Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Tragedy of the Skywalker Saga--A Review






When the first Star Wars film came out back in 1977 America was suffering from a bit of an existential crisis. Vietnam and Watergate were over but the wounds for both were still fresh and bloody. Throw in a couple of oil shortage crises, the expansion of commie movements around the globe, and the dust settling from the civil rights movement and a lot of Americans didn't know which way was up. In other words, the generally believed position that our nation was a beacon of freedom and enlightenment was endangered.

But enter morally upright Luke Skywalker and the national mental zeitgeist gets a much needed boost to set us back on the proper path of righteousness. That may sound flippant but I actually believe that is how most Americans viewed the first Star Wars film. That first movie sent a message that the “Good Guys” would overcome the nefarious minions of evil and eventually overthrow the tyrannical empire.

The two Original Trilogy sequels further reinforced the belief that the Good Guys always triumph in the end. Well, it's hard to come away with any other conclusion when everyone clearly saw Emperor Palpatine tossed down a deep shaft and apparently explode. Throw in surrendering Stormtroopers down on Endor and the ghostly image of a redeemed Anakin Skywalker standing beside Yoda and Obi Wan we've got the fall of the Empire and a nice happy ending.

We didn't return to the Star Wars Universe in movies until 1999 with the release of The Phantom Menace. If I remember correctly its reception by fans was mixed. For me, it was okay entertainment but the premise, while trying to sound sophisticated involving the complicated politics of the decaying Republic just didn't work. Throw in everything about Jar-Jar Binks, all the character dialog, and a far too young Anakin Skywalker and I understand why many rabid fans were disappointed.

The two other prequels were slightly better with Anakin rapidly aging to an angst-filled teenager and the introduction of a galaxy-spanning war. The dialog was still terrible and the plot creaked along but there was enough story to make it enjoyable. Another reason those two movies were better was the near absence of Jar-Jar.

But at the end of The Revenge of the Sith we see how the Republic became the Empire and how Anakin became Darth Vader. Not the best setup for the Original Trilogy but by that point the purpose of Star Wars was not about great story telling but selling merchandise.

Now Disney enters the scene in 2015 releasing The Force Awakens and I did thoroughly like this movie. Yes, it was a retelling of A New Hope but I could accept that even though I really don't much of what J.J. Abrams makes on television or movies. In my opinion J.J. Abrams can setup a great story but cannot create a coherent ending. The television show Lost was a J.J. creation and while it had intriguing episodes the overall story about the mysterious island and the marooned airline passengers was a mess.

The major personal criticism I have with the movie was that Luke, Leia, and Han had absolutely no scenes together. Yes, the main purpose of the movie was to introduce the characters of Rey, Fin, and the whiny brat Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. But hey, at least the dialog wasn't the usual incomprehensible mishmash of words typical of the other movies.

Understand, I have plenty of issues with The Force Awakens. One that I could mention is how the new bad guys, called the First Order, has built yet another version of the Death Star. Opposing the First Order is the Resistance, lead by General Leia Organa. All things considered, The Force Awakens was a decent movie despite its drawbacks and inconsistencies. I absolutely can not say the same thing about the following movie, The Last Jedi.

Directed by Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi is the worst movie in the entire Star Wars franchise. Scientifically speaking a reasonably educated individual has to overlook numerous errors in the Star Wars movies. Namely the biggest is that there no hyperspace drive allowing the creation of a galaxy-wide government. The space fighters that always make up a large part of the battles could never perform the maneuvers we see on the screen. Star Wars space fighters turn and dive as if they were flying through a planetary atmosphere. But okay, any viewer of science fiction has to readily suspend a certain measure of disbelief to enjoy the story. But Last Jedi has huge, glaring issues that many fans just couldn't overlook.

In the opening scene of the movie we have the Resistance and The First Order about to engage in battle in outer space. The First Order has the usual battle fleet of huge star destroyers while the Resistance is about to attack with what are called bombers. Remember, we're in outer space where the lack of gravity makes dropping anything highly problematic. Sure enough, as the two sides engage in battle the crews of the Resistance ships appear to drop bombs on the bad guys.

Another huge issue I have with Last Jedi is the one involving the sinister leader of the First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke. Introduced in The Force Awakens, Snoke was a total unknown that was supposed to make Emperor Palpatine look like a Sunday school teacher. The entire time between Force Awakens and Last Jedi the internet buzzed with fan theories on who Snoke was and where he came from. One theory had him the mentor of Palpatine kept alive by his knowledge of the Dark Side of the Force. Another theory had him Master Jedi Mace Windu who we last saw missing a hand and falling out of a broken window.

In Last Jedi, Snoke was casually killed off without a word being said of how he came to rule the First Order. Even worse, director Rian Johnson goes out of his way to destroy all the mysteries introduced in Force Awakens. In the previous, movie the character of Rey was abandoned on the planet Jakku by her parents for some unknown reason. Later on in that movie, Rey finds Anakin's lightsabre and has a vision suggesting she has a connection to it. Why? The possibilities include that she is Skywalker left on Jakku to repeat Anakin and Luke's upbringing. That she is the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi and has inherited his Force abilities.

No, in Last Jedi dipshit Rian Johnson tells us Rey is a nobody. That her parents were the Star Wars version of Meth heads who sold their baby daughter to get enough credits to buy drugs. Being honest here but I was not impressed with the character of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo when he was introduced back in The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren seemed less an evil replacement of Darth Vader but more of a spoiled brat who Leia and Han, his parents, should have spanked a few times while he was growing up.

I would be remiss if I didn't say something about the hideous treatment of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. Gone is the eager and optimistic farm boy who destroyed the first Death Star and brought his fallen father back to the Light Side of the Force. In Last Jedi we have a discouraged, more than slightly crazy hermit who apparently couldn't handle his errant nephew, Ben Solo.

The first time I saw Last Jedi, I almost turned off the television seeing the ridiculous nature of the middle aged Luke Skywalker character. Yes, Obi-Wan and Yoda went into hiding at the of Revenge of the Sith with the Emperor in power and a huge clone army and space navy at his disposal. But the impression I got from Last Jedi was that Luke hit a few bumps in the road to rebuilding the Jedi. Then decided Ben Solo was a lost cause and had to be murdered, while Darth Vader killed untold millions during the Empire but was redeemed through the love of his son he spent two previous movies trying to kill.

Star Wars was never that big a deal to me growing up. Yes, I had a few toys as a kid and saw the movies within a few days of them being released. But Star Wars never inspired me, I never saw any message nor overarching philosophy with the franchise worth investing a great deal of my time. That being said, I own every Star Wars film on Blu-ray because on a rainy weekend they are great way to relax and unwind. Well, I own them all except The Last Jedi which is so bad it makes the prequels look like masterpieces of cinema.

The Last Jedi so spoiled me of the entire Skywalker Saga that I only just now watched the the final film, The Rise of Skywalker.

J.J. Abrams returns in the last movie in a desperate attempt to patch together the wreckage Rian Johnson made of all the previous films. On one hand I have to say J.J. Abrams and the writers made a valiant attempt to reconstruct a coherent narrative to bring a close to the epic first introduced back in 1977. On the other hand, this is J.J. Abrams and he is once again unable to write a coherent story.

Rise of Skywalker begins with “The Dead Speak” in the opening crawl. And as you may already have guessed or know, it's Emperor Palpatine who has somehow survived his fall down the second Death Star's long shaft and its later explosion at the hands of the Rebel Alliance.

Palpatine has been hiding out on some unknown planet planning a return to power. In Palpatine's spare time as Luke Skywalker was attempting to resurrect the Jedi Order and Leia was helping build the New Republic, the former emperor for some reason created Snoke and engineered his assumption to power in the First Order.

Kylo Ren, now the Supreme Leader of the First Order, finds Palpatine who tells him to search out Rey and kill her. More or less at the same time Rey is hanging out with the pitiful remains of the Resistance when they get word Palpatine's back in town and looking to reclaim his turf.

Rey and her posse then begin searching for Palpatine, which involves them finding lost Sith artifacts that will point the way to his evil hideout. While at the same time Kylo is hunting Rey and generally shooting up anyone or thing that gets in his way. It during this part of the movie that I cringed for Adam Driver, the actor who plays Kylo. While in the first two movies Kylo seemed more a spoiled rich kid, in Rise of Skywalker I came away seeing the character as more an inept lackey. Kylo is, of course, eventually redeemed but I really didn't see or understand what began pushing him in that direction.

At some point, we learn Palpatine's old body was destroyed during the Battle of Endor but that his spirit found a secret base where he began inhabiting a cloned body planning his return. Okay, one of the best comic book Star Wars stories back in the 1990s had a similar plot but Palpatine came back to terrorize the galaxy a lot sooner. Had Disney pursued that story, the sequel episodes would have been awesome. 

Well in Rise of Skywalker Palpatine somehow has a massive fleet of star destroyers all armed with cannons that can blow up planets. You had to figure that a planet destroying weapon had to be included in this final movie. What I didn't understand is that if Snoke was a clone controlled my Palpatine, why didn't he just give those planet killing cannons to the First Order?

As you can expect, there is a climatic battle between Palpatine's fleet and the Resistance who have pieced together a group of ragtag ships to oppose him. Of course, Rey and Kylo have their final lightsabre battle and we get a visit by Luke Skywalker's force ghost who gives a, “Let's go out there and win one for the Gipper” speech to Rey. Going totally against the crazy hermit vibe Rian Johnson offered up in the last movie.

The Rise of Skywalker finishes up with the Resistance victorious, Palpatine truly dead and turned to ash, and Rey the sole survivor of her battles with Kylo. And yes, Kylo did turn back to the Light Side and even had a confrontation with his fellow Knights of Ren. A totally pointless scene in the movie given that their defeat played no part in changing the story. Who these Knights of Ren were and what they were doing all through episodes seven and eight is never explained. But Adam Driver needed a scene where he was the good guy so I guess they were thrown in to make that happen.

The movie ends back on the desert planet of Tatooine with Rey ceremonially burying Luke and Leia's lightsabres and looking at their Force ghosts off in the distance. Rey then takes the last name of Skywalker and probably goes on to reestablish the Jedi Order.

I am an unabashed Disneyphile who has been down to Disney World more times that I can count. But their addition to the Skywalker Saga was simply terrible. Episodes seven, eight, and nine were nothing but inconsistent stories, badly defined characters, and enough plot holes to fly a star destroyer through. Disney made the Star Wars movie Rogue One, a stand alone movie that was everything the last three of the Skywalker Saga were unable to supply. They can make a good Star Wars movie, but in my opinion I'm hoping for a reboot of the Skywalker Saga with competent writers and directors at the helm. In a way, Disney has ruined a chunk of my childhood and doesn't give a damn.

7 comments:

sage said...

Since I was in college when Star Wars first came out in the 70s, I only saw two of the new series (I took my son) but was not overly impressed. I like how you described it not about telling a story but selling merchandise. For me, it was watching Princess Leah (or whatever her name was).

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Catalyst said...

I think I've only seen the first and second Star Wars movies. And I've never been to a Disney theme park. Color me weird.

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