In a Bank Holiday Special, Tôpher Mills asks if the latest trilogy of Star Wars movie really does mark the final chapters of the long running saga, or whether the temptation to cash in further on the cultural phenomenon will lead to further instalments.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers.
I first saw STAR WARS (now addended with ‘A New Hope’) in Chapter Arts Cinema in 1978. I had been on holiday and so missed the first release. I caught it doing its art house rounds, not really the sort of film Chapter normally showed. The general response was that it was ‘cowboys and Indians in space’. At that time there were no TV adds, no YouTube, no chat rooms and no social media because there was no internet. There weren’t even any STAR WARS fans, so going in I didn’t have much idea what to expect.
Of course, I loved it. There was nothing else remotely like it. The ponderous 2001: A Space Odyssey and the slow burn of Silent Running portrayed SF as a search for the profound without the exciting bits. Star Trek boldly cornballed the profundity with as much excitement as the sparse and abysmal non-special effects that 1960’s US TV was just about capable of. The UK had Dr Who and the ultra tweeness of a police box for a space/time ship and sets that looked like they were made from cardboard boxes. STAR WARS was ground-breaking in its special effects if nothing else. George Lucas always pushed the envelope with effects and innovations in all the movies he was involved with. I distinctly remember watching the film and at one point looking at the audience to remind myself that I was just in a cinema. It was that engrossing. I have rarely felt like that in a film, much less so as the years go by, but every succeeding STAR WARS film broke new ground and captivated me. Even the follow-up trilogy, which was far too long in coming, as Lucas explored the dark journey of the Darth Vader origin story, he still gave us great characters like Darth Maul, Mace Windoo and, of course, Ja Ja Binks. The ability to see effects on a scale and brilliance that you have never seen before. This is why each film was such a huge event. You always knew you were going to get something spectacularly new and original.
When, after many years in the Lucas doldrums, Disney bought the rights, I was cynical but thought that at least we’d have the final trilogy and how bad could that be? When the first of those films was released I had not read or watched the plethora of comments and trailers leading up to seeing it. I just wanted to go in and let the film do its thing to me.
The opening sequence on Jakko, with all the junked, sand dune-laden space ships was visually splendid and hope was kindled. Rey was an intriguing character. A technical whiz-kid, cannibalizing the junked space ships for parts and selling them, who seemed, after years of this, to still be near the bottom of the food chain. She is seen chalking figures on a wall. She has been deserted by her parents, who left her all alone and never returned. So we are hooked, like the gullible rubes we are, and then the bad guys arrive and guess who they’re looking for?
As the film wore on it slowly dawned on me that I seen it before. Thirty-eight years before. This wasn’t a rehash, this was simply a remake. Let’s compare the original STAR WARS with ‘A Force Awakens’;
Rey/Luke are lonely teenagers on a desert planet.
The bad guys arrive.
Rey/Luke escape in the Millennium Falcon.
Obi-wan become surrogate father to Luke.
Han Solo becomes surrogate father to Rey.
Rey/Luke and Han/Obi-wan go to a canteen with aliens.
There’s a deathstar. There’s a deathstar only bigger.
Obi-wan is killed by Darth Vader.
Han Solo is killed by Kylo Renn.
Deathstar and bigger deathstar are blown up.
Darth Vader/Kylo Renn survive the deathstar destruction.
Luke/Rey goes in search of the last jedi Yoda/Luke
Having waited thirty-eight years for a sequel, imagine finding you’ve been given the same film far too thinly disguised as a new one. Did I feel cheated? Yes, I did. The disappointment was only made worse by the direness of the writing and the effects, which, apart from the opening scenes, were all effects that had been seen before. Where was the visual spectacularity of the Lucas films? As for the characters, I was all for their being totally P.C., Luke transgendering into Rey was great, but what was going on with Finn? Though he had a good start as a storm trooper traumatized by killing innocent people into deserting and escaping with Poe Dameron, he was very quickly shooting his former fellow storm troopers and whooping about it. That is more or less all he does for the rest of the trilogy. If he’s only there because he’s black then it’s tokenism and that’s not good enough. If you’re serious about ‘diversity’ then the black character has to have something to add to the story and have a journey that says something about who he is.
Kylo Renn as a Darth Vader wannabe came across as a spoiled brat who has temper tantrums. A Sith is supposed to be as powerful as two jedi yet Finn, who isn’t a jedi, wounds him, and Rey, fighting with a lightsaber for the first time, defeats him but is strangely unable to finish him off.
At one point Rey is captured and uses the jedi mind trick to get a guard to free her. How would she know about the jedi mind trick? She’d never been trained and there hadn’t been a jedi for thirty years, so not only would she not know how to do it, she wouldn’t even know it could be done. We know it can be done, and the scriptwriter knows we know, so it is an easy way out for the writer that we’d be familiar with even if Rey wouldn’t be familiar with it. This is very lazy writing and abysmal continuity.
How could Disney spend so much to produce a badly written, inconsistent, ill-thought-out remake almost totally lacking in originality? It surely implies that they rushed it out to make back some of the billions that they spent on buying the rights for it. There are so many obvious problems even the fans are pointing out the huge gaffs; like Leia’s failure to console a grieving Chewy after his oldest friend Han’s death. Still the fans made it a huge success and so I hoped that, with more time and money they’d make a better job of the next two films.
The Last Jedi sure pulled the rug out from under that hope. The film seemed to play havoc with the narrative set ups of The Force Awakens. Yet again there was the notion of a rehash that, even with my expectations lowered, left me disappointed and unimpressed.
Princes Leia/General Leia are at a rebel base as the fleets of Darth Vader/Kylo Renn hunt for them.
Luke/Rey is instructed in the jedi arts by Yoda/Rey complete with comic/dramatic failures and, in ‘The Last Jedi’, Yoda’s ghost popping up to max out the fans nostalgia (we’ll be seeing a lot of this kind of thing).
Darth Vader’s/Kylo Renn’s Fleets find the rebel base and attacks.
The rebels flee. The rebels flee.
Han, Leia and Chewy get caught by Boba Fett.
Finn, Rose and D.J. are captured on Canto Bright.
Luke/Rey leaves Yoda/Luke to come to their aid.
Lando frees Leia and Chewy but Han gets carbonized.
BB-8 frees Finn and Rose but D.J. betrays them.
Luke sees Darth Vader who tells him “I am your father.”
Rey sees Snoke who prompts her to reveal that her parents were…..dun, dun, duuuuh…nobody(lol).
Luke tries to kill Darth Vader but gets his hand severed.
Snoke orders Kylo to kill Rey but Kylo kills Snoke.
Luke falls from Darth Vader, gets picked up by the Millennium Falcon and escapes.
Rey fights Kylo Renn, then Admiral Holdo drives her ship through Snoke’s ship and Rey escapes.
The Last Jedi does vary quite a bit and does have a lot of unusual aspects that pop up for this film and never again. To escape her own destroyed flagship, Leia drifts through space using the power of the force to keep herself alive. This is the first time we have seen her use her jedi powers. Why has it taken so long? She had no sign of the force in the first trilogy or in The Force Awakens, so why now? We are also taken on a Goth holiday to Canto bright for just an apparent waste of film time. While there we see a stable hand creature move a broom by the power of the force. Why do we see this? We never see this creature again so what’s the point of him being there? As Chekhov put it, if there’s gun in the first act somebody has to get shot with it in the third act.
The film ends with Luke confronting Kylo Renn across the universe while Leia and the remains of the rebels escape with, eventually, the help of Rey who pops up at the last minute to rock some rocks with the force. Luke, force skyping for all he’s worth, dies and becomes at one with the skype… sorry… the Force. As with Obi-wan, Gi Gong Qui and Yoda, Luke will be ghosting around and making a nuisance of himself because no-one really dies in STAR WARS.
I went to see The Rise of Skywalker in Chapter Arts just to round off my STAR WARS experience with a little nostalgia trip of my own. Surely the great STAR WARS could still take us to a new level like George Lucas used to do?
Not only is a lot of desperate wrapping up and question answering being done, but, just like the rest of this trilogy, new elements are introduced which lead to even more questions. The long quest to find the Sith home world Exegol (sounds like an oil company), that now no other film had mentioned, is where Darth Sidious, or Palpatine as he’s called here, has been hiding for years building a huge secret fleet with a Deathstar-type cannon on every ship. A groan here at yet another riff on Deathstar crap. Could they not have come up with something new here as well? The big twist is that, as Darth Vader was Luke’s dad, Darth Sidious is Rey’s grandad. This comes out of the blue with no real explanation as to who her parents were or whether it was her mum or dad that was the child of Sidious. I’m sorry but my super cynical sonic screwdriver is detecting far too much hastily thrown together space junk here.
To be fair the actors do a good job against the odds. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver do their best and keep us watching, but I just wish the writers had given them something to get their teeth into. When the last minute help arrives it is cringe bustingly cheesey. At too many significant moments the artistic sensibility sinks into predictable mush.
Finn and Poe, in spite of many fan’s suggestions, are portrayed as rigorously not gay. The trouble is, once again, they seem to be employed for little else other than comic effect. In the dark Poe holds up a torch and Rey holds up a lightsaber and they switch them on. Rey’s lightsaber completely outshines Poe’s torch leaving him mugging to the camera having been totally emasculated. Finn, who might also have been a love interest for Rey, gets an almost moment with a female fellow ex-storm trooper, but boy is it fleeting. His high point is to perform a cavalry charge along the outside of an enemy space ship against laser cannon. Is this STAR WARS or the charge of the light brigade I’m watching?
There’s a lot of running, jumping and more running. So much so you half expect Tom Cruise to pop up and sprint across the screen. The constant too fast cutting of scenes ends up disconcerting the viewer from the film, numbing them to impact and involvement, and pushing them into incredulity.
The Millennium Falcon, multiple hyper speed jumping (see Guardians of the Galaxy 2) through various scenarios at one point is nearly eaten by a spice worm from Dune. These references are just for the audience and actually break your suspended disbelief while you think; ‘wait a minute wasn’t that….?’ Lando Calrissian teaming up with Chewy in the Millennium Falcon, Denis Lawson as the Scottish X-Wing pilot or Warwick Davis as the Ewok leader zipping past. Finn, Poe and Rey jump on some skimmers and are pursued by storm troopers (only they can fly now) evoking Luke being chased through the Ewok forest and Anakin’s pod racing. It’s just like watching the current James Bond roll up in the 1960’s Aston Martin DB5. And yes there’s even another canteen scene. These nostalgia tropes are overwhelming and are there again and again, just for a certain kind of fan. What else can the spice worm from Dune be? These item’s are from our past and have little or nothing to contribute to the film we’re watching.
The final films stink of bad-decision-making, and few are more obvious than the narrative arc of Kylo Renn.
Kylo Renn is no flawed hero; he’s irredeemably bad, he always was. Even before he murdered his father (and Rey’s surrogate father) Han Solo, he had been killing innocent people and destroying whole planets. All through the film he links psychically with Rey, from her training with Leia where he distracts her while controlling the training robot to try and kill her, hurting her in the process, to scenes where he attacks her, imprisons her, tries to kill her or harm her. Yet at several times in the trilogy Rey could fight and finish Kylo but doesn’t. In their final fight, Kylo is about to kill Rey when his mother Leia distracts him and Rey mortally wounds him. This should have been the end of the film. Bad guy dead, job done. But no. Rey then heals him (never seen a jedi do that before) and reveals to us and him that she would have said yes when he asked her to be with him, meaning that she loves him. I thought this was just plain wrong. If she had been a man and Kylo a woman then Kylo would have been killed. In Game of Thrones, Jon Snow kills Daenerys because, though he loves her, she’s bad. Why is Rey trying to redeem with love a man who has abused her horribly? The Rey/Kylo relationship is of a woman loving her abuser no matter what. Why does she save him? How can she redeem him? How can he undo all the harm he has done? Isn’t it morally bankrupt to do this just to put a twist on the plot of a film?
I know I’m not alone in finding this all very disturbing. In Hollywood, women are finally standing up to the abuse they’ve been suffering for years and now one of the biggest blockbuster films has this twisted scenario at its core. Something seems very rotten in the heart of a galaxy far far away.
At this juncture a voice says; “The balance is restored”. (Sounds like a nod to Michael Moorcock’s eternal champion series.) But how is the balance restored if the light has completely defeated the dark? How is that a balance? There is no yin and yang, no Taoism, just the light dominating the dark. Yet more nonsense served up as profundity.
It ends on Tatoine with Rey burying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers. As she does they ghost/skype for a friendly wave just to drum it into us poor saps that no-one really dies in STAR WARS, and she announces she’s a Skywalker. All tied up with one last nostalgia trope so neatly we’re amazed we can’t see a frilly bow.
So, it’s all over and the same bad guy from the other two trilogies has been killed off once again. Have all the questions really been answered? Well, of course they haven’t, because there has to be something left for the endless spin-off films and TV series. But I predict that the underlying dark and disturbing message within this film will have serious repercussions for the future of this franchise. More trilogies will undoubtedly appear with all originality lost as STAR WARS becomes a cash cow for Disney and is watered so thin nobody will even remember, let alone care, that Mace Windoo’s lightsaber was purple.