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 Obi-Wan Kenobi series: hopes, fears, and expectations

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Book of Boba Fett, and recent films such as The Rise of Skywalker.

I’ve made no secret through my commentary here on the website that I’m not thrilled by many of the decisions and announcements that have come out of Disney and Lucasfilm lately. The Star Wars franchise as a whole feels stuck; bogged down by nostalgia and led by a team whose creativity is being stifled by a corporate board that is unwilling or unable to move on from successes that are now decades in the past. The divisiveness of the sequel trilogy will eventually abate, but for now the Star Wars franchise is intent on looking backwards.

This is why we have projects like Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first place. The very concept of the series is backwards-looking, and all it really offers, at a fundamental level, are more of the same nostalgia plays that tripped up projects like Solo: A Star Wars Story. As I said last time I took a look at the upcoming series – which is now less than a month away – if I were in charge over at Disney and Lucasfilm, a project like this would’ve never been greenlit!

Obi-Wan in a teaser for the upcoming series.

That isn’t all there is to say, of course. Another recent Star Wars project that I had relatively low expectations for was The Book of Boba Fett. Arbitrarily bringing back from the dead a relatively minor character and dedicating an entire spin-off project to him felt like it should’ve been the epitome of everything I’ve come to dislike about modern Star Wars. But as you’ll know if you read my review of the first season, I actually had a good time with The Book of Boba Fett. It was far from perfect, but it hid its imperfections in a story that was, for the most part anyway, just plain fun.

So as I look ahead to Obi-Wan Kenobi, there are reasons for optimism. Ewan McGregor’s performance as the titular Jedi Knight was one of the prequel trilogy’s highlights, and he did well to bring to life a younger version of the character we’d originally met in 1977. Though I’ve never been wild about the prequels – the first two parts in particular – McGregor inhabited the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi and showed us, at least in part through Kenobi’s eyes, the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, as well as the hubris that led to the demise of the Jedi Order itself.

Hello there!

My biggest concern when it comes to Obi-Wan Kenobi is how it will find a story to tell that fits into the existing saga of Star Wars. The series has to be very carefully-crafted to be able to slot neatly into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Unlike The Book of Boba Fett, which could’ve gone in all kinds of different directions as an epilogue to Boba’s story, Obi-Wan Kenobi has to show us a chapter of the Jedi Master’s life that falls in between the parts we already know. It has the very difficult task of being interesting, exciting, and dramatic without overwriting anything we already know, nor robbing any of the other stories of their impact.

Between what we saw in the prequels and the original films, we know the story of Obi-Wan’s life. I’d argue that we’ve seen the most interesting parts already: how he rose from being a padawan apprentice to a master in his own right, the role he played in the Clone Wars, and how the Empire rose around him. We’ve seen him take on Luke Skywalker as his apprentice, and then sacrifice his life in a duel with Darth Vader. What can Obi-Wan Kenobi add to this story that we don’t already know or can’t infer from the parts we’ve already seen? How can it give its protagonist an arc that takes him from where we left him at the end of Revenge of the Sith to where we picked up his story in A New Hope? And how can it make that story something worth watching without feeling either incredibly tacked-on or like a bolt from the blue?

“Old Ben” Kenobi in A New Hope.

Those are just some of the narrative challenges that the new series faces, and they’re by no means small ones! Obi-Wan Kenobi has to thread the needle; it can’t stray too far from what we already know, but it also has to find a way to chart its own path despite that limitation. I guess another of my worries is that the story the new series ultimately tries to tell will ignore some or all of those points and blaze a trail that will take Obi-Wan on an adventure that undermines his arc in either the prequels, original films, or both.

For the show’s writers, it must be sorely tempting to pit Obi-Wan and Darth Vader against one another – but doing so would utterly ruin one of the most powerful sequences in A New Hope. As much fun as it might be for the writers and creative team to stage another duel between the former master and apprentice, these classic characters need to be treated more carefully than that. Star Wars is already in a strange place thanks to things like Palpatine’s survival after Return of the Jedi; to throw Obi-Wan and Vader into a conflict against one another a decade before A New Hope would take away one of the few significant moments that remain unaltered from the original trilogy.

Obi-Wan Kenobi mustn’t undermine the meeting between Obi-Wan and Vader in A New Hope.

In their rush to recapture the magic of Star Wars, the franchise’s current executives and producers have actually erased a good deal of what made the original films as meaningful as they were. The story of Anakin’s redemption and return to the light in Return of the Jedi, for example, is hideously twisted and undermined by the subsequent revelations that Palpatine was able to survive, live for another thirty years, start a new Sith Empire, and even corrupt Anakin’s own grandson. Obi-Wan Kenobi simply can’t repeat this kind of mistake. If it does, Star Wars will have very little left.

Part of what made the duel between Obi-Wan and Vader aboard the Death Star so powerful is that it was their first meeting in many years. Even when watching the original film years before the prequels came out, it was obvious that the hate Vader had for Obi-Wan had been building for a long time. Add into the mix the backstory that the prequels gave us and the moment takes on a different and even greater significance. For Vader, this was his opportunity to get revenge on the man who left him badly injured and dependent on his hated suit. It became one of the most powerful sequences in the film – and in the entire saga.

The iconic lightsaber duel.

A few months ago I took a look at a similar project over in the Star Trek franchise: Ceti Alpha V is a proposed miniseries that would revisit iconic villain Khan. Having already seen the two most interesting parts of Khan’s story – his awakening in the 23rd Century and his battle against Kirk in The Wrath of Khan, I argued that such a project is ultimately not necessary. What would we learn about Khan from that miniseries that hasn’t already been explored either by Space Seed or The Wrath of Khan? It’s almost certainly the least-interesting part of his story, one that would not only be kind of a waste of time, but if given too much leeway, one that could undermine one of the high points of the entire Star Trek franchise.

And it’s hard not to look at Obi-Wan Kenobi with a similar degree of scepticism. Since we clearly aren’t just going to watch Obi-Wan sit around in his desert hut for six episodes, the question of what exactly he’s going to do comes to the fore. What makes this chapter of his life worthy of a six-episode miniseries, and how will it balance the need to be exciting and entertaining with the constraints of a very definite beginning and end point?

An Imperial Inquisitor seen in the teaser.

All that being said, Disney+ has a pretty good track record with its original productions. Obi-Wan Kenobi will likely have a per-episode budget that fans of other franchises could only dream of, so on the technical side of things we can almost certainly look forward to a polished production that looks great and makes creative use of CGI and other visual effects. Recent Star Wars projects have brought back more of the puppets and practical effects that defined the franchise’s look in its original incarnation, and that’s something I’ve enjoyed seeing. And in terms of special effects, things like the de-ageing and digital character creation that we’ve seen employed in The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian are nothing short of technological marvels.

Famed composer John Williams is returning to the Star Wars franchise yet again to compose the show’s theme, which is another neat inclusion. Just like The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi will make use of an AR wall (similar to the one used in recent Star Trek productions), which should also look fantastic. In addition to Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen is reprising his role as Darth Vader, and the inclusion of actors like Rupert Friend rounds out what seems to be an excellent cast. Director Deborah Chow has a good track record, too, with directing credits in series as diverse as Turn: Washington’s Spies, Fear the Walking Dead, and The Man in the High Castle. She also directed two episodes of The Mandalorian, so she’s not a newcomer to the franchise.

A company of Stormtroopers in the teaser.

All of those things give me hope! There’s potential in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and there’s no denying that Disney and Lucasfilm have put together a great team, backed them up with a significant budget, and given the project a shot at success. For me, the biggest potential pitfall remains the premise of the series itself, and the limited storytelling directions it could reasonably take.

I’m trying to rein in both my scepticism and excitement on different sides of the project, and I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying I’m cautiously optimistic. The success of The Book of Boba Fett earlier in the year, which was similarly a series I had reservations about, has perhaps led me to feel a little more hopeful than I otherwise might about Obi-Wan Kenobi’s prospects.

One final note: it’s worth saying that Obi-Wan Kenobi exists, like several other recent and upcoming sci-fi and fantasy projects, largely because fans were asking for it. Fans who grew up with the prequel trilogy, viewing those films as “their” Star Wars, have generally reacted very positively to news about Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I’m happy for them that Disney and Lucasfilm have been listening. I hope they get the series they’ve been looking for – and with any luck it’ll be something that I can enjoy too!

Obi-Wan Kenobi is scheduled to premiere on Disney+ on the 27th of May 2022. The Star Wars franchise – including Obi-Wan Kenobi 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.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga and the nine mainline Star Wars films.

I had a lot of fun in the days when I owned an Xbox 360 with Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. That game brought a lot of lightheartedness to the Star Wars franchise, and was also a surprisingly complex game, with many characters to unlock and collectables to find. Going back and replaying levels didn’t feel like a chore, making it a great game to play solo or co-operatively. I had high hopes when a new Lego Star Wars title was announced, and it’s finally here after several lengthy delays!

I’m not even going to attempt a thorough playthrough in time to write a review; it will take a long time to go through the game and truly experience all that it has to offer. But for now I thought it would be worth sharing my first impressions! I’ve spent just over six hours with the game over the past couple of days, and I’ve jumped into two of the game’s stories/campaigns. I feel that’s long enough to get a feel for how the game plays – as well as to spot any major flaws or problems!

Promo art/banner for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is split up into nine parts – one for each of the nine mainline films of the Skywalker Saga. On booting up the game for the first time, only three are available: The Phantom Menace, A New Hope, and The Force Awakens. Completing these unlocks the next part of that particular trilogy, and so on. It’s a neat way to organise it, and I liked that I was able to choose which trilogy I wanted to get started with. If the campaign had been entirely linear, with players having to unlock each film one by one, it would probably have been less enjoyable – and likewise, if all nine campaigns were unlocked from the start there’d be less to accomplish. All in all, this approach feels like it strikes the right balance.

I chose to start with The Phantom Menace – it’s my least-favourite film (well, tied with The Rise of Skywalker), but it’s often been my starting point when I go back to re-watch the mainline Star Wars films. As a film with a child-friendly atmosphere, it’s also one that I felt could translate well to the world of Lego! After spending a bit of time progressing through The Phantom Menace I hopped out of that campaign and loaded up A New Hope. It took me a second to figure out how to change campaigns on the fly, but it’s something the game allows you to do.

Qui-Gon Jinn with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jar Jar Binks.

As someone who hasn’t played a Lego game in years, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to note that, despite major visual improvements, the feel of playing a Lego game is still present. There’s a cartoon silliness that doesn’t merely begin and end with the game’s visual style, it permeates many different aspects of the gameplay as well – and that less-than-serious take has been a hallmark of Lego Star Wars games (and Lego games in general) going back to the very first iteration. All of that is still present in The Skywalker Saga.

Half the fun of Lego games has always been in roaming around the environment, looking for things to destroy, studs to collect, and hidden collectables. I have no idea how many different things are hidden across the game – but in the few hours I’ve spent with it so far I’ve found dozens, and I’ve barely scratched the surface! What I love about these hidden collectables is that it isn’t just a case of wandering around until you find an obscure part of the map that’s off the beaten track; in order to find or unlock many of them you have to solve a puzzle, run through an optional extra assignment, and things like that. Not all of these puzzles are easy, either, despite the game being aimed at kids!

C-3PO and R2D2 on Tatooine.

The Skywalker Saga would absolutely be the perfect first Star Wars game for a younger fan. Of the Star Wars games released in recent years, it’s by far the easiest to get started with – and it’s also the most complete in terms of telling the classic story of the films. Some scenes and sequences are skipped over during the story, but so far I’ve found both of the stories that I’ve played to be surprisingly deep; there’s certainly more than enough context provided by the game that even someone unfamiliar with the films could follow the story.

One thing that surprised me at least a little was the diversity of environments on display in The Skywalker Saga. The Star Wars galaxy is huge, canonically speaking, and we’ve seen a huge variety of different locales and biomes on display in the films and TV shows. But because The Skywalker Saga is a Lego game and has a cartoon feel, I wasn’t sure how well some of that would translate. It was great to see that the different interior and exterior environments all look and feel distinct from one another; that’s something that really captures the sense of scale present in Star Wars.

Promotional screenshot showing an Ewok and AT-ST on Endor.

Speaking of diversity, there’s more than one type of level in The Skywalker Saga! In addition to levels which characters must traverse on foot, there are ship-based sections where players can pilot a variety of different ships from the Star Wars galaxy. I can’t remember if this is something that has been present in prior Lego Star Wars games, but it was neat to see it here. Being able to hop into everything from starfighters to submarines adds a heck of a lot to the experience, making it feel deeper and richer. Programming and developing different modes of gameplay is no mean feat, and even though we all might have our preferences when it comes to the kinds of levels we prefer, I’d say that The Skywalker Saga is significantly better for including these different styles of gameplay.

The Skywalker Saga is being pitched by publisher Warner Bros. as the definitive Lego Star Wars experience. It brings more characters to the table than ever before, as well as more levels based on all nine of the mainline Star Wars films. It’s hard to argue that – at least in 2022 – this really is as good as it gets for a fan of Lego Star Wars!

Promotional screenshot showing prequel-era Republic starships.

There are new elements that are clearly designed to modernise the familiar formula. The fact that it’s possible to level up your characters and give them gameplay upgrades is a nod to the way that this aspect that originated with role-playing games has become omnipresent in video games today. But none of that feels intrusive, and while it’s certainly possible to spend a lot of time chasing down enough studs or Kyber bricks to unlock the next upgrade, it’s also possible to have fun playing the game without paying too much attention to that side of it. I wouldn’t call these things entirely “optional,” but they’re inoffensive for players who aren’t interested or who just want to have fun playing the game.

Getting to grips with the gameplay felt easy enough. There are a few different moves and attacks that player characters can perform, and the nature of these will depend on whether the character is a Jedi, a gunslinger-type, a droid, and so on. There are ranged shots, melee attacks, jumps, and it’s possible to perform combos. Sometimes these combos will be required (enemies can block certain attacks) meaning it isn’t always possible to race through a level mindlessly hitting the X button!

Promotional screenshot showing Boba Fett.

I didn’t encounter a single bug, glitch, or graphical issue with The Skywalker Saga through my six hours of gameplay, and considering the state of some recent highly-anticipated games I think that’s pretty good! I played on PC, but the game is also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.

The Switch version in particular holds a lot of appeal! Being able to play the game on the go is something I’m sure a lot of fans will appreciate, but it also just feels like a good fit in general for Nintendo’s family-friendly machine. I’m glad that The Skywalker Saga was able to get a Switch release; even more so that it was released on Switch at the same time as on every other platform.

Qui-Gon Jinn using the Force to lift a Lego object.

So I guess that’s it. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has been a lot of fun so far, and I can’t wait to jump back in and play some more! I’ll be curious to see how the Lego treatment works for The Rise of Skywalker; that film is tied with The Phantom Menace for being my least-favourite in the saga. The Phantom Menance managed to be fun, so I feel reasonably optimistic that, despite not enjoying the film, I’ll at least have fun with its gameplay adaptation!

I’d happily recommend The Skywalker Saga to anyone who enjoys either the Star Wars franchise or this style of kid-friendly gameplay. You won’t get a massive Elden Ring-style challenge out of it, and in terms of multiplayer you’re limited to playing with a single friend only (and I hear it works far better locally than online). But with those caveats, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is something I think a lot of players will be able to find enjoyment in. For kids, especially younger kids looking to get started with perhaps their first big Star Wars game, I think it’s a no-brainer.

So far, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has been great. For me personally, while I had fun with Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga during the Xbox 360 era, I don’t feel the same nostalgic pull to these games as some younger folks who grew up playing them as kids might. But even so, I’m having a lot of fun and I’m happy to recommend the game to anyone still on the fence.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is the copyright of Traveller’s Tales, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and/or the Walt Disney Company. The Star Wars franchise 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 Book of Boba Fett review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, The Last Jedi, and other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Book of Boba Fett when it was unexpectedly announced at the end of The Mandalorian Season 2. I was hopeful for a new series set in the Star Wars galaxy – only the second-ever live-action TV show in this setting – but I’d also felt underwhelmed by both The Mandalorian and a slew of announcements from Disney and Lucasfilm that seemed to be relying far too heavily on Star Wars’ past at the expense of trying anything even slightly new and different.

The Book of Boba Fett was, in many ways, the nostalgia overload that I expected it would be. The show could feel, at times, like executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni were two Star Wars-loving kids playing with life-size action figures of their favourite characters. Whether it was Boba Fett riding a Rancor monster, Luke Skywalker building his Jedi Academy, the Mandalorian wielding a lightsaber, or characters from The Clone Wars making significant appearances, The Book of Boba Fett had this almost child-like tone that harkened back to the Star Wars adventures kids have enjoyed making up for decades.

Boba Fett riding a Rancor in the series finale.

A friend of mine (who is far smarter and more astute than I am) also noted, with a degree of disappointment, that The Book of Boba Fett had a “lighthearted Disneyfied edge” at times, with some of the show’s potentially dark themes of violence and criminality being blunted or just outright ignored in favour of creating something that would work for younger kids as well as teens and adults. And I can’t deny that – several sequences in The Book of Boba Fett could have been transposed into the most basic of Disney Channel comedy shows with barely any adaptation required.

In addition, The Book of Boba Fett relies very heavily on The Mandalorian, to such an extent that anyone who hasn’t watched the previous two seasons would be, I suspect, rather lost – especially in the final two or three episodes in which the titular Boba Fett scarcely features. There was the return of Grogu (Baby Yoda) at Luke Skywalker’s Academy, Din Djarin (Mandy) seeking out the survivors of his Mandalorian clique, the residents of Mos Pelgo and their sheriff, and even the Tatooine mechanic who found him a brand-new ship to replace the destroyed Razor Crest. Though the way in which Mandy was written into the story made a degree of sense – as I can believe he’d feel he owed something to Boba Fett after the way he helped out in The Mandalorian Season 2 – it made the final three episodes of what was only a short seven-episode season feel like the first part of The Mandalorian Season 3.

Mandy returned in a pretty big way.

All of the pieces fell into place for The Book of Boba Fett to be a series I’d expect to find completely disappointing… but I didn’t. Even the incredibly weak, hand-wavy explanation for Boba’s survival after Return of the Jedi couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for what was an enjoyable romp in the Star Wars galaxy, and when I would’ve expected to find myself sighing with disappointment at the overuse of classic characters and other nostalgic crutches, I found myself so immersed in what was a thoroughly engaging story that I just… didn’t. That isn’t to say that The Book of Boba Fett was “perfect,” not by any stretch. But it was fun – despite its imperfections.

It’s words like that that I’d use to describe The Book of Boba Fett. It was a series that had huge entertainment value, depicting a rip-roaring adventure across the sands of Tatooine. Perhaps it’s specifically because of the “Disneyfied” toned-down darker moments, but the show managed to have this incredibly positive, energetic atmosphere that cut through all of the nonsense and amplified the exciting and emotional moments in its story, making it a fun watch almost all the way through.

Boba with Fennec Shand and a Gamorrean guard.

I’m always a sucker for stories about outnumbered heroes, bad guys with “hearts of gold,” and heroic last stands, and The Book of Boba Fett gave me all of those things. Whether it was Boba Fett sneaking into Jabba the Hutt’s palace to steal back his ship, learning to fight like a Tusken raider in the Dune Sea of Tatooine, or the gang coming together to fight off the forces arrayed against them, The Book of Boba Fett packed these exciting and often emotional punches in just the right way for the story to be incredibly enjoyable for me.

If I look at The Book of Boba Fett with a more critical eye, there are absolutely things that I would have changed or chosen not to include. I don’t think, for example, that the sequences with Luke Skywalker and Grogu were especially satisfying when I think about them more deeply. The Mandalorian Season 2 spent basically its entire runtime getting Mandy and Grogu to attract Luke’s attention, and for Luke to then present Grogu with a binary choice – to go with Mandy or train as a Jedi – then to have that choice happen entirely off-screen, effectively rendering everything Mandy did in Season 2 pointless… it leaves a bit of a bad taste. It’s “The Rise of Skywalker problem” – where the next chapter in the story effectively undoes the big narrative moments from the chapter that preceded it.

Luke offered Grogu a choice, and he apparently came to his decision off-screen.

Also, as some fans far smarter than I am have already pointed out, it feels wrong for Luke Skywalker to offer Grogu such a choice to begin with. We don’t know how much time had passed since the events of The Mandalorian Season 2, but it could perhaps be a few weeks or a few months – a year at the very most. Grogu hadn’t spent much time there nor done much training, so for this choice to be presented to him while he’s at such a young age – and for Luke, whose entire arc in Return of the Jedi had centred around his own attachment to his father while simultaneously being a Jedi Knight – to be the one forcing this choice onto Grogu, are likewise things that feel wrong.

It feels like this side of the story was contrived in such a way as to get Grogu to leave Luke’s Jedi Academy – perhaps so he can have a role in The Mandalorian Season 3, perhaps because there’s something else going on with his character that we don’t yet know, or perhaps because the creators and producers realised that, as things stand, Grogu would almost certainly end up among Kylo Ren’s victims when he betrays Luke – something we saw in the sequel trilogy. As I remarked in my review of The Mandalorian Season 2, this makes Grogu’s whole story feel bittersweet, and given the cute critter’s huge popularity with Star Wars fans and a wider audience in general, maybe this decision was made to save him from that fate.

Was an executive decision taken to “save” Grogu from the fate of Luke’s other students?

When I took a look at The Mandalorian Season 2, I also said that Luke Skywalker felt like a story crutch for a series – and a franchise – that was too reliant on its own past and on nostalgia plays. The same could apply to The Book of Boba Fett, too. In a series that was already throwing Star Wars’ greatest hits at viewers, the inclusion of Luke Skywalker was pure fan-service. I think it worked better here having been set up in Season 2 of The Mandalorian, and thus didn’t come from nowhere in quite the same way, but I would question whether or not it was strictly necessary to have these sequences in a show that was already so intent on looking backwards.

As I watched the first couple of episodes of The Book of Boba Fett, I thought to myself that, although the reintroduction of this seemingly-dead character was itself a huge “hail Mary” nostalgia throw, at least the series would finally take Star Wars away from the Force, the Jedi, and the Skywalker family. It ultimately failed to do that, bringing all of those elements back into play, and again I just feel that this is indicative of a franchise that doesn’t really know what to do or how to act without the crutch of those safe, comfortable, familiar elements. Star Wars teases viewers with a massive galaxy to explore, but every film and series so far has returned in one way or another to the same handful of characters and the same absolutely minuscule slice of that vast, tantalising setting. I would love for Star Wars to try something genuinely new and different one day, and while I didn’t really expect that from a series based around Boba Fett, it would still have been a bold decision to cut Luke Skywalker and Grogu from the story altogether, and leave the Force behind.

The Book of Boba Fett relied very heavily on elements and characters from past iterations of Star Wars.

The Book of Boba Fett, perhaps because it was relatively short at a mere seven episodes, wasn’t great at communicating the passage of time. This is also a complaint I’d raised about The Mandalorian, specifically in its first season, but in this case it was made worse by the fact that we were seeing different parts of Boba’s story that seemingly took place months or years apart. From his escape from the Sarlacc and capture by the Tuskens to his acceptance of Tusken culture and raid on the train to his meeting with Fennec Shand, their raid on Jabba’s palace, and then Boba laying claim to the throne… it wasn’t at all clear how much time had passed from one sequence to the next.

At one point Boba mentioned something about “years,” but that felt like little more than clumsy exposition – and didn’t even make clear how long it had been between some of the scenes we saw. Presumably his escape from the Sarlacc and his initial capture by the Tuskens took place within hours of Return of the Jedi – but the rest of it was decidedly muddled and unclear.

It wasn’t at all clear how long Boba spent with the Tuskens… or how much time had passed between flashback sequences and the show’s present day.

So let’s talk about Boba Fett’s survival, because this was one point I was really interested in prior to the series. For almost forty years it seemed as though Boba Fett was dead. Maybe some works in the old Expanded Universe found fan-fiction nonsense that brought him back, but canonically speaking, Boba Fett was dead. That’s how I interpreted the very unambiguous scene of him falling into the Sarlacc’s maw in Return of the Jedi when I first saw it in the early ’90s – and on every subsequent viewing, come to that. Overcoming that hurdle was something that The Book of Boba Fett had to at least try to do.

In the end, the answer was pretty lame, the sequence raced through pretty quickly, and the answer to this almost-forty-year-old puzzle hand-waved away. Boba Fett survived by essentially shooting and exploding his way out, then collapsed on the sand near the Sarlacc pit. His armour was stolen by scavenging Jawas, and Boba was later rescued – or captured – by Tuskens. It was all over pretty quickly, and while I don’t necessarily feel there’s much to dispute in terms of the basic mechanics of his escape from the Sarlacc – he still had his armour and most of his weapons and explosives as he fell, after all – it was just a bit rushed. It felt like The Book of Boba Fett was trying to brush the details of his survival under the rug so it could race ahead to tell other stories.

Boba Fett’s escape from the Sarlacc was quite rushed.

In a series that generally got the feel and tone right, there were a couple of odd choices. The Twi’lek character played by comedian David Pasquesi largely felt out-of-place; an overtly comedic character in what was, for the most part, a series that didn’t seem to be trying too hard to be funny. The biker gang that Boba Fett recruited to his cause were perhaps the oddest-looking group, visually speaking, and their speeder bikes definitely looked out-of-place, being far too bright and colourful in a setting that was otherwise comprised of tans, browns, and other desert tones.

Putting these two together created what was perhaps the worst sequence in the entire series: a slow-speed comedy car chase that felt like it had been lifted out of a Disney Channel movie aimed at a pre-teen audience. Tonally speaking it was just wrong for The Book of Boba Fett, it dragged on far too long, and ultimately added nothing of substance to the show.

The Book of Boba Fett did not need a comedy car chase sequence.

But really, all of those points are glorified nitpicks, and didn’t really detract too much from what was a fun romp. Though there were things I would’ve changed or chosen not to include, taken as a whole package The Book of Boba Fett worked far better than I would have imagined. If you’d told me at the start that the climax of the series would’ve been Boba riding on a Rancor monster fighting alongside Mandy, a Wookie, and Baby Yoda I might not have even bothered to tune in… but the way it got to that point, and even the climactic fight itself, were just plain fun.

Visually, The Book of Boba Fett looked amazing. The CGI work used to create Luke Skywalker was so convincing on my 4K television that I honestly thought I was looking at a real person at first. The Star Wars franchise – and, to be fair, Disney in general – is setting an incredibly high standard for other streaming shows in terms of visuals and special effects, and I hope this high standard of competition will see others raise their game. I’m looking at you, Star Trek – at the very least it would be nice to start getting Star Trek episodes in 4K HDR!

Boba Fett without his trademark helmet.

So I think that’s about all I have to say about The Book of Boba Fett. It was a technically polished series with a combination of great practical and digital effects that made it look absolutely fantastic. And it’s set a very high bar for digital character work that other shows – and even films – will struggle to match. Acting performances were fantastic across the board, with everyone giving it their all. The show also had a great, somewhat understated musical score that was pitch-perfect.

Above all, though, The Book of Boba Fett was far more fun than I could have possibly expected. Somehow, a combination of individual elements that seemed on the surface to be weak or otherwise uninspiring came together to build a far better and more entertaining series than should have been possible! I had a hugely enjoyable time with The Book of Boba Fett, and it even succeeded at getting me interested – and, dare I say, even a little excited – for Season 3 of The Mandalorian, which is rumoured to be coming before the end of the year.

After feeling underwhelmed or even disappointed with some recent Star Wars projects, it was nice to be able to kick back and enjoy an exciting, action-packed romp across Tatooine with Boba Fett and his motley crew. At time of writing, a second season of the show hasn’t been confirmed – but it seems almost unfathomable to me that there won’t be more adventures with Boba and Fennec Shand.

The Book of Boba Fett is available to stream now on Disney+. The Star Wars franchise – including The Book of Boba Fett 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logo for Rangers of the New Republic.

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

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

A New Republic pilot seen in The Mandalorian.

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

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

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

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

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

Emblem of the New Republic.

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

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

Gina Carano as Cara Dune in The Mandalorian Season 1.

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

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

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

Five amazing Nintendo 64 games

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers are present for some of the entries on this list.

Nintendo recently launched the so-called Switch online “expansion pack” – representing incredibly poor value, but that’s beside the point. Included with the subscription are a handful of Nintendo 64 titles which the Switch can emulate. It just got me thinking about one of my favourite consoles and some of the amazing games I enjoyed back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I upgraded from a Super Nintendo (or SNES) to a Nintendo 64 at Christmas 1997, and the console was my primary gaming machine for about three years until I picked up a Dreamcast shortly after the turn of the millennium. Though I had a PC as well at the time, it was underpowered compared to the console and couldn’t come close to matching it. Though we often think of PC gaming in 2021 as being the gold standard that consoles have to try to measure up to, it wasn’t that long ago where even an expensive PC would struggle in gaming performance next to a dedicated games console – and the Nintendo 64/PlayStation generation was certainly part of that era!

A transparent blue Nintendo 64 console – and its controller.

The Nintendo 64 was my first experience with proper 3D graphics. I’d played PC games with 3D environments before, and other games with 3D sprites, but it was only when I sat down to play Super Mario 64 that I got to fully experience a 3D virtual world. It felt like the future back then – and considering that the Nintendo 64 pioneered a number of features that are still part of gaming today, I guess I was right about that!

Aesthetically, I love the design of the Nintendo 64 and its controller. The chunky three-armed device was intimidating at first; “I don’t have three hands,” I remember thinking, “so how am I supposed to hold it?!” But having an analogue stick was a neat feature, one that felt like a massive upgrade from the wobbly joysticks or D-pads of past consoles I’d been able to play on. Navigating the new 3D environments needed a controller suited to that purpose, and the Nintendo 64’s analogue stick delivered – even if it seems a little primitive when compared to the controllers we enjoy today! Having a “trigger” also made shooting games feel all the more immersive.

A Nintendo 64 controller. What a weird design!

The Nintendo 64 had a stellar lineup of games – several of which I only got to play years later as they were unaffordable to me when I was younger and broke! Now I’m old and still broke – but at least there’s emulation! Actually, the Nintendo 64 was the console that got me into the emulation scene back in the early 2000s. After upgrading to a more powerful PC I found that I could emulate the console quite well, and had a blast re-playing a few favourites as well as playing titles I missed out on first time around. I can’t condone emulation – it’s a legal minefield and you should be careful – but if you have a decent computer and know what you’re doing you’ll have a far better (and cheaper) time than you would if you paid for a Switch online “expansion pack!”

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say that the games of this era represent a transitional stage for the video games industry as a whole. Most Nintendo 64 titles feel like a half-step between the rather basic, toy-like games of earlier generations and the bigger, more in-depth and cinematic titles that we’d enjoy a few short years later. The move from 2D to 3D didn’t immediately lead to masterpieces like Shenmue or Knights of the Old Republic, but the rapid pace of technological change meant that those kinds of games were finally possible. The Nintendo 64 has some games that tried very hard to tell more adult-oriented stories, and it was around this time that I felt video games as a whole had a heck of a lot of potential to be something more.

This was an era of transition for video games.

So on this occasion – twenty-five years on from the Nintendo 64’s 1996 debut – I thought it would be fun to look at five of my favourite titles. These are just a few of the games that, for me anyway, made the Nintendo 64 great. My usual caveat applies: I’m not saying these five games are “objectively the best” Nintendo 64 games out there. If you hate all of them or don’t see your favourite on the list, that’s okay! There are plenty of Nintendo 64 games out there, and we all have our personal favourites. These are just a few of mine!

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the list – which is in no particular order.

Number 1: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

The Battle of Hoth.

A few years before Knights of the Old Republic would come along and absolutely blow me away, Shadows of the Empire took me on an outstanding Star Wars-themed adventure. A third-person action-adventure game with nary a Jedi nor the Force in sight, players take control of the Han Solo-inspired Dash Rendar for a wild romp across the galaxy – set during and just after the events of The Empire Strikes Back!

What I adored about Shadows of the Empire was the diversity of gameplay on display. Not only could Dash run and gun in a 3D world that looked so much better and felt way more immersive than any 2D Star Wars game I’d played previously, but he could also pilot several different vehicles – a Snowspeeder taking on AT-AT walkers on Hoth, his own spaceship, swoop bikes, and more.

Shadows of the Empire came at a time when the old Expanded Universe was really ramping up, and along with a novel and comic was technically considered canon until Disney expunged the Expanded Universe in 2013. However, being an official project with a high degree of involvement from Lucasfilm meant that the game slotted in well to the Star Wars universe, feeling genuinely connected to the events and characters of the films.

Number 2: Super Mario 64

Wheeeeeee!

Of course we’re going to talk about Super Mario 64! This was the only Nintendo 64 game I had at first, and I played it for hours and hours! Though I’d played some games on the PC – like Doom – which used pseudo-3D environments, and others which used 3D sprites for 2D gameplay, Super Mario 64 was the first truly 3D game that I played. The difference in how immersive and realistic the game felt, and how it conveyed a sense of scale that really made me feel part of its world are feelings I have never forgotten even a quarter of a century later!

Booting up Super Mario 64 for the first time was a wild experience, one that has stuck with me ever since. But the game itself was fantastic, too, with Mario on a quest to save Princess Peach by battling Bowser and his minions inside painting worlds. The unique premise allowed Super Mario 64 to show off a range of different levels and different environments, and new gameplay mechanics – some of which were inspired by past Super Mario titles – allowed a far greater degree of environmental interaction than ever before.

One level in Super Mario 64 that stands out is Wet-Dry World. Players could change the amount of water in the level, raising and lowering it both by jumping into the painting at different heights and within the level itself by touching special items. The idea that Mario could change the environment in real-time, and then use that gameplay mechanic to solve puzzles, was absolutely genius! And the game is full of other examples of this kind of radical, utterly transformative gameplay.

Number 3: GoldenEye 007

Pew! Pew!

GoldenEye took the first-person shooter concept and honed it, making excellent use of the Nintendo 64’s control pad and analogue stick. Without GoldenEye it’s hard to see how other first-person shooters on console – like the Halo series, which arrived a few years later – would have been possible. It was a pioneering title, and surely one of the best film adaptations of all time!

The Nintendo 64 upped the number of control pads and thus the number of players from two on the SNES to four – meaning four-way deathmatches were possible! Split-screen was the order of the day, of course – this was long before online gaming was commonplace – and among my friend group four-player matches were relatively rare. But when we could get a few friends together, playing GoldenEye was a blast! It had fun, fast-paced shooting, well-designed levels with plenty of variety – from maze-like corridors and small rooms to expansive larger environments – and 3D graphics that put you right in the action.

GoldenEye didn’t create the first-person shooter genre. But it took full advantage of the Nintendo 64’s impressive hardware to feel streets ahead of earlier titles – and even many games that were released around the same time. Fully 3D environments and characters instead of 2D “billboard” sprites and a plot that vaguely followed the events of the film made for a fantastic all-around title. Rare would further hone many of the techniques on display when they created Perfect Dark a few years later.

Number 4: F-Zero X

Try not to crash!

You might’ve expected me to put the venerable Mario Kart 64 on this list – especially considering how many times I’ve talked about that game here on the website! But F-Zero X doesn’t get the love it deserves, so on this occasion we can put Mario Kart 64 to one side and look at a different Nintendo 64 racer. F-Zero X is a futuristic-themed racing game, with players in spaceship-like hovercars – and they go really fast!

F-Zero X is an incredibly fast-paced racing game, meaning you often need lightning-fast reflexes! It was a blast, and the unique futuristic aesthetic set it apart from practically every other racing game on the market at the time.

Maybe F-Zero X didn’t have the best graphics. It certainly didn’t push the Nintendo 64 to its 3D limits in the way some other titles did. But despite that, it was an incredibly fun racing game, and were it not for Mario Kart 64 I might be tempted to call it my favourite racer of the era! There’s an odd charm to F-Zero X that I can’t quite put into words; it’s a genuinely different game, and that alone made it a ton of fun.

Number 5: Jet Force Gemini

Rescuing a Tribal in Jet Force Gemini!

Had it been made today, Jet Force Gemini would surely have kicked off a whole franchise! As it is, this Rare-developed title remains a one-off, but it’s an incredibly fun and exciting sci-fi adventure. Jet Force Gemini is one game I would absolutely pick to bring back for a full remake, because it seems such a shame to me that it’s all but forgotten, abandoned in the Nintendo 64 era.

An action-adventure title set in a unique sci-fi world, Jet Force Gemini had a fun and engaging story. It also had smooth shooting and a trio of fun main characters who each got a turn in the spotlight. The game had beautifully-designed levels, with some being pretty big and expansive offering different paths to get to the end.

Rescuing the Tribals – cute teddy bear-like critters – was an additional gameplay element that added a lot to each level, though the game’s insistence on finding every single one could feel like padding sometimes! But the Nintendo 64 era saw games trying out new gameplay mechanics, and the idea of having hidden collectibles would be honed and refined in future titles. Overall, Jet Force Gemini was a lot of fun – and I’d love to see its world and characters return one day.

So that’s it! Five amazing Nintendo 64 games.

The familiar Nintendo 64 logo.

There were loads more titles I could’ve chosen, so stay tuned! This is a topic I may revisit in future. The Nintendo 64 was a great console with some fantastic games. Though it does represent a half-step between older, more basic games and the immersive, cinematic experiences that were soon to come, it’s also a console that pioneered or refined many of the concepts upon which newer games – and even games today – rely.

The Nintendo 64 also had plenty of amazing games in its own right, and while it is an interesting machine from an interesting era in video game history, it’s also a console that I had a lot of fun with in the late 1990s. Back then it didn’t feel like a half-step – it felt cutting-edge, bringing 3D worlds to life and showing off far more realistic graphics than I ever thought possible! It isn’t just the nostalgia talking – the Nintendo 64 was a fantastic machine.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of Nintendo and/or their respective developer, publisher, owner, etc. Some images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales – a review

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

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

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

Poe Dameron and BB-8 with new character Dean.

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

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

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

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

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

Darth Vader’s castle – now with gift shop!

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

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

Poe was the main character in Terrifying Tales.

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

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

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

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

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

The villainous Vaneé!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The leader of the Knights of Ren.

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

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

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

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

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

Palpatine was hilarious in this vignette.

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

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

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

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

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

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

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

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

Be careful what you wish for, Luke!

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

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

Zombified battle droids!

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

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

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

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

Walt Disney World at 50

In October 1971 Walt Disney World first opened its doors, making this month the park’s fiftieth anniversary. Though competitors have risen in the years since – Universal Studios most prominently, but there are others – Disney is still the world’s preeminent theme park brand in 2021, which is no small accomplishment!

2006 was the last time I managed to get to Walt Disney World in Florida, and it seems unlikely I’ll be able to make another trip – my health generally prevents me from travelling these days. But I’ve made some wonderful memories at Walt Disney World, from my first trip when I was very young with my parents through to an incredibly fun jaunt with friends while at university. Walt Disney World has always had a lot to offer – and not just for children.

Mickey and Minnie are celebrating 50 years of Walt Disney World!

Recently I put together a list of ten of my favourite Walt Disney World attractions – and you can find it by clicking or tapping here. Long story short, some of the best experiences at Disney – at least in my opinion – aren’t the most extreme roller coasters with the highest drops or fastest speeds. What Walt Disney World has always excelled at is its world-building, crafting lovingly-detailed experiences that don’t need to rely on speed or being an adrenaline rush to hook riders in.

Attractions like Spaceship Earth, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and even the Monorail are all incredibly fun to ride over and over again, and in many ways it’s these slower rides that made me fall in love with the Disney theme parks. It’s this combination of slow rides, dark rides, fast-paced rides, shows, and simulation experiences that has meant Walt Disney World has so much to offer to such a range of visitors. Many theme parks – especially here in the UK – tend to be built around one or two big attractions, and these are almost always ultra-fast adrenaline rush roller coasters. Once you’ve ridden one or two, you’ve ridden them all!

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority is one of my favourite rides!

Every aspect of Walt Disney World was planned in detail – with early plans coming from Walt Disney himself before his death in 1966. The idea of corridors running underground to allow employees – better known as “cast members” – to secretly move from one location to another out of sight of guests is a genius move. It means that guests never see a character “out of place;” no cowboys in Tomorrowland nor spacemen in Frontierland.

On a smaller scale, no shop in Walt Disney World sells chewing gum. Why? Because it’s one of the worst forms of litter and the hardest to clean. If every road and pavement were covered with discarded gum the entire park would feel ever so slightly less polished, and Walt Disney was very keen that visitors should feel as if they’d been transported to a magical land away from their everyday lives. He wanted everyone to have the perfect experience – at least within their budgets!

Walt Disney.

The food at Walt Disney World is also exquisite. The park has a huge variety of restaurants and fast-food joints both in the parks and attached to the numerous hotels spread across the property. Many of these are themed experiences in and of themselves, offering guests a chance to dine in the banquet hall of a castle or an orbiting space station – with themed menus to match. And of course, many restaurants bring Mickey Mouse and other characters right to the table.

Walt Disney World didn’t pioneer the concept of the theme park. It wasn’t even the first Disney theme park, with California’s Disneyland having been open for more than sixteen years before it came along. But Walt Disney World took the theme park concept and honed it to near-perfection, having learned the lessons not only of Disneyland but also of other theme parks as well. With years of experience under their collective belts, the team behind Walt Disney World came together to build what they hoped would be the best theme park in the world. Fifty years later the park is still right at the pinnacle of the theme park industry, so it’s hard to say that they didn’t succeed.

The original Walt Disney World logo. It was in use from the park’s opening in October 1971 until 1996.

There are controversies about the way Walt Disney World came to be, of course. Not least the Walt Disney Company’s policy of buying up the land that the parks would ultimately be built upon using dummy companies with fake names to avoid the price shooting up! And of course it’s sad that Walt Disney didn’t live to see his project to completion.

As we look back at Walt Disney World, it’s only natural to look forward, and I’m afraid it’s here that I see new controversies, as well as problems ahead.

In the early 2000s when I was planning a trip to the parks with friends, it was quite achievable for students to put a bit of money aside from part-time jobs to be able to afford not only to visit Walt Disney World, but to do so in style! After saving up, my friends and I were able to afford flights there and back from the UK, as well as a moderately-priced hotel, park tickets, food, and we still had money left over for souvenirs. I can’t remember the exact amount of money we spent apiece, but none of us were wealthy and we still managed to have a wonderful time.

Visiting Walt Disney World is an increasingly expensive proposition.

Nowadays, the inflated prices Walt Disney World charges – and the dozens of hidden extra charges – make it so much more difficult to consider a trip there a worthwhile investment for a lot of folks. Walt Disney World now charges for parking – even at hotels – which is something that never used to happen. And coming very soon is the “Disney Genie Plus” app and programme, which includes paying to skip some of the lines at popular attractions – including on a ride-by-ride basis in some cases, with prices rising dynamically depending on how busy the park gets.

Add into the mix the generally inflated prices of everything from tickets to food, and Walt Disney World is no longer a holiday within reach of everyone. It’s beginning to feel like an attraction targeting wealthier folks exclusively, and when a vacation for a small family is now easily running around the $6-8,000 mark (not including flights, which from the UK aren’t exactly cheap) it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

The new Disney Genie Plus paid-for service is going to make Walt Disney World more expensive – and a worse experience.

Just to give one example, a single portion of popcorn from one of the popcorn stands scattered throughout the parks now comes in at $5.25 (£3.90). That’s a heck of a lot for something as basic as popcorn, so you can imagine that other snacks and meals are priced similarly. Because Walt Disney World knows it has a captive audience, prices have shot up. It was never a cheap place, don’t get me wrong, but recent years have seen price hikes left, right, and centre.

In addition, Walt Disney World is losing many of the things that made it unique. One-of-a-kind attractions are being replaced with bland-looking roller coasters, and rides that used to have unique animatronic characters are being closed down or altered to include Disney-branded characters. One of my favourite rides at Epcot was called El Rio del Tiempo, and it was a slow boat ride that brought guests a small taste of Mexico and Mexican history. Since I last visited it’s been re-themed to include Donald Duck.

El Rio del Tiempo is one of many Walt Disney World attractions that you can’t find any more.

Rides and attractions like El Rio del Tiempo – and many more – were part of what gave Walt Disney World its unique charm. There were always Disney-themed rides like Peter Pan’s Flight or the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (from Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland respectively), but they were balanced out by these other rides that weren’t associated with a film or television series. With some rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise having been turned into films in recent years, there aren’t many attractions left that exist purely for their own sakes any more. Perhaps I’m showing my age by lamenting that change of focus!

To end on a much happier note, one of my favourite memories as a geeky, nerdy kid came at Walt Disney World in the early 1990s. Not long after having seen the Star Wars trilogy for the first time, I got to go on a Star Wars ride – Star Tours – at Walt Disney World. After queuing up excitedly, the moment the doors to the Starspeeder 3000 wooshed open for the first time was truly thrilling! Boarding an actual spaceship complete with a droid pilot and going on my own little Star Wars adventure felt like a dream come true.

I have incredible memories of Star Tours!

Walt Disney World has delivered an uncountable number of moments just like that one to children and to adults. My cousin visited a couple of years ago, and her daughter got a complete “princess makeover,” complete with makeup, a tiara, and a princess dress. Wherever she went all day long the cast members would bow and wave and treat her like a real Disney Princess. These kinds of once-in-a-lifetime experiences really don’t exist anywhere else, not in the same way. Just like I had my moment of wonder as I boarded a ship in the Star Wars galaxy, so too did my cousin’s daughter as she was transformed into a princess. Walt Disney World makes magical memories like that, and I hope it always will.

The only reason I criticise Walt Disney World for some of the recent changes – particularly the way things are being priced and the “stealth” costs like charging for hotel parking – is because I wish those kinds of experiences were available to as many people as possible. Walt Disney’s dream was that families could visit his theme parks together, and he even said: “Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money.” Try telling that to the executives of the company today, eh!

I doubt that I’ll ever get back to Walt Disney World. But the park holds happy memories for me from childhood – and from adulthood as well. I hope that the park succeeds and will endure for another fifty years, bringing those same happy memories to new generations.

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of The Walt Disney Company. Some images courtesy of The Walt Disney Company and the Disney Wiki. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Book of Boba Fett: Thoughts, hopes, and expectations

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2 and Return of the Jedi.

“Mixed feelings” might be the best phrase to describe my attitude toward the upcoming Disney+ Star Wars series The Book of Boba Fett. I have no doubt that the series will do a lot of things well, from visual effects to exciting action sequences. But if you recall my criticisms from 2020 when it was first rumoured that Boba Fett might be included in Season 2 of The Mandalorian, the bare premise of the series is enough to leave me underwhelmed.

Let’s be blunt for a moment. Boba Fett was a dull character whose entire popularity in the early 1980s came from his unique-looking armour. This led to sales of action figures, models, and dolls – and an oversized, undue gravitas given to a minor, one-dimensional foil for Han Solo. Boba Fett does have a unique, cool look, I won’t deny that. But his role in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was minor, and his death in the latter film was a fittingly unspectacular end for an unspectacular character.

Boba Fett’s popularity stems from toys and action figures. By the way, does anyone else really dislike Pop Vinyl/Funko Pop? I just can’t get on board with the design of practically any of their figures…

However, Boba Fett’s popularity endured over the years, helped in no small part by his character being fleshed out in a fan-fictiony way by writers of the old Expanded Universe books and comics. So by the time of the prequels, George Lucas and others involved in the production of those films clearly felt an obligation to include backstory for him as well.

I don’t hate Boba Fett, but when I watched the Star Wars trilogy for the first time I just didn’t get the hype. Why was this character so remarkable considering he did one thing – captured Han Solo – then died in a pretty stupid way when his jetpack misfired? And he didn’t even capture Han Solo himself, he had to enlist the help of Darth Vader and a whole legion of Stormtroopers. In short: cool-looking armour, but that’s about as much as I can say about Boba Fett in his original incarnation.

Boba Fett’s first appearance in The Empire Strikes Back.

However, The Book of Boba Fett isn’t following the character as he appeared in the original films. As I noted in my review of Season 2 of The Mandalorian, the character introduced to us as “Boba Fett” feels a long, long way removed from the bounty hunter we met in The Empire Strikes Back. His entire demeanour was so radically different that I said in my review that the two characters feel entirely separate. The plot of The Mandalorian Season 2 wouldn’t have been any different had that character been given a different name and Boba Fett never been mentioned.

One thing I will credit The Mandalorian’s Boba Fett with is that I felt the character got a more nuanced portrayal than he ever did in the films. There was a sense that this man was a weary veteran, ready to hang up the armour and live a quiet life somewhere. He’d fought all the battles he wanted to fight and was ready to try something new – at least until we saw him in the final moments of the season seemingly intent on seizing control of Tatooine’s underworld.

Boba Fett as he initially appeared in The Mandalorian Season 2.

Just like The Rise of Skywalker had done before it with Palpatine, The Mandalorian Season 2 completely ignored what has to be the most important point about Boba Fett: how on earth is he still alive? If the new series can find a way to pull an answer to that question out of its backside that even makes a degree of sense, it’ll have made progress. And I think that’s my biggest single request when it comes to the storyline of The Book of Boba Fett: find some way to give us a plausible explanation for the main character’s survival.

Remember that Boba Fett fell into the gaping mouth of a giant monster in the Tatooine desert. The Sarlaac monster in the Pit of Carkoon was presented as a truly awful torturous death, supposedly taking a long time in its inescapable digestive tract. Jabba the Hutt was said to favour this method of execution, and planned to execute Luke Skywalker and Han Solo there in Return of the Jedi. Boba Fett fell into the monster’s mouth, and that seemed to be a very definitive end for him!

How did Boba Fett survive? Finding a plausible answer is key to the show’s success.

One aspect of the story of The Mandalorian Season 2 has potentially complicated any story of Boba’s escape. The fact that his armour had been lost on Tatooine, recovered by Jawas and later sold to Cobb Vanth clearly indicates that Boba didn’t simply blast his way out of the creature as soon as the battle on Jabba’s barge was over. Because he fell into the pit wearing his armour – and thus carrying at least some of his weapons – the show might’ve been able to argue that he didn’t die and simply shot his way out. But if so, he’d have kept his armour.

So the question of his survival remains, and in the aftermath of just how poorly the awful line “somehow Palpatine returned” went down in The Rise of Skywalker, I can’t imagine that The Book of Boba Fett would try to ignore this point. Even if all we get are a few lines of dialogue saying that he climbed out and was saved by roaming scavengers or Chewbacca’s great-aunt, I think we need some kind of closure before we can take seriously the fact that Boba Fett is back.

Boba Fett, moments before dying like a chump.

Then we come to the premise of the series itself, and this is perhaps what I’m most interested in. One of my biggest disappointments when it came to The Mandalorian was that the show’s basic premise remains unfulfilled despite sounding incredibly promising. I wanted to see “the adventures of a gunslinger away from the reach of the New Republic,” but instead the show brought Baby Yoda, the Force, the Empire, and even Luke Skywalker into play in a story that increasingly felt like Return of the Jedi II as Season 2 wore on.

The Book of Boba Fett promises us the following: “Legendary bounty hunter Boba Fett and mercenary Fennec Shand navigating the galaxy’s underworld when they return to the sands of Tatooine to stake their claim on the territory once ruled by Jabba the Hutt and his crime syndicate.”

Though I stand by my criticisms of the Star Wars franchise making desperate nostalgia plays for characters and settings from the original films, that premise doesn’t sound half bad. Though I don’t want to get my hopes up too high after being burned by The Mandalorian, maybe we can finally get a look at the Star Wars galaxy away from the Force and the Skywalker family.

Hopefully The Book of Boba Fett won’t be repeating scenes like this one…

Boba’s survival after falling into the Pit of Carkoon risks coming across as cheap, fan-servicey, and just plain dumb. But if the show can find some way to navigate that sizeable pitfall (pun intended), then Boba Fett could actually prove to be an interesting point-of-view character for exploring the darker side of the Star Wars galaxy.

As an ex-bounty hunter, Boba Fett used to inhabit this seedy underworld that the show’s official description is teasing us with. But as someone who’s been out of action for almost a decade at this point, things have moved on in his absence. The biggest change, most likely, is the fall of the Empire. Without the Empire to crack down on criminals, and with the New Republic taking a different approach, it’s possible that the criminal underworld has grown since Return of the Jedi.

What will the criminal underworld be like after the fall of the Empire?

Boba Fett will have to navigate a changed world, and that offers up a lot of potential for exposition and explanation to be dropped into the series in a way that makes sense. There’s a high probability of learning more about the Star Wars galaxy – and particularly its criminal side – than we ever have before. That idea is definitely an interesting one, and though I wouldn’t personally have chosen to bring Boba Fett back from the dead in order to tell this kind of story, as a concept it’s hard to fault.

As a character, Boba Fett is perhaps open to further exploration. As I noted above, in his original appearances he was fairly one-dimensional, and his role in The Mandalorian Season 2 came with a degree of mystery to it. There’s scope to learn more about Boba Fett the man: who is the person underneath the armour? What drives him? What are his ambitions now that he’s got his armour back and taken over Jabba’s former throne? All of these things could potentially lead to interesting moments of characterisation, and as a concept the idea of an anti-hero or a villain with a heart and understandable motivations can work exceptionally well.

Din Djarin with Boba Fett in The Mandalorian Season 2.

All of this could come to pass if the show stays true to its premise! And this is where my concerns kick in. As Boba Fett’s return proves in and of itself, the Star Wars franchise is completely and utterly dependant on its original films and the characters and concepts that were present there. The Mandalorian brought us Baby Yoda, the Force, Ahsoka, the Empire, and Luke Skywalker in its first two seasons – along with dozens of other throwbacks to Star Wars’ past. Some of these elements came close to working, but overall they drowned out any originality the series could’ve had. I fear that The Book of Boba Fett will meet a similar fate.

There are all manner of ways this could happen. Off the top of my head, here are a few: Boba Fett comes into conflict with Luke Skywalker and his new Jedi Order somehow, perhaps even seeking revenge for his encounter with the Sarlacc. Maybe Han Solo will be a target of Boba Fett’s over the course of the show, again looking for revenge. Some other Jedi could emerge, perhaps a character from the prequels or one of the kids’ shows. Boba Fett could encounter Jedi or Sith artefacts, which would bring the Force into the series. And so on. There are many ways that we could see the show fall back on these nostalgia plays and fail to live up to its potential.

Promotional poster for The Book of Boba Fett.

I’d love for The Book of Boba Fett to have more to offer than nostalgic throwbacks, good visual effects, and well-constructed moments of action and excitement. Whether it will or not… well, the jury’s still out. I’m hopeful, but cautious.

The Book of Boba Fett exists in a strange space for me. I should feel more excitement for what is only the second ever live-action Star Wars television series, especially considering the huge budget afforded to shows made for Disney+ and the platform’s excellent track record with visual effects. Star Wars has literally never looked better in terms of visuals and special effects, and with the franchise taking a different turn to perhaps visit the seedier underworld in depth for the first time, there are things that pique my interest. I’m just having a hard time jumping on the hype train.

Despite that, I will do my utmost to give The Book of Boba Fett a fair shake. It will premiere on the 29th of December – right in the middle of Star Trek: Discovery’s imminent fourth season. I can’t promise I’ll have time to review every individual episode with so much else happening in December, but I’ll certainly share my thoughts on the series at some point, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for that. I’d love to be able to come back after the show’s first season and say that my fears and doubts were unfounded.

The Book of Boba Fett will premiere on Disney+ on the 29th of December 2021. The Star Wars franchise – including The Book of Boba Fett and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Darth Vader in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series

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

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

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

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

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

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

What role will Vader play in the upcoming series?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knights of the Old Republic is being remade!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Minor spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

Remember that rumour earlier in the year about a new Knights of the Old Republic game? Well the project was officially revealed at a recent PlayStation event, and instead of being a sequel or spin-off, it’s a remake of the first title!

Unfortunately all we were treated to was a tiny CGI clip of the villainous Darth Revan. The project seems at a relatively early stage of development and likely won’t see a release for at least a year. Interestingly, the remake is being handled not by BioWare – who developed the original title – but by Aspyr, a studio known primarily for porting games to new platforms. Aspyr has previously worked on Knights of the Old Republic, bringing the game to Mac, iOS, and Android over the years. So at least they have some experience with the title!

Darth Revan was seen in silhouette in the CGI teaser.

If you’re not familiar with the plot of the original game, I encourage you to stop reading now. Not only that, but try to avoid any Knights of the Old Republic spoilers from now until release; the game is so much more enjoyable if you can experience its story unspoiled.

Speaking of story, then, while Lucasfilm Games and Aspyr have pledged to stay true to the original narrative, there is already talk of the game being “re-written” and writers are known to be attached to the project. It’s possible, then, that there will be some incidental changes along the way, even if the overall thrust of the plot remains intact.

For my two cents, I think that’s actually a positive development. Remakes should aim to be ambitious, and to adapt the stories they tell for new audiences. There’s nothing wrong with Knights of the Old Republic in its original form, but shaking up things like side-missions would be no bad thing. Remember that we’re dealing with a game from 2003 that was released on the original Xbox; there’s room to potentially expand the game beyond what it was. Levels could be redesigned to be larger and more densely-populated, for example, and characters could be given additional lines of dialogue.

The remake is being developed by Aspyr.

With the game being a full-blown remake, it seems that the dialogue will be re-recorded. This opens up possibilities for expanding the things that characters have to say, as mentioned, and it could be possible to give the game’s protagonist a voice as well. In the original game, the player could choose what to say at certain points, but the player character wasn’t fully-voiced like NPCs were. Redoing the dialogue also means that at least some characters – including fan-favourites – will be recast. However, as voice acting in video games has arguably improved since 2003, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Interestingly, Star Trek: Voyager’s Ethan Phillips (Neelix) had a voice role in the original game. I wonder if he’ll come back?

Though Knights of the Old Republic got an Oblivion-developed sequel a year after its release, the stories of Darth Revan and the Jedi Exile were left unfinished thereafter. Though it’s very early for such speculation, it seems at least plausible to think that Knights of the Old Republic II – my personal favourite of the duology – could also get the remake treatment if this project is deemed a success. From there, could the story finally get the sequel that fans have been asking for for more than fifteen years? Perhaps that’s too much to hope for right now and we should just be happy that Knights of the Old Republic is coming back at all! But I can’t help feel that there’s at least a glimmer of hope in that regard!

Is a sequel on the cards if this remake proves to be a success?

One area where Knights of the Old Republic could definitely do with an upgrade is its character creator. The original game offered players a handful of pre-designed male and female faces to choose from, and one of three starting classes. Three additional Jedi classes were available later in the game as well. This is one aspect that has huge room for improvement! Firstly, I’d love to see a non-binary gender option alongside male and female, perhaps with the character creator including a choice of pronouns. Secondly, a detailed character creator – like the kind seen in recent games such as the Saints Row series, Black Desert Online, or even Cyberpunk 2077 – would allow players to craft their own unique character, which is something I’d argue is an essential component of any role-playing game.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for when it comes to this project, and I can add it to the list of upcoming titles I’m looking forward to. Last year I had a great time playing through Jedi: Fallen Order as well as Star Wars Squadrons, so after a few years where there weren’t many Star Wars games the franchise has enjoyed some successes in the video game space. Coming after the disappointing way the sequel trilogy ended, a return to Knights of the Old Republic and a setting millennia before the films could be the palate cleanser that Star Wars fans desperately need.

The original game’s basic character creator is one element crying out for a major update!

Ironically, it was after two disappointing Star Wars films that the original Knights of the Old Republic appeared on the scene. The game (and its sequel) went a long way to rehabilitating the Star Wars franchise for me at the time, and gave me a reason to be excited for Star Wars after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had left me decidedly underwhelmed. Hopefully this remake is poised to do the same.

After several recent hotly-anticipated titles have crashed and burned due to being launched too early, my advice to Aspyr and Lucasfilm is to keep working on Knights of the Old Republic until they get it right. Don’t try to push out the game before it’s ready; the “release now, fix later” business model has been a plague on the modern games industry and players shouldn’t have to put up with bug-riddled, disappointing titles. This is a remake that many Star Wars and role-playing fans have been waiting for for a long time – it’s incredibly important to absolutely nail it!

A closer look at Revan and his lightsaber in the CGI teaser.

One of my favourite memories as a gamer is sitting with the Xbox control pad in my hand, mouth open in shock as Knights of the Old Republic dropped its huge story twist. I hadn’t been expecting it as the game’s wonderful storyline unfolded, and it hit me in a way that very few moments in all of fiction ever have. It’s got to be right up there with “no, I am your father!” in The Empire Strikes Back as one of the best twists in all of Star Wars, and I can’t wait to see how the remake will approach that amazing moment. Even though I’ll know it’s coming this time, I’m still ready to be blown away all over again!

So as you can tell, I’m quite excited for Knights of the Old Republic! But I’ll do my best to avoid boarding the hype train and to keep a level head. We don’t know much more about the project at this stage, other than it’s planned as a timed PlayStation and PC exclusive, so it’ll probably be at least a year after release before it’ll come to Xbox. I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website, because if we get any significant news about the project I’ll try my best to break it down and analyse it. When the game is finally ready, I’ll almost certainly review it – and maybe do a complete playthrough too!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is being developed by Aspyr and will be published by Lucasfilm Games for PC and PlayStation 5. No release date has been announced. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles and 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 theory – Baby Yoda

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2. Further spoilers are present for Jedi: Fallen Order, Rogue One, The Last Jedi, the prequel trilogy, and the original trilogy.

Let’s get a couple of things straight right off the bat: I don’t think The Mandalorian is an especially good show, and I don’t want either of these theories to turn out to be true. In both cases the reason is pretty much the same: the Star Wars franchise as a whole, and The Mandalorian in particular, greatly overplays the nostalgia card, and were either theory I’m about to discuss prove to be true, it would represent yet another example of the show’s writers and producers being unwilling to let it stand on its own two feet.

With that caveat out of the way, I’ve got a couple of theories regarding The Mandalorian that I’ve finally decided to write down. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s come up with these concepts; it seems like it would be a pretty easy way of joining up some of the dots present in the franchise. But regardless, we’re going to talk a little about Baby Yoda – or to give him his proper name, Grogu.

Today we’re looking at the cutest little critter in Star Wars – Baby Yoda!

In Star Wars’ main canon – not including anything from the now-overwritten Expanded Universe – there have only been three members of Yoda’s species shown on screen. Yoda himself of course debuted in The Empire Strikes Back, then in The Phantom Menace we briefly met Yaddle, another Jedi Master who served on the Jedi Council. Finally we have Grogu himself, and that’s it. Of all the races and species in Star Wars, few are as mysterious and under-explored as Yoda’s species – it doesn’t even have a name.

This is odd, actually. Star Wars’ old Expanded Universe delved into the backstories of countless minor characters and background races, and while much of that has been overwritten, some elements have made their way back into canon. But even in old Expanded Universe projects that did feature members of Yoda’s species, like Knights of the Old Republic for example, we still didn’t learn anything about them – not even a name. When you consider that the Expanded Universe dived deeply into the backgrounds of races like the Quarren or the Rodians, neither of which had major characters in any of the films, for Yoda’s species to be left alone is certainly unusual. You’d think it would’ve been ripe for an Expanded Universe author to have explored at some point.

Yoda’s species has never been explored – not even in the old Expanded Universe.

The rarity of Yoda’s species also raises interesting points, one of which is connected to the two theories we’re discussing today. Every member of Yoda’s species that we meet in canon is Force-sensitive, which is already a point of interest. But the fact that the race seems to be so uncommon, and doesn’t have a known homeworld suggests that there is something strange going on. Is Yoda one of the sole survivors of his species, perhaps?

If so, perhaps Yoda – and possibly Yaddle – are the parents of Grogu. Though Yoda explained in Revenge of the Sith that for a Jedi, attachments and romantic entanglements are off-limits due to their opening up a path to the Dark Side, if he’s a member of a dead or dying species, the needs of his people may have overcome this. It would make sense that we had never met Grogu before the events of The Mandalorian, as Yoda would not have played any role in his upbringing – merely delegating that role to the Jedi Order once the infant had been conceived. This theory could also account for Yaddle’s absence after The Phantom Menace, as she may have been more involved with Grogu or even left the Jedi Order to raise him.

Yaddle was a Jedi Master during the events of The Phantom Menace.

This theory relies on Yoda – at well over 800 years old – becoming physically intimate with another member of his species. Sorry for giving you that particular mental image! But as we learned in The Mandalorian Season 2, Grogu’s M-count – assumed to be short for his midichlorian count – was said to be exceptionally high. This could be natural for Yoda’s species, as Yoda was said to have a high midichlorian count himself, but it could also be a genetic trait passed from parent to child. If Grogu’s parents were two Jedi Masters, that could explain his abnormally high level of midichlorians.

It could also explain Luke Skywalker’s interest in Grogu. Though it seems as though Luke would’ve been interested in recruiting any Force-sensitive child for his nascent Jedi Academy in the years after the Battle of Endor, if he knew Grogu’s true identity after conversing with the ghost of Yoda that may have given him an extra incentive to rescue the youngling. It could also explain how Ahsoka knew Grogu’s name – he didn’t communicate it to her, as she implied when she spoke with Din Djarin, but she’d already met him during her time as a Jedi apprentice.

Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian Season 2.

With cloning technology featuring prominently in both The Mandalorian and The Rise of Skywalker, another possibility is that Grogu is in fact a direct clone of Yoda. As above, this would account for his unusually high level of midichlorians, but would avoid the need for Yoda to have had any role in conceiving an offspring. Though we do know that Grogu spent some time prior to Order 66 at the Jedi Temple, if he were a clone of Yoda that doesn’t mean that the Jedi played any role in his creation.

It would be possible for some nefarious faction – perhaps even the Sith themselves – to have attempted to create a clone of Yoda, hoping to turn Grogu into a powerful Dark Side user. The prequels showed us Yoda’s capabilities in much more detail; suffice to say that a Dark Side clone of Yoda would be an incredibly useful weapon for the Sith – or anyone else. Perhaps such a scheme was uncovered by the Jedi during the years prior to Order 66, and Grogu came to reside at the Jedi Temple after being rescued.

The Jedi Temple on Coruscant was Grogu’s home prior to the downfall of the Jedi Order.

Cloning would tie in thematically to points already present in The Mandalorian, as well as in the broader Star Wars franchise, so I could certainly see the story going in this direction. It would require a bit of backstory to explain who created Grogu and how he came to be rescued, but it wouldn’t be impossible to pull off from a narrative point of view. With cloning having already been introduced into the series and prominently featured, it could even be argued to make sense.

There is one more dimension to this theory, though, and it’s one that I’ve been wary of since Baby Yoda first appeared in the show in late 2019. Rather than being a child or clone of Yoda, could it be that The Mandalorian is setting up a story where Grogu is, in fact, Yoda himself?

Could Grogu actually be Yoda?

This might sound preposterous, and if it weren’t for Star Wars’ overreliance on characters and storylines from the original trilogy I probably wouldn’t consider it a realistic possibility. But given that the franchise is intent on looking backwards, and that The Mandalorian has already brought two major characters from the original films into its narrative, nothing would surprise me any more!

So here’s another caveat: I’m not familiar with everything that happened in the animated shows The Clone Wars and Rebels. But as I understand it, time travel is possible and has been depicted in those shows. Ahsoka Tano, who appeared in Season 2 of The Mandalorian, had her life saved thanks to the intervention of a time traveller who used something referred to as the “World Between Worlds” to rescue her from certain death at the hands of Darth Vader. The World Between Worlds also showed up in last year’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special – but I’m pretty sure that appearance is non-canon!

Could Grogu travel back in time through a portal like this one?

The point is that time travel in some form does exist within Star Wars. Not only that, but at least one character present in The Mandalorian has some experience with the World Between Worlds. Suddenly it doesn’t seem to be impossible to think that Grogu might be sent back in time – either intentionally or accidentally.

One of the tragedies of The Mandalorian – as things sit right now, anyway – is that Grogu isn’t safe with Luke Skywalker. The events of The Mandalorian occur years before the sequel trilogy, before Luke’s Jedi Order was destroyed by Kylo Ren. According to what we learned in The Last Jedi from Luke himself, the only students who survived went on to serve the Dark Side as the Knights of Ren. Grogu seems to have been too young to have joined the Dark Side, so the logical conclusion is that he was killed along with Luke’s other students.

Luke’s new Jedi Order was destroyed by Kylo Ren. All of his apprentices were killed. But was Grogu among them?

Star Wars has certainly told stories with unhappy endings before. Heck, the entire prequel trilogy was a story that led to a very dark place, with characters like Padmé ultimately dying at the end. Rogue One likewise ended with the deaths of Jyn, Cassian, and everyone else involved in the mission to steal the Death Star plans. So it wouldn’t be out of character for the franchise to go to all of this trouble to set up a story in which Grogu ultimately dies and never gets to train and become a Jedi.

However, something about the way the story has been told – particularly in the final few episodes of Season 2 that really tried hard to ramp up the emotional connection between Din Djarin and Grogu – seems to be telling me that it might not end the way we currently think. It’s certainly true that there are ways Grogu could survive the attack on Luke’s Jedi Order that don’t involve time travel, and in many ways such a story would be much easier to construct. But there are possible points in its favour – by which I mean points that seem to make this storyline at least a possibility, not points that would make it a good story!

Grogu aboard the Razor Crest.

We know that Yoda’s species are very rare in the Star Wars galaxy. It’s not impossible to think that the race could have gone extinct with the passing of Yoda and Yaddle; they may have been two of the last survivors. We also have the presence of Ahsoka Tano, whose life was saved by time travel. And finally, we know that Grogu has a way of instinctively using the Force at key moments; it’s a power that’s beyond his control in some respects, yet one he has used repeatedly to save himself and others. He’s also potentially very powerful in the Force – perhaps as powerful as Yoda.

It’s not impossible to think that, before or during the attack on Luke’s new Jedi Order, Grogu would call on the Force to help him escape Kylo and the Knights of Ren. We’ve seen a couple of different ways to open a portal to the World Between Worlds, and Grogu could summon one himself – or someone already inside the World Between Worlds might open a portal and arrive to rescue him.

Might Grogu use the Force – intentionally or accidentally – to escape from Kylo Ren?

Once in the World Between Worlds, Grogu might be sent back in time, either intentionally or accidentally, emerging 900+ years in the past. From there, it’s a short hop to joining the Jedi Order, which would still exist in this time period. Without adding anything new to Star Wars, it’s possible, based on what we already know, for Grogu to “become” Yoda.

From the moment I saw Baby Yoda in the first couple of episodes of The Mandalorian, I began to worry that this would be the character’s ultimate destination. I mentioned at the beginning that I don’t think this theory would make for an enjoyable or satisfying story, and I stand by that. The Mandalorian has been a let-down for me because of its overuse of elements from Star Wars’ past, and if its entire story were ultimately revealed to involve yet another classic character, well I just don’t think that would be to the show’s overall benefit.

From the moment “Baby Yoda” appeared I began to wonder if the show would ultimately go down this route.

This kind of time travel story also happens to be one of my least-favourite tropes of the genre: the time-loop. Grogu was saved by Luke because Luke was trained as a Jedi by Yoda, who was saved as a baby by Luke. The whole thing becomes circular, and while Star Wars has often tried to tell stories that were symmetrical or that used comparable settings and character concepts, this would be a step beyond that. It would become a paradox; how could Yoda train Luke without Luke first saving him? And how could Luke save Grogu if he hadn’t first been trained as a Jedi? There’s no solution to such a storyline, and I personally find this type of time travel narrative annoying.

Time travel, as I find myself saying all too often, is exceptionally difficult to get right. It’s far too easy for a story to trip over itself and get all tied up in knots trying to explain away inconsistencies and paradoxes. For me, the idea that Grogu might be sent back in time to become Yoda is a classic example of such a story. Even if Luke hadn’t been involved in saving his life from the Dark Troopers at the end of Season 2, I still wouldn’t want the story to go down this road – nor for Grogu to be revealed to be Yoda’s clone or offspring.

Luke Skywalker with Grogu.

The Mandalorian teased a concept that I still find genuinely interesting: “the adventures of a gunslinger far from the reach of the New Republic.” But by bringing the Force, Boba Fett, and the Skywalker family into its storyline in significant ways, that premise hasn’t really been fulfilled – at least not yet.

Grogu’s departure at the end of Season 2 could be the soft reboot The Mandalorian needs. It could offer the series a fresh start, with Din and his companions setting off for new adventures away from the Jedi and the Skywalker family. For Star Wars this would be huge – it’s impossible to overstate how big of a deal finally breaking away from the Skywalkers and the Force would actually be. Season 3 or 4 bringing Grogu back and setting up this kind of time travel or cloning storyline would feel regressive in a series which, for me, already relies far too heavily on nostalgia for the franchise’s past.

Saying goodbye to Grogu could set the stage for new stories in Season 3 and beyond.

Shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett can carry the torch for classic characters. Perhaps The Mandalorian can continue to chase down Moff Gideon, the Dark Troopers, and the cloning facility that I swear was creating Snoke. Tying the series into the sequel trilogy, not the original trilogy, would be a bold move, and might even go some way to rescuing some of the sequels’ less successful story elements.

Anyway! Those are all fantasies that may yet play out in future seasons and future stories. For now, I’ll bring this piece to a close by summarising my theories: Grogu is either a clone of Yoda, a child of Yoda, or will be sent back in time somehow in order to become Yoda himself. Even though I don’t necessarily want to see any of these theories make it to the screen, I will be very curious to see if any of the upcoming Star Wars projects give us more information about Grogu, Luke’s recreated Jedi Order, or anything else we’ve talked about today. Something tells me that Grogu’s story isn’t complete and that he won’t meet the ignominious end of being killed by Kylo and the Knights of Ren. Stay tuned, because if it turns out I’m right I’ll be sure to have something to say about that!

The Mandalorian Seasons 1 and 2 are 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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crashed ski-speeders on Crait.

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

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

AT-AT walkers seen on Hoth.

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

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

The village on Sorgan.

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

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

Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar.

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

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

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

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

Ten things that the Star Wars prequels got right

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith). In addition, spoilers are present for the sequel trilogy, including The Rise of Skywalker, and for Knights of the Old Republic.

Happy Star Wars Day! In celebration of today’s event, I thought we could take a look back at the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Though this isn’t my favourite part of the franchise by any means, today is a day for positivity within the Star Wars fandom, and despite my overall feelings, the prequels did get some things right. It’s easy to criticise and complain, but no film is 100% awful. Not even The Rise of Skywalker.

I became a Star Wars fan in the early ’90s, having watched the original trilogy at the prompting of a friend. It was thus a very exciting time when the prequel trilogy was announced, and even though I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the first two films in particular, Revenge of the Sith managed to churn out an adequate end to the trilogy and set up the original films.

Trekking with Dennis talking positively about the Star Wars prequels?!
“A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one!”

For a decade after the prequels concluded, Star Wars was said to be complete. Six films, and that’s it. Of course we now have sequels and spin-offs, with many more in the works, and it looks like the Star Wars franchise will continue to roll on and bring in money for parent company Disney. Though no major plans are afoot to revisit the prequel era right now, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series will bring back at least two prominent characters from the trilogy and serve as a continuation of sorts.

As always, this list is just my personal opinion. The prequel trilogy is going through somewhat of a renaissance in the minds of some Star Wars fans – particularly those who grew up with the films. If you adore the prequels, that’s okay. We all have preferences; things we like and dislike, even within a single fandom. There’s no need for discussions about Star Wars to descend into arguments!

With that out of the way, let’s jump into my list of things the prequels got right.

Number 1: Showing the Jedi Order at full strength.

Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn meeting with the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace.

At the time The Phantom Menace premiered, Star Wars’ cinematic canon had only ever shown five Force users – only one of whom could reasonably be said to still be “a Jedi” when he appeared on screen. Though Luke Skywalker appeared to take on the mantle of Jedi Master by the end of Return of the Jedi, we were still curious to see how the Order appeared in its original form.

All three films spent a decent amount of time with the Jedi Order, showing the organisation if not at its peak then certainly in far better shape than we’d ever seen it before. The Jedi maintained a huge temple as their headquarters and base of operations, and hundreds of Jedi Knights and Jedi Masters were seen on screen, taking on various roles across the three films.

Young Jedi train while Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi observe.

Prior to this, all we really had to go on was hearsay. Ben Kenobi and Yoda had told Luke Skywalker a little about the former Jedi Order across the original films, but there’s a big difference between hearing a character explain something and actually seeing it firsthand. The legend of the Jedi Order made it to screen in a big way, and told us a lot about the history of the Star Wars galaxy as well.

We also got to know several key members of the Jedi Order in this era, and see the Jedi take on leadership roles to try to bring about peace and stave off the separatists. We arguably learned more about the minutiae of the Jedi in the prequel trilogy than in the originals, sequels, and spin-offs combined, and while it wasn’t all perfect – the Jedi robes being just one example of that – the prequels undeniably expanded the lore of Star Wars in this regard.

Number 2: Starship designs.

A Republic starship during the Battle over Coruscant.

Many of the starship designs used during the prequel trilogy were cleverly designed with the original trilogy in mind. It’s not an easy task to take an existing design and try to work backwards from it, creating a new design that’s supposed to look like a realistic predecessor to something that was supposedly built later. But the prequel trilogy does a creditable job in this regard, especially insofar as starships are concerned.

There were two issues that the prequels faced: on the production side, technology had changed a lot regarding how special effects were made, meaning some of the original films’ starships looked very much “of their time.” And secondly, the Imperial ships seen in the original trilogy were designed to look villainous and menacing as the Empire was the antagonist faction in those films. Thus the designers had to create something that looked like a reasonable precursor to the Empire without looking too “evil” and also without looking like it came straight from the 1970s!

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi starfighter has elements of both X-Wings and TIE Fighters in its design.

This is a design challenge unlike many others in cinema, and the prequels got it largely right. The Republic’s ships, both large capital ships and smaller starfighters, retained enough design elements from the original trilogy to look like plausible ancestors of things like TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers, but the brighter colours and softened edges made them look at least a little friendlier.

In any fantasy film, things like design and aesthetic world-building are easy to overlook, but they’re absolutely essential to the sense of immersion that viewers need. The best films work hard to ensure their designs are iconic, and while perhaps very few things in the prequels are as iconic as designs from the original trilogy, the designs blend together well. Nothing was outright copied, and nothing was overwritten.

Number 3: The musical score.

The prequel trilogy had a great soundtrack.

John Williams, who had composed and conducted the music for the original trilogy, returned to Star Wars for the prequels, and his music has to be considered one of the high points of all three films by anyone’s standards. Pieces like Duel of the Fates have become iconic and emblematic of the whole franchise, and it’s impossible to imagine Star Wars without Williams’ compositions.

Considering the budget and creative freedom George Lucas had when making the prequels, he could’ve chosen to approach any composer to create the film’s score. He didn’t have to go back to John Williams if he felt he wanted someone else, but he did. And the films are undeniably better for the inclusion of Williams’ compositions.

Number 4: Palpatine’s scheming.

The story of Palpatine’s rise was interesting.

Though I have argued that seeing the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker was ultimately unnecessary to explain anything from the original films, one thing that absolutely was interesting was seeing how Palpatine schemed and manipulated events to allow himself to rise to the position of Supreme Chancellor – and ultimately Emperor.

I’m having a hard time, in light of The Rise of Skywalker, truly appreciating this aspect of the prequels, because Palpatine’s clumsy insertion into that film has done a heck of a lot to detract from his characterisation. But if we set that aside as best we can for a moment, one of the prequel trilogy’s themes – and best-executed narrative elements – was Palpatine’s rise. Though he was treated as a secondary character when compared to the likes of Anakin and Obi-Wan, I would suggest that his story was actually handled better than almost everyone else’s.

Palpatine meeting with Count Dooku, the separatist leader. He played both sides during the Clone Wars, having planned everything to allow a smooth rise to power.

Say what you will about George Lucas and his storytelling, but when it came to Palpatine in the prequels, there was a meticulous and detailed plan from day one – and it actually made sense. Taking inspiration from the rise of Julius Caesar, who transformed Rome from a Republic into a dictatorial Empire, Palpatine’s scheme was cleverly written, with just enough shown on screen to leave an air of mystery – that the character knew more than he was letting on.

Considering that the prequels overall, and The Phantom Menace in particular, had a kid-friendly tone and plenty of action going on, this kind of political manipulation is a very adult theme, and in other films or series, the juxtaposition of politicking and scheming with space wizards and magic would have fallen completely flat. It succeeded here, in part due to being set up well and planned from the beginning, and in part thanks to Ian McDiarmid’s stellar performance.

Number 5: The Knights of the Old Republic games.

Promo art for Knights of the Old Republic II.

This one is a bit of a cheat since the games were not related to the films, but they were released around the same time (2003-04) and made use of a number of aesthetic elements and settings that had been established in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. I’ve said before on a number of occasions that the Knights of the Old Republic games aren’t just among my favourite video games, they’re two of the best stories ever told in the Star Wars universe.

Though distinct from the prequels, it’s hard to imagine either game being made were it not for the renewed interest in Star Wars that the prequel films generated. The use of things like Jedi robes and a Jedi Council were borrowed from the prequel trilogy as well, and Knights of the Old Republic leaned into the notion of the Jedi Order remaining a constant part of the galaxy, barely changing over millennia. This was a big part of the mythos of Star Wars at the time – the idea that the Republic had existed for thousands of years until the Empire overtook it.

The Knights of the Old Republic games were fantastic.

The big twist in the first Knights of the Old Republic was one of the few moments where I was genuinely blown away by a storyline in a video game, and I remember sitting there with the control pad in my hands just in shock! It was a fantastically-executed narrative point, and while it isn’t really taken from the prequels, it mirrors in some respects the idea of Anakin Skywalker being a Jedi, then falling to the dark side, before ultimately being redeemed – which was, of course, a major theme in the prequel trilogy.

A third Knights of the Old Republic title was rumoured to be in production earlier in the year, so perhaps we’ll finally get a sequel! Even if that isn’t the case, or turns out to be unconnected to the original duology, they’re two of the best games I’ve ever played.

Number 6: Better lightsaber fights.

Obi-Wan Kenobi duelling Count Dooku.

The original trilogy had a couple of solid lightsaber duels, both between Luke and Darth Vader. But the prequel trilogy in general has more exciting lightsaber combat. Not only the duels between Sith and Jedi, but also seeing Jedi in combat against non-Jedi opponents was generally done better – in my subjective opinion, at least – in the prequel films.

In terms of specific lightsaber duels, I’d point to the fight between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan against Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, and Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Yoda duelling Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones as two of the better ones put to screen in the franchise.

The moment Darth Maul ignited his lightsaber’s second blade was jaw-dropping for many fans in 1999!

The prequels changed the way we imagine lightsaber combat, expanding the idea of duelling to encompass different styles and “forms” of wielding the weapon. This has been picked up in video games, films, and television shows produced in the wake of the prequel trilogy, and has gone on to be a defining part of the way lightsaber combat looks on screen.

We also got to see different designs of lightsaber hilt, and a new purple colour for Mace Windu. All of these things made a difference to the way the franchise as a whole handles its signature weapon, and a good deal of what we know about lightsabers and lightsaber duelling comes from the prequel trilogy.

Number 7: Solid acting performances.

Natalie Portman as Padmé and Hayden Christensen as Anakin in Attack of the Clones.

One area of criticism of the prequel films that I fundamentally do not agree with is that the acting performances were somehow stilted or poor quality. Practically every actor involved did the best with the material they had, and some of the harshest criticism levelled at people like Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) or Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) should really be aimed at George Lucas for his writing and direction.

Not only would I say that much of the criticism of the acting is unfair and overly harsh on the performers, but there are some genuinely outstanding performances in the prequel films. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine, as we noted above, is stellar, but I’d also point to Ewan McGregor’s stint as Obi-Wan Kenobi, in particular the incredibly pained emotional moments he shares with Anakin on Mustafar.

Number 8: A planned story.

The prequel films had a narrative that was planned from day one.

This is one which has come into sharper focus given the complete lack of overall direction afforded to the sequel trilogy. As I’ve said before, the sequel trilogy having its own narrative issues does not magically make the prequels any better, but it is worth acknowledging that the prequels had a planned story from the beginning.

Not only that, but the prequel trilogy does a creditable job of executing that story in an understandable manner. There aren’t many moments where viewers are left thinking “who’s that character?” or “what’s going on?” The narrative runs as smoothly as possible from point to point, and main characters like Anakin, Palpatine, and Obi-Wan had their arcs pre-planned.

The prequel trilogy had a story planned from the ground up to reach this moment.

Partly, it has to be said, this is because the films are prequels – they have a definite end point that they absolutely must reach. But there were many different ways to tell the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine’s ascent to the Imperial throne, and so on. There is no denying that Lucas and others planned the story, knew where they wanted it to go, and put that to screen about as well as possible.

Whatever you may think of the story itself, this is the way filmmaking – and any storytelling, come to that – is supposed to work. If you’re going to create a trilogy of films with a view to focusing on the adventures of a few characters, planning out where the narrative and character arcs are going to go is essential.

Number 9: Tense and exciting action sequences.

There were some well-executed moments of action in the prequel trilogy.

Though not every action set piece worked perfectly, the Star Wars prequels do have several exciting and tense sequences. The starship crash-landing early in Revenge of the Sith is a great example of a sequence that didn’t drag on too long and kept the excitement going practically the whole time.

Parts of the Battle of Geonosis in Attack of the Clones – though a CGI mess at points – managed to be stirring and exciting too, with the last-minute arrival of a Jedi “Strike Team” to save Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé achieving at least some of the feelings it was going for. Star Wars can do battles and action very well, and the prequels have some sequences that demonstrate that.

Number 10: Reinvigorated Star Wars for a new generation of fans.

A lot of kids who saw the prequels are big Star Wars fans today – and big defenders of those films!

I’m not surprised to see many Star Wars fans in their teens and twenties defending the prequels with such vigour. These films are theirs – perhaps the first Star Wars films they ever saw, and they’re films which, for many younger fans, started a lifelong love of a galaxy far, far away. Without the prequel trilogy, it’s likely Star Wars would be nowhere near as big as it is today. It would be a well-remembered trilogy of films from the late ’70s with a bunch of spin-off fan-fiction.

The prequels proved that there was more to Star Wars than just the original films, even though they relied heavily on those films in large part. From a business point of view, all three films were massively profitable, with the films themselves and, crucially, their merchandise bringing in literally billions of dollars. The Walt Disney Company would never have been interested in Star Wars and Lucasfilm had the prequels not demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Star Wars franchise could be more than its original trilogy.

Moments of humour, comical characters, and fun designs in the prequels all appealed to kids.

Whatever you may think of the films Disney has made over the last few years, there’s more to come from Star Wars. I personally loved Rogue One, and I’m interested to see what some of the upcoming television series have to offer. Without the prequels, we’d never have seen Rogue One, the sequel trilogy, or The Mandalorian – or at least, they’d have taken a very different form.

Any successful franchise builds on the accomplishments of its earlier iterations, and we can see attempts for Star Wars to do so too. Those attempts aren’t always successful, but the legacy of the prequel trilogy is that Star Wars still exists and is expanding to become bigger than anyone expected it could be twenty years ago. The success of current and future projects is, to a greater or lesser extent, built on what the prequel trilogy achieved. Though I may not be wild about these three films on their own merits, the prequels’ biggest achievement may be in rejuvenating Star Wars for a new generation of fans, pushing the franchise forward.

So that’s it. I wanted to try something positive for Star Wars to mark today, and I thought revisiting the prequel trilogy would be a good place to start.

Anakin Skywalker – a.k.a. Darth Vader.

Star Wars is in a strange place right now, in some ways. The sequel trilogy has wrapped up, but it ended in a pretty ambiguous way, and we’re still not sure exactly what will happen to the galaxy after the “final” defeat of Palpatine. Disney has shifted its focus back to the original trilogy era with most of its upcoming projects, and depending on the success of shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi, perhaps a more serious attempt will be made soon to revisit the prequel era. Time will tell!

Regardless, having watched The Phantom Menace a few days ago I thought I’d also go back and re-watch Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith to complete the set, and that led to this article in celebration of Star Wars day. It’s possible that Disney (or other companies affiliated with Star Wars, like EA) might use today to make announcements of upcoming projects, so if there’s significant news I hope you’ll check back as I daresay I’ll try to break it down.

Now, where’s my review of The Mandalorian Season 2? It’s been six months… better get cracking on that!

The Star Wars franchise – including The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm. The prequel trilogy can be streamed now on Disney+ and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten of my favourite Disney World rides and attractions

It’s been a long time since I visited a Disney theme park, but with the re-opening of Disneyland in California recently hitting the headlines, I’ve been thinking about past visits. I’ve been very lucky to have visited three of the six Disney parks in my life, and though California’s Disneyland is the original and thus a classic, for my money you can’t beat Walt Disney World in Florida. There’s just so much more going on and so much more to do!

The last time I visited Walt Disney World was in 2006, and there have been many changes to the resort and its four constituent parks since then. This list won’t reflect those changes, so don’t expect to see me talk about Galaxy’s Edge and Rise of the Resistance. I would love to try that ride for myself one day, but my health prevents me from travelling (even if there weren’t a pandemic going on) so I doubt I’ll ever get to experience it for myself.

Cinderella’s Castle is the centrepiece and icon of Walt Disney World.

Luckily, though, I had several wonderful Disney experiences earlier in my life while I was able, and I’ve visited the parks both with family and with friends. Disney World – and the other parks – are presented as family-oriented attractions, but even as an adult you’ll find plenty going on and lots of things to have fun with.

So let’s celebrate all things Disney by picking out ten of my favourite rides and attractions! For the record, because I know people like to argue: I’m not saying these are objectively the best things to do at Disney World. These are simply ten rides and attractions that I enjoyed at the park on my earlier visits. If you have your own favourites and don’t like these ones, that’s okay! There’s a broad range of things to do at Disney World, with rides and attractions to cater to many different folks and the things they enjoy. We don’t all have to like the same things!

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at my list.

Number 1: The Tomorrowland Transit Authority/PeopleMover

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority/PeopleMover track.

I said at the beginning that this isn’t a top ten list of my absolute favourite rides. But if it were, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority would be my number one! It’s almost certainly my favourite ride at the Magic Kingdom and the whole of Disney World, which might come as a surprise considering it’s very tame. Unlike other slow rides at Disney, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority doesn’t really have its own theme, instead making a loop of Tomorrowland – one part of the Magic Kingdom – from about one storey up.

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority is fun and interesting, passing through several rides in Tomorrowland and a shop, giving you a birds-eye view over much of the future-themed area of the park. It’s gentle, so it’s perfect for young kids and others who don’t enjoy fast-moving rides, and unlike many of Disney’s other slow rides it isn’t in the dark, which again makes it great for kids who might not be so happy in the dark.

There usually isn’t a horribly long queue for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (or at least, not as far as I remember from past visits) which, combined with its gentle nature, means it’s something relatively easy to do in between “bigger” attractions. Riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority can nicely punctuate a visit to the Magic Kingdom, providing a way to slow down while still enjoying a ride. But it’s absolutely great fun on its own merit, and well worth a visit. If I ever go back to Walt Disney World, I’m making a beeline for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority as soon as I walk through the gate!

Number 2: El Rio del Tiempo (Mexico Pavilion at Epcot)

The entrance to El Rio del Tiempo.
Photo Credit: Disney Wiki

Sadly, El Rio del Tiempo has been re-themed since I last visited the parks, with the dark ride now taking on a theme based loosely on The Three Caballeros, a 1944 film featuring Disney mainstay Donald Duck. I believe the ride layout remains the same, though, despite the re-theming, so I imagine the gentle pace of the attraction has been retained.

Epcot’s World Showcase is an eclectic mix of different countries, with themed areas representing different parts of the world. There are points of interest and lots of places to eat, but what World Showcase doesn’t have in abundance are rides. The Mexico Pavilion contained my favourite, which is/was a dark ride set inside the attraction’s Mayan pyramid. The version of the ride I remember was a gentle boat ride, with no big drops or splashes, and after trailing around World Showcase in the Florida heat, it was great to take a break and sit down in the shade – and air conditioning!

A lot of theme parks (especially here in the UK) go all-in on thrill rides, trying to outdo each other with bigger and faster rollercoasters. Walt Disney World has always been great at having slower, gentler attractions that aren’t just rides for kids, and El Rio del Tiempo was a great example of an adult-oriented dark ride, one which paid homage to Mexico and Mexican history in a respectful way. I haven’t ridden the updated Donald Duck version, but I hope it managed to keep some of what made the original attraction so pleasurable.

Number 3: The Great Movie Ride

A recreation of Hollywood’s famous Chinese Theater served as the building for The Great Movie Ride.
Photo Credit: The Walt Disney Company

Another attraction that, sadly, can no longer be ridden, The Great Movie Ride was one of the original rides and showpieces of Disney’s MGM Studios/Hollywood Studios. It closed in 2017, being replaced by Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. As with El Rio del Tiempo above, this reflects a move on Disney’s part to introduce its own characters and brands into all of the rides at Disney parks.

What I loved most about The Great Movie Ride was that a cast member (i.e. a real person) was present throughout, serving as a guide as the ride took you through clever recreations of scenes from famous films like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even Alien. There was an incredible diversity of films on display, and having a live performer along with the wonderful animatronics brought the world of Hollywood to life in a way I’d never really experienced before.

The Great Movie Ride was a love letter not just to the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, but to cinema in general. The queue area contained actual props from more than a dozen films – including the famous ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and a dress worn by Kate Winslet in Titanic. While it makes sense in some ways for Disney to want to stick to its own brands, I think something significant was lost with the closure of The Great Movie Ride that took away from Hollywood Studios’ premise as a park.

Number 4: Star Tours

The StarSpeeder 3000!
Photo Credit: Disney Wiki

Galaxy’s Edge was not the first Star Wars-themed attraction at Disney World. Not by a long shot! Star Tours opened in 1989, and is still open today – albeit having been given a makeover! Unlike most attractions at Disney World, Star Tours is a simulator, meaning that it stays in one place and doesn’t follow a track.

I can still remember the thrill of boarding Star Tours in the early 1990s, not too long after having seen the Star Wars trilogy for the first time. Actually boarding a starship, complete with a droid pilot, and going on my own Star Wars adventure was a geeky kid’s absolute dream, and the sense of wonder I had as the doors to the simulator opened that first time is a memory that has stuck with me for decades.

The simulator itself was clever, and the ride managed to really give you the sensation of being a spaceship passenger, lurching from side to side and up and down as the ship tried to escape Imperial attacks! The “story” of the ride was, of course, a bit silly, but the experience of being part of Star Wars – even just for a few minutes – is something I’ve never forgotten. I haven’t been able to ride the updated version of Star Tours, but I’m sure it’s just as much fun, and that there are young Star Wars fans today about to have that same kind of experience!

Number 5: Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean exterior (at Disneyland Paris).
Photo Credit: Trekking with Dennis

Pirates of the Caribbean was a ride long before anyone conceived of Jack Sparrow or the film franchise! And it’s a fun pirate-themed boat ride perfect for Adventureland. It wasn’t the first ride to be given the feature film treatment – that dubious honour goes to Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror, which saw a truly mediocre adaptation in 1997 – but it’s not unfair to say it’s been the most successful to date.

The ride itself – at least the classic version, prior to being updated with characters from the films – didn’t have a strong story, instead comprising little more than a set of pirate-themed scenes loosely bound together. Thus there wasn’t much to “adapt” to bring it to screen, just a theme and a song.

Though the ride has now been updated to reflect the popularity of the films, which makes sense, the original version was plenty of fun. The ride is a step in between something like El Rio del Tiempo and more thrilling, faster-paced rides, containing several short drops and faster sections rather than simply being a slow boat tour in the dark. Pirates of the Caribbean is a Disney classic, and one that nobody should miss when visiting!

Number 6: The Monorail

A Walt Disney World Monorail train.

Though you aren’t technically supposed to… this is the only ride on this list you can ride for free! Because the Monorail runs outside of Disney World itself, connecting the theme parks to several resort hotels and the main entrance, it’s possible to hop aboard even if you don’t have a ticket for the theme park – or at least, it used to be!

The Monorail is a lot of fun to ride, and offers great views of both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. As a kid, I was seriously impressed with the way the Monorail glides through the inside of the Contemporary Resort – one of the hotels near the Magic Kingdom. The idea of a train going inside of a hotel blew my mind!

It’s designed to be a practical method of transportation, providing guests with an easy connection between their hotels or the car park and the theme parks. But the Monorail is so lovingly designed and well maintained that it’s a fun ride in itself. It also bookends a day at the parks – and even a whole Disney trip – perfectly, by beginning and ending with a ride.

Number 7: Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth is symbolic of Epcot.

Epcot’s talisman is a perfect representation of the concept behind the Epcot theme park. It’s a dark ride that goes through a summarised version of history, specifically the history of communication, with great animatronics and excellent narration. Epcot was originally intended as a park with a greater emphasis on imagination and education, showing off a particular vision for a possible future. Spaceship Earth is one of the few remaining elements of that original vision, with others having been closed or Disney-fied.

Spaceship Earth is the first thing you seen upon entering Epcot, and the huge geodesic sphere can be seen from all over the park. Its futuristic design still looks great as the park approaches its fortieth anniversary, and it’s become absolutely iconic. I hope that a planned renovation of the ride, which was due to start last year before the pandemic delayed things, doesn’t take away its educational charm.

Because Spaceship Earth is the first attraction inside the gate, it’s easy to make it your first port of call in Epcot. In my recollection, the queue wasn’t especially long on any of the occasions I wanted to ride, and inside a combination of moving walkways and continuously-moving ride vehicles seem to provide a smooth experience. The final part of the ride, which takes you through a field of stars “into the future” always feels moving and beautiful, and the ride ends on a very optimistic and hopeful note.

Number 8: Kilimanjaro Safaris

The sign welcoming guests to Kilimanjaro Safaris.

In 1998 my family and I were fortunate to be among the first guests ever welcomed into Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The new theme park was fantastic, and coming a few short years after The Lion King had been in cinemas, it was wonderful to see Disney really embracing the animal theme. Kilimanjaro Safaris is, as you might expect from the name, a safari ride.

Growing up, my family visited South Africa on a few occasions to visit an aunt who had moved there, and I lived in South Africa for a time shortly after graduating from university, so I’ve been lucky to have been on a real safari on a number of occasions. And I have to say, Kilimanjaro Safaris compares positively to the real thing! Because the ride is relatively compact, it’s possible to see many different animals – real animals, not animatronics – during the course of your expedition, which is fantastic.

There is a story to the ride, and like The Great Movie Ride above, Kilimanjaro Safaris has a cast member driving the ride vehicle to serve as your guide, adding a whole extra level of immersion. The animals at Animal Kingdom are well cared-for, and while it is still a “zoo” of sorts, knowing that the animals have space to roam and aren’t confined to small cages is nice to know. Getting up close and personal with some of these wild animals might otherwise be impossible, so Kilimanjaro Safaris offers a unique experience that really can’t be found elsewhere.

Number 9: Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain looms large over Frontierland!

After putting so many slower rides on the list, I suppose we need at least one “thrill ride” before we wrap things up! Splash Mountain is a log flume with a slow and tense build-up to a long drop, and it’s very easy to get absolutely soaked while riding! The ride is being re-themed at some point in the near future, following criticism of its present theme, which includes elements from the controversial film Song of the South. The new theme will draw on The Princess and the Frog, and based on concept art looks fantastic.

Splash Mountain slowly builds up a sense of tension. A couple of smaller drops get you riled up for the big one, and the slightly creepy vibe present in some of the animatronic scenes really ramps things up as you… go up the ramp! By the time the big drop is imminent, the ride has done its job of building anticipation!

I’ve always enjoyed Splash Mountain, and though I don’t expect to be able to see the re-themed version any time soon, it sounds like it’s in good hands. It’s one of the main attractions in Frontierland, and one of the “three mountains of the Magic Kingdom” along with Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. Doing all three in a day makes for an amazing and thrilling time!

Number 10: Peter Pan’s Flight

Entry to Peter Pan’s Flight.
Photo Credit: Disney Wiki

Peter Pan’s Flight is a dark ride that vaguely follows the story of the 1953 film, taking you on a journey to Neverland with Peter and the Darlings. The gentle ride is great for young kids, and the adventure of following Peter Pan as he flies above London and battles Captain Hook is rendered beautifully with Disney’s animatronics.

Clever use of forced perspective really does give you the sensation of flight – being high above London and Neverland, looking down. It’s a very well-designed ride to get that sense of scale, and I’ve always appreciated that about Peter Pan’s Flight. Most of the characters from the film are present, including Tinker Bell and Captain Hook, and it’s just a cute, fun ride.

Given the recent controversy surrounding the way Native Americans were depicted, and Peter Pan’s restricted access on Disney+ that has resulted, I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Pan’s Flight is reworked or even closed and entirely re-themed at some point in the near future. So this might be one to ride while you can!

Bonus: Fireworks displays

Fireworks in the Magic Kingdom.

Few places in the world do fireworks displays as well as Walt Disney World. Even though I’m not the world’s biggest fan of fireworks, which I feel can be a tad boring, the displays Disney World puts on at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot in particular are absolutely fantastic, and well worth sticking around for after dark.

Seeing the fireworks pop over Cinderella’s Castle, while also watching performers in costume as Mickey, Minnie, the Princesses, and other Disney favourites is one of the must-do experiences while in Disney World, especially if you’re visiting with kids. Not only is it a quintessential Disney World experience in itself, it’s also one of the best fireworks shows you’re ever likely to see!

Most places around the world are only treated to fireworks once or twice a year, so seeing a live display – especially a professional one on a large scale – does still present a sense of wonder and excitement, even to an old cynic like me! It’s a great way to end a day at the parks.

So that’s it. Ten of my favourite attractions at Walt Disney World.

No Rise of the Resistance for me… yet!

Did your favourite(s) make the list? If not, I hope you’ll stay tuned. This is a subject I’m sure I’ll revisit at some point in future, as there are at least ten more rides and attractions I can think of that didn’t make this first list! Disney World really has something for everyone, in my opinion. Whether you want the thrill of a fast rollercoaster, an immersive story-based ride, something gentle to do with young kids, or a show to sit down and watch, there’s so much going on that kids and adults of all ages should be able to find something to enjoy. I greatly enjoyed my visits to the park, and I’m glad to have been able to attend while I was capable of doing so.

The great thing about Walt Disney World is – as Walt Disney himself said – that the parks are “never finished.” There will always be changes, additions, and updates to keep things fresh and interesting, and while the trend in recent years has been for including more of Disney’s own characters and intellectual properties, that may not always be the case, and we could see more changes in future that bring back ideas like The Great Movie Ride or Epcot’s Innoventions.

Regardless, I hope this list was a bit of fun, and maybe a trip down memory lane for those of you who, like me, haven’t been able to visit the parks in a number of years.

All rides and attractions listed above are the copyright of and owned by Disney Parks and/or The Walt Disney Company. Some images courtesy of the Disney Wiki and Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A year later, have I softened my tone on The Rise of Skywalker?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, and for the entire Star Wars franchise.

You can find my original review of The Rise of Skywalker by clicking or tapping here.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker premiered in December 2019, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2020 that I was able to see it. As I’ve explained on a few occasions, my health now prevents me from taking trips to the cinema, so I had to wait until it was available to watch digitally. It’s now been a year since I published my review (or should that be tear-down?) of the film, so I thought I’d revisit it and see what, if anything, has changed in that time.

Attitudes can soften with the passage of time, and a film or series that was once considered dire can find a new audience later on. The Star Wars franchise itself contains great examples of this: not only can we point to the growing popularity of the prequel trilogy, especially among fans who first saw those films when they were children, but even Return of the Jedi, which was once considered the weak link in the trilogy, is now held up alongside the original film and The Empire Strikes Back, with most fans not differentiating between any parts of the Original Trilogy.

Remember when everyone hated and derided the Ewoks?

Part of this is to do with age and when fans first encountered Star Wars, of course. And one year isn’t a lot of time to allow passions to settle, so perhaps I’m entering this with too high hopes! But despite that, I hadn’t re-watched The Rise of Skywalker since I first reviewed it until a couple of days ago, and if nothing else I was curious to see if I still found the film to be as bad as I did then.

Here’s my basic summary from last time: The Rise of Skywalker has problems with pacing and editing, with the film rushing from story beat to story beat never allowing the audience to catch a breath and process anything that’s happened. That makes it feel like nothing more than a mindless action film on par with the worst parts of series like Transformers or Sharknado. Then the film went out of its way to overwrite basically everything that happened in The Last Jedi.

Promo art for The Rise of Skywalker.

Whether you like The Last Jedi or not – and I do respect that there are strong feelings on this – you have to accept that, in a three-part trilogy, the third film simply cannot waste time doing this. By trying to overwrite The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker ended up having to condense two films’ worth of story into one title – something which goes some way to explaining the awful pacing issue noted above.

Then there were story beats left unexplained or unseen. Palpatine’s message to the galaxy informing them of his (incredibly dumb) plan. Where was it? Surely we needed to see that on screen for ourselves instead of just seeing the reactions of other characters or reading it in the opening crawl. Oh, that’s right: Palpatine’s incredibly important message that set up the entire story of The Rise of Skywalker was only available to players of battle royale video game Fortnite. You read that right – Palpatine’s message was recorded, but thanks to a marketing tie-in with Fortnite it could only be heard in that game.

You could hear Palpatine’s message – the driving force behind the entire plot of the film – but only if you played Fortnite.

How did Lando Calrissian, making his return to the franchise two films too late, manage to recruit literally the entire galaxy for a mission to attack Palpatine? He just turns up at the end with the biggest fleet the film franchise has ever seen at his back, with no explanation given and not even a single frame dedicated to how he managed to convince everyone to join him. That might be a film worth watching.

The decision to get rid of the backstory established for Rey in The Last Jedi was fan-servicey and dumb. It was as if writer/director JJ Abrams spent twenty minutes looking at fan-fiction online and said “that’ll do,” then ham-fistedly inserted it into the script. Palpatine’s plan to launch a huge fleet of starships from his hidden base might make sense… but announcing it to the galaxy before the ships are in position and while they’re still vulnerable to attack doesn’t survive any degree of scrutiny.

Rey’s backstory was overwritten in The Rise of Skywalker.

I could go on, but this summary is already too long. In short, I considered The Rise of Skywalker to be an irredeemably bad film, the worst film I saw in all of 2020. So have I changed my mind now I’ve seen it again? Spoiler alert: no.

I won’t be all cliché and tell you it was worse this time around, but as I re-watched the film that was supposed to conclude the “Skywalker Saga,” the disappointment I felt a year ago is still there. The passage of time has not magically made bad storytelling good.

To provide some context, I also put myself through the torrid chore of re-watching The Phantom Menace, the film I considered Star Wars’ worst prior to The Rise of Skywalker. It’s been a while since I saw The Phantom Menace, and I likewise wondered if my attitude had shifted any. Both films are unenjoyable, but they fail for fundamentally different reasons. The Phantom Menace has a story that was carefully designed from the ground up. The problem was that story was disappointing and unnecessary fluff. The Rise of Skywalker has no real story, with the plot being made up of a cobbled-together mix of side-quests, failed twists, and fan-fiction.

I re-watched The Phantom Menace as well. It’s been a shit few days for films, to be honest.

Having re-watched both films, the one thing I would say has probably changed since last time is this: as much as I don’t enjoy The Phantom Menace, and indeed the prequel trilogy overall, The Rise of Skywalker is probably worse.

One thing I commented on last time that I definitely want to bring up again is the Sith dagger maguffin. This one prop is arguably the most important in the entire film, being the driving force behind a significant portion of what we’ll generously call the “plot.” But it just looks awful. The blade looks nothing like metal at all, not even old rusted metal. It’s made of some kind of plastic or foam rubber, and that’s incredibly obvious every time it’s shown on screen. In a film which otherwise manages to nail the visual effects, this prop should have been done better. And when it became apparent to the producers how bad it looked, some digital effects could have been added in post-production to smarten it up, at least in frames where it’s clearly visible on screen.

I have a second monitor which is a different make to my primary display, and I tried looking at the dagger there to see if it looked any better; perhaps it looked uniquely bad on my screen for some reason. I also tracked down still images and photos of the dagger to see if the Disney+ version of the film had some kind of weird visual quirk. But having investigated as much as I can (or can be bothered for a film this crap) I have to conclude that the Sith dagger, a maguffin integral to the story of the film, for whatever reason looks bad on screen. Other weapons in Star Wars look fine, and even in The Rise of Skywalker practically all of the other props were inoffensive. But this one, the most important one, manages to look like a cheap child’s toy; something you’d pick up in the bargain bin of a discount supermarket to keep a kid entertained for a few minutes.

For such an important prop, the Sith dagger looked awful.

Finn and Rose were both unceremoniously dumped by The Rise of Skywalker as its focus shifted to trying to mimic Luke and Vader using Rey and Kylo Ren. Both characters had potential in their first appearances, yet nothing ever came of that. Rose was the mechanic who lost her sister to the war and wanted nothing more than to do her bit to fight for freedom, yet she was insultingly given a few seconds’ worth of screen time and chose not to accompany Finn and Rey on their series of side-quests.

Finn was the first Stormtrooper we’ve spent much time with in Star Wars’ main canon. There was scope for his story of overcoming indoctrination and fighting back to turn into something genuinely inspirational, but he was relegated to a minor role that seemed to mostly consist of shouting at Rey – so much so that it became a meme. Finn was one of the “big three” – the three main characters of the trilogy, or so we were told. Yet while Poe and Rey got some attention in The Rise of Skywalker, Finn was essentially sidelined for the entire film. He played third fiddle to Rey and Poe, never really able to come into his own. It was a waste of a character – but that could be said of many characters across the sequel trilogy, really.

“Rey!” shouted Finn, repeatedly. For two-and-a-half hours.

John Boyega, who plays Finn, has been vocal about this, suggesting that Star Wars wasn’t sure what to do with his character. And I sympathise with that, because while Finn had some degree of character development, it all happened in the first few minutes of The Force Awakens, much of it wordlessly, and after that he just felt like a spare part.

The treatment of Rose was frankly just offensive, though, and it’s this decision that deserves the most criticism. Kelly Marie Tran, who plays the character, had been subjected to an absolutely vile torrent of abuse online in the weeks after The Last Jedi premiered, all of which came from complete morons who are incapable of separating their feelings about a fictional character from the actress who plays her. Though director Rian Johnson stuck up for Tran, as did some of her co-stars, Star Wars as a whole was largely silent. The decision to give Rose such a minor role was clearly the franchise pandering to those sexists and racists who went after the actress, and honestly that’s just appalling. Almost everything else wrong with The Rise of Skywalker concerns plot, characterisation, and so on. But this is something that actually affected a real person, and whatever you may think of Rose’s character in The Last Jedi, the decent thing for Star Wars and its producers to do would have been to take a stand in support of their actress. Cutting her from The Rise of Skywalker is nothing more than pandering.

Rose was entirely sidelined.

For some reason, The Rise of Skywalker needed to have a “shocking twist.” And this played out in perhaps the dumbest, most obvious way possible. General Hux was the First Order zealot we met in The Force Awakens. He works alongside new character General Pryde, and the film clumsily sets up that there’s a spy in the First Order. Naturally, the audience are supposed to think it’s Pryde. But no! In a truly stunning turn of events, Hux is the mole, feeding information to the Resistance because of his hatred of Kylo Ren.

Not only was the setup for this poorly handled in a jam-packed film that simply didn’t have enough time to set up a “mystery” of this nature, but the absolute stupidity of Hux being the traitor leaves me at a genuine loss for words. Seriously – ever since I first saw the film I’ve had a piece in my writing pile tentatively titled “General Hux,” with a vague plan to talk about how truly bizarre and stupid this character betrayal was. But every time I start it I genuinely cannot get more than a few lines in. The decision to go down this route is staggeringly dumb in a film that’s already overflowing with ridiculous character and storytelling decisions. I don’t even know where to start or how to unpack this utter nonsense.

Hux’s character betrayal was awful and didn’t even achieve its purpose as a “shocking twist.”

Hux, more than any other character in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, was steadfastly loyal to his cause. Even if we can accept the premise that his personal dispute with Kylo Ren had soured him, surely the arrival on the scene of Palpatine offered a better way out for Hux than betraying the entire First Order. And betraying the organisation to which he had dedicated his life when it was on the brink of victory makes no sense. It’s a “lesser of two evils” situation, from his perspective. Kylo might be someone he viscerally hates, but the First Order is more than just one man, and Hux’s desire to impose “order” on a chaotic galaxy is his driving force.

And so we come, inevitably, to Palpatine.

Even if everything else that was wrong with The Rise of Skywalker went away – and that would be no mean feat considering how much of an abject failure practically every aspect of the story was – Palpatine’s insertion into a story that was clearly never meant to have anything to do with him would ruin whatever remained. There’s no getting away from that.

Palpatine ruined the film.

Palpatine was not part of The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, and the sole reference to him in the latter film was a throwaway line. JJ Abrams and others involved with the production of The Rise of Skywalker absurdly tried to claim that Palpatine’s return was “always the plan,” but that simply is not true. If it was the case, it was set up so badly across the previous two titles that everyone involved with writing, directing, and managing Star Wars should resign in shame and never try to tell another story again. But it wasn’t true. JJ Abrams arrived on the scene after The Last Jedi, and with Snoke dead and Kylo at the head of the First Order he clearly had no idea what to do or where to take the narrative.

Abrams was obviously in love with the idea of re-telling the basic story of Return of the Jedi, just as he’d re-told A New Hope four years previously. Rey was substituted in for Luke, Kylo Ren for Vader, but there needed to be a “big bad,” another villain at the top to make Kylo’s redemption and return to the light possible. In Abrams’ original vision for the trilogy – if such a vision existed, which is debatable – that villain was Snoke. But with Snoke dead and Kylo having assumed the mantle of Supreme Leader, the sequel trilogy’s story had already gone in a radically different direction. This was not something that could be halted or renegotiated; it had already happened.

Snoke’s death and Kylo’s elevation to the role of Supreme Leader could’ve led to The Rise of Skywalker going in a very different direction.

Instead of trying to tell a new story, or adapting the existing one to make it work with new or existing characters, the disastrous decision was made to bring back Palpatine. I can’t emphasise enough how utterly stupid this is. The one thing any fictional universe needs to have is internal consistency. It’s fine to have the Force, a magical power to move objects, perform mind tricks, etc., but when it’s been established roughly what’s possible, internal consistency kicks in and future stories have to be constrained by what’s already been established. This is a basic tenet of storytelling and of fiction in general.

Palpatine died. At the end of Return of the Jedi he was absolutely 100% dead. Not only that, but his absence in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, coupled with the rise of Snoke and the First Order instead of some continuation of the Empire, emphatically and solidly confirmed that Palpatine was dead. Say it with me folks: “Palpatine was dead.”

This moment in Return of the Jedi clearly and unambiguously showed Palpatine’s death.

Not only does The Rise of Skywalker bring him back, his return is not explained. Did he survive the Death Star’s explosion? Was he reborn? Is he a clone? All we got is an ambiguous line that isn’t even new for The Rise of Skywalker – it’s a word-for-word copy of a line spoken by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith: “the dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” The Rise of Skywalker can’t even be original with its shitty dialogue.

The worst line in relation to the Palpatine clusterfuck was spoken by Poe: “Somehow, Palpatine returned.” That line encapsulates how The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t care one bit about the detail of its story, and how the film is content to treat its audience like idiots. Rather than lingering over this point, the film skips ahead and then races through the rest of the plot. Perhaps the writers and producers knew that no explanation for Palpatine’s return could ever make even the tiniest modicum of sense, so they just opted not to add one. I would say that’s bold, but actually it just compounds how dumb the original decision was. If even the writers can’t find a way to explain or defend this awful story point, then it’s an awful story point.

“Somehow, Palpatine returned.” A contender for the title of worst-written line of dialogue in the franchise.

As I mentioned earlier, Rey’s backstory had been established in The Last Jedi. It wasn’t to everyone’s liking, perhaps, but considering the other sources of controversy that film generated, I think most fans were at least tolerant of it as the first stage of explaining her power and origin. The idea of the Force trying to balance itself by elevating Rey to match the growing power of Kylo was a theme present in both prior parts of the trilogy, and when Kylo explained Rey’s parents were “nobody” in The Last Jedi, that settled things.

That explanation worked very well, and it meant that Rey was in a unique position in Star Wars. Though we’ve known many Jedi characters, the main ones we met were Anakin and Luke, and the familial relationship between them demonstrated that the Force can be passed down from parent to child. But not every Jedi has to be the offspring of another Jedi, and there was something powerful in “Rey the nobody” that The Rise of Skywalker trampled in its mad rush to fetishise and copy the Original Trilogy.

Kylo Ren delivered the shocking(ly awful) news to Rey – and to us as the audience.

Rey’s background as the daughter of nobody special meant her rise and her skills were her own. She achieved the position she was in – and her status as a Jedi – on merit. By removing this key part of her character, The Rise of Skywalker throws away something incredibly valuable: the message that anyone can be a hero. For young people – and especially young girls – sitting down to watch the film, the idea of Rey as a heroine to aspire to, someone who came from nowhere and saved the galaxy, was stripped away, replaced with the laziest and most clichéd of all fantasy tropes: destiny.

Rey’s inheritance as a descendant of Palpatine explained her power. That was it. The Force in Star Wars’ cinematic canon functions like an aristocracy, with power passed from Anakin to Luke and Leia, then from Leia to Ben Solo, and from Palpatine to Rey. Gone is the concept, embodied in the “broom boy” scene at the end of The Last Jedi, that the Force can be present in even the most lowly individuals. What replaced it was fate, destiny, and the power of bloodlines – an amazing and powerful message cast aside for a cheap fan-fiction theory.

Rey learns her true origin… for the second time.

The climactic battle involving Palpatine’s fleet and Finn and Poe’s Resistance forces is incredibly dumb and makes no sense. Not only was the idea of fighting on the exterior hull of a starship so phenomenally stupid, but the very concept of a fleet that doesn’t “know which way is up” and has such a patently obvious weakness was ridiculously poorly handled.

Star Wars has previously introduced us to forces and machines that seem overwhelming, only to offer a “million-to-one shot” way to destroy them; at this point it’s almost a trope of the franchise, being present in two of the three original films and The Force Awakens. But in all prior cases – even with The Force Awakens’ Starkiller Base, which was a patent rip-off of the Death Star – it was handled so much better and made more sense in-universe.

A moment of brainless action designed for the trailer and pre-release marketing material.

Palpatine’s fleet is the only fleet ever seen in Star Wars to require some kind of external navigation aid; this concept is just plain dumb for a technological civilisation. Not only that, but the idea that without this maguffin the ships will be trapped and unable to move is awful. Really, irredeemably awful.

What this all means is that Palpatine’s fleet looked superficially large and intimidating, especially in the film’s trailer and other marketing material, but was ultimately incredibly easy to defeat; cardboard cut-out opposition for our heroes. What could have been a satisfying victory over seemingly overwhelming odds felt incredibly cheap and hollow as a result.

The Sith fleet was clearly designed to be easily defeated.

As mentioned above, Lando’s last-second arrival with half the ships in the galaxy at his back was designed to be a feel-good moment; “we the people” rising up against tyranny. But because we didn’t get to see any of Lando’s recruitment efforts, nor understand why the galaxy would turn out to help him when they ignored Leia at the end of The Last Jedi, it was nothing but an incredibly hollow moment that felt more like a deus ex machina than a rousing victory.

Given the lukewarm reaction to the sequel trilogy, Disney’s roadmap for upcoming Star Wars projects seems to be putting this era on hold. But if they ever do choose to revisit the sequel era in future, one story I think would be absolutely worth exploring is Lando’s mad rush to bring the galaxy together and lead them to Exegol – of all the things in The Rise of Skywalker, that might be the one story worth digging into.

How did Lando manage to get so many people to back him? Might’ve been worth showing a bit of that on screen, no?

I’ve already written far more than I intended to for what was supposed to be a short revisit to a crap film, so I think we’ll wrap things up. I didn’t even touch on the ridiculous Force healing power that Rey developed, nor how the plot seemed to take our heroes precisely where they needed to go by completely random chance. We also could talk about the dumb limitation imposed on C3PO and how he couldn’t translate the dagger, Palpatine growing Snoke-clones in a tank, and the fake-outs of Chewbacca’s death and C3PO’s memory wipe. There are so many ridiculously poor elements of The Rise of Skywalker that they don’t all fit in a single essay.

In summary, then, the film is still just as bad as it was first time around. Though visually impressive most of the time, especially when compared to the shoddy CGI of the prequel trilogy, and with a couple of successful moments of comedy, the film is a complete and total narrative failure. It was an appalling and disappointing end to the so-called “Skywalker Saga” – which should really be called the “Palpatine Saga,” apparently, since he’s been manipulating everything from behind the scenes and is thus the only character who has been able to act of his own volition.

Despite some adequate performances from its lead actors, The Rise of Skywalker remains a truly dire film and an unenjoyable watch from beginning to end.

In 2017-18, when some Star Wars fans were vocal about their hatred of The Last Jedi, I was pleased that I was still enjoying Star Wars. But The Rise of Skywalker threw a wrench into the whole sequel trilogy, and was so bad in the way some of its storylines unfolded and concluded that it makes both of its predecessors – and to an extent the Original Trilogy as well – significantly worse and less enjoyable to go back and watch.

Even though I’m not a big fan of The Mandalorian, there are some Star Wars projects on the horizon that seem to have potential, despite the fact that the franchise is still very much living in the shadow of its Original Trilogy. I’ve expressed on a number of occasions my wish to see Star Wars break away from that and try something new, and I remain hopeful that it will happen one day. Even though The Rise of Skywalker was a disappointment and a complete narrative failure, there’s still life in Star Wars as a franchise. I recently enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order, for example, and I’m very much looking forward to its sequel. And at Christmas last year, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was good fun on Disney+.

Despite the failure of The Rise of Skywalker and my disappointment in the film, I remain a Star Wars fan. Having returned to the film to give it a second look, I’m now content to put it back on the shelf and concentrate on what comes next for the franchise. There’s no need to revisit this film again, and this will probably be the last time I ever watch it.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is available to stream now on Disney+. The film is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. The Star Wars franchise – including The Rise of Skywalker and all other titles listed above – is the copyright of LucasFilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars…

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

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

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

Are you ready to go through the looking-glass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently this website is incredibly popular in the alternate reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke Skywalker returned in The Mandalorian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke Skywalker recently appeared in The Mandalorian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spock in Star Trek: Discovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic game rumoured to be in development

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II.

I don’t usually cover rumours here on the website. There are always unsubstantiated rumours flying around every corner of the entertainment industry, and many are either completely wrong or entirely made-up. Sometimes covering a rumour and getting all worked up about it can make you look rather foolish! But the rumour of a new Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic game feels like it has some weight to it, with multiple news outlets all picking it up.

I adored Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel. The two games were released in 2003 and 2004 for PC and Xbox, and if you’re unfamiliar with them they’re single-player role-playing games. At a time when the Star Wars franchise had released two pretty crap films, Knights of the Old Republic did a lot for rehabilitating the franchise’s reputation in my mind.

The two games told connected but separate stories focusing on two Jedi Knights – Revan and the Exile. They were set millennia before the main Star Wars films, and while they did borrow some aesthetic elements and themes from the films, they stood alone and apart from Star Wars’ cinematic output. At the time, with Star Wars being dragged through the mud by The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, that was precisely what I needed!

A screenshot from Knights of the Old Republic.

Bioware developed the first Knights of the Old Republic, and in many ways you can see the legacy of that game in their subsequent Mass Effect trilogy. In fact, the first time I sat down to play Mass Effect I considered it to be little more than a generic Star Wars knock-off! The sequel was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, and though it didn’t sell quite as well, and had some issues due to being rushed, it was still a fantastic title.

Both games told genuinely engaging stories with fleshed-out characters who felt real. They allowed a great degree of player choice – which at the time was still a novelty – and in addition to expanding the Star Wars map, visited just enough familiar locations and themes as to clearly be part of the franchise. If someone asked me to describe the “perfect Star Wars game,” it would be one of these two titles. The story, the freedom of choice, the excellent characters… they’re absolutely outstanding.

Other Star Wars games had previously allowed players to fight for the Empire or wield Sith weapons, so being a bad guy was nothing new. But Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel had a Light Side-Dark Side system which allowed players not only to choose which path to follow, but sometimes forced difficult decisions. Sometimes you’d encounter a puzzle or situation where the preferred option would result in pushing your character toward the Dark Side – and if you wanted to do a 100% Light Side playthrough that was difficult! Many smaller moments like this across both games made each playthrough unique.

A screenshot from Knights of the Old Republic II.

In the second game, the characters you would recruit for your party would differ not only by your Light or Dark inclination but also by gender. Male characters recruited one ally, females another. And the characters would have a big impact on your playthrough, with whole side-missions and cut-scenes featuring them. I must’ve played both games half a dozen times by now, even revisiting them as recently as 2017 when I bought them on Steam. Speaking of which: you can pick up both games for less than £15, and they’re usually discounted at sale time. Well worth a buy!

But we’re not here to advertise the first two games! Let’s consider what a third entry in the series could be.

There has already been a sequel of sorts: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a massively-multiplayer online game which is still running almost a decade after its initial release. I only played it for a short while – I don’t enjoy MMO titles as you may recall if you’re a regular around here – so I’m not 100% up to speed on everything that came out of The Old Republic. However, I do remember that it was set a few hundred years later, but managed to bring back some locations, themes, and story points from the original two titles.

Promo art for Knights of the Old Republic II.

A new entry in the series must surely be a single-player title. Though this is unconfirmed right now (as with everything else to do with this game) reusing the Knights of the Old Republic name for a multiplayer title or “live service” would not endear whichever company is developing it to Star Wars fans! And that’s another good point: no developer or publisher has been confirmed for this title yet.

Knights of the Old Republic II ended with some unanswered questions. Where had Revan gone? What would he find beyond the Galactic Rim? Would the Jedi Exile (i.e. the second game’s protagonist) be able to find him? These questions were never addressed, though they may have been touched on in The Old Republic, and thus could be answered by a new title.

One thing we’ve been assured of by this rumour is that the new Knights of the Old Republic will not be a remake or reimagining of either of the first games. That strongly suggests we’re looking at a sequel or prequel, and raises the prospect of bringing back some of the original characters. There could be copyright and/or licensing issues there, as studios have changed hands since the original games were made. But it seems at least possible that we could see the return of characters like Carth, Bastilla, and HK-47.

HK-47 in Knights of the Old Republic.

A direct sequel would certainly be popular with fans of the first two games. I’d be truly happy with that, and being able to pick up where the second game ended and carry on the story would be something absolutely wonderful. But would that have widespread appeal? How many gamers and Star Wars fans have played Knights of the Old Republic? PC or Xbox gamers in the early 2000s had access to these titles, and they were subsequently re-released on Steam and even iOS/Android. But there are undoubtedly a lot of gamers and fans who have never touched either title. The games are both approaching their 20th anniversaries, after all.

In that sense, perhaps a direct sequel is less likely, and what will follow will be a new game with new characters occupying a similar position in the galaxy and timeline. There may be references and even a degree of overlap, but not a straight continuation of Revan and the Exile’s stories. While that may disappoint some hardcore fans, it would arguably offer the broadest possible appeal.

It’s possible that this new game could connect in some way to the ongoing High Republic setting that Star Wars has been pushing recently. The High Republic era is set around 300 years before the main films, during the Republic but millennia after Knights of the Old Republic. Though cinematic Star Wars and Disney+ shows seem focused on prequels and spin-offs at the moment, the High Republic era is the setting for a number of apocryphal works like novels – and perhaps games. So while we’re calling this game Knights of the Old Republic, perhaps what it’ll actually be is Knights of the High Republic!

The High Republic is currently a focus for non-filmed Star Wars stories.

We’ll have to wait and see what a new Knights of the Old Republic will bring. It certainly seems as though the game is a long way off; with no official announcement to go on it could be a long while before we see any gameplay or even a trailer. However, the reinvigorated LucasFilm Games has certainly got off to a flying start in 2021. First came the announcement of an Indiana Jones game, then the new Ubisoft-published Star Wars game, and now this Knights of the Old Republic rumour. It seems that there will be plenty of new games on the horizon to get stuck into in the years ahead – and that’s wonderful.

The opportunity to revisit Knights of the Old Republic would be fantastic, and one of the things I enjoyed about Jedi: Fallen Order when I played it last year was that the game took me back to the planet of Kashyyyk – the homeworld of the Wookies that I first explored in Knights of the Old Republic. Whether it ultimately ends up being a true sequel or just a related story, I think there’s a lot of potential to have a truly amazing time back in the Star Wars galaxy.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was released in 2003 by Bioware and Electronic Arts. Knights of the Old Republic II was released in 2004 by Obsidian Entertainment – now owned by Microsoft. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Disney and LucasFilm. Some screenshots and/or promo artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Electronic Arts seemingly loses its exclusive rights to Star Wars

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

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

2015’s Battlefront was disappointing to many fans.

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars: Squadrons.

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

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

No, not that kind of Star Wars monopoly…

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

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

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

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

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

Protagonist Cal Kestis in Jedi: Fallen Order.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the Avatar sequels improve the franchise’s standing?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Avatar.

James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi film Avatar never really managed to break into pop culture in quite the way he hoped. It was a huge financial success – in part because folks were curious to see what this new project was all about – but it never really became a top-tier entertainment brand in the way Star Wars or Harry Potter did. In 1977, Star Wars became a phenomenon, and in the years afterwards the film was constantly on fans’ minds. The Empire Strikes Back cemented its place at the pinnacle of the sci-fi genre… even if Return of the Jedi perhaps tarnished its halo a little!

Avatar just isn’t on that level. There was a lot of hype leading up to its release, with a decent (if rather boastful) marketing campaign spearheading 20th Century Fox’s efforts to push Avatar as the “next big thing.” But for a lot of moviegoers, the film was just okay. It wasn’t bad; it was a solid, enjoyable summer blockbuster that went toe-to-toe with the best pictures of 2009 – including the rebooted Star Trek! But after leaving the cinema, I never really got the sense that fans were clamouring for more in the way Trekkies, Potter-heads, and Star Wars fans are for their respective franchises.

Avatar was a successful film – but can it become a successful franchise?

The creation of Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World in Florida is a great demonstration of this. The new land attracted attention when it was built, and for months after it opened its rides were queuing out the door! But that happens for almost any new Disney attraction, and when compared to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019, it pales in comparison. There was huge excitement to be transported to a galaxy far, far away. There was curious interest in Pandora… but that was all.

None of this is to say Avatar was bad. It wasn’t at all, and I thoroughly enjoyed it when I first saw it. But I was never desperate to re-watch it, and my latest revisit to the 2009 film – which may be the third or fourth time I’ve seen it – was prompted by nothing more than boredom. But it also led to this article, so at least I got something out of it!

Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World.

This is a much broader point that ties into another piece I’ve been writing, but the difference between a good one-off story and a good story that becomes a larger franchise is world-building. Any film, television show, book, or even video game that hopes to be “the next Star Wars” needs to put time and effort into creating a world that fans want to explore. Star Wars and Star Trek did so, and they did so by showing fans a relatively small piece of what felt like a huge picture. The galaxies depicted in Star Wars and Star Trek are so much bigger than the few characters we met in their original incarnations; it feels like there’s much more to see beyond what was depicted on screen.

Avatar – and a lot of other wannabe-franchises too – doesn’t have that, at least not yet. Partly that’s because the film doesn’t hint at anything more than what we see – Earth, Pandora… and that’s it. And on Pandora there’s one major human outpost. There are starships flying back and forth, and the glimpses we got of Earth had a futuristic vibe, but the world Avatar created doesn’t feel as though it extends beyond the places we see. There’s no other planets that we could imagine humans or Na’vi colonising one day. There’s no fleets of starships on missions of exploration or fighting battles; the few ships we see just fly between Earth and Pandora.

A starship seen in Avatar.

Pandora itself is absolutely beautiful; a location painstakingly created. And the Na’vi are more than just a simple analogue for Native Americans or other indigenous peoples; Cameron and his team went to great lengths to craft Na’vi culture, even going so far as to write a fully-formed Na’vi language. Those efforts may yet pay off, but they don’t seem to have thus far. Because as interesting as the Na’vi are – and they are undeniably interesting – they’re all there is. One tribe of Na’vi and one human settlement on Pandora, and… what? Nothing else, as far as the film showed us.

There’s a sense of scale missing from Avatar, and its world-building, while wonderfully done, is small. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on one aspect of a story and a few characters – in the first film in a series that kind of needs to happen! But if the aim is to create a series with franchise potential, something to hook fans in and get our imaginations running, that sense of scale and the idea of a greater world beyond what we see on screen is essential. It’s the single most important element in building a larger story – and Avatar didn’t get it right.

So on to the question I posed at in the title of this article: can the planned sequels – of which there are four – improve the franchise’s standing? Can they spin out what was a decent one-off sci-fi blockbuster into something more? Can Avatar make the jump and become “the next Star Wars?”

Two Na’vi seen in concept art for the Avatar sequel series.

The length of time between Avatar and its sequels may be an issue. By the time Avatar 2 hits cinemas in December 2022 – assuming it meets its planned release date – thirteen years will have passed since the first title. Given the general apathy and lack of interest in Avatar this long after its premiere, the first part of this sequel series will have to spend at least some of its runtime refreshing audiences on what happened in the first film and what the setting is. When I sat down to re-watch Avatar earlier, I had only a vague recollection of the film, and I daresay a lot of folks will be in the same position.

When The Empire Strikes Back came out, it had been only three years since Star Wars had been in cinemas. And while Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released a decade after The Original Series ended, the only reason the film was made was because there was a growing fanbase who had watched the show when it was rebroadcast and those fans were clamouring for more. Is anyone clamouring for Avatar 2?

A scene on Pandora from concept art.

Avatar was a welcome addition to the sci-fi genre. Especially as the last decade has been dominated by reboots, adaptations, remakes, and sequels, it was a welcome breath of fresh air, and despite what I’ve said about its world feeling small, there is potential for it to be expanded upon. To say that the Avatar series can never be more than it already is would be ridiculous – there’s only been one film so far, and it was decent. It didn’t blow up the genre or redefine what a film could be in the way its pre-release marketing seemed to suggest, but it was good. I don’t dislike Avatar.

The sequels do have a pretty big job to do, though. The storyline of Avatar was exciting, but it was hardly original. Comparisons have been made to Dances with Wolves and even Disney’s Pocahontas, and while I don’t think it’s fair to call it derivative, it wasn’t a unique narrative by any means. That point of criticism will have to be addressed, and the sequels will have to try harder to be different from a story perspective if they’re to achieve the heights the films are aiming for.

Na’vi fly atop their banshees in more concept art.

The beautiful world-building that worked so well for Pandora and the Na’vi needs to be expanded upon. Perhaps we could see different Na’vi tribes and civilisations on Pandora, or better yet, expand the scope of the setting out into space. Are there other moons or planets in the Pandora system, perhaps? Or is there another human settlement on some nearby world? These are just a couple of ideas for how the Avatar series can build on the successes of the first film to be bigger – to achieve that sense of scale which the best and most successful franchises have.

Avatar was also a film which had contemporary real-world analogies. I noted influences of at least two of America’s recent wars in the depiction of the Marines, scientists, and Na’vi – Vietnam and Iraq. The dense rainforests of Pandora, and the way Jake and others had trouble navigating them, were the film’s answer to the jungles of Vietnam. And references to winning “the hearts and minds” of the locals was a phrase we heard often in relation to the Iraq war during the 2000s – which is when Avatar was in development. The latter of those themes is arguably less relevant in 2021 than it was in 2009, and Avatar 2 will need to adapt to changing times.

Night time on Pandora in this final piece of concept art.

One improvement we’re sure to see is in CGI and digital animation. Avatar was released at a time when CGI was improving – and was far better than it had been even five or ten years earlier – but there are still some aspects of its visual style that haven’t aged especially well. Some textures have that “too shiny” look that plagued cinematic CGI in the 2000s, and while viewing the film on a cinema or IMAX projector screen dulled the impact of some of that, on a television set in 2021 it’s something you notice. I wouldn’t say Avatar looks dated – but it’s right on the cusp. A film that relies so heavily on computer animation – many of Avatar’s sequences are basically fully-animated – is always going to run that risk, and while it has aged more gracefully than, for example, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, there are still noticeable places where the animation isn’t up to code.

There have been improvements in computer animation since 2009, which should mean Avatar 2 and the rest of the sequel series will be far more visually interesting. Pandora was already beautiful, but if that beauty could be expanded upon I think the sequels could really be something special. Some fans tend to turn up their noses at visuals, but if you think about it, a distinct visual style is another absolutely crucial element to a franchise. Star Trek has combadges, ships with saucer sections, Klingons, and the transporter. Star Wars has white-armoured Stormtroopers, lightsabers, Jabba the Hutt, and X-wings. Avatar introduced us to the blue-skinned Na’vi, but none of its technology, characters, costumes, or locations have become iconic in the same way as the other franchises we’ve mentioned. Part of that is down to the quality of the CGI, but partly it’s the film’s own art style. Avatar 2 could introduce a new design for a starship, character, or even just a costume that will go on to be emblematic of the series – in the way that Boba Fett became a symbol of Star Wars after his debut in The Empire Strikes Back, for example.

So yes, there’s work to do to expand on Pandora and the world Avatar created in 2009. But I’m really interested to see where Avatar 2 will take the story after the conclusion of the first film, and what the other films in the planned sequel series have in store. James Cameron is an amazing director, and having put so much work and effort into the Avatar series, I really hope it will see the kind of success he’s looking for. There’s always room for more sci-fi franchises!

Avatar is out now on Blu-ray and DVD, and may be streamed on Disney+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories. Avatar is the copyright of 20th Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company. Avatar 2 is due for release in December 2022. Logo and official promotional artwork courtesy of avatar.com. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

End-of-Year Awards 2020

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for some of the films, games, and television shows listed below.

Welcome to my first annual End-of-Year Awards! These are the best (and worst) entertainment events of the year – in my subjective opinion! Rather than writing a top ten list (like I did last year to mark the end of the decade) I’m instead choosing a few categories and awarding my picks for the best entertainment experiences of the year.

I’m including a few titles from the tail end of 2019 on this list simply because many people will have only got around to watching or playing them this year. These decisions are always difficult and I often feel that – because people put these lists together weeks or months before the end of the year – titles released in December tend to miss out. As such you’ll find a few titles from the final few weeks of 2019 being given an award – and perhaps next year there may be a title or two from the end of 2020 featured!

Most categories will have a runner-up and a winner; a few only have one, and in those cases that title wins by default.

A note about exclusions: if I haven’t seen or played a title for myself, for reasons that I hope are obvious it can’t be included. I’m only one person, and I don’t have every moment of the day to dedicate to entertainment. As such, some titles others may consider to be “massive releases” for 2020 aren’t going to be given an award. In the gaming realm, this also applies to titles that I haven’t completed. The exclusion from these awards of titles like Ghost of Tsushima and Tenet isn’t to say they aren’t good; they may be – but I have no experience with them so I’m unable to comment at this time.

With all of that out of the way let’s jump into the awards! If you like, you can try to imagine a fancy stage and some celebrity presenter handing out statuettes. That may or may not be what I’m doing as I write!

Web Series:

Nowadays many of us get at least a portion of our entertainment away from big-budget productions on websites and apps like YouTube. There are a number of top-tier YouTube shows that may have started off as typical amateur productions, but have since become far more professional. As better cameras and microphones become readily available, even low-budget YouTube productions can offer impressive audio and visuals.

Personally I watch a video or two on YouTube most days, and there are a number of channels which have produced top-quality entertainment this year. When the pandemic hit, many YouTube shows were able to keep going despite the chaos engulfing the wider entertainment industry. They had the means and the technology to do so, and that’s fantastic.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Linus Tech Tips

Linus Tech Tips is one of the first YouTube channels I began watching regularly, having stumbled upon it when looking for PC building tips a few years ago. Though some of what they do is complete overkill (what YouTube channel needs $20,000 cameras?) they have a lot of fun while doing it. Linus Tech Tips explores the high-end and cutting-edge of computers, cameras, and other technologies, and the presenters manage to make it entertaining.

The channel has continued its steady growth and now boasts a number of regular presenters in addition to the titular Linus, most of whom specialise in particular topics. There are also several other channels produced by the same team, including TechQuickie, Short Circuit, and TechLinked. The combined output of the main channel plus its subsidiaries means there’s at least one new video per day, which is great. Even less-interesting topics can be made fun when presented well, and the team at Linus Tech Tips manage to be interesting and entertaining every time.

🏆Winner🏆
SORTEDfood

I love a good cooking show. Not only can they be entertaining but also very relaxing. SORTEDfood has a usual output of two videos per week, and while in recent years they’ve stepped away from purely doing recipes and into things like kitchen gadget reviews, everything is food-themed and the enthusiasm that the five presenters have is infectious. During the coronavirus pandemic, London (where the show is recorded) was in lockdown. Despite that, the team found creative ways to get around it, and even incorporated it into their videos. In addition to recipes there were helpful things like reviews of food delivery services, which at the height of lockdown here in the UK was actually really useful. I was able to use a couple of the services they recommended to send gifts to people I couldn’t see in person; gift ideas I would never have had were it not for SORTEDfood.

Their pandemic programming was good, but when lockdown was lifted it was nice for the team to come back together and get back to their regular output. I’m a huge fan of their “ultimate battles” in particular, which pit the presenters head-to-head to create the best dish. The “pass it on” series, where all five take turns to create a single dish, is also fantastic – and often very funny. SORTEDfood manages to be both informative and entertaining, and their output during lockdown was phenomenal and undoubtedly helped many viewers during a difficult time. For all of those reaons, I’m crowing SORTEDfood the best web series of the year.

Documentaries:

I’m setting aside a whole category for documentaries because I’m a big fan. There have been some great ones in 2020, both standalone films and series. Netflix has surprised me over the last few years by growing to become a huge player in the documentary genre, funding many productions – including some Academy Award nominees. Disney+ joined the streaming wars late last year – or in March this year if you’re in the UK – and has also brought some fascinating pieces of documentary content to the small screen. It’s a great time for documentaries at the moment!

🥈Runner-up🥈
We Need To Talk About A.I.

This documentary was fascinating, if perhaps somewhat alarmist. Looking at the possible creation of general artificial intelligence, and the potential for such an AI to surpass humanity, it was a truly interesting peek behind the curtain at what researchers are doing on the cutting-edge of AI research. The documentary was presented by Keir Dullea, famous for his role as Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film saw his character go up against an out-of-control AI, and Dullea brings a gravitas to the role of narrator as a result.

The film made reference to a number of sci-fi films which look at rogue AI, most significantly Terminator 2: Judgement Day, whose director James Cameron was interviewed. From my perspective as a Trekkie, having just seen Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1, which both look at the potential for out-of-control AIs, the documentary brought the world of fiction uncomfortably close to the world we inhabit today. While most of the interviewees offered a fairly bleak look at future AI, particularly in the military realm, others did paint a more positive picture. The biggest thing I took away from it, though, it how little consensus there is among researchers and scientists not only on whether AI is a good idea, but whether it’s even truly possible, or how long it will take.

The film is a fascinating, slightly unnerving watch.

🏆Winner🏆
The Imagineering Story

Though it isn’t a subject I’ve talked about often here on the website, I have a great fondness for Disney’s theme parks. It’s doubtful given my health that I’ll be able to go any time soon, but I have fond memories of visits to several parks with both family and groups of friends. Combine that love of Disney with my aforementioned love of documentaries and I got what was one of the most underrated yet fascinating entertainment experiences of the year!

Prior to the launch of Disney+ in the UK in March, there was already a Disney-branded streaming platform here. I wasn’t sure what kind of an upgrade to expect when the new service arrived – except for The Mandalorian there didn’t seem to be much new. The Imagineering Story was one of the few documentaries on Disney+ at launch, but it’s absolutely fascinating, detailing the behind-the-scenes work that went into building Disney’s various parks and themed lands.

The addition of some National Geographic documentaries to Disney+ over the last year or so has made the platform into a good home for the format, though I would like to see more films and series either added from Disney’s extensive back catalogue or better yet, commissioned exclusively for Disney+.

But we’re off-topic! The Imagineering Story was beautifully narrated by Angela Bassett, and as a series made by Disney itself was able to get the perspectives of many senior people who worked at the parks and on many of the projects it covered.

Video Games:

Despite the all the chaos and pandemonium in the world in 2020, many new games – and two new consoles – managed to make it to release. While it’s true that some titles have suffered delays, by far the majority of planned and scheduled releases made it, and that’s no small accomplishment!

As a new console generation gets ready for its centre-stage moment, it’s often been the case that we get a quieter-than-average year as companies shift their focus. Despite that, though, we’ve seen some pretty big titles in 2020, including a couple that will likely be heralded as “game of the generation” or even “game of the decade!” If I’m still alive and kicking in 2029, by the way, check back as I may have a thing or two to say about that!

Though it’s far too early to say which of the two newly-launched consoles will do best in the years to come, 2020 has given all of us some great gaming experiences… and some crap ones.

Worst Game:

Let’s start by getting the worst games out of the way. 2020 has seen some stinkers, including big-budget titles from successful developers and publishers. They really ought to know better.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers is the Anthem of 2020. Or the Fallout 76 of 2020. Or the Destiny 1 of 2020. Or the The Culling II of 2020. Pick any of those live service, broken-at-launch disasters, and that’s what Marvel’s Avengers is. The “release now, fix later” business model has condemned what could have been a popular and successful title to failure. But Marvel’s Avengers hasn’t even failed spectacularly enough to be forever etched in the annals of gaming history alongside titles like 1982’s E.T. Instead it’s slowly fading away, and in six months or a year’s time, nobody will even remember it existed.

Disney and Square Enix looked at a long list of crappy video game business ideas, including paid battle-passes, console-exclusive characters, corporate tie-ins with unrelated brands like phone providers and chewing gum makers, in-game currencies, and microtransactions for each of the six main characters individually. They then decided to put all of these into the game, robbing it of any soul or heart it could have had and turning it into a bland corporate cash-grab. As soon as I heard the company planned the game as a “multi-year experience,” the writing was on the wall. If, underneath all of the corporate nonsense, there had been a halfway decent game with fun gameplay, perhaps more players would have stuck it out. But, as usual with these types of games, there wasn’t. I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan. So I’m not horribly offended by this game in the way some folks undoubtedly are. But I can sympathise with them, because fans deserve better than this steaming pile of crap to which Disney and Square Enix have attempted to affix the Marvel logo.

🏆Winner🏆
The Last of Us Part II

The Last Of Us Part II’s cover-based stealth/action gameplay is fine. Though better than the first game, I didn’t feel there was a colossal improvement in terms of gameplay – but that could be said about countless sequels over the last couple of console generations. Where The Last Of Us Part II fell down was its story. This was a game I was sceptical of from the beginning; the first title felt like lightning in a bottle, something that neither wanted nor required a follow-up. In 2020, though, practically every successful title ends up being spun out into a franchise.

With a theme of breaking the cycle of violence, The Last Of Us Part II considers itself “artistic” and clever. Unfortunately that theme led to a horribly unsatisfying narrative, with players not only forced to take on the role of the person who murdered Joel – the protagonist/anti-hero from the first title – but ends with Ellie letting her escape and refusing to take revenge. Had the same concept been part of a new game with new characters, it could have worked better. But crammed into this title it fell flat. I stuck with it out of stubbornness as a fan of the first title, but it was a profoundly unenjoyable ride, and that’s why The Last Of Us Part II is the worst game of 2020.

Best Casual Game:

How do we define a “casual” game? It’s a difficult one, and it’s one of those contentious topics where fans of a title who may have spent hundreds of hours in the game world will get upset at hearing their favourite game referred to as “casual.” When it came to choosing titles for this category, I looked at games that could be easily picked up for a short burst, then put down. Games that can be played for a few minutes and that have gameplay suited to that was one of the main criteria. Games in this category also had to be pick-up-and-play. Some casual games can indeed be hard to truly master, but for my money, any game to which we assign the “casual” title has to be accessible and easy to get started with.

So that was how I came to my shortlist. Now let’s look at the runner-up and winner… though if you’ve been a reader all year I doubt you’ll be too surprised!

🥈Runner-up🥈
Fall Guys

Fall Guys seemingly came out of nowhere in August. It wasn’t a title I’d heard of, let alone one I was looking forward to, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Taking a format inspired by television game-shows like Gladiators or Total Wipeout, the basic gameplay consists of running a series of obstacle courses, looking to be the last one standing at the end to win a crown.

I’m not usually interested in online multiplayer titles, but Fall Guys was something so genuinely different that I was prepared to give it a go. And what I found was a game that was shockingly fun. Each round lasts barely a couple of minutes, meaning even if you don’t qualify it’s not a big deal. Just jump into the next game. Though there are microtransactions, at time of writing they aren’t intrusive and the game is quite generous with the in-game currency given out simply for playing. There are fun cosmetic items to dress up your adorable little jelly bean character in, and the whole game is cute and lots of fun. Though it did have a cheating problem for a while, the addition of anti-cheat software appears to have fixed things. I’m probably about done with Fall Guys as I move on to find new things to watch and play, but I had a wonderful time with it this summer and autumn.

🏆Winner🏆
Animal Crossing: New Horizons

With over 120 hours played, I’ve spent more time this year with Animal Crossing: New Horizons than with the next two games on my list put together. That’s no small accomplishment – even if my 120 hours seems paltry compared to the amount of time some players have put into this title. Time alone doesn’t make a title worthy of winning an award, though. Why Animal Crossing: New Horizons deserves the title is because practically all of those hours were enjoyable.

It’s true that the base game at launch was missing features from past entries in the series, notably 2013’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf. And I find that disappointing, even if updates have since improved the game. But despite the missing content, what the game did have was fantastic, and there really isn’t anything like New Horizons on the market. It’s cute wholesome fun, and the kind of game that can be played for even just a few minutes at a time. It doesn’t demand a huge commitment in the way some titles do – but if you get stuck into it, you’ll find yourself wanting to spend more and more time on your island.

Best Racing Game:

There’s only one game in this category this year, simply because the other racing games I’ve played in 2020 were released in previous years. I had a lot of fun with Forza Horizon 4 in particular, but as a 2018 title it can’t be included here for obvious reasons.

🏆Winner🏆
Hotshot Racing

Congratulations to Hotshot Racing for winning by default! Jokes aside, this game is a lot of fun. An unashamed arcade racer that makes no attempt at realism, it’s fast-paced, exciting, and ridiculous in equal measure! What attracted me to the game when it was released in September was its deliberately mid-90s aesthetic; a beautifully simple art style inspired by racing games of the Sega Saturn and PlayStation 1 era.

At a time when many games feel overpriced, the £15 I paid for Hotshot Racing actually feels cheap! For how much fun the game is, even when simply playing against the AI, it could arguably ask for a lot more money! Speaking of playing agains