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Context Matters, or, Why I Didn’t Hate That One Thing in The Rise of Skywalker That I Was Expecting to Hate

I wanted “Middle Chapter Romance” to conclude my thoughts on this ship and just take The Rise of Skywalker as it came. Whether the end result was what I wanted or not, I planned to let it be. I don’t like talking about this. I’d much rather talk about “Twin Suns”. But, alas, The Rise of Skywalker made a set of decisions so incongruous that this topic is back gnawing at me, and I will have no peace until I’ve processed it all.

So.

That kiss.

You may recall that I have a special place in my heart for Larma D’Acy. If anyone deserved to get her girl, it was our gallant Commander. Yes, D’Acy, please cause a scene.

Nevertheless, this is exactly what we all expected when J.J. Abrams promised us LBTQIA+ representation in Star Wars. A minor character has a blink-and-you-miss-it moment of queer affection, and the filmmakers all pat themselves on the back for being so inclusive and progressive.

Of course, this isn’t the only kiss in the film, nor is it the one I aim to discuss in this article, but it does tie in to my reaction to the kiss between Rey and Ben. I don’t hate the Rey-Ben kiss as I would have expected to, but it still has me baffled and even angered. It’s all about the context.

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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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The Path to Immortality: Life and Death in The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker may not be a film that stands up to much in the way of analysis. A lot of it is fun as you are watching it (even if it’s in an ironic MST3K kind of way), but very quickly falls apart when you step back and think about it for more than a second or two. Still, it does introduce some new ideas relating to the Force that are worth looking at in the context of previous entries in the saga, particularly those related to healing, resurrection and immortality.

In The Path to Immortality parts one and two, I looked at the Sith quest for eternal life as established in Revenge of the Sith, how it arose from selfish instincts and was tied to extending the life of the physical, biological body. Anakin’s desperate attempts to save Padmé at the expense of everything else drew him to this power, and to the dark side. This idea is contrasted in Lucas’s Star Wars with the Jedi path to immortality, which involves letting go of the physical realm and becoming one with the Force, a process that involves compassion, selflessness and sacrifice.

The Force healing abilities introduced in TROS, used by Rey, at first glance seem closer to the Darth Plagueis model of eternal life, but there’s a crucial difference, one that keeps TROS consistent with the themes and messages of Star Wars as established so far.

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What should we call Rey?

(Editor’s note: normally, rather than compete with the holidays this week would be dedicated to our biannual Second Look feature—and that will indeed begin tomorrow and run through Friday. But first, with The Rise of Skywalker being so fresh in everybody’s minds and reactions being, ah, also very fresh, I thought today would be a good opportunity for this short, lighthearted piece from Jay Shah, which let’s be honest, I couldn’t have stopped him from writing if I’d tried. – Mike)

Warning: heavy spoilers follow for The Rise of Skywalker.

So, there are many questions that The Rise of Skywalker raises, even as it purports to answer others. There will be many articles over the coming weeks asking or answering them, serious think-pieces and silly parodies. 

I plan to be serious in my silliness. 

We learn a few things about Rey in this movie. I want to discuss what they mean. Not specifically for her, or the saga, or the mythology. I’ll leave those discussions for someone else. I want to discuss what the appropriate form of address for her should be. 

But wait, you ask! Didn’t she say at the end of the film that her name was Rey Skywalker? She sure did. And she has a right to decide who she is and how she defines herself, regardless of what anybody else says — her bloodline, her family, the galaxy, etc. If she says she’s Rey Skywalker, then she is. 

But since I didn’t see her sign a legal change of name document, I’ve decided she’s still legally Rey Palpatine. This is an assumption on my part: we don’t know if her father was legitimate or if he or she was a product of a morganatic marriage.1 But this is a silly piece, so I don’t care. I’m operating under the assumption that her father is legitimate and so is she. The Emperor wanted her to succeed him, so that is enough to establish legitimacy for me, regardless of anything else. Princeps legibus solutus est,2 after all. 

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  1. marriage between people of unequal social rank []
  2. “the prince is not bound by laws” []

A Short History of Disappointment, or, Why I’m Going to Like The Rise of Skywalker

Author’s note—as the title should make clear, there are no spoilers in this piece. I do, however, discuss lots of things that might happen in the film, and with those details certainly out there by now, note that I won’t be reading any of your comments or reactions until Thursday night. Godspeed, Rebels.

As someone who prides himself on rolling with the punches where new Star Wars content is concerned, I have some pretty big worries about what could unfold in The Rise of Skywalker when I sit down to watch it tomorrow night.

As someone who once strongly doubted whether there even needed to be a sequel trilogy, I’m worried that the story they chose to tell will lose its newfound convictions and prove that old me correct—that everything new about this conflict will be undermined by an effort to justify the sequels as part of a nine-episode story.

I’m worried that the failings of the New Republic, instead of being the organic growing pains of a new democracy, will have been part of an insidious long-term strategy employed by the First Order, and that the First Order itself will be an insidious long-term strategy employed by, erm, Darth Sidious. That what we’ve actually been watching for the last four years was one man playing a four-dimensional dejarik game that required him to be dead for thirty years.

Likewise, as someone who both wants and expects Kylo Ren to take some sort of step toward redeeming himself, I’m worried that his fall will be blamed on coercion or even outright brainwashing by Palpatine and/or Snoke. That he, and his parents, and his master, will turn out to have done nothing worse than be ill-prepared for the machinations of an evil wizard or two.

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