Monday, December 30, 2019

Rise of Skywalker Review - A New Chosen One

                

It's been twenty years since the first time I stepped into a theater to watch Star Wars. As with most kids, I left in amazement, and immediately asked my parents for a toy lightsaber so that I could pretend I was Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon. Soon after that I discovered that there was a whole universe of Star Wars stories beyond Episode I, which I voraciously consumed via old VHS copies of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. This led to me consuming Star Wars through other forms of media, like books and video games, with my favorite of the latter being the Knights of the Old Republic games.

By the time Revenge of the Sith came out, I was a certified Star Wars fanatic. That movie, while it has its problems, is still my favorite Star Wars film to date (something that is probably true of the majority of my generation). The lightsaber battles, the characters, seeing the fall of Anakin Skywalker happen before my eyes—all of these combined to create an experience I would never forget. Even to this day I make sure to watch Revenge of the Sith at least once a year.

When Disney announced the creation of a new Star Wars trilogy, I was very excited. While I was a bit concerned that it would ruin the conclusion of Episode VI, I went into watching Episode VII with an open mind, and was mostly pleased with the result. Episode VIII certainly subverted my expectations, as it did for most people, but at the time I left the theater feeling fairly satisfied, albeit slightly perturbed by the lack of lightsaber duels.


Image result for ben soloFor Episode IX, J.J. Abrams had to accomplish two difficult tasks—formulating a meaningful conclusion not only to his trilogy, but to the prequels and the original saga as well. In that sense he failed. To his credit though, there are few minds in the world who could have successfully weaved together the perfect ending to Episodes I - VIII in barely over two hours of screen time.

What Abrams did accomplish was a satisfying conclusion to Episode VII (yes VII, not VIII), while sprinkling in just enough fan service, Force powers, and nods to previous heroes to keep people (including myself) engaged. The inclusion of Palpatine as the primary antagonist—something that I know some of you were disgusted by—seemed fitting to me, especially after the mangling of the previous big bad in Supreme Leader Snoke. Episode IX needed something to bind together its disparate plot points, and who better to do so than the Senate himself?

The obvious critique of Episode IX is that, in bringing back Palpatine, it negates the spirit of its subtitle—Rise of Skywalker. In a twist of irony that I'm sure Sheev would appreciate, making Rey the eponymous Skywalker who rises makes Anakin Skywalker's story far less significant. He is now less the vaunted "Chosen One" and more a catalyst to Palpatine's plans. A catalyst that unbalances the Force by killing most of the Jedi in the galaxy, and who's last heroic act upon returning to the light is temporarily subduing Palpatine, who soon returns and manipulates his grandson to the dark side, plunging the galaxy into despair once more.

If we had some new lore written explaining that Anakin wasn't really the Chosen One, perhaps this would all make more sense and go down easier. It's not like that would be too unbelievable, as both Rey and Ben demonstrate abilities that Anakin never seemed capable of (including the ability to resurrect the dead—which may have been useful to the guy considering that was why he turned in the first place), implying that perhaps they have even more potential as Force users than Anakin (which has its own problems).

The reduction of Anakin to a footnote in the Skywalker story aside, I thought that Episode IX was a good movie overall. If one accepts, as the movie pushes us to, that Ben Solo and Rey Palpatine/Skywalker are the two people the Force brought together to end the ultimate Sith threat in Sidious, then it becomes easier to forgive the discrepancies outlined above.

Image result for reyThere are other things I could nitpick about the movie, and my friends who are even deeper into the lore than myself have already chimed in to remind me of them. But quibbles aside, I appreciate what Abrams was able to accomplish. Let us take a look at what we did get, rather than what we missed out on: Leia training as a Jedi (and her lightsaber), Rey and Kylo engaging in not one but two lightsaber duels—as well as a contest of the Force—Palpatine quoting prequel memes, Snoke's background being revealed, an explanation of the "Holdo maneuver," a backstory for Poe, Finn hinting that he is Force sensitive as was suggested back in Episode VII, the return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, gigantic fleet battles, a Force storm, and voice cameos from Ewan, Hayden, Liam, and others while Rey is vanquishing Palpatine once and for all (supposedly).

Would I have liked to see Hayden Christensen return as a Force ghost? Heck yeah. Would I have preferred the movie was three hours in length rather than the measly two hours and change we got? Of course. Even so, I appreciate the movie for what it is, and recognize that it could have been a lot worse. With regard to my problems with Anakin, the lore of the "Chosen One," Rey and Ben's wonky power scaling, and some of the other issues with the film, hopefully those all get resolved in either the novelization or in other Disney publications.

But until then, I await the inevitable Episode X...

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