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.

In defence of Luke Skywalker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fans speculated for two long years what would come next.

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

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

I found Luke Skywalker very relatable in The Last Jedi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke eventually found something to believe in again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Star Wars franchise – including The Last Jedi and all other titles listed above – is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This can be a controversial topic, so please keep in mind that this is all subjective. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars needs to move on

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including casting information for The Mandalorian Season 2,The Rise of Skywalker, and other recent projects.

One of my favourite parts of the Star Wars franchise isn’t a film, it’s the two Knights of the Old Republic games from 2003-04. While I generally found the Expanded Universe – now re-branded as Star Wars Legends and no longer in production – to be unenjoyable, Knights of the Old Republic was an exception. It took a setting and a story that was thousands of years distant from the Original Trilogy, and while it’s certainly true that some elements were derivative, especially in the first game, as a whole it was something different that took Star Wars fans to different places and a different era. It expanded on the overall lore of Star Wars without overwriting anything, and it was a great look at the Star Wars galaxy away from Luke, Anakin, and Palpatine.

When it was announced in 2012 that Disney would be acquiring Lucasfilm I was excited. Ever since 1999, when Star Wars expanded to be more than just a trilogy of films, the vague prospect of a sequel to Return of the Jedi had been appealing to me. Learning what came next for Luke, Han, Leia, and others was something I was interested in, as I also was interested to learn what came next for the galaxy as a whole following the Emperor’s death. It’s easy to forget, but Return of the Jedi didn’t end with a full-scale victory for the Rebel Alliance. The Death Star was gone and the Emperor was dead, but practically the whole galaxy was still under Imperial control. I was fascinated to see how the Rebels turned victory in a battle into victory in the overall war.

The destruction of the Second Death Star. The sequel trilogy was supposed to tell us what became of the galaxy after this moment.

The Expanded Universe attempted to tell this story, but it was a convoluted, poor-quality tale hampered by having different writers with different ideas – seemingly Lucasfilm’s policy when it came to the Expanded Universe was that anyone could write anything. Many of these stories came across as fan-fiction, pitting a seemingly invincible Luke, Han, and Leia against all manner of obstacles. Over the years, the Expanded Universe grew to such an extent that it was convoluted and incredibly offputting for newcomers – several hundred books, several hundred more comics and graphic novels, over a hundred video and board games, two kids’ television shows, and myriad others, all of which required roadmaps, suggested reading lists, and of course a number of encyclopaedias and reference works to keep up with it all. All of this meant that the Expanded Universe was impossible to get to grips with without making it a full-time commitment. I was pleased when it was announced that Disney would be overwriting it.

By wiping the slate clean, not only would Disney not be constrained by some of the Expanded Universe’s poor storytelling, but the canon of Star Wars post-Return of the Jedi could be restarted, hopefully in a more concise way that would be easier to follow. That seemed to succeed at first, but now – a mere six years on from the cancellation of the old Expanded Universe – Star Wars is once again pretty convoluted with books, games, comics, and even a theme park attraction all officially canon. While I don’t want to spend too much time making a comparison with Star Trek, in that case the issue of canon has always been incredibly simple: television episodes and films are canon, everything else is not.

With so many books, comics, games, and other media, the old Expanded Universe was convoluted and offputting.

But we’re drifting off-topic. The Expanded Universe being dumped was a good thing, because I hoped what would replace it would be superior. And for the most part that’s been the case, though The Rise of Skywalker certainly dragged the overall story of the sequels down a long way.

Star Wars has a truly interesting setting: there’s a whole galaxy with countless worlds, trillions of inhabitants, and thousands of different species. But for the most part, the franchise has spent decades focusing on an absolutely minuscule fraction of this vast, potentially interesting setting it’s created.

The Expanded Universe spent a lot of time with Luke, Han, and Leia, as well as later with characters like Anakin, and by far the majority of its stories are set between The Phantom Menace and the couple of decades after Return of the Jedi. Where Knights of the Old Republic succeeded was in taking its audience away from that overtrodden ground and showing us a glimpse of the Star Wars galaxy without those familiar characters.

Knights of the Old Republic II was a great game that told a story far removed from Star Wars’ original trilogy.

The prequels dedicated three films to overexplaining the background of Darth Vader – a story I’d absolutely argue was unnecessary and didn’t really do anything to improve or inform the Original Trilogy in any substantial way. That was part of why I found those films so disappointing. While the third entry, Revenge of the Sith, was better than the first two, all three films didn’t really bring anything new or interesting to the table. As I sat down to watch The Force Awakens a decade later, I hoped that we’d start to see something different.

The five films made since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 have been a disappointment in that regard. We’ve had The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, which essentially remade A New Hope and Return of the Jedi only worse, Solo: A Star Wars Story which made the same mistake of unnecessarily overexplaining Han Solo that the prequels did with Darth Vader, and Rogue One, which was a great standalone story but was a prequel feeding straight into the plot of A New Hope. The Last Jedi tried to take things in a different direction, but was still a story primarily about Luke – and is now effectively non-canon after being overwritten by its sequel.

The Last Jedi was the most recent Star Wars film to even try to do something differently – but was still constrained by being a sequel using familiar characters.

I know I said I wouldn’t make too many comparisons with Star Trek, but there’s one that’s too important not to mention. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. And aside from a cameo appearance, that show basically did its own thing and didn’t worry about The Original Series. The Star Trek franchise thus established that it could be so much more than its original incarnation. Star Wars has never done that – in its cinematic canon it hasn’t even tried, despite existing for over forty years. Where Star Trek consists of three time periods, an alternate reality, and nine distinct sets of main characters, Star Wars has been unable to move beyond the story of its original trilogy. The prequels lent backstory to the originals. The sequels and spin-offs expanded that same story. Even The Mandalorian brought in themes, concepts, and characters that weren’t as far-removed from the original films as they should’ve been – a decision compounded by the silly decision to bring in Boba Fett in Season 2.

Star Was could be so much more than it is. But at every opportunity, decisions have been taken to narrow its focus and dive deeper into unimportant parts of its only actual story; after more than forty years, the Star Wars franchise has still only told one real story. The decision to shoehorn Palpatine into The Rise of Skywalker makes this infinitely worse, as apparently he’s been manipulating everything and everyone from behind the scenes for the entire saga of films. As I wrote once, this transforms the Skywalker Saga into what is really the “Palpatine Saga”, as he’s the only character who seems to act of his own volition. But this isn’t supposed to be (another) critique of that incredibly poor narrative decision!

The deus ex machina of Palpatine ruined The Rise of Skywalker… and really the entire sequel trilogy.

The decision to bring Palpatine back is indicative of a franchise that has no new ideas. It was categorically not “always the plan” to bring him back in the sequels, or this would have been established in The Force Awakens. Instead, Palpatine became a deus ex machina because Star Wars as a whole has been unable to move out of the shadow of its first three films. Those films could have laid the groundwork for an expanded franchise – as The Original Series did for Star Trek – but instead they’ve almost become a ball and chain; a weight around the neck of the franchise, keeping it locked in place and unable to move on.

It shouldn’t be because of a lack of ideas. The Star Wars galaxy is a massive sandbox for any writer or director to play in, with almost unlimited potential to tell genuinely new and interesting stories. Instead it’s a lack of vision and a lack of boldness on the part of a large corporation; Disney wants to play the nostalgia card over and over again, and because Star Wars had never previously tried to escape its Original Trilogy, doing so now seems – from a corporate point of view – too big of a risk. How else does one explain the decision to allow The Rise of Skywalker to overwrite The Last Jedi? Corporate-mandated cowardice, retreating to nostalgia and safe, comfortable ground. Trying something even slightly different requires a boldness that simply isn’t present in most boardrooms.

Star Wars is being run by a corporate boardroom unwilling to take risks or do things differently.

Two-thirds of the sequel trilogy re-told the original trilogy. The prequels were glorified backstory, and the two spin-off films were also prequels to the originals. Star Wars has only ever made three original films – everything else either overexplained that story or tried to re-tell it. The Star Wars “saga” is thus nothing more than one story. One main character – Palpatine – controls and manipulates it, and only a handful of characters get any significant screen time and development.

I wrote recently that the overall story of Star Wars has been dragged full-circle, with the questions fans had about the state of the galaxy and the Jedi Order after Return of the Jedi simply not being answered in any meaningful way. The galaxy is once again in a position where Palpatine is dead, there’s one remaining young Jedi, an autocratic state controls much of the galaxy but has suffered a major defeat, and the survivors will have to finish the war and try to rebuild. That’s where both Return of the Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker left things. Far from answering the questions posed by the original films, the sequels just asked the same questions again with a different coat of paint.

By re-telling the same story – albeit in a worse way – the sequel trilogy as a whole has entirely failed to accomplish anything.

The end of the sequel trilogy left the Star Wars galaxy in exactly the same state it was in almost forty years ago.

The announcement of The Mandalorian came with what I thought was an exciting premise: the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic. Wow! Finally, something genuinely different in Star Wars. It didn’t last, of course, as the second episode of the show brought the Force back into things. While in some respects The Mandalorian tried to be different, in too many ways it was samey. The aesthetic, the reuse of elements from the original trilogy like Boba Fett’s armour, the Jawas and their Sandcrawler, and of course the return of the Force made what was already a boring show with episodes that were too short even less interesting. I found the whole experience a disappointment.

The two upcoming Disney+ shows – based around Obi-Wan Kenobi and Rogue One’s Cassian Andor – look set to repeat the same mistakes. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi was definitely one of the prequels’ better elements, but do we need yet another prequel? In-universe, Kenobi went into exile on Tatooine after the rise of the Empire. Anything he does in the show would either be constrained by taking place within a few miles of his desert hut or else feel awfully tacked-on. And the Cassian Andor show is a prequel to a prequel. Rogue One was a great film, but does it need its own prequel show?

Cassian Andor was a great character in his sole appearance. Not sure he needs a prequel series of his own, though.

Can’t the investment being made in these properties be reallocated to something genuinely different? There’s so much potential in the Star Wars galaxy, yet Disney and Lucasfilm seem intent on showing us the same tiny sliver over and over and over again. When people talk of franchise fatigue and the feeling that Disney is milking Star Wars dry it’s because of this! When every Star Wars project feels samey and repetitive, it’s much easier to get burnt out on the franchise.

There are some exceptions – I recently played through Jedi: Fallen Order, and despite that game using a familiar time period, it was a mostly-original story with only one returning character from the films playing a role. It was different enough to feel like a half-step away from what had come before.

Jedi: Fallen Order told a decent standalone Star Wars story.

For the franchise to survive long-term and remain viable, it needs to step away from the original trilogy for the first time. New films and shows, whenever they may come, should look at wholly new characters in a setting and even time period that’s distinct from what came before. There also needs to be a plan – the rudderless sequel trilogy can’t be repeated. Any new project needs to have someone at the helm to guide its story. Questions need to be asked at the beginning about where the characters are going and what the endgame of the story is, so that the franchise doesn’t just keep making the same mistakes.

Not every recent Star Trek project has been to everyone’s taste. But since the 2005 cancellation of Enterprise – and in some respects even before then – Star Trek hasn’t been afraid to try completely new things. Action films, a serialised drama show, and now an animated comedy have all joined the lineup. Some of these have brought in new fans, and at the very least, no one in 2020 can accuse Star Trek of being stale. Star Wars, in contrast, has absolutely become stale. The one story it’s been telling for forty years has finally ended, so now is the moment for Star Wars to properly move on.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films and other media mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash, Knights of the Old Republic II screenshot courtesy of the press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I don’t understand “fans” sometimes…

I’m not a big social media person. In fact, I don’t have any social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) linked to this site. I like the pieces I write here to speak for themselves. But I follow some social media accounts of franchises I support, such as Star Trek and Star Wars. It seems with almost every update and every announcement posted, people will complain – even about shows that haven’t been broadcast yet!

Here on this website you’ll find criticism of entertainment companies and their films, shows, and games. That’s what I do here; I’m a critic, not a cheerleader for any franchise or company. But my criticism is reserved for things that I’ve seen and played for myself, and is directed at titles that I enjoyed or hoped to enjoy. I don’t seek out things to dislike on purpose, and when it comes to my favourite franchises I always start out hopeful and wanting to have a positive experience. Yet on social media I see so many negative and hateful comments directed at shows like Star Trek: Lower Decks – which hasn’t even aired a single episode yet.

Star Trek: Lower Decks has been criticised by people who haven’t even watched it yet.

There are reasons to criticise ViacomCBS. When thinking about Lower Decks, the fact that the show doesn’t seem like it’s coming overseas any time soon is an issue I’ve been vocal about. But the reason for that is that I want to see Lower Decks – I’m excited for it and not thrilled at the prospect of missing out. I guess I just don’t understand why someone who clearly hates Star Trek would bother to follow Star Trek’s official social media pages only to comment about how much they hate it. It just seems like such a waste of time, and why would anyone choose to live their life in such a negative way?

This extends to the so-called “fans” who set up groups and YouTube channels that deal wholly in negativity. You know the ones I mean – where The Last Jedi is an “objectively bad” film and where any Star Trek production post-Enterprise is automatically hated without even being watched. Passion in a fanbase is all well and good, but why channel it in such a negative way?

The Last Jedi prompted some “fans” to start a campaign of hate against everything to do with Star Wars.

I didn’t enjoy The Rise of Skywalker, the most recent film in the Star Wars franchise. And I was up front about the reasons why when I reviewed it. But that dislike of one film doesn’t mean I’m now a Star Wars hater who’s going to spend a lot of time talking about all the things I didn’t like about the whole franchise, and I’m certainly not going to be jumping on any new announcement to tell you why I think it’s going to be crap. There are films, shows, and games within Star Wars that I like and a few that I dislike. I’ve just finished playing Jedi: Fallen Order, for example, and had a great time with it. In the case of The Rise of Skywalker or The Mandalorian, unless I have something worth saying I’m not just going to keep harping on about how much I didn’t like them. There are so many other things to watch that I don’t have time to waste.

Many of the comments that I see when a show like Lower Decks is being shown off are just one-line things saying something like “this is gonna be shit”. What was the point of saying that? It added absolutely nothing to the discussion, and if someone really believed a new show was going to be that bad, the simple answer is: “don’t watch it then”. As Dr Tolian Soran said in Star Trek: Generations:

“Haven’t you got anything better to do?”

As with the Star Wars “fans” who have decided they hate anything other than the old expanded universe and the first few films, some Star Trek fans aren’t interested in the franchise’s more recent offerings. And that’s fine. Nobody is being forced to watch any show or film that they aren’t interested in or don’t think they’re going to enjoy. I just don’t understand all of the negativity and aggression that seems to plague fan communities.

If it were coming from a place of love, if it was constructive criticism or designed to make a positive change then that would be okay. I write about things I’m passionate about here, and sometimes that means speaking critically about a film or series that I wanted to enjoy but found disappointing. But these people seem to have already decided to hate something without watching it or knowing anything about it, and then take that negativity and toxicity and smear it all over social media. I truly don’t understand that side of “fandom”, nor how someone who behaves that way can consider themselves a “fan” of Star Trek, Star Wars, or anything else.

Representation of a “fan” screeching about a show or film that they’ve decided to hate.

Star Trek in particular has always tried to be a franchise with a positive outlook. Even its darkest stories all took place against the backdrop of an evolved, enlightened humanity, and the battles our heroes fought were against opponents who sought to tear down the bright future humanity had built for itself. That’s the foundation of Star Trek, and while there are definitely points to criticise in Discovery, Picard, and perhaps in Lower Decks too – though we won’t know for sure until we get to see it – blindly hating on something doesn’t seem like something the crew of the Enterprise would do.

As I’ve discussed before, many of these people aren’t interested in even having a conversation about Star Trek or whatever franchise they’ve decided to hate. Their whole identity is tied up in hating a franchise, and nothing will ever convince them to change. Though I find that sad and will always prefer to judge a series or film on its own merits, as I’ve made the mistake in the past of rushing to judgement, I’m fine with someone disliking something I enjoy or not being excited for something I’m looking forward to. We are all different and we all enjoy different things in life. What I don’t understand is the negativity, choosing to spend hours and hours on social media following a franchise just for the sake of being negative about it.

A short selection of negative comments taken from two recent Facebook posts from Star Trek about Lower Decks. Names redacted.

When I write critically about a work of entertainment, I take the time to watch it and I’ll often do other research looking into things like its production history, other works by the actors and director, etc. When I come to the conclusion that a story was unenjoyable for me, I put that into words and try my best to explain what I didn’t like specifically and why I didn’t like it. I didn’t just say “The Rise of Skywalker was crap” and leave it at that. I broke down the specific moments in the film and its story and tried to properly detail why I thought it was crap. These social media comments are often one or two sentences at most, and don’t even bother to explain what the person is taking issue with.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But social media has made it not only easier for everyone to express those opinions about every tiny little thing, but also to form communities in which only one opinion is acceptable. That side of things in particular has not been positive, and we’re seeing the consequences now when new announcements in practically every franchise are met with hundreds of negative comments that are often rude or even toxic in nature. I’m disappointed that so many people choose to engage in such toxic and negative behaviour, but it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

This post was, somewhat ironically, a way to vent my own frustrations at some of the comments I see plastered across social media. Just like the “fans” who need to spend less time following franchises they hate, I clearly need to spend less time reading the comments – it seems like that’s the way to avoid getting so worked up about it.

All shows, films, and games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective company and/or owner. Header image and other stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Can we PLEASE stop calling things we don’t like “objectively” bad?

Quite possibly one of my biggest pet peeves when reading or listening to reviews and critical opinion is when a critic asserts that a film, video game, or television series that they personally dislike is “objectively bad”. This is something I’ve seen both amateurs and professionals do, and it absolutely needs to stop. It’s the single fastest way a commentator can invalidate their own argument and credentials, and it’s got to a point where it’s been proclaimed so often that any time I see or hear the phrase “objectively bad”, I stop reading or listening. Any critic making such a statement has lost my respect and lost the argument.

To briefly define the terms, “objective” refers to something definite and factual, whereas “subjective” refers to an opinion or personal taste. Specifically, the word “objective” – and its adverb “objectively” – should be used to describe only those things which are not influenced by one’s own opinion or personal taste.

The creative arts – including cinema, television, and gaming – are by their very nature subjective. Storytelling and narrative decision-making in particular are incredibly subjective, perhaps being second only to individual musical taste. Every single aspect of a film, television series, or game – from its narrative to its aesthetic to its editing – is 100% subjective, and anyone who tries to claim otherwise doesn’t understand the meaning of these terms. There are certainly established ways of doing things, but refusing to follow these routes is not only not “objectively bad”, it’s the only way there can ever be innovation. Even in a title which is universally panned, there is still a huge amount of subjectivity – this is why some poorly-received films go on to be cult classics, and why there’s a market for re-releases of B-movies like Return of the Killer Tomatoes.

George Clooney starred in this film early in his career. I’m not making that up.

Even on the more technical side of filmmaking, an aspect one person may find annoying – like incredibly fast-paced editing – is someone else’s idea of a stroke of brilliance. Setting aside those few video games that are released with so many glitches that they’re unplayable, the same is true there too. I remember reading a novel a few years ago called Cold Mountain – since made into a film – which had a really annoying writing style. There were no speech marks used to indicate dialogue, and the author appeared to be aware of precisely zero synonyms for the word “said”, using it over and over again for almost every line where a character spoke. I found these things to be incredibly dumb and gimmicky, yet when I spoke to a friend who’d recommended me the book, she thought it was masterful; a postmodern way to write.

While I’m sure people have been misusing “objectively” for years, where it came to prominence for me was in the discourse surrounding the 2017 film Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Many Star Wars fans disliked the film for a number of reasons, and while I personally enjoyed it, by and large I can understand the criticisms many folks had. Some decisions taken by Rian Johnson and others at Lucasfilm seem to have been almost designed to be controversial – and anything like that will always result in split opinions. But nothing in The Last Jedi was “objectively bad”, as many critics claimed. Whether someone liked or hated things like Luke Skywalker’s characterisation, the Admiral Holdo and Poe confrontation, the side-mission to Canto Bight, Snoke’s fate, or the hyperspace ramming manoeuvre, none of them can be said to be “objectively bad” storytelling decisions. Even if a significant part of the film’s audience felt some or all of those points failed, that’s still a subjective opinion on the part of those individuals. Picking on a single narrative element in a story – such as the way Luke’s character was handled – and deeming it “objectively bad” not only is incorrect, but it undermines one’s own argument and makes having a rational conversation on the topic impossible.

Even the most controversial parts of The Last Jedi were not “objectively bad”.

I don’t want to turn this essay into a critique or defence of The Last Jedi, because it’s hardly the only title in recent years that has seen “objective” bandied about and used incorrectly by critics. While I liked The Last Jedi overall, that isn’t the reason for my saying it can’t be called “objectively bad”. There are titles I personally didn’t like, even projects I felt completely failed, that I would make the same case for. Game of Thrones’ eighth season was not “objectively bad”. Nor was The Last of Us Part II, despite my saying recently that 3/10 seemed like a fair score for that game. Not even The Rise of Skywalker, which had myriad problems with its story as well as its pacing, could be described as being “objectively bad”. I greatly dislike or had serious issue with all three of these titles, but I could never say that about them because there simply is no such thing as an “objectively bad” narrative. They all have major issues and failings in my opinion – an opinion shared by many other people in some cases, but a subjective opinion nevertheless.

What a critic is trying to do by clumsily using the word “objective” is to shut down dissenting opinions. By asserting that their belief is “objective” and thus purely factual, they’re saying that no other opinions on the topic can exist, and that anyone who tries to make a counter-argument is automatically wrong with any points they make being invalid. This isn’t how criticism and discourse are meant to work. Setting aside the fact that the word is being used incorrectly, the implication is that the person making such an assertion is closed-minded. It’s a consequence in part of social media bubbles and YouTube channels feeding the same opinions to people repeatedly.

YouTube critics aren’t the only ones who make this mistake, but it’s something I hear frequently on that platform.

In the aftermath of The Last Jedi, this was taken to extremes by some of the film’s detractors. While some of these people would begin a discussion by saying something generic like “I respect your opinion”, often what would come next is plenty of evidence to the contrary. It wasn’t good enough for them that most folks they spoke to didn’t like the film, they wanted everyone to hate it just as passionately as they did, and any contrary opinion was taken as a personal attack. The reality is that there will always be a range of opinions on practically any film, game, or television series, and trying to convince oneself that everyone needs to share the same opinion will not lead anywhere positive.

The conversation around The Last Jedi became so aggressive, unpleasant, and toxic that I stopped engaging with the film’s critics. It was clear to me that most of them weren’t interested in a conversation nor in hearing any other opinion besides a differently-worded version of their own. Some of these folks seemed to be tying their whole identity to being anti-Disney or anti-Star Wars, and any difference of opinion was perceived as a challenge to their newfound sense of self. That appears to be at least part of the reason why we started to see the phrase “objectively bad” crop up more and more often in relation to that film.

Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi may have been controversial and disappointing to some fans, but nothing about it was “objectively bad” – or “objectively” anything at all.

Calling something “objectively bad” – or indeed “objectively” anything else – has a finality to it. It seeks to shut down the debate and block off any chance of someone offering a different opinion. But it simply isn’t correct, and by taking even small steps to broaden one’s understanding of a work of fiction, it’s easily possible to see that there are a range of opinions. Some critical works may even cause a rethink, reframing the discussion or bringing up a point others have failed to mention. Even if these don’t cause anyone to change their mind, they are at the very least evidence that a title is not “objectively bad”.

In most of the titles mentioned above, there were choices made by the creators and storytellers that I wouldn’t have made. These choices made the stories less enjoyable – or completely unenjoyable – for many people. Whether we’re talking about cinema, television, or video games, stories can be poorly-written, and indeed the whole point of media criticism is to point that out. But even the most well-read academic or the most prolific storyteller is simply expressing their own opinion when they make such a point. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class or subjected your fan-fiction to internet critique, you’ll know that. Criticism is an expression of one’s own thoughts and opinions on a subject. By the very nature of the medium, criticism is subjective, not objective.

I did not enjoy The Last of Us Part II, and criticised some of its storytelling choices. But I would never be so arrogant as to say my opinion is a fact and that the game is “objectively bad”.

Some people may be misusing a term that they don’t understand, in which case further education is needed. But unfortunately, many critics who are fully aware of the difference between subjective and objective use the wrong word on purpose. Occasionally it may be little more than hyperbole, but even then this kind of exaggeration does nothing to elevate the discussion around entertainment and media. Often it’s a cynical attempt to shut down debate; to attempt to discredit dissenting opinions by stating one’s own as cold, hard fact. I find this incredibly offputting, and the inclusion of the phrase “objectively bad” – unless clearly sarcastic or meant as a joke – is enough for me to click off and read or listen to something else.

There are some aspects of life which can be black-and-white, and where it makes sense to describe something in such clear-cut terms. But entertainment isn’t one of them, and never can be. Its very nature means that there will invariably be a range of opinions, and if we haven’t found any differing points of view, that in itself is a great argument to get out of whatever social media bubble we find ourselves in and seek them out. At the very least, let’s endeavour to stop calling films, games, and television shows we don’t like “objectively bad”. They aren’t – we just didn’t like them.

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, publisher, distributor, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars is right back where it started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I finally saw The Rise of Skywalker…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Stormtrooper holding the Sith Dagger macguffin.

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

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

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

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

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

Hux’s decision to switch sides made no sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The biggest problem with the Star Wars sequels

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

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

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

Poster for The Force Awakens (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promo poster for 2017’s The Last Jedi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theatrical release poster for The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s do-or-die time for Star Wars

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, as well as other films in the Star Wars franchise.

The final film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, releases tomorrow here in the UK. And it’s not unfair to say that there’s a lot riding on it for fans of the franchise.

Disney spent a lot of money to buy Lucasfilm – and with it the rights to Star Wars – back in 2012. Depending on what measure you use, they might’ve just about broken even by now, thanks to three successful titles at the box office, one headline series leading the charge for their new streaming platform, and sales of a ton of toys and merchandise. But breaking even isn’t good enough for a huge company, and with Solo: A Star Wars Story being the first title in the history of the franchise to fail to make its money back, there’s a lot riding on The Rise of Skywalker as far as Disney is concerned.

It’s also a critical time for fans.

The spectre of Palpatine looms over Rey and Kylo Ren on the promo poster for The Rise of Skywalker.

Personally I enjoyed The Last Jedi, though I think it works better as a standalone piece than it does as part two of a trilogy, or part eight of an ongoing series. The major shift in tone from The Force Awakens – as epitomised by the scene in which Luke Skywalker simply throws away his old lightsaber – is certainly jarring. And while I’m a fan of the film myself, I understand the criticism levied at it by some in the Star Wars fanbase.

The Last Jedi was, whichever side of the argument you’re on, an unquestionably divisive film. And unfortunately, one consequence of the controversy it generated is that fans have broken up into factions. Some fan groups have descended into pure hate, attacking Disney, Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, and even actors and actresses from the films. This insane amount of online negativity has damaged the Star Wars brand to an extent. The Rise of Skywalker has to find a way to get things back on track.

In the run-up to the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, some groups of fans were planning to boycott the film and its merchandise as a way to register their dislike of The Last Jedi and disapproval of the overall direction of the franchise. How many of them stuck to their guns and didn’t see Solo is something impossible to measure, but the negative feelings and ill-will undoubtedly hurt the film, which came out only five months after The Last Jedi.

What The Rise of Skywalker has to manage to do is bring back those fans. It has to give them a reason to want to show up at the box office, but more than that, it has to give the story a satisfying conclusion – one which can reunite the fractured fanbase.

I honestly don’t know whether it can.

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren.

The problem isn’t that huge numbers of people will stay away. I think that most Star Wars fans, even those who felt that The Last Jedi was a terrible film, will head back to the cinema this time around, if for no other reason than morbid curiosity. At the end of the day, this franchise has been running since 1977, and the first phase of its story – that of Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker – is finally coming to a close. That alone is reason to turn up and check out the film. Whether fans who found The Last Jedi to be a bad experience will find the conclusion of the story to be satisfactory is another question, however.

The Star Wars sequel trilogy failed to reunite its core three characters – Han, Luke, and Leia. By killing off Han Solo in The Force Awakens while Luke was still out of the picture, there was no opportunity for a reunion. And with the untimely passing of Carrie Fisher – as well as Luke’s supposed death in The Last Jedi – there’s now no chance to bring them back together even in a flashback sequence. In time, I suspect this will come to be viewed as a mistake. And as I wrote in my list of disappointments of the decade, the decision to have Luke going missing be the driving force for the plot of The Force Awakens will probably also be seen as problematic in hindsight.

There are, undoubtedly, missteps and mistakes to be overcome in The Rise of Skywalker. On the one hand, bringing back JJ Abrams for the film is a positive thing. He was, after all, responsible for creating characters like Rey, Poe, and Finn, and did initially draft out where those characters could go after The Force Awakens ended. But because the decision was taken to split up the storytelling of these films, giving each part to a different writer/director, Rian Johnson had the opportunity to ignore much of that story treatment when he wrote The Last Jedi – and that seems to be exactly what he did. Johnson was constrained by the concept of Luke being missing, but now Abrams is constrained by the ending of The Last Jedi too. And if it’s the case that the characters are in a completely different place than he intended them to be, then he basically will have had to write a whole new story for The Rise of Skywalker.

JJ Abrams is a good storyteller, and he can make films that are respectful of their place in a franchise but without feeling the need to entirely copy an existing story. His work on Star Trek Into Darkness shows this – that film pays homage to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan without copying it or overwriting it. But Abrams can also cross that line, and I’d argue that The Force Awakens strayed from being an homage to the first Star Wars film into copying it. Starkiller Base is, for all practical purposes, the Death Star, even down to the vulnerable hole at the end of a trench that a team of X-wings have to attack. When I first saw The Force Awakens I thought that kind of film is exactly what I wanted from Star Wars, especially after the disappointment of the prequel films a decade earlier. But looking back, it wasn’t the best take on Star Wars, and a little more originality would have been called for, as well as a better use of Luke Skywalker – or at the very least a reason for his absence.

“Mystery box” storytelling is what JJ Abrams has always done. He sets up a puzzle, a set of unexplained situations and circumstances, which draw in audiences and get people thinking. But he never writes a conclusion. His mysteries are beautifully set up – and then he disappears, leaving the ending to someone else. He did that in the television series Lost, which started well, but unfortunately became incredibly convoluted and ended with a controversial and, to many people, disappointing finale. So whether Abrams really was the right choice to bring the “Skywalker saga” to its end is something I’m not convinced of – at least, not yet.

The Rise of Skywalker has a difficult job to do if it’s going to be viewed as a success by both fans and detractors of The Last Jedi – and whether this division in the fanbase between the two camps will be temporary or permanent really does depend on how this film is received. If it manages to be a hit, then the fanbase can come back together and look forward together to new Star Wars projects. But if after release, fans remain divided into pro-Disney and anti-Disney camps, the biggest and best opportunity to heal that divide will have been lost. Also lost will be some fans – who will no longer turn up for new films and shows in the franchise. This happened to an extent with Star Trek, three times in fact: in 1987 with fans who didn’t want The Next Generation, in 2009 with fans who didn’t want the reboot films, and in 2017 when some fans didn’t want Discovery.

Any discussion of this topic would be remiss to not point out that some of the anti-Disney communities online actually make money – even a living in some cases – from their hate. And yes, a lot of it crosses the line from criticism into outright hate. For some of these YouTube channels, websites, and social media groups, controversy, division, and hatred are what drive clicks, views, and advertising revenue. If they were to come out and say “hey guys, The Rise of Skywalker was great and you should all go to see it!” they’d lose subscribers and viewers so fast they’d have nothing left. Many of the people who read and watch such content are there purely to see their own preexisting opinions reflected back at them, and the people creating this content know this. They know that their audiences expect a negative reaction to The Rise of Skywalker – and most of them will give them what they want, regardless of whether it’s what they actually think. And the reason is simple: attention and money.

With that in mind, The Rise of Skywalker has to go even further than any other title in order to be successful. It has to absolutely knock it out of the park, because if it does, maybe the overwhelming positive reaction from fans will force at least some of these people to concede. But if it’s only okay – and even if it’s good but not great – the online hate and anti-Disney sentiment will continue, because people are getting attention from the community and money from advertising on sites like YouTube for speaking out in that way.

It’s an uphill struggle then. But it’s one of Lucasfilm’s own making in a way – splitting up the story, and giving three different writers and directors essentially free reign to do whatever they wanted was an own goal. When creating any story, let alone one that has to be the follow-up to a genre-defining set of films, it’s important to take the time and plan it out. They needed to think carefully about legacy characters as well as plot out character arcs for the new ones. There’s no evidence that there was any proper planning or story work done – and that was a mistake.

Some of the story points which appear to be part of The Rise of Skywalker are questionable, too. Palpatine feels shoehorned in, especially given he was scarcely mentioned in the previous two films and had no impact whatsoever on their plots. A combination of fanservice, to appeal to those who hated The Last Jedi, and desperation, caused by the lack of a significantly imposing villain after Snoke’s death, seems to be why Palpatine has returned. Those reasons do not form the basis of a strong narrative, and the risk is that his appearance in the film will simply come across as cheap and lazy.

I’m sure Disney and Lucasfilm are aware of these issues, and others. There’s a lot riding on JJ Abrams and his storytelling, and in a very real sense The Rise of Skywalker will, for better or worse, set the stage for the next phase of Star Wars.

On a personal level, I really hope that the film will be a success. Not least because I want an ending to Luke and Leia’s stories that will be satisfying, but because I really want to see the division of the last two years put behind us as fans. There will always be disagreements over The Last Jedi – just like there are in Star Trek over who’s a better captain – but if the majority of fans can at least return to civility and get back to a place where new Star Wars projects generate almost universal excitement rather than arguments, I think The Rise of Skywalker will have done its job. Reviews from critics have come out in the last couple of days, and seem to be positive – but critic reviews for The Last Jedi were strong too, and failed to anticipate that film’s divisiveness. So we will have to wait and see.

If we can return to a place in the fanbase where debates are good-natured then that’s really going to be a positive thing. The negativity generated two years ago has been difficult to wade through, at times. There are enough things in the world today to divide people; we don’t need entertainment adding to that. Not when it’s supposed to be escapism and a distraction.

It’s my hope that The Rise of Skywalker will go a long way to mending fences, and that the Star Wars franchise can have a more united and secure future going forward.

The Star Wars franchise and The Rise of Skywalker are 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.