Spoilers are coming.
Maybe a lot of them.
Want to jump out, this is your last chance.
Well, that was pretty goll-durn satisfying. I just saw it for the first time earlier this evening, and I’m still processing, because it was a LOT. People have made the argument that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones only exist to get us to Revenge of the Sith. I think when people look back on the sequel trilogy, it will be a similar thing. In retrospect, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi look like they’re just setting things up for The Rise of Skywalker, where most of the actual story of the sequel trilogy takes place.
A couple of days ago I posted a list of hopes for the new movie. Time to revisit them! I hoped:
- that Rey’s coming-from-nowhere parentage isn’t undone (this is the point on which I most expect to be disappointed). Well, it did get undone, from a certain point of view. She’s Palpatine’s granddaughter, but her parents were still kinda nobodies. I expected to be disappointed, but at least after one viewing, I’m not. Mostly because this straight-up terrifies Rey and she spends a good chunk of the movie visibly dealing with it. I mean, it’s still kind of a dumb move and I think the movie would work just as well without it, but having lit this fuse, the movie at least takes it seriously, and it’s handled much more deftly than I expected.
- that Luke’s ‘the Jedi don’t own the Force’ speech from TLJ isn’t undone. Hmm. I don’t know that it was undone so much as sidestepped. TLJ seemed to be setting things up for the Jedi to go away, but TROS instead redeems them. I’m okay with that. More to say below, but I was very surprised and pleased about how this movie handled the Force.
- that the explanation for Palpatine’s survival is satisfying and not stupid. It’s basically the explanation from the Dark Empire comics–cloning and the transference of life essence via Dark Side magic. I’m a huge Dark Empire fanboy, so that’s just fine with me. In fact, there was a lot of Dark Empire in this movie, way more than I ever expected to see on screen or in any canon production. I mean, Exogal is basically Byss. As the kids are saying these days, I’m here for it.
- that the movie does some retroactive worldbuilding to explain how the galaxy got from the end of ROTJ to the start of TFA, because that has been sorely lacking in the sequel trilogy so far. Dealt with pretty economically: Palpatine was pulling the strings, Snoke was his puppet, even Kylo Ren was just a tool to get at Rey. I’m not quite sure after one viewing if Palpatine was actually trying to kill her to eliminate a potential threat, or to turn her, but either way he was manipulating things on the galactic stage before TFA. That’s sorta Palpatine’s thing, manipulating galactic events to his own ends, so I can buy it.
- that the movie ends with a different status quo than Return of the Jedi; things need to be resolved in such a way that what happened between Eps 6 and 7 can’t just happen again ad infinitum. I suppose someone could write a dark lord/superweapon story in the aftermath of TROS, but it would be pretty lame, because this movie was the ne plus ultra of a dark lord doing dark lord shit and having superweapons. So hopefully the last-word-ness of the Final Order will force Lucasfilm to find a new well for whatever comes next for Star Wars. I’m happy with that outcome.
I also wrote, “the new movies have made the Force powerful, mysterious, and unpredictable again, in a way that nothing after ROTJ (and arguably, nothing after ESB) had done. I hope that TROS builds on that.” And holy hell, did it ever. Force healing (first shown just a few hours earlier in episode 7 of The Mandalorian). Dark-Empire-style life transference (not shown, but told, and built up to). Force ghosts interacting with physical objects, way beyond ghost-Yoda calling down a lightning strike in TLJ. Palpatine’s Force lightning on crack. And above all, the ambiguity of whether the Rey-Kylo Force connection was purely mental or also physical is decisively and plot-changingly resolved, many times over. I judge it rad.
If it seems like I gave up on some points I felt strongly about a couple of days ago, it’s because this movie made me care about its own story more. I didn’t expect that. Frankly I expected this movie to be a trainwreck of missed opportunities and botched deliveries, and I honestly did not think that JJ Abrams would be able to wrap up all the plot threads from the sequel trilogy in a satisfying way. In fact, not only did he wrap up the things I was worried about, he did some retrospective worldbuilding, particularly with Leia, that I think makes the whole sequel trilogy better. To pick a minor example: Luke’s sunken X-Wing on Ach-to turns out to be a Chekhov’s gun.
I suspect in time that the cracks in the movie will become apparent, as they usually do when the first blush of excitement wears off. But TFA is still fun as hell, despite its problems, and I think this movie will be, too.
Speaking of, I suspect that TROS will catch hell from many critics and some fans for the pulpy adventure bits on the festival planet, and the to-ing and fro-ing right after as the protagonists chase Macguffins. I’m fine with all of it. After seeing TFA for the first time, I wrote, “I just loved the general sense of regular people kind of flailing around, fumbling through saving the galaxy. Very ANH.” There was a lot of that in TROS, and I thought it was a nice counterpoint to the grand destiny bits near the end. I want grand, universe-altering showdowns in Star Wars, but also speeder chases and running from stormtroopers and the good guys making things up as they go, with a lot of desperation and a little luck. In short, I want that balance of swashbuckling and mystical and gee-whiz-lookit-them-spaceships that the OT hit so well. And I feel like I got it.
So, yeah, happy. Waaay happier than I expected to be. Can’t wait to see it again.