It’s disappointing that Rangers of the New Republic has been axed

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian and the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

I’ve made no secret here on the website over the past couple of years that I’m not exactly thrilled with the direction of the Star Wars franchise. In the aftermath of the total narrative failure of The Rise of Skywalker, Lucasfilm has doubled down hard on overplaying the nostalgia card in practically all of its upcoming projects.

There’s some kind of series or miniseries focusing on R2D2 and C-3PO in development. There’s a prequel to Rogue One focusing on Cassian Andor. There’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, which will bring back the classic character to look at his life in between the prequels and the original films. There’s The Book of Boba Fett, in which Boba Fett is inexplicably back from the dead. There’s Ahsoka, a spin-off from The Mandalorian focusing on a character from the animated shows.

Boba Fett is one of several minor characters returning to Star Wars.

All of these projects indicate to me that the higher-ups at Disney and Lucasfilm don’t really know how to handle the Star Wars franchise. They’re intent on looking backwards at Star Wars’ past, seeming to think that what the franchise was is all it can ever be in the future. The result is spin-offs from spin-offs, prequels to prequels, unimportant chapters being thrown under the microscope, and characters of decreasing importance thrust into the spotlight.

Though it was purported to be a spin-off from The Mandalorian, one of the few announced projects that seemed to have any semblance of originality was Rangers of the New Republic. The series was to have looked at the New Republic – the galactic government which was created by the Rebel Alliance following the events of Return of the Jedi – in far more detail than ever before. However, Rangers of the New Republic has now been cancelled.

Logo for Rangers of the New Republic.

The New Republic hasn’t been explored in much detail in Star Wars’ main canon, instead being relegated to a background role in both The Mandalorian and the sequel trilogy. In The Force Awakens, we see Starkiller Base deployed against the New Republic’s capital system, destroying its government institutions and much of its military. By the time of The Last Jedi, the First Order is said to be in control of much of the galaxy, and the New Republic isn’t mentioned thereafter.

The Mandalorian showed us a glimpse of the New Republic, including how it tries to police outlying star systems and enforce its laws – and how it’s relatively ineffective at doing so. There was potential to expand on this depiction, showing both the governmental side of the New Republic, hampered by legislative inefficiencies, as well as the actual Rangers themselves.

A New Republic pilot seen in The Mandalorian.

A lot of Star Wars projects currently in production look at morally ambiguous characters. The Mandalorian focuses on a bounty hunter – someone who primarily operates outside of the law, albeit that he has a heart of gold underneath his armour. The Book of Boba Fett will focus on another Mandalorian bounty hunter, and if it stays true to its premise will show us Star Wars’ seedy underworld in more detail.

Andor will follow Cassian Andor – a character whose moral ambiguity was on full display in Rogue One, and who will do anything to advance the Rebels’ cause. Ahsoka is going to follow the titular Ahsoka Tano, an ex-Jedi who appears to be off doing her own thing rather than helping Luke Skywalker and the Rebels. The only series following an out-and-out hero – or one of the unambiguously “good guys” – is Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Cassian Andor will be the focus of a new Disney+ series.

Rangers of the New Republic had the potential to show us a different side of Star Wars – arguably one closer thematically to the original films, yet still distinct and independent of them. While other shows would look at the underworld of the galaxy, at criminals, or at spies who’ll do anything for their cause, Rangers of the New Republic could’ve been a breath of fresh air. The series could’ve presented an optimistic cast of characters who were genuinely trying to help the new government succeed.

Characters who are too pure and excessively virtuous can be boring, and that would’ve been a pitfall that Rangers of the New Republic would’ve needed to avoid. But had the show managed to walk that line, we might’ve seen something a bit different from Star Wars’ other current and upcoming offerings: a show that would’ve happily looked at the “good guys” as they tried to shore up the New Republic and tackled everything from criminals to ex-Imperial officers.

Emblem of the New Republic.

In part, the decision to cancel Rangers of the New Republic is probably tied to the situation with Cara Dune actress Gina Carano. Though it was never officially stated that the show would star Carano, many fans and commentators assumed that she would have a significant role to play, so following her dismissal from Lucasfilm in the aftermath of some very stupid social media posts, perhaps the show was always living on borrowed time.

We won’t get into the Gina Carano situation here. Suffice to say that anyone with any kind of profile needs to be incredibly careful what they say on social media, and she wasn’t. She upset a lot of people, doubled down on some of her controversial remarks, and that ended up costing her a potential recurring gig with Lucasfilm. She only has herself to blame.

Gina Carano as Cara Dune in The Mandalorian Season 1.

I would argue, though, that Rangers of the New Republic didn’t need to be all about Cara Dune. We met a couple of New Republic characters in The Mandalorian, and they could’ve served as a gateway into the show, keeping it connected to The Mandalorian and potentially building up to a crossover event with one or more of the other shows that were in production at the same time.

There was potential in Rangers of the New Republic. Not only was it a series that could’ve been something different from the likes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett by looking at the post-Return of the Jedi government, but it was also a series that could’ve left familiar characters behind to strike out on its own. All of the other Star Wars projects currently in production have this kind of backwards-looking, nostalgia-heavy focus, and Rangers of the New Republic was one of the few offerings that had the potential to be something a little different. As Star Wars continues to double down on nostalgic throwbacks, I fear we’ll come to regret the cancellation of Rangers of the New Republic.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films and series mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales – a review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales. Spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise, including the following films and shows: The Mandalorian Season 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and The Rise of Skywalker.

It’s Spooktober – the spookiest month of the year! To celebrate Halloween at the end of the month, Disney and Lucasfilm released Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales on Disney+, a Star Wars-themed kid-friendly Halloween special. Last year’s The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special – which I didn’t get around to reviewing in time for Christmas – was a ton of fun, so I had high hopes going into Terrifying Tales. Stay tuned for a review of The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special in late November or December, by the way, as I’m adamant that I’ll finally review it this year!

Terrifying Tales was incredibly funny, at least equalling last year’s Lego Star Wars offering. It was the kind of silly, irreverent style of humour that Lego Star Wars is known for, and also drew on a number of different classic horror tropes. I had a wonderful time with the forty-five minute special, and if I had one criticism it would be that I wish we got these Lego Star Wars special episodes more often!

Poe Dameron and BB-8 with new character Dean.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of horror. Some horror stories can be a mental health trigger for me, so I tend to avoid the genre as a whole unless I’m really sure that I’m in the right frame of mind. But Terrifying Tales was exactly the kind of child-friendly light horror that appeals to me. The animated special made use of a horror-themed aesthetic and horror-based stories, and played up some familiar tropes, but it did so without being frightening. If you’re concerned about younger kids or anyone of an especially sensitive disposition, I didn’t see anything in Terrifying Tales that I feel would be particularly scary or upsetting.

Lego Star Wars has been something I’ve adored since the release of the first video games in the mid/late 2000s; 2007’s Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga is undoubtedly one of the best video games I played during the Xbox 360 era. I’ve also been eagerly awaiting the newest Lego Star Wars video game which is due for release in the spring. Watch this space again, because I hope to review the game when it’s released!

I’m already looking forward to the next Lego Star Wars project!

Last year’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special managed to get a great balance of prequel era, original era, and sequel era references and stories, and I was incredibly pleased to see Terrifying Tales managed to do the same. At first I was worried that the special was going to lean very heavily on the sequels, with Poe Dameron as its primary character. However, while the frame narrative focused on Poe, there were plenty of references and callbacks even then to past iterations of Star Wars. Overall, Terrifying Tales managed to get the right mix of characters and storylines from the cinematic franchise’s three main eras.

The frame narrative was typical Lego Star Wars silliness, with a Hutt having taken over Darth Vader’s abandoned Mustafar castle. Planning to turn the Sith fortress into a Las Vegas-style hotel, the setting was a great mix of creepy and silly – there was more than enough light-heartedness in the modifications made to the intimidating castle to tone it down and take the edge off the spookiness. At the same time, the castle was a great setting. It had a fairly typical “haunted castle” vibe, complete with darkened hallways and imposing architecture. Even in the lobby, which was brimming with Vegas-inspired (or perhaps Disneyland-inspired) kitsch and souvenir shops, there was still a creepy background note, as though the place wasn’t entirely safe.

Darth Vader’s castle – now with gift shop!

As the characters ventured further into Vader’s castle, however, the setting took on a different feel. It became less of a haunted castle and more akin to an ancient temple – or a pyramid from a classic mummy film. Deep within the bowels of Vader’s abandoned fortress, hidden rooms with unclaimed – yet cursed – treasures and cleverly-operated switches and traps awaited Poe, BB-8, and the rest of the cast. The castle thus served a dual purpose, and to cram both settings into one locale in a way that felt natural and that didn’t feel rushed shows some pretty great writing.

The only thing that the frame narrative perhaps lacked were more recognisable characters. I’ve argued on a number of occasions that the Star Wars franchise is overly-reliant on characters from its past and that I wanted to see more original creations – but Terrifying Tales isn’t really where I expected to meet a whole bunch of newbies! To see Poe without Rey or Finn was just odd, and as much fun as characters like Vaneé and Graballa the Hutt were, the frame narrative could’ve found a way to include more familiar characters. Lego Star Wars is the one place where bringing back classic characters makes sense – and it’s also where logic and internal consistency matter far less, so there’s plenty of ways to do so! It wasn’t a fatal flaw by any means, and I enjoyed Poe’s mentoring of young Dean in particular. But it was certainly noteworthy that this part of the story really only had Poe and BB-8 in terms of familiar faces.

Poe was the main character in Terrifying Tales.

Graballa the Hutt gave me almost a Ferengi vibe with his unchecked capitalistic greed, and though we didn’t get much time for any of these characters to be truly fleshed-out, there was enough of a moral shadiness to him that left me in no doubt the kind of character this was. Graballa’s the kind of money-driven dodgy boss who’ll cut any corner to save a buck and would’ve sold out Poe and Dean and everyone else for his own safety. He made a fun addition to the group as comic relief, but at the same time he was a constant cause for concern – he’d trade everyone’s lives for a shot at his own survival, and in horror stories those kinds of characters can cause a lot of trouble!

Vaneé is a character who first appeared in Rogue One, and whose role was expanded upon in the novelisation of the film. He’s also made appearances in a number of Star Wars comics – none of which I’m familiar with. For all intents and purposes, though, the character we met in Terrifying Tales was a blank slate upon which the animated special could craft a suitably over-the-top villain!

This character from Rogue One, seen bowing to Darth Vader and informing him of Krennic’s arrival, is Vaneé.

Vaneé definitely had a creepiness to him during the story. He set up the three vignettes in a suitably spooky manner, and the voice performance from Tony Hale was an exquisite parody of these kinds of characters from classic horror films and shows like The Twilight Zone. The downtrodden, overlooked butler or apprentice with an evil streak is an archetype of the genre, and Vaneé slotted into that role perfectly in Terrifying Tales.

At the climax of the story, after we’d been treated to the three vignettes, Vaneé made his grab for power via a Sith artefact that looked an awful lot like the wayfinder from The Rise of Skywalker. From that moment on he was no longer a creepy character but a completely over-the-top pantomime villain – and I loved that transformation! In a story like Terrifying Tales, with all of the silliness and light-heartedness of the Lego Star Wars brand, a villain who goes completely hell-for-leather into wanting to rule the galaxy was pitch-perfect.

The villainous Vaneé!

But we’re racing ahead of ourselves! Before we get to Vaneé’s endgame and thus the end of Terrifying Tales we first have to look at… well, the titular terrifying tales themselves!

The first of the three was titled The Lost Boy, and focused on Ben Solo and the Knights of Ren some time prior to The Force Awakens. And it was surprisingly fun! The Knights of Ren were presented as basically a motorcycle gang, wreaking havoc on a village or community somewhere in the vicinity of Luke’s new Jedi Temple. The idea that the Knights of Ren already existed before Ben Solo became Kylo Ren is actually an interesting one, and the cameo from Christian Slater as the leader of the gang was neat as well.

The Lost Boy lasted six minutes, yet managed to contain more backstory for Kylo Ren than the entire sequel trilogy! And no, this isn’t going to turn into another rant about The Rise of Skywalker, but I really felt that the way we saw Ben Solo presented in this short story was far better and more sympathetic than we ever saw in the live-action films. We saw his bad attitude as a student, his arrogance and desire to learn the Force more quickly, and these things informed his fall as the story ran on. Feeling constrained and restricted by his uncle, he was tempted by the Knights of Ren and their charismatic leader, and that set him on a dark path.

The Lost Boy gave us Kylo Ren’s backstory that was missing from the sequel trilogy!

Sadly that isn’t canon! But it was surprisingly cathartic, especially after the way The Rise of Skywalker ended, to get some kind of origin story for Ben Solo that we could see for ourselves and not hear second-hand from other characters.

The dream sequence during this short story was fantastic. It was incredibly well-animated, and had a very trippy presentation that really did feel like we were following Ben Solo into a nightmare. The way Ben was haunted by a face seeming to come out of the ceiling, then was transported into a creepy dream-world was incredibly well-done, and by far the highlight of this part of the story. As the leader of the Knights of Ren appeared to Ben in his dreams I got a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe – as if something deadly was about to happen.

The leader of the Knights of Ren.

Though this was an “alternative” take on Kylo Ren’s creation and Ben Solo’s fall, I really liked it. There were some great moments of humour, particularly Ben commenting on Luke training for “like twenty minutes” on Dagobah – a reference to The Empire Strikes Back and how Jedi training seems to progress very differently for Luke compared to other characters! But it was also a story of teen angst, rebellion, and the fall of a character to the Dark Side. Because we didn’t get to see Ben’s fall in canon, I found it particularly interesting.

The second vignette brought us a battle between General Grievous and Darth Maul. Terrifying Tales called out how patently ridiculous it was for Darth Maul to have been revived – finally! The Star Wars franchise apparently loves to bring back characters who were clearly and unequivocally dead: Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, Boba Fett in The Mandalorian, and of course Darth Maul in The Clone Wars television series and Solo. But the fact that such “back from the dead” moments are ridiculous needed to be called out, and it was done so here in incredibly fun fashion!

Darth Maul’s return from being dead was always ridiculous… and Terrifying Tales pointed that out!

Maybe you’ve always wondered who would win in a fight between Grievous and Maul. I hadn’t, but their duel was still action-packed and fun to watch. This was perhaps the least “terrifying” of the three stories, by which I mean it had the least focus on any horror trope or element. The cursed lightsaber was an interesting macguffin, but I didn’t really feel that it had much of an impact on either mechanical monstrosity as they fought over it. If anything, it had a similar effect to the Ring in The Lord of the Rings, giving both characters a Gollum-like craving.

The real standout star of The Duelling Monstrosities, though, was Palpatine. This version of Palpatine as a nonchalant, almost casual manager of his Empire is never not funny! If you’re familiar with the way Palpatine was parodied in the likes of Robot Chicken and the Family Guy Star Wars specials, this depiction is comparable. If not, go and watch the Robot Chicken Star Wars specials at the very least, because they’re hilarious!

Palpatine was hilarious in this vignette.

Palpatine carried this segment and provided much of its comedy. He was hilarious as he pitted Maul and Grievous against one another – accidentally, of course! And then betrayed the victor to claim his prize of the broken cursed lightsaber. We never did find out why he wanted it, but it didn’t matter!

The third vignette was inspired by the 1902 short story The Monkey’s Paw, and there were elements of the 1960 Twilight Zone episode Man in the Bottle too – itself a loose adaptation of that short story. It was by far the creepiest short story in terms of its setup and premise, and Vaneé gave his best Twilight Zone-inspired speech to tee up the tale.

The Twilight Zone-inspired title card for The Wookie’s Paw.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader were the stars this time around, with Luke wishing upon a Wookie’s paw to grant wishes for himself. In this alternate version of A New Hope, Luke becomes an Imperial pilot and Darth Vader’s Dark Side protégé. If you’ve ever wondered what might’ve happened had Luke been trained by Vader, The Wookie’s Paw gives us a glimpse into that alternate reality!

In true Monkey’s Paw fashion, though, everything is not what it seems. Luke’s wishes come with a price – and after using the cursed Wookie’s paw to rise through the ranks and become a pilot and Sith apprentice, Luke goes too far. By wishing for fame he actually gets notoriety, accidentally blowing up the Death Star while trying to defend it from a Rebel attack. It was actually pretty funny to see him make such a catastrophic mistake!

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

The interplay between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader was surprisingly cute in The Wookie’s Paw. Though both remained blissfully unaware of their familial connection, Vader took on a similar mentor/fatherly role to Luke as Obi-Wan had in A New Hope, and seeing Luke go through a Dark Side version of some classic training scenes – from the training droid to carrying Vader on his back – was both sweet and funny at the same time.

If you’ll forgive a short detour, what I liked about this story was that the cursed Wookie’s paw didn’t actually change the outcome of A New Hope. Princess Leia stepped up to lead the assault on the Death Star in Luke’s absence, aided by Obi-Wan Kenobi, who survived in this alternate timeline. Luke still fired the torpedoes that destroyed the battlestation, even if he didn’t mean to. The message, aside from “be careful what you wish for,” is one of fate and destiny. Even if Luke Skywalker were removed from the equation – or fighting for the other side – the Rebellion still prevailed.

Be careful what you wish for, Luke!

So we come to the finale! Once the three vignettes were over and Poe had been led deep into the heart of Darth Vader’s fortress, Vaneé revealed his ultimate plan. Using Dean to open the Sith holocron, he used it to seize the power of the Dark Side. Cloaking himself in armour he resembled a Sith monster, and he used his newfound power to turn an army of zombified battle droids on Poe, Dean, and Graballa.

This was perhaps the most intimidating battle droids have ever felt in Star Wars! From their first appearance in The Phantom Menace all the way through the prequels battle droids were presented as cheap cannon fodder and even comic relief to be laughed at. Turning them into zombies with glowing red eyes, and pitting a small band of heroes against them and their master, was an interesting and surprisingly fun turn. One of the battle droids even got a moment inspired by classic film The Shining, which was absolutely hilarious!

Zombified battle droids!

After a conversation between Poe and the charming Dean about how fear is natural and something everyone experiences, the duo were able to save the day and defeat Vaneé. There was a neat battle between Poe and Vaneé that showed off Lego versions of the AT-ST and AT-AT walkers, before Vaneé was finally thrown into Mustafar’s lava just like his master before him! It was a tense yet fun battle, and giving Dean the opportunity to save the day was perfectly in line with the kind of story that Terrifying Tales aimed to be.

I had fun with Terrifying Tales. It was a cute Lego Star Wars parody that delivered everything I wanted and expected, and even managed to throw in a few neat surprises and things I didn’t even know I needed to see! The animation work was fantastic, a perfect blend between computer-animated Star Wars locales and a distinctive Lego aesthetic for the characters and vehicles. A project like this could’ve come across as an extra-long toy commercial, but I didn’t get that sense at all. It was a fun Star Wars-themed Halloween romp.

Terrifying Tales was a great way to kick off the spookiest season of the year for me! There’s only a little over three weeks left until Halloween, and I have a few more spooky ideas up my sleeve before the month is over, so I hope you’ll come back for some of those! Happy Spooktober!

Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales is available to stream now on Disney+. The Star Wars franchise – including Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Darth Vader in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2, Jedi: Fallen Order, and the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

We’ve known for a while that the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series will feature Darth Vader – somehow. Hayden Christiansen, who played Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, has even signed on to play the role, something which has excited at least some Star Wars fans. Today we’re going to consider what kind of role the Obi-Wan Kenobi series could offer to the franchise’s most iconic villain, and how the show will have to navigate a tricky situation of its own making.

Regular readers will know that I haven’t exactly been wild about many of the recent decisions taken by the Star Wars franchise. The Mandalorian, which seemed to offer such promise when it was announced, very quickly returned to the Force and the Skywalker family, and brought in a number of characters and settings that were lifted directly from the original trilogy. When Lucasfilm announced a slate of upcoming Star Wars projects last December, I felt that the franchise was doubling down on this kind of nostalgia play, unwilling to step out of the shadow of the original films and tell new stories. The inclusion of Darth Vader in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series – and indeed the very existence of the show itself – is a case in point.

Iconic villain Darth Vader is set to return to Star Wars very soon.

Regardless of what I and others may think, this is the direction Lucasfilm and Disney have chosen for the franchise. The most generous thing I could say about it is that, following the controversy generated by the sequel trilogy, they’re retreating to what they consider to be safe, comfortable ground for the foreseeable future. Returning the franchise to characters fans know and (mostly) love may be indicative of a franchise aiming for a grade C – a basic pass – but perhaps after the controversies of recent years, the higher-ups think that will be good enough.

Although the decision to return to classic characters may seem to be the safe path in the aftermath of the sequels, it’s not one that is free from danger. Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi may indeed prove to be bankable characters – along with the likes of Boba Fett in his upcoming spin-off – but fans won’t forgive Disney and Lucasfilm if the way these characters are used undermines their previously-established arcs.

What role will Vader play in the upcoming series?

When it comes to Darth Vader’s inclusion in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, to me the single most important thing is that the two characters simply can’t be permitted to meet. A New Hope was their first face-to-face meeting since their duel on Mustafar, and were they to meet in the series it would seriously undermine the power of that moment.

We could talk at length about the failures of the prequel trilogy – and I have in the past – but to me their most egregious fault was the harm done to the character of Darth Vader. In the original films we’d learned all we needed to know about this character – he had once been good, then fell to the dark side, but had enough residual love for his son to be ultimately redeemed in the moments before his death. He was an intimidating villain, but one we could feel a pang of sympathy for. Seeing him as a child and a whiny teenager detracted from that; his background was over-explained.

I would argue that we didn’t need to see Anakin as a child and young man to understand Darth Vader in the original films.

Vader has already been undermined by the prequels, and it’s difficult to see him in the same frightening way as I did on first watching the Star Wars films in the early 1990s. But throwing him into a face-to-face meeting with Obi-Wan years before their iconic duel aboard the Death Star would rob the original film of one of its most significant moments. It would feel like cheap fan-service and accomplish nothing.

There are ways for Darth Vader to play a role in the new show’s story – even a major role – without having him and Obi-Wan meet. The show is set at least a decade after the events of Revenge of the Sith, meaning that Darth Vader’s role as the second-in-command of the Empire is well-established by this point. He’s a senior leader who answers directly to the Emperor with his own dedicated Stormtrooper corps, and has spent much of his time chasing surviving Jedi and enforcing the Emperor’s rule on wayward systems.

More than a decade after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Vader’s role in the Imperial hierarchy should’ve solidified.

We also know that Darth Vader has an intense hatred of the planet Tatooine. Obi-Wan chose the planet for his and Luke’s hiding place specifically for that reason, so Vader shouldn’t set foot on the planet for the entirety of the story. And really, Obi-Wan shouldn’t leave the planet either! It was strongly suggested in Revenge of the Sith and the original trilogy that he and Yoda wouldn’t leave their respective exiles, and Luke Skywalker seemed to have known “Old Ben” for his entire life.

This was something that led me to be sceptical of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series from the outset; how much of an adventure can “Old Ben” have within a few miles of Mos Eisley and his desert hut? I assume, though, that he will ultimately leave the planet at some point – it would be a pretty dull series otherwise!

What did “Old Ben” do in the years prior to A New Hope?

But if a significant portion of the action takes place on or in the vicinity of Tatooine, and Vader won’t set foot on the planet, then we have a pretty good reason for keeping the characters apart and preserving the special moment in A New Hope. But that still raises the question of what kind of role Darth Vader will have in the series.

If I were writing it, I’d use Darth Vader sparingly. He could be the overarching villain, sending out his troops or henchmen on missions for the Empire without ever having to interact with Obi-Wan personally. He might have a minor role in a couple of episodes, or he could appear toward the end of the season, with the revelation being that whoever Obi-Wan has been battling is actually one of Vader’s henchmen. This would still have to be done in a way that kept the knowledge of Obi-Wan’s survival and location from Vader, and that’s a difficult line for the series to walk.

Darth Vader with some of his loyal Stormtroopers in A New Hope.

It isn’t impossible for Darth Vader to be included in a Star Wars story in this fashion. The video game Jedi: Fallen Order did something similar – players spend much of the game facing off against the Second Sister and other forces of the Empire, only for Darth Vader to reveal himself at the story’s climax. In the case of Jedi: Fallen Order there wasn’t a pressing need to keep protagonist Cal Kestis away from Vader in the way there is in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, but the game was better for having more original characters, at least in my opinion.

Although some prequel fans are undoubtedly looking forward to Vader’s return, I’m more interested to see what original characters the Obi-Wan Kenobi series will introduce us to. Will the titular ex-Jedi be facing off against the forces of the Empire? Presumably the inclusion of Darth Vader means there’ll be some kind of Imperial involvement in the story somehow. But I’m just as interested to see what Obi-Wan might get up to on Tatooine, outside of Vader’s reach.

Darth Vader appeared in the video game Jedi: Fallen Order.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t have chosen to greenlight a series like this one. And if I were tasked with picking it up after it had already been greenlit, I’d have certainly kept characters like Darth Vader far away from the new show. Even though we’ve spent more time with him than we arguably needed to, Darth Vader can still be used to great effect in Star Wars, and I don’t want to say that there’s no room whatsoever for the franchise’s first and most iconic villain going forward. But the Obi-Wan Kenobi series just feels like a bad fit.

These are two characters who spent a long time apart, totally disconnected from one another for almost two decades prior to their fateful meeting aboard the Death Star. Maybe there’s a way for Obi-Wan to learn that Anakin survived and became Darth Vader – we know he was aware of his former apprentice’s identity by the time of A New Hope. Maybe there’s a way for Vader to be included in some kind of flashback, dream, or vision. But I can’t imagine that the series could get away with having the two face off against one another or have another duel. How would such a meeting end? If Vader so much as knows that Obi-Wan is alive – let alone meeting or fighting him – it undermines a key part of the original film.

The Obi-Wan Kenobi series will have to tread very carefully so as not to further undermine Darth Vader’s character and the story of the original films.

Having made this announcement and gone to a lot of trouble to include Darth Vader in the conversation surrounding the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, some fans will feel let down if Vader’s role is reduced to some kind of dream or flashback. I still think he could be included as some kind of overall villain, provided it was handled in such a way as not to overwrite anything we learned in A New Hope. But to me, this is a pretty egregious example of Star Wars skirting too close to canon for comfort. It’s not as bad as bringing Palpatine or Boba Fett back from the dead with no explanation, but it’s straying into that territory.

I’d love to say I’m excited for the Obi-Wan Kenobi series… or any upcoming Star Wars project, for that matter. At best, though, what I can muster is cautious interest. I’m curious to see what Obi-Wan got up to during the years we all assumed he was living in quiet seclusion on Tatooine. I just hope that the story doesn’t go off the rails. The decision to bring Darth Vader into the story has me more nervous than excited, and if I’d been in the room I’d have argued very strongly against it.

The Obi-Wan Kenobi series will be broadcast on Disney+ in 2022 or 2023. The Star Wars franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Mandalorian – Season 2 review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2, including the Season 2 finale and post-credits scene.

As Season 2 of The Mandalorian approached, I debated whether or not to review each episode as they were broadcast. However, with Star Trek: Discovery’s third season running at the same time I concluded that two large reviews every week would probably be too much to manage. So this is what you’re getting instead – the full season reviewed all at once… seven months later.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Mandalorian Season 1. Though the series did some things very well, there were – in my subjective opinion, of course – a number of missteps. The worst problem I felt the show had in its first season was the protagonist himself – who was without even a name until the season finale. A combination of factors left me unimpressed with Mandy: sparse dialogue, a monotone, unemotional delivery of the scant lines he did have, the full face helmet making it hard to read any emotion or get any sense of how the character was feeling, and a lack of clarity on his aims and motivations. Mandy felt as though he was doing things because a room full of television writers decided that’s what he was going to do, and when it came to massive life-altering decisions such as betraying his client and the bounty hunters’ guild to save Baby Yoda, there was practically nothing from the man himself to inform that decision. Crucial backstory that should have been communicated sooner was included in the season finale, but by then it was too late. Some stories work well that way – but for a number of reasons this one didn’t.

Oh, Mandy. You came and you gave without taking…
If you got that Barry Manilow reference then congratulations, you’re as old as I am!

The first season also left me underwhelmed by its short runtime. Eight episodes in total, most of which averaged around 30-35 minutes was not a lot to get stuck into; there are children’s shows that run longer than that. Several episodes felt poorly-paced as a result; rushed stories that would have benefitted enormously from simply a few extra minutes to allow events to unfold and better depict the passage of time.

Finally, I felt that Season 1 massively overused elements from Star Wars’ original trilogy to the point that it was drowning in nostalgia. The Rise of Skywalker fell into a similar trap, though that film had a far weaker story under the nostalgic veneer. Elements like the freezing in carbonite of Mandy’s bounties – something which had been presented in The Empire Strikes Back as a terrifyingly unique punishment for Han Solo – or the large amount of time spent with a Jawa sandcrawler all felt cheap and fan-servicey. And that’s before we get to Baby Yoda and the inclusion of the Force in a series billed as “the adventures of a gunslinger far from the reaches of the New Republic.” I hoped The Mandalorian could have left much of this behind and instead told a new, original story in the Star Wars universe, expanding that setting rather than overtreading the same ground.

Bounties frozen in carbonite.

So by the time the first season of The Mandalorian drew to a close I was, at best, underwhelmed. While I appreciated that the series had succeeded in bringing many fans back into the franchise after they’d been left disappointed by the sequel trilogy, on a personal level I was unimpressed with what the show had offered. In between Seasons 1 and 2 came the announcement that Boba Fett would be joining the show in its second season, and as I wrote at the time that news was breaking, I felt it was another backwards step for the show and for Star Wars in general.

Though I did consider reviewing each episode for the website, when I ruled that out for practical reasons I then very seriously debated whether or not to watch Season 2 at all. I don’t like to seek out things I don’t think I’ll enjoy, and having had a disappointing experience with Season 1, and been put off by some of the announcements in the run-up to Season 2, I gave consideration to skipping the show altogether. There are plenty of other things to watch, after all! But curiosity got the better of me, and even though I knew I wouldn’t be reviewing each episode one by one, I thought there was the possibility to talk about the season as a whole, or elements from it, here on the website. And as you can tell by the fact this article exists, I did eventually settle in to watch Season 2.

Baby Yoda.

Runtime was once again problematic. In a short season which consisted of only eight episodes, five were less than forty minutes long, with two of those barely reaching the thirty-minute mark. For a flagship programme on a streaming platform, I find that incredibly difficult to excuse. Though the season premiere approached fifty minutes, none of the other episodes felt sufficiently long, and just as happened last season there were issues which arose from that. The entire runtime of The Mandalorian thus far – including titles and credits – stands at less than ten-and-a-half hours, which is simply not enough for two “full” seasons. It’s actually shorter than a single season of Star Trek: Discovery, and I can’t shake the feeling that Disney has stretched out a single season’s worth of plot over two seasons.

On the other hand, I do appreciate that Disney+ streams The Mandalorian in 4K resolution. It’s also available with HDR (high dynamic range) so there’s no denying that the show is visually beautiful. In addition, Disney+ has reached a far greater worldwide market than it had when the first season was rushed out the door in 2019, meaning that Star Wars’ considerable international fanbase was able to watch the series together. Both of these points are worth other companies taking note of – the Star Trek franchise in particular could learn from that!

Ah yes, the old “you thought he was dead” cliché…

The story of Season 2 is quite odd. Season 1 was, for the most part, a single story with a relatively clear line from point to point. Season 2 feels far more episodic; Mandy takes off on a variety of what can best be described as side-missions, with the long-term aim of reuniting Baby Yoda with his people. The Season 1 finale gave us crucial information about why Mandy wants to do this, and at least from that point of view the story doesn’t feel arbitrary in the way it did for much of last season. But it does certainly jump around a lot! Personally I like episodic television; I think it can be done very well. But The Mandalorian is a show with one overarching story, and several of these episode-long side-quests left the overall show feeling rather rudderless.

If these side-missions had felt important to the story, or perhaps if there had been fewer of them, I don’t think it would have become such a problem. But almost every episode felt like Mandy’s mission had slowed to a crawl as he got sidetracked by job after job. Instead of feeling like integral parts of a greater story, these side-missions became annoying – they got in the way of the main story. Though several of them were interesting enough in their own right, it was the way in which they were set up that caused the problem. It would have been possible to write the season in such a way as to make each of these stories feel like they were part of Mandy’s overall quest; instead they felt like obstacles to his mission and thus they came across as obstacles to the story the show wanted to tell.

Mandy with Bo-Katan on one of his many side-missions.

Modern Star Wars appears to find it impossible to step out of the shadow of its original films, and the greatest evidence of this in Season 2 of The Mandalorian came with the inclusion of Boba Fett. Just like Palpatine’s ham-fisted return dragged down the story of The Rise of Skywalker, Boba Fett inexplicably coming back from the dead likewise harms the story of The Mandalorian, and I don’t see a way around that. His role in the show was so different from the Boba Fett we met in The Empire Strikes Back that he may as well have been a different character, and the story of The Mandalorian Season 2 would have been absolutely no different if this character had been called Engelbert Humperdinck or Crazy Uncle Dennis.

But if I thought Boba Fett’s return was striking the wrong tone for the series, the season finale brought an even worse and far more desperate nostalgia play: the return of Luke Skywalker. There was, for a moment, something visually cool about seeing a Jedi cut through a squad of troopers with ease, but when this character was revealed to be Luke, whatever semblance of originality remained in The Mandalorian evaporated.

The Mandalorian was supposed to be a chance for Star Wars to step away from the Skywalker family.

Does every Star Wars project have to be about Luke Skywalker and the Jedi? Or maybe, one day, can Star Wars be more than that? A big part of the reason why both seasons of The Mandalorian have been so disappointing is that they took a premise that sounded genuinely appealing – “the adventures of a gunslinger far from the reaches of the New Republic” – and turned it into Return of the Jedi II. There is scope to see more of Luke’s adventures in between Return of the Jedi and the sequel trilogy… but I didn’t want that here.

At the risk of repeating myself, Star Wars feels stuck. It’s a franchise trapped by its original incarnation with producers, writers, and corporate leadership unwilling to step away from that and genuinely try something even slightly different. The return of Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett in Season 2 are symptomatic of this, but this problem doesn’t stop there. It extends to the sequel trilogy and to practically all of the recently-announced upcoming projects.

For the second time since 2019, the Star Wars franchise revived a dead character with no explanation.

At least Luke Skywalker, unlike Boba Fett and Palpatine, hadn’t been killed off. His appearance, while irritating, does make a certain kind of sense for the sake of the story, and it’s not a complete non-sequitur in the way those other two characters’ returns were in their respective stories. Even with those caveats, though, I felt it was pretty weak for The Mandalorian to already be relying on Luke Skywalker as a story crutch.

The Star Wars galaxy is one of the best fantasy settings ever brought to life in the entertainment realm. It’s a setting that feels vast and genuinely lived-in in a way that many franchises can only dream of, yet the producers at Lucasfilm and their corporate masters in the Disney boardroom seem dead set on only ever letting us see the same tiny sliver of this potentially wonderful setting over and over and over and over again. The Mandalorian had a chance to do something different, to take Star Wars to new places both literally and thematically. Its retreat to the safe ground of the original trilogy and the warm embrace of Luke Skywalker feels utterly regressive.

Though I freely admit this was a well-staged, action-packed sequence, I maintain that the story didn’t need Luke Skywalker.

There were a couple of visual misses in Season 2, despite the production as a whole being pretty good in terms of CGI and special effects. A few of the practical models and puppets didn’t look quite as good as they had done in Season 1. I’m thinking of the newborn alien-lizard in episode 3 in particular, but there were several other examples of practical effects that didn’t make the cut. Perhaps that’s a consequence of shooting in 4K HDR and viewers having better screens!

The second visual miss is the character of Ahsoka Tano. Though I haven’t seen the animated children’s shows The Clone Wars and Rebels in which Ahsoka Tano was a main character, when she made her live-action debut there was something off about the way she looked, and it took me a moment to figure out what it was. Ahsoka is a Togruta, a species with head-tentacles. Others of this species, and other tentacle-headed species, have been seen in other Star Wars projects since the prequel era. In The Mandalorian, Ahsoka is depicted with her tentacles being a different colour to her face, and not only that but a weird kind of leather-tiara right at the point where the two skin tones meet. The effect of this made it look like she was wearing a weird hat instead of being an alien with a tentacle head, and it was pretty distracting at points!

See what I mean? It looks like she’s wearing a hat!

Now that we’ve talked about the bad, how about some good points? There must be some, right?

Although the numerous disconnected side-missions were distracting, I appreciated the fact that, unlike in the first season, I knew what Mandy’s overall objective was and why he was doing the things he did. Mandy himself showed a little more emotion than in Season 1, and combined with seeing him without his helmet a little more often, that made him start to feel like an actual person for the first time – not just a walking, heavily-armoured plot device.

The dark troopers were neat; I liked their vaguely Vader-inspired aesthetic combined with the fact that they’re droids – something which we could argue ties in thematically with the droid armies of the prequel era. They managed to feel genuinely threatening in a way that many Star Wars villains don’t, and perhaps something about their inhuman nature and red eyes contributed to that. Though the dark troopers didn’t get much screen time, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of them in future.

The dark troopers were intimidating adversaries that I hope we see more of in future Star Wars productions.

The Mandalorian has enjoyed well-designed sets and a wide variety of filming locations that made most of its planets and locales feel different from one another. The only planet which definitely felt like southern California was Tython – the planet with the Jedi “seeing stone.” Compared to the likes of Star Trek: Picard – which relied far too heavily on outdoor filming locations in southern California that all looked alike – this was a success, and shows what’s possible when a big streaming show has a suitably high budget.

Season 2 gave us the briefest of glimpses at the New Republic – the faction which aimed to replace the Empire in the years prior to the rise of the First Order. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the New Republic, but with Rangers of the New Republic in early production, and other spin-offs like The Book of Boba Fett also in the works, perhaps that’s something we’ll get more of in future.

Season 2 gave us a brief glimpse of the New Republic.

Perhaps the most interesting story reveal came in the form of how Moff Gideon wanted to use Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda’s blood or DNA was being used to create Force-sensitive clones, and some of those clones looked an awful lot like the sequel trilogy’s Supreme Leader Snoke. Though this remains officially unconfirmed, my theory is that the clones seen in the fourth episode are supposed to be Snoke.

Snoke, as we learned in one of the worst moments in The Rise of Skywalker, was a clone and a puppet of Palpatine, and The Mandalorian appeared to drop a hint as to how Snoke came into being. Despite that particular storyline going down like a lead balloon in the final act of the so-called Skywalker Saga, it was nevertheless interesting to see it expanded upon here, and it finally provided Moff Gideon with a logical motive for his Baby Yoda obsession.

Is this clone in a tank supposed to be Snoke? It looks that way to me!

Speaking of Moff Gideon, like Star Trek: Picard’s Narek before him, he appears to have vanished in the season finale. Captured by Mandy and his squad when they attacked his ship, Gideon eagerly awaited his liberation by the dark troopers before being knocked unconscious as Luke Skywalker was making his way to the bridge. And then… he dropped out of the story. Did he remain in captivity with Mandy? Did Bo-Katan and the other Mandalorians take him? Was he turned over to Cara and by extension the New Republic for interrogation? Did he escape in the chaos surrounding Luke’s arrival? We just don’t know, and his absence from the season’s closing moments was noteworthy for a story that otherwise did a reasonable job at wrapping things up.

Overall, I’d say that The Mandalorian Season 2 feels like it should’ve been the second half of Season 1. It completed the story that was left unfinished last time, and the short runtime of both seasons makes it feel like fans didn’t really get two full seasons’ worth of action and adventure for their money. There were some solid character moments – Mayfeld coming to terms with his Imperial past being one of the better ones. The season saw Mandy develop as a character – or rather, develop into a character for the first time, and having a protagonist to root for instead of an unemotional helmet-wearing slab of nothing was a transformation the series desperately needed.

Season 2 saw the show’s protagonist grow into a character with understandable motivations.

Despite some decent growth and a main story that was worth pursuing, the disjointed nature of the side-missions meant that the season as a whole seemed to drift. There was direction to its main story, but at the same time that took up basically two of the eight episodes, with the other six comprised largely of fluff; obstacles in Mandy’s way as he attempted to complete his quest.

Season 2 was better than Season 1, but had the two halves of the story been united in a single season instead of being split up like this, perhaps I would’ve come away from the show with a better overall impression. I’m still disappointed that the basic premise of The Mandalorian, which seemed so appealing in 2018-19, hasn’t been fulfilled, and that the show has been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of nostalgia plays.

To me, The Mandalorian will always represent the Star Wars franchise missing an open goal. There was a chance to step away from the Force, the Jedi, and the Skywalker family for the first time, to open up the vast, unexplored Star Wars galaxy and tell some genuinely different and interesting stories. Instead, the show retreated to the same comfortable, overtrodden ground as the films that spawned it, and as a result it’s so much less than it could have been.

The Mandalorian Season 2 is available to stream now on Disney+. The Star Wars franchise – including The Mandalorian and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of LucasFilm and the Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars Biomes is a cute and clever way to spend twenty minutes

Released to mark Star Wars day, Star Wars Biomes is a short film that’s simultaneously something different yet very nostalgic. A silent tour over several locations from the original trilogy, prequel era, sequels, and even The Mandalorian, Star Wars Biomes was not the sort of thing I was expecting from the franchise. It’s “slow TV” – something to watch for relaxation or to have on in the background while doing something else, and it’s unusual for a major franchise to produce something like that.

In other ways – and you probably know what I’m going to say if you’ve read some of my recent critiques of the overall direction of the Star Wars franchise – this was Star Wars once again retreating to largely safe, well-trodden ground. The short film only visited planets we’ve previously seen in other iterations of the franchise, and made no attempt to branch out and look at anywhere new. But you know what? On this occasion, with this unusual short film, I think that’s okay.

The Millennium Falcon departs Ahch-To in Star Wars Biomes.

A work like this is 100% about the visuals. And on that front, Star Wars Biomes largely delivered. The animation and CGI work was streets ahead of many high-budget television shows of recent times, and far beyond anything the prequel trilogy or special edition edits of the original trilogy were capable of. For example, I would say that Star Wars Biomes showed off the single best representation of Tatooine’s twin suns that has ever been put to screen.

There were a couple of moments in the eighteen-minute broadcast where I felt the CGI strayed into looking a little unrealistic and video-gamey, but generally speaking the animators did a good job. The vistas – or I suppose we should really be calling them “biomes!” – looked fantastic, even stunning in places, and that’s exactly what a short film of this nature aimed to deliver.

I don’t think Tatooine’s twin suns have ever looked this good!

When I first heard the name “Star Wars Biomes,” I wondered if we were going to get something akin to a nature documentary, looking at some of the wildlife or flora of the visited locations. But it was clear from the start that that’s not what the objective was! That’s fine, and it’s not the purpose of a review to say “well I wish it had been a totally different kind of film,” so I’m happy with what was put to screen. That being said, a pseudo-documentary looking at galactic flora and fauna would be an interesting project – as I said when I proposed something similar for Star Trek a little while ago!

Of the locations visited in Star Wars Biomes, I would suggest that the salt-crusted surface of Crait was perhaps the boldest choice. There were only six planets that Star Wars Biomes took us to, and considering the incredibly controversial nature of The Last Jedi, picking one that was featured prominently in that film was very daring on the part of whoever was making that decision! I think we even saw the crashed ski-speeders of Finn and Rose, which was a plot point that was not popular with many fans. Perhaps that’s Star Wars sticking up a cheeky middle finger as if to say “The Last Jedi is still canon!” But perhaps I’m reading too much into it. I still think it was a bold choice, regardless of the behind-the-scenes reasoning!

The crashed ski-speeders on Crait.

Hoth looked beautiful in all of its snow-capped glory. I do love wintery, snowy scenes, and Star Wars Biomes rendered the snow on Hoth perfectly. Moving like a helicopter (or drone, I suppose) the camera panned across the snowy landscape, and spotted a probe droid – which made the familiar, slightly menacing whirring noise it made in The Empire Strikes Back. We also saw AT-AT walkers, and I think it was the first time seeing them from so high up or at such an angle. Both the droid and walkers contributed to a sense of nostalgia, but at the same time it felt new.

As Star Wars Biomes wrapped up its time on Hoth, we got the first of several typical Star Wars “wipes” – the transitions from one scene to another that the Star Wars franchise has always done with a particular flair! This was new in the ’70s, but modern films have largely left this style of wipe behind, with the result being that it feels unique to Star Wars – even though you can find similar transitions in other films of the original trilogy era.

AT-AT walkers seen on Hoth.

Tatooine is up next, and as already mentioned, its twin suns look amazing. Rendered to look similar to our own sun, the shot at the end as the camera panned up was really stunning. Sand, like snow, is more or less a single colour and texture, so perhaps the Tatooine section of Star Wars Biomes relies more on other visual elements – droids, skeletons, Jawas, and a landspeeder – in order to retain visual interest. It was a well-done segment, though.

After Tatooine, Star Wars Biomes heads to Sorgan – a planet whose name I had to Google! This is the planet with the rustic village that was visited in The Mandalorian, and we saw the Razor Crest flying in as the camera panned overhead. Sorgan was the first point in Star Wars Biomes where I felt the CGI – in this case used for some of the huts in the village – strayed from being 100% realistic into video game territory, at least toward the end as the camera zoomed in and got closer. It wasn’t bad by any means, but as we got closer to the village it was possible to tell it was CGI.

The village on Sorgan.

Crait, as mentioned, was the boldest choice in my opinion. The camera angle used here was odd, looking down at a 90-degree angle the entire time. I kept waiting for the camera to pan, showing us more of the surface of Crait, but it never did. The way the vehicles depicted left red trails in the salty surface of Crait was neat, though, and very well done – even if a couple of the large walkers depicted looked a tad video gamey!

Mustafar came next, and was probably my favourite segment. The lava fields were rendered beautifully, and Darth Vader’s castle looked suitably menacing, dominating the scene. Mustafar is, of course, the planet from Revenge of the Sith where Vader was badly injured. A shuttle and a couple of TIE fighters were seen during this segment, too, and they were done well.

Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar.

Finally we came to Ahch-To, the planet Luke travelled to to hide away, as seen in all three sequel films. We saw a couple of porgs in flight – but not up close – and at Luke’s island, the Millennium Falcon taking off which was neat to see. The island looked like it might’ve been a real shot taken from the Ahch-To filming location off the coast of Ireland, but it could just be very well-made CGI – at this point it isn’t always easy to tell! One CGI misfire during this segment came with a sea monster – the way it breached the surface then sank back beneath the waves didn’t make the right movements on the surface of the water. I know that’s a nitpick!

So that was Star Wars Biomes. Whether you sit and watch it intently – as I did – or put it on in the background as a screensaver, I think it’s worth a look. It’s a bit of fun, and a cute and clever way to celebrate Star Wars without going all-out on a movie marathon! Generally I think it was well-made, with just a couple of moments where the CGI was imperfect. It’s the kind of short film you can put on while you relax and unwind, and its short runtime means it doesn’t feel like a huge commitment.

I had fun with Star Wars Biomes, and I daresay I’ll come back to it again at some point to take another look and see if I can spot anything I missed! It’s the kind of thing I can see myself putting on in the background on a loop while I’m doing something, or even if I have people over (once coronavirus is over and done with). If you decide to check it out, I hope you enjoy Star Wars Biomes as much as I did.

Star Wars Biomes is available to stream now on Disney+. The Star Wars franchise – including all properties and titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise – including recent projects such as The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian. There are also minor spoilers for the Star Trek franchise too.

Let’s step through the looking-glass, across the divide between universes, into a strange new world. This world is very much like our own, but with one major difference: Star Trek behaved like Star Wars. The Original Series ran from 1966 to 1969, just as it did in our reality, but then… things started to change.

Join me on a weird and wonderful journey through what Star Trek might have been… if it had acted like Star Wars. Don’t worry, I promise we’ll make it home safe and sound.

Are you ready to go through the looking-glass?

We begin our journey in the 1970s. Star Trek is being rebroadcast in syndication, and its fanbase is growing. Some of these fans begin to organise and ask for more Star Trek on their screens, and the company that owns Star Trek in this alternate reality – let’s call them CiacomVBS – thinks long and hard about what to do. They have a popular series on their hands… what should they do with it?

Eventually the people in charge of Star Trek hit upon a brilliant idea: a Star Trek prequel, looking at Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and other familiar characters in their Starfleet Academy days and before their five-year mission. The main roles were re-cast, and the first new Star Trek project in almost twenty years was finally greenlit in 1988. Called the “Kelvin films” for the involvement of a starship called the USS Kelvin, this prequel trilogy was popular with some Trekkies, but wildly disliked by others. When the third film finished its theatrical run, CiacomVBS decided to shelve Star Trek and proclaimed that the franchise was complete.

Fans were split on Star Trek by this point. Some proclaimed that The Original Series was the only good part, whereas other (primarily younger) fans were thrilled with the Kelvin films. As time passed, Star Trek appeared to be complete. Its stars moved on to other projects, or faded into obscurity. But the fanbase remained, and with the passage of time those younger fans grew up, leading to a minor resurgence in the popularity of the Kelvin films.

In the 1990s, a massive media empire called the Dalt Wisney Company approached CiacomVBS about a buyout. When the multi-billion dollar deal went through, Wisney announced a plan to bring Star Trek back – this time for a sequel. Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered a few years later, and starred a younger cast of characters – alongside the return of The Original Series’ crew. Their first adventure was to find Captain Kirk, who had gone missing.

Kirk eventually agreed to train the new crew of Starfleet officers, along with help from Spock, Dr McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu. The returning characters took up a lot of the new show’s screen time, leaving many Trekkies to say that the new crew were undeveloped and underused. To make matters worse, a lack of overall direction by the Dalt Wisney Company meant that each of the three seasons of The Next Generation was helmed by a totally different team of writers. The consequence of this was a jarring change in tone between each of the three seasons.

The Next Generation’s third and final season was its worst by far, with a confused mess of a story that seemed to be trying to overwrite much of what happened in Season 2 – including the backstory of Captain Picard, the major character introduced in Season 1. By far its most egregious fault, though, was bringing back Khan as a villain – Khan had been killed off decades earlier, and his return was called “the worst kind of deus ex machina” by critics.

There were also two “standalone” projects produced during this time. The first saw a team of renegade Starfleet officers go on a secret mission to steal the plans to the Klingon D7 battle cruiser, and ended with them transmitting the plans to Kirk aboard the Enterprise. The second was titled Chekov: A Star Trek Story, and it told the tale of the young Pavel Chekov before he joined Starfleet.

Despite the lacklustre response to The Next Generation and Chekov, Wisney had invested a lot of money into Star Trek, and putting their expensive acquisition on hiatus was not possible. They announced another spin-off: Deep Space Nine. This promised to finally take a look at the Star Trek galaxy away from Captain Kirk and Starfleet for the first time, being set on a space station in a new region that had never been seen before.

Fans seemed to respond well to Deep Space Nine at first, but its short runtime, bland main character, and overreliance on the aesthetic of The Original Series were all points of criticism of the show. By Season 2 it seemed to be doing better and was beginning to stand on its own two feet – but for some inexplicable reason Season 2 of Deep Space Nine brought back the character of Sulu – who had been killed off in The Next Generation. Fans were confused as to how he had survived being eaten by an alien monster, but this was never addressed.

The Season 2 finale was perhaps the most egregious example of Wisney forcing fan-service into Deep Space Nine, though. As Sisko and his crew were cornered, staring down a seemingly-unstoppable villain, the shuttlecraft Galileo was spotted approaching DS9. The shuttle door opened, and there, in all his glory, stood Captain Kirk. Kirk dispatched the villain’s henchmen with ease, and gave Sisko – and the show’s stunned audience – a nod and a wink.

In the aftermath of Deep Space Nine Season 2, the Dalt Wisney Company put together a presentation where they announced what’s coming next for Star Trek – and to no one’s surprise, it was more of the same. Nostalgia, throwbacks, and not much else.

The actor who played Scotty in the Kelvin series was given his own spin-off. Next was Star Trek: Nurse Chapel, which promised a look at the franchise’s second-most famous medical officer. Then there was The Harry Mudd Show, looking at lovable rogue Harry Mudd, and Star Trek: Balok, which promised a deep dive into the backstory of the character fans first met in The Corbomite Maneuver. There was a miniseries looking at Kor, the Klingon captain, and finally there was Star Trek: That Guy Who Flew The Shuttle In That One Episode – which was immediately given a three-season order. Some fans were thrilled with these offerings… but a lone voice spoke out.

On the website Crazy Auntie Denise, an independent critic wrote that it was time for Star Trek to move on. The Original Series had become a weight around the neck of the franchise, holding it back and stopping it from properly moving on to new adventures. The Star Trek galaxy offered such an interesting and exciting setting, she wrote, that it was positively criminal to only look at such a tiny sliver of it over and over and over again. Star Trek can be better than this.

Apparently this website is incredibly popular in the alternate reality.

So that, my friends, is where we end our journey through this strange mirror universe. We step back across the divide, and find ourselves firmly back in our own reality. I promised I’d get you home safe and sound!

What was the point of our little interdimensional sojurn? As I’ve said many times already, Star Wars is stuck. It has never been able to move beyond its original trilogy, and it’s gotten to a point where those films are now holding it back from making any meaningful progress.

You might look at some of the Star Trek projects that exist in the alternate reality we visited and say that they sound like fun – but they represent an incredibly narrow vision of what Star Trek could be. If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars, with a total and unshakable reliance on The Original Series and its characters, we’d never have got to see some absolutely incredible characters and stories. We’d have missed out on Picard’s transformation into Locutus of Borg in The Best of Both Worlds, or on Sisko’s painful decision in In The Pale Moonlight. We’d never have met Captain Janeway and her crew at all, nor Captain Archer and his.

Avery Brooks put in one of his best performances as Sisko in the Season 6 episode In The Pale Moonlight.

There is a place for prequels, for looking back, and for nostalgia. The very reason franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars were revived is because the companies behind them see nostalgia as a way to attract audiences. But in my opinion – my subjective opinion – Star Wars goes too far and overplays the nostalgia card. The Star Wars galaxy is a sandbox of almost infinite proportions, with not only trillions of inhabitants, countless alien races, and millions of planets to explore, but also tens of thousands of years of history. We could look at events and characters that are entirely disconnected from Luke, Han, and Leia – but Star Wars has never even tried to do that.

The Mandalorian brought back Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker in what was pure fan-service. Fans lapped it up, and I’m happy for the people who enjoyed the way that story went. But for my money I think Star Wars can do better. I think it can be broader and deeper, and can step away from relying on those old characters. Star Wars is a fantastic franchise, and its setting is so vast and interesting that it doesn’t need the crutch of those old characters… but for some reason Disney can’t see it.

Luke Skywalker returned in The Mandalorian.

Star Trek moved away from its original incarnation decades ago, and in the years since we’ve had a heck of a lot of exciting, memorable shows and films that have become iconic parts of the franchise in their own right. And that innovation and willingness to try new things continues today, with Star Trek recently branching out into animated comedy and with a kids’ show on the horizon. Star Wars could do that too.

Star Trek realised a long time ago that the galaxy Gene Roddenberry and others had created was crying out to be explored. New characters and new ships came along and have had some incredible adventures. Star Wars hasn’t been brave enough to try anything genuinely different yet. I hope one day that will change.

Some names, titles, and properties above have been used in a satirical manner for the sake of parody and criticism. The Star Wars franchise and all related properties are the copyright of the Walt Disney Company and LucasFilm. The Star Trek franchise and all related properties are the copyright of ViacomCBS. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A willingness to change is the key difference between Star Trek and Star Wars in 2021

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following: The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2, The Rise of Skywalker, Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard. Minor spoilers may be present for other iterations of both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises.

I’ve been working on my review of Season 2 of The Mandalorian, which was shown on Disney+ at the end of last year, and I found myself saying the same thing several times. I will (eventually) finish that review, but for now I wanted to take a step back and look at two of the biggest sci-fi/space fantasy franchises, and one crucial difference between them.

Whether it’s the prequel trilogy, sequel trilogy, spin-offs, or even the recently announced slate of upcoming projects, Star Wars is intent on sticking close to its roots. I’ve made this point before, but Star Wars as a whole has only ever told one real story – that of Palpatine, Anakin, Luke, and Rey. Every film and television series in Star Wars’ main canon either directly tells part of that story or is inextricably tied to it. The inclusion of Luke Skywalker and other legacy characters in The Mandalorian doubles down on this.

Luke Skywalker recently appeared in The Mandalorian.

In contrast, Star Trek has continually tried new and different things. The Next Generation took its timeline 80+ years into the future and left much of the franchise’s first incarnation behind. Deep Space Nine took the action away from starships to a space station. Enterprise was a prequel, but not one which told the early lives of any classic characters. The Kelvin films attempted to reboot Star Trek as a big screen popcorn blockbuster. Discovery took a serialised approach to its storytelling, and Picard picked up that format but used it to tell a very different type of story. Lower Decks is perhaps the biggest departure to date, branching out beyond sci-fi into the realm of animated comedy. Though there are common threads binding the franchise together, each project is one piece of a much larger whole, and the Star Trek galaxy feels – to me, at least – much more vast as a result.

Where Star Wars has told one overarching story, Star Trek has told hundreds, many of which are totally separate and distinct from one another. And that concept shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, both franchises are doubling down on what they do best: Star Wars is focusing on classic characters and looking inwards, Star Trek is expanding and trying new things.

Captain Burnham will take Star Trek: Discovery to new places.

That willingness to change, to explore totally different and unrelated aspects of its setting, is what sets Star Trek apart from Star Wars right now – and arguably is one of the big points of divergence going all the way back to the mid-1980s. It may also explain why so many fans are excited about The Mandalorian and even the dire Rise of Skywalker, while some Star Trek fans have never been interested in Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks.

Nostalgia is a big deal in entertainment, and while I would argue Star Wars has overplayed that particular card far too often, there’s no denying it has seen success with that formula. That’s why we’re seeing the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, the Ahsoka series, the Lando series, and even the Cassian Andor series all getting ready to debut on Disney+ in the next few years.

Star Wars continues to bring back characters, themes, and designs from its past.

Someone far cleverer than I am said something a while ago that really got me thinking. If a franchise – like Star Wars, in this case – relies so heavily on nostalgia to the point of never trying anything new, it won’t survive beyond its current generation of fans. Because bringing in new fans – the lifeblood of any franchise – is increasingly difficult when every project is designed exclusively with existing fans in mind. How can Star Wars survive when its current fanbase moves on if everything it does is fan service? What kind of appeal does the Obi-Wan Kenobi show have to someone new to Star Wars? Basically none.

With the exception of Star Trek: Picard, which did rely on the strength of its returning character, I think any Star Trek project has the potential to bring in new fans. Some shows and films are definitely enhanced by knowing more about Star Trek and its setting, but even in Discovery, where main character Michael Burnham is related to classic character Spock, there really wasn’t anything that required a lot of background knowledge.

Spock in Star Trek: Discovery.

Star Trek is not only trying new things, but the people in charge are conscious to allow each project to stand on its own two feet. They are parts of a greater whole – and while I have argued many times here on the website that Star Trek could do more to bind its ongoing series together, it’s still possible to watch one show and not the others without feeling like you’ve missed something important.

What we see are two very different approaches to storytelling. Both Star Trek and Star Wars were reborn in the mid-2010s out of a desire on the part of their parent companies to use nostalgia as a hook to bring in audiences. That should not be in dispute, and I don’t want to say that Star Trek somehow avoids the nostalgia trap. But where Star Wars really only has nostalgia going for it, Star Trek continues to branch out, using nostalgia as a base but not allowing it to overwhelm any project.

“Baby Yoda” is symbolic of Star Wars’ reliance on nostalgia in many ways.

Neither approach is “right” or “wrong;” such things are subjective. I don’t want to sound overly critical of Star Wars either, because despite my personal feelings, there’s no denying many of the creative decisions made are popular – even The Rise of Skywalker, which was eviscerated by critics, was well-received in some areas of the fandom. It just strikes me as interesting and noteworthy that these two major franchises are taking very different approaches to the way they construct their narratives.

Whether it’s the inclusion of Luke Skywalker himself, the aesthetic of practically everything in the show, or a storyline which returns the franchise to the Jedi and the Force, The Mandalorian oozes nostalgia from every orifice – and if that’s what fans want and will lap up, then that’s okay. It was too much for me, and I stand by what I said last year during the show’s first season: I was expecting to see “the adventures of a gunslinger far from the reaches of the New Republic;” a show which would take Star Wars away from some of those themes to new places. That was my preference – a personal preference, to be sure, and judging by the positive reaction not only to The Mandalorian but to spin-off announcements like the Obi-Wan Kenobi series (and the return of Darth Vader to that series) I’m in the minority.

Mandalorian armour (i.e. Boba Fett’s armour) seen in The Mandalorian.

Star Trek takes a different approach. Both Picard and Discovery in their most recent seasons moved the timeline forward, brought in new characters, and dealt with contemporary themes. There were touches of classic Star Trek in both shows, including in aesthetic elements like set design and costuming, but in both cases the franchise feels like it’s moving forward.

Costuming is an interesting point to consider, as it’s representative of where both franchises find themselves. As early as 2015’s The Force Awakens, Star Wars was stepping back, relying on Stormtrooper armour, First Order uniforms, and especially the costumes worn by Rey that were practically identical to those seen in the original films. This was continued in The Mandalorian, not only with the main character’s Boba Fett armour, but with the use of Original Trilogy Stormtrooper armour and costumes for many villains. In contrast, Star Trek took its main characters out of uniform entirely in Picard, and Discovery has introduced a whole new set of uniforms and a new combadge for the 32nd Century. Where Star Wars looks back to its heyday, Star Trek looks forward, incorporating some of its classic designs into wholly new variants.

Discovery’s new combadges (as seen in the opening titles).

What we see in these costuming choices is a reflection of where both franchises are narratively. Star Wars continues to look back at the only truly successful films the franchise has ever made: the Original Trilogy. Frightened of trying anything truly new and unwilling to leave that comfortable ground, it’s stuck. As I wrote once, the Original Trilogy has become a weight around the neck of modern Star Wars, as projects not only become constrained by those films, but continue to fail to live up to them.

Star Trek looks forward, tries new things, and embraces change. Not every new project will win huge support and be successful, but some will, and every project has the possibility to be a launchpad for others, taking the evolving franchise to completely different places.

The Original Trilogy is – in my opinion at least – holding Star Wars back.

It’s clear which approach I prefer, and that I’d like to see more innovation and change from Star Wars. Though I was certainly underwhelmed by some of the recent announcements made by Disney and LucasFilm, I’m hopeful that, despite being held back in many ways by an overreliance on nostalgia, some decent films and series may stumble out the door.

Each franchise could learn something from the other, though. Star Trek’s projects are split up, and while Discovery’s third season made an admirable effort to connect to Picard, that was not reciprocated. Lower Decks had many callbacks and references to ’90s Star Trek, but otherwise stands alone. The franchise could work harder to bind its different projects together, reminding audiences that they’re watching one piece of a greater whole.

The Qowat Milat, who debuted in Picard, later appeared in Discovery. But the franchise could do more to bring its projects together.

Star Wars could see how a successful sci-fi franchise doesn’t need to be constrained by its original incarnation, and that shaking things up can work. The Mandalorian felt to me as though it was retreating to Star Wars’ comfort zone, and while that move may be popular right now with the fandom, it doesn’t really provide a solid foundation for expansion in the way Star Trek’s shows and films have done.

At the end of the day, both franchises are testament to the power of nostalgia to bring fans back. But they undeniably take very different approaches to that. Star Wars is conscious to try to make everything feel like its first couple of films – to the point that it can be overwhelming. Star Trek certainly doesn’t overwhelm anyone with nostalgia – to the point that some recent projects have been criticised for feeling like they aren’t part of the franchise at all.

Whichever approach you ultimately feel works best, one thing is clear: neither franchise is disappearing any time soon! The first half of the 2020s -and hopefully beyond – will see several different projects from both Star Trek and Star Wars, and as a fan of both and of sci-fi and fantasy in general, that’s great news. Long may it continue!

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. The Star Wars franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of LucasFilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Electronic Arts seemingly loses its exclusive rights to Star Wars

For almost a decade following Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm, only one company has been able to make Star Wars video games: Electronic Arts. A deal between Disney and EA gave them exclusive rights to the Star Wars license, and in the years since there have been four mainline Star Wars games, one Lego tie-in, one VR game, and a handful of mobile titles.

Both 2015’s Battlefront and of course 2017’s Battlefront II proved controversial and divisive; the former being disappointingly threadbare and the latter for its aggressive in-game monetisation. 2019 saw Jedi: Fallen Order, which I played through last year and was a fun title, and finally 2020 saw Star Wars: Squadrons, which I’ve also been enjoying. However, four games in nine years is perhaps less than many fans were expecting, especially with two of them having serious issues.

2015’s Battlefront was disappointing to many fans.

Calls for Electronic Arts to be “stripped” of the Star Wars license began after Battlefront’s release in 2015, but reached fever pitch in the weeks after Battlefront II’s launch. There was even a petition that hundreds of thousands of folks signed to ask Disney to revoke EA’s exclusive arrangement. That went nowhere, of course – fan petitions never achieve anything – but is indicative of the strong feelings over EA holding the rights.

The well-received Jedi: Fallen Order and Squadrons, combined with updates and patches which greatly improved Battlefront II, led to a cooling-off period, and as of early 2021 cries for the Disney-EA deal to be somehow undone had largely abated. It was a surprise, then, when LucasFilm announced a new Star Wars game… published not by EA but by Ubisoft!

“A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.”

Ubisoft has been honing its style of open-world games for years, with franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Watch Dogs. It seems, from the teaser announcement made yesterday, that the new title will be an open-world game in a similar style, though no mention has yet been made whether it will be a single-player title like those in Ubisoft’s other open-world series, or a multiplayer “live service.” From my point of view I’m hoping for the former!

The game itself may be several years away, though Star Wars does have a recent track record of announcing games closer to release – that’s what happened with Squadrons last year, for example. No release window has been suggested as yet, and in fact we know precious little about the game itself beyond the publisher responsible.

Star Wars: Squadrons.

The upcoming game is just one part of this story, though. Most industry watchers agreed that Electronic Arts had a couple of years remaining on their deal with Disney, which raises the question of how and why this Ubisoft game has been able to enter development. It’s possible that the original contract was incorrectly reported, in which case it may simply have run its course. Or there may have been clauses regarding a number of titles, profit made, etc. that Electronic Arts didn’t live up to, allowing Disney to open up Star Wars to other companies. We don’t know the details – and unless someone senior breaks ranks to tell us, we likely never will!

Exclusivity arrangements can be difficult, and the Disney-EA deal over Star Wars is pretty much a textbook example of why. An exclusive contract like the one Disney offered EA effectively gives that company a monopoly over the license, and anyone who knows anything about basic economics can tell you why monopolies are a bad idea in practically every industry.

No, not that kind of Star Wars monopoly…

Having a monopoly meant there was no threat of competition, and this allowed EA to sit on the Star Wars license, cancelling titles that senior executives didn’t think would bring in “recurring user spending” and not feeling under any real pressure to develop or release anything. They could afford to be complacent because no one else was contractually allowed to even pitch a concept for a Star Wars title.

This attitude was changed when Electronic Arts saw the scale of the backlash to Battlefront II. The effects of that debacle are still being felt, and the game opened the eyes of parents, journalists, and even politicians to the shady practice of in-game gambling. But we’re off-topic. Too late, EA shifted focus away from cash-grabs, putting out the single-player Jedi: Fallen Order and following up with the space-sim Squadrons.

2017’s Battlefront II controversy may have triggered a change in thinking at EA – and at Disney.

Fans had been clamouring for a single-player story-driven Star Wars game for years, and while Battlefront II had a creditable single-player campaign, it wasn’t until Jedi: Fallen Order’s release in November 2019 that the single-player itch was truly scratched for most fans. By then the damage had been done for Electronic Arts, though, and their earlier complacency and attempts to swindle players with truly awful monetisation came back to bite them.

Though Electronic Arts will continue to work on Star Wars titles – most significantly the upcoming sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order – they will no longer be the only company Disney trusts with their incredibly expensive, incredibly lucrative license. The Ubisoft game may be the first of several upcoming Star Wars projects to be taken on by other companies, and hopefully what results will be a broader range of genres and styles of game.

Protagonist Cal Kestis in Jedi: Fallen Order.

In December 2020, LucasFilm announced half a dozen or so upcoming Star Wars films and television shows. There will be a lot of Star Wars content to come over the next few years at least, and while not all of the shows and films will be suitable for a video game adaptation, some may be. Disney and LucasFilm need to ensure they have access to the broadest possible range of talents in the video game industry if they hope to make the most of Star Wars.

I wasn’t especially excited by the film and television announcements made last month, to put it politely. Too many of them seem to be spin-offs, prequels, and deep dives into uninteresting side-characters rather than expanding Star Wars beyond its original incarnation. But even so, several of these projects seem ripe for video game tie-ins, and the end of the Skywalker Saga of films coupled with this expansion into new films and television projects may have been a contributing factor to Disney ending or not renewing its exclusive arrangement with EA.

Could a game based on the upcoming series Rangers of the New Republic be in the works?

For my two cents, I see the ending of this kind of exclusivity deal as a good thing. Monopolies are problematic for consumers for precisely the reasons the Disney-EA arrangement shows, and in future it could even be used as a case study for why these kinds of deals are a bad idea. Opening up Star Wars games to other companies allows for different points of view, competition, and hopefully what will result at the end of the day will be better games. Not necessarily more games. But better ones.

It is worth noting that Ubisoft is a company that hasn’t exactly escaped controversy recently. There have been serious problems within the company, including sexual harassment accusations against senior executives, and the accusation that the company itself tried to cover this up and cover for abusers. Company culture and institutional problems count against Ubisoft, and while Star Wars fans are rightly excited to learn that the franchise will be moving away from the EA exclusivity deal, it’s worth noting that Ubisoft has issues – and Disney should also be aware of this. The last thing the Star Wars brand needs right now is further controversy, yet a team-up with Ubisoft risks precisely that.

So that’s it. The end to Electronic Arts’ monopoly over the Star Wars license. Now if only someone would make a Star Trek video game…

The Star Wars franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Disney and LucasFilm. Star Wars: Battlefront, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and Star Wars: Squadrons were published by Electronic Arts. Some screenshots and promo art courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars doubles down HARD

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, and announcements for upcoming productions.

A few months ago I wrote an article titled “Star Wars needs to move on.” In that piece I looked at how the Star Wars franchise has only ever told one real story since it debuted in 1977. Prequels, sequels, and spin-offs all played into or expanded the only real story the franchise has ever told – that of Palpatine and minor characters like Anakin, Luke, and Rey who apparently don’t get to act of their own volition. I argued that, just like Star Trek had done with The Next Generation in 1987, Star Wars needed to put the Skywalker Saga behind it and genuinely move on, telling new stories with new characters.

The Mandalorian should have done this, but hasn’t. The inclusion of Baby Yoda, the Force, Boba Fett, and so many elements copied from the Original Trilogy overwhelmed that series and left me disappointed. I was desperately hoping that, after the reaction to The Rise of Skywalker, the team at Disney and Lucasfilm would think hard about what to do next.

The inclusion of Palpatine ruined The Rise of Skywalker.

Instead they’ve once again retreated back to the Original Trilogy, its spin-offs, and familiar characters. I would have hoped that the failure of Palpatine’s ham-fisted insertion into The Rise of Skywalker would have served as a warning, and that with the only story the franchise has ever told now at a seemingly-final end, the franchise could genuinely move on.

The Star Wars galaxy is up there with Tolkien’s Middle-earth as one of the finest fantasy worlds ever brought to life, yet the creative team at Disney and Lucasfilm seem intent on never exploring the wonderful sandbox they paid $4 billion for. They’re instead going to show us the same tiny sliver over and over again, bringing to life ever more ridiculous spin-offs looking at characters of decreasing importance. What a disappointment.

Star Wars: Andor is a spin-off from a spin-off and a prequel to a prequel.

Let’s look at these disappointing announcements. A Droid Story will focus on R2-D2 and C-3PO. The Bad Batch is a spin-off to The Clone Wars, which was itself a spin-off to Attack of the Clones. Andor is the previously-announced series based around Rogue One’s Cassian Andor. Lando is bringing back Donald Glover, who took on the role of the smuggler in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Rangers of the New Republic is a spin-off from The Mandalorian. Ahsoka is another spin-off from The Mandalorian. And in the previously-announced Obi-Wan Kenobi series, we have the return of Darth Vader.

The only announcements which seem to have any potential to tell new stories are 2023’s Rogue Squadron, a project called Acolyte about which no information was revealed, and an as-yet-untitled film helmed by Taika Waititi. Everything else falls into the same trap that the franchise has fallen into repeatedly since the prequel era: overtreading the same ground, forcing fans to look back, and overplaying the nostalgia card. There’s nothing bold or innovative in any of these announcements. They represent a backwards-looking cowardly corporation, desperate to rekindle the magic of the Original Trilogy but without any clue of how to do so.

Do we really need a Star Wars film about these two droids?

Spin-offs to spin-offs and the increasingly minor characters given starring roles is indicative of a franchise out of ideas. There’s absolutely no creativity in any of these projects that I can see. At a fundamental level they’re all trying to do the same thing – use nostalgia as a hook to bring fans back. If the Star Wars galaxy looked bland and uninteresting, perhaps that would be a necessity. But it’s always been presented as such a vast, interesting setting that it’s positively criminal to only ever look at a tiny portion of it. There are tens of thousands of years of galactic history to dive into, as well as an uncertain future in the years after the war against the First Order. Could we see some of that, maybe?

And how about new characters? The idea of a show based on the two droids is patently ridiculous, as are those focusing on minor characters from spin-off projects. Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando was certainly one of the better elements of Solo, but does that mean he needs an entire project of his own? What will Disney and Lucasfilm do when these projects run their course? Are we going to see Star Wars: Snowtrooper #7 and Star Wars: That Two-Headed Podrace Announcer? At this rate that’s what’ll happen.

Is this guy getting his own spin-off too?

The sequel trilogy got two things wrong when considering the fundamentals of its storytelling. Firstly was the inexplicable decision to split up the writing, leaving it with no direction and no overarching story. But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, was the decision to re-tell the Original Trilogy, drag Star Wars full-circle back to where it started, and spend too much time looking backwards. The sequel trilogy was an opportunity for Star Wars to lay the groundwork for future success, but instead it’s dragged the franchise backwards.

The Original Trilogy is a weight around Star Wars’ neck. The popularity of those three films compared to any others means that cowards in a corporate boardroom can’t see beyond it. Instead of looking at ways to take Star Wars forward to new adventures, all they know how to do is look backwards at the only successful films the entire franchise has ever produced.

Star Wars is being run by a corporate boardroom that clearly has no idea what to do with the franchise.

The end of the Skywalker Saga saw Luke, Han, and Leia killed off. It saw the final demise of Palpatine. And despite the story of Star Wars having been dragged through the mud, there was an opportunity that hasn’t really existed before – an opportunity to move on to greener pastures. With the only story Star Wars has ever told brought to a conclusion, it was hardly an unrealistic expectation to think we might get something new.

I’m disappointed, as you can tell. The lack of vision and the lack of boldness on the part of Disney and Lucasfilm means that we’re once again looking at the same miniscule fraction of the Star Wars galaxy that we’ve always been shown. There’s nothing interesting about that, and even though I have no doubt that, on an individual level, many of these projects will be at least decent and watchable, I just feel Star Wars could do better. These shows and films are a franchise aiming for a grade C. They’re middle-of-the-road attempts to scrape by, coasting on past success.

If the franchise ever wants to do more than get a basic pass, they’ll have to be bold and aim higher. Do something genuinely different. Step out of the ever-growing shadow of the Original Trilogy and do what Star Trek has been doing for thirty years – tell new stories.

The Star Wars franchise, including all films, series, and upcoming projects listed above, is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars: Squadrons – First Impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the story mode prologue missions of Star Wars: Squadrons. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

It’s a rarity these days for me to pick up a new game the day it’s released, but that’s what I did for Star Wars: Squadrons. I remember with fondness titles like Rogue Squadron, which I played on the Nintendo 64, as well as the spaceflight sections of the first Battlefront II, and I’d had Squadrons on my radar (pun intended) since it was shown off at EA Play in June. I don’t pre-order as a rule, but when the game was released I picked it up on Steam. My slow internet connection meant that I had to leave it overnight to download and install, but I got up the next morning eager to jump into the cockpit!

First, Squadrons needed me to download and install the latest Nvidia graphics card driver. It’s been a while since any game insisted on something like that! But that didn’t take too long and I was ready to go – only to be confronted with a strange graphical issue when the game booted up. I have a 4K display, and for some reason Squadrons had cut off the majority of the display, only showing a small portion stretched out to full-screen. If anyone else encounters this issue, here’s how I fixed it: pressing Alt + Enter to exit full-screen mode. From there, I was able to access the graphics settings and change them from whatever bizarre resolution Squadrons thought I wanted to a standard 1080p full-screen experience.

This was all I could see at first! Not the best start…

When the game restarted I got the proper experience. I appreciate that Squadrons offers a range of options for colour-blind players; though I’m not colour-blind myself my brother-in-law is, and I know some titles can be almost inaccessible for people with visual impairments. Any accessibility features like that are a welcome addition.

Despite being marketed as a game with a multiplayer focus, Squadrons insists that you first play the prologue of its campaign. It’s also recommended to complete the campaign, but after the prologue is complete it’s possible to jump into multiplayer. As someone who isn’t big on multiplayer gaming I was planning to play the campaign anyway, but it’s worth knowing that it isn’t possible to go straight to multiplayer if that’s what you’re buying the game for. All told, the prologue took less than an hour to complete, so it isn’t a huge time-waster for people who want to dive right in.

You’ll receive this message upon clearing the prologue.

The campaign has an unusual format in that players are assigned two playable characters, one on each side of the conflict. The main setting is post-Return of the Jedi, looking at the conflict between the remains of the Imperial forces and the New Republic, but the prologue takes place years earlier, just after the destruction of Alderaan (as seen in A New Hope). This narrative choice won’t be to everyone’s taste, and I’ve already seen criticism online from players who wanted to be able to pick a side and stick with it all the way, but I don’t mind that. It’s different, interesting, and it gives a more rounded view of events (as well as allowing players to fly both Imperial and Rebel/New Republic ships).

The destruction of Alderaan, as seen in-game.

The character creator is rather basic. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a “creator,” rather there are a dozen or so pre-created faces and two body types (male or female) to choose from. There are a few different voices, and although the player character doesn’t seem to talk much, that’s a nice touch. The game is played entirely in first-person mode, so perhaps a character creator is unnecessary. You do get to choose your character’s name, though, and there’s a “randomise” option if you want the game to generate a Star Wars-sounding name.

My Imperial pilot…
…and my Rebel/New Republic pilot.

The voice options and the name are the more important points. The voices are good, and although there are only a few types, they are all clearly different from one another. Names will be shown in subtitles (if you have subtitles enabled; I always do). After customising the two characters, the prologue began, and it was a moderately interesting story surrounding a convoy of refugees fleeing Alderaan. The Empire tasks a squad of TIE fighters with finding and destroying the convoy, and the Rebels task a group of X-wings with defending it.

The game begins with the Imperial mission, and this is where I got my first taste of gameplay. Squadrons is not a cakewalk, and it takes time to get the hang of the controls. I’d say it’s closer to a simulator experience than an arcade-style game such as Rogue Squadron, so be prepared for a learning curve.

The view from the cockpit of a TIE fighter.

I’m someone who prefers to play with a gamepad, but even so I didn’t find the controls easy at first. The control pad is mimicking – in a very basic way – a HOTAS or dual-stick cockpit, with the left thumbstick used to throttle up and down and the right for turning. I found this counterintuitive at first; most games use the two triggers – right to accelerate, left to slow down or reverse. Using the thumbstick for this takes some getting used to.

The throttle controls.

In that sense, players who use a proper HOTAS setup – which Squadrons does support – may find it easier and more immersive. I have seen reports online that it takes time to calibrate a HOTAS for Squadrons, but I think that’s true for many titles, and as someone who doesn’t have a HOTAS I can’t verify that. However, if I find myself getting really into the game, perhaps getting that kind of setup is something I’d consider.

Squadrons gives you plenty of time to acclimate to the controls, though. The first few minutes of the mission consist of gently following the lead TIE fighter around the fleet, and from there the action amps up slowly rather than dumping you right into a huge battle. This is not only greatly appreciated, but arguably necessary! Perhaps the most ardent combat flight sim players don’t need this level of hand-holding, but I’d suggest that most gamers will.

It was definitely helpful that the game didn’t launch right into a huge firefight.

The prologue offered an interesting – if somewhat predictable – story of an Imperial pilot (not the player character) who defects to the Rebel Alliance. During the aforementioned mission to chase down a fleeing fleet of refugees from Alderaan, the TIE squad’s captain chooses to defect, and after a firefight and a chase, the action then switches to Rebel forces. This is the dual narrative at work.

Taking on Rebel X-wings.

I did die once during this section; Squadrons will automatically destroy your ship and force you to respawn if you fly out of bounds of a given section of a mission, and I chose to investigate a tunnel before it was time. The tunnel would turn out to be where the refugees were hiding, and where Captain Javes would defect, but the linear narrative doesn’t want players straying from the course laid out, which is fair enough. There’s a short timer to give you a chance to turn around before having to restart.

Going the wrong way leads to dying and having to restart.

I’m not sure whether this applies to all the different classes of starfighter – I assume it does – but it’s possible to be out of weapons range. Even when a target appears to be relatively close, the game will designate it “out of range” unless it’s within 1000 metres (or whatever the Star Wars galaxy’s equivalent of metres is!) Again, once you get the hang of this it’s fine, and targets all have floating distance numbers when locked-on to tell you how far away they are. 1000 is a nice round number that should be easy to remember!

An out of range target.

After the defection, the action switches to Rebel forces, and I got a chance to pilot an X-wing! This was great fun, and both ships have incredibly detailed cockpits. I’m sure the other vessels that can be played will also be created in such stunning detail too. The visuals in Squadrons are truly impressive and offer an immersive Star Wars experience as a result. I know some people will insist that “graphics aren’t everything,” and while this is true, there’s no denying that a title like this works exceptionally well when it offers players the best visual experience possible.

The X-wing cockpit.

After another “fly around the fleet and get used to the controls” section, the X-wings are called into action to assist the refugee fleet that we’d been pursuing as the Empire moments earlier. These missions work well back-to-back, and I enjoyed the different perspectives. Both the Rebel and Imperial missions offer a lot to do, with different objectives to complete in addition to dogfights against enemy fighters.

My X-wing came under attack!

Captain Javes, the defecting Imperial pilot, is welcomed into the Rebel family and provides information that helps the Rebels defeat the Imperial forces and protect the refugee fleet. It was a fun sequence to play though, and while I feared for the defector’s life, he appears to have survived the events of the prologue!

The refugee fleet.

There was a great sequence which involved attacking a Star Destroyer at close range. After defeating a handful of TIE fighters, the Imperial defector insists we need to take out the capitol ship’s ability to track the fleeing refugees, otherwise they’ll just follow and catch up to them later. I believe that this is the first taste of Squadrons’ “fleet battles,” in which players team up in multiplayer (or against the AI) to take on larger fleets. Each ship has several weak points that have to be knocked out. Here in the prologue we just had to destroy one before retreating with the rest of the Rebel forces.

Jumping to hyperspace.

Overall the prologue serves as a great starting point for what seems to be a fun title. Its control scheme and semi-simulator style will mean it isn’t to everybody’s taste, and players looking for a more casual experience may be disappointed. There’s only one viewpoint: a first-person, in-cockpit view. This means you can’t switch to get a third-person view from behind your spacecraft, and again this is something that won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Electronic Arts has shown a great deal of respect for the Star Wars brand here, not only by avoiding microtransactions, but also by pricing the game below the standard “full price” of £55/$60. I almost certainly wouldn’t have picked it up on release at that price, but for £35 it feels fair and a reasonable purchase. The short campaign (estimated at around 6 hours) may have a bearing on that, but as we’ve seen recently, some other titles – such as the remake of Resident Evil 3 – have been content to try to charge more for campaigns of a similar length. Credit to Electronic Arts for not doing so.

The Rebel player character.

Squadrons is a simple game with complex gameplay that will take time to master. But it’s fun! I had a great time earlier in the year playing through Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and this looks set to be my second fun Star Wars experience of the year. Even while I’m writing up my first impressions I’m itching to jump back in and have another go at piloting an X-wing or a TIE fighter and having my own crack at being a pilot in the Star Wars galaxy.

For this price, it’s hard not to recommend Star Wars: Squadrons if you’re someone who enjoys this kind of gameplay. If you aren’t, but still want that Star Wars pilot experience, there’s always Battlefront II, which has a starfighter mode, or you could even go back and look at older titles like Rogue Squadron.

Star Wars: Squadrons is out now for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Star Wars: Squadrons was developed by EA Motive and published by Electronic Arts. The Star Wars franchise is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Let’s Play Jedi: Fallen Order – Part 1

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and for other Star Wars titles, including the films.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was released in November last year, the first single-player, story-focused Star Wars game on a major platform since 2010’s The Force Unleashed II. While 2018’s much-criticised Battlefront II actually had a creditable single-player campaign, that game was primarily a multiplayer title, so Jedi: Fallen Order is a rare gem in the current Star Wars lineup. Many Star Wars fans had been asking for a title like this for years, and criticism of Electronic Arts’ handling of the brand they’re licensing from Disney had been building in part due to the lack of single-player titles.

This article is going to be the first in a series charting my playthrough of Jedi: Fallen Order in close to real-time – by which I mean that I’ll write up each section of the game or each play session as I go, rather than offer a review of the whole game at the end. From my point of view, writing this way is a bit of an experiment; a blend between my usual reviews and YouTube-inspired gameplay videos. If it doesn’t work, I guess I won’t keep it up! But if this style proves popular with my readers – and enjoyable to write – perhaps I’ll look at writing up other games in a similar format. At this point I don’t know how many articles will be in this series, nor how long it will take me to complete Jedi: Fallen Order.

Jedi: Fallen Order protagonist Cal Kestis.

I had to postpone playing this game as my computer hadn’t been working right. PC, if you recall, is my main gaming platform these days. I picked up Jedi: Fallen Order on sale a few weeks ago, snapping up a 30% discount. But of course this year’s Steam Summer Sale offered a bigger 50% discount! Sigh.

The Steam version of Jedi: Fallen Order requires a connection to EA’s Origin system, which is a bit of a pain. The initial start-up of the game takes some time: connecting to Steam, updating Steam, updating Jedi: Fallen Order, connecting to Origin, updating Origin, patching Jedi: Fallen Order within Origin… does anyone else miss the days of jamming a cartridge into a SNES and the game just starting? I know I do! But me showing my age aside, when Jedi: Fallen Order booted up, I encountered a simple, easy-to-navigate menu with a few different video and audio settings. Interestingly, Jedi: Fallen Order strongly recommends the use of a control pad, not keyboard and mouse, even when playing on PC. That’s fine for me as a gamepad is my preferred way to play action-adventure titles, but I thought it worth noting. I also adjusted a few of the settings – making sure in-game subtitles were on, as well as increasing the size of in-game text and subtitles. I wasn’t sure at first if doing so would result in comically huge text, but I’m glad I chose to make the text bigger as it would have been harder to read otherwise.

Unlike many games which commence with a long opening cut-scene, Jedi: Fallen Order dropped me right into the story mere seconds after it began. A very short scene introduces protagonist Cal Kestis, who is living on the planet of Bracca. Bracca is a strangely atmospheric place, and Cal lives and works in a ship-breaking yard. Whether the entire planet is just used for this purpose (Star Wars loves its monothematic planets, after all) is unclear. Nevertheless, the rain-soaked planet covered in decaying, broken starships feels like the perfect place for someone to disappear to if they wanted to remain anonymous!

The ship-breaking yard on Bracca.

The first level of the game took Cal and I through the junkyard, learning the basics of the game’s running, jumping, and climbing mechanics, as well as showing off the setting. There were a few neat lines of dialogue between non-player characters as Cal darted about the junkyard, but mostly this part of the game’s opening act was combat-free and straightforward.

I don’t guarantee it’ll be combat-free at all difficulty levels though (but that’s probably something I should Google). I usually opt to play games on their easiest difficulty setting. As many of you know if you’re regular readers, my health is complicated. Some of my issues can make gaming at a high difficulty too hard for me, especially in games which need fast reflexes and quick reactions. I’m happy to play a turn-based game like Civilization VI at a higher difficulty level for the strategic challenge, but generally speaking I come to a story-focused game like Jedi: Fallen Order to – surprisingly enough – enjoy the story. Cranking up the difficulty would have made for a more frustrating and less enjoyable experience, and that’s the last thing I want. Some reviewers made note of the game’s difficulty upon release, with it even being compared to the Dark Souls series. I haven’t played those games – on purpose, because again that sounds like an impossibly frustrating experience for me! But I was a little put off by the perceived high difficulty – until learning that a “Story Mode” exists, which turns everything down and makes the game easier to play. That’s the mode I chose to play on, and everything in this write-up will be based on that.

Jedi: Fallen Order drew comparisons to the Dark Souls series upon release.

As Cal and his friend Prauf reach their destination, they encounter a rusted Jedi starfighter – it looked to be the design Obi-Wan or Anakin used during the prequel films. Prauf says very pointedly that he doesn’t believe all Jedi could be traitors, referring to Order 66 which saw the Jedi rounded up and killed. I liked the way the game took this short sequence to establish Prauf as someone at least slightly sympathetic to the Jedi before everything else happened – it made his later actions more understandable and sympathetic.

After an accident which sees Cal and Prauf fall – in a fairly neat sliding section which required Cal to slide from side-to-side and dodge obstacles – Prauf is left hanging on the edge of the broken ship. It seemed obvious that Cal would have to use the Force to save him, and I was right – Prauf falls and Cal uses the Force to slow him down, saving his life. Prauf immediately realises what’s happened, and after a short cut-scene in which Cal flies a small craft to safety – which could have made for a fun sequence to play through instead – the two are safely on the ground and headed home.

After a short conversation on the train, Cal falls asleep. When he wakes up, Prauf is missing. And I’m sure some people will say this was obvious as a dream sequence, but I sure as heck didn’t realise it! Cal walks along the train looking for Prauf, when he comes across a locked door. After a few attempts to enter, I turned Cal around to go back the way he’d come, only for the train to vanish – replaced with a Death Star-esque corridor! I was stunned; the transition from one environment to the next was absolutely seamless, and the whole effect was very surreal. I’m sure this worked better because they’re both small, narrow corridors. But even so it was fantastic to play through and a genuine surprise.

This moment was a perfectly-executed shock that made me jump!

After briefly exploring the corridor, and following an R2D2-type droid, Cal sees his former Jedi Master in the dream, and is alerted to the fact that all is not well. As he awakens, the train jolts to a halt. I loved this sequence, it was by far my favourite part of this introductory section of the game. The fact that it wasn’t obviously a dream made the Imperial/Death Star corridor appearing from nowhere a real shock, and seeing Cal’s Jedi Master was great – he’s a character I hope we get to know more about as the game goes on.

The editing and pacing of some recent Star Wars projects has been poor. And this next part of Jedi: Fallen Order unfortunately didn’t do a great job of conveying the passage of time. We saw Cal and Prauf escape the broken ship in the junkyard mere moments ago, and the scene on the train seems to be taking place immediately afterwards. At most, an hour or so has passed. Yet in that time the Empire has been alerted to Cal’s Force use (somehow) and not only dispatched Stormtroopers to intercept his train, but top-of-the-line Jedi hunters as well.

A Stormtrooper on Cal’s train.

In Star Wars, travel between planets hasn’t always been consistent. But in most cases it isn’t instantaneous, as the scenes on the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope conveyed perfectly. Is it the case that the Inquisitors/Sisters happened to be on Bracca already? Maybe – if that’s what happened perhaps it’ll be confirmed later and seal this minor plot hole. But as it is, taking the sequence on its own it seemed as though the Imperials got to Cal almost impossibly fast.

A group of junkyard workers from the train are lined up by the Sisters and Stormtroopers, and the Second Sister promises to execute them all if the Jedi they’re hunting doesn’t step forward. Prauf steps forward and beings to speak about the injustices the Empire has forced on the people of Bracca – only to be cut down in short order by the Second Sister. Prauf fills a role that vaguely reminded me of a character from Knights of the Old Republic called Trask Ulgo – a character who is similarly killed saving the protagonist during that game’s opening mission. While I’m sure this wasn’t intentional, having consistent threads running through the franchise is always a neat thing!

RIP Prauf.

Speculation time! I wonder if we’ll learn that the Empire is using some kind of scanner or sensor that’s able to detect Force powers. While the junkyard wasn’t deserted, it wasn’t exactly crowded either, and it seemed as though Prauf was the only one who knew about Cal’s one very brief moment of Force use. There certainly weren’t any obvious witnesses, so for me this definitely raises the question of how the Empire came to know about Cal – and how they were able to know so soon after what he did. At the very beginning of the game, an Imperial Probe Droid (the kind seen in The Empire Strikes Back) flitted across the screen. Could these droids be scanning for Force-users?

After Cal attempts to engage the Second Sister in a lightsaber duel, he ends up falling onto a moving train, and this marks Jedi: Fallen Order’s first proper gameplay sequence. Cal is armed with a lightsaber, and makes short work of the various Stormtroopers in his path. The game did a great job introducing me to the various combat moves at Cal’s disposal. There’s the standard attack, there’s blocking and parrying, and of course Cal can use his lightsaber to bounce blaster shots back at the Stormtroopers. All of these are intuitive and fun to perform, and within moments I was chopping and blasting my way through the train full of Stormtroopers.

Uncharted 2, anyone?

Some kind of ship attacks the train, but before Cal can be killed or injured another ship takes it down – the woman aboard offers to help, but Cal can’t jump to her ship from the moving train. Eventually, after an exciting and occasionally tense sequence, Cal is face-to-face with the Second Sister in another duel. This time I got to fight, and while the Second Sister is clearly invincible in this duel – as I assume she’s a key part of the plot later on – it was so much fun to block and dodge and swing Cal’s lightsaber at her!

The ship from earlier returns, and Cal is rescued by the woman and her pilot: the two are named Cere Junda and Greez Dritus. The Second Sister attempts to bring down their ship, but the two of them manage to shake her off and escape Bracca, jumping to hyperspace. Cal is suspicious of his rescuers, initially thinking they may be trying to cash in on an outstanding Imperial bounty for ex-Jedi.

The Second Sister on Bracca.

The journey from Bracca to Cal’s next destination takes some time – re-emphasising my point about pacing earlier – and he’s able to rest a little aboard the ship. I enjoyed the introduction to Cere, who describes herself as an ex-Jedi attempting to put the Jedi Order back together. How exactly one becomes an ex-Jedi, and whether she will be able to use the Force (it doesn’t seem so) or train Cal is unclear, but I like her character.

Cal is revealed to have a special Force sensitivity which means he can touch an item and sometimes is able to sense part of its history – in the example from the cut-scene, he touches an instrument and is able to play a tune on it. I’m sure this power will come in handy later in the game for uncovering some mystery or other, and establishing its existence at this early stage was great – it’ll avoid feeling like a deus ex machina later. And as a Force power that we haven’t seen before, I liked it. It’s suitably magical and mysterious in a way that fits with what we’d expect the Force to be able to do. It’s not overpowered, it’s not even something that could be weaponised, and is thus a neat feature of the game that – so far at least – seems to work well.

Cal and Cere talk after escaping Bracca.

The ship travels to the planet of Bogano, where Cere has been working on rebuilding the Jedi Order. There’s a mysterious vault which requires the Force to access, which is why she’s brought Cal along.

Cere leaves Cal to it when they reach Bogano, telling him to make his way to the vault. Apparently there’s someone else on Bogano who Cal needs to talk to; who this mysterious character is, as well as what’s in the vault isn’t clear at this stage. In a sequence reminiscent of a Tomb Raider game, Cal begins to explore the area surrounding the vault on Bogano.

This area is a fairly typical early-game stage, with some aggressive but easily-defeated monster opponents. This series of articles will probably reference Knights of the Old Republic more than once or twice, because those two games on the original Xbox were among my favourites! But here on Bogano, I got a distinct Dantooine vibe. That planet was playable in both Knights of the Old Republic games and was a similar sunlight, grassy world with monsters to fight.

Cal after arriving on Bogano.

During the exploration of the ruins/abandoned residence on Bogano, Cal encounters a droid. This cute little animal-esque droid is called BD-1, and will join Cal for the rest of the game. If you’re a regular, you’ll know I’m a sucker for cute critters, and BD-1 definitely falls into that category! His (or her) introduction, where Cal patches up a damaged foot, was absolutely adorable, and I’m already in love with BD-1.

Exploring Bogano will lead to several interesting discoveries, including a workbench where Cal can modify his lightsaber. Judging from the number of greyed-out options, there are plenty of customisation elements to uncover! Having got the special or deluxe version of Jedi: Fallen Order I had a couple of different options already, including a really cool orange tone for Cal’s lightsaber. In Knights of the Old Republic II, the orange coloured blade was really hard to get, so having it right off the bat here feels great, and I like that there are a range of aesthetic options. BD-1 also found Cal a different-coloured poncho to wear – and I love that the game refers to Cal’s outfit as a poncho in all the various menus and in-game text!

BD-1 and Cal meet.

After Tomb-Raidering my way across the first part of Bogano, killing a few monsters, changing up Cal’s lightsaber, and dressing him in a shiny new poncho, I was ready to take a break.

Jedi: Fallen Order has started incredibly strongly. The story that’s been set up is interesting and gripping, and I really want to find out what’s in the vault, as well as who the Second Sister is. Cere tantalisingly mentioned she knew Cal’s former Jedi Master, and I hope we’ll see some exploration of that relationship too.

Both Bracca and Bogano are interesting planets to have visited, and as far as I can tell, both are unique to Jedi: Fallen Order. In a franchise that can overplay the nostalgia card, changing things up and doing something different is always appreciated. While both settings felt unmistakably “Star Wars”, they are also different to anything seen in the main films, and I think that’s great.

Come back next time and we’ll explore some more of Bogano – maybe we’ll even get into that mysterious vault!

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is out now on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the copyright of Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts. The Star Wars franchise is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I really hope the Boba Fett rumour isn’t true…

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Season 1 of The Mandalorian, as well as minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

The Disney+ series The Mandalorian was the first subject I wrote about here on the website after I founded it last year. Suffice to say I found the show disappointing and boring, and a lot of that disappointment stemmed from the fact that the show seemingly promised a new and different look at the Star Wars galaxy, but ended up bringing back overused tropes and sending the characters over already-trodden ground. I wanted something new, a look at the Star Wars galaxy away from the Force and familiar characters, but The Mandalorian’s producers at Disney didn’t have the confidence to make a series that stood on its own.

I spotted a rumour earlier today, which has apparently been doing the rounds over the last 24 hours or so, that Boba Fett will be included in The Mandalorian’s second season. And when I saw that I sighed with disappointment and said “really?”

Boba Fett, mere moments before his death in Return of the Jedi.

While it is unconfirmed at this stage and should be taken with a pinch of salt, this rumour has been picked up by a number of reputable news outlets and is at least credible. While I generally avoid rumours here, this is one that I wanted to tackle. The Mandalorian was disappointing to me personally, for the reasons I’ve already laid out. I also found Pedro Pascal’s protagonist impossible to get behind, as he was a blank slate – a helmet-wearing, seldom-speaking, monotone bag of nothing. With no personality came no motivation – why did he do any of the things he did, like turn on his client to save the child? The answer seemed to be “because a room full of TV show writers decided that’s what he was going to do.” There was also The Mandalorian’s runtime – for a flagship series, thirty-minute episodes is pretty pathetic. And when practically all of those episodes would have benefited greatly from a few extra scenes providing background, explanation, or even just to show the passage of time from one moment to the next, the show felt poorly-edited or that corners had been cut.

But the worst part was the introduction of the child – nicknamed “baby Yoda” by the internet. The revelation that the Mandalorian’s target was a child is not in itself an issue. In fact it’s a major driving force for the rest of the season’s plot. Nor is my issue with the idea that the child is a member of Yoda’s species. That’s a little unoriginal, but there were always going to be little callbacks to other aspects of the franchise present in The Mandalorian. What bugged me was that, inside of two episodes, the Force comes back into play. The Force. In a show that promised to take a look at the Star Wars galaxy away from the Jedi and Sith. The Mandalorian told us it was a show about a lone gunslinger far beyond the reach of the Republic, and that premise sounded amazing. The Jedi and Sith are a tiny minority of the denizens of the Star Wars galaxy, and seeing how the 99% live, far away from the Force, is something that appealed to me. That concept still does – but it isn’t what The Mandalorian delivered.

Recent Star Wars projects – practically all of them, in fact – have overplayed the nostalgia card. The Force Awakens and of course The Rise of Skywalker may seem the most egregious, but there’s also Solo: A Star Wars Story and the Darth Vader sequences in Rogue One. I named the latter my favourite film of the last decade, but those sequences detracted from it, at least for me.

I would have preferred to see Rogue One stand on its own without Darth Vader – the story was good enough.

The Mandalorian has the same issue. At a number of points in its short runtime it strayed across that invisible line which divides a nod and a wink to returning fans from boring unoriginality. The overuse of nostalgia, such as in the sequences with the Jawas and their sandcrawler and epitomised by the child being a Force-user, went a long way to spoiling the series for me. The return of Boba Fett would just be another example of how the show’s producers don’t trust any Star Wars story to succeed without the crutch of nostalgia.

I really do find that to be disappointing – and it’s apparent, too, that Disney has learnt nothing from the overwhelmingly negative response fans had to the overuse of nostalgia in The Rise of Skywalker if it really is their intention to bring Boba Fett into this series. The only reason why The Mandalorian Season 2 was something I was even considering watching was because I hoped that we might finally get to see some character development and to see Pedro Pascal shine, finally bringing the nameless, bland protagonist to life and giving him some colour. But the Mandalorian is, at best, a pale clone of Boba Fett – even down to the identical armour design – and standing him up alongside the original would not make for a good comparison.

The Mandalorian’s unnamed and boring protagonist.

Boba Fett was himself an uninteresting character in Star Wars – his expanded role, such as his cameo in the prequels, was due simply to the popularity of action figures and merchandise. But despite that, he’s an established character now, someone we’ve seen as a child and as an adult, and while fortunately his role in the franchise’s awful Expanded Universe has been erased, he will still stand up next to the nameless protagonist of The Mandalorian and draw positive comparisons.

The Star Wars franchise has never been able to successfully move on from its first three films. The prequels told the backstory of some of the characters in the originals. The sequels (two of them, anyway) just remade those same films. And of the two spin-offs, one was a prequel focusing solely on one of the main characters, and the other was also a prequel which led directly to the plot of the first film. There is scope within Star Wars to move away from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. But so far, no one has tried. Every major Star Wars project has relied excessively on its first three films. The characters, themes, and storylines have been rehashed so many times that at this point they really are flogging a dead horse. I long for some genuine originality in the Star Wars universe, and to see a project which finally steps out of the shadow of those three films. As wonderful as the original trilogy is, Star Wars should be able to be more than that.

The Knights of the Old Republic video games told a story that didn’t rely on the original Star Was films.

Knights of the Old Republic was a duology of Star Wars video games from 2003-04. These games are among my favourites, and are also among my favourite stories told in the Star Wars galaxy. Why? Because they’re original. They take an original premise and an original setting, ignoring the first three films entirely, and tell an exciting and engaging pair of related stories. Knights of the Old Republic is basically the only property from the old Expanded Universe worth reviving, largely because of its uniqueness and originality.

Why can’t The Mandalorian be as bold as that? Why do they feel the need to rely so heavily on what we’ve already seen, bringing the Force and Boba Fett into the show? The premise sounded so interesting and genuinely different, yet what we got was bland and dripping in cheap nostalgia. The return of Boba Fett – setting aside the dumb story point of reviving yet another dead character, which is a whole issue in itself – just stinks. It’s yet another example of the higher-ups at Disney not understanding Star Wars. There’s a whole galaxy to explore with trillions of inhabitants and perhaps thousands of years of history to dig into. Yet time and again, they drag the franchise back to the same handful of characters and the same overtrodden ground. I really hope this Boba Fett rumour turns out to be untrue.

The Star Wars franchise – including The Mandalorian – is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars is right back where it started

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for the whole Star Wars franchise, including The Rise of Skywalker.

The Star Wars sequel trilogy accomplished absolutely nothing. Okay, maybe that strictly isn’t true. I can think of a lot of things it accomplished, from modernising the aesthetic of the franchise to helping fans disappointed in the prequels move on. The sequels also helped make the franchise far more mainstream today than it has ever been, with a larger and more diverse fanbase. But that isn’t what I meant.

In terms of the overarching narrative of the franchise, Star Wars is in exactly the same position as it was in 1983 after Return of the Jedi – and for the most part, that’s actually intentional.

In my review/tear-down of The Rise of Skywalker, I went into detail about how JJ Abrams seems to have been desperate to use that film to try to remake Return of the Jedi – using story elements that were simply not suited for that purpose. Setting aside my plot complaints – notably the return of Palpatine – The Rise of Skywalker ended in identical fashion, and has left the Star Wars galaxy in basically the same place it was almost forty years ago.

Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi – the story of Star Wars has circled back to this point.

One thing fans of the original trilogy (like myself) were so keen to see in the sequels is what happened to the galaxy in the aftermath of the Emperor’s death. Did a New Republic ultimately take control, as depicted in the (awful) Expanded Universe? Did Luke succeed in setting up a new Jedi Order? What happened to Han and Leia – did they get together? There were many questions of this kind, and the sequel trilogy set out to answer them.

The answers we got in The Force Awakens were at least potentially interesting. After the incredible disappointment of the prequels, which were released between 1999 and 2005, I was content for The Force Awakens to re-tell some of Star Wars’ “greatest hits”. Even though, in retrospect, I would absolutely argue that it crossed the line between paying homage and ripping off many aspects of the originals – A New Hope in particular – in 2015 I was fine with that.

But if we look back at The Force Awakens today, in 2020, the groundwork for what would be a cheap recycling of the Star Wars story, ultimately taking the franchise nowhere but back to where it was, are on full display. We have a hidden and secluded old Jedi master, paralleling Ben Kenobi from A New Hope. We have an authoritarian state with a planet-killing superweapon, which of course parallels the Empire and the Death Star. We have a mysterious old dark side user who has a helmet-wearing apprentice, blatantly paralleling the Emperor and Vader. We have a rag-tag group of Resistance fighters – led by Princess Leia. And we have Han and Chewie regressing to their pre-A New Hope roles as non-caring smugglers.

However derivative that setup may have been, even by the end of The Force Awakens there was scope for Star Wars to go in a different direction and end up in a different place by the end of the trilogy. The Last Jedi tried to pull the franchise to a different point – most significantly by taking Kylo Ren away from the copycat-Vader path toward redemption and making him, not Snoke, the ultimate evil villain of the story.

The Rise of Skywalker, to my surprise, I must admit, spent a significant amount of time undoing what had been set up in The Last Jedi and tried – unsuccessfully – to remake Return of the Jedi from a very different starting point, cramming unsuitable story elements into that mould and relying on the deus ex machina of Palpatine’s inexplicable return to allow Kylo to follow Vader’s path to redemption.

Kylo Ren was forced to take the same path as Darth Vader.

The Rise of Skywalker established that the First Order was in control of almost all of the galaxy by this point in the story – akin to the Empire’s powerful position in Return of the Jedi. Just like in that film, the Resistance’s destruction of one fleet and the death of one leader does not, in itself, constitute overall victory – there is still a war to be won against the remaining forces of the First Order, just as the Rebels after Return of the Jedi had to continue the war against the Empire. The resolution to this war was not seen on screen and, frankly, victory cannot be guaranteed. The destruction of the Sith fleet at Exegol didn’t do anything to the First Order’s other fleets and forces, and while Palpatine may have been a “power behind the throne” for much of the First Order’s rise, his death is far less meaningful to the average First Order soldier or supporter than his fake-death was to Imperial officers after Return of the Jedi.

With the galaxy still under First Order control, the Resistance have their work cut out if they’re to follow Leia’s example and try to recreate the Republic for a second time. Even without a Supreme Leader, the First Order poses a significant challenge.

The First Order’s two potential leadership figures – Palpatine and Kylo Ren – both died in The Rise of Skywalker. Palpatine’s second death – if indeed it is a death and not another ruse – obviously copies his death in Return of the Jedi. And Kylo’s was also a copy of Vader’s death in Return of the Jedi – dying in Rey’s arms as Vader had died in Luke’s.

With her Jedi masters – Luke and Leia – dead, Rey is the sole survivor, as Luke had been at the end of Return of the Jedi. The Jedi Order must now be recreated from this one remaining young person, and Rey’s task is now identical to the one Luke faced all those years ago. Where will she go to establish her Jedi temple? How will she find force-sensitive children (or adults) to train? How long will it take for the Jedi to be restored? All of these questions were faced by Luke, and now they fall to Rey.

The Sith have been finally defeated. As they should have been after Return of the Jedi. With no remaining dark side devotees following the deaths of Snoke, Kylo, and Palpatine, the question of what happens to the Sith and the dark side rears its head. Will that knowledge be forever lost? Will someone new find out about the Sith and try to recreate their teachings? And of course the burning question: is Palpatine really dead? All of these questions existed in 1983 too.

In some circumstances, a cyclical story can feel good. It can make sense and it can have a powerful message, saying something like the rise of evil is a problem we always need to be on guard against. But it doesn’t feel good with Star Wars. In the aftermath of The Rise of Skywalker, three major storylines have taken a circular, copycat path and landed right back where they started: the state of the galaxy and who governs it, the future of the Jedi Order and how it may be rebuilt, and the demise of the Sith and the dark side. In all three of these cases, Star Wars is in exactly the same place as it was after Return of the Jedi.

The “Rey Skywalker” scene from The Rise of Skywalker was widely mocked and became an internet meme.

This feels cheap and lazy. The creators of the sequel trilogy – and I’m looking at JJ Abrams in particular – didn’t actually answer any of the questions posed by the ending of Return of the Jedi. Instead they pulled a bait-and-switch, remaking the original trilogy with a different trio of main characters and a few minor spot-the-difference story threads. With The Rise of Skywalker overwriting key points from The Last Jedi, we can almost disregard that film entirely from the trilogy. It tried to be different, but the differences it brought to the table didn’t last. Instead we have two copycats, and by remaking those same stories and putting the new characters into situations that are repeats of what came before but with a slightly different veneer, the trilogy ends with the same questions as before. What will happen to the galaxy? What will happen to the Jedi?

We didn’t get real answers to those questions in the sequels. We got a pretend set of answers that simply lifted all the same elements present in the original trilogy, gave them a new coat of paint, and plopped them down in the answer column.

What happened to the galaxy after the Empire? A new Empire, called the First Order, showed up. Oh and it was being controlled by the old Emperor who only pretended to have died.

What happened to the Jedi Order? Luke made a new one and then it got destroyed again! And that happened almost entirely off-screen, so the only part we got to see was Luke being a hermit like Old Ben Kenobi.

What happened to the Sith and the dark side? Well remember how there was an ancient, scarred dark side user who had a helmet-wearing apprentice? Yeah, well there’s two more guys like that. Oh and one of them, in a shocking plot twist, is related to other main characters!

Okay… so what will happen to these storylines? Surely something different that what we saw in 1983, right? Nope! The First Order will have a fleet of planet-killing ships destroyed and Palpatine and Kylo and Snoke will all die! But the rest of their forces are intact and probably still in charge of the whole galaxy. The Jedi Masters will all die leaving only one Jedi left! And the dark side is… I dunno. Gone, maybe? Or maybe it’ll come back when we need another villain. Who knows?

The future of the Star Wars galaxy is as unclear today as it was in 1983. Not only are the questions that we have identical to those that we asked after Return of the Jedi, but the “answers” to those questions the first time we asked them has been to simply re-tell the same story in a worse way, dragging it full-circle right back to the same point.

Considering where it started and where it ended up, the whole sequel trilogy has been a waste of time. The first two films may be enjoyable as standalone pieces of cinema, but in the broader context of a large, ongoing story set in a massive fictional universe, it accomplished absolutely nothing. The three new films could’ve not been made and nothing would have changed.

The Star Wars franchise is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I finally saw The Rise of Skywalker…

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and for other films in the Star Wars franchise.

Health problems make it impossible for me to get to the cinema these days, and as a result it usually isn’t until films are released on home video or streaming services that I’m able to see them. In some cases, such as with the Star Wars franchise, the prevalence of online spoilers means I know the premise and plot before I’ve seen the film. With The Rise of Skywalker I was not impressed with what I’d read, and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. Something similar happened a couple of years ago with The Last Jedi, and despite expecting to be let down by that film, I came out of it feeling pleasantly surprised – so there was a glimmer of hope!

Sadly, it was not to be. The Rise of Skywalker is saved from being my least-favourite Star Wars film simply by the existence of The Phantom Menace – and at times, it’s a toss-up as to which film was worse. At one point while I was sitting down to watch The Rise of Skywalker, one of my cats sat in front of the television and proceeded to lick her arsehole… it was by far the most entertainment I got in the entire two-and-a-half hours.

The first teaser poster for The Rise of Skywalker (2019).

Let’s start with what I did like. There are some points in The Rise of Skywalker worth praising, despite my overall feelings. Firstly, most of the visual effects, especially the CGI and digital artwork, were outstanding. There’s no denying that The Rise of Skywalker is a visually impressive film; from its space scenes to the various settings on the surface of planets, many of the visual effects and set dressings were good. Compared to the incredibly rough late-90s/early-2000s CGI present in the prequel films and the updated original trilogy, digital effects have come a long way – The Rise of Skywalker thus stands up alongside the other two films in the sequel trilogy, as well as Rogue One and Solo, as being good-looking. There were some individual visual elements and props that I felt didn’t hit the mark, but we’ll deal with those later.

Next, there were a couple of genuinely funny moments where The Rise of Skywalker’s humour hit the mark. The scene in the serpent’s den where Rey ignites her lightsaber only for Poe to turn on a flashlight was quite amusing, and did win a chuckle.

I’ve always been a sucker for heroic stories about last stands – so despite the various plot complaints that I’ll come to in a moment, the desperate last-ditch effort by Poe and Finn’s rebel forces did manage to elicit some of the feelings it was clearly aiming for. And the scene where Lando arrived with a last-minute rag-tag collaboration of ships and people from across the galaxy did feel good in that moment. This kind of story – a heroic, seemingly doomed last stand where the day is saved at the eleventh hour – is one of my favourites, and even though it’s been told numerous times across different types of media through the years, it still has the potential to be exciting and emotional.

Adam Driver is a phenomenal actor, someone who I’m sure will win one of the top awards one day. The Star Wars franchise really lucked out to land someone of his calibre to play Kylo Ren, and he didn’t disappoint in The Rise of Skywalker in terms of his performance. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the performance from the character, especially if the plot is a mess, but despite my misgivings about Kylo Ren’s storyline, Driver gave it his all and the film was significantly better for his presence in it.

Adam Driver has been outstanding as Kylo Ren across all three films.

Despite his limited screen time, I also enjoyed Richard E Grant’s performance as General Pryde. He is the kind of steadfastly loyal member of the “old guard” who I wish we’d seen more of in the previous two films. The First Order was, in some ways, presented as a youth-led rebirth of the ideology behind the Empire, but it was clear even in The Force Awakens that there needed to be more people than just Snoke who had lived through the Empire’s reign and wanted to reinstate it. The First Order could really only have come to exist because of people like General Pryde, so an acknowledgement of that was definitely worthwhile.

Finally, I appreciated the fact that, in a film that was otherwise completely overwhelmed by attempted nostalgia, there were new locations to visit instead of having the characters always retreading old ground. The planets of Pasaana, Kijimi, and of course Exegol are all new to the franchise, and the first two in particular were interesting locations.

Now let’s get to what I disliked – which, unfortunately, is the majority of the film and its story.

Palpatine has returned… somehow. That’s all the explanation he gets, yet his return presents a massive issue not just for this film, not even for this trilogy of films, but for the entire “Skywalker Saga”. I’ve written about this previously, but the inclusion of Palpatine, and the revelation that he’s been the driving force behind the entire plot of the sequel trilogy, means that the Skywalkers aren’t the focus of their own story. Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, and now Rey Skywalker (she adopted the name at the end of the film in a widely-mocked scene) aren’t really protagonists any more thanks to the return of Palpatine. They have no agency over their own stories, because it turns out that Palpatine was behind the scenes manipulating everything and everyone – the three main characters of the three Star Wars trilogies were just along for the ride; their stories were something that happened to them as opposed to something that they actually did. As I wrote previously, the “Skywalker Saga” should really be titled the “Palpatine Saga”, since all of the stories are his and he’s the only character who actually acts of his own volition.

Star Wars ceased to be Anakin, Luke, and Rey’s story and became Palpatine’s over the course of a tedious two-and-a-half hours, transforming the story at a fundamental level. And for what? What purpose did the return of Palpatine actually serve? The biggest factor in play is nostalgia, something which The Rise of Skywalker absolutely drowned in. The only other reason he was drafted back in was because JJ Abrams and the rest of the creative team couldn’t think of another villain.

There was clearly a desperate desire on the part of JJ Abrams for Kylo Ren to be redeemed – following the path of Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, which The Rise of Skywalker was trying so hard to emulate. But even more so that Darth Vader, Kylo was irredeemable. He’d made his choice in The Last Jedi to commit to the dark path and claim the mantle of Supreme Leader for himself, and there was no going back for him. This is, after all, the character who murdered Han Solo in cold blood – are we supposed to forget about that?

Snoke’s death in The Last Jedi – which was Kylo’s moment of clarity and final commitment to the dark side – created a huge problem for JJ Abrams, who was evidently wedded to the idea of Kylo’s redemption. This concept, that Kylo could be redeemed and come back to the light, is part of a broader problem with the two JJ Abrams-led Star Wars films: they’re copying their predecessors. The Force Awakens crossed that invisible line between paying homage to A New Hope and outright ripping it off, and when it comes to many elements in The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo’s redemption included, it’s crossing that same line with Return of the Jedi.

The Rise of Skywalker shoehorned Palpatine into a story that was never meant to be his.

Kylo didn’t need to be redeemed. His storyline took him from wavering dark side devotee, desperately living in his grandfather’s shadow, right up to being Supreme Leader – something even Darth Vader never managed. He overthrew his master and claimed all of that power for himself, and in that moment he committed to the dark path. There should have been no going back from that, and the turnaround makes almost as little sense as General Hux’s betrayal of the First Order. Adam Driver plays Kylo perfectly as angry and entitled. He wouldn’t be a good leader; he lacks all the characteristics. But that didn’t stop him craving the position, and when he saw a chance to turn on Snoke he did; Snoke was little more than a foil for Kylo’s rise. His turnaround in a film which already suffers greatly from pacing issues feels like it comes from nowhere; there’s simply no time for exploration or development of that moment. One second he’s evil dark side “I’ll turn you evil too just you wait and see” Kylo, the next minute he’s back in the light as Ben Solo. There’s no process, no nuance. It’s black-or-white, with the flick-of-a-switch to change sides. Apparently that’s how the Force works: you’re on one side or the other, and switching is easy as pie. That’s despite the originals, prequels, and the first two sequels showing that to absolutely not be the case.

As you know if you’re a regular reader, I like to nitpick. And the biggest nitpick I have regarding the Palpatine plot is this: how the heck did he survive the Death Star blowing up? He was thrown down a deep shaft in the Death Star right before it exploded – and depending on what you read and where, that may have led directly to the station’s main reactor core. But let’s say that he did survive the destruction of the station somehow – why did he wait over thirty years to re-emerge? Why not simply hop on the nearest Star Destroyer, fly back to his palace on Coruscant, and continue to reign as Emperor? Even in Star Wars’ new canon, it took well over a year from the destruction of the Death Star for the Empire’s forces to be finally defeated – ample time for Palpatine to re-emerge and provide the fracturing Imperial forces with much-needed leadership. It would be much easier for Palpatine to have retained control of much of the galaxy and rebuilt his Empire by defeating the rebels than to have to re-conquer the entire galaxy all over again with the First Order.

Staying with Return of the Jedi, are we supposed to believe that this was Palpatine’s “grand plan”? To govern as Emperor for twenty years, get thrown down a reactor shaft, be blown up, wait thirty years while Emperor of nothing, and then return to re-conquer the galaxy with a new fleet? That reads like awful fan-fiction, not to mention that it’s incredibly convoluted, even by the standards of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe – which has thankfully been overwritten.

Palpatine’s survival and re-emergence also deprives Darth Vader of his redemption and makes his sacrifice far less meaningful. At the climax of Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader’s dedication to the Sith and the dark side is finally overcome – the love he has for his son brings him back to the light for the final time, and by killing Palpatine he not only saves his son, but sets the stage for bringing peace and freedom to the galaxy. That’s a heck of a legacy, though it doesn’t negate two decades’ worth of dark side evil. However, The Rise of Skywalker undoes that incredibly powerful ending to Darth Vader’s story. His one great act of redemption now marks little more than the halfway point in Palpatine’s rule instead of its end, and the sacrifice he made turns out to be meaningless in the overall story of the franchise. At best, Vader set back Palpatine’s plans by a few years. At worst, he contributed to making them happen by being – as all the main characters seem to have been – an easily-led pawn in Palpatine’s evil schemes.

Palpatine manipulated the entire story of Star Wars to get to this climax, even growing Snoke in a tank… apparently.

I don’t believe for a moment the argument coming from JJ Abrams and others that Palpatine’s return was “always the plan”. There’s simply no evidence to support this claim in the two previous films. Snoke was the First Order’s Supreme Leader, and there was no indication that he was anything other than the person in charge. Especially in his second appearance in The Last Jedi, Snoke was this trilogy’s version of Palpatine – continuing the theme of JJ Abrams essentially copying characters and story points from the originals. Neither Abrams nor Rian Johnson acknowledged in any way the possibility that Snoke was merely a pawn, a clone, or someone who lacked volition.

The insertion of Palpatine is a classic example of a deus ex machina. JJ Abrams had a problem when he commenced work on The Rise of Skywalker. He needed Kylo Ren to follow Darth Vader’s model and be redeemed, but with Kylo being the Supreme Leader, and with no other villains in the story, the only way to get to that specific endgame was some kind of deus ex machina – dumping a bigger, badder, evil-er villain into the story at the last minute. Even within that unnecessarily limited framework, however, there were other options. Just off the top of my head here are three: Snoke returns in some form (ghost, cloned body, etc), an ancient Sith emerges in some far-flung part of the galaxy, or General Hux stages a First Order coup and claims the title of Supreme Leader for himself.

Palpatine’s return is really the major point that ruined the film. There were plenty of other areas where things went wrong – and don’t worry, we’ll look at all of them – but the fundamental flaw in the story was Palpatine being desperately shoehorned in by a writer/director who had no idea what to do or where to take the story. Even if all of the other issues with The Rise of Skywalker disappeared, Palpatine would still loom over the plot, stinking it up.

So I think we’ve covered in sufficient detail why Palpatine’s return failed so hard. But this wasn’t the only point where the name “Palpatine” caused a problem, as The Rise of Skywalker changes Rey’s past to make her his granddaughter.

The Last Jedi firmly established that Rey didn’t have a lineage and wasn’t descended from one of Star Wars’ established families or characters. There had been internet speculation for two years leading up to The Last Jedi that she would be related to someone – Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jabba the Hutt, etc. – but The Last Jedi made it crystal clear that she wasn’t. This became one of the points of criticism of that film, and one part of the reason for the backlash and division it caused, but overall I actually liked that story point. Like other Star Wars fans, I’d been happy to speculate after 2015’s The Force Awakens who Rey might be related to. But I also had the ability to recognise that these fan theories – convincing though they may be – were just that: fan theories. And the likelihood of any of them being true was pretty low. As a result, when we got the answer to Rey’s family in The Last Jedi I was satisfied – and more than that, I felt it was a good idea.

I know not everyone liked the idea of Rey being unrelated to anyone in Star Wars, so let me just explain briefly why I felt this worked so well. One of Kylo Ren’s most significant points is his background. He sees his lineage as both something he’s desperate to live up to, and something he’s embarrassed about. He wants to be Darth Vader, but he’s living with a weight on his back as the son of Han and Leia – two of the most significant leaders in the Rebellion. He also feels that he has a birthright, that his ancestry being so powerful in the Force gives him some kind of right to rule. By contrast, Rey has none of that. Her baggage stems from not knowing her family, barely remembering them, and being abandoned and alone. There’s an immediate contrast between Rey and Kylo that works incredibly well.

Rey’s lineage – or lack thereof – as established in The Last Jedi is overwritten by The Rise of Skywalker.

Secondly, Rey’s origin in The Last Jedi had a very powerful message – heroes can come from anywhere. Destiny and ancestry don’t matter, what matters is a person’s own character and how they behave. No one has a birthright to anything, least of all power – whether that means power in the sense of ruling or magical power like the use of the Force. Of all of the points in The Last Jedi, this was the one worth keeping. Not only does undoing that require the use of stupidly complicated semantic gymnastics that make Return of the Jedi’s “from a certain point of view” actually seem to make perfect sense, but it undermines the one established fact about Rey’s character and weakens the overall story of Star Wars. Force powers can be inherited, that’s something we already knew going back to the revelation of Darth Vader being Luke’s dad. But JJ Abrams seems to think that means that all Force-sensitive characters – main characters, at least – need to have inherited their powers from another main character. The idea that Rian Johnson had, which was not just present in Rey but also in “broom boy” at the end of The Last Jedi, is that Force sensitivity can manifest in anyone.

The final answer to the question of “is Rey a Mary-Sue character?” seems to be that actually, yeah, she kind of is. I stuck up for Rey for a long time in discussions like that, and especially after The Last Jedi I pointed to her origin as an argument in her favour. I felt that we needed to see her story in full before rushing to judgement, that there would be a valid reason for her innate Force abilities. This reason was at least hinted at in The Last Jedi, with the line: “darkness rises, and light to meet it”, implying that Kylo and Rey’s status as a Force duo was somehow connected to her power. But nope, it turns out it was destiny. Destiny and ancestry. I find the “destiny” excuse to be such an overused trope in fantasy, and it’s disappointing that Star Wars would send its protagonist down that path.

Many people in Star Wars, including Rey actress Daisy Ridley and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, like to talk about Rey being a “strong female character” and use that to make some kind of pseudo-feminist point. But by saying the sole reason for her power is that she’s descended from someone powerful – a powerful man, in this case – she stops being the “anyone” character that young girls can look up to and feel inspired by. It’s no longer the case that any girl can grow up to be as powerful as Rey; she’s the galactic equivalent of a Disney Princess, whose power and authority comes from nothing more than her birthright. The Force is a great metaphor for aristocracy, apparently.

In a way, we can argue that this is a wider issue in Star Wars. The revelation of Vader being Luke’s dad was shocking and truly unexpected in The Empire Strikes Back, but the drawback to that big shocking moment was that Luke’s character changed from being a nobody from a backwater planet who happened to be in the right place at the right time to change the galaxy to someone who was fated and destined to play that role. The Star Wars franchise has leaned excessively into this trope, making practically every character somehow related or tied to every other character – something that happened a lot in the prequels in particular.

The final issue I have with Rey being a descendent of Palpatine is this – it’s fanservice. It’s as if JJ Abrams had read through a bunch of fan theories about Rey and said “hey, this one is popular so let’s use it”. It’s not so much that it’s nonsensical, but that it overwrites a major point from the last instalment. It’s a story beat that was clumsily dumped into the film for the sole purpose of pleasing the vocal minority of Star Wars fans who hated The Last Jedi. It’s corporate revisionism to attempt to placate upset fans, not an organic and natural story point. In fact that sentence could summarise basically the whole plot of The Rise of Skywalker – it’s corporate-mandated cowardice, caving to the angry reaction some fans had to the last film.

How else do we explain the greatly diminished role offered to the one significant character The Last Jedi introduced – Rose Tico? Kelly Marie Tran played the character well in both of her appearances, and in the aftermath of The Last Jedi found herself subjected to a campaign of online hate by the film’s detractors who, being brain-dead morons, could not separate the actress from the character. Some of this hate spilled over into racism and sexism, and Tran has been vocal about how the attacks affected her. For JJ Abrams, Disney, and the Star Wars brand to treat her with such blatant disrespect by writing such a minor blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role for her character is a disgrace. It was an attempt to appease that same group of angry fans by simply giving them what they wanted – the removal of a non-white female character. That was not the initial reason they may have had for disliking Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, but over the course of more than a year of aggressive attacks on the actress through 2018, while The Rise of Skywalker was in development, it became about more than just a character and the way she was written – and that’s something the Star Wars brand should have taken a stand on. Rian Johnson himself had been supportive of Kelly Marie Tran since her appearance in The Last Jedi, but I heard next to nothing from anyone else associated with Star Wars in support of her, even from Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, who likes to talk big about being a “feminist”. It seems that the higher-ups at Disney were content to throw the actress under the bus in an attempt to placate fans who were responsible for some truly vile sexist and racist statements. I guess sexists and racists still buy tickets and merchandise if you give them what they want.

Rose Tico was little more than an extra in The Rise of Skywalker, despite playing a large role in The Last Jedi.

On a somewhat-related note, I’m disappointed that Star Wars missed the opportunity for one of Poe or Finn to be gay. This is less about them being a couple; their bromance is a fun dynamic and I don’t think it needed to “evolve”. But I think we saw enough hints from the time they spent together in The Force Awakens that either of them could have been gay. Rose Tico complicates that particular plot point for Finn, but in The Rise of Skywalker, Poe is reunited with an old flame – and this new character was the perfect opportunity, as making them male instead of female would have changed nothing in the story. I don’t like to be all about “identity politics”, but it feels as though the franchise missed an open goal. Representation of LGBT+ people in all forms of media and entertainment is streets ahead of where it used to be. In Star Trek: Discovery, for example, we have a gay couple in Stamets and Culber. I don’t think it’s “absolutely necessary” for Star Wars to follow suit, but I’m left wondering why they didn’t. Was it another attempt to placate sections of the audience, particularly in less-tolerant parts of the world? We already know that one minuscule section of the film showing a same-sex kiss was censored in some markets. Did JJ Abrams and/or Disney want to make Poe gay but backed down in the face of opposition and lost revenue? I can’t help but wonder.

Let’s move on and look at a couple of the visual effects and aesthetic choices I felt didn’t work. Modern Star Wars films have, generally speaking, enjoyed great visuals, and as I mentioned already, those in The Rise of Skywalker were good on the whole. But there were some missteps. Firstly, the decision for Palpatine’s face to be illuminated by the flickering of lightning worked well in his first appearance to keep his face hidden until the right moment. Lightning for a villain is clichéd, but that doesn’t even matter when compared to the failure of the Palpatine plot overall. But the overuse of this lightning effect for practically all of Palpatine’s scenes rendered any impact it could’ve had completely impotent, and detracted from the look. In short, it was a cliché idea to begin with and it was thoroughly done to death.

Next, the Sith assassin’s dagger. For such an important macguffin, one that the characters spent a lot of time searching for then examining, it looked crap. It was made of foam-rubber or some other non-metal material, and that fact was painfully obvious on screen. Rather than looking like a dangerous fantasy-inspired weapon it looked like a cheap child’s toy. For one of The Rise of Skywalker’s main props that simply shouldn’t have happened, and if it looked that bad on camera then some digital effects should have been applied in post-production to improve its look.

A Stormtrooper holding the Sith Dagger macguffin.

We also need to talk about the scenes involving Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. Fisher passed away in 2016 – a year before The Last Jedi was released – and her role in this film was always going to be a hurdle for JJ Abrams to overcome. Tying into the theme of the trilogy overall lacking any sense of leadership and direction – which I discussed in more detail in a previous article that you can find by clicking or tapping here – Leia’s role needed to be addressed. There was a year in which to adjust, in a relatively minor way, The Last Jedi in order to bring her role in the franchise to a different end. Instead, Kennedy and Johnson opted to leave her role untouched in that film, despite the opportunity for a more heroic death presenting itself and despite the fact that there was scant leftover footage for The Rise of Skywalker to incorporate. As a result, the scenes with Leia are clumsy at best, nonsensical at worst, and the fact that they’re lifted from a different film is painfully obvious. While having Leia die off-screen would have been difficult too, starting the film with her funeral and with every character talking about her could have been an option and I’m sure a suitably heroic tale of how she came to pass away could have been written. Look at how Star Trek Beyond paid homage to Leonard Nimoy’s character of Spock for a smaller-scale version of the kind of thing I mean.

Leia’s actual death in the film was a poor shadow of Luke’s in The Last Jedi. Luke appeared to Kylo in a vision, standing up to the First Order to buy time for the Resistance to escape. Leia simply called his name – once – didn’t appear in any kind of visual form, didn’t say anything other than his name, and then died. Compared to other options for Leia’s death, this was a let-down. My first choice would have been to rework The Last Jedi to see Leia killed off during the space battle. There was a pitch-perfect scene included in that film which would have allowed her a death that was dramatic, impactful, and that mattered. The second-best option would have been for Leia to have died off-screen and for her brief role as Rey’s Jedi trainer to have fallen to Luke – perhaps with the explanation that Leia had trained Rey in the intervening years off-screen. And if JJ Abrams was wedded to the idea of Leia reaching out to Kylo, that could have been included early in the film, or in flashback form.

While I understand that there was a desire on the filmmakers’ part to treat Leia and Carrie Fisher with respect, they had ample time from her death in 2016 to find a way to rework the story to get around it. Luke’s death in The Last Jedi could have been cut with minimal effort so that Leia died and Luke survived to train Rey. Or if Luke had to die in The Last Jedi his inevitable Force ghost could have been introduced far earlier in The Rise of Skywalker to allow for Leia to die off-screen and be commemorated with enough time left over for Luke to fill her shoes as Rey’s trainer.

There’s no escaping the awkwardness of Leia’s scenes in The Rise of Skywalker, unfortunately. In 2019 and 2020 we might forgive that as the memory of Fisher’s passing is still recent. But The Rise of Skywalker will not age well, and these scenes will look even worse in the years to come – not that I’m in any hurry to rewatch the film, of course.

General Hux’s role in The Rise of Skywalker goes completely against his character as established in the previous two films. Hux was one of two surviving named villains as of the end of The Last Jedi. Captain Phasma had been thoroughly wasted in both of her appearances, of course, and with Snoke dead only Kylo and Hux remained. Domnhall Gleeson played the role perfectly, as he had done in both previous entries, but the decision for Hux to turn on Kylo and spy for the rebels wasn’t a clever subversion, it was ham-fisted and indicative of the fact that the plot couldn’t be made to work with the available characters. JJ Abrams needed a spy in the First Order for story reasons, and with no one else available, it had to be Hux.

Hux’s decision to switch sides made no sense.

Hux had the potential to be a far more interesting villain. I already proposed the idea that he could have staged a coup against Kylo, thanks to the loyalty he commanded from his forces. That was one option. But Hux was a dyed-in-the-wool First Order zealot, so the idea that he, of all people, would change sides simply because he doesn’t like Kylo is just stupid. Illogical and stupid.

The climactic battle between Palpatine’s Sith armada and the rebels doesn’t make sense, and the story behind it doesn’t survive even a brief first glance, let alone a deeper examination. While some of these points stray into nitpicky territory, taken as a whole the entire sequence is one big failure.

I can believe, in the context of a fictional universe, that certain starships may be built that require an external guidance system. It’s stupid, and no other ship in Star Wars to date has had that limitation, but as a basic concept it’s not wholly unbelievable. But given that no other ship in Star Wars has been so limited, why would Palpatine make that decision? Giving the entire battlefleet a crippling limitation is stupid, and while it may be something that could happen, it’s not a mistake someone like Palpatine would be likely to make. The line that the ships “can’t tell which way is up” is similarly ridiculous, because all they’d have to do is go up… the opposite direction to the planet’s surface. They could figure that out by looking out a window if they had to.

This dumb storyline was included to allow Palpatine’s fleet to look large and thus visually impressive, especially in the trailers and other pre-release marketing, but without making it too powerful. Giving the ships an artificial and unnecessary limitation opened the window for the rebels to defeat them, allowing JJ Abrams to write scenes for Poe, Finn, and others that harkened back to A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. If the fleet were utterly invincible, then of course the story would not have been able to come to a happy ending. But good stories find ways for their protagonists to prevail without making stupid choices and putting them up against cardboard cut-out opposition.

The huge Star Destroyer fleet looked impressive, but made no sense and was easily defeated.

Next, we have the decision to have Finn and his group of rebels land on the outer hull of one of the ships. This was included solely for the purpose of looking visually “cool”, and for someone solely interested in brainless action I guess it did for a few seconds. But thinking about it, even for just a brief moment, it becomes obvious that all the starship would have to do to to get rid of them is… move. The smallest move in almost any direction would have sent them tumbling, and rolling or rotating the ship would have meant they’d have all fallen to their deaths. The fact that no one on the bridge of the ship considered that option is not credible.

Equipping all of the ships with Death Star cannons makes a degree of sense, and as an in-universe concept the idea that the technology could be manufactured on that scale isn’t stupid. But again, as with the number of ships this is something which seems impressive for all of ten seconds, but quickly fizzles out without the weapons causing major damage or having much of an impact on the plot. Everything about the fleet, from the scale of it to the weaponry it’s equipped with is impressive-looking but ultimately lacking in depth. It’s shallow and show-offy but without anything substantial to back it up.

One thing from the battle that I would have wanted to see is how Lando managed to rally people from across the galaxy to the rebels’ cause – especially considering Leia’s failure to do so at the end of The Last Jedi. Was it Lando’s winning personality that convinced everyone? Was it the threat of Palpatine? How did he bring together so many people in such a short span of time, starting from nowhere? How did he even know he needed to, or where to send them? This could be a whole film in itself – and would be far more interesting than The Rise of Skywalker.

Finally, and this ties into Palpatine’s role in the film in general, is why Palpatine broadcast his intentions to the galaxy before his fleet was ready or even in position to be ready. All that did was allow his enemies the opportunity to organise – which is what we see them do for the entire film. As I’ve already noted, this robs the characters of agency in the story as all they do for the entire film is scramble to respond to Palpatine’s threat. But why make the threat now? Why not wait 24 hours until his fleet had got into position – especially considering the inbuilt weakness in the fleet that made them vulnerable at their home base? It’s a storyline written to look tense and dramatic on the surface, but without any depth to it to pay off the tension and drama. It was designed in such a way as to look like a desperate last stand, but with an obvious path to victory for the rebels.

The “Rey Skywalker” scene at the end of the film was widely mocked online and became a meme.

One of the few original elements present in The Rise of Skywalker was the concept of using the Force to heal wounds and even revive someone who had died or was close to death. This power has been present in some Star Wars video games – where it makes a certain kind of sense as an in-game mechanic – but was new to the films. And it opens a lot of plot holes for other films in the series. If the Force can be used to heal and even revive the dead, how do we account for the death of characters like Qui-Gon Jinn, or even Darth Vader? And why would Anakin have been so terrified of his wife suffering complications in childbirth if the ability to heal even life-ending injuries was possible through the Force? If The Rise of Skywalker were a new and original film it would have worked, but as the ninth part of a series it didn’t.

The Last Jedi shook up the story of the sequel trilogy, and whether we like that or not – and I respect that there are strong feelings on both sides – it narrowed down the choices for where The Rise of Skywalker could go. However, JJ Abrams decided not only to ignore large parts of the second film in the trilogy, he set out to actively overwrite them. Whether this is because of the reaction to The Last Jedi or because Abrams couldn’t detach himself from his own version of the story isn’t clear – perhaps a combination of the two things.

Where The Last Jedi tried to take Star Wars in a different thematic direction, The Rise of Skywalker drags it back, kicking and screaming, and tries to remake Return of the Jedi using story threads that are no longer suited for that purpose. Unfortunately the story JJ Abrams wanted to tell couldn’t be crammed into that mould, and what results is a horrible mess. The clumsy and stupid insertion of Palpatine into a story that was never his ruins the entire film, and that’s without accounting for the many other storytelling failures. Furthermore, Abrams’ need for The Rise of Skywalker to overwrite parts of The Last Jedi with his own ideas about what could’ve happened to the characters and story in the previous entry means that The Rise of Skywalker feels like two films condensed into one – it’s trying to tell parts two and three of the sequel trilogy, but in the runtime of a single film. As a result, it feels rushed and incredibly poorly-paced. This is not helped by the action supposedly taking place over a single 24-hour period for the most part.

Someone far wittier than I wrote in a review of The Rise of Skywalker when it was still in cinemas that it feels less like a feature film than a collection of Vines or TikTok videos set in the Star Wars universe, and that for a younger generation, raised on six-second video clips, maybe the manic pace and choppy editing will just seem natural. I can’t say I disagree when it comes to the pacing and editing. The film rushes from point to point and from character to character with no time for the audience to digest anything that happens. It also suffers from the longstanding Star Wars problem of needing new characters and character variants to turn into merchandise. The inclusion of some of these characters complicates and confuses the plot, and pads out a story that needed no padding whatsoever in light of the decision to overwrite parts of The Last Jedi. But how else do we explain “Sith Troopers”? They’re just red Stormtroopers. Or Poe’s girlfriend? Two words: action figures.

Sith Troopers were in The Rise of Skywalker to sell action figures.

When the reaction to The Last Jedi was so mixed and some people were angry and upset, I was glad that I hadn’t fallen out of love with the rejuvenated Star Wars. I hoped that The Rise of Skywalker would bring most of those people back into the fold and that with The Mandalorian coming on Disney+, there would be great Star Wars content to come for a long time. I was wrong, and I now have a not dissimilar reaction to that felt by many fans two years ago. However, one bad film does not ruin a franchise, and as much as I dislike The Rise of Skywalker (and was bored to tears by the snore-fest that was The Mandalorian) I remain hopeful of better projects to come. Rogue One was one of my favourite films of all-time, and I even picked it for my top film of the 2010s when I put together a list back in December – you can find that list by clicking or tapping here, by the way. So there is still hope within the franchise and the brand – Star Wars can be good. But The Rise of Skywalker is not good. It is not good at all.

I wrote parts of this article a few weeks ago, the same day I watched the film. But because it was something I genuinely did not enjoy I found writing this review to be hard-going, and as a result it slipped to the bottom of my writing pile and it’s taken several attempts to get it finished. I don’t like tearing down a film like this, especially in a franchise like Star Wars that I do generally enjoy. But honestly, not since I watched The Phantom Menace have I come away from a Star Wars film so deeply disappointed. I’m surprised that a big-budget film could be this bad – and that the trilogy it wraps up could have been constructed so poorly by a major corporation and a group of accomplished filmmakers. It beggars belief that they messed up this badly.

All that being said, I will happily trek back to Star Wars when the next big release is ready, hopeful to see something better and more exciting than The Rise of Skywalker. And I’m happy to rewatch The Last Jedi time and again, as I feel that film really goes above and beyond to show what Star Wars can be when it’s not bogged down in overused tropes and sad clichés.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is out now on DVD and Blu-ray and may be available to stream on Disney+ (if not it will be soon, I didn’t bother to check). The Star Wars brand – including The Rise of Skywalker and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The biggest problem with the Star Wars sequels

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for all three films in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, including The Rise of Skywalker.

As I’ve covered already here on the blog, reviews for the final part of the Star Wars sequel trilogy – The Rise of Skywalkerare mixed. What this unfortunately means, at least in the short-term, is that the divisiveness in the fanbase and in online fan communities, as well as a lot of vile anti-Disney hate, will continue. The best opportunity to bring fans back together was wasted with The Rise of Skywalker, which inexplicably brings back Emperor Palpatine, throwing up issues not just for this trilogy, but for the original films too.

I don’t want to get into all of that right now, as I’ll save my opinions on The Rise of Skywalker itself for when I get around to a full review. This article intends to address the production side of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and the clear issues that have been present.

Poster for The Force Awakens (2015)

Despite what George Lucas subsequently claimed, 1977’s Star Wars was a one-off film. It wasn’t “Episode IV” when it was released, it was a standalone story – albeit one that was careful to leave the door cracked slightly open to allow for the possibility of a sequel. The fact that the original trilogy wasn’t a planned story is noticeable – not least in the haphazard approach to the family ties between Vader, Luke, and Leia. A New Hope (as we’ll have to call it to avoid confusion) is a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end. If there had only ever been one Star Wars film, it would still be a complete story. The two sequels follow on from A New Hope, but are a second self-contained story; a duology, if you will.

In 1977 that made perfect sense – there was no guarantee that A New Hope would be a success, so dedicating extra time and money to writing sequels before the original was even a proven earner would have been wasteful. Not to mention that if the story had been written as part one of three, ending without wrapping up its story, and then for production reasons parts two and three were never made, A New Hope would be even more of a failure that if it were a standalone film that flopped. In short, in 1977 it wasn’t anyone’s intention to make a trilogy of films, and the fact that The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were able to be made at all was purely on the back of the success of A New Hope and the story it told.

Fast-forward to 2012, when Disney bought Lucasfilm – and with it, the rights to the Star Wars franchise. The intention, as stated by Disney at the time and many, many times subsequently, was to make a new trilogy of films. Not one new film with the possibility to make others, but a trilogy of three films to serve as a sequel to the originals.

It’s apparent from the ending of The Force Awakens that it wasn’t ever intended to be a one-shot story. As Rey finally travels to Ahch-To and meets Luke, she extends her hand and offers him his father’s lightsaber. And then the film ends with the two of them standing on the cliffside – as close to a “cliffhanger” as it’s possible to get without one of them literally hanging from that cliff! This moment set up a sequel, the second part of the planned trilogy.

Disney and Lucasfilm went about writing this trilogy in the worst possible way. They brought in three different writers and directors – later reduced to two when Colin Trevorrow left the project that ultimately became The Rise of Skywalker – and each was essentially given free rein to tell whatever story they wanted, regardless of how well it worked as one part of a larger overall story. JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson simply didn’t work together on their stories – that’s “stories” in the plural, where it should have been two parts of one single story.

The use of different directors for each film is not, in itself, an issue. Even the original trilogy had three different directors. Television series do this all the time, and as long as the story is good there can even be a benefit to having different directors, as each brings their own style and insight. In Game of Thrones, for example, some directors became renowned for their battles, and others for quieter, character-driven stories. Splitting up the directing duties worked well in countless other franchises, so why not in Star Wars too?

Promo poster for 2017’s The Last Jedi

The fundamental problem is that there was no story for the directors to work from – or if there was, they were allowed to ignore it entirely.

Between 2012, when the Lucasfilm deal was announced, and the release of the film that ultimately became The Force Awakens, there needed to be one writer – or a team of writers – planning out in excruciating detail what the story of the trilogy would be. They needed to consider which characters were coming back – obviously Han, Luke, and Leia were, but who else? Then they needed to consider what was happening in the galaxy – we all assumed the Empire had died with Palpatine, but what happened next?

A lot of Disney sequels (the direct-to-video kind) have the same basic problem: how do you tell an interesting and engaging story after “happily ever after” – without completely undoing the happy ending? This is the problem Star Wars was facing: the Emperor was dead, the Death Stars destroyed, and as of the end of Return of the Jedi it looked like we were on course for a Rebel victory. So, if the Rebels did win and managed to restore democratic government to the galaxy, and both of the Sith Lords (Vader and Palpatine) had died, where was the threat, drama, and tension going to come from in order to drive the new trilogy of films?

This was the fundamental question. What came after the happy ending? And then how could that be spun out into a three-film story arc that would be as dramatic, as tense, and as exciting as the originals?

The answer came from JJ Abrams as he set to work on The Force Awakens – after the Empire fell, the First Order rose from its ashes, and was trying to overthrow the New Republic. They had legions of Stormtroopers, they had a planet-killing superweapon, and they had a mysterious Dark Side user as their Supreme Leader, who had a helmet-wearing Dark Side apprentice. A little derivative, perhaps, but not bad. After the disappointment of the prequels a decade prior (see my last article for my thoughts on that series) a return to what made Star Wars great seemed like a solid idea. It was, at the very least, a plausible and perfectly reasonable way to approach the new trilogy.

Except this was how JJ Abrams approached The Force Awakens; it wasn’t how Disney and Lucasfilm were approaching the whole trilogy. Rian Johnson came along and decided that Star Wars needed to go in a bold new direction. Instead of Rey being related to Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi, she was nobody, related to no one. Instead of Kylo Ren being on a path to redemption like his grandfather, he chose to commit to the Dark Side and claim for himself total power. And instead of Snoke being as manipulative and cunning as Emperor Palpatine, he was cut down by his apprentice before he could achieve his goals. Bold. New. Different. And a great way for the franchise to go to stay relevant and exciting.

BB-8 on a promo poster for The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Both concepts – JJ Abrams’ idea of retelling the “greatest hits” of Star Wars, and Rian Johnson’s idea to shake up the franchise and take it to wholly new thematic places – have merit. But they’re about as far apart as it’s possible to be.

What that means is that Disney and Lucasfilm needed to pick one style or the other. Before The Force Awakens was fully in production, Rian Johnson had been approached to make The Last Jedi and will have, at the very least, submitted some kind of story outline or discussed the basic premise and concept he had in mind. There was still time, even in mid-2014, to change direction and go down the Rian Johnson route if Disney and Lucasfilm wanted to do so. But if they were happy with the JJ Abrams approach, and wanted the sequels to essentially re-tell the original trilogy, then they needed to commit to that approach instead.

Trying to do both has resulted in the sequel trilogy being a mess. It hasn’t had any direction to its story, and at a fundamental level it hasn’t even known what kind of story it was supposed to be telling. That is a significant problem that has hampered it, and one that was entirely avoidable if basic film production and storytelling rules had been followed.

This has been made worse and more noticeable by JJ Abrams returning for the final film in the series. If someone else – literally anyone else – had made their version of The Rise of Skywalker, perhaps the trilogy would have felt like a bit of a mixed bag; a collection of three distinct films. But because JJ Abrams came back and was allowed to essentially ignore the plot of The Last Jedi – even overwriting large parts of it – the resulting trilogy has a very weird feel where two films take one approach, but the middle part is completely different. And whatever one’s opinions on The Last Jedi may have been when it was released, the overall trilogy is not served by having films overwrite one another.

When there are a total of three films to tell a story, with a total runtime of seven hours, give or take, there just isn’t time for one film to retcon and overwrite its predecessor. The tonal shift is incredibly jarring too, as the trilogy goes from “remember the greatest hits of Star Wars?” to “I bet you didn’t see that coming!” – and then back again. A consistent tone is just as important as a consistent story – perhaps even more so. And as it’s clear that the two writers and directors had such contradictory visions for where to take the franchise, a decision had to be made as to which one to go with.

The first promotional poster for 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker

The fact that no such decision was made, and production on the films was allowed to proceed in this manner ultimately rests with the executives at Disney, who will have had the final say on such things. I guess I just don’t understand how people who have worked in this industry – very successfully – for decades would have failed to realise that they had a problem on their hands. Organising the trilogy along these lines should simply have never happened. I don’t think it’s fair to blame either JJ Abrams or Rian Johnson – because both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are great films as standalone pieces. In fact I think as time goes by, The Last Jedi in particular will be held up as a great example of sci-fi filmmaking and of the Star Wars franchise in general. But you can’t blame storytellers for telling the stories that they wanted, especially when they had almost unlimited resources thrown their way. The guidance and the control over their stories had to come from someone higher up, and it was unfortunately absent.

If there had been a story treatment written for the trilogy, then each director would have been constrained by that. Perhaps someone like Rian Johnson might’ve decided not to jump on board if he had to tell a JJ Abrams-style story, and vice versa.

But I’d have liked to see it go even further. The most successful film trilogy of recent years, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, was produced and shot back-to-back. One team was in control for the entire production, and the films were then released over a three-year period. There’s absolutely no reason why Star Wars couldn’t have emulated this successful formula. By appointing someone to be in overall creative control, there would have still been the option to have three different directors and different scriptwriters for each film, but the production would have been smoother.

Shooting the films back-to-back would have also meant that Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016 wouldn’t have been an issue for The Rise of Skywalker to have to get around. This is purely hindsight, because no one would have predicted that she would have passed away before the trilogy was complete, but it has nevertheless been a production issue. With the death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens and the death of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, Fisher’s Princess/General Leia was the last remaining of the original core characters. And unfortunately the scant footage that was left on the cutting room floor from the first two films was nowhere near enough to sculpt the kind of major role destined for her in The Rise of Skywalker – leading to some clumsy scenes in that film. Again though, this isn’t a reason why shooting all three films at once should have happened, it’s instead a positive consequence of doing so because of what happened out here in the real world.

This kind of production would have been more expensive initially, because the cost of producing all three films would have to be paid up-front. But it does offer advantages. Firstly, some costs would be lower – due to not having the expense of setting up production three times. Secondly, and most importantly from an audience point of view, the story and scripts could be adjusted if necessary. If something didn’t seem to be working or making sense it could be cut or reworked, to the ultimate benefit of the story of all three films.

Theatrical release poster for The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Whether that option was ever seriously considered, or whether it was always the case that the three films would be produced wholly separately isn’t known. But I think that the way the sequel trilogy turned out is a great argument for producing all films in a planned series at once. In that sense, its ultimate purpose may be to serve as a warning of how not to approach filmmaking in future.

At the end of the day, the two competing visions at the core of the Star Wars sequels – JJ Abrams’ idea to re-tell Star Wars “greatest hits”, and Rian Johnson’s approach, trying to take the franchise to new and unexpected places – have merit, and each could have been spun out into a creditable series of films. Both concepts actually produced decent standalone pieces of cinema. But they completely failed to gel together and produce a cohesive story.

When film historians look back on the sequels, they will say that they managed to avoid many of the missteps that plagued the prequels, and that they are a much more watchable and enjoyable set of films as a result. What the sequel trilogy is not, however, is a single narrative. And it lacks many of the basic points that a story should have to reach the heights that the franchise aims for.

How are Rey, Finn, and Poe significantly different by the end of The Rise of Skywalker than they were at the beginning of The Force Awakens? Rey has learned the truth of her parents – after a deliberate false start. Finn… quit the First Order. But he did that in The Force Awakens and as a character hasn’t changed any since. Poe is still Poe… he’s a good pilot and a leadership figure. But none of them learned major lessons, suffered significant defeats, or appear to have grown. And from the original characters, Han was murdered by his son, and Luke and Leia both died performing the same Force power. Han had actually wholly regressed as a character by The Force Awakens, abandoning his family and the cause he’d fought for to return to being a smuggler. Leia was fundamentally no different than the last time we’d seen her, taking a leadership role in the new rebellion. Luke is the only one of the three to have had significant character development – all of which happened off-screen. He tried to raise a new generation of Jedi, and fell into a deep depression when he failed.

I know some fans were upset by Luke’s depiction in The Last Jedi, and I’d like to address that one day in a standalone piece as there’s too much to cover here.

But back to the characters – Kylo Ren is the only one of the new characters who goes through any significant arc. And even this is blighted by the different approaches from the different writers/directors. In The Last Jedi, after killing his father in the previous film he then turns on his master, Snoke, and kills him too, claiming the mantle of Supreme Leader for himself. He had made a commitment to the Dark Side and seemed beyond redemption, only to be redeemed anyway in the next film.

The sequel trilogy hasn’t really known whose story it was telling. The prequels were Anakin’s story. The originals were Luke’s story. And the sequels can be viewed as both Rey’s story and Kylo’s, but also as Palpatine’s thanks to his inclusion in The Rise of Skywalker and the revelation that he’s been manipulating everything and everyone from the beginning. For me this deus ex machina fails completely as any kind of passable story point. But given that it’s in there, it changes the whole nature of the trilogy, and of the “Skywalker Saga” as a whole. It should have almost certainly been titled the “Palpatine Saga” given his role in the story.

The only way to have avoided these pitfalls would have been an entirely different approach beginning immediately after Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012. By the time they’d decided to essentially tell three independent stories and string them together, the damage was done and it’s taken till now for the extent of it to be realised. JJ Abrams, given his “mystery box” style of crafting stories was always the wrong choice to helm this series. He was the wrong choice to tell the first part of a story because he offered a barebones setup with no forward plan, and he was the wrong choice to bring in to conclude it for the same reason. Rian Johnson, for all the criticism that came his way, made a brilliant film. But The Last Jedi only really works as a standalone piece, bookended as it now is by two JJ Abrams films.

Ultimately, responsibility lies with the senior executives who chose this approach. And while it might be tempting to say that Rian Johnson derailed the trilogy by taking the middle film in such a different direction, if there had been someone in overall creative control, that either wouldn’t have happened, or it would have happened in such a way that the final film could have followed on from its conclusion and still felt natural. As things stand today, the trilogy is a mess. It’s a mess in terms of story, and in terms of tone, and unfortunately it’s in a position similar to The Hobbit from the last decade – in that it’s considered mediocre at best, and not really a worthy successor to a franchise as iconic as Star Wars.

The Mandalorian – despite how I personally felt about it – has been received far better. As was Rogue One. So there is still life in the franchise thanks to these other projects, and as we move forward there will be the Obi-Wan Kenobi series and at least one new series of films which I hope will be more successful. Unlike with the prequels I’m happy to rewatch the sequels because, as I keep saying, they do make for great standalone films. But as a series, and as one single, cohesive story, they didn’t hit the mark.

The Star Wars franchise is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.