Star Trek Picard – Series 1, Episode 10 – It’s just shit

It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this review – I’ve been putting it off, because quite frankly I’m just glad that this series is over and I don’t want to spend any more time on it.

This final episode ultimately epitomised everything that was wrong with this series. I think all of the main things that have been bad about the previous episodes were in this one too. Because of that, there was no one main thing that was wrong with this episode, and so nothing that I can focus this review on – I’m just going to have to go through everything in order. So here we go.

At the start of the episode, Seven and Elnor are talking, and Seven says that the ex-Borg have no homes. This is odd, because the convention up until now is that de-assimilated Borg go back to the civilisation and planet that they were originally from. Sure that might not be an option for some people, as the Borg might have destroyed their home planet and the entire civilisation on it, but then there must be other ex-Borg from the same species, with whom they could start a colony – something which happens all the time in the Star Trek universe. Or they could even just join the Federation – there must be loads of Federation worlds that would have them. I get that the point of this series is that the Federation became closed off, but that was to Romulans, not just everyone.

Similarly, Seven says that she has no home. Err … Earth?

Narek makes his way into the Borg cube, where his sister greets him with a knife to the throat. Why? I get that these two are adversarial, but she knows it’s him doesn’t she? These two characters are weird – most of their conversations are quite incest-y. I can’t tell if they hate each other or want to fuck each other.

Shortly after that we hear a bit more of Narek’s backstory, from Narek himself. He’s rather pleased that he’s the one who found all the robots, and describes himself as ‘The Zhat Vash wash-out.’ … err … Can you leave the Zhat Vash? Surely they’d kill you – they seem like the sort of people who would kill you if you left. Also, has he left? The entire series he’s been doing stuff for the Zhat Vash? This show not only contradicts canon established by previous shows, but also things from earlier episodes!

We get a bit of chat between Picard and Soji at this point in the episode. They try to talk philosophy, but the writers aren’t capable of it, so a lot of what they say is just gibberish, but at one point Picard says ‘To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.’ – no, this show is a failure of imagination.

Speaking of imagination, we get a weird scene between Rios and Raffi where they try to fix their ship. All of the dialogue in this scene is weird. Santiago Cabrera once again sounds like he’s reading his lines for the first time, Raffi is just insufferably patronising as she tries to get Rios to use the imagination tool thing to fix the ship. In this situation, Raffi obviously would have no more of an idea of how to use this tool than Rios would, but somehow she still tells him what to do with it.

This whole scene is completely unnecessary. What does it add to the episode or the series? Nothing. The imagination tool is just a deus ex machina tool. It can apparently do anything at any time with no constraints on materials or power. You don’t even have to learn how to use it. How does it work? We don’t know. Did the robots know? How did they make it? Did they make it? Where did they get it from? Seems like it would be good to have a lot of these things about. Are any of these questions going to be answered? No? Okay then.

Also, the imagination tool sends out these Borg-like tubes to fix things – is that a deliberate reference? If so, to what? How did these robots get a Borg device like that?

Throughout this episode we get a lot of very unsubtle foreshadowing that Picard is going to die and get put into this artificial body that they’ve been building. But … why are they even making that body in the first place? Apparently Soong and the other robots have been making this body, but … why? Who was it for? Was it for Soong? He was the only human there when they started building it, so it must be – does that mean he has to give up a new body so that Picard can have it?

Narek goes to the ship where Raffi and Rios are. He tries to get their attention, and when they ask what he wants, he says he’s ‘Trying to save the universe.’. No, just no. Fuck off with that. This is a problem that’s endemic to science fiction nowadays – people aren’t just trying to save a person, or a group of people, or a civilisation, or a planet, or a star system, or a galaxy – no, they’re trying to save the whole fucking universe. Stop. Putting. This. Line. In. Stuff. The story isn’t made more grand and epic by adding this line – you don’t raise the stakes, because no-one can really imagine this. This doesn’t increase the tension, it just makes the characters needlessly melodramatic. You know what actually raises the tension? Putting characters who we actually give a shit about in danger. Make us give a shit about the characters, and then put them in danger. Just having a character exposit the end of the universe does nothing.

It’s also completely inconsistent with what we’ve found out so far in this series. If this super-advanced AI does arrive, then they threaten, at most, all of our galaxy – there has been no mention of them going to other galaxies at all. So no, Narek, you are not saving the fucking universe.

I also noted down at this point in the episode that it’s very hard to believe that both Narek and Elnor are Romulans. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can just show the variety that there is to Romulan culture.

Narek’s telling of Ganmadan is fun, but the fact that the imagery here isn’t better shows that these aren’t very good writers. Also, this series would have had more tension as a whole if we’d heard this story far earlier in the series.

Narek says ‘And the fascinating thing about history is … it always repeats itself.’ No, Narek. No it doesn’t – it sometimes repeats itself. This is the kind of bullshit profound I expect on Twitter, not in Star Trek.

Jurati’s plan to help Picard escape seems to consist of just unlocking the door. They walk the six miles back to the ship pretty quickly.

By this point in the episode, I think most of the main characters know that genocide is imminent, but considering this they are not panicking nearly enough. Apparently they are all going to die in a few minutes, along with the people on a lot of other planets (it would seem), but no-one’s panicking – why is no-one panicking? This is partly why this episode has no tension, despite it being a ‘save the universe’ plot. The characters are about the same level of bothered by this as not being able to get a clue on a crossword.

We have some more bullshit profundity from Picard. He says ‘To be alive is a responsibility as well as a right.’ … Jesus fucking Christ. That might sound like the sort of thing that would go on a cheap inspirational poster that someone shares on Instagram, but this is actually quite a dark statement. The implication of this statement is that unless you, as a life form, do not carry out your “responsibilities”, then you don’t get to be alive. (This also shows why the word “responsibility” is vague, meaningless, and only really used as a way to get other people to do things regardless of how right or wrong that thing is, but that’s a rant for another blog post.)

Jurati says ‘Make it so.’ to Picard. How the hell does she know that he says that? This line is one of many that just serve as a shallow attempt at fan service by going ‘LOOK! SHE SAID THE THING! SHE SAID THE THING THAT HE NORMALLY SAYS! REMEMBER THAT? HE NORMALLY SAYS THAT! REMEMBER THAT! REMEMBER THAT BETTER SHOW THAT YOU COULD BE WATCHING!’ … You know what’s actually fan service? MaKiNg A gOoD fUcKiNg ShOw!

Down on the planet, Soong and the others are trying to stop all of the androids from doing whatever it is they’re doing. He goes up to Sutra and uses some device on her that knocks her out. He only uses this device ONCE. They then try and fight the other robots off by hand.

Back on the ship, Jurati says to Picard ‘Are you not answering to build suspense?’ – I suppose this is an attempt at a funny meta-line, but it doesn’t work. In order to break the fourth wall (or in this case, dent it), you first have to establish that there is a fourth wall by making your show immersive, which this show is not. Too often in this show the thoughts of the characters blur with the thoughts of the writers, which makes a meta-line like this just look like bad writing.

On the Borg cube, Seven has a gun pointing at Rizzo, and for some reason she doesn’t kill her straight away. There is no reason for this. Rizzo then somehow just pushes Seven’s gun aside, and they fight.

Throughout this entire episode, Commodore Sunglasses is the only Romulan we see on the Romulan ships – I guess they just didn’t have the money for more.

Picard and Jurati just fly around in front of the Romulans for a bit, not really doing anything.

Jurati also knows about the Picard manoeuvre. How? I get that it’s famous, but is it so famous that people outside of Starfleet know it? The only military manoeuvre that I know is the pincer manoeuvre, and that’s been around for millennia. This is just more desperate fan service.

Picard gives Soji a call on Zoom. Soji is not surprised to learn that Picard has left the village.

Up in space, Commodore Sunglasses says ‘Ready planetary sterilisation pattern number five.’ … apparently planetary sterilisation patterns one to four are not suitable in this case.

Back on the FaceTime call, why does Soji give a shit about Picard dying? When she first met him, she didn’t trust him. Have we ever actually been given a reason why she changed her mind? When did she change her mind? It all just happens because the plot requires it.

They activate the beacon, and it turns out it’s not just a beacon that sends a message, it opens the portal from Avengers Assemble. Jesus fucking Christ – check your fucking script! Make. Sure. You. Know. Whether. It’s. A. Portal. Or. A. Beacon. They. Are. Not. The. Same. Thing.

Also, the portal is now red when last time it was green.

The Starfleet ships arrive, and they look like they’ve just been copy-and-pasted in Blender.

We get about a minute of back-and-forth between Riker and Commodore Sunglasses, and for a few brief moments, the show actually feels like Star Trek. Jonathan Frakes is still great. If we had a whole series with him as a captain of a star ship, it could be amazing (though, without any of this Discovery / Picard style writing – I don’t want another classic character to be ruined).

Picard’s brain problem spontaneously flares up again, and honestly it has better dramatic timing than most of the actors.

Very slowly, the super-beings are making their way through the portal, and apparently they’re just tentacles – not what I was expecting.

They manage to close the portal again, and the super-beings just decide to go back into it. Apparently even though they’ve been summoned, ostensibly to rescue the androids down on the planet, they decide that since the portal has closed they must not need rescuing.

Picard dies, and the rest of the characters just mope around for a bit. Seven of Nine says that she intended to never again ‘kill somebody just because it’s what they deserve’. What a weird thing to aim for.

Okay, this next one’s harsh – maybe too harsh, even for me – but Evan Evagora is not an experienced enough actor to pull off that short scene with him and Raffi. Now, I like Evan Evagora – he’s got some great pictures on Instagram – but he doesn’t have a lot of acting credits – only two before Star Trek Picard. Now this alone isn’t a bad thing – in fact I quite like that the show was willing to give out some parts to less-experienced actors – it helps them to get going in the acting world. This short scene is very cringe-worthy, and I actually blame the directors for this, because if you as a director get an actor to do something, and it’s obvious that they can’t really perform that way yet, do the scene differently.

Anyway, we then learn that Data has actually been alive all this time, inside a simulation, for about twenty years. Why did they leave him there? They’ve been building all of these other android bodies, why not make one for Data?

Also, considering how good Brent Spiner is at playing Data, they should have had a lot more of him in this series.

Data says he wants to die again, and he says ‘Mortality gives meaning to human life.’ No, no it doesn’t. This line kind of highlights what’s wrong with this show – Picard is supposed to be a philosophical character, and Star Trek is supposed to be a philosophical show, but you can’t have that unless the people writing it are very intelligent.

Anyway, they transfer Picard’s memories into a new body – I’m not sure what kind of body this is – the show doesn’t seem to understand that a biological android is just a fucking human, but it seems to want to think that somehow they’re still robots – I don’t know – it doesn’t make sense. But something that other critics have said is that this new Picard isn’t Picard – the real Picard died when his body died. And this is an important point: is a copy a continuation? If this were classic Star Trek, this idea would have been explored, but since it’s not classic Star Trek, it isn’t.

The characters are fine with it anyway – they all seem to consider this new body with Picard’s memories to be Picard. I did wonder though – what did they do with the old body? Did they just dump it in the trash? We don’t see the other body at any point – itself an odd choice for the show to make. Perhaps they just wanted to ignore the philosophical implications of all of this.

In the end, Picard has no brain problem, and Data is still dead, so basically nothing has changed since the start of the series. (Because this series chose to make Picard’s brain problem into a thing – they could have just ignored it any no-one would have noticed.)

For about half a second just before the final shot of the series, there’s a brief lesbian moment between Seven and Raffi. This really pissed me off. It’s so fucking weak. You don’t get representation points for lesbians holding hands – it’s not 19-fucking-95 – it’s 2020. Two decades ago you got points for that, but not now. If you want credit for having lesbians in your show, put them front and centre – make the main two characters lesbians, THEN you get credit for it. Either put them front and centre or don’t bother at all. Ambiguous sentences and people in the background holding hands is just fucking weak.

And then at the end, the ‘gang’ is about to go off on some other adventure. It’s not obvious why they decide to do this. But more importantly, what’s actually going to happen to all of those androids down on the planet? They can’t just be left there – the Romulans would just come back. In the end, we have no idea what happens to the androids, which was the entire point of this story.

It’s just astonishing how much of this episode made no sense – not just in terms of the wider context of the Star Trek canon, but in terms of things this show said earlier in the series. There is no consistency; there is no coherence.

I was optimistic about this series – I was optimistic that it wouldn’t have the same problems that Discovery had. But while it’s not quite as bad as Discovery, it’s obvious from this series that the showrunners have a critical error in their understanding of what Star Trek is supposed to be, and a complete inability to do world-building, separate their thoughts from the thoughts of the characters they are writing, understand character motivations, write natural dialogue, build suspense, or have any philosophical ideas that are distinguishable from what Inspirobot chucks out.

The acting in this show is sometimes good, sometimes repulsive. The CGI is mostly alright, with the occasional copy-and-paste. The music is forgettable, but inoffensive. But the writing is an absolute clusterfuck. This show is a complete failure of writing, and the only value it has is as an example of what not to do.

I gave Star Trek Discovery a second chance, and watched the second season. Star Trek Picard is getting no second chance – that’s it, this show is dead. In fact, after three awful series’ of television, I’m tuning out of modern Trek. There is just no point watching it, and until there is a complete change of writing philosophy I’m not going to watch any more modern Trek. Other shows deserve more of a chance; modern Trek goes to the back of the line.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 4 – I guess this is the level we’re working at

Hmmm. I liked this episode, but I have five pages of notes on it – that’s a lot more than usual. They’re all quite disconnected, and I think the only way of going through them is to go through them as they appeared in the episode.

Firstly, I liked the planet Vashti. This was actually the main reason why I liked the episode. I thought the look of the planet was very well designed – it was very distinctive. The whole opening sequence was set on the planet, and I think it was very immersive.

It was also nice to hear some Romulan. As much as I can’t stand Star Trek Discovery, one of the few things I did like about it was the inclusion of a lot of Klingon. Having characters speak in alien languages in a show adds to the realism. It creates more of a sense that these alien races are real and have real cultures.

The next point in my notes is that the dialogue in the show is still very, very unnatural. This is something that came up A LOT in the episode – I’ll return to it later with specific examples. So often the things that the characters say are not the things that any real person would say at that point in a real conversation. It’s jarring.

Another quick aside, Ian Nunney, who plays the young Elnor in this episode, is outstanding – he’s better than many of the older actors.

Now we get to some bigger points. The character of Dr. Jurati, who in previous episodes I quite liked, in this episode spontaneously becomes completely obnoxious. She has a conversation with Chris Rios, the captain of the ship they’re all on. She opens with ‘Space turns out to be super-boring.’ while something very interesting happens behind her. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me the idea of getting to look out of a ship as it’s travelling faster than the speed of fucking light sounds pretty fucking amazing.

After Chris Rios says something that’s full-on fucking edgelord, she says sarcastically ‘Well that’s not a conversation killer at all.’. But while what Chris Rios said was a bit weird and trying too hard, it wasn’t a fucking conversation killer – it had the potential to be quite interesting. What was a conversation killer, Dr. Jurati, was you listing off stats about the galaxy. See what I mean about this show having really weird dialogue? The show is trying to be banter-y, but the writers have no fucking idea how to write that.

It occurred to me while watching this episode that Dr. Jurati is basically just Tilly from Star Trek Discovery. They’re both nerdy; they’re both awkward; they’re both hyper-positive. They both just go up to people and start talking to them. They even have many of the same facial expressions. While I didn’t dislike Tilly in STD, is new Star Trek capable of writing any other kinds of character? This is just what non-nerds think nerds are like.

On the subject of obnoxious characters, Raffi is endlessly annoying. She can never let anyone else be right – she always has to correct them, often with patronising incredulity – particularly if anyone dares to infer what she might mean by something she’s said. It’s infuriating to watch, and I think it’s both a writing problem and an acting problem.

It’s become evident that this show is trying to assemble its ‘gang’. This is a concept that’s very familiar from shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender – your main characters form a group that goes around from place to place and adventure to adventure – each person in the group has distinctive personality traits and abilities (so that they all depend on each other), but they work well together as a group, even if some of them don’t get along sometimes.

The problem is that having a ‘gang’ like this depends on having likeable characters, and only Jean-luc is likeable out of this lot.

Anyway, we had some more stupid dialogue. Dr. Jurati says ‘Anyone else think the Way of Absolute Candor sounds potentially annoying.’ Oh ha ha very funny but no. That actually sounds pretty fucking convenient. What is annoying, however, is you.

Raffi says ‘Your basic impenetrable shield of orbital killer drones.’ – Who the fuck wrote this? A fucking five-year-old?

Elnor is just an elf from Middle Earth. Even the name ‘Elnor’ is pretty fucking elvish. Picard even asks him ‘Will you bind your sword to my quest?’ at one point – this is just Lord of the Fucking Rings!

While on the subject of Elnor, it’s annoying that when he and Picard meet for the first time after about fourteen years, we don’t get to see their initial reactions – it cuts away. This is something that seems to happen a lot in film and television nowadays, and it’s very annoying.

Not-quite-finally, another thing that I really didn’t like about this episode was the portrayal of many of the Romulans on Vashti. The Romulans weren’t very Romulan. In The Next Generation, the Romulans are of course militaristic, but they are also pensive, cunning, cautious, and sly. That makes them unique among the enemies of the Federation, and very ominous.

All of that is gone here. In this episode, they’re just space thugs. Why does every alien race in new Star Trek seem to become space thugs? It’s the same thing that happened with the Klingons in STD. It’s as though the writers of new Star Trek can’t conceive of any other form of evil than thuggishness.

On this same point, the actor who played the former Romulan senator clearly has never seen classic Star Trek. He has none of the presence that previous actors who’ve played Romulans of that kind of status had.

And then finally … Jeri Ryan’s still got it. The five seconds of her that we got at the end of the episode were better than the rest of the fucking episode. What is it about these actors from older shows that means that they’re just far better on screen? I’m not completely sure, but I think it’s probably that they can do performances with subtlety. The two or three facial expressions that we got from Jeri Ryan at the end of the episode were more engaging than any line said by any other character in the whole forty minutes.

So when I say I enjoyed this episode, I mean that it was engaging to watch, but it was also punctuated by lots of very annoying moments. In that regard it was similar to all of the episodes we’ve had so far – it looks like this whole series is going to be filled with these annoying moments.

Doctor Who – Series 12 Episode 1 – Dull, dull, ever so dull

Gosh it doesn’t seem all that long since series 11. After series 11 had aired, I had intended to make a video for my YouTube channel reviewing the series as a whole. I never got round to that in the end (as is the case with many, many videos), so I will just summarise what I thought of series 11 here.

I did not like series 11. The series had many problems, and I could have spent a long time describing them, either in blog posts or videos, but the main problem with the series was that it was deathly dull. It was unendingly boring; I tried to watch every episode of the series, but by the end I just didn’t give a shit anymore, so didn’t watch the last two or three episodes.

This followed on from many years of decline of Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi is an outstanding actor – one of the best living actors – but his series’ as The Doctor were increasingly dull. I can’t really remember the stories of any of the episodes he was in – there were no memorable moments. Getting rid of Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat and bringing in Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall was an attempt at revitalising the show. I watched series 11 optimistic that this would work, but it didn’t.

As a result of all of this, I had not intended on watching series 12 – once a show declines below a certain level of quality, one should stop watching it – how else will the showrunners learn? However, I’ve heard mixed things about series 12 so far, about half of which has aired, so I thought I’d watch this series (at least, start watching it – I may not make it to the end), to see for myself. I tend to tolerate one bad series of a show, but not two – that’s what I did with Star Trek Discovery.

So I watched episode 1 of series 12, optimistic that they would begin to solve some of the problems from the last series. But they didn’t.

I have four pages of notes on this episode, and each note could probably become two or three whole paragraphs in this review. If I were to try to fully describe what was bad about this episode, this review would become enormous, and I really don’t want to have to write and edit a giant piece of text – that takes a lot of time – considering this is just one episode. And I think it would be rather dull to read too. So instead I’m just going to give my overall thoughts on this episode – what the main problems with it are – and then chuck in a list of quick thoughts I had while watching the episode, to give the sense of just how many things are wrong with it.

The main problem with this episode is that it is dull – very, very dull. Throughout most of the episode I was just waiting for it to end, so that I could get on with other stuff. I just don’t give a shit about the mystery they are trying to solve or the villain they are trying to defeat.

And I think this says something important about writing mystery – something actually quite fundamental. The best mysteries are ones where the audience has a chance of figuring out the mystery before the characters do. We the audience should be given clues about the mystery throughout the story, and we can use these clues to solve the mystery, in the same way that the characters do. The problem with Doctor Who recently is the same problem that Steven Moffat’s Sherlock series had: we the audience have no way of figuring out the mystery ourselves, and so all we can do is watch the protagonist use their brilliance and genius to figure out the mystery using knowledge that we the audience don’t have. This is dull.

A very similar principle is true about ‘defeat the bad guy’ stories too. We the audience should be able to figure out how the bad guy can be defeated based on what we know of the rules of the world that the story is set in and the resources that the protagonists have access to. This is why world-building is so important. Part of world-building is establishing what the rules of your fictional world are, and once set, they should not be broken. The audience then knows what the rules of your world are, and can use that knowledge to figure out how to defeat the villain. The problem with Doctor Who is that it is one giant festival of deus ex machina. New rules and possibilities are introduced all the time, and old rules are disregarded. This means that all we can do as the audience is just sit back and bask in the genius of the protagonist as, once again, the protagonist uses knowledge of what’s possible and what isn’t, that we the audience don’t have, to defeat the antagonist. This is dull.

Doctor Who has had both of these problems for a long time, and this episode epitomised them. I simply don’t care how or why all of these people are being killed, because I have no way of figuring it out. Nor do I care about how The Master will be defeated – he’s always defeated. There is no threat; there is no suspense; there is no mystery.

That is the biggest problem with the episode (and I anticipate it will be the biggest problem with the whole series); that’s why it’s dull.

And now for a selection of random thoughts from throughout the episode:

  • Weird fucking dialogue right from the fucking outset. This was a problem in the last series too – for some reason the writers aren’t able to write realistic dialogue – the dialogue in this show just comes across as creepy, patronising, passive-aggressive, forced, and ultimately fake.
  • The side-kicks continue to have zero charisma. They have no personality – no character traits whatsoever. This isn’t a problem with the actors – this is a problem with the writers.
  • ‘Worst Uber ever!’ – y’know I think this line might epitomise the problem with Doctor Who at the moment. This line is played as a joke, but it’s not a joke – it’s a half-joke – a thing that is said that may be ever-so-slightly amusing, but which does not have the actual structure of a joke (yes jokes do have analysable structure). Half-jokes should never, ever make it into your writing, unless you are trying to mock the person who makes the half-joke.
  • MI6 seems a bit weak-sauce compared to U.N.I.T.
  • ‘I’ve read the files; The Doctor is a man.’ says Stephen Fry. ‘I’ve had an upgrade.’ says Jodie Whittaker. This is a bit of a fuck you to the people who didn’t like this change.
  • Even Stephen Fry can’t make the dialogue good. Normally a great actor can make shit dialogue good, but here the dialogue is just too shit.
  • I hate all of this walking and talking stuff – it prevents the suspense from building. Leave pauses in your scenes – you don’t have to have characters talking all the time. Suspense builds when we sense something ominous – little is more ominous than silence.
  • ‘Is she gonna die Doc?’ says one of the side-kicks. Once again, the side-kicks are just used as props for The Doctor. This was a problem last series too.
  • ‘MI6 has never countenanced the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.’ – I’m guessing all of those times aliens were seen by lots of people around Earth have been retconned then.
  • Stephen Fry’s character’s death has no impact.
  • The line ‘No-one’s mocking you now.’ is weirdly hilarious, though it’s not supposed to be.
  • Lenny Henry is thin now.
  • The show desperately wants to examine the big issues – like corporate data gathering and people being shits on Twitter – but it has no idea how to do it.
  • This was another fucking ‘end of the universe’ story. Stop it. This carries no weight in a series with world-building and characters as flimsy as this.
  • Fake-out deaths – these kill the tension – avoid them.
  • Jodie Whittaker plays The Doctor like a children’s television presenter. You’re not on fucking Blue Peter.
  • This is another episode that has characters talk about technology that’s been written by people who know nothing about how that technology works. If you’re not going to have any techie people write your show, at least get a fucking technology adviser so that your characters don’t say stupid things.
  • Lenny Henry is shit at aiming.
  • Lenny Henry does not make for a threatening villain. (This is actually a writing problem – as is the above point. Lenny Henry actually does very well with what he is given – it’s just that what he is given to perform is shit.)

That was one episode, and it had that much wrong with it. That episode was a complete disaster, and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series.

Star Wars Is Dead – Part 1: Fan fiction pretending to be a reboot pretending to be a finale

Okay, it’s taken me longer to get round to the first part of this series than I expected, but let’s go.

This film is a massive fuck you to The Last Jedi.

This film was filled with retcons. I was actually almost impressed with the number of retcons in this film. I was also amazed at the kind of retcons we got. Some of the retcons were of the kind we’re used to seeing, where something that was possible in a previous film is now just not possible, and next to no explanation is given. Some of the retcons were of a different kind – which I’ve been calling ‘narrative retcons’ (which may not be the best name), where the act of undoing or replacing something is woven into the narrative – this kind of retcon seemed to be used to change the direction and style set-up by The Last Jedi. I didn’t even realise such ‘narrative retcons’ were possible before watching this film.

Now, before I start going through all of the retcons in this film, I want to assert that all retcons are bad. Having retcons in your film or television series or book is always bad – having them always makes your creative work lower quality than if it did not have them. Because fundamentally, a retcon is a discontinuity. (‘Retcon’ is an abbreviation of ‘retroactive continuity’, and was originally used to describe when the creator of a creative work – whether they’re an author or a film director or a film producer – either added something into a sequel work, or said something outside of any of the creative works in the series, that changes the meaning, or the sequence of events, the history, or the underlying physics or metaphysics, seen by the audience in the creative work, so as not to contradict something that is seen in the sequel work. Retcons are an attempt at providing continuity across the series of works. Because of this we might naïvely see them as continuities, rather than discontinuities. But the very fact that we the audience have to change our understanding of a part of the original creative work, so that on second viewing of the series as a whole it appears to have a continuity, means that there IS a discontinuity in our understanding of the story. In short, a retcon asks the audience to pretend they didn’t notice a thing from the previous parts of the story. A retcon is an attempt at giving the story continuity at the expense of the continuity of the audience’s understanding. So it is a discontinuity. In addition to this, the overwhelming majority of retcons are imperfect, and in their attempt to remove an inconsistency in the story, they just end up creating one or more other inconsistencies – as was the case with this film.) Discontinuities pull the audience out of the story – whether it’s a book or a television series or a film, a discontinuity reminds the audience that the world of the creative work is not real. Discontinuities lessen the immersivity of a story – they are the antagonists of immersivity. (This is why world-building is such a big part of writing science fiction and fantasy – you’ve got to make the audience believe that the world they are reading about could be real. If there are inconsistencies in your world design, it makes your world less believable.) Every time I see a discontinuity in a film, I am reminded that I am sitting in a cinema. This is not what I want. In a science fiction or fantasy film (or quite frankly any film), I want to forget that the real world exists – for between one and a half and three hours I want to imagine that the world of the film is all that exists, and I imagine that this is what a lot of the fans of these films want. Thus, all retcons are bad.

This is why I said, in the video I made about Episode IX before it came out, that I thought there was no possibility of this film being a good film. It either had to go with what it had been given from The Last Jedi, which was shit (that’s for another rant), or it had to retcon lots of things from the previous films, which would also have been shit because retcons are always bad. Whatever this film did, it would end up being shit.

But okay, onto the actual retcons. The main thing to point out here is that this film retconned all of the big things introduced in The Last Jedi. I would have thought that anyone who liked The Last Jedi would have hated this film because of that.

Firstly, the obvious one: in The Last Jedi it’s revealed that Rey’s parents are not anyone of significance within the galaxy. It’s also implied that they weren’t Force-users. This was massively, massively retconned in The Rise Of Skywalker (fuck I hate that title). Not only were Rey’s parents not ‘nobody’, they were very much ‘somebody’ – in fact they were some of the somebodiest ‘somebodies’ in the entire galaxy, because Rey is a grandchild of Emperor Palpatine.

Now, I personally don’t dislike this idea (other than the fact that it is a retcon – I would have liked this had they done the proper setup for it, but they didn’t, and now it’s a mess), but for those people who did like The Last Jedi, this must be pretty annoying. Defenders of The Last Jedi often exclaimed that it was a good thing that Rey was not related to any of the big Force-using families – why did everyone have to be related to everyone in this galaxy? Why did Force powers have to be inherited? Are the defenders of The Last Jedi annoyed by this change?

I don’t dislike the idea of this – I think had they intended this to be the case from the beginning, I think it could have been done very well. But the execution is hot trash. In TROS, after Rey finds out that she’s the grandchild of Palpatine, Kylo Ren uses the ‘true from a certain point of view’ angle (it’s pretty lazy writing to just do that one again) to show how what he said in TLJ wasn’t technically wrong. This means that Kylo Ren knew who Rey’s parents were back in TLJ – so he lied … … but … why? What reason did he have for lying at that point? As far as I can tell, there is none. (Also, if indeed Kylo Ren did find this out in TLJ, his reaction to it was remarkably unsurprised. This shows again how retcons are bad – expressions given by actors in previous scenes now no longer make sense.)

The problems go further than this. This film tries to retroactively explain Rey’s astonishing Force powers by linking her to Palpatine. Of course, one of the main criticisms of Rey from the last two films is that she’s a Mary Sue – she can just use the Force very well despite having no training. Connecting Rey to Palpatine, and indicating that that’s where her extraordinary powers come from is an attempt to un-Mary-Sue-ify Rey. But Episode VII is called ‘The Force Awakens’, and the message from that film is very much that the Force has ‘awoken’ in Rey (something which they continue leaning into in TLJ). But if Rey’s powers are inherited from Palpatine, how did they awaken? She had them all along. This change undermines the premise of this trilogy.

Okay, secondly: Snoke. This is one of the retcons that I class as a narrative retcon. Snoke remains dead in this film – they didn’t undo that. But they did undo the big thing that was done in TLJ. In TLJ, the Big Bad, the final boss, was killed using a very unsubtle play on words. This was hailed as revolutionary by film aficionados. We all expected that Snoke was going to be killed off at the end of the third film – that’s how it always goes – that’s one of the tropes of these kinds of films. Shock, he dies in the second film.

This film didn’t bring Snoke back, but it did undo the effect of killing him off. Killing Snoke meant that there was no Big Bad for Episode IX. Except … in the end … there was – this film just decided to bring back Palpatine instead. One Big Bad had been killed off, so they just brought in another one instead. The effect of killing off the Big Bad was nullified.

So this is a ‘narrative retcon’. They didn’t just straight-up bring Snoke back, but they changed the narrative to put the overarching story back into the place that it would have been had Snoke’s death not happened.

But this retcon goes deeper than this, almost in a way that suggests J. J. Abrams was insulted by the killing-off of Snoke, because this film completely removes Snoke as a character from these films. Early on in TROS, when Kylo Ren goes to visit Sheev in hospital, we see a large tank in the dark room where they keep Palpy. In this tank, we see several Snoke bodies. This means that Sheev literally created Snoke. And when Sheev says ‘I am every voice you’ve ever heard.’ (something like that – it’s been a few weeks), he must either mean that Snoke was a real person but who was Palpatine’s puppet, or Snoke was just under the direct control of Palpatine, using some other new Force power. Either way, Snoke only existed for the purpose of swaying Kylo Ren, probably only existed for a few years, and had no free agency. He effectively didn’t exist. That’s quite a monumental retcon.

Thirdly, the Holdo Manoeuvre. This was a full-on retcon. It was also a fuck you to fans, because they actually had a character ask a question that they knew fans would ask if they didn’t do this retcon: ‘Why not just use the Holdo Manoeuvre against Sheev’s fleet?’.

The response to this, from Finn, was ‘That’s one in a million.’ (something like that). This is the laziest fucking writing I’ve ever seen. He might as well have just said ‘Nah’. The Last Jedi introduced something into the Star Wars universe that was world-breaking. The existence of this as a thing that can happen means that a large number of events should have turned out differently, if this is to be a consistent universe. And the explanation we’re given as to why this thing doesn’t happen all the time is essentially just ‘it doesn’t’, which isn’t a fucking reason at all.

I have never seen such lazy fucking writing – why do you bother making films at all if you can’t be bothered to think about these things?

Those were the three big things from The Last Jedi that were retconned, but there were lots of other retcons too.

The biggest retcon of the entire film, of course, is Palpatine. At the start of this film, Palpatine is not dead. He did not die at the end of Episode VI (or he died and came back to life – since we don’t know the details the distinction is somewhat arbitrary).

Now, even before this film came out, I said, as did many others, that bringing Palpatine back was not a good idea. Palpatine being alive means that he didn’t truly die in Episode VI, which undermines the plot of Episode VI. At the end of Return Of The Jedi, all of the main characters celebrate the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Palpatine (and consequently the fall of the empire). But this is now a hollow victory, because they didn’t truly kill Palpatine at all. This film completely changes the context and tone of the ending to ROTJ – the characters may be celebrating, but now we the audience know that they should instead be looking for Palpatine, either to kill him properly or to prevent him from coming back. The characters celebrate, but we the audience do not.

No explanation is given for how Palpatine survived – in true J. J. Abrams fashion. All we get is a repeat of Palpatine’s earlier line: ‘The Dark Side is a path to many abilities that some would consider unnatural.’ While this is not an explanation, it does reveal another (partial) retcon. This means that Sidious used the Force to stay alive – he did not just happen to survive by natural means. In the Prequels, Sidious says that only Darth Plagueis knew of how to cheat death using the Dark Side of the Force. So apparently, Sidious figured it out on his own at some point between the Prequels and the Originals. That’s not impossible according to the Star Wars universe’s own rules, so it’s not a full-on retcon, but we the audience know that this is a recent change, rather than a fact of the universe that was intended all along, so it still sticks out.

The main side-effect of Sidious being alive is that it undermines the finality of death in these stories. This is a problem that can exist in any story that brings characters back from the dead – either by making that physically possible in the world of the story, or by pretending that they were never dead in the first place. This is advice that writers are often given. Tension and suspense are created in your story because the reader or viewer does not want the characters to fail or to lose or to die – the audience has investment in the characters. Bringing characters back to life in your story ultimately removes death as a possibility – after all, if one character can come back once, surely any character can come back any number of times. It removes the stakes, and thus undermines the tension. We no longer fear that our protagonist may die in their fight, because if they do they can just come back to life.

And this is a problem we see in this film too. Sidious dies again in this film, but is there anything to stop him coming back again? Will he just come back whenever the franchise is in trouble? Death can no longer be a permanent victory against evil – the protagonists cannot win.

More on character-based retcons: this film gave us General Pryde. This I think is by far the most interesting, and funniest, of the retcons in the film. One of the complaints about The Last Jedi was that it undermined General Hux as a threatening villain. Hux was used as a comedy character. This made it very difficult to use Hux as a true villain in TROS, because we wouldn’t have taken him seriously. I think J. J. Abrams knew this, and that’s why we got General Pryde, played by Richard E. Grant. General Pryde is just another menacing First Order commander – on paper he is no different to Hux – but because we haven’t seen him be the butt of jokes in TLJ, he can actually be menacing – we the audience take him seriously. Pryde is a replacement for Hux.

This is another ‘narrative retcon’. The existence of Pryde doesn’t contradict anything we’ve seen before, nor does it change the meaning of anything we’ve seen before, but it does reverse the effect of TLJ by giving us a new secondary villain. It seems two villains from the previous film were replaced: Snoke was replaced with Palpatine, and Hux was replaced with Pryde. We now have our new primary and secondary villains.

The existence of Pryde isn’t interesting just because it is this different kind of retcon, but also because in this film, General Pryde shoots and kills General Hux. This was amazing when I saw it in the cinema (not in a good way) – they actually had General Hux’s replacement shoot General Hux! The replacement killed off the original! As retcons go, that is bold.

They killed off Pryde at the end of the film. (I don’t know why – he could have been a good villain for future films – maybe he’ll come back from the dead too.) But I wonder if there’s a hidden meaning here. The Last Jedi made Hux an unusable character; in the end it was Pryde / pride that killed him, and then Pryde / pride dies. Is General Pryde a jab at Rian Johnson? Johnson has aggressively defended The Last Jedi on Twitter ever since it came out – he has, it seems, always been proud of the film. Is Abrams saying that it was Johnson’s pride that killed Hux, and in the end pride dies because TLJ was hated by a lot of fans? I’ve heard stranger fan theories, and it would explain why this new general is called Pryde of all things.

While I’m on The First Order, there was another retcon there, and in some ways this is the worst one. In this film it is revealed that Palpatine has got a huge fleet of ships on Exegol. This fleet is bigger and more powerful than any other ever seen at any other point in the Star Wars films. Every ship in it is both a Star Destroyer and a Death Star (I’ll come back to that issue later). This fleet is more powerful than The First Order fleet was even before the destruction of Starkiller Base (gosh that seems like a long time ago now), since every five ships of this fleet is essentially another Starkiller Base. This fleet is part of what’s called The Final Order.

But what’s confusing is that Snoke, who apparently created the First Order, was a literal creation of Palpatine. Everything Snoke is and was was given to him by Palpatine. So was the First Order just part of the Final Order all along? As far as I can remember they have the same uniform. And when Palpatine reveals his fleet, thereafter there appears to be no difference between the First Order and the Final Order. General Pryde somehow gets from a First Order ship onto a Final Order ship – we never see how, and no-one in-universe seems to question it, so apparently none of them see any difference between the two. The Knights of Ren (when they make an appearance) also apparently switch from the First Order to the Final without any confusion. As far as I can tell, the First Order and the Final Order are one single organisation.

And this makes me wonder: do the people in the First Order know that they’re part of the Final Order? Some of them must do, surely, but apparently not Kylo Ren, otherwise he’d’ve know that Sidious was alive since Episode VII. This is a massive great inconsistency right in the middle of the film.

Also, how on earth does the Final Order survive out there on Exegol? They appear to have thousands of enormous ships. I know some people have done calculations for how many people must be on those ships – I can’t remember what they’ve said, but it could easily be tens of thousands on each one. There are potentially tens of millions of people living out there on Exegol, waiting for Sidious to do whatever he’s going to do. How do they live? Exegol doesn’t look like a planet that produces much food. And are all of these people people that they’ve taken from other parts of the galaxy and brought to Exegol to be trained as Stormtroopers? Is this film telling me that Sidious and his gang were able to bring tens of millions of people to Exegol over the years, and no-one either followed them or tried to escape once there? No-one sent out a covert signal to the rest of the galaxy?

Also among the retcons were the Knights of Bloody Ren. They’re back … although actually, are they? Have we ever even seen them? I think we saw them in a flashback in TFA or TLJ – they didn’t really do anything – they just stood there, as far as I can remember. I think that’s all we’ve ever seen of them. And I think we only see them in two scenes in this film – once on Kylo Ren’s First Order ship, and then once on Exegol, fighting Kylo Ren. This is sort of a retcon, in that they’ve been retconned into existence after being conspicuously out of existence. I’d reckon they were included in this film just because fans would have questioned it if they weren’t, but their inclusion is just baffling. We still know nothing about them. We don’t know who they are or what they want. And we can’t figure out what they want here, because their decisions don’t seem to make any sense. In the previous two films we were given the sense that they were very loyal to Kylo Ren, even though we never saw them. In this film, apparently, even though I don’t know how they know that Kylo has changed sides, they somehow do, and instead decide to serve the Emperor – so apparently not that loyal to Kylo in the end. So in the end, the Knights of Ren were completely fucking pointless. We still don’t even know what ‘Ren’ means.

And then finally (yes, we’re finally there), there were some retcons to Luke and Leia. Leia was now a Jedi all along, apparently, which explains how she was able to train Rey, but is not sufficient for how she was able to survive in space without any kind of spacesuit. Luke was also made more Jedi-master-like in this film, perhaps in a direct response to fans.

Furthermore, as part of this film’s ‘fuck you’ to TLJ, when Rey throws her lightsaber into a fire, Luke catches it, and they have him say the line ‘The weapon of a Jedi deserves more respect.’ – that’s a direct response to fans hating it when Luke threw his lightsaber over his shoulder in TLJ.

I’m sure there are more retcons than that, but those are all the ones I wrote down. You see why now I’m having to write out my thoughts on this film over several blog posts and videos – this blog post is almost 4000 words long, and this is just the retcons in the film.

These retcons alone mean that this film is incoherent, and the Star Wars universe is broken. This is not a universe where things make sense. You cannot anticipate what characters might do, because it is not based on the things that have so far been possible in the universe, any reasonable approximation of realistic logistics, or previously established character traits and motivations. It all just happens. Any future films and television shows cannot receive any of the benefits of being part of a shared universe, because they aren’t – a shared universe depends on consistency.

If there had been no other problems with the film, the existence of all of these retcons alone would have made it a disastrous film. As it was, there were loads of other problems.

Star Wars Is Dead

Two days ago I went to see Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

Now, for well over a year, my plan has been that after this film came out I would make a video on YouTube about it. As I said in my recent video Star Wars Episode IX: A Morbid Fascination, I thought it was very unlikely that this would be a good film, so I thought I was going to be making a single video about this film – mostly about what made it a bad film.

Now, this is a bad film, but now that I’ve watched it there’s so much to say about this film that I’ve realised I’m going to have to make multiple videos about it. If I tried to make one single video going over everything in the film that was bad, it could easily be two hours long. It often takes me an hour to record a fifteen-minute video – I don’t really want to spend eight hours trying to record a two-hour video – I think I’d die from the effort.

So I’m going to have to make several videos about it. In order to give some structure to the videos, I’m also going to write posts about it on here (the first of which is this) – a lot of the things in this film that were bad were bad in various different ways, so grouping them together into videos is going to be difficult, and I’m going to try to use these posts as a way of structuring the videos before making them.

But anyway, onto the actual film.

This film was a mess. It was a mess of retcons, deus ex machina, fake-out deaths, pacing problems, suspense problems, arbitrary nostalgia, and nihilism. It is just astonishing how much of this film was trash film-making, trash world-building, or trash story-telling. Things just happened – there was no reason for them to happen, no need for them to happen, and no meaning to them.

This film resorted to the most basic of fantasy tropes. I remember seeing in a headline for a review before the film came out, someone said that it had a ‘video-game plot’, and that was very true: a series of levels for the main characters to pass, a series of battles for them to win, all essentially disconnected from each other, before going on to fight the boss at the end. The film was stuffed with nostalgia and fan service – not necessarily bad things on their own – in fact many of these moments were quite good – but they were just disconnected moments, and they did not redeem the film as a whole, and often just seemed completely out-of-place.

This film tried to be a massive course-correction, but with only one film left in the trilogy, it was too late. Had they decided to make this a four-film series, or even a six-film series, they might have been able to do it. If they wanted to course-correct, then it was a bad decision to limit this series to only three films. Almost every decision they made in making this film was the wrong one. As much as I didn’t like The Last Jedi, this film would probably have been better if they’d continued in the direction that that film sent them – it still wouldn’t have been good – it would have just been not as bad.

I originally wanted to call this series (or rather the one video that it was supposed to be) ‘Star Wars Is Dead’ because I suspected that this film would be another outright disaster, like The Last Jedi, and that the franchise would be seen as no more special than, say, the DC film universe, or the X-Men film universe. It would just be another generic sci. fi. / fantasy film series with no greater status than any other. But while this film was an omnishambles, and while I think many of the fans of the franchise will abandon the franchise because of this film (those that didn’t leave after The Last Jedi, at least), I’m not sure whether the franchise will continue to have appeal for very casual viewers – it might, and if it does, perhaps Star Wars is just in a coma.

At the end of this series I’m going to return to this idea of whether Star Wars is dead, but first, we’ve got to go through this trash-fire of a film in detail.