The Rise of Skywalker’s Audacious Cynicism

It has been quite the ride in recent years following Star Wars. What started out as a standalone film a year after I was born evolved into a trilogy of films that captured the hearts and minds of a generation. After a long hiatus, the creator of those films returned for another trilogy – and whether you liked those six movies or not – there was no argument about which individual was making decisions about the events taking place, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

Star Wars was the brainchild of George Lucas and of course he was influenced by countless stories that came before him and benefited from the amazing talents of those around him as the films were created. If we had a problem with the events that played out on screen, then it was easy to point to Lucas as the individual responsible. And many people did hold him responsible after the conclusion of the prequels. So much so that he sold the franchise to Disney and moved on with his life.

The sequel trilogy announced by Disney produced excitement that perhaps the old magic of Star Wars could be recaptured. They brought on J.J. Abrams to direct a script that was written by at least three people including Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3). It was announced that the original cast would reprise their roles, and fans were tentatively hopeful the new films would positively jolt the Star Wars universe.

The Force Awakens accomplished that by stylishly redoing the plot of A New Hope with an enjoyable cast of characters. We got an emotional end to the story of Han Solo and a major tease for whatever might have happened to Luke Skywalker. For whatever reason, Luke’s reveal in the new trilogy of films was held for the second installment; The Force Awakens hinges on the story of Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren. It produced memorable scenes, funny lines of dialogue, great visuals, and offered intriguing questions:

  • Who is Rey? Are her parents anyone special? Is she a Skywalker, Solo, Kenobi or Palpatine?
  • Is Kylo capable of redemption? Will he turn to the Light Side or go further to the Dark Side?
  • Who is Snoke? 
  • What’s the deal with The Knights of Ren?
  • Why was Luke hiding? What’s he going to do when he finally speaks to Rey?

As the start of a new trilogy and purposeful jumpstart to the flagging Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens worked well. Critics and fans alike embraced the movie, and it set the stage for two more films that could go continue to mirror the original trilogy or do something a bit different.

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My Head (Canon) Exploded! The Mental Discomfort of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

NOTE: There are spoilers for The Last Jedi in this article. Please stop reading if you have not seen the movie yet.

The Last Jedi posterWhen I started writing this article, the first paragraph detailed my excitement for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and how the only expectations I had were that it would be a good movie. At one point in the original article I wrote, “I was happily absent of expectations before the film.” It felt true when I wrote it; it really did. As I kept writing, I realized it was not true. It was actually far from true! I had many expectations for the film beyond it being good. I was just unaware of them all.

There is a moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda warns Luke not to take his weapons into the cave. Luke asks, “What’s in there?” And Yoda responds, “Only what you take with you.”

The Last Jedi is a Rorschach test of a film.

Consciously and subconsciously, we all have expectations about what Star Wars should be. And when The Last Jedi challenges those expectations – or openly subverts them – it triggers an anxiety reaction. How we monitor and process that reaction likely goes a long way to determining if we thought The Last Jedi was a “good” movie or not.

I’m not here to tell you how to react to The Last Jedi. What I am suggesting is to review the expectations you had about the film and franchise because I was unaware of many of my own expectations. Overall, I thought the film was brilliant, and I would like to harness the nervous energy I experienced during those two-and-a-half hours while watching the movie on opening night.

Because that feeling of plunging into the unknown was pure electricity.

My response to the Rorschach test of The Last Jedi is below.

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