The great wasted opportunities of the Rise of Skywalker with some spoilers and musings about the life we live in and the nature of stories

I was going to let this go, but I had some followup discussion about my comment about how Finn and the other characters in Rise of Skywalker were wasted, and I needed to get some more thoughts out.

Star Wars story structure has a long history of parallel forks – more than one plotline whose tines interlock. This, I hope you’ll agree, heightens the sense of tension and creates the illusion of a more coherent world. These storylines are independent and sometimes stray, but they connect at key points to bring the characters together emotionally and create meaningful bonds. In the Star Wars mainline trilogies, these storylines have traditionally been: 1) Jedi mysticism, a sense of wonder about and inclusion in the unknown forces and powers that guide the universe. This is the lure of power. 2) the galactic government / Empire / Republic, the background of the structure of how the people in the galaxy fight for what they think is power over other (mostly) humans in the absence of the direct line to power that The Force represents, and 3) the regular people just trying to make a living by trying to ignore the power struggles of the various elites. In the original Trilogy, these storylines are clearly represented by Luke, Leia, and Han, and the interesting parts are where they overlap (Han joins the rebellion after all, Luke and Leia are opposite sides of the same hereditary thirst for power, etc…).

This structure is largely blown apart in the recent Trilogy, but mostly unintentionally, through sloppy storytelling. Let’s look at how this could have gone.

Finn is introduced in a very strong way. He’s a First Order trooper raised in a life of faithful service to the government with a moment of clarity that he’s actually the bad guy. So he defects, and this story… really goes nowhere at all. Finn would have had a much more interesting arc if his realizing he could break away from the First Order could be the seed of an actual rebellion in the First Order. We don’t get any insight into the rank and file of the stormtroopers in the movies, and this could have been a great entry point into that. Are they evil? Are they brainwashed? Are they religious zealots? Are they acting out of fear? Do they think they’re doing the right thing? On the face of it, they’re the legit government, but this story also crosses over to the lines of the regular people. They’re pawns, but they can have some power. Here’s your allegory about the influence of individual actions on collective waves of accomplishment. All it takes is the right spark to trigger a movement.

Poe… I’m not really sure what to do about Poe. The character as written in the trilogy is fairly bland and uninteresting, but I actually liked what they started to do with him in Rise of Skywalker the best out of the three. Exploring his checkered past with the criminal underbelly could have had some crossover with his escape from that world and a similar liberating element to bring others out into legitimate enterprises. I need to think about this one some more.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about Rose except that she’s criminally underutilized in this movie. She could very easily have been worked into all of these plot threads as an actual character with agency. She probably deserves her own movie.

And then there’s Rey. Quite frankly, bringing Palpatine back as the big bad pulling the strings behind the curtain is some bullshit right there. But they could have turned into the wind and pulled an interesting story out of this. I’ve already talked about how it was totally in line with the rest of Star Wars that her parents were nobody and that was fine. It didn’t need to be Palpatine per se, and it didn’t need to be about her lineage – it could have been about the overall influence of the formerly living Sith. Given that light Jedi have a sufficient connection to the Force that they can attain some life after death, it’s not entirely unreasonable for the Sith to be able to do this too. In the Star Wars movies, this has never been straight up resurrection. I would have even been okay with the spirit of Palpatine as part of the Sith collective if it hadn’t been “literally Palpatine’s body and legacy”. Imagine if you will that the crux of this conflict was not “we have to find a thing to find a thing to find the Sith who are trying to conquer the galaxy again and kill Palpatine fucking again” but instead – we need to understand this ability for the dead to keep interfering in the affairs of the living, and in order to stop the Sith from doing it, we also have to cut off the Jedi. We wipe the slate clean. No more Sith coming back from the dead, but also no more Force ghosts of dead Jedi. They could have used this to make a point about the way we hold onto the things we have great memories of in history, and have trouble letting go. We could have made a formal goodbye, and had a proper sacrifice that felt real, with deep emotional consequences. Our heroes get to save the day again, but they also get to pass the baton.

Star Wars is a big part of our modern mythology. The end of this story could have been a powerful fable about enjoying what we’ve done before, honoring it, and letting it go to let something take its place and bloom with a renewed sense of energy. Star Wars has always been about hope, but it’s also been about wanting to know what happens next. I want to want to know what happens next.

Things about The Rise of Skywalker with some spoilers and musings about the life we live in and the nature of stories

I still haven’t fully processed all of my opinions about Rise of Skywalker yet. I disliked a bunch of things about it. I think they made a lot of bad, predictable, and safe choices and were feeling really burned by The Last Jedi but took away entirely the wrong lessons. Despite that, I still had fun in the theater, and I was able to sit back and enjoy the absurdity without deeply caring about it, but the longer I’ve thought with it and looked back on it, the less I’ve liked it. These thoughts aren’t entirely gelled yet, but I guess that’s not any worse than the movie.

This comparison was made to Endgame. Rise of Skywalker’s last minute save is particularly even more egregious, because not only is it forced, but Leia has been asking for the rest of the galaxy to join this fight for two whole movies, and it takes Lando to convince people to show up.

I think it’s interesting that almost all of my issues with The Last Jedi were in the execution, not the core premises, and the things that Rise of Skywalker “fixed” were almost entirely core premises.

Remarkably, I still think Rian Johnson is a great filmmaker and I respect his conviction, despite the train wreck that The Last Jedi was, and even though he’s doubled down on some of his bad choices. I don’t disagree with the intent behind them, I just think he doesn’t have a vision for how to portray those particular choices that meshes with my opinion of what makes a good movie. The Holdo maneuver scene was breathtaking. And yet also hamfisted, telegraphed a mile away, and completely out of place with everything we know about how space travel works in this universe. Not one of Holdo’s character choices makes sense in a Star Wars movie.

I think it was a mistake to make this a trilogy. They could have easily made Rise of Skywalker be two films and taken some extra time to clean up the structure. A lot of elements of it are forced into place and are only there to “wrap things up” at the expense of the story. But even thinking that, at the end of it all, I’m still relieved that the trilogy is over, because the entire thing is a mess and has been a gigantic waste of all of our time. Now that it’s finished, we can all stop talking about it as the elephant in the room, and I hope pick up the space for more interesting stories instead of the mainline. I think that strong mainline is an illusion, covered up by the fact that deviations from it have sucked, not that they were bad because they were deviations. I think deviating from “classic Star Wars” is a narrative choice that they make because people get upset when they deviate badly from it. But that’s because when they have done so, it’s largely been in bad ways. That’s different from all deviations being bad, and I think they’re confusing the two.

This deleted scene could have been used as the root of an actual fifth column within the First Order, and been an actual plot line that helped them win the war instead of just the stupid single Hux spy gag. Or they could have faked it out with that, killed Hux and thought they’d eliminated the spy, only to find that there was a whole organization of them. Maybe this would even have tied into the troopers that had escaped. But it’s never even hinted at.

And that’s the crux of it. I could go on with details about mistakes I think they made, but it amounts to the same thing: Finn’s entire character is wasted, the same way every character in this entire trilogy is wasted. No one has any connection to the larger story in any meaningful way, it’s just some things that happen. We shouldn’t be having this discussion – Star Wars movies should be the best of the entertainment we have. Their stories should be coherent. Their plots should matter, even if that import is only to the characters in the universe itself. We should care about what happens because the characters care. The characters should have meaningful and self-consistent motivations. We shouldn’t walk out of the theater muttering to ourselves about things that made no sense. Great entertainment still exists. Star Wars deserves better than this, and we deserve better than this.

I never thought they would sink Solo

I saw Solo, and while I was somewhat hesitant going in, I was at least hoping it to be a solid and fun heist movie. The initial reviews seemed to point towards “Alden Ehrenreich isn’t a great Han Solo as we know him, but if you can forget that, it’s all ok”. That would have been just fine, I’m not as emotionally tied to Han Solo as some are. Unfortunately, the movie is a near-complete mess. It’s made up of pieces that could fit together well, but in practice don’t. None of the jokes land with any force, several major plot elements make no sense whatsoever, and it ends up just being a complete waste of time. The movie has nothing interesting to say, there’s no there there, and the entire thing is simply trite. Donald Glover’s performance as Lando is entertaining, particularly his capes, and L3’s robot rebellion is probably the best part of the movie. My overall impression of this movie is that they got a bunch of people in a room to do some free association about what reminds people of Han Solo, and they just made that into a checklist. I imagine something like this:

  • Millennium Falcon. Nice ship. What’s up with the two things in front where there should be one thing?
  • Not the lightsaber guy.
  • The Kessel Run but that line about 12 parsecs never made any sense. Better explain.
  • Sometimes he runs away from things and then accidentally runs into the thing he’s running away from. Do that again! So funny.
  • He used to be a pilot in the Imperial Army.
  • No one has properly examined the provenance of his name. Better explain.
  • He humorously calls his furry friend “Chewie”. That might be short for something. Better explain.
  • Said furry friend likes to play 3D chess. Who does that?
  • Said furry friend was rescued by Han at some point, so he sticks around. Better explain.
  • Remember, no lightsabers, no matter how much you like that noise. Do a thermal detonator joke instead.
  • Lando is a dude.
  • His career before Star Wars is deeply connected to the origins of the Rebellion. No wait, it’s not. Do that anyway though.
  • Holy shit we forgot about the dice.

A brief interlude: the dice are not a thing. The dice are never explained as a thing of importance. They just … appear one day and they’re supposed to be this totem for Han. There were some dice hanging in the Falcon cockpit for one brief moment in the original movie as a joke, they were not inscribed with an alien language, and both this movie and The Last Jedi have somehow latched onto them as if they were some iconic element that represents everything about our favorite gambling scoundrel in one neat little golden package. Except… no. There’s no backstory, there’s no meaning, and there’s no actual emotional weight. On second thought, maybe this is a perfect metaphor for this movie.

Some other things in no particular order that don’t work:

  • The first sequence doesn’t fit together. I guess that trying to escape and then running into the people he was escaping from is “a thing that happens to Han” now, but this is really silly for it to be a thing that happens over and over again. The setup is out of place – it seems like this entire first part was written for a 16 year-old Han, and it might have worked ok if they did that, but then it might have come off as an awkward replay of the opening scene of the Star Trek reboot. 
  • I don’t like that they made Lando an out-and-out cheater. He’s a manipulator, sure, but that entire sequence left me with a really bad taste in my mouth, and that kind of behavior would definitely have gotten him killed at some point along the path _waaaay_ before this. I liked the performance, but this felt really wrong.
  • Qi’ra should not have been a love interest from Han’s childhood (er… earlier adulthood?). Not everything has to be a connected thing. 
  • Han joining the Imperial Army as it’s presented here makes no sense. I haven’t seen Clone Wars or Star Wars Rebels, but this is supposed to be some amount of time before the beginning of Star Wars. The Empire isn’t really THE EMPIRE yet, until the Emperor dissolves the Senate at the beginning of Star Wars. Han joining the Imperial Academy is… signing up to work for the legitimate government. It would be much more believable if that was where he became disillusioned with the atrocities they were committing. Artfully done, this is probably a whole movie by itself.
  • Wait… was Chewbacca straight up murdering and eating people in the pit before Han came along? Somehow he can’t eat a porg, but this is fine?
  • It makes no sense that an orphan from Corellia speaks Kashyyyk.
  • I’m still not sure why the Kessel Run is a thing with a name that people do and other people recognize. 
  • So… L3 is a crusader for robot rights, leads an actual robot rebellion (successfully, I might add), and Lando’s response is “we’re just going to merge you with the navigation computer for the ship condemning you to a lifetime of horrible slavery but at least you’ll be close to me forever… until I lose you in a card game to evidently the galaxy’s worst smuggler who will himself eventually just misplace you and you’ll end up in a junkyard for a while”. But then you’ll end up with Rey, which I guess is nice. Please don’t let this be a thing in the next movie.
  • None of the heists actually make any sense. We can’t invade this rival gang’s turf because we have an uneasy agreement with them, but maybe that’ll be okay because we’re not associated with you, but just in case, bring my extremely highly visible known associate who I throw lavish parties with. And especially don’t bring an ice pack or specially designed canister to help keep this highly unstable chemical from overheating.

I was disappointed that the movie was as bad as I was expecting it to be from the initial trailer. There’s definitely more, but I’m out of energy and really I just wanted to use the pun in the title. So we’ve got that going for us.

Things about The Last Jedi with some spoilers and musings about the life we live in and the nature of stories

I saw The Last Jedi once, and I don’t know if one viewing is really enough to form an opinion about whether I liked it or not. There definitely were some things I liked about it, but overall I think I found it substantially lacking. This review is pretty much all spoilers.

My feelings of apprehension started right at the opening crawl. Not because of anything it said, and I’m taken to understand that Rian Johnson put a lot of effort into getting the text right, but I couldn’t even tell you what it said, because I was completely distracted by the fact that it was noticeably half a step too fast. It’s a tiny thing, but a historically important detail. Did they do it on purpose to signal a break from the past? Nah, too subtle a change. But it really threw me, right from the beginning, and made me dread what was coming next right off the bat.

Importantly: I love and embrace the diversity of Star Wars. I applaud attempts to include more diverse characters, and to broaden into telling different kinds of stories. I overwhelmingly do not agree with the viewpoint that seems prevalent among critics of this movie that “the SJWs are ruining Star Wars”. Most of those aspects of the film were the things I liked and wanted more of. I think it’s sad that the rest of the movie was so poorly constructed that it allowed space for these arguments.

Having said that, let’s get some technical nitpicks out of the way, and there are more than I’d like.

  • The opening battle makes zero sense. Even an overconfident captain would have TIE fighters flanking. They always have TIE fighters flanking. The Rebels always have X-Wings. Making a big deal out of this being a mistake doesn’t make it any less weird. But the biggest problem here is that one bomber has enough firepower to take out an entire Dreadnought. If they can do this, why not make bombing runs on Star Destroyers all the time?
  • Let’s not talk about hyperspace ramming, because that’s a whole other can of worms that definitely does not require human pilots.
  • In the attempt to make Poe not Han Solo, he’s really just kind of an asshole. But on the other hand, everyone’s kind of an asshole.
  • Apropos of nothing, I expected that the connection between the dead pilot and the engineering tech was going to be that they were lovers, but sisters is fine too.
  • I only watched it once and some things kind of went by in a blur, but I have independent verification that there really was a scene where BB-8 pelts a casino guard with, like, a whole sack-worth of gold coins drunkenly inserted in some convenient slot by an alien Rich Uncle Pennybags. I am angry about this.
  • At the same time as the entire resistance fleet is wiped out, there’s really no sense of urgency to any of this for most of the chase. Go watch ’33′ again, and you’ll see how this kind of sequence is done properly.
  • Where is the rest of the resistance? So… Leia puts out the call, and no one responds. What’s going on there? Yay, another mystery we have to wait two more years to solve that’ll be irrelevant by the time we get there. This ties into how I just don’t understand how we got here. 30 years ago the Empire fell. Did the Rebellion ever succeed in making a real government? Who bankrolled this thing? Maybe this is explained in one of the books.
  • The entire explanation of the hyperspace tracking system makes no sense. They only have this on one ship but if you disable it and they know about it, they’ll move it to another ship? What? Why don’t they just run it from every ship at once? But they’re only tracking the lead capital ship? What? How do you know this? This is all based on guesses. I have zero problems with our heroes trying something that doesn’t work in the end, but this is a huge stretch of believability.
  • Despite the fact that Laura Dern can act rings around most of these other people, her character was poorly written. Sure, it’s her prerogative to have secrets. But… why? Why keep the plan secret? Who are you even keeping the plan secret _from_? Surely the X-Wings are still going to be… going somewhere? Do you suspect that the First Order can track you through hyperspace because someone on the ship is a spy? Wow, that would be a cool and probably obvious thing that’s brought up exactly never.
  • Finn naked leaking was kind of funny, but… really. No one else noticed him walking down that corridor, and disconnecting whatever he was connected to didn’t set off any alarms? This was just stupid in the service of slapstick.
  • Rey’s parentage I think was supposed to be some sort of a shocker, but I guess I’m really not that tied to the idea that being a Jedi is hereditary. Mostly because that idea makes no sense given what we know about how the Jedi don’t have kids and take in young children who show Force sensitivity from parents who are not Jedi. Oh, I guess when you look at it that way, Rey’s parents being nobody is exactly the same as how this works every other time.
  • Please stop wasting Gwendoline Christie. You’re trying to recreate the mystique of Boba Fett, and it just doesn’t work. Oh, look, now you’re wasting Benicio del Toro too.
  • Speaking of which, seeing the master codebreaker your wise all-seeing ally told you specifically is the guy for you and then getting arrested and then not going back to find him again and going with the guy in your cell who can pick locks and why is he even still in there that’s not suspicious is the worst plan ever.
  • Crystal critters are cute. They’d make a fun action figure.
  • Porgs are delicious and don’t seem to be sentient. I am mad at Chewbacca for wasting a perfectly browned one.

Now we have to talk about Luke’s character development, and by extension the entirety of the original Trilogy. The subsequent movies (Rogue One excluded) have done nothing but erode the legacy of Star Wars. First unintentionally, in the case of the prequels, and now intentionally, in dismantling everything they worked for. This started with The Force Awakens, and continues here. Han has failed, first as a father, then as a husband, then as a hero, then again as a father. Leia failed to build a functioning government out of her rebellion. Luke failed to rebuild the Jedi order. The message here is not just that your old heroes are unnecessary but that they’re actually detrimental and you should burn your devotion to them to the ground. Is that a useful message in today’s political climate? I like the heroes of the original trilogy, and I don’t need to see them ruined in this way. I felt the same distaste for how Logan approached that character. I don’t feel that we have to destroy the legacy of our heroes in order to distance ourselves from them and do something else great, and I honestly don’t think you’ve earned the right to treat these characters that way.

It’s hard to say because the plotting is all very muddled, but it seems like the point here is that Luke has reverted to his old whiny farm boy self in the face of failure, but his “redemption” at the end feels forced, unearned, and out of place. Luke and Rey’s interactions before that point are all very weird, as he does a number of rapid shifts between “I’m a Jedi master, here are a few tricks”, “The Jedi are all stupid”, “Feel my Force inside you (creepy as hell)”, and “watch me fetishly milk this slimy cow thing (so creepy)”.

(Side note: I haven’t seen anyone else point out that the original series had blue milk, and this series has green milk, paralleling the color shift in Luke’s lightsaber in a weird random coincidence. Also Luke’s green lightsaber is totally hanging out in his X-Wing and Rey is probably going to go get it first thing in Episode IX.)

But back to the matter at hand, this is a terribly ignominious end for the greatest hero the galaxy has ever known, who single handedly destroyed The Death Star and brought down the Empire with a little help from his friends. The explanation of his fall makes no sense. Like with Han and Leia, this is manufactured weakness for the sake of bringing down an idol. Why did Yoda wait 30 years to show up and tell him he was being an ignoramus? Where’s Ben? Where’s even Anakin?!? The whole thing about the end of Return of the Jedi is that Luke has these Force Ghost advisors to help him ostensibly rebuild… something at least.

I like the overall approach that The Jedi Order needs to go and everyone can harness The Force, but it’s approached without the explanatory context of the threats it evolved to counter. Are the Sith gone? Apparently Snoke is not a Sith, but he’s still a really powerful user of the dark side of the Force. What does that even mean? 

This piece makes a big deal out of how this movie subverts your expectations. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t have any expectations beyond getting a good story that’s internally consistent where the motivations of the characters make sense. The opposite of a trope is usually another trope, and this movie is full of opposite tropes without really cohering a reason to exist beyond breaking those tropes. It’s too blatant and glaring – “I did Y just because you expected me to do X”. The myth here is that breaking those tropes is something that explicitly needed to be done. I heard this all the time in The Force Awakens reviews – “It brings Star Wars into the modern age” as if it’s a car that’s run down or an obsolete computer. No, you don’t have to make it accessible to a new audience by breaking it. Just tell some great stories.

Some thoughts about Logan

I liked a lot about it, but I also found a lot of things that bugged me. The more I think about it, the less well it holds together. Certainly, these are just my observations from one viewing, and I probably need to watch it a few more times to have a firm opinion, but here we go.

Spoilers abound.

First the good stuff. The fight scenes were astounding and brutal. This movie earned its R rating, also with some oddly out of place seemingly gratuitous nudity (here are some boobs, but now this is not what our R rating is about). Even though he’s clearly not intended to be at his prime here, Wolverine is the best at what he does, and Hugh Jackman is amazing in the role. Patrick Stewart is a gem. Pretty much the entire cast is great. The movie is well paced, it never feels rushed or draggy, the music is great, and almost everything about it is exquisitely crafted. The X-24 reveal was pretty perfect, as was the beard trimming scene.


While I don’t feel like the story itself was very interesting, or any particular part was very well fleshed out, my primary complaint is that I didn’t feel like the movie really earned the right to write the resolution of these characters in this way. I continue to hope that Wolverine offers the world something better than the death of an alcoholic uber driver, and this take is a very cynical view. The essence of Wolverine as a character is his continual struggle to escape the combination of his destiny, his instincts, and his past, and his corresponding continual lapses in doing so in search of the greater good. As soon as his destiny wins, it’s just depressing. The world as depicted here is pretty fucking lawless and bleak, and it’s unclear what hope these mutant kids are adding to it, why they or the world are worth saving in the first place – this looks like it’s all just the same cycle beginning anew. The resulting message here is that if you want to “save the world”, the best way to do it is to remove yourself and others like you from it. That’s… not very encouraging. Is the movie supposed to be about how these powers are dangerous and can’t be controlled, and mutants can tragically never live a normal life? Maybe – but then what are the ones who survive going to go do? And if they’re making a better world where that’s not the case, why can’t Professor X and Logan and all of the others share in that? There’s no compelling reason offered here for why they needed to die to make this happen. Maybe it’s just some stuff that happens.

Part of the problem, I think, is that it is both trying to be a serious drama but also a superhero movie set in the X-Men universe, and it feels like it steps a little too far into the serious drama territory. A lot of people clearly like this, but to me it just fails to explain the way the world is with the rest of that fantastical setting. A lot of things are just glossed over with little explanation, and I was left with a great number of “but what about…” questions. I can sort of see why they did it, but this is clearly a much more involved and complicated world, and I’m not sure they really figured all that stuff out for a consistent story. What actually happened to the rest of the X-Men? There are references to them being hunted down, and probably Professor X killed some of them in Westchester, but it’s never made clear. In the X-Men universe as it’s existed until now, there would have been resources to draw upon when this first happened. How did we get to the right response to this being to hole up in a tank in the desert, and how did Logan get to be in charge of this? It’s never explained how we got here, and without that explanation, I don’t find it fully plausible. Ironically, like much of DC’s recent work, in trying to make it more “realistic”, it just ends up in the uncanny valley where it’s sort of like our world, but things are subtly out of place.

A few other random thoughts:

  • In retrospect, Logan’s sacrifice at the end of the movie was wholly unnecessary – those kids all had the powers to save themselves, and they were able to use them at any time without being previously released (or presumably before they were captured). That they didn’t do so until the very end seems contrived.
  • I don’t understand why the Reavers were capturing the kids when the stated intent was to kill them. They brought X-24 to that fight, so why just tie them all up first?
  • I don’t understand why crossing the border is “safe”. The Reavers clearly don’t care very much about national borders. Are the kids going to Canada to meet Alpha Flight? Little things like this don’t add up.
  • That serum doesn’t last very long even if you take it all at once.
  • I don’t really understand who owned that compound at the end or why it was there. I like the idea that Eden was made up, but a bunch of people read the same comic and all took a leap of faith, and then they went there and built it. But the movie doesn’t really answer that.
  • I was surprised at the level of anti-technology sentiment in the movie. HFCS and automated farmers are destroying everything we love in the world, the gig economy is viewed as the last resort of washed up superheroes (not entirely unfair), and autonomous trucks are explicitly portrayed as an inhuman destructive force. This level of commentary is not out of bounds for a superhero movie, but I wasn’t expecting it.

Finally, though I appreciated the lack of a post-credits scene, what I was really expecting was for there to be one last hurrah, where Logan would dig himself out, brush himself off, find half of that stogie he took from the convenience store, and walk off into the sunset while lighting it up. Bub.