Tag Archives: Star Wars

Terrible Reviews: (The Ending of) The Rise of Skywalker


I want to talk about the end of “The Rise of Skywalker”, so rest assured, there will be spoilers ahead in this post.

Not a lot of them, mind you, and certainly not wide-ranging. In fact, the spoilers are really limited to one, and that to a specific moment. Specifically, I want that specific moment to be the final moment of the final movie, itself the final moment of the most recent trilogy, itself the culmination of a trilogy of trilogies. The previous nine films (let’s leave Rogue One and Solo out for the time being — and perhaps for good) all build up to this particular moment.

It must be said first that I was a Disney Star Wars skeptic, but now I’m a convert. Taking on a new trilogy in and of itself was a tall order to say the least, but I think that Disney not only stuck the landing, but they did it in a way that somehow threads a wicked-tiny needle: the new series is awesome, it preserves and reinvents the magic of the original series, and it lays to rest the fear that the prequels gave us that new Star Wars movies were doomed to be crap. The new Star Wars are not crap. Probably not least of which is because the franchise was pried from the grasping clumsy fingers of George Lucas.

But enough preamble. Let’s get to the spoiler and that all-important culminating moment.

The war is over, the fighting done, the survivors gone home, the obligatory LGBT inclusion included and summarily fast-forwarded over. Rey returns to the scene of the crime, the iconic planet of Tattooine, specifically Luke’s hut on said dust mote, to entomb the light sabers belonging to Luke and Leia. She’s approached by an old crone who demands her name.

“Rey,” she says.

“Rey who?” the crone replies.

And after a brief but poignant gaze into the middle distance, she replies, “Rey Skywalker.”

And then we get a lovely bookending shot of Rey and BB-8 silhouetted against those bloody twin suns over the desert world.

And when I first saw it, I was mad. It felt like a whiff on a perfectly good opportunity, a lame attemt at fanservice, a copout to justify the movie title, a phone-in in lieu of something actually clever.

See, there’s this moment near the end of the first act of RoS where the story is actually starting to get some legs. Rey gets approached by this kid in a crowd who asks her for her name, and Rey’s all, “Rey,” and the kid goes “OK but Rey who” and Rey’s like “just Rey,” and it’s a sad moment for her but also a growing one, because Rey has spent the better part of the last two films sort of tied up in knots about her parents, and she seems to be coming to grips with it there, though she still has some feels. So having a parallel moment at the end of the film seemed a perfect time, to me, for her to answer back “Just Rey” again, but with a bit more sass and certainty. “Rey Skywalker” felt … well, just wrong, on first look.

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. And the more I continue to think about it, the more I think it’s the perfect ending to the movie, to the trilogy, and to the trilogy of trilogies. And it’s for much the same reason I didn’t like it at first.

See, by the end of episode IX, Rey has been through it. Faced certain death, become a jedi or whatever passes for a Jedi now that the order is gone, learned the truth of her bloodline, lost friends and mentors and … yeah. Wringer 800, Rey 0.

But the Galaxy has been through it, too. Planets wiped out. Spirits broken. Kids kidnapped and forced into service. A loss of hope. The spirits of the average sentient creature in the galaxy are broken. (This is a huge motif in the new trilogy.) And what rallies people together in hopeless times? A symbol. Something to believe in, something to throw their energy and, for lack of a better word, faith behind.

I mean, in the original trilogy, Darth Vader and the Emperor are out there scaring the hockeysticks out of everybody and it takes the arrival of a new Jedi, a nobody from nowhere named Luke Skywalker to pick up the mantle and a lightsaber, go get trained by a fuzzy little green guy in a swamp and give Vader what for.

Then, in the prequels, the Jedi Order is there, you know, being inept as they strive against the Sith but there’s all this babble, this prophecy, about the One who will bring Balance to the Force (randomly capitalizing words is fun). And they find this podunk kid, this nobody from nowhere, who’s force sensitive, and holy crap his MIDICHLORIANS (let us never speak of them again) are off the scale, and could he be the one?YES HE IS, and his name is Anakin Skywalker and he carries all our hopes and dreams until Ben’s all “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE” and cuts him in half.

So in the new trilogy, we have … what? We have Luke but he’s in the wind, took his lightsaber and his fancy force powers and fargo’d off to a nowhere that wasn’t even on the map. He’s gone, the Resistance is in disarray because of it, everybody’s looking for Luke to save the day, but he’s off drinking green milk straight from the beached whatever-the-heck-that-thing-was and putzing around with porgs. He can’t be the symbol people rally around anymore; he’s old, he’s disillusioned, he’s SCARED maybe.

But then — but THEN we have the end of TLJ, where Luke becomes the legend again, where he single-handedly faces down an entire squadron of First Order walkers and Kylo Ren himself, and the Resistance has their minds blown in real time and the legend spreads and at the end of TLJ that kid force-pulls the broom over and you see that silhouette where he looks like a Jedi and HOLY CRAP the end of TLJ is so damn good.

Except now Luke’s gone again. Dead for realsies, or as dead as a Jedi ever is in this series, which is to say only as dead as he wants to be, but as far as being a symbol, he’s toast, because he can’t exactly go appearing to the galaxy in his little blue outline, can he? No. Ghosts can’t be symbols. The galaxy needs a new symbol.

The galaxy needs … a Skywalker.

Rey groks this. She knows how important Luke was, not just to her for her training, but also to the entire Resistance and to everybody who was too scared to stand up to the Empire. She feels the void left by Luke’s passing, probably more acutely than anybody who’s left alive, and she knows. There has to be a Skywalker.

And it has to be her. Who else is left?

“Rey who?”

“Rey Skywalker.”

God, it’s so poetic and awesome and simple. George Lucas said in that interview that Star Wars is like poetry; it rhymes. That quote is dumb and it pretends to be deep even though it isn’t, but there’s still truth in it, in that while the history of Star Wars doesn’t necessarily repeat, there are those elements that keep coming back. The galaxy needs a Skywalker, and Rey, like Luke before her and Anakin before that, sees the mantle there, abandoned by the one who came before, and says “guess I’ll put this on then.” Never mind she’s not a Skywalker by blood. Hell, Luke even tells Rey in RoS that some things are more important than blood.

But that only leads into the other reason that I love this as the last moment of the saga, which is that my wife read this moment in a completely different way than I did and she still loved it just as much. To wit: as I mentioned before, Rey spent the better part of the past two films in various stages of despair and disillusionment over her parents and not knowing her identity. And the more she learns about her parentage, the less she likes it. First it’s the gut punch that she got abandoned in the first place. Then it’s the big reveal that her parents were … nobodies. (We learn that in TLJ, even though we later learn that it’s only half-true.) And then there’s the haymaker of the truth that comes in RoS.

The parentage, or rather the lack of parentage, that has haunted Rey from the word go turns into the most catastrophic news Rey could hope to learn.

But.

Along the way, she has also gained a family that she never had. First there’s Finn, who “helps” her even though she doesn’t need it, then Han Solo, who recognizes her potential and takes her under his wing, and then Leia who does the same but also bonds with her over Han’s passing, and then Luke who becomes her mentor, and finally her … what, her romance? Weird sibling rivalry? … with Kylo Ren, nee Ben Solo. This is her family. In the strangest of ways, she has become the child of Han and Leia and Luke (that’s a fan-fiction I will not be writing) and so she *really is* a Skywalker.

Rey who?”

“Rey Skywalker.”

Again, it’s all so bloody poetic and beautiful that I could almost cry manly tears if my heart weren’t frozen and shriveled like a womp rat’s testicles on Hoth.

The fact that the new trilogy (and by extension the trilogy of trilogies) manages to end on a note that echoes and reverberates and boomerangs back on itself and on all the movies leading up to it is a master stroke, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Then again, here I stand, having an opinion about Star Wars on the internet, so rest assured I must be wrong.

But you know what? Wrong or not, I don’t care. I got new Star Wars in my lifetime, and I got to re-capture some of that joy that the original movies brought me, and the new movies are good, dammit. Yes, all of them. And yeah, Disney is a horror conglomerate that’s assimilating all of our entertainment like the Blob with Mickey Mouse ears and that’s, you know, that’s a thing that might be a problem that we’ll have to deal with one day. But for now, for today, we have Star Wars, and it is good. Perfect? No – but I promise you, the original trilogy is far from perfect itself. These movies are good. And that’s enough.

The Force will be with us. Always.


Yes, There Is A Try


Do, or do not; there is no try. — Yoda

That used to be my stuff, right there. Say it, little green man. You’re either gonna do a thing or not do a thing, so quit pussyfooting around and saying you’re gonna “try.”

Oh, you’re gonna “try” to get that job? You’re gonna “try” to write today? You’re gonna “try” to do a push-up? Like hell you are. You’re either gonna make it a priority and bend your entire existence toward it and DO IT, or you’re gonna not, and the opportunity is gonna pass you by, and here you will still be, a little bit sadder.

Except … life isn’t always that simple, is it?cx


Terrible Reviews: Spoiler-Free Thoughts on “Solo”


Solo!

Here’s a few non-spoilerific thoughts on the new movie. Not that you need them.

I mean, you could basically write your own review of the thing without even seeing it at this point, right? You look at reviews for The Last Jedi and it becomes pretty clear to you that people decided to hate it or love it often for reasons entirely outside of what happens on film, and I’d wager the same could be said for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Something-something jaded review here.

Blah-blah-blah overdone tropes here.

Yadda-yadda cashing in on nostalgia here.

You can say all of those cynical things, and you’d probably be right. The onslaught of Star Wars since the new saga was announced several years ago has gone from a refreshing shower to an outright deluge and now, maybe, probably, to a stagnating pool of scummy water that the waterlogged soil can’t drain away anymore. They’re putting out a new film a year, and the new films are formulaic, even if they’re sometimes clever (or maybe TOO clever) about how they thwart those formulas. (I’ll circle back to that.)

I mean, you could say the same for Marvel’s offerings, too, only more so — they’re dropping more than a movie a year, after all.

It’s true, though. The tropes are overdone. Young Han is cocky and brash, the cyborg partner is plucky and sassy and slightly malfunctional, the mentor is grizzled and grumpy and disapproving … on and on down the list. And the franchise is no doubt cashing in on nostalgia, more so I think with Solo than with Rogue One. Han Solo, after all, is basically the most universally liked character from the original trilogy, and his untimely (or all too timely, depending on your point of view ) sendoff in The Force Awakens left some fans wanting more. Everybody loves Han, so let’s give them more Han. More is better, right? Right???

Put aside all that. The problem with the recent slew of movies and people’s reactions to them is a failure to meet the movies on their own terms. Star Wars Owes You Nothing, after all. And loading down a film with expectations — be they positive or negative! — is a good way to short-circuit an objective viewing of a film. (“xxx will never measure up to the original” is a common refrain, here.) You saddle that donkey with all your personal hopes and dreams and “I woulda done”s, and it’s no wonder the thing drowns before it gets halfway across the river.

Meet the movie on its own terms, though, and it’s fine. No, not awesome. No, not terrible. It’s fine. Han is, appropriately, cocky and brash, as we expect. His mentor, as we expect, is grizzled and grumpy. And his assorted cohorts are equal parts swindlery, wise-cracky, and heart-of-goldy. It’s all fine.

But what it ain’t is a necessary addition to the series. There’s nothing, in other words, in this two-and-a-half hour adventure that you can’t live without — no revealed knowledge, no breathtaking secret that changes everything we thought we knew about the galaxy’s favorite scamp. You end the movie in the same place as you started it — knowing that Han is a swaggering, boastful nerf-herder headed to Tattoine for a rendezvous with destiny.

Which is sort of the curse of the prequel, really. You already know how the story ends, the adventure is in getting there — and for me, the problem is that there’s nothing really shocking along the way. Han starts the movie as a thief, and, well … he ends it as a slightly more jaded thief.

Problem is, there’s nowhere to be surprised in there, not really, except for a couple of (actually rather lovely) reversals that are really only delays on the payoffs you know are coming. Han tells us in the original series how he won the Falcon — how much do we gain by watching it happen? The argument can be made that we’re better off when we get to fill in the details ourselves rather than being led around by the nose, the way this film seems to do. “Look here at this thing you already suspected, isn’t it nifty?” “And this, you knew there would be something like this in the story; well, here it is.” “Yep, the Falcon has always broken down at inopportune times but it always comes through in the end; why wouldn’t it do the same when it’s new?”

In that way, then, Solo is less about telling you a new story and more about affirming things you already know.

Here’s the thing, though: affirming your suspicions is a thing this movie does really well. The performers are all excellent in their roles (Daniel Glover’s portrayal of Lando, in particular, is bloody inspired), the story clips right along at that breakneck pace Disney has decided Star Wars should run at (seriously, I watched A New Hope after TFA came out and it’s basically comparing a teenager on a Saturday morning to a spooked cheetah), and the visuals and the action sequences are just beautiful.

Is Solo a life-altering piece of cinema? Hell no. But it ain’t a bad way to spend a few hours and a few bucks.

 


Bowl-Shocked


In less than a year, two of my hometown teams have suffered two of the most embarrassing, soul-crushing losses in recent sports history.

In last year’s Super Bowl, it was my beloved Atlanta Falcons running the hated New England Patriots out of the building for three quarters, only to allow a historic comeback in the 4th that led to an inevitable loss in overtime.

This time, it was my alma mater, the Georgia Bulldogs in the CFP championship, keeping the dynastic Alabama Crimson Tide at arm’s length for three quarters, only to allow (hmm, this feels familiar) a huge comeback in the 4th that led to an inevitable loss in overtime.

It’s one thing losing when your team is bad. You accept that they’re going to suck, you don’t get all invested in them, and you move on with your life. It’s another thing when your team makes it to some of the biggest stages in sports. You believe a little more, you buy in a little more — but it’s still possible to say such aphorisms as “win or lose, it’s nice to have made it to the big game.” I started both nights — last year’s Super Bowl and this year’s Championship Playoff — with the highest possible skepticism and grizzled resolve. I fully expected both teams to lose — that’s just how Atlanta sports go — but I was just happy to see them on the big stage.

But my teams have done something worse to me. My teams gave me hope. No, worse than that, they gave me assurance: The Falcons led by 25 points, and the Bulldogs led by 10 late in the game. That’s victory! Teams don’t lose with margins like that! In the space of a few hours, both games took me from “well, they probably lose, but it’s cool to see them in this game at all” to “hey it looks like they might have a chance” to “holy shnikes, they’re actually going to do it, they’re going to win!”

A loss without climbing the mountain would have been a lot less painful. A loss even halfway up the mountain would have been fine. But to scale the summit and be moments from planting your flag in the highest peak is the worst kind of disappointment.

So I’m bowl-shocked with the rest of the Bulldog fans out there. I’m proud of my team (well, my teams — the Falcons are in the hunt again) but I feel so hurt, and for me at least, a major part of the hurt is that I allowed the game to become more than a game. I allowed it to become a story.

Crazy, right? That the wannabe writer-guy sees story in everything? But I can’t help it. I was rooting for my teams, but even more than that, I was rooting for the story.

Take Atlanta: Consistently mediocre for years. Never won the big game, haven’t even been there in two decades. Occasionally they make the playoffs, but they go out with a whimper. Then: they’ve got a new head coach, young, hungry players, and a few veterans coming together at the right time. Who do they face off against? Only the most dynastic team in the NFL, whose current QB had four titles to his name already. Four! Most players are lucky to even have a chance at a single win.

Then, UGA: Again, some local success but never making a lot of noise outside the community. They won a title back in 1980 (the year I was born — coincidence? I THINK NOT) but haven’t even sniffed the big game since then, and it might as well be an entirely different sport these days. And all of a sudden: the team has great leadership under its seniors, who forego the NFL for one last season, one last shot; and like a bolt from the blue, new talent crawls out of the woodworks under the brand new coach. And hey fight and scrap and fight and scrap and face off again — who? Only the most dynastic team in college football, whose current coach has five championships in nine seasons. Saban wins the biggest game in the country more often than he loses it, and most teams — even great teams! — never even sniff the title bout.

Both situations are a little bit Star Wars, aren’t they?

Star Wars

Scrappy underdogs taking aim at the big, bad Empire? Going into a battle that you know in your heart doesn’t favor them? But you blink, and all of a sudden, they’re winning. And not only that, they have the Emperor on the ropes, lightning spraying from his arthritic fingers, cackling madly as he falls into the reactor. And in the final moments, the Empire is smashed, the Death Star explodes, and the Emperor is no more.

That’s how the story is supposed to end.

Unfortunately, real life is not fiction. In the real world, the Empire survives, the upstarts have certain victory snatched from their fingers, and those who have had more success than anybody has any right to take home more trophies. (Fighting, fighting, fighting the urge to go political here.  HRRRGGGG okay I’m over it.)

It’s enough to make you give up on your teams.

But also unlike fiction, these “books” don’t have endings. There’s a next year, and a next, and a next, and in sports at least, there’s nothing to stop the little guys from taking shots at the Empire, no matter how long the odds.

So don’t give up on your teams, even if they lose the big game, or even if they lose a lot. Embrace the suck.

Unless you’re a Patriots or Bama fan. In which case you can GTFO.

(Image lifted from Starwars.com.)


I’ll Get Him Sooner or Later


Earlier today, we got my son a Star Wars book for early readers that makes sound effects from the movies as you read through the story. I’ve been trying and trying to get him into it — my own fandom is desperate for my progeny to love this thing that I love — but nothing has really caught fire yet, so when he pointed to it in the store and said “what’s that, Daddy,” naturally I rushed to it. “Here it is look it’s the story of the whole movie and that’s Luke and that’s Obi-Wan and in this picture they’ve got their lightsabers and if you push that button you can hear Darth Vader and isn’t that cool???”

Maybe I laid it on a little too thick, but this time it didn’t scare him off. He thought that was pretty cool, so I couldn’t get to the checkout line fast enough. (Here, please take my money for this thing, and also for anything else that my son might want while he’s giving me this shred of dadservice!)

He kept his nose buried in the book the rest of the way through the store, the whole drive home, and for his entire afternoon “quiet time” (which used to be called “naptime” but due to negative connotations with sprout #2, has been re-branded).

Currently, it’s an hour past bedtime and I can still hear the sounds of laser blasters and lightsaber clashes coming from his bedroom.

I should be angry — he’s supposed to be asleep and all.

But I think I’ll let it slide tonight.


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