Ten great things about Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, including the prequels, original trilogy, and sequels.

Happy Star Wars Day! Today is the 4th of May – or as they say in America, May the 4th. So May the 4th be with you! Today is a day for positivity in the Star Wars fan community, so I thought it could be fun to take a look at a few of my favourite things from The Last Jedi. It goes without saying that The Last Jedi was a divisive film among Star Wars fans. However, it was one I generally enjoyed. It wasn’t “perfect,” and I don’t think it hit all of the high notes that it was aiming for, but I found it to be enjoyable.

This article isn’t an attack on anyone else’s position or opinion! If you don’t like The Last Jedi or some of the things we’re going to discuss, that’s totally okay. Practically everything in cinema is subjective, not objective, and there’s a range of opinions on practically every film. Because today is about celebrating Star Wars, I wanted to pick out some of the things that I liked from the film and talk about why they worked well for me. If you want to see how critical I can be of Star Wars… check out my reviews of The Rise of Skywalker or The Mandalorian Season 2!

Yoda in The Last Jedi.

With all of that out of the way, a brief introduction is in order, I think! Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released theatrically in the UK on the 14th of December 2017 – but I didn’t see it until a few months later in the Spring of 2018. My health is poor, and things like trips to the cinema are no longer practical for me, unfortunately. By the time I got around to seeing the film I’d already heard the outcry from some in the Star Wars fandom, and I set my expectations pretty low for what seemed to be a divisive film. Suffice to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that I enjoyed a lot more than I’d been expecting.

After The Force Awakens had played it very safe two years earlier, The Last Jedi attempted to take Star Wars in a very different direction. Rather than repeating what the original trilogy had done, the film took its characters to completely different thematic places, introduced new sub-plots, and potentially set up the sequel trilogy for a radically different ending. The Rise of Skywalker tried to undo some of the most significant points from The Last Jedi, which was a real shame, but taken on their own merit many of these points succeed. For me, The Last Jedi is the high-water mark of the sequel trilogy, and it’s a film that I firmly believe will be considered much more favourably in years to come. Just look at how a new generation of fans has come to celebrate the once-panned prequel trilogy; The Last Jedi’s best days may lie ahead.

So let’s get started on my list! I’ve picked ten things that I admire about The Last Jedi or feel that the film did well. They’re listed below in no particular order.

Number 1:
A subtle and unexpected Rogue One connection.

Jyn Erso in Rogue One.

How was the First Order able to track the Resistance’s fleet while they were in hyperspace? This was a story point that some fans who weren’t paying very close attention didn’t like – but it was actually something that had been set up a year earlier. Rogue One, which was released in 2016, saw Jyn Erso and a rag-tag crew steal the plans to the Death Star in the days immediately prior to A New Hope. Part of their mission saw them travel to the planet of Scarif, where the plans were kept at an Imperial facility.

While looking for the Death Star plans in amongst other Imperial data tapes, Jyn found a record of the Empire’s research into hyperspace tracking. The scene was very brief, with the data tape quickly being discarded in the rush to secure the Death Star plans – but it was a great moment of connection between two disparate parts of the Star Wars franchise!

Jyn and Cassian with the Death Star plans.

Considering that Rogue One and The Last Jedi were set decades apart, these moments of connection are incredibly helpful to bind modern Star Wars together. Far from being just a throwaway line, the scene in Rogue One established that hyperspace tracking technology was something being actively researched by the Empire – while the destruction of the Imperial facility on Scarif provides a convenient narrative excuse for why it wasn’t successfully rolled out during the era of the original films.

It can be an incredibly difficult task to thread the needle like this; to insert a story element in between the pieces of the story that we already know. But Rogue One and The Last Jedi did this perfectly. If only other story beats in the sequel trilogy had this much forethought and this much setup!

Number 2:
Rey is related to nobody.

Rey learned a harsh truth.

For two years leading up to The Last Jedi, speculation was rife in the Star Wars fan community about who Rey was. Many fans concocted elaborate theories suggesting that she was the daughter or granddaughter of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Emperor Palpatine, and other Force-wielding characters. But when it was revealed in The Last Jedi that none of those things were true, it was a perfectly-executed twist.

Rey being “no one” isn’t just great because it’s a subversion or because it ignores some pretty mediocre fan theories – it works because it has something important to say. The Force can manifest in anyone, and just because that person comes from a humble background it doesn’t mean that they can’t be important. This is the story that the original Star Wars film tried to tell: Luke was the farm boy from an unimportant backwater world who went on to save the galaxy. That story was muddied by the decision to create a connection to Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, and completely erased by the time talk of prophecy and “chosen ones” entered the equation.

Kylo explained to Rey that her parents were “no one.”

In that sense, Rey’s parents being no one important and no one familiar took Star Wars back to a narrative space that it hadn’t occupied since 1977. It established that its hero truly could be anybody, that destiny and ancestry don’t matter half as much as we might’ve thought. I found that message to be incredibly uplifting and inspiring, and the idea that anyone could be a hero or do great things without needing to be related to someone important is a message that resonated. In a franchise that has been so thoroughly dominated by a handful of individuals and a single family, it was a narrative worth including.

It also presented Rey in stark contrast to Kylo Ren. Both characters were defined by their family, but in different ways. Rey waited for her parents believing they’d come back for her, only to learn that they didn’t care about her at all – they sold her at the first opportunity. Kylo was both proud of his relationship to Darth Vader and ashamed of the role that his parents played in the Rebellion. Kylo came from Rebel royalty as the son of Han and Leia, but had succumbed to the temptation of the Dark Side and wanted to dominate the galaxy. In contrast, Rey came from nowhere and wanted to save it.

Rey using the Force at the film’s climax.

Rey’s struggle wasn’t to live up to some legacy from Luke or Obi-Wan, nor to rebel against a darker ancestor like Palpatine, but to chart her own path – a new path for herself, for the Resistance, for the Jedi, and for the Star Wars franchise. Rey represented the new against the old, the people against the aristocratic elite, and an unexpected journey for the protagonist of the latest chapter of the long-running saga.

I adored this about Rey. It took her on an unpredictable and open-ended journey, threw out of the window outdated notions of legacy and destiny, but at the same time it returned Star Wars to a familiar place; a place it hadn’t been since Darth Vader and Luke were retconned to be father and son. Had this aspect of Rey’s character been retained, I think the sequel trilogy as a whole could’ve been far more interesting.

Number 3:
Hyperspace ramming.

The aftermath of hyperspace ramming.

In the very first Star Wars film, Han Solo gave us a decent explanation for why travelling through hyperspace was so dangerous. “Without precise calculations,” he told Luke, “we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova.” Hyperspace, at least according to Han Solo, did not somehow transport ships to another dimension; they could still interact with the rest of the galaxy – with potentially deadly consequences!

This was elaborated on by the old Expanded Universe which explained that charting new hyperspace routes was incredibly dangerous for precisely the same reason: it’s very easy to crash into a star, a planet, or even another starship. So hyperspace ramming has always been possible in Star Wars – even if no one thought of it before Admiral Holdo!

Admiral Holdo.

Hyperspace ramming is the kind of desperate, last-ditch manoeuvre that no one would dare to try unless there weren’t any other options. Here in the real world, aircraft had been around for decades before anyone thought of inventing the kamikaze suicide attack, so I can absolutely believe that hyperspace ramming was either totally new in the Star Wars universe or hadn’t been attempted in hundreds or thousands of years. Nothing about it “broke” continuity, and as stated it was perfectly in line with what Han Solo had told us about travelling through hyperspace all the way back at the beginning of the franchise!

The criticisms of hyperspace ramming felt very nitpicky to me, and I think it’s something that came about because of how other aspects of the film landed for some fans. If hyperspace ramming had made its debut in The Mandalorian, for example, where most fans seem to have been having a good time, I think it would’ve generated a lot less anger!

Holdo accelerates her ship to hyperspeed.

I’m always a sucker for the “doomed last stand” concept in fiction, and the entire hyperspace ramming sequence was executed incredibly well. Admiral Holdo managed to be stoic and brave in the face of death, making the ultimate sacrifice to allow her friends to escape and to give the Resistance a fighting chance.

The cinematography and visual effects used to bring it to life were outstanding, too, and the hyperspace ramming sequence has to be one of the absolute best in all of Star Wars for me. The use of silence at the moment of impact was so incredibly poignant – in part because silence is used so sparingly across the franchise. The CGI animation used to bring to life the crash and its aftermath was likewise fantastic.

Number 4:
Kylo Ren seizes power.

Kylo Ren at the moment of his coup.

The Force Awakens seemed to be setting up Kylo Ren as the “new Darth Vader” – an evil but ultimately redeemable villain. The Last Jedi chose to avoid recycling that character trope and set Kylo on his own path, a path that would lead him to become the Supreme Leader of the First Order. By embracing the darkness within him and extinguishing the pull to the light that he’d been feeling, Kylo Ren cemented his position as the primary antagonist of the sequel trilogy.

After being bullied and belittled by Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo’s hatred for his master had been building. Blamed unfairly for the loss of Starkiller Base and Rey’s escape, Kylo nursed a grudge against Snoke for practically the whole film, culminating in him killing him in one of the film’s most shocking sequences.

The death of Snoke.

Kylo killing Snoke was not an empty subversion, designed for shock value and nothing else. It was a masterstroke of writing, one that sought to take Star Wars and the film’s main characters to entirely different thematic places than either the prequels or original trilogy had. In the span of a few minutes it seemed that Rey had been able to get through to Kylo, convincing him to betray the First Order… but then that idea was pulled away as Kylo saw his chance to seize power.

Turning the idea of “reaching out” on its head, it was Kylo who asked Rey to join him, to rule the galaxy at his side. Rather than returning to the light, Kylo had taken a massive leap further into the dark – going so far, surely, as to never be able to come back. With Snoke out of the picture, only Kylo and Hux would remain as major antagonists going into the final act of the trilogy, so it seemed like the idea of “Darth Vader 2.0” was well and truly gone.

Rey and Kylo prepare to battle Snoke’s guards.

Again, this was a moment with a message. Part of that message was epitomised by Luke’s line: “this is not going to go the way you think!” and that’s kind of built into the film’s entire philosophy. But beyond that, the concept that someone like Kylo Ren could be irredeemable has merit. There are some people – some fascist leaders, which is what Kylo Ren is at this point – who go “full Dark Side.” There’s no way back for some people, and we shouldn’t want to see a redemption arc for people who have done unspeakably evil things.

It’s also connected to the point above about destiny and ancestry. Kylo came from Rebel royalty as the son of Han Solo and Leia, but instead of using that legacy and power in a positive way he became corrupted, trying to rule the galaxy instead of fighting for freedom. The lure of power can corrupt even the most well-meaning of individuals, and Kylo’s arrogance, elitism, and belief in his own special place led him down a dark path.

Number 5:
The presentation of Luke Skywalker.

Luke with the famous blue milk.

This is a point I’ve tackled before in a standalone essay, but I found what The Last Jedi did with Luke to be absolutely incredible. It was a powerful and relatable mental health story, one that showed how anyone – even heroes – can fall into melancholy and depression. Maybe that story isn’t what some viewers wanted, but I firmly believe it’s a story that was needed – and worth telling.

Not only that, but Luke’s story was a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of mental health; one of the better depictions of depression that I’ve seen in fiction in recent years. Having tried to rebuild the Jedi Order, Luke ultimately failed – and failed in such a catastrophic way that he got people killed. He allowed that failure to fester and turn into depression, ultimately secluding himself and merely waiting around to die, totally uninterested in the galaxy around him.

Luke’s failure and depression was a major focus of the story.

Anyone who’s suffered from depression – regardless of whether there was a cause – can relate to that. The idea of cutting oneself off from everything and everyone, of being unable to face the world outside a small bubble of safety – these are things that people suffering from mental health issues can recognise. And the fact that it happened to someone as powerful, virtuous, and heroic as Luke Skywalker has an incredibly powerful point to make: this is something that can happen to anyone.

As mental health issues – particularly in men – continue to be ignored and stigmatised, this is something that people need to see and hear. The depiction of one of the main protagonists in one of the biggest cinematic franchises around suffering from depression in a realistic and relatable way has done so much to raise awareness of the problem. To me, this is sci-fi at its best: using a fantasy setting to consider real-world issues.

Luke’s death at the end of the film.

As always in these kinds of stories, how Luke was feeling at the beginning is not as important as where he ended up, and the arc he goes through in The Last Jedi provides a genuine feeling of hope. Thanks to Rey’s intervention, Luke found a way to believe in a cause again, and found a way to become a symbol of hope for the entire galaxy. Luke being depressed at the beginning was incredibly important for people to see, but what was just as important is how he found a pathway out of it.

Depression isn’t something easily cured. Luke couldn’t just “snap out of it,” but he came to realise that, despite his failings, despite his flaws, and despite the way he’d been feeling, there was still something he could do to contribute. He could still be a Jedi – and thanks to his intervention, not the titular Last Jedi!

Number 6:
Recognising the massive failings of the old Jedi Order.

The Jedi Temple during the prequel era.

The prequel trilogy touched on the idea that the Jedi Order had grown arrogant and complacent over centuries of peace and after being unchallenged by the Sith and the Dark Side in a major way. But at the same time, characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Mace Windu were presented as the heroes – the paragons of virtue who we were rooting for. The Last Jedi takes a much more critical lens to its examination of the Jedi Order, particularly in the prequel era.

Luke explained to Rey that the hubris of the Jedi is what allowed Palpatine to rise to power in the first place, and that the Jedi Order failed not only at keeping the peace but at preserving the Republic itself. Though this wasn’t something that the film spent a huge amount of time on, I think it was an important acknowledgement to recognise that the Jedi Order – by the time of the prequel films, at least – was not the irreproachable organisation that some considered it to be.

Luke explained how the Jedi Order failed.

This is also something that could inform Star Wars’ future. We don’t know what will become of the Jedi in the aftermath of the sequel trilogy, but it seems to me that one of the lessons Rey learned from Luke is that simply trying to reconstruct the Jedi Order exactly as it was before the Empire is not only impossible, but undesirable as well. What comes next for the Light Side of the Force has to be different – it has to be better.

This potentially opens up the future of Star Wars to go in some very different storytelling directions. Rather than simply a return to the pre-Empire status quo, in which the era of the Galactic Civil War may end up looking like little more than a blip in the grand scale of galactic history, what happened to Luke and Rey could be a turning point for the Light Side of the Force, with a new organisation bound by different rules rising in the Jedi’s stead. Perhaps the name “Jedi” will survive (it’s an integral part of Star Wars, after all), but maybe what comes next will be significantly different from the prequel-era Jedi Order, setting the stage for some genuinely different and unpredictable stories in the years ahead.

Number 7:
Timely social commentary.

The casino on Canto Bight.

How often have we felt that, no matter what we do, the rich always manage to get richer while we stay poor? The Last Jedi took Finn and Rose to one of the meeting places of the galactic elite, showing us how the mega-rich of the galaxy gamble and play both sides in the conflict. To them, who wins the war isn’t important – because they know that either way, they’re going to come out on top.

This isn’t just about the arms dealers who were selling weapons to both sides – although that was a very in-your-face analogy – but really the entire gaggle of the super-rich that Finn and Rose encountered on Canto Bight. Just like the 1% here in the real world, the problems of the galaxy don’t affect them at all. It was, in a sense, a glimpse behind a curtain that we rarely get to see – and the fact that the people of Canto Bight were laughing, joking, gambling, and greedily stuffing their faces seemed to spit in the face of our heroes and their war effort.

Outside the casino.

This was a side of the Star Wars galaxy that we’d never really seen. We’d been introduced to bounty hunters in shady cantinas before, as well as seeing the corrupt decadence of Coruscant’s politicians in the prequels, but it makes sense that a society as complex as the Star Wars galaxy would have these kinds of places inhabited by these kinds of people. They’re the Wall Street gamblers, the bankers, the financiers who survived the Republic, the Empire, the New Republic, and the First Order all by owning and controlling the vast majority of the galaxy’s money.

One of the themes that I took from this side-story is that, in a sense, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses in the struggle for power. Either a new Republic or the First Order will eventually have to cut deals with these people; they’re the real powerbrokers in the galaxy. Their money can shift the tide of the war – it can literally see states rise or fall.

Rose and Finn at Canto Bight.

Perhaps Canto Bight hit too close to home for some folks, or perhaps this look behind the curtain was a little too bleak! But there was something powerful about it nonetheless, particularly in the aftermath of some turbulent political times here in the western world. As above, when sci-fi turns a spotlight on real-world issues, what results can be powerful storytelling if it’s done right.

From an in-universe point of view, Star Wars stories have generally focused on underdogs – scrappy groups of rebels fighting against the powers that be. Even the prequels didn’t explore much of this side of the galaxy – so it was something new, something interesting, and something that could be ripe for further exploration one day.

Number 8:
Porgs!

A small group of porgs.

The Last Jedi introduced us to porgs – beakless bird-like critters that inhabited Luke’s island on the isolated Jedi planet of Ahch-To. Porgs are adorable and they made an excellent addition to the Star Wars galaxy. Was their pretty sizeable appearance in the film purely a merchandising ploy that did nothing whatsoever to service the plot? Well, probably. But Star Wars has always been about the merch!

I had the porg variant of the film’s poster on display for a long time and I also bought a porg plushie, so I guess I’m a sucker for cute merchandise. Paul the porg is now a permanent fixture in my living room, and I have The Last Jedi to thank for that!

Number 9:
General Leia’s leadership.

General Leia speaking with Poe.

The film’s release was bittersweet due to the death of Carrie Fisher a year earlier, making her posthumous role in The Last Jedi all the more poignant. Having had limited screen time in The Force Awakens, which focused more on Han Solo, The Last Jedi became a strong film for Leia’s character, showing her leadership skills and expanding on her role in the aftermath of the events of the original films.

There was a clash between the “hot-headed” Poe Dameron and the cooler, calmer Leia and Holdo at the head of the Resistance. Unfortunately Leia was sidelined for part of that, but her return just in time to stop Poe from sabotaging a carefully-laid out plan was one of the film’s strongest moments – and one that showed Leia’s no-nonsense attitude!

Luke with Leia near the end of the film.

Leia also got a sweet moment with Luke shortly before his last stand against the First Order’s forces, and considering that the sequel trilogy didn’t have many moments where it put the original characters back together, this was all the more significant. Fans needed to see Luke and Leia back together one final time – it was certainly one of the things I wanted from the sequels.

Even in the original trilogy, Leia was no “damsel in distress.” She helped Luke and Han escape from the Death Star, saved Luke’s life on Cloud City, killed Jabba the Hutt, and led the mission to take down the second Death Star’s shield! Seeing her continuing the fight against evil – even when it meant standing against her own son – was incredibly powerful.

Number 10:
Taking Star Wars to new thematic places.

Kylo Ren in his mask.

I talked about this above when discussing Kylo and Rey in particular, but The Last Jedi did more than any film in the franchise before or since to try to take Star Wars to different thematic and narrative places. That’s incredibly important, because without changing with the times and adapting, Star Wars as a whole will remain stuck in place.

Star Wars hasn’t yet been able to successfully move on from the one story that has been told. Palpatine, Anakin, Luke, Leia, Kylo, Rey, and the other main characters have come to utterly dominate Star Wars in every cinematic and television adaptation so far, even appearing in the likes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. The Last Jedi, as a sequel, obviously had to include many of those same characters, but the way it framed them was as close as Star Wars has got so far to going to different places.

Rey on Ahch-To.

If the franchise is to survive long-term, it will have to find a way to leave Luke, Leia, Anakin, and the others behind; to branch out into different eras with wholly different casts of characters to whom names like “Skywalker” or “Palpatine” mean nothing. There’s a limit to how many different ways the same few characters can save the galaxy over the span of a few short years, and by making massive decisions such as killing off Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi tried to guide the franchise to a new destination.

The board at the Walt Disney Company is now pushing back hard against that, and we’ve seen the results not only in The Rise of Skywalker, but also through decisions to include characters like Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian or to bring back Obi-Wan Kenobi for his own miniseries. Partly that’s corporate cowardice – Disney wants to retreat to what it sees as safe, comfortable ground. But that ground is getting overtrodden, and there’s a danger that Star Wars could get bogged down. The Last Jedi, for whatever faults you may think it has, tried to do something genuinely different – and trying new things is how a franchise grows and comes to learn what works.

“Broom boy” at the end of the film.

As the dust settles and the film’s divisiveness abates, I think we’ll start to see a reevaluation of this aspect of The Last Jedi in particular. It may not have succeeded at taking the sequel trilogy to a very different end point, but it stands as a piece of the franchise’s cinematic canon that wasn’t afraid to try different things with its characters and storylines. Perhaps, in time, fans will come to appreciate that – particularly if Star Wars continues to double-down on recycling characters and shining spotlights on increasingly irrelevant chapters of its only real story.

Killing off its main villain early in the story, setting his apprentice on a dark path instead of the path to redemption, tearing down the arrogance of the old Jedi Order, reflecting real-world issues like mental health and the gilded indifference of the super-rich… these are all things that Star Wars had never even considered. The Last Jedi tried them for the first time. Did it all work perfectly? Probably not. But in a franchise that is in serious danger of becoming stale and fixated on its own past, trying new things, exploring new themes, dealing with new character types, and making an effort to stay grounded and relatable are all deserving of praise in my view.

So that’s it!

Luke Skywalker standing against the First Order.

Those are ten things that I think are pretty great about The Last Jedi. Despite the controversy the film generated, there are signs that the Star Wars fan community is coming back together. Shows like The Mandalorian have gone a long way to bringing back into the fold fans who’d been ready to give up on modern Star Wars. And just like the prequels – which are being revisited by a new generation of fans who were kids when they were released – in a few years’ time I think we’ll see a similar reappraisal of The Last Jedi by newer and younger fans who first came to Star Wars during the sequel era.

Although The Rise of Skywalker did what it could to overwrite or ignore some of what I consider to be The Last Jedi’s highlights, I still find it an enjoyable experience to go back and re-watch it. In a way, it’s a time capsule of where the franchise was in 2017 – or a window into an alternate timeline where Star Wars continued on this trajectory instead of panicking and trying to course-correct.

As we celebrate Star Wars day, don’t forget The Last Jedi.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is available to stream now on Disney+ and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Wars franchise – including The Last Jedi and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Skywalker Saga: rewriting the final chapter

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Skywalker Saga, including The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.

I’ve made it clear more than once that I didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. The film failed for a number of reasons, but the most egregious for me was its narrative – one which betrayed established characters, overwrote others, and tried to re-tell Return of the Jedi using characters and story threads that were simply not suited for that purpose.

It’s easy to criticise a story that someone else has written, to pick apart story beats and character moments and say they don’t work. What isn’t as easy is creating a new story – hopefully a better one. That’s the task I’ve assigned myself on this occasion.

Can I write a better film than The Rise of Skywalker?

Here are some basic ground rules:

  • Everything up to and including The Last Jedi happened exactly as shown on screen. We aren’t going back and undoing anything from previous films. The task at hand is to rewrite the final chapter of The Skywalker Saga assuming that the first eight films unfolded the way they did in the real world.
  • No dei ex machina. The story has to be brought to a conclusion using characters and elements already in play; no adding new pieces to the chessboard at this late stage!
  • No Palpatine. Palpatine’s inclusion was a deus ex machina in The Rise of Skywalker, and even if everything else wrong with the film went away his inclusion would still have ruined it.
  • Characters must stay true to their established personalities. In The Rise of Skywalker, General Hux’s betrayal was an out-of-character moment so truly awful that I don’t even know what to say about it.
  • Characters’ established backgrounds can’t be overwritten. Rey isn’t going to be a descendant of Palpatine any more than Kylo is suddenly going to learn he’s actually the result of an affair Leia had with Chewbacca.
  • Real-world events must be taken into account. This means that Leia’s role can’t be expanded – the actress who portrayed her, Carrie Fisher, had passed away before the film entered production.
  • As with The Rise of Skywalker, a reasonable time-jump of 1-2 years has taken place since the end of The Last Jedi.

Obviously I’m not going to write an entire script! This is just going to be a basic outline, a story treatment highlighting the broad strokes of the plot and how things would go. I feel no obligation to include anything from The Rise of Skywalker, as this is my own take on how the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga would have unfolded.

Palpatine can fuck off. This is not his story.

It goes without saying that this is fan fiction. Nothing about this story outline will ever make its way into actual Star Wars, nor should anyone interpret it in that manner. Everything in this article is also entirely subjective. If you liked The Rise of Skywalker and wouldn’t want to see it remade, that’s great. If you hate all of my ideas, that’s fine too. The Star Wars fandom is big enough for people with different ideas to peacefully coexist, and getting mad at one another over fan fiction that will never be anything more than text on an obscure website will accomplish precisely nothing.

Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s get started.

As the film begins, Kylo Ren has declared himself Supreme Leader of the First Order, succeeding the deceased Snoke. With the New Republic’s capital system destroyed, and the Resistance having been reduced to a handful of individuals, the First Order had a clear shot at taking over large parts of the galaxy. Systems like Coruscant, Corellia, and even Tatooine have fallen under the First Order’s sway.

Kylo Ren has established himself as the First Order’s Supreme Leader.

Kylo’s wavering commitment to the Dark Side has solidified in the wake of his power grab, and the pull to the Light that he felt in earlier films has been all but extinguished. His arc across the final chapter will see him descend further into darkness, culminating in his embrace of the Sith ideology of Palpatine and his beloved Vader.

General Hux despises Kylo, but has managed to distance himself from the Supreme Leader by taking command of First Order forces in different parts of the galaxy. The exact power structure of the First Order is left ambiguous, but it seems that Hux is a senior commander in the First Order. In this version of the story, he remains loyal to the cause.

General Hux will stay true to his characterisation.

Early in the film, perhaps even in the opening crawl, we learn that General Leia has been killed fighting the First Order. Her brave sacrifice allowed thousands of new Resistance recruits to escape the planet, laying the groundwork for the Resistance’s comeback and making her an icon and a martyr to the cause. Though killing her off in this fashion may be controversial, when the only alternative is ham-fistedly using cut footage from The Force Awakens that isn’t fit for purpose it’s pretty much the only option. Recasting Leia or using CGI wouldn’t feel right, so the next best thing is making her sacrifice meaningful. By saving thousands of Resistance fighters, Leia laid the groundwork for the Resistance’s ultimate victory.

Rey has been training as a Jedi, with the Force ghosts of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Qui-Gon Jinn supervising and advising her. She begins the film on Ahch-To, where she relocated to train in private.

Rey has been training as a Jedi.

Poe has taken over from Leia as the leader of the Resistance, having taken to heart the lessons he learned in The Last Jedi. Inspired by the sacrifices of both Luke and Leia, citizens from all across the galaxy have joined or aided the Resistance, bringing it back up to strength. One of the people who’s joined up is Lando Calrissian, who saw Cloud City taken over by the First Order. He expresses regret at not helping sooner.

Finn begins the film as Poe’s right-hand man, using his knowledge of the inner workings of the First Order to coordinate strikes and attacks. He’s Force-sensitive, and has done some training with a lightsaber, but broke off his training to help the Resistance. He’s also in a relationship with Rose Tico, continuing a theme established in The Last Jedi and taking it to its logical conclusion.

Finn is going to have more to do than just shouting at Rey.

The opening act of the film sees Finn and Rose receiving a message from a group of Stormtroopers who want to defect. Along with Poe, they undertake a mission to a new planet to help get the Stormtroopers to safety. In the course of this mission, a small space battle occurs between a handful of Resistance ships and starfighters and the First Order forces in control of the new planet. During this mission, General Hux is killed – his death is necessary for the story of the trilogy to feel complete, and having him die trying to stop more Stormtroopers defecting to the Resistance feels somewhat like an arc in light of Finn’s story. Finn could be the one to fire the killing shot.

The Stormtroopers bring with them knowledge of a Sith superweapon that Kylo Ren has found and plans to use to secure the First Order’s dominance. The superweapon is essentially a macguffin that uses the Dark Side of the Force to send out a powerful shockwave across the galaxy, killing all who oppose the Supreme Leader.

A group of defecting Stormtroopers bring news to the Resistance of a horrifying plan.

The superweapon is an existential threat to the Resistance, and if Kylo is able to use it it will mean the end of all our heroes and establish Kylo and the Sith as the rulers of the galaxy permanently. Unlike the Death Star, Starkiller Base, or Snoke’s command ship, the macguffin is small – handheld – and thus can’t be destroyed in a conventional battle.

Despite her asking to be left alone so that she could focus on her training and become a Jedi, Poe decides that the only option is to contact Rey. Finn is the only one who knows where Rey is (as he had visited her on several occasions to further his own training in the Force) so he sets out alone to track her down.

Finn travels alone to Ahch-To to find Rey.

On Ahch-To, Rey is initially reluctant to leave her training incomplete, and cites what happened to Luke on Cloud City when he tried to face Vader before he was ready. Finn tells her that without her, their planned mission to Kylo’s fortress to retrieve the macguffin won’t succeed; they need her skills if they’re to have any hope of destroying the macguffin before Kylo can use it.

While Finn waits for an answer, Rey has a heart-to-heart with Luke. He admits that he made mistakes when he was younger, acting too rashly. But he also says that he and the other Force ghosts will be with her, offering their guidance along the way. Rey is concerned about having to go to a place so strong in the Dark Side, and Luke acknowledges that concern. But ultimately, he says, there is no other way.

Force ghost Luke advises Rey to go on the mission with Finn.

Rey consults the ancient Jedi texts and learns that the macguffin was actually created by the Jedi, not the Sith, but the Sith corrupted it with Dark Side sorcery millennia ago. The macguffin was considered lost, but Luke says that Vader or Palpatine may have found it during their years in power. Regardless, Kylo has it now and it’s an existential threat.

Finn spends a little time with the Force ghosts on Ahch-To, and as the two prepare to leave Rey presents him with his own lightsaber.

At the Resistance base, Poe, Rey, Finn, and Rose debate how best to undertake the mission. Kylo’s fortress is on Mustafar – he converted Darth Vader’s castle into his personal headquarters and base of operations. It’s perhaps the best-defended location in the galaxy, according to one Resistance pilot who pipes up.

At the Resistance base, Poe and the others formulate a plan.

Attacking Kylo’s base head-on would be a suicide mission, especially given the disparity between the First Order fleet and the cobbled-together band of Resistance starships. Lando has been working to bring in more people and ships to the Resistance cause, so Poe dispatches him to assemble as many ships as he can. The plan is set in motion – a Resistance attack in a neighbouring star system will lure the First Order fleet away from Kylo’s fortress long enough for Rey and Finn to infiltrate the base and destroy the macguffin. Poe will lead the Resistance fleet in person, and Rose will also stay behind on the fleet as her mechanic skills are more likely to be needed there.

At his fortress, Kylo is laughing at the death of General Hux. He had considered Hux to be one of his few remaining rivals for power; the loyalty Hux commanded from his troops posed a potential threat to Kylo’s leadership. With Hux out of the way, Kylo can appoint a loyalist to his position, further cementing himself as the Supreme Leader of the First Order.

Kylo moved into Darth Vader’s castle and made it his HQ.

Resistance forces led by Poe arrive in the neighbouring system, and frightened First Order admirals choose not to tell Kylo right away, hoping they could defeat the Resistance before having to tell him that they were able to launch a strike close to the heart of his territory. The battle in space begins.

With First Order ships moving out of position to join the battle, the Millennium Falcon – piloted by Rey – is able to make it to Kylo’s fortress. However, during the landing stage the ship is targeted by ground troops. Rey and Finn are able to bail out at the last moment, but the Millennium Falcon is destroyed.

The Millennium Falcon is destroyed while bringing Rey and Finn to Mustafar.

The destruction of a ship that’s been at the heart of Star Wars since the beginning is emblematic of this film bringing the Skywalker Saga to an end. Like Hedwig’s death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it marks the end of an era for the characters and the franchise, and in lieu of having any major characters left to kill off, the destruction of the ship fills that role.

Rey and Finn are on the ground on Mustafar, but have to trek for miles to reach Kylo’s fortress from the crash site. Meanwhile, the space battle is not going well. First Order ships have arrived from all sides, and are using a special kind of hyperspace jammer to prevent Poe and Rose’s Resistance forces from escaping.

The First Order has a large fleet and is attacking the Resistance with everything it can muster.

After reaching the fortress, Rey senses that Kylo is inside. He knows that they’re coming, and he’s close to activating the magical Sith macguffin. They will have to move quickly. But standing in their way are Kylo’s personal guards – the Knights of Ren. Armed with red lightsabers, the dozen or so Dark Side knights try to stop Rey and Finn, who draw their own sabers and engage in a duel in Kylo’s palace.

It seems like the Knights of Ren have Rey and Finn on the ropes, and the action cuts back to the space battle. Poe’s forces are losing too, and it appears for a moment like the mission – and the Resistance itself – is doomed.

Finn and Rey engage the Knights of Ren in a duel.

In the duel at the palace, Finn and Rey are able to get the upper hand long enough to jump through a blast door or forcefield, trapping the Knights of Ren in a part of the palace where they can’t reach them. As Kylo continues to work on the macguffin and Poe’s forces fight a last stand in space, Rey and Finn rush to Kylo’s throne room to confront him.

In the second duel of the film, Rey and Finn work together against Kylo, who has gone “full Dark Side” despite Rey’s pleas to come back to the Light. After defeating him in the duel, Rey hesitates, unwilling to kill him. She turns to Finn and tells him that he was able to break his own indoctrination and leave the First Order, so maybe Kylo can too. In that moment, Kylo uses the Force to send his lightsaber into Finn’s chest.

Kylo uses the Force to hurl his lightsaber at Finn.

Rey has no choice now but to kill Kylo, and as she grieves for Finn she finds the macguffin. Before she can destroy it, the Force ghosts appear beside her. They believe they can use their energy to turn the macguffin back into a tool of the Light, and then Rey will be able to use it to spread Finn’s story to every indoctrinated soldier and trooper in the First Order. Luke, Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon join with the macguffin, sacrificing their ghostly forms in order to restore the corrupted artefact.

Rey picks up the macguffin, and while holding Finn’s hand activates it. A shockwave of bright white light eminates from Kylo’s palace and shoots out into space. In the nearby space battle, thousands of First Order soldiers and troopers switch sides, turning on each other. Several dozen First Order ships turn on the rest of the fleet, and in the unfolding chaos, Poe’s survivors are able to escape.

A Light Side shockwave (similar to the Praxis Effect from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) shoots out into space.

In Kylo’s palace, his guards turn on each other and Rey is able to make it to a shuttle and escape in the chaos, bringing Finn’s body with her. She returns to Resistance HQ. After mourning Finn’s loss, Poe explains that with Lando’s new reinforcements and millions of soldiers and troopers fighting alongside them, the Resistance has been able to defeat the bulk of the First Order’s forces.

An epilogue shows Rey training young children – including “broom boy” – on Ahch-To, where she has established a small, out-of-the-way Jedi base. Pictures of Finn and Luke are displayed prominently. The Republic has been re-established, and Senator Rose names Poe as Admiral of the Republic fleet.

The end.

The Skywalker Saga is over; the line of Skywalkers from Anakin to Luke and Leia to Ben having been finally broken. The Sith, too, appear to be finally defeated, with no known Sith remaining to reclaim the mantle of Sith Lord or Supreme Leader. Rey has proven that destiny and ancestry are no guide as to how one’s life will turn out. She came from nowhere to save the galaxy, while Kylo came from Jedi and Rebel royalty and almost conquered it. Poe showed how to be brave in the face of insurmountable odds, and Finn made the ultimate sacrifice to save the galaxy from the people that once considered him nothing but a disposable footsoldier.

By removing Palpatine and simplifying the story into one connected sequence of events, I think a film following this outline would have been easier to follow and more enjoyable. It would have also drawn a line under Star Wars’ first story, allowing the franchise to step away from the characters and themes it included to chart a new path in future.

The Star Wars franchise has concluded its first story. Where should it go next?

Where The Rise of Skywalker failed for me was the time it wasted trying to undo events from The Last Jedi in favour of fan theories. Rey’s parents remain no one of consequence in my story outline, and I think that allows her character to shine. Instead of her power being drawn from an important man she’s related to, her power is her own. There’s no destiny, aristocracy, or ancestry involved; Rey’s successes are her own, her victories her own, and by defeating Kylo Ren, the character who defined himself by his lineage, the story makes a point. Heroes can come from anywhere, even the most humble origins.

The destruction of the Millennium Falcon, as mentioned, underlines the idea that this film is the final entry in the series. Whatever Star Wars may be in future, it won’t be more jaunts in the Falcon with Chewbacca, looking backward at the “good old days!” The ship’s destruction is a symbol of the franchise leaving its past behind and looking ahead to different stories.

The story about lineage, ancestry, and destiny was inverted.

Finn’s death is a rarity in the Star Wars franchise, the loss of a hero. Though the sequel trilogy killed off Han and Luke, it did so at a point where the baton had already been passed to a new generation of heroes. Finn was one of those heroes, and his story could have continued. He could have trained hard and become a Jedi, but instead he was cut down by Kylo right when he was on the cusp of victory.

This version of the story brings into play elements that have been part of Star Wars films in the past, and would assemble them into what I feel could be an action-packed and exciting film. We get two big lightsaber fights and a giant space battle, a magical Force macguffin with the power to destroy the Resistance, Sith Lords, Jedi Knights, starfighter pilots, and a desperate, last-ditch mission to save the galaxy.

My story had many of the elements that Star Wars fans know and love about the franchise.

My objective here was to show that it would have been possible to pick up where The Last Jedi left off and tell a different kind of story, one which didn’t try to overwrite everything that film did. At the same time, I wanted the ending to feel conclusive, and not like the Resistance had a huge amount of work left to do to convert victory in one battle into victory in the overall war. The magical Sith macguffin managed to play a double role, both by setting up the main story and by providing that conclusion. I tried to connect the main parts of the story so points felt like they naturally flowed, and I tried to use each character where they seemed to fit best.

It’s been a while since I tried my hand at creative writing, and more than anything I was curious to see how the ideas I’ve had in my head would look on the page. Maybe one day I’ll revisit this and see if I can flesh it out a little more. It was a bit of fun, at any rate!

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 Dennis or Engelbert Humperdinck.

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.

The moment that Star Wars simply can’t live up to

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, including The Rise of Skywalker and Knights of the Old Republic.

There’s one very powerful moment in the film most fans agree is the best in Star Wars’ cinematic canon that is both the high point of its success and a weight around its neck. This one moment defines Star Wars’ place in popular culture, and was a twist so unexpected and shocking that it transformed a couple of exciting space fantasy films into a franchise that continues to this day. You know the moment I’m referring to, right?

“No, I am your father!”

But this has been a double-edged sword. After the incredible success of The Empire Strikes Back, the next film in the series – which rounded out the Star Wars trilogy and concluded the series for almost two decades – felt, to some fans at least, like a bit of an anticlimax. It’s difficult to remember now, given all of the other controversies Star Wars has endured from the prequels to the sequels and beyond, but for a long time, Return of the Jedi was considered the weak link in the trilogy.

I vividly remember the first time I watched Star Wars – at the behest of a friend who was a pretty big fan – in the early ’90s. He had all three films on video, and as we sat down to watch them, his father, who was also a Star Wars fan and had introduced the films to his son, insisted to us that the first two films were great, but Return of the Jedi was absolute crap! Part of the reason why some fans felt – or still feel – this way is that Return of the Jedi has nothing that comes close to comparing to the “I am your father!” moment. Nor does any other Star Wars film.

Star Wars has tried – and failed – to come up with something that compares to this moment, even going as far back as Return of the Jedi.

Though the prequel trilogy didn’t try to outright replicate that moment, I think it’s not unfair to say that nothing in those three films compares to the revelation of Vader being Luke’s father – and perhaps that’s because fans already knew the broad strokes of the prequels’ storyline before sitting down to watch any of the films. There were bumps and twists along the way, but we all knew before we sat down to watch The Phantom Menace in 1999 that Anakin would betray the Jedi and become Darth Vader, and that the mild-mannered Palpatine was a Sith in disguise. It’s hard to have a shocking twist under such circumstances!

But the sequel trilogy definitely tried to recapture the magic of the moment between Luke and Vader on Cloud City – not once, but at least three times. In The Force Awakens, Kylo removing his helmet for the first time was an attempt at a shocking surprise. In The Last Jedi we can point to the reveal of Rey’s parents as “nobody,” as well as the death of Snoke, and in The Rise of Skywalker we again have Rey’s parentage but this time Kylo explaining to her that “you are a Palpatine” – one of the worst lines in the trilogy.

This moment between Kylo Ren and Rey was clearly intended to recreate the magic of the scene between Vader and Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.

None of these moments, and many others in Star Wars, have come close to achieving the success of the Darth Vader line in The Empire Strikes Back, and it feels like the franchise doesn’t really know how to respond to the overwhelming power of that one moment. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Star Wars’ entire success is based on one moment in one film, nor that it’s the franchise’s sole accomplishment. But it’s undeniably one of the high points in the whole franchise, so if Star Wars is to see continued success the creative team in charge need to understand what the moment represents, why it worked, and most importantly they need to understand why recent attempts to replicate it have fallen flat.

For me, the closest Star Wars has ever got to recreating the magic of that Darth Vader reveal came not in a film but in a video game. In Knights of the Old Republic, toward the end of the game it’s revealed that the player character is, in fact, one of the game’s principal villains – a Sith Lord named Darth Revan. Revan had their mind erased after being captured by the Jedi, and was re-trained in order to follow the path of the light side. I remember sitting there with the Xbox control pad in my hand with my mouth hanging open, stunned!

The revelation that the player character is Darth Revan in Knights of the Old Republic was shocking, and about as close as Star Wars has ever managed to get to the Luke-Vader moment.

So why don’t I feel that way when Kylo is revealed to be Ben Solo? Or when Rey is revealed to be a descendant of Palpatine? Figuring this out is important, because I’m not the only one who recognises that Star Wars is trying and failing to live up to this moment.

By the time of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey’s parents had been established, and changing that arbitrarily to follow a fan theory just felt wrong – and more than a little stupid. Not to mention that the execution was clumsy and it came in a film with myriad other problems. But the reveal that Kylo Ren is, in fact, Ben Solo – the son of Han and Leia – should have garnered more of a reaction, surely? After all, this is the son of two of Star Wars’ principal characters and biggest heroes, yet he’s the villain having fallen to the dark side.

The buildup to Kylo Ren’s reveal wasn’t as intense, and by the time it’s finally understood who we’re dealing with, perhaps elements of that had already been teased in such a way as they weren’t as big of a shock. Then there’s the fact that The Force Awakens is where we first met Kylo Ren; he didn’t have an entire film to grow on us as his own character – mere minutes after meeting him for the first time we learn his true identity. Darth Vader had almost two entire films as the “big bad” before it became known to us who he really was – and I think that has a bearing on how we perceive these different moments in the two films.

Kylo Ren’s unmasking – and the reveal that he’s Ben Solo – just doesn’t compare to the Luke-Vader moment on Cloud City.

Partly this is a consequence of the way the original trilogy was created. Darth Vader was not Luke’s father in the original film; this is an addition that came later, during the writing of The Empire Strikes Back. There was nothing in the first film to set up or telegraph this moment – because no one, even those involved with the film, knew that the moment was coming. In The Force Awakens or The Rise of Skywalker, the moments which attempt to recreate it were planned, and the films were almost constructed around what the creative team hoped would be the big shocking twist.

Overall, though, I think the fundamental problem is this: The Empire Strikes Back didn’t set out to create a story that all depended on a single moment. The film has many other truly fantastic sequences that would still make it an outstanding film even if the Luke-Vader moment didn’t exist or came in a different film. The creative team behind The Empire Strikes Back weren’t trying to recreate something from a prior story, they were pioneering something new. And while they knew it was going to be a seminal moment in the film, I don’t think anyone involved could have predicted just how important that one moment would turn out to be for the entire Star Wars franchise.

The story of Darth Vader was not known or planned out in the first couple of films – which made the revelation all the more shocking.

But even by the time of Return of the Jedi a couple of years later it was apparent that Star Wars was in danger of feeling like a one-trick pony. A new Death Star had been created to replace the one Luke destroyed in the first film, which is hardly anything original, and after the big twist of the Luke-Vader connection in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi made the first attempt to recapture that moment by arbitrarily making Luke and Leia siblings. Neither moment lived up to the comparable moments in previous films, and perhaps that’s a contributing factor to why some fans felt let down. Star Wars had already begun living in its own shadow.

Mimicking or recreating a story or narrative moment almost never results in something better. The most that Star Wars can hope for is to hit the same high notes – but trying to copy something it’s already done won’t ever lead to the franchise exceeding it. The Empire Strikes Back succeeded because it pioneered a storyline that no fan could have expected. Subsequent Star Wars projects – from Return of the Jedi to The Rise of Skywalker – failed to live up to that moment because they didn’t try to create their own unique moments, they tried to copy the successful one from The Empire Strikes Back.

Star Wars won’t ever succeed at recreating this moment – and the sooner the writers and producers realise that, the sooner the franchise can move on!

I’ve spoken on a number of occasions about Star Wars as a franchise being trapped by its own past, unable to move on from the shadow of the original trilogy and tell truly new and different stories. But because the new films rely so heavily on nostalgia for the originals they weren’t allowed to stand on their own two feet – and when The Last Jedi tried in its own way to branch out and do something different, the result was controversy and a divided fanbase. It’s almost unsurprising, in that context, that Star Wars would simply choose to retreat to safer, more comfortable ground – even if that means it won’t ever surpass its original incarnation.

For me the question is this: is that moment in The Empire Strikes Back all Star Wars can ever be? Or will it one day aspire to do something different, maybe even something better? Right now the answer is that Star Wars seems to want to stay firmly in that nostalgic space, chasing the one moment the creative team knows fans adore; the moment on which Star Wars’ modern iterations hang. But for all the films and television shows produced since that moment in 1980, forty-one years ago, the franchise has never succeeded at recreating its magic.

Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to emulate past success, to move on to newer and different things. There are amazing stories in the Star Wars galaxy waiting to be told – but first the creative team in charge of the franchise has to come to terms with the fact that nothing they do will ever match the revelation Darth Vader gives to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. When they finally realise that, and desist from trying to forcibly make it happen, the franchise can finally start making its own magical moments again.

The Star Wars franchise – including The Empire Strikes Back 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.

In defence of Luke Skywalker

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker, and other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

This article deals with the sensitive topics of depression and mental health and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

The Last Jedi was an incredibly controversial film within the Star Wars fan community. Many people I’ve spoken with greatly disliked it, ranking the film as the worst in the franchise, with some even becoming “anti-Star Wars” as a result. Though recent projects like The Mandalorian have brought a lot of those folks back into the fold, there is still a significant contingent of ex-fans; people who have come to hate modern Star Wars.

There were many points of criticism from The Last Jedi’s detractors – the confrontation between Admiral Holdo and Poe, the hyperspace ramming manoeuvre, the death of Snoke, the Canto Bight storyline, and the character of Rose Tico being just a few off the top of my head. In this essay I’m not going to look at any of these in detail, though I would make the case that, by and large, while I understand the criticisms I don’t feel that any of them overwhelmed the film or made it unenjoyable. Instead I want to focus on what I feel is the most misunderstood point of criticism: the characterisation of Luke Skywalker.

We aren’t going to dive into every aspect of The Last Jedi on this occasion.

Of those fans who hated The Last Jedi most vehemently, many had been invested in the old “Expanded Universe” of novels, comic books, games, and the like. The Expanded Universe told a wholly different story to that of the sequel trilogy – a generally poor quality, incredibly convoluted and overcomplicated story, in my opinion – but one which put Luke Skywalker at the centre as an invincible hero, taking on all manner of enemies and challenges in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. To fans who fell in love with that version of Luke – the all-conquering unstoppable hero of fan-fiction – the new version presented by Disney and Lucasfilm in the sequel trilogy is understandably jarring.

Even to fans who weren’t invested in the Expanded Universe, many had built up in their heads over more than thirty years a vision of where the Star Wars galaxy may have gone after Return of the Jedi. At the forefront was Luke and his plan to rebuild the Jedi Order – he was the embodiment, after all, of the “return of the Jedi.” There was an expectation, perhaps not unrealistically so, that Luke would succeed in this task, and that any sequel films which focused on him would depict that. He could be a wise old Master, having trained potentially hundreds of new Jedi in a rebuilt order that would, like the Jedi of the Old Republic, serve as peacekeepers and a check on the power of evil.

The Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace.

The Force Awakens set up a far bleaker view of both the galaxy as a whole and Luke himself in the years after Return of the Jedi. A new wannabe-Empire was on the rise, led by a dark side user named Snoke. And Luke’s attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order ended in failure when Ben Solo betrayed him, killing most of the students and swaying others to the dark side. Luke himself had vanished.

All of this was a “mystery box;” a style of storytelling common to many projects helmed by The Force Awakens’ director JJ Abrams. Initially contracted to tell the first part of a three-part story – a story that would, unfortunately, be split up and have practically no overarching direction – Abrams did what he does best and created a mystery. Where had Luke gone and why? Was he secretly training more Jedi? That’s what fans hoped, and as Luke stood in his Jedi robe in the final moments of The Force Awakens, that was at least a reasonable assumption.

JJ Abrams directed and co-wrote The Force Awakens, and was responsible for the “Luke is missing” storyline.

Photo Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson from Tokyo, Japan, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

There was a two-year break in between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. For two years, fans speculated wildly about what the new film would bring, crafting intricate theories about all manner of things, including Luke. Many of these were appalling and would have made for awful stories, but fans latched on to some of the popular ones, convincing themselves that their pet theory was true and that The Last Jedi would surely prove it. When I write fan theories of my own – as I often do in the Star Trek franchise, for example – you’ll see me say that these are just theories, and that no fan theory is worth getting upset about. The reaction to The Last Jedi is a big part of why I feel the need to add in that little disclaimer.

Though it can be hard to look back even a few short years and remember the way people felt and the overall mood, especially in the aftermath of the film and its controversial reception, in 2017 the hype around The Last Jedi was growing, ultimately building to fever-pitch in the weeks before its release. This would be Luke Skywalker’s big return to Star Wars having been almost entirely absent in The Force Awakens. What happened after he met Rey on the clifftop on Ahch-To?

Fans speculated for two long years what would come next.

This moment had been built up for two years – and for more than thirty years since Luke’s appearance in Return of the Jedi. There were lofty expectations for what Luke would be and how he might act, informed in part by the Expanded Universe, fan theories, and the like. Those expectations were not met for many fans, because far from being the invincible hero they hoped to see, Luke was jaded, depressed, and uninterested in galactic affairs. When his attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order failed, he didn’t try again. He cut himself off from his friends and from the Force itself, and retreated to Ahch-To to die.

Luke Skywalker suffering from depression is not what fans wanted or hoped to see, but not only is it an incredibly powerful story, it’s one that many fans needed to see, whether they realised it at the time or not. There is an incredibly important message burning at the core of Luke’s story in The Last Jedi – and continued, to a degree, in The Rise of Skywalker. That message is simply this: anybody can fall victim to depression and mental health issues. I absolutely see Luke’s characterisation as a mental health story, and not only that, but one of the better cinematic attempts to depict mental health in recent years. It’s also a story which strongly resonated with me.

I found Luke Skywalker very relatable in The Last Jedi.

My health is complicated. In addition to physical health conditions which have resulted in disability, I also suffer from mental health issues, including depression. When I saw the way Luke Skywalker was presented: apathetic, lonely, withdrawn, and bitter, I saw myself reflected in Mark Hamill’s wonderful portrayal. Depression isn’t just “feeling sad,” as it’s often simplistically presented in fiction. Depression can be social withdrawal, apathy, a lack of sympathy, unintentional rudeness, and many other things. Luke doesn’t sit around on Ahch-To crying, he sits there overthinking, letting the intrusive thoughts dominate his life. He refuses to let anyone – even his sister or his closest friends – know where he is or help him, taking on the burden of his mental state alone. I’ve been there. I’ve been Luke.

One of the worst arguments put forward by The Last Jedi’s critics was some variant of this: “Luke Skywalker is a hero! He would never have run away. He would never act like this!” People making that argument are, in my opinion, incredibly lucky. It would seem from that ignorant statement that they’ve never had to deal with mental health or depression, either in their own life or with somebody they love and care about. If they ever had, they would recognise something in Luke that would elicit empathy, and a recognition that life isn’t as simple as it seems when you’re a child or teenager – which is when many critics first encountered Luke.

Luke’s story says that anyone can fall victim to depression.

I was born after Star Wars’ 1977 premiere. So anyone of my age or younger quite literally grew up considering Luke to be an epic hero, particularly if they encountered the original films in childhood. I first watched the original trilogy in the early 1990s, and I have to confess that much of the nuance was lost on me in my youth. It’s only going back, decades later, and re-watching the films with a more critical eye that I can spot elements within Luke’s character that clearly set up what The Last Jedi would do.

Luke made a mistake. He may have made a series of smaller ones leading up to it, but the big mistake we see on screen is his wordless confrontation with a sleeping Ben Solo. Luke, fearing the power of the dark side growing within his nephew, very briefly considers killing him. It was a flicker of a thought that lasted mere seconds, but when Ben noticed Luke’s presence and sensed what he was feeling, that was enough to tip him over the edge. What came next was Ben’s transformation into Kylo Ren and the destruction of Luke’s new Jedi Order.

Luke made a mistake – or a series of mistakes – and sunk deeply into regret and depression as a result.

Who among us hasn’t made a mistake? Who among us hasn’t considered or fantasised about – for the briefest of seconds – using violence in a certain situation? Who among us hasn’t had an intrusive thought that makes us feel uncomfortable or ashamed? If you can honestly raise your hand to all three of those points, then you’re very lucky indeed, and perhaps having never had such an experience, it’s easier to criticise others for it. The fans who attacked this characterisation of Luke are either conveniently forgetting their own mistakes, or they haven’t lived. Many are young, and perhaps that’s part of it too. As we get older we experience more, we grow, and we come to realise that no one is invincible, and no one is perfect. Luke Skywalker isn’t perfect, and he never was.

Upon seeing Ben Kenobi killed by Darth Vader, Luke’s reaction was to seek revenge, desperately firing his blaster in the vague direction of Vader. He then sat, depressed and dejected, aboard the Millennium Falcon. Princess Leia – who had very recently seen her family, friends, and practically everyone she knew murdered in the destruction of Alderaan – tried to comfort him, but did Luke ask if she was alright? No. He sat there sulking, selfishly absorbed in Ben’s death not thinking of others.

Luke sitting depressed and dejected aboard the Millennium Falcon following Ben Kenobi’s death.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke rashly cuts short his Jedi training, casting the Jedi Order aside to do what he believed was right. He ignored the advice of Yoda and Obi-Wan, believing he could take on Vader alone. That hubris ended up costing him his hand, and while he did return to his training afterwards, acting on a whim and doing things while unprepared are innate parts of Luke’s character.

And finally, Luke was tempted by the dark side of the Force in Return of the Jedi. In his final duel with Darth Vader he drew upon the dark side to give him the power to defeat his father, even considering killing the disarmed and defenceless Sith after beating him. That moment alone should be enough to prove to even the hardest of hardcore Luke Skywalker fans that there is, at the very least, a flicker of darkness within him. That he can suffer from those intrusive thoughts that we talked about. That he can act “out of character” when under pressure or in dire circumstances.

Luke was tempted by the dark side in Return of the Jedi.

So those points all show that Luke has at least a sliver of darkness, and that he’s capable of making mistakes. He was never the perfect, invincible hero of amateurish fan-fiction in the Expanded Universe. If he had been such a one-dimensional, boring character, the original trilogy would have been an exceptionally dull watch; what made it interesting was the nuance and conflict within Luke.

We also have to keep in mind that it’s been decades since we last met Luke, both within the story and outside it. The Expanded Universe was expunged, and though some fans may still cling to it, it has no bearing on The Last Jedi. Those events, canonically speaking, did not happen. The last meeting we had with Luke prior to The Last Jedi was 1983’s Return of the Jedi, and in the intervening decades he’s been through a lot. No one is exactly the same at age 60 as they were at 30; people change. Sometimes those changes can be positive, sometimes neutral, and sometimes they can be for the worse.

Luke’s new Jedi Order was destroyed by Kylo Ren.

Expecting Luke Skywalker to be the same man we left at the end of Return of the Jedi was naïve in the extreme, and fans should have known that. The experiences of half a lifetime have shaped his character, changing him in many respects into the man we meet at the beginning of The Last Jedi. Because some of those experiences have been incredibly powerful and transformative, there was no way to know how he’d be feeling, but one thing should have been clear: he was not going to be how we remembered him.

We can absolutely argue that seeing Luke’s transformation for ourselves would be a story worth showing within Star Wars, and indeed it could have been an entire trilogy of films all by itself. That’s a valid argument, and perhaps would have quelled some of the detractors’ criticisms had his descent into depression been allowed to unfold on screen. Of all the criticisms of The Last Jedi, this might be the one I consider to have the greatest merit, as it is an undeniable change in the way Luke’s character is outwardly presented, even if many of the elements and much of the groundwork already existed.

Perhaps seeing more of Luke between Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi would have made his transformation easier to understand.

Regret can be a very powerful emotion. Anyone who’s actually lived a life will have regrets, some bigger than others. When the feeling of regret becomes overwhelming, depression may not be far behind. That’s what I see in Luke: regret, heartbreak, shame, and depression. His depression was caused by circumstances he believes himself responsible for, so he withdrew. Feeling himself a failure, considering himself incapable of guiding a new generation of Jedi, and ashamed of his actions, he became bitter and jaded, and travelled to Ahch-To to hide away and await the end of his life.

When you try your utmost at something and truly give it your all – as Luke did when training his young Jedi – failure can be devastating; even more so if that failure feels like it’s your own fault. Telling someone in such a situation to “just try again” is missing the point and demonstrates a clear lack of empathy. Luke wasn’t ready to train anyone else. He felt that the rise of Kylo Ren and the deaths of his students was his own fault; training anyone else could lead to a similar disaster, and he just can’t handle the thought of that. It takes time for someone feeling this way to even be willing to try, and it isn’t something that can be forced.

It took time – and the arrival of Rey – for Luke to confront and overcome his depression.

The lack of empathy for Luke shown by some critics of The Last Jedi was truly sad to see. Even with very limited knowledge of mental health, seeing someone suffering as Luke was should prompt a degree of empathy – at least, in anyone with a heart. When I saw the misunderstandings and the lack of empathy from people attacking the film, saying things like “Luke Skywalker is a hero, he would never be depressed!” I honestly felt upset. These kinds of statements, born of ignorance, not only went after what I saw as the film’s core emotional message, but they also showed that, on a fundamental level, as a society we have a long way to go when it comes to understanding mental health.

And this is why someone like Luke Skywalker becoming depressed is so important. It shows clearly that anyone, no matter how “strong and brave” they seem on the surface, can fall victim to this insidious illness. In Luke’s case we can find the cause – the loss of Kylo Ren to the dark side, and the deaths of his students, all of which he blames himself for. But in many cases, depression can hit someone from nowhere, coming out of the blue and bringing someone’s world crashing down. Seeing a character like Luke Skywalker go through this is incredibly powerful because it tells people suffering from depression that they aren’t some kind of freak; depression is normal and can happen to anyone.

The story of Luke becoming depressed is incredibly powerful and shows how anyone can suffer from mental health issues.

Young men in particular need to hear that message. The availability and quality of mental healthcare is improving compared to even a few years ago. But there is still a huge stigma around mental health, particularly for men. There’s a sense among men that in order to be “macho” or “masculine” you mustn’t show any weakness or vulnerability, and admitting to something like depression carries with it a stigma as a result. To take one of the most important characters in a massive entertainment franchise which probably still has a majority-male audience shows to young men that depression is real, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and maybe, just maybe, the way Luke was presented in The Last Jedi actually helped someone out here in the real world. I know that it helped me.

It’s okay to be disappointed in a work of fiction, especially if it’s something highly-anticipated. I don’t pretend to tell anyone how to feel about The Last Jedi or the way Luke is portrayed in it; works of fiction are, despite what some of the film’s detractors like to say, subjective. But where I absolutely feel that people need to be willing to consider things from “a certain point of view” (as Ben Kenobi said in Return of the Jedi) is the way the film deals with mental health. You can disagree with me about Luke till you’re blue in the face if you believe he acted “wrong” or you didn’t like the performance or the storyline or for any one of a number of reasons, but don’t make the ignorant, asinine argument that “Luke would never be depressed.” Depression does not work that way; you don’t get to choose if it afflicts you, and being a strong, heroic character is no guarantee of avoiding it.

We can disagree about Luke’s characterisation in The Last Jedi. But mental health is an important subject that shouldn’t be ignored in fiction.

I sat down to watch The Last Jedi several months after it premiered in cinemas. My health precludes me from going in person these days, so I’d heard much of the criticism already. I had relatively low expectations for the film as a result, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did it tell a different story within the Star Wars universe, one which didn’t attempt to be a beat-for-beat retelling of a previous title, but specifically because of how Luke was presented. Here was the hero of Star Wars shown to be human. Vulnerable. Relatable. And as much as I disliked The Rise of Skywalker when I saw it earlier this year, it continued a theme we saw in the final act of The Last Jedi: hope.

Yes there was hope for the resistance, for Rey, and for ultimate victory in the galactic war. But that wasn’t all. Luke himself had found hope; he found a reason to believe in something again. Depression isn’t usually something one can just “snap out” of, and in that sense perhaps it’s the least-realistic part of the narrative. But it’s hard to tell a story about depression in two hours that doesn’t have at least an element of that if a character is to find a way out of depression by the end, so I give it a pass on that front.

Luke eventually found something to believe in again.

Not only did Luke himself find hope, but The Last Jedi conveys to sufferers of depression a sense of hope. After everything Luke experienced, he was able to move on. He found inspiration and was able to begin the process of getting back to his old self, a process we see continued in his ghostly appearances in The Rise of Skywalker. The way Luke came across in The Rise of Skywalker can feel like fan-service and certainly was a conscious effort to overwrite his portrayal in The Last Jedi, but if you remember that they’re two parts of one story, it’s possible to see the way Luke behaves as indicative of his overcoming depression.

I find that to be a powerful message to end a powerful storyline. Luke became depressed, just like anyone can. But he found a way out. For my two cents, different groups of fans needed to hear those messages, but in different ways. Folks going through their own difficulties needed to see someone like Luke falling victim to this condition to normalise it, to make them consider the way they feel, and perhaps even as a prompt to seek help. They could also see that, despite the way Luke was feeling at the beginning of The Last Jedi, by the end he found a way out; there is light at the end of the tunnel. And fans who have been lucky enough never to have to deal with mental health either in their own lives or with someone they care about needed to see that it’s real. That it can happen to anyone.

The Rise of Skywalker tried to overwrite large parts of Luke’s characterisation. But taken as two parts of a larger story they show his recovery from depression.

The way Luke was presented in The Last Jedi may not have been what fans expected or hoped to see. But it was a powerful story, one which resonated with me and, I have no doubt, with a lot of other people too. It built on what we already knew about Luke from the original trilogy in different, unexpected ways, but ways which were true to his character. His flicker of darkness, his occasional rashness, and his struggles were all present in those films and made Luke the kind of flawed protagonist worth supporting. Those elements remained in his characterisation in The Last Jedi, but so did his innate decency and ability to reach for the best in others and in himself. It just took him some time to rediscover that about himself; a journey that will be familiar to anyone who’s been in that position.

I don’t want to tell anyone disappointed by The Last Jedi that they have to like it. Nor do I want to say that the way Luke was portrayed is something they have to like either. Instead I wanted to present the other side of the argument, to defend Luke’s characterisation, and to explain why it resonated with me. We can disagree vehemently on this topic – and myriad others across fiction – and remain civil.

I’d like to close by saying that, however we may feel about Luke in The Last Jedi, in my mind there’s no way he wasn’t Luke. Some fans latched onto a comment by Mark Hamill saying the character felt like “Jake Skywalker” and not Luke, but I have to disagree. He was always Luke.

The Star Wars franchise – including The Last Jedi and all other titles listed above – is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This can be a controversial topic, so please keep in mind that this is all subjective. 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.