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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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On Space, Time, the Force, and The Rise of Skywalker

The final season of Star Wars Rebels painted a picture of the Force that was much stranger, grander, and more unexpected than many things that had come before in Star Wars storytelling. Its characters even jokingly mentioned how weird things were, but accepted them nonetheless. However, one of the main plot points for the show’s resolution was perhaps a step too far for some fans: the revelation of the World Between Worlds, a realm in the Force that could allow one to travel to and manipulate events across the entirety of space and time. Access to this power would of course have far-reaching consequences for the entire saga, and Emperor Palpatine’s efforts to gain control of it in Star Wars Rebels become unsettling now that we know he’ll soon appear in some form in The Rise of Skywalker.

But does this addition of time travel change Star Wars too much from what it was before? Is the weirdness shown in Rebels too separate from what the Force was originally supposed to be? This might come as a surprise to those who know me as “the astrophysics guy” on this site, but I must confess that I didn’t really see a problem with this new game-changer. And I venture that, at least in part, it might have been my background as a scientist what made me accept it more readily as I thought about the physics of what we’d just witnessed.

We have known the Force transcended the limitations of space and time ever since we saw Obi-Wan feeling the destruction of Alderaan the moment it happened many light-years away. Instant communication of information, however, is a violation of relativity that we see routinely achieved in Star Wars via technology, with no Force required, and I’ve already explained in a previous post how accuracy to our real-world physics could still be respected in such a fictional universe. I won’t talk here about networks of wormholes or similar speculations to attempt a physical explanation of the World Between Worlds. Since on this occasion we deal with the Force, that even the most devoted in-universe scholars do not truly comprehend, I will take a different approach.

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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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“The Same Eyes in Different People”:  The Heroic Cycle, the Sequel Trilogy, and the Star Wars Saga

Thirty-six years ago, a movie cut from the image of its protagonists—together again, alive, smiling, and dancing—under the wavering torchlight of hundreds of bonfires and surrounded by the celebratory revel of a hundred sentient bear-creatures to a shout of familiar end credits music and blue lettering.

And, with that, the Star Wars movies were over.

Done.

There was never going to be another Star Wars movie again. The heroes had suffered but had triumphed. It seemed that good had conquered and even converted evil. Two characters were in love and another had found his place in the universe. Nobody was dead except the bad guys, and even then, one of them had redeemed himself in the process. The audience was satisfied and dissatisfied in equal measure. Everything was as it should be.

We had attained as close to a happily-ever-after as we, and the characters, could hope for.

Thirty-six years and five more saga films later, that’s not the case.

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Press B to Join the Dark Side – On Jedi Gaming in the New Canon

The first gameplay footage from Jedi: Fallen Order dropped recently, and it was…well, if I had seen it when I was twelve, I would have been very excited for this game. Most of the issues I have are things that you can see anywhere else on the internet, issues with out-of-date mechanics and unengaging combat. Instead, here, I wanted to talk about something different, how the game seems lackluster as a Star Wars story.

The developers have made a few things very clear about the game. It is a linear, story-driven, Jedi action adventure RPG about a Padawan who survives Order 66. A story we’ve all heard before—but just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean you can’t explore it from a new and exciting angle. You could explore the conflict between the dark and light as it relates to what he must do to survive conflicts with his Jedi teachings.

Except, they aren’t. The devs have said there is no light/dark moral system. There are no consequences to running into every situation swinging your lightsaber like a madman. It sounds like the game pretty much forces you to play that way. The devs also say they liked that the character was on the run because it meant that they could have you go into situations and kill without thinking about it. So rather than using the moral dilemmas involved in being a Jedi forced to fight stormtroopers who are essentially lawmen doing their jobs, we ignore that and go straight to being an indiscriminate killer.

The thing that puts me the most off of this game is the use of the Force in the trailer. For someone who never even completed their Padawan training, you do some crazy things with the Force: picking people up with your mind; running faster than blaster fire; even stopping blaster bolts in midair. Abilities we have seen used rarely, and when they are used, it’s by incredibly powerful individuals.

So why does this game have a Padawan that is freely using powers that most Jedi Masters struggle with? Simple, the game is a power fantasy. Most video games are power fantasies, with the story written around the fantasy rather than a story being written, then a game built around the story. There is nothing wrong with this; I’ve never complained about any game doing it before, so why does it rub me the wrong way when this particular game is a power fantasy? Is it possible that the Jedi and the Force are anti-power fantasy?

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