Tag Archives: story structure

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.


Penny Dreadful’s Dreadful Ending


We watched Penny Dreadful recently, a show that finished its run on Showtime a year or so ago and then washed up on the shores of Netflix. Of course, we began watching the series before reading the spoilers and reviews which suggested that the third (final) season was terrible and disappointing, but it starts off pretty gangbusters. Victorian heroes and heroines? Gothic stories, wicked violence, thrilling adventure? The perfect summer guilty pleasure, and so it was — we gobbled up two seasons in the space of about a week at the end of the summer.

Then we got about three episodes into season three and … just stopped. Partly because we ran out of time — when the summer goes for a family of educators, so goes the free time for binge-watching — and partly because the show lost its sense of what it was.

Here’s the part where I warn you that there are spoilers ahead for this show that’s over a year in the can, if spoilers are a thing you care about.

The first season was basically like the Avengers meets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets all those dusty old novels you’ve thought about reading but never quite got around to: it mashes up Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde and Dorian Gray, and turns them loose on the seedy, foggy streets of London. We end up with werewolves and gunslingers and vampires and witches stalking each other through back alleys and holy sharknado, is it a wild, dark, sexy ride.

The second season takes those heroes and fixes them firmly in orbit around the only female hero in the bunch, one Vanessa Ives. She’s a badass witch, and we learn just how she became so badass, and the perils of becoming so badass — she’s sought after by basically all the forces of darkness. More adventures. Frankenstein re-animates a woman for his monster and falls in love with her himself, but hey, whoops, turns out she won’t be owned, and she wreaks absolute hell in the streets of London herself.

That’s what made the show so satisfying: it was a bloodbath every episode, with a ragtag group of mercenaries fighting for their lives against the ultimate darkness, and the strongest, most fearsome, and most interesting characters in the series were the women.

Until season three. Wherein Vanessa, the most fearsome witch in the land, goes into a dark, existential struggle and gives in to become the bride of Dracula, and the aforementioned bride of Frankenstein falls into orbit with and becomes the diversion of Dorian Gray.

And it just becomes so … boring.

Well, we hate to leave a thing unfinished, and having sunk in the time to watch two seasons of what was once a pretty good show, we felt compelled to commit the time to finish the series out, to see if it turned itself around.

And it did … kind of.

There’s a sort of lovely duality to the final two episodes. The two women — Ives and the Bride — are both kept women, slaves to the men who have tamed them, bested them. But they respond differently: Vanessa gives up, stops fighting, and accepts that she can no longer fight against the forces that pursue her, even though she’s free to leave at any time, while the Bride fights with every breath, though she’s literally chained in a dungeon. Too much of it has escaped from memory, because I waited too long to put down these thoughts about it, but it’s all actually very poetic and sharp.

Except — and here’s the big spoiler — Vanessa kills herself at the end.

Which, I dunno, is a thing that makes sense, given the world that’s been built up around her. She has, after all, been pursued by the devil himself, and then by Dracula, and, due to the events of season three, been left by herself to stand against these advances. She sees no way out. She succumbs, and death and destruction ensue as the world’s most powerful witch and the father of vampires open the gates of hell.

But she kills herself. Or rather, she asks the man who loved her to kill her, and he does. And … that’s it. This woman who has been built up as the baddest, most indomitable spirit between heaven or hell? She sees no way out, gives up, and doesn’t even do it herself; she asks a man to kill her.

Horribly anticlimactic and disappointing.

Now, the Bride — she uses her cunning, plays upon her captor’s heartstrings, and escapes into the wild again. That’s an ending we can get behind. But the show isn’t about the Bride, not really. She’s a side-plot. If the show’s about anybody, it’s about Vanessa, and at the end, she gives up. And it’s hard to get behind that.

Not because she dies; a character choosing death can be valiant, if it’s for the right cause. And the argument can be made that Vanessa’s cause is valiant — the union between her and Dracula is literal poison for London, and eventually, for the world.

But she goes out weak. And I was led to believe, by everything that the show showed us up until the moment of her death, that this character was anything but weak.

That, I think, is why the show’s final season got panned. But it’s not like Showtime hasn’t seen horrible finales before — this is the network, after all, that turned one of the most compelling anti-heroes in recent memory into a reclusive lumberjack in his series finale. (Oh Dexter, we hardly knew ye.)

Tonight’s viewing? The first episode of Westworld. And initial impressions are double plus good.


Writing Journal: in which I ponder on stuff happening


I’m having serious insecurities about my writing lately.

I mean, I guess that sentence could be true for any writer at any time, ever, but it feels more so now, and I can’t really say why. I feel like the narrative I’m crafting is boggy and mired, like it’s trying to slog through a swamp replete with swarming, biting mosquitoes, noxious muck that sucks at your shoes, and probably a bunch of gators lurking just below the surface, waiting for you to come close enough to take a chomp at.

It’s slow going, is what I’m trying to say. Not the writing — that’s moving along just fine — but the story itself. I constantly fear that it’s lurking dangerously on the precipice of going down forever in the mire. And I’m not 100% sure what to attribute this feeling to, this spider-sense that something’s wrong. The writing doesn’t feel so terribly dissimilar from the writing in my first novel, where I felt like things clipped along fairly well.

I think — and who the hell knows, certainly not me — that I’m doing too much explaining. What I mean is, I feel like the current story is more centered on a single character than my previous stories, and it’s particularly centered on the way this character sees the world. That viewpoint is pretty cynical (go figure) and a bit self-doubty (you don’t say) and ultimately a bit nihilistic (shocker). All of which is fine, maybe, but I feel like I’m spending entirely too much time in between things happening dealing with my character’s reactions to the events, with his thoughts and fears and plans for what’s coming next, rather than, you know, just getting to the next thing.

Then I go and watch, oh, I don’t know, any TV show ever and it’s nothing but things happening at breakneck pace. Tonight it’s Penny Dreadful, for example, and in one episode, a character tracks down his childhood home and throttles the current landlord; another pair of characters turns another character evil and then all three bathe in the blood of a previous antagonist; another character enters a hypnotic state wherein she learns of a previous involvement with another character that we never knew about, and yet another character goes on a murdering rampage with yet another character he just met while still another character chases him across the desert of the Wild West. I mean, holy sharknado. That’s all in just one hour.

Now, yeah, I know, that’s TV, which is not a novel. TV is a flash-flame, table-side grill, while a novel is a slow-cooker. But still. There’s hardly time to breathe in between all that stuff happening, let alone time to reflect, react, or plan for the future.

So, then, I take a page from that particular book and pursue tonight’s writing with a mind toward action, action, action, and bang out 850 words without breaking a sweat. And it’s great! But it leaves me wondering: am I writing this particular novel all wrong? Am I living too much in the character’s (and, by extension, my own) head, at the expense of actually letting the story happen? Maybe the story needs more passages like the one tonight, more swathes of stuff happening with less thinking about the stuff on the part of one character or another.

But then, (dammit,) I circle back around, because aren’t the protagonist’s internal struggles just as important as the external ones that manifest as he’s robbing banks to equip his newfound secret lair with the help of his newly reprogrammed robot companion? (Oh, yeah, spoiler alert, I guess, kinda.) I mean, the current novel is sort of an anti-superhero story, so it needs a fair bit of rock ’em sock ’em action, but without that introspection weaved throughout, won’t it ring hollow?

Just another missive from I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-island.

*ponders*

*steams*

*hops back on the hamster wheel*

 


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