Friday, December 27, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

One interesting aspect of our current era of cinematic universes and mega-franchises is that the stories behind the scenes often feel more interesting, and more dramatic, than the ones on screen. I like most MCU movies, but I'd pay a lot more than a movie ticket's price to know the answers to questions such as why Patty Jenkins was fired from Thor: The Dark World, or what the creative differences were that led to Ava DuVernay leaving Black Panther. And when it comes to Star Wars in the Disney era, these questions feel even more urgent, because the decisions being made are so much more baffling. Is it really possible that one of the hottest IPs of the century, the potential cornerstone of an empire of spin-offs and merchandising opportunities, was written in a method not unlike the party game where everyone writes a sentence in a story, folds the page down, and then hands it to the next person? I'd give a lot for a record of what went on in the meetings where the shape of Disney's Star Wars movies—and particularly the sequel trilogy—was decided on. And frankly, I think such a record would be a great deal more illuminating, not to mention entertaining, than The Rise of Skywalker.

From a distance of thirty thousand feet, you could make an argument for how Disney handled the new Star Wars trilogy. Let J.J. Abrams, elevated fanboy extraordinaire, bring the series back to life, combining his obsessive fannishness with his unerring eye for casting and genuine interest in depicting complex, winning female heroes, and thus take the franchise into the twenty-first century without losing sight of what it was. Then bring in Rian Johnson, who has never met a genre convention he didn't immediately want to examine and dismantle, to take the whole thing forward, establishing new parameters for what Star Wars can and should be. Finally, bring Abrams back to soothe fans' hurt feelings and give them the triumphant ending a Star Wars story ultimately needs.[1]

Move closer in, however, and the problems with this approach become clearer. Someone should perhaps have remembered what happens when you give Abrams a second crack at a beloved science fiction franchise, how his worst fanboy tendencies, his desire to write to the audience rather than the characters, have a history of overwhelming anything resembling coherent or compelling storytelling. Someone should also have remembered that he's a great guy for setup, but simply a disaster at paying it off. Not that Abrams shoulders all the blame here, of course. The Last Jedi gets better and richer the longer it has lingered in my mind, but it must be acknowledged that it moves the overall plot of the sequel trilogy not even an inch, and in fact dismantles some of the scaffolding built by The Force Awakens, which Abrams was presumably relying on to finish the story. I say again: it is simply bonkers that writers working on different chapters in the same story were allowed to do this to one another. There's been far too much vitriol directed at Kathleen Kennedy, much of it clearly misogynistic, over her stewardship of the franchise under Disney, but it has to be acknowledged that many of her decisions in that capacity have been simply inexplicable.

Not least among those decisions—and another question I would dearly love to have answered is whether it's Kennedy or Abrams who is more at fault here, though ultimately they both shoulder the blame—is how The Rise of Skywalker scurries away from nearly all the interesting, progressive choices made by The Last Jedi, kowtowing to the hysterical baying of violent, racist so-called fans. These are the people who drove Kelly Marie Tran off social media because they hated Rose so much—for daring to be a woman of color in "their" Star Wars movie. So The Rise of Skywalker sidelines Rose in a way that feels openly contemptuous not only of the character, but of the people to whom she meant so much. A main character in The Last Jedi, she gets a measly 76 seconds of screentime in Rise, and only one character interaction that could conceivably be called meaningful.[2] Along the same lines, fans who have spent the last four years caterwauling about how "unrealistic" it was for Rey to defeat Kylo Ren in lightsaber combat have gotten their reward in a duel in which he thoroughly trounces her. Even the fact that everyone keeps calling Kylo "Ren"—which is  the equivalent of calling Darth Vader "Darth"—feels like a capitulation to an inattentive yet outraged fandom's inability to grasp that Ren is a title, not a name.

But the more glaring walkbacks in Rise cut to the very heart of what The Last Jedi was trying to do with Star Wars, and how it was trying to take it forward. Johnson purposefully made Rey the daughter of nobodies, rebelling against the franchise's obsession with dynasties and with making every Force user the progeny (or ancestor) of another major character. Rise, through an incredibly tortured bit of sophistry, not only reveals that she is actually the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine (whose return as the new trilogy's ultimate villain was presumably imposed by Jedi's disinterested killing-off of Supreme Leader Snoke), but that she and Kylo Ren are a "Force dyad" (and that Luke and Leia were one as well), thus cementing the franchise's preoccupation with a single, convoluted family tree. The fact that Rey adopts the surname "Skywalker" at the film's end is presumably intended as a wholesome, uplifting moment, but given everything that comes before it—including a kiss between her and Kylo—it also feels more than a bit incestuous.

The Last Jedi seemed to close the book on the matter of Kylo Ren's capacity for redemption by having him make the active choice to embrace evil and a lust for power, even after Rey helps him free himself from the malign influence of Snoke. But Rise not only gives him a second bite at the apple—along the way revealing that Leia, who in Jedi pronounced her son "lost", was always planning to make one last stab at saving him—it completely rewrites his character. In the film's final scenes, the person on screen is not a repentant Kylo Ren trying to make amends for his many horrific crimes—which include, I will remind you, mass-murder, genocide, and the enslavement of children; I mention this because both the films and the fandom like to pretend that the worst thing Kylo has ever done is kill his father, when really it barely even scratches the top one hundred. Instead, it is Ben Solo that we're watching, and the film works hard to make him seem human and down to earth—pulling a Han Solo-ish face when he realizes how outnumbered he is as he rushes to Rey's rescue, breaking out in a relieved smile when she kisses him. It's notable, though, that he gets virtually no dialogue in these scenes, as if speaking would break the spell and remind us who this character is and what he's done. And then he dies—which, to be fair, I find more satisfying than the alternative, but is also clearly a copout, a way of trying to appease Kylo's haters as well as his fans.

Still, if you pull back from the disappointment of how Rise refuses all the interesting avenues offered it by Jedi, there's something fitting about the whole affair. It's easy to miss this, because Rise is such a busy, overstuffed movie[3], following Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo as they criss-cross the galaxy in search of various plot tokens that will lead them to Palpatine's hideout, where he has amassed a vast fleet armed with planet-killing weapons that will permanently shift the tide of war against the rebellion. But just as he recapitulated A New Hope when he made The Force Awakens, Abrams follows the general contours of Return of the Jedi with this movie. So we have Palpatine as an ultimate villain, a visit to Endor[4], and a plot that hinges on the unconvincing, last-minute redemption of a dyed-in-the-wool villain and a lot of Force woo-woo. It completes a familiar template: one film that is frothy and fun and raises expectations of a great ride ahead; one film that is darker and more cerebral and makes you think the entire enterprise might actually be saying something as well as being fun to watch; and one film that squanders all that promise by trying to repeat the lighter first chapter, and only succeeds in delivering a mish-mash of tones and an ending that feels cobbled-together and unearned. If you didn't know better, you'd think Kennedy and Disney had planned it like this from the beginning.

And the truth is, in some respects Abrams outdoes Lucas. This is chiefly down to the fact that Daisy Ridley is an infinitely better actor than Mark Hamill. In her performance as Rey, Ridley is playing essentially the same combination of good-hearted naiveté and reflexive heroism as Hamill's Luke. But she never fails to find greater depth, and interesting little notes, in her version of the character. Her Rey is matter-of-fact and self-contained, but also vulnerable and querulous and angry. Throughout the film there are moments—when she verbally spars with Poe after he brings the Millennium Falcon back to the resistance base battered; when she sadly but firmly informs Leia that though she wants her blessing to halt her Jedi training and go off in pursuit of Palpatine, she will do it either way; when she shrieks in horror at having seemingly caused Chewie's death with her Force powers—where Ridley's choices take what should have been trite, over-familiar beats and make them feel human and specific to her character.

Most importantly, Ridley can believably convey anger and darkness. When The Rise of Skywalker tells us that Rey's anger at Kylo and Palpatine is putting her in genuine moral peril, it's convincing in a way that it never was for Luke, because Luke never actually seemed that angry at Vader or the Emperor, no matter how much they hurt him or his friends. In the film's climactic scene, Rey attacks Kylo, driven by anger into an undisciplined barrage which he quickly turns to his advantage. She is saved by Leia reaching out to her son in the last minute, staying his hand by reminding him of who he used to be. In that moment, Rey takes advantage of Kylo's distraction and fatally stabs him. There's a part of me that still thinks Kylo's story should have ended there—if nothing else, it would have been wonderfully cathartic for a character to whom the films keep offering second chances he doesn't deserve to think that he's been given another one, only for it to turn out to be a trick by two women who have had all they can stand of his bullshit. But at the same time, Ridley makes it clear that in killing Kylo, Rey has crossed a moral event horizon that she may not be able to live with. When she chooses to save him (through a Force-healing technique that the film introduces a scene or two earlier), it's annoying, but also feels earned—a genuine moral choice that Rey has to make if she's to remain true to who she is and what she wants to be—in a way that Luke's refusal to kill Vader never did.

By the same token, Rise edges a little closer to selling Kylo's "redemption" than Return ever did with Vader. Not all the way, to be clear—as I've said, the film has to ignore most of Kylo's sins, and rewrite his personality, for the idea to even come close to seeming plausible (it also trots out Harrison Ford as a Force ghost to offer Kylo unearned absolution, and opine—against all available evidence—that he is strong enough to shoulder the burden of fighting Palpatine). But when Rey saves Kylo's life, it's an act of unearned compassion and greatness of spirit that feels like the sort of thing that might shake an entitled person out of their whiny self-absorption. That Kylo's shock over Rey's choice is what pushes him to renounce the dark side is much more convincing, and more moving, than the idea that Darth Vader is suddenly a good guy because he saved his own son's life.

In the end, though, it's all for nothing. Like Return of the Jedi before it, The Rise of Skywalker runs aground on the shoals of its fuzzy, poorly-defined conception of what the Force is, what the light and dark sides are, and what, in the end, good and evil are. As he did to Luke, Palpatine insists to Rey that by hating him and acting on that hatred, she is giving herself to the dark side, and that killing him will only cause her to become the new dark lord. The fact that in Rey's case this is emotionally convincing—again, Ridley is great at conveying Rey's anger and how it edges her closer to darkness—doesn't make the catch-22 of it any less annoying. If you're going to insist that anger and violence in response to evil and injustice can only lead to evil themselves, you need to offer a counter-strategy that is not only convincing, but resonant and thematically satisfying. Rise, like Return, can only offer lawyerly quibbling, with a side of special-effects extravaganzas. By killing him, Palpatine explains, Rey will be making herself a vessel for the spirits of all the Sith lords who came before them. So Rey, instead, becomes a vessel for all the Jedi. How does she do this? What does it mean? The film doesn't tell us, presumably because it has no idea—it just sounded neat. And then Rey, with the force of the Jedi behind her, kills Palpatine anyway, which is now not a dark and morally corrupting act for... reasons, I suppose.[5]

It's a particular shame because, waiting in the wings, there was a character and a plotline that could have cracked this entire trilogy wide open, made it something special and new and taken the franchise forward, and which instead was completely squandered and ignored. I am talking, of course, of the one new thing The Force Awakens brought to the franchise, the idea that stormtroopers are brainwashed child soldiers, and that some of them might choose to rebel. Abrams himself did very little with this idea once he'd introduced it, and Rian Johnson, though obliquely referencing Finn's past in a storyline that saw him embracing a global morality as well as a personal one, left the broader implications of stormtrooper rebellion untouched. Nevertheless, The Rise of Skywalker was perfectly positioned to take this idea forward. Rey can't kill Palpatine without giving in to the dark side? The rebellion can't hope to overcome the enormous fleet he's built? Then why not subvert the people without whom that fleet is so much space junk? Why not use Rey's powers, and Finn's intimate knowledge of the stormtrooper psyche, to reach out to people whom this series has always treated like canon-fodder, despite the fact that we now know they were kidnapped and enslaved? Isn't that the essence of what Rose tried to teach Finn in The Last Jedi—winning not by destroying what we hate, but by saving what we love? Wouldn't offering that as an answer to the dilemma Palpatine poses to Rey be infinitely more satisfying than some heretofore-unheard-of Force power?

There's the slightest hint that Rise might be moving in this direction when it introduces the character of Jannah (Naomi Ackie), herself a former stormtrooper who rebelled with her entire battalion.[6] But just like Finn, she is completely indifferent to the lives of the stormtroopers who are still under the First Order's sway, enthusiastically joining the rebellion's side in a final battle in which entire ships are destroyed. What's more, Jannah is the vector through which the film reveals that she, Finn, and all the other rebelling stormtroopers are Force-sensitive. Fans have been hoping for this revelation about Finn for a while, so at first glance it might seem like a way of elevating the character's importance. But upon further reflection, it's an idea that just gets more and more ugly. If only Force-sensitive stormtroopers are capable of rejecting the First Order's brainwashing, doesn't that make all the others inherently killable? Doesn't it negate the significance of Finn's moral choice? And is that, perhaps, the point? Fans—myself very much included—have been pointing out for a while the perversity of the films focusing on Kylo Ren's putative redemption in the same story in which another character, who was raised with none of the advantages and protections that Ben Solo enjoyed, simply chose—at great personal risk—not to hurt helpless people. But if Finn only rebelled because the Force compelled him to (Jannah even says "it was like we didn't have a choice" when describing how her battalion refused to slaughter civilians), then he's not actually morally superior, just lucky. And, implicitly, Kylo can't be blamed for all the evil he committed, because he was being pulled to do evil by the Force, just as Finn was pulled to do good.

It's a sterile, offensive take on morality that overwrites what should have been the heart of these movies. But perhaps that choice was inevitable. There's no room for Kylo Ren, after all, in a story about Rey and Finn reaching out to the stormtroopers[7]. And the new Star Wars movies—at least the ones created by Abrams—remain obsessed with dynasties. Hence this last one's title, and the revelation of Rey's ancestry, and her connection with Kylo, which also ties them both to Luke and Leia. A story about Rey using the Force to reach out to the faceless slaves who make up the First Order would have been a different sort of Star Wars—the kind I thought The Last Jedi was promising us. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that Abrams and Disney, in their terror of alienating "fans" who can't stand to see this series change and progress, turned away from that story, and gave us one with a hollow, corroded heart.



[1] Though of course, this was not the original plan. Rise was supposed to have been directed by Colin Trevorrow, who as far as I know has yet to establish an identity as a director, and who is still credited on the film's story.

[2] Anyone hoping for friendship between Rey and Rose in this movie will be sorely disappointed. Rise isn't quite a Bechdel fail, because Rey develops a bond with Leia, who becomes her Jedi master. But these scenes are limited to leftover lines recorded by Carrie Fisher for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi before her death, and the resulting interactions are thus stilted and strained. And Leia's death means that Rey ends the movie with no female relationships.

[3] Again, this is partly Johnson's fault for doing so little heavy lifting on the plot front.

[4] Though only the briefest glimpse of ewoks, which seems positively cowardly, yet another capitulation to the tastes of fans who are still, thirty-six years later, terrified that someone might think that they enjoy kid stuff.

[5] Among other things, this is yet another reminder, after Frozen II last month, that a lot of people in Hollywood have watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, but none of them have figured out what made it such a great, satisfying story.

[6] One wonders whether Abrams thinks that introducing Jannah makes up for the appalling misuse of Rose, as if women of color were interchangeable, and anyway there can only be one of them at any given time.

[7] Remember, Kylo has been Supreme Leader since the end of The Last Jedi, a period during which, we're told in Rise, the First Order has stepped up its campaign of child abductions. So far from being the person who could reach out to the stormtroopers, he's the ultimate cause of their suffering and dehumanization.

13 comments:

Greg Sanders said...

The idea of picking up on the Stormtrooper thread is really intriguing, and as you say, a shame that Last Jedi missed that opportunity.

The other thing your post left me craving would be an end to a redemption arc where the villain in question submits themselves to justice rather than just dying.

Greg Sanders said...

Oh, also, I'd totally forgotten that Jenny Nicholson had a way to do a Kylo Ren turns arc that doesn't hinge on Palpatine. Namely, early film coup against Kylo by Hux who can then use the reconstructed mask to hide the transition.

Ideally you'd pull that off with Kylo Ren attempting to implement a Napoleonic code or some other conquerer break with the past, only to discover that the apparatus he thinks he controls was built for exploitation and it's not going to get better just by changing the person in power. Hux as big bad would seem compatible with a depersonalized take on evil that doesn't turn on the genius or special powers of the big bad.

I think Last Jedi is entirely compatible with no redemption arc for the reasons you outline. But whatever Johnson might have done if he wrote Episode IX, I think he may have been setting up the Hux coup for a follow-on that wanted to do the redemption arc.

Z said...

I've concluded that the JJ-machine has no idea why any of the beats it feels compelled to echo actually move people, or the narrative purpose they serve. Take the revelation of Luke's paternity. Pre-midichlorian-nonsense, it matters because it's a complication to how Luke, Obi-Wan, and Vader all conceive of each other. Luke's absent heroic father in whose footsteps he's following is replaced by a Nazi, and suddenly his story is about choices and not destiny. Vader is presented with some basic pangs of familial feeling that all the dark wizardry hasn't burned away. Obi-Wan is suddenly a panicked, flawed character throwing around thin lies to hold together a fairytale for these kids he snatched from their abusive dad.

Contrast that with Rey's 'reveal.' No one lied to her in a sense that matters. Palpatine has no parental feelings at all- there's none of the push-pull between dark wizard instrumentality and basic human feeling. Rey isn't acting out a story where her beliefs about her parent's character are motivating- because the whole setup is that she has no such beliefs. Rather, her ancestry is an excuse for her to possess overwhelming physical power- which is disappointing in its own right, given that one of the nice touches of ROTJ is that brute physical force doesn't end up being the key to victory.

I feel like there's a similar misunderstanding in Kylo's turn. As you say, the sense that the dark side of the Force is some accidental polarity shift that makes you do good or bad things, rather than a reflection of your moral choices, is and always has been a total mess, but even in ROTJ, Vader's redemption is never required to be half as instant or complete as Kylo's. We've known since Empire that he wouldn't mind offing his boss and taking his job, and now he's watching his kid get barbequed, and he so he ices said boss. Luke was right that his father wasn't wholly heartless, but we don't have to deal with any implication that Vader is truly better, or that other people are under any obligation to feel the same way (except for the damn ghosts). I think there's a read of Kylo's assumption of the mantle of Supreme Leader in TLJ that's not even an inversion of Vader's behavior, but an acknowledgment of its limits.

Then there's Ben Solo, who is good...because he was never bad? I can acknowledge that there's a sort of child-soldier quality to Ben that's not entirely inauthentic, but one hurried beat of communing with Han hardly contained enough anguish to suggest a person deciding to burn their life to the ground and try and balance the scales against all those innocents he variously sliced, brain-melted, and blew to bits.

Z said...

(cont.) That misunderstanding even cropped up in little ways. Everyone thought Boba Fett was cool, so let's have this Zorii character never take off her shiny hat too- because love interests and cowboy bounty hunter MacGuffins are the same, and it makes a lot of sense to hide one of the planet's more attractive human beings inside a hood ornament, yes? Han Solo had a rough past he rose above to become a hero- so let's just stick a history of drug trafficking on Poe and make it a necessary precondition. Everyone like lightsaber fights, so more of those- never mind that when, say, Luke and Vader duel on Bespin, they each have easy to understand objectives, which is not true of Rey and Kylo dueling in the surf, etc.

It's not as if TLJ left the story in a void where it was going to be hard to puzzle out a path. Ren has been set up as a shoot-on-sight bad guy, Luke's storybook sacrifice is inspiring a galaxy of the downtrodden- a group whose membership includes the footsoldiers of the First Order- and it's anybody's game. Make your superweapon be a First Order mind control machine, or Kylo's enormous kidnapped pool of Force-sensitive kids being remade into Knights of Ren (have Rose go after the little stable boy!) It's a WWII movie redress- the commandos parachute into town, and have to convince the locals to stand up to the Nazis- everyone hangs together lest they hang separately.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Greg Sanders:

Some further discussions about the ethics of killing stormtroopers on twitter today have got me thinking about how the choice to kill Kylo is actually more telling of this story's moral absolutism than its tolerance for attractive white psychopaths. It's OK to give an out-and-out monster like Kylo a redemption story because he dies at the end of it, and that means we don't have to deal with his crimes - including the fact that he should be tried and punished for them. But any other compromised character who gets to live has got to be like Finn or Jannah - someone who never spilled innocent blood, no matter how difficult and complicated their circumstances were. Someone who, in fact, might actually have been incapable of committing an evil act because of the magic power that prevents them from performing it.

In both directions, it ends up as a simplistic, and as I say in the review, sterile approach to morality. Regular stormtroopers - most of whom have done terrible things, but surely less terrible than the officers and the guy at the top, and who anyway have an explanation for that behavior that holds much more water than Kylo's - can never be given a chance to grapple with their past and try to make amends for it, even though a story like that would have been a great deal richer than Kylo's insta-redemption, or the suggestion that Finn only rebelled because the force made him do it.

Z:

I've seen some people suggest that the Rey Palpatine reveal has weight because of how it forces Rey to grapple with the sins of the past and her inheritance of them. But that's really something you need to read into the movie. Within the story itself, Rey has neither benefited from her ancestry, nor, as you say, does she have any emotional connection to Palpatine. Her emotional arc has more to do with fear of her own abilities and tendency towards darkness, and being Palpatine's descendant doesn't really impact on that - he could have just as easily been interested in her, and planning to make her his successor, if she was really the daughter of nobodies.

Retlawyen said...

I have a lot of thoughts re: Star Wars 9, but the ones that cry out to me are actually about Star Trek 8.

Like, in that movie, we get the compelling and terrifying message that no one outside the battle cares who wins between Jedi and Sith. The rich guys sell ships to both, after all. The poor scoundrel they bring along is all 'you shoot them, they shoot you...who cares?', and when the Resistance begs the galaxy to help it overcome the First Order, literally no one comes.

That's a genuinely interesting premise for at trilogy, the idea that the Resistance has lost the people's favor, and needs to once again become deserving of victory. They don't need a super weapon or more force magic, they need to tap into the galaxy's inhabitants needs and desires to become their vessel once more, or else its just clashing fascists, and the imitation is weaker than the real deal.

9 flees screaming in terror from that concept, and what follows is moral gibberish. The galaxy that wouldn't show up last time sends everyone imaginable this time. It is super hard to avoid the conclusion that what's changed is the bad guys threatening to blow up literally all life everywhere, evil is brought down by nothing that the heroes have done, but by the off screen choices of a character who has no involvement with any of our heroes.

While I'm ranting, it was screenwriting malpractice to have freaking Hux of all people be killed by an extra. Finn has literally no one else to act against. I'm honestly doubtful Kylo Ren even knows his name. Finn's sole focus of enmity in the entire Team Evil is Hux, and that dude's last act is to save his life and the galaxy too. Absolutely astonishing. Oh well, Finn will always have his undying devotion to a woman who is very obvious more interested in a fascist mass murderer.

Unknown said...

A massive, lucrative franchise with infinite production values and good or excellent cast destroyed by terrible writing? This is becoming a theme, Hollywood. And not the book report kind (does game of thrones count as hollywood?).

What's going on? I know other Star Wars films had their problems, but not even the prequels seem to display this level of contempt for the basics of story telling. Set up, pay off, structure, things happening for a reason, rather than because it would make a cool scene. A lost art, apparently.

- Tim Ward

Greg Sanders said...

Abigail Nussbaum: That makes a lot of sense. I suppose that sterile morality has room for circumstance or moral injury as a tragic thing that may put someone on a dark path. However, that's ultimately just how they got to be good or bad.

Thanks for explicating that. I think that's a pretty common sort of morality in stories, but I've never seen it so incisively described. I suppose it's at least still better than the variants of "it's okay if a main character does it" or the common next step of "and if someone is bad, anything you do to defeat them is justified."

It also fits with the attempt to use Poe's new spice running backstory, as it's an allowable way to make things grittier. It doesn't really fit with Poe's TLJ characterization would seem more consistent with someone thinking of themselves as a warrior than someone used to being in a field where "running" is part of the name. There's not that room under that perspective to grapple with "even some of my better decisions may have gotten a lot of good people killed." There's barely even room to be sad when a planet blows up unless you knew someone that lived on it.

Retlawyen: Interesting read. I'd been a bit thrown off by the multiple ways the bigger strategic picture didn't make any sense (i.e. that form of war profiteering makes a lot more sense if you're talking about colonial or proxy conflicts, no sane government allows sales of weapons to its enemy in a longstanding conflict with only two sides). But that gives me a better sense of what Johnson was going for.

Tim Ward: I think expensive effects heavy shots is part of it. My understanding is they have to be planned well in advance. So if later in the process there's a change of direction or test audiences aren't responding, preserving those sequences is often given priority over any sort of coherent story.

Freddie said...

The problem with killing Ben is that it makes the whole 9 film saga a funeral march.

Shmi Skywalker - dies in agony
Padme Amidala - force choked by love of life, dies in childbirth
Anakin Skylwalker - becomes most evil being in the universe, kills millions, personally murders children, sacrifices himself to save his son (hold that thought)
Han Solo - murdered by his beloved son
Luke Skywalker - lives by all evidence a lonely and embittered existence, dies alone; this is what Anakin sacrificed himself for
Leia Organa Solo - sacrifices herself to save her son (hold that thought)
Ben Solo - is seduced by the manipulation of Palpatine/Snoike, does a lot of evil shit, sacrifices himself to save his love Rey; this is what Leia sacrificed herself for

It's called the Skywalker Saga and it's 20+ hour slog through the Skywalker family's utter failure, pain, and death. And the only coherent way I can think of that they would have prevented that from happening was to have the (widely-rumored) original ending where Ben and Rey wind up together on Naboo.

Completely hear you about why Ben/Kylo does not have the right to be redeemed. But that sort of proto-Christian belief in limitless capacity for redemption is kind of baked into the Star Wars cake. In TLY Rey says, “Yes, the most hated man in the galaxy, but you saw there was conflict inside of him, you believed that he wasn’t gone, that he could be turned.” I get not buying that for either Vader or Kylo, but that's just how this franchise works.

Wonderfully expressed vision of how Finn and Jahnah could have led a Stormtrooper rebellion. I've heard some similar ideas but nothing as well-articulated as here. Setting misgivings about the fate of the Skywalker family aside, the misuse of Finn is the biggest crime of these movies. The word I've come back to again and again when I think of Finn is "underwritten." They simply did not do the things necessary to flesh him out, nor give him enough stuff that was uniquely his. For example, Poe could have easily taken Finn's place during the Canto Bight mission, but Finn could never have taken over for Poe in the Holdo storyline. And you ask yourself, when in these movies did they create situations where Finn and Finn alone could have been the primary actor? A Stormtrooper rebellion would have been perfect. As it is, Finn is mostly just a good guy trying to do his best, and that's just not dramatically interesting. Finn (and John Boyega) deserved better.

Freddie said...

Oh, and by the way - if Palpatine was behind Snoke all along, and Snoke was doing Palpatine's bidding, and Palpatine knew about Rey and wanted to turn her... why did Snoke order Kylo to kill Rey?

Unknown said...

Greg: that's an interesting observation. Certainly explains a lot.

Shirley Márquez Dúlcey said...

According to somebody at Lucasfilm, the ignoring of Rose was partly the result of trying to fit the file footage of Leia into the story. That inclusion wasn't a success; all the scenes with Leia felt flat and unnatural.

There was a better solution: kill Leia off-screen and leave her out of Episode IX. Carrie Fisher was dead, and the character should have died with her. But that wouldn't have fulfilled Abrams's desire for MOAR FAN SERVICE!

Christopher said...

Kylo Ren force healing Rey back from death really undermines Annakin's fall. "To cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we can discover the secret." No, turns out any force user can do it...?

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