A Totally Biased Rise of Skywalker Think Piece
A Totally Biased Rise of Skywalker Think Piece - because the shade that is being thrown at Skywalker right now is unbelievable, and undeserved.
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I love small movies. I love it when some friends get together, craft a decent screenplay, and pour their hearts and souls into their film. Movies like They Look Like People, where Perry Blackshear paid a few actor friends of his to join him, and in the meantime, drafted a screenplay on the fly because he knew his other screenplay was way too big of a movie to make. And his friends (MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, Margaret Ying Drake) were up to the challenge…and They Look Like People was crafted. And yet, here I am, talking about Rise of Skywalker and it is literally 180 degrees away from this kind of story making. And that is why, today, I am bringing to you, a totally biased Rise of Skywalker think piece – I plan to explain the various cultural phenomena happening inside of Star Wars that made this movie what it is.

First, some housekeeping. I will not be posting spoilers in this discussion – but I’m totally open to us discussing the ins and outs of the movie spoilers in the comments section. So if you haven’t seen the film yet, please duck and weave your way away from the comments. OK? Great.

I’m going to start off with a bang – Star Wars was successful mainly because of George Lucas’ understanding of the struggle between heroes and villains that originally comes from old myths being told in new ways. Yes, yes, which was most clearly enunciated by Joseph Campbell. But the Star Wars saga has always been a story about a down on your luck, ragtag band of survivors, believing in something bigger than themselves. Hoping in something bigger than themselves. Human nature has a deep seeded desire to believe that they play a part in a story much much larger than themselves. Why? Because we are wired to hope, we are wired to believe that our stories matter. (And they do, but that is a different conversation for a different day.)

So when Lucas pulled from the Joseph Campbell playbook he was intentionally pulling from these mythos that mean so much to us. Good was good (white hats), and bad was bad (black hats…literally). We are mired in ambiguities throughout our everyday lives. Should I give five bucks to that guy on the street who is obviously down on his luck? First blush, it makes sense. But will he use it to fuel his alcoholism or his drug addiction? You know what I mean. For the evil to come color coded with Darth’s affixed to their titles, would be MARVELOUS. No? Should I consort with a Darth? No. Probably not. Or, should I take this job as an Under-Sith? No. I shouldn’t. Morally, it seems dubious. But today, the moral questions in my day to day life is anything but simple to understand.

“Well, when I did ‘Star Wars’ I consciously set about to recreate myths and the — and the classic mythological motifs. And I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that existed today.”

George Lucas

So what we have with Star Wars is a heralding back to King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table. We see a band of friends struggling to do the right thing. To come out from under the oppressive power of the Dark Side. To free people to live lives that matter…morally. But most importantly – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – it answers the question of whether or not we are all someone. Notice…Luke, a no one from a backwater planet that was made solely out of sand and armpit sweat, was revealed to be the son of the most powerful villain in all of filmic history, Darth Vader. Does his life have purpose and meaning? And what about Leia, the daughter of Darth Vader, has her adoptive planet (Alderaan) blown to smithereens, and her parents (Jimmy Smits, we love you) along with it. She’s an orphan twice! Does she belong? Does she have a family? Is her life meaningful among all this familial chaos? YES! She’s Princess Leia! She’s General Leia! And Rey? Who is she. The story so far, the story up to this point, is that she is literally no one. She has no parents that matter. They sold her for drug money. She’s nobody. (It isn’t a spoiler to say, of course that storyline couldn’t stand. This idea that we all have The Force, and even nobodies could be powerful is a DECIDEDLY STAR TREK idea. It literally makes zero sense within the Star Wars mythic universe. Of course she is someone important.)

The Star Wars Struggle of the Self

But all of the trappings of the Star Wars universe are nothing – literally zilch – minus the idea of the insidiously powerful internal struggle. Take the mythos of Star Wars, throw it in the nearest trash can. Take the Sith Lords, and the band of Rebels…trash can. Light Sabers, and X-Wing fighters…trash can. If you don’t have the Star Wars internal struggle of the opposites, you don’t have Star Wars.

In a New Hope, Luke knows he’s meant for something bigger. He stares up at the stars optimistically and pines for a storyline that means something bigger than himself. Something to abandon himself to. You see this in his attempts to proselytize his money grubbing buddy, Han Solo. But Luke’s story walks into darker waters with Empire Strikes Back. This optimistic kid hits the proverbial wall when he realizes his past, and what the real path forward actually is. It’s Frodo in the midst of The Two Towers. It’s Jon Snow standing alone on the White Wall. It’s King Arthur and the valley of his incestuous affair. Luke is lost in the valley of his own doubts. Can he overcome his evil past, his evil blood? Can he rewrite this story about himself that has already been written for him before he was born? Will he be able to stand against the tide, and refuse to buckle in the face of his own mental house of horrors?

Now THIS! This is a story that resounds. Daily we fight this battle. Every single day we logically weigh the pros and cons of giving that guy on the corner five bucks. Heck! Screw benevolency! Every day we struggle to keep from stealing that guy’s wallet!! Flipping that other driver off! Being the evil that we know that we can be. Star Wars is, 100%, this internal struggle. It is this pushing against this natural tide.

We would like to be able to say that we returned the wallet with the 100 million dollar lottery ticket inside. But would we return it? We would like to be able to be morally upright in all cases, and in all situations. But are we? NO! Which is why the battle of Star Wars isn’t in the Tie Fighters and the X-Wings. That is the window dressing. The real battle of Star Wars is always about either A) giving up hope, and joining the Dark Side, or B) Standing strong to our convictions and doing the right thing in spite of the odds. That is the heart of Star Wars. And it’s a struggle rooted in the extreme convictions of morality and hope. We are Luke. We are Leia. We are Rey. This is our story. Isn’t their story. Joseph Campbell’s comparative mythology book was entitled ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ after all. It’s your face. It’s my face. We see ourselves in these dark situations, and something inside of us screams for us to do the right thing, the consequences be damned.

The Rise of Skywalker

But where does that leave us with The Rise of Skywalker? My quick blush on the film is that it is 100% dead center I would say. Rey’s internal struggle was there and her fight against the flip to the Darkside was a prominent feature of the film. Rey’s identity as special, (working hard not to spoil anything here) and her place in the pantheon of Star Wars’ heroes was 100% there. The clear definition of moral right and moral wrongs was all there. We see the Rebels working together to try and fight enormous odds that they literally have no chance of winning without hope outside of themselves.

But I can also see where more casual observers of the film might really have issues with this film. The first 45 minutes is literally coming at the audience at light speed. It’s literally tricky to stay on top of. I really am not even sure I can summarize the first three beats of this film. The Rebels are running or attacking or looking for something? Hahaha. Yeah, it’s visually arresting – if incomprehensible. There are McGuffins here that I know not of. Fine. But ultimately, we all know that Rey will have her Dagobah training moments and that we eventually watch as Rey and Ren reconnect. There will also be another external force that plays the two of them against each other. (Who I won’t even talk about, even though you already know who that is.)

Star Wars Resolutions

This movie though is 100% about resolutions. It flies straight as an arrow on its path towards a pile of answers that we have been waiting for and Abrams, for his part, answers every single answer that is essential to the 9-part anthology. And it does so in such a way as to weave elegantly in a fullon quadrille des contredanses. But this has given rise to disdain for the film as a pandering soup of a film. Apparently, long sought after resolutions are now out of fashion. Worse, giving the audience what they had hoped for! I, normally enjoy dissolution as opposed to resolution, found myself exalting at the major chords as opposed to the normally preferred minors. Take that for what it is worth.

The Complete Canon Ranked

For context, if I were to rank the above films against my above proclamations and definitions of moral and internal struggles, I would rate them something like this (rated in order of their creations):

  • Episode 4 – A New Hope (8/10)
  • Episode 5 – Empire Strikes Back (10/10)
  • Episode 6 – Return of the Jedi (7/10)
  • Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (2/10)
  • Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones (2/10)
  • Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith (3/10)
  • Episode 7 – The Force Awakens (8/10)
  • Episode 8 – The Last Jedi (7/10)
  • Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker (9/10)

And out of curiosity – if you’d like my rankings of Solo and Rogue One – I’d give Solo a (5/10), and Rogue One would be an (9/10) on this same ranking scale.

I really enjoyed this movie – and won’t be dissuaded. Star Wars is a complete ecosystem that works intentionally to provide a clarion call to our souls to be a better person than when we walked into the theater. To choose good over evil. To believe in something bigger than ourselves. And if that makes me depressingly old fashioned to revel in these sorts of moral imperatives in our lives, then so be it.

Edited by: CY

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6 Responses

  1. Spencer M.

    Went into the movie with low expectations due to the reviews I saw, but left the movie feeling good. I shook my head at some parts, but they are small compared to the parts done right. I give it an 8 out of 10.

    SPOILERS BELOW !

    The Good :
    Lando Calrissian!
    How Leia used her force voice to distract Ben during his fight with Rey.
    Leia’s death was handled very well.
    Chewbacca’s mournful yell when he heard Leia died was very moving.
    The tiny character, Babu Frik, stole every scene it was in. (the alien that hacked C3PO’s memory)
    This movie acted like the stupid kiss between Finn and Rose never happened.
    Luke’s attitude toward the Jedi was reversed from what it was in The Last Jedi.
    Chewie finally received a medal! Woop Woop! (Maz Kanata handed it to him at the end of the movie)
    C3PO had some great lines.
    Rey’s surprise use of force lightning did a good job making us & Rey wonder if she was going to go to the dark side.
    The long distance lightsaber fight between Kylo (on planet Kijimi) and Rey (on Kylo’s Star Destroyer) was so cool! (especially how the background kept changing)
    I love those tank-tread sand cycles the stormtroopers were riding.
    Having Luke using the force to rise the X-wing from the water for Rey was a nice contrast to him being unable to do the same thing on Dagobah in ESB.

    The not so good :
    Too much coincidence for Rey to be standing at the right spot on an entire planet for the Sith dagger to show her where the holicron/wayfinder was located.
    That stupid kiss Rey gave Ben at the end came out of nowhere.
    Finn somehow figured out which of the Star Destroyers was sending out the navigation signal. That was so weak, weak, weak!
    The Knights of Ren were defeated too easily.
    A drained Ben somehow survives being tossed down a deep hole by Palpatine. (like how Palpatine somehow survived being tossed down a deep shaft, but hey! Luke survived falling a long distance on Bespin)

    How Rise of Skywalker could have been better :
    When Rey was fighting Palpatine we should have seen the spirits of each Jedi doing their specific moves in Rey’s body against the spirits of each Sith in Palpatine’s body. When Rey was reflecting the lightning back at Palpatine we should also be seeing the spirit of Mace Windu surrounding/possessing her body as the one guiding Rey to do that move. Imagine the Emperor’s reaction when he sees Anakin pulling some moves through Rey.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey there Spencer –
      Way to kick off the spoiler fest with such amazing vim & vigor! I’ll just throw some of my random favorite details:

      • I thought the parallels between Anakin’s redemption at the end of VI and Kylo’s (Ben’s) was off the hook.
      • I, like you, really thought Leia’s death was very meaningful and well done.
      • Chewie and Leia’s death?!?! Gah. So intense. So good.
      • Yeah, Chewie’s medal was really touching – and I was certain that 90% of the people in the theater didn’t get it.
      • Did you catch that Finn was going to ask Rey about his being force sensitive? Loved that he was sensing things. Which, also explains how he knew which star destroyer…
      • Oh, and did you hear that Jannah is Lando’s daughter?
      • I actually loved the kiss between Rey and Kylo. There was so much tension between the two for the previous two movies, you knew they either had to marry or kill each other.
      • Rey’s selfless act of healing Kylo, only to have him return the favor a minute later.
      • And Kylo dying in a singular redemptive act – I mean, after killing his father and, effectively his mother…

      I could go on and on all day.

      Now, do you have thoughts on how Leia died? Was the projection too far, and too much of an effort? Did she die similarly to Luke? Or, did she die because Rey impaled Kylo with her lightsaber while they were connected?

      Reply
  2. Ines

    Hi Taylor! I enjoyed this movie so much. I saw it last Saturday, after the premiere and I hadn’t seen any reviews before. I usually pay some attention to reviews, but I havent´t had the time to see any reviews lately. Besides, I grew up on Star Wars so there’s no way I was gonna miss this. I saw some reviews yesterday and I was really surprised. It seems I’m old-fashioned too! Thank you for sharing your views. It’s a pleasure, as usual.

    Reply
  3. Spencer M.

    @Taylor
    I just got back from watching the movie again.
    I didn’t catch that Finn was going to ask Rey about being force sensitive. I mistakenly thought he was going to say, “I love you.” Maybe he was going to tell her who her grandfather is? J.J. Abrams probably left it open so fans could decide what they wanted him to tell Rey. I think your idea is the best fit. For some reason he didn’t feel comfortable saying it out loud in front of Poe when they were underground.
    Did you catch that the Han Solo memory said, “I know” to Ben when Ben paused after saying, “Dad….” (just like Han did to Leia when she said, “I love you.” in Empire Strikes Back). My heart pounded with joy during that scene!
    I did not hear that Jannah is Lando’s daughter. Was that something I missed in the movie?
    I think Leia’s death was due to overexertion in using her force voice to reach Ben. Maza Kanata said it was going to take everything she has to help her son. So she probably died the same way Luke did in The Last Jedi.
    Were the crowds on Exogol around The Emperor his cult followers or were they all the spirits of all the Sith before the Emperor?
    Looking forward to seeing it a third time with my dad.

    Reply
  4. Taylor Holmes

    Spencer –
    The Jannah thing – her being Lando’s daughter – was filmed and detailed out… but then cut because of time. Lando, after IV, V and VI, had a relationship with a woman, and had a child. But then the child was stolen away. Jannah was that child, and this was to be their reunion.

    As for the force sensitive thing – that too was confirmed by Abrams, or Daisy Ridley I believe.

    And re: the I love you – I know parallels… that was uber. Loved that. So mind erasingly good.

    I too watched it again yesterday. The opening popped clearer the second time. AH… it’s all about Exogol or whatever it’s called. I just didn’t realize what was happening. And the second half got even better the second time around. Great ending to the nine movies.

    If I were to ask for changes, it would be to drop some of the opening light speed skipping stuff, and instead give us a celebration ending that looked back at all the force ghost guys. Just use the same ghost footage from Return of the Jedi. I don’t care.

    But otherwise, it was really really a great ride.

    Reply

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