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Bringing It All Back Home: Ben Solo, Rey Skywalker, and the End of a Saga

I’ll get this out of the way early: I don’t think The Rise of Skywalker is a very good film. I am not arrogant enough to think that I can change anyone’s mind about a movie, especially a movie leaden with such importance for so many. But I hope that for those who are hurt, dismayed or even just plainly dissatisfied with The Rise of Skywalker, maybe there is still some small comfort to be found, something of value. As undeniably clumsy and compromised as the film is, there are nevertheless some rich ideas either openly at play or buried in the shuffle of a distracted and haphazard plot, ideas that are in conversation with the rest of the Skywalker saga and hearken back to its cinematic ancestry.

The two elements of the film’s climax and denouement that I want to look at are Ben’s sacrifice and Rey’s lineage. I believe these are wedded together inextricably — two families locked in alternating alliance and opposition throughout seventy-odd years of galactic history shifting through social and religious strata to polar extremes, and carrying the hopes and dreams as well as the horrors and crimes of the galaxy on their backs. In The Rise of Skywalker, there is a seismic collision that ultimately comes down to the choices of the characters rather than something predetermined — transforming both families, and indeed, what we thought mattered in Star Wars itself.

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It Was I: Darth Sidious and the Power of Narrative

If you think that Emperor Palpatine’s greatest weapon is the lightning he can fire from his fingertips, you’re wrong. If you think it’s his Death Stars, or his legions of faceless stormtroopers, you’re wrong. If you think it’s his compromised, captive Chosen One, that’s also not quite right. The greatest weapon wielded by Darth Sidious is narrative, or to be more precise, the narrative.

To celebrate the anniversary of the first (story-chronological) installment of the Skywalker saga, I looked at how The Phantom Menace presents Darth Sidious at his most brilliant and cruel, as he fashions a frustrating and dysfunctional narrative for the heroes to be locked in, a conflict that they cannot understand or comprehend but must fight in anyway. The spectacular, multi-story conclusion to that film is nothing but a byproduct for the villain, who has already achieved his objective by the end of the second act.

As we now careen towards the conclusion of the Skywalker saga with the impending release of The Rise of Skywalker and the apparent return of Darth Sidious in some form, it is worth looking at how the Emperor operates, what his modus operandi is, and how that has not only affected but in some ways controlled the direction of this epic tale, including the sequels so far that he has (seemingly) not had a hand in.

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Second Look: Rules of the Game: The Malevolent Heart of The Phantom Menace

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

As The Phantom Menace turns twenty it has encouragingly ushered forth open reappraisal, new discussions, and even admiration for much of the creative work that went into one of the most accidentally incendiary films of the modern era. As someone who loved it as an impressionable, Anakin-aged nine-year-old in 1999 this is music to my ears. I have for much of its lifetime found it to be a curiously easy watch, rather than the repellent slugfest many of its loudest critics label it. As I’ve grown older I’ve appreciated more and more some of George Lucas’s flourishes that were imperceptible or just “part of the furniture” to my younger, less-developed critical faculty. I am also more than aware of the film’s many transgressions and faults. I understand completely why the film doesn’t work for so many, and why it was upsetting or frustrating.

In an odd way though, many of The Phantom Menace’s mistakes form part of its appeal now for me as an adult. While on the surface it is a children’s storybook of a film and is (relatively) less mature than what is to come, this belies a story that is steeped in some of the noir traditions that would become more obvious in Attack of the Clones, and as mentioned in Sarah Dempster’s excellent anniversary piece, is the beginning of the end of the galaxy far, far away’s Belle Epoque. Beyond that, with respect to what may be in store for us with The Rise of Skywalker, it is also the best showcase for one of the silver screen’s most diabolical and terrifying villains: Sheev Palpatine.

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Rules of the Game: The Malevolent Heart of The Phantom Menace

As The Phantom Menace turns twenty it has encouragingly ushered forth open reappraisal, new discussions, and even admiration for much of the creative work that went into one of the most accidentally incendiary films of the modern era. As someone who loved it as an impressionable, Anakin-aged nine-year-old in 1999 this is music to my ears. I have for much of its lifetime found it to be a curiously easy watch, rather than the repellent slugfest many of its loudest critics label it. As I’ve grown older I’ve appreciated more and more some of George Lucas’s flourishes that were imperceptible or just “part of the furniture” to my younger, less-developed critical faculty. I am also more than aware of the film’s many transgressions and faults. I understand completely why the film doesn’t work for so many, and why it was upsetting or frustrating.

In an odd way though, many of The Phantom Menace’s mistakes form part of its appeal now for me as an adult. While on the surface it is a children’s storybook of a film and is (relatively) less mature than what is to come, this belies a story that is steeped in some of the noir traditions that would become more obvious in Attack of the Clones, and as mentioned in Sarah Dempster’s excellent anniversary piece, is the beginning of the end of the galaxy far, far away’s Belle Epoque. Beyond that, with respect to what may be in store for us with The Rise of Skywalker, it is also the best showcase for one of the silver screen’s most diabolical and terrifying villains: Sheev Palpatine. Read More

Yoda’s Story: The True Burden of All Masters

Of the Star Wars characters who have been fortunate enough to appear in all three trilogies of the Skywalker saga, Yoda’s is perhaps one of the most patchwork – largely a supporting role, an invention to fill the void after Obi-Wan Kenobi’s not-entirely-planned demise in the original Star Wars. Yoda briefly took center stage as a major character in the operatic, apocalyptic Revenge of the Sith, and made a somewhat unexpected return to the series as a ghost in The Last Jedi. He may return yet again for The Rise of Skywalker, but even without that final installment Yoda’s story has perhaps by accident become one of the most poignant and illuminating that the cornucopia of Star Wars has to offer. It sees him on both ends of the spectrum of galactic power, but beyond that it tells a story of an individual’s battle with dogma and orthodoxy, and ultimately the selflessness to be surpassed by his greatest pupil.

Enter the bureaucrat

Contrary perhaps to expectations prior to the 1999 release of The Phantom Menace, when Yoda’s backstory during the time of Anakin Skywalker was unveiled he was shown to be in a drastically different milieu to that of his humble existence of Dagobah. We see that he was in fact a member of the Jedi High Council, residing on Coruscant, the capital of the Republic, in a gleaming, imposing temple with his fellow masters. He is, quite notably, not a very fun character in this environment – a naysayer in The Phantom Menace, like his colleague Mace Windu he urges caution against training Anakin.

This is not the limit of Yoda’s influence in his first chronological appearance, however – he is involved in the politics that underpin the film. This, ultimately, is of more relevance to Yoda’s story in the prequel trilogy, which escalates in the second film, Attack of the Clones. Perhaps one of the most pivotal scenes of the trilogy occurs when Obi-Wan Kenobi contacts Yoda and Mace to inform them of his discovery on Kamino of a clone army for the Republic. Processing this information, Yoda despairs that the ascendancy of the dark side has effectively rendered the Jedi blind, if they could have been so easily and completely deceived for a decade. Mace suggests that they inform the Senate that they are unable to operate to the best of their ability, but Yoda vetoes this decision. It is perhaps a throwaway hypothetical, but one can imagine that Yoda does not trust the system within which he works enough to be transparent. This plays into the hands of the Sith, creating a hermetic culture of secrets and ignored incompetence. There is a vital arrogance too: the Jedi do not humor the idea that Count Dooku has fallen to the dark side until it is far too late. Read More