Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi – Review

As with the last two posts, this post isn’t going to be about meticulously analysing this film in order to explain why different things work or don’t work – it’s just going to be about making observations.

I think this is a lot of people’s favourite film out of the six. I think this is the most variable out of the original three – there are some moments that I really like, and some that I really don’t like.

I like a lot of the world design in the opening sequence. Jabba the Hutt being a giant slug was of course a change from the first film, and I think it was an excellent change. Jabba is delightfully disgusting, and even though he’s just made of rubber, they manage to add a lot of expression to his movements. I also like the fact that, when they’re on the leisure barge by the Sarlacc pit (the Sarlacc is another great bit of world design), and chaos erupts, at the first opportunity Leia strangles Jabba with the chain she was restrained by. She doesn’t wait to take action – she sees an opportunity and takes it.

The Mon Calamari are also good world design – a very unusual-looking alien, but again, they manage to make the Mon Calamari very expressive. (This was something I really liked about Rogue One too, where I assume all of the Mon Calamari were pure CGI. They really managed to make the Mon Calamari expressive in that film, which just shows what you can do even when limited by a non-humanoid face.) Though it is funny that ‘Mon Calamari’ is literally ‘my squid’ in French.

I think one of the real stand-out aspects of this film is the Emperor. We learn early in the film that the Emperor is coming to the new Death Star, and the general nervousness that the other characters have about this builds the air of power around the Emperor, and builds the tension. Later in the film, of course, we get the first scenes with the Emperor. I like the fact that he appears as this old, cloaked man. The fact that he does not try to show how powerful he is through his appearance makes us realise that he must be very powerful. It also makes it look as though he has been around for ages – that he is this immovable, mystical being who has dominated the galaxy for millennia. (Of course, we know that it’s only been a few decades – the point is the aesthetic shows a kind of permanence.)

Ian McDiarmid is of course brilliant as the Emperor – as he was (or by the point of view of when this film was made, will be) in the prequels. Every line he delivers is excellent. I’m very glad that he was able to be in both sets of films, as it makes for great continuity.

As for the things that I don’t like about this film, one of them is the speeder chase through the forest. The whole thing feels like filler. It goes on for a long time, and the entire time, we don’t really get a sense of where the Stormtroopers are actually trying to go. They never seem to escape the forest, and they change direction so many times that they must have gone in a circle by the end. This is also a world where they have long-distance telecommunication – I’m not sure why they needed to jump on speeders and go and tell someone in person. The whole thing seems unnecessary, and I don’t think it really adds anything to the film.

I also dislike the Ewoks. I’m sort of amazed that there aren’t more people who dislike them. A lot of people can’t stand Jar Jar Binks, and yet I think the Ewoks are far more annoying. A lot of people dislike the obvious merchandising of Star Wars too (I myself don’t mind it too much), and the Ewoks are an entire merchandise species. A LOT of time in this film is spent with the Ewoks, and I think the only thing I like about it is C-3PO’s interaction with them, being ordered to pretend he’s a deity.

All of the Star Wars films have missing or wrong character reactions – the prequels have more of them, but the originals have them too. In this film, I think Leia’s reaction to finding out Vader is her father is not strong enough. Leia was a member of the senate for years, and Vader was her enemy throughout. Vader imprisoned and tortured Leia. I’d’ve thought after all of that, her reaction to finding out he was her father would be a lot stronger.

The way they talk about good and evil at the end of the film – in the scene between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor – is quite daft and un-thought-out. It seems to boil down to ‘being angry is evil’ – which is a rather stupid notion. Discussion around good and evil was actually something that the prequels were far better at.

And finally the reveal of Vader’s face at the end was perfect – a mystery set up with A New Hope, now finally revealed. It is only once Vader is redeemed by finally destroying the Sith that he has become human again. The way these films did the masked character trope should be thought of as the template for all other films that try to do this trope. (The Disney films tried to do a similar trope, but to minimal effect, because Kylo Ren takes off his mask in the first film.)

So this film probably had more things in it that I dislike than the previous two films did, but it still had plenty that I liked. All of the films in this series have their flaws – none are perfect – indeed, a lot of them have the same flaws. Missing or wrong reaction shots and stilted dialogue exist in all of the films. I’m not sure which film I like the best – I like all of them pretty much to the same degree. I think it would be a great series to remake one day – perhaps as a long-form television series – a lot of detail and continuity could be added to the story through doing that. But I don’t think that could be done by Disney – they have shown themselves to be completely incapable of managing the franchise – I don’t think they could remake the six Star Wars films without making the same kinds of mistakes as they did with their attempts at making sequels.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – Review

On to the originals. My posts about these films aren’t really going to be reviews, so much. Almost everyone already agrees that these are good films, so there’s no need for me to go through them and point out the good things in them. Instead, in these posts, I’m just going to make some observations about the films, and point out that some of the things that the prequels are criticised for also exist in the originals, but a lot of people are much more forgiving of them.

Watching the films in the order that is chronological for the internal universe really highlights that the original Star Wars films were very simple films. The prequels are a lot busier by comparison – a lot more happens in them, over far greater scales, and it happens a lot faster. In fact I think the complexity of the prequels is part of the reason why a lot of people don’t like them (not that I ever really hear anyone say that), whereas the simplicity of the originals is partly why they are so successful. The originals don’t try to do too much – why, in Episode V, Han, Chewbacca, and Leia spend most of their time just trying to avoid capture. In this way the originals are also unlike the main Disney films. Those films are also very busy – it seems to be a very common thing with modern Hollywood films – they don’t like to have a scene with just two characters talking or trying to solve a problem – they like to have five characters all talking to each other while trying to solve one problem while walking to another location where there’s another problem.

An example of the simplicity of this film is right at the start. When C-3PO and R2-D2 land on Tatooine in their escape pod, they land in the middle of nowhere. This is very likely, given that Tatooine is mostly desert. Their first objective is to find their way out of the desert. Even this goes wrong, and they end up being captured by the Jawas. They do eventually find Luke and get to Obi-wan, but all of this takes quite a bit of screen time. If this were a Disney film, I expect the droids would land right outside wherever it is that Obi-wan lives.

In the original films, C-3PO and R2-D2 get a lot more to do, and are a lot more interesting. They don’t get as much to do in the prequels – partly because those films are just so busy – and they are merely accessories in the Disney films. The banter between them is much better in the originals – it’s great that R2-D2 plays the fool in order to get his way, and that we can tell that simply from what he does and what C-3PO says.

Peter Cushing is just amazing. He has such extraordinary presence. Just from the way he walks into the room in his first scene, you can tell that he’s in charge – the way he walks is brisk, confident, and assured, but not arrogant – which is what you would expect from someone near to the top of the empire, and who has a lot of power and authority. Despite there being other people playing similar parts in Star Wars films since then, no-one has managed to equal that portrayal – no-one else has had that presence.

Even though it was actually different in the original version of A New Hope, when it came out in cinemas, I really like the concept of Jabba the Hutt. I really like the idea of giant slugs being the mobsters of the universe. This shows the raw creativity that went into the original Star Wars films. Again, if this were a Disney film, Jabba the Hutt would probably have been humanoid. The Disney films seemed to be very against having any characters that deviated much from humans.

As with the prequels, there are some bad reaction shots in this film. In fact there’s one particularly egregious example, and that’s Luke’s reaction to seeing his aunt and uncle incinerated. This reaction is nowhere near strong enough. This reaction is so underplayed that the first two or three times that I watched this film (many years ago now – back when I was about twelve or something), I didn’t even realise that those skeletons were his aunt and uncle. I just thought that they were two other random people who happened to be in the area – precisely because Luke’s reaction isn’t very strong. Luke is looking at the bloody skeletons of his aunt and uncle, and his reaction is to just slowly look away. It’s not strong enough.

There are also several bad lines in this film. The dialogue between Luke and Han when Luke tries to convince Han to rescue Leia is a bit unrealistic. And the dialogue between Luke and Biggs is – I dislike the word ‘cheesy’, but that’s the only word that really describes it. The performance of that dialogue is amateurish. It’s bad in the same way that some of the dialogue in the prequels is bad.

They convey the sense of scale in this film very well. This is something I’m very interested in with films that have very large objects or environments in them. In this film, the Death Star genuinely feels big. This is something that they failed to do in The Force Awakens – in that film, Starkiller Base did not come across as something planet-sized. Conveying scale well is all about physics. Large objects in large environments work differently to everyday-sized objects. Another example of a film that failed to convey scale well was Jupiter Ascending. In that film, ships go in and out of Jupiter’s Red Eye storm. The ships are shown as being comparable in size to the storm itself, but in reality, the Eye of Jupiter is 1.3 times the width of planet Earth – far bigger than the ships.

Part of how the scale of the Death Star is conveyed is the final battle of the film. The final battle has a lot of screen time, and we see a lot of the surface of the Death Star in it. This close, the surface of the Death Star appears flat. This is what shows its scale – we’ve seen that the Death Star appears spherical from afar, but when you get close to it, it’s so big that you can’t tell at all – and we see lots of positions in between these two extremes throughout the film.

This final battle also shows the simplicity of the film – which is part of its success. The rebels make multiple attempts to blow up the Death Star, and several of them fail. This raises the tension. As the battle goes on, fewer and fewer ships remain to make the attempt, and the more times they fail, the harder we understand it to be. The fact that the film takes its time in this battle is what makes it successful.

And finally, my favourite scene in this film is the final one – for one reason: the music. The music in the final scene is just fantastic. Of course, this film being the first Star Wars film, it gets the credit for all of the main music in the series, but I particularly like the music in that final scene. It’s not just triumphant, but a true finale.

So this film is good, but not without its flaws. Its main success over the prequels comes from it giving enough time for the various scenes and sequences – it doesn’t rush anything. In terms of raw creativity, world-building, performances, music – this film and any of the prequels are roughly equal, I think.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace – Review

One of the things that I like to do over Yule is watch films. I find it’s essential for making it seem like Yule. And I don’t watch films in the way that I usually do either – usually I do something else at the same time while watching a film, but over Yule I like to sit and watch films, and focus on them completely. That’s a much more relaxing way to watch a film, and relaxation is an essential part of Yule.

This year I decided that I would rewatch the six Star Wars films over Yule. I’ve been rewatching one a day – I’m now half-way through. This is actually the first time that I’ve gone back and rewatched the Star Wars films since the Disney films came out.

The three Disney films that were meant to follow on from Return of the Jedi – The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker – were shit. The Last Jedi is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, and The Rise of Skywalker was about as bad. Before watching The Last Jedi, I didn’t realise that it was even possible for one film to destroy an entire series of films, but that’s what it did. (Incidentally, since that film came out, we’ve seen this sort of thing happen (at least) two more times with other sci. fi. and fantasy titans – Game of Thrones was completely annihilated by its final series (no-one talks about Game of Thrones anymore – that’s the extent to which that franchise was destroyed), and the most recent series of Doctor Who tried to retcon its entire history.) After seeing The Last Jedi, my interest in Star Wars completely dissipated. I only went to see The Rise of Skywalker out of a sense of morbid fascination – I wanted to watch the franchise completely collapse as a result of the stupid decisions that had been made. I did not see the Han Solo film; I have not watched any of The Mandalorian. The only thing that could bring my back to the franchise is if Disney were to officially announce that their sequel films are not canon, and will have no bearing on things they make in future.

However, now that there is some distance between the Disney films and the six Star Wars films, I find I can go back and watch them, and still enjoy them.

This time, I have started with Episode I. There is much debate as to the best order to watch the films in – I tend to vary it, sometimes starting with I, sometimes starting with IV. This time I have started with the prequels.

Now, there are some people who absolutely despise the prequel trilogy. I myself have always liked them. I am aware of their many flaws, of course – I do not pretend that they are perfect – but they do have many good aspects to them. For the entire time that I’ve heard people complain about the prequel films, however, I have found their complaints to be disproportionate. They seem to focus on aspects of the film that are highly inconsequential, and take up only a few seconds of screen-time – like the odd bad line. And this focus seems to be at the expense of the many excellent aspects of these films.

Coming back to these films after having now seen the Disney films, I am now struck even more how out-of-proportion some of the complaints about the prequel films are. Many of the people who abhor the prequels adore the Disney films – the number of people who I see claiming that The Last Jedi is a perfect film – not just good, but perfect – is astonishing.

So, I’ve decided that as I rewatch each of the Star Wars films, I’m going to write reviews of them. I don’t intend for these reviews to be exhaustive – I’m not going to go through every aspect of each film and analyse it. The aim is just to point out the main flaws in each film, and just how many good things each film has in it.

So, Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way.

One of the problems with this film is that many of the scenes are ‘incomplete’. Actually a better way of describing this is that in many parts of the film (many, but not all), there simply are no ‘scenes’. Many times the film cuts to one set of characters, in one location, who will say only one or two lines, and then it cuts to a different set of characters, in a different location, who will again only say one or two lines, and then it will cut again. There is no ‘scene’ – it’s just clips. It’s enough to understand the events of the story, but no more. This makes the film seem more like a synopsis than a story – just a list of things that happen and in what order. This is a problem that all three prequels have, and is probably a result of George Lucas focusing a little too much on the overall plan for the prequels. (That focus has paid off in other aspects of the films, however – the overall structure of the prequels (as a set of three films) is excellent.)

A related problem to this is that there are many missing reaction shots. It is often said that all good acting is reacting. One reaction we don’t get is Anakin’s reaction to learning that Qui-gon Jinn has died. This, I would think, is quite an important reaction. Qui-gon is the first Jedi that Anakin met, and the person who got him freed from slavery. Anakin expected Qui-gon to be his teacher, and Qui-gon would probably have been a better teacher for Anakin than Obi-wan. Anakin found Obi-wan frustrating – he thought he was overly critical and didn’t listen to his ideas. Qui-gon’s more laid-back style of instruction would probably have complemented Anakin’s over-confidence well. (Indeed, one could argue that Qui-gon was meant to find and teach Anakin, and if he had, Anakin might not have fallen to the dark side – making Qui-gon’s death a crucial moment in the series.) However, as an author, I have the luxury of being able to put whatever I want in my stories. Qui-gon’s death is quite late in the film, putting Anakin’s reaction in there might have made the pacing of the ending of the film a bit odd, which is why we only get Obi-wan’s reaction, which does not require a separate scene.

Another problem that Episode I has is that it doesn’t really have a main character. Many people might say that Anakin is the main character, but Anakin doesn’t appear for quite a while in the film – not until they go to Tatooine. Also, Anakin is only tangentially involved in the ending of the film. He does blow up the droid command ship, but he does this by accident – it’s not something he intends to do, and it is not a particularly important moment for Anakin. Qui-gon and Obi-wan are main characters, but neither is the main character. The same is true for Padmé. This is unlike the original trilogy, where even though Leia, Han, Obi-wan, Yoda, et alii, are all main characters, Luke is the main character.

Related to this is that we don’t really get a strong sense of what the characters personally want. We know that Qui-gon and Obi-wan are trying to fight back against the Trade Federation, but they are doing this because they have been told to by the Jedi Council, not because they personally want to. (That’s not to say that they don’t want to do it – it’s just that their main reason for doing it is shown to be because they are told to by the Council, rather than personal motivation.) This is one of the difficulties in writing about Jedi – especially ones that are part of a Jedi Order at its height. Jedi are supposed to be detached. They are not supposed to fiercely want to fight – they are not supposed to fear losing the fight. Their personal motivation isn’t supposed to come into it.

However, this problem of not having a clear sense of what characters want extends beyond Qui-gon and Obi-wan. It’s true of Padmé too. We know that she does want to fight back against the Trade Federation, but this comes across in the film as not much more than the duty of the monarch. We needed a stronger sense earlier on in the film that the Trade Federation is a great threat to Naboo, and that Padmé knows this, and resolves to fight back against it. (A lot of this stuff is just covered by throw-away dialogue in the film – it needs to be more than that.)

And it’s also true of Anakin. Anakin almost has the opposite problem, in that he wants too many things. He wants to do pod-racing, and he wants to win in the pod-race that Qui-gon enters him for in particular. He wants to travel the galaxy; he wants to become a Jedi; he wants to free the slaves. The focus for this film should have been on getting off Tatooine, and becoming a Jedi so that he can free his mother. That needed to be established earlier and more strongly, and then we would have understood why Anakin was doing anything he was doing.

So there are flaws with the film. The ones I’ve mentioned are not structural in the sense of the events that happen, but they are structural in the sense of what we know of the characters, when we know it, and whether it affects the subsequent events of the story.

One of the things that people often complain about with this film is the dialogue. A lot of people complain that the dialogue is wooden. They often focus on Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin, and complain that many of his lines weren’t delivered well. Personally, when it comes to very young actors, I always give them a pass. Jake Lloyd was about 9 or 10 years old when he played Anakin – it’s extremely unusual to find people of that age who are great at acting. (I’ve only ever seen one, and that’s Iain Armitage, who plays Sheldon Cooper in Young Sheldon – and he is such a good actor at such a young age that it’s actually quite unnerving.) As a society we should generally expect that if we put nine-year-olds in films, that there is a limit to what they’re going to be able to do, and that’s fine.

I will also say, though, that many of the odd lines that Anakin says in this film are due, I think, to the writing and the direction. For some of Anakin’s odd lines, it’s very obvious that what was written in the script was odd, and that Jake Lloyd was just doing it as written (which is what we should expect from a nine-year-old – I don’t think we expect them to improvise). Twice in the film Anakin says ‘Yipeee!’ – now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone ever actually say that in real life – people don’t say that in real life. That’s why it comes across as an odd line – it’s very unrealistic. But I suspect that was just what was written in the script, and Jake Lloyd just read it out.

For Anakin’s lines, George Lucas seems to veer between lines that are clichés of what children say, and lines that only older people would say. This is a problem that a lot of writers have – they forget how children talk. So I think some of these odd lines are due to George Lucas not having a strong sense of how people of different ages talk (which is a problem, I think, that film directors tend to have more often than novelists, because film directors tend to think more about camera shots and the composition of scenes, rather than words and styles of language).

Many of Padmé’s lines are often called wooden too. I think this is primarily a direction problem. It’s apparent that, when Padmé is speaking as a queen, Lucas wanted her to come across as forceful and somewhat remote. This works well in some scenes, but not others. I think in some of the scenes, Natalie Portman should have been directed to do the performance more casually. (Indeed, she may have done some takes like this, but these were not the ones that were chosen in the edit.)

More importantly, though, the bad lines in the film are few in number, and take up a very small amount of screen-time – the complaints about them are very disproportionate. Furthermore, while Jake Lloyd does do some lines not so well, he does do plenty of lines very well, and I think this is often overlooked.

Oh – I might as well get the Jar Jar stuff out of the way. A lot of people complain about Jar Jar – I have never understood this. I find Jar Jar a completely ignorable character – my focus is never on Jar Jar when I watch this film.

Something else people complain about is the pod-racing. A lot of people seem to just wish it weren’t in the film. The existence of pod-racing is, I think, very good world-building. We were introduced to speeders in the originals – speeders, of course, have some kind of anti-gravity mechanism in them, as they float off the ground. (Anti-gravity technology must be very cheap in the Star Wars universe.) Pod-racing is just what you get in answer to the question ‘What if we add some jet engines to a speeder?’. You would end up with something that could move extremely fast, because only air resistance is slowing it down, and that would naturally become a sport. This is good world-building – figuring out what the consequences of different kinds of technology are. If both anti-gravity speeders and jet engines exist in a universe, then pod-racing exists in that universe. And besides, is pod-racing really worse than all that stuff on Canto Bight in The Last Jedi? Absolutely not.

That’s some of the bad stuff; now for some of the good stuff. On the subject of world-building, this film is a masterpiece of world-building. There is more great world-building in the first ten minutes of this film than in everything produced by Disney since they bought the franchise.

We get several new species: the Neimoidians (the species that seem to run the Trade Federation), the Gungans, the Dug (Sebulba’s species), the Toydarians (Watto’s species), the Cereans (Ki-Adi-Mundi’s species), the Zabrak (Darth Maul’s species), and what seems like hundreds more. And what’s more, characters of these species aren’t just standing in the background, as is often the case in the Disney films – the characters of these species in the prequel films actually have lines.

The Gungans get even more world-building. The Gungan cities are completely unlike anything we’ve seen in Star Wars before, with a unique and distinctive style of architecture. The Gungans also have a distinctive military, and technology which is unlike what other species and factions in Star Wars use.

The planet of Naboo gets a lot of world-building overall. The fact that the planet has no solid core, and is just water all the way down, is something we’ve not seen before in this series. The Nabooians also have a distinctive culture and their cities have a distinctive architecture.

In fact many planets get a lot of world-building in this film. Tatooine becomes more than just a moisture farm and Mos Eisley, with Mos Espa and its grand pod-racing arena. We get the entire planet of Coruscant – a planet that’s one giant city – Coruscant alone is more than we got from all of the Disney films. Coruscant has the senate building and the Jedi Temple, both of which have unique designs. In the Disney films, the most we see of anything like Coruscant is a few seconds of Hosnian Prime before it’s blown up.

We get new, and distinctive, ship designs, with the Nubian starships and Trade Federation’s control ships – both unlike anything we’ve seen so far in Star Wars. We even got new droid aesthetics – most of the droids in this film, and all of the adjacent technology that they use, are completely different to what we saw in the originals. The battle droids have a design that shows they were intended for mass production – they appear to be made of something like plastic – something that is cheap – because all these droids have to do is carry a weapon. They don’t have to last; they don’t have to endure; they just have to fight, and then be disposed of.

And the Jedi themselves have had a lot of development. We get a Jedi Order at its height, with Yoda as grandmaster of the Jedi Council. We get Mace Windu – a fan favourite. We get the very concept of padawans. We get the Jedi clothing and customs.

Some people don’t think that world-building is important, but it’s incredibly important. A rich, highly-developed, convincing world is essential for something to be immersive. When I watch a film, I want to be transported to another world, and I want to be convinced that it could be real. World-building is essential for that. The real world is complex and detailed. For a fictional world to be believable, it must be complex and detailed too.

But if you wanted a more simplistic argument for the importance of world-building, notice that it is the stories and franchises with the best world-building that have the strongest fanbases. Notice how there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to the worlds of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Star Trek. These channels don’t just focus on the characters – they are able to make entire videos about seemingly minor aspects of these worlds, and people are interested in them. World-building matters.

We get some fantastic music in this film – most notably Duel of the Fates. Duel of the Fates alone makes the prequels far better than the Disney films. We also get some great actors in this film, and some excellent performances. Liam Neeson is outstanding as Qui-gon Jinn; Ewan McGregor is fantastic as Obi-wan Kenobi (though he doesn’t get too much to do); Samuel L. Jackson is outstanding as Mace Windu (although he didn’t get much to do either); Ray Park was brilliant as Darth Maul; and of course, Ian McDiarmid was sublime as Palpatine. There are even some minor characters who I think were done very well. Brian Blessed is perfect as Boss Nass, and I think Pernilla August plays Shmi Skywalker very well.

This film also sets up the trilogy, and the hexalogy, very well. Anakin is shown to be headstrong, and over-confident. He believes he can win the pod-race, despite never completing a race before. He deliberately stays in the Naboo starfighter, knowing that he can join in the fight while also technically following Qui-gon’s instructions. He also has a determination to change the world around him – he talks about dreaming of freeing the slaves – he wants to change the way the world works. And he also has a strong attachment to his mother. These traits all lead to his downfall.

This film also sets up Anakin’s interaction with the Jedi Order. When he first meets the Council to be tested, he finds them hostile, and he finds their questions to be irrelevant. Later, he is told by the Council that he will not be trained as a Jedi. This immediately sets up the Council as being an obstacle to Anakin – something that connects to Episode III, where he believes that the Council does not trust him, and wants to hold him back. He sees the Council as something that will prevent him from doing what he wants to do.

As I’ve said, this episode also shows how it might have been better if Qui-gon had been Anakin’s mentor. Obi-wan only just becomes a Jedi Knight at the end of the film, and as Qui-gon says, Obi-wan still has much to learn of the living force, and it’s Qui-gon’s understanding of the living force that gives him his laid-back way of doing things, which is probably what Anakin needed in a mentor. So this film sets up very well this idea of how even though Anakin was the chosen one, who would destroy the Sith, if the Jedi didn’t do it right – if they didn’t have the right person training him – then Anakin might not destroy the Sith in the way they expected. This is why Yoda says that Anakin’s future is clouded – it’s clouded partly because it’s dependent on whether Qui-gon lives or dies.

So those are some thoughts on this film. It has its problems, but it has an extraordinary number of great aspects to it – far more than all of the Disney films combined. As I said, this review isn’t exhaustive – there are many things that I’ve left out (which I might return to later). I think that all of the prequels might actually have been better as a television series, rather than films. There are many reactions and scenes that it would have been good to see in the films, and if all of them had been put it, they would probably have been too long as films. I’m not keen on the big time jump between episodes I and II, but that was necessary to fit everything into three films. But on the other hand, the idea of long-form television series’ with film-quality effects is something that didn’t really exist in the late 1990s and early 2000s – that’s a trend that’s appeared later as special effects have become easier and cheaper to do. It’s only nowadays that the boundary between film and television has ceased to exist. So I think these stories would only ever have been films.

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.