have. Without even moving, she provides the film with one of its most inspiring, heroic moments. Arguably in the same vein as Luke’s actions on Crait. » Read more..

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