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.

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

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

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

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

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

Remember when everyone hated and derided the Ewoks?

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

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

Promo art for The Rise of Skywalker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rose was entirely sidelined.

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

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

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

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

And so we come, inevitably, to Palpatine.

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

Palpatine ruined the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rey learns her true origin… for the second time.

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

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

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

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

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

The Sith fleet was clearly designed to be easily defeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke Skywalker recently appeared in The Mandalorian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spock in Star Trek: Discovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy Uncle Dennis Awards 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web Series:

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

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

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Linus Tech Tips

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

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

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
SORTEDfood

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

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

Documentaries:

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

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
We Need To Talk About A.I.

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

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

The film is a fascinating, slightly unnerving watch.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
The Imagineering Story

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

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

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

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

Video Games:

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

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

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

Worst Game:

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

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Marvel’s Avengers

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

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

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
The Last of Us Part II

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

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

Best Casual Game:

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

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

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Fall Guys

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

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

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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

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

Best Racing Game:

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

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Hotshot Racing

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

At a time when many games feel overpriced, the Β£15 I paid for Hotshot Racing actually feels cheap! For how much fun the game is, even when simply playing against the AI, it could arguably ask for a lot more money! Speaking of playing against the AI, that’s something Hotshot Racing encourages, and considering how many titles that supposedly offer a single-player mode still try to force players to go online, I appreciated that. In the mid-90s, some games could do four-player split-screen, but many titles were limited to just two players at the most, so racing against the AI was something all gamers had to do; that was just how those games were meant to be played!

As a visual throwback to games past, Hotshot Racing caught my eye. But there’s more to it than just the way it looks, and what’s under that cute retro skin is a genuinely fun arcade racer.

Best Star Wars Game:

It’s unusual for two games in a single franchise to release within a year of each other, but that’s what happened! There was even supposed to be a third Star Wars title this year – Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – but it was delayed until 2021.

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Star Wars: Squadrons

Though Squadrons is less arcadey than classic starfighter titles like Rogue Squadron, it’s a remarkably fun game. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a pilot in a galaxy far, far away, this is about as close as you can get! Though I don’t play in VR, the option to use a VR headset – as well as to set up a proper HOTAS or other flight controller on PC – surely makes this the most immersive Star Wars experience out there. Even just with a control pad, though, Squadrons truly transports you to the cockpit of an X-Wing, TIE Fighter, or one of the game’s other starfighters.

The single-player campaign was fun, giving players the opportunity to fight on both sides of the war as the New Republic seeks to defeat the rump Empire – the game is set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, so the fact that there is an AI mode, allowing me to continue to have fun just playing against the computer, is fantastic. I had a truly enjoyable time with Star Wars: Squadrons, and I keep going back for more.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jedi: Fallen Order was released in November 2019, so including it on this list is a bit of a stretch, I admit. But I got to play it this year, and it was the first game where I fully documented my playthrough. Jedi: Fallen Order managed to feel like a cross between Knights of the Old Republic and the Uncharted series, with protagonist Cal taking on a quest to visit several ancient worlds in search of a Jedi Holocron.

There were twists and turns along the way, but the whole time I felt like I was taking part in a Star Was adventure all my own. After the disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker, playing through Jedi: Fallen Order convinced me that the Star Wars franchise was going to be okay, and that there were still new and original stories worth telling in this universe.

The gameplay was great too, with lots of exciting action and lightsabre-swinging as Cal took on the forces of the Empire. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t played it for yourself, but Jedi: Fallen Order was a wild and incredible ride, and one I heartily recommend.

Best Action or Adventure Game:

This category ended up with two first-person shooters, but I’m keeping the name the same! There were many great action, adventure, and first-person shooter titles released this year, and I didn’t have time to play all of them. Here are the two I enjoyed most.

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Doom Eternal

The sequel to the wonderful 2016 reboot of Doom is just fantastic. Gone is the horror vibe that Doom 3 mistakenly introduced, and instead what you get is action and excitement – with some interesting platforming sections thrown in for good measure. There is a story, of course, but unlike many games I’m not really all that interested in it. I come to games like Doom Eternal to feel like a demon-killing badass, and that’s precisely what the game offers.

There was a lot of fun to be had in the days leading up to Doom Eternal’s launch, as it coincided with the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I greatly enjoyed the memes and artwork created by folks on the internet, depicting Doom Guy and characters from the Animal Crossing series together! All in all, this is just a fast-paced, fun shooter that doesn’t try to be anything more. It isn’t a jack-of-all-trades; it does one thing and does it to perfection.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Throughout 2020, developers 343 Industries have brought the Halo series to PC. Halo: Reach arrived late last year, and in the months since we’ve gotten every other title in the series – except for Halo 5! It had been a long time since I played Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, and I had a lot of fun rediscovering the series and enjoying it all over again. The updated graphics improved the experience in a lot of ways, but it was also fun (and innovative) to be able to switch between visual styles on the fly.

I hadn’t played either Halo 3: ODST or Halo 4, so I not only got to recreate my Halo experience from years past, but expand on it too. The setting the series uses is as unique and interesting as any sci-fi video game I’ve played, and I’m very curious to see what Halo Infinite can bring to the series when it’s eventually ready.

Television Shows:

There have been some wonderful television shows this year. While the pandemic led to the shutdown of cinemas and a delay in many films being released, a lot of television shows were able to press ahead – at least, those that had completed filming before the worst effects were felt. I hoped to include more categories, such as best miniseries, but time got away from me and I have a number of shows still on my list of things to watch!

Worst Television Series:

Luckily there’s only one in this category! If I’m not enjoying a television series I tend to just stop watching – unless there seems to be a real prospect of improvement. Likewise, if I feel something won’t be to my taste I’ll just skip it; life is too short, after all, for bad entertainment. That said, there are exceptions, and I found one in 2020.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Supernatural

Supernatural is the king of running too long – a crown it inherited from The Big Bang Theory! Fifteen years ago, when it debuted, there was a great premise as brothers Sam and Dean Winchester set out to hunt ghosts and monsters, all the while keeping an eye out for the demon that killed their mother and Sam’s girlfriend.

But by the time the show reached its third season, many of its ongoing storylines had concluded. The writers began reaching for new and different demons and creatures for Sam and Dean to tackle, and the quality dipped. By the time the show crossed over into the self-congratulatory fan-servicey mess it has been in recent seasons it had just become ridiculous; a parody of itself.

As the seasons dragged on, writers began pumping more and more Biblical themes into Supernatural, transforming its protagonists into invincible prophets anointed by God. An episode a few seasons back saw Sam and Dean cross over into a world where their adventures are a television show in what has to be one of the worst examples of fan-service I’ve ever seen.

Thankfully Supernatural has now wrapped up its final season. I tuned back in – against my better judgement – to see if the impending end of the series would make a difference to its quality. But it didn’t, and I stand by something I’ve been saying for years: many television shows have a natural lifespan. Supernatural had maybe three decent seasons, and should certainly have ended a long time ago.

Best Animated Series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Rick & Morty

We got five episodes of Rick & Morty in 2020; the back half of Season 4, which had premiered last year. The show’s entire premise is wacky, sometimes over-the-top humour, and that doesn’t always stick the landing, especially when the creative team have been working on it for seven years already. So with that in mind, I consider four episodes out of five being decent to be a pretty good run.

When the show stopped flying under the radar and really hit the mainstream in 2017, there was a fear perhaps that the newfound popularity would lead to changes. But I don’t really think that’s happened, and I wouldn’t say that this year’s episodes were substantially different to those in past seasons. They weren’t necessarily any better, but certainly no worse.

There were some great jokes, some hilarious moments, and some weird and wonderful aliens as Rick and Morty (along with Summer, Jerry, and Beth) took off on their interdimensional adventures.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Trek: Lower Decks

It could hardly be anything else, right? Building on the success of both the Star Trek franchise and animated comedies like Rick and Morty, Star Trek: Lower Decks represented the franchise’s biggest attempt to try something new – and arguably its biggest risk – in a very long time. Despite the controversy surrounding Lower Decks’ lack of an international broadcast, judging the series on merit it was a very enjoyable ride.

There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in Lower Decks, but more than that, the show paid homage to my personal favourite era of Star Trek – the 24th Century. There were so many callbacks and references to events in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager and the series managed to feel like Star Trek while at the same time having an overtly comedic style.

While its sense of humour won’t be to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying that Lower Decks was made by fans for fans, and I’m really excited to see its second season whenever that may come – especially now that the show’s international broadcast has been settled meaning that fans everywhere can enjoy it together.

Best Live-Action Television Series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Cobra

Right at the beginning of the year I watched Cobra, a British thriller about a government dealing with the aftermath of a disaster. Such an interesting fictional concept, I thought. How innocent we were back then, eh?

Cobra wasn’t what I expected. Having read the pre-release marketing I was expecting a disaster series, something dealing with an apocalyptic event. Instead it’s much more of a thriller with elements of political drama. Even though that was completely not what I expected, I had an enjoyable time with the series.

Robert Carlyle – who plays the role of a British Prime Minister clearly inspired by Tony Blair – is an actor I’ve always felt was underrated. I saw him a few years ago in a miniseries called Hitler: The Rise of Evil, and ever since I’ve found him to be a decent actor who can take on a variety of roles. He was the star of Cobra – but didn’t overwhelm the series. It was an entertaining ride with some truly tense moments.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Trek: Picard

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed my articles and columns this year! Star Trek: Picard did something I’d been desperately wanting the franchise to do for basically twenty years: move forward. Since Enterprise premiered shortly after the turn of the millennium, Star Trek has looked backwards, with all of its attention focused on prequels and reboots. Many of those stories were great, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to know what came next, and Picard scratched that itch.

But its premise alone would not make it the best television series of the year! Star Trek: Picard told an engaging, mysterious story as the retired Admiral Picard set out on a new adventure. The story touched on contemporary themes of artificial intelligence, isolationism, and mental health, and was an enthralling watch. Though it stumbled as the first season drew to a close, the first eight episodes were outstanding, and have hopefully laid the groundwork not only for future seasons and more adventures with Picard and his new crew, but also for further Star Trek stories set at the dawn of the 25th Century.

It’s difficult to pick out one individual episode and say it was the best the season had to offer, because Star Trek: Picard is designed to be watched from beginning to end as one continuous story. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try!

Star Trek Episodes:

2020 was the first year since 1998 with three Star Trek productions, so there’s a lot of episodes to choose from! As Trekkies we’re spoilt for choice at the moment – long may that continue! This year I reviewed every single Star Trek episode that was broadcast. The year began with Picard in late January, then Lower Decks came along in August, and finally Discovery premiered in mid-October.

Worst Episode:

There weren’t a lot of options here, because the quality of modern Star Trek has been high. That said, every Star Trek show has misfires and duds from time to time, and this year was no exception.

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 (Star Trek: Picard)

After an incredibly strong start, Star Trek: Picard stumbled as its first season drew to a close. My primary complaint about Et in Arcadia Ego as a whole (aside from that godawful gold makeup they used for the synths) was that it introduced too many new characters and storylines, most of which didn’t get enough screen time to properly develop. The first part of a finale needs to bring together everything that’s already happened, not dump an awful lot of new things onto the audience, but that’s what Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 did.

The episode was also very poorly-paced, which is down to a combination of scripting and editing. The story jumped from point to point without sufficient time for the audience to digest what was going on. It also skipped over what should’ve been massive emotional moments, like Picard and Soji learning Hugh’s fate, or Elnor learning of Picard’s illness. Dr Soong and Sutra in particular needed more development and more screen time – though Isa Briones’ terrible, one-dimensional performance means that’s something I’m half-glad we didn’t get!

Overall, this was Picard’s worst episode by far. The aesthetic, editing, and pacing were all wrong, and if the story of Season 1 wanted to include all of these new characters, factions, and settings, we needed not only more episodes, but to have brought them in much earlier.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Envoys (Star Trek: Lower Decks)

Envoys’ opening sequence, in which Ensign Mariner kidnaps a sentient energy lifeform “for a laugh,” was the closest I came to switching off Star Trek’s second animated series and not going back. Where Lower Decks succeeded was in making the regular goings-on in Starfleet comical. Where it failed was in attempting to set up Ensign Mariner as Star Trek’s answer to Rick Sanchez (from Rick & Morty). This sequence encapsulated all of Mariner’s worst qualities, and was about as un-Star Trek as it’s possible to get.

It’s a shame, because the episode’s B-plot starred Ensign Rutherford in what was one of his better stories as he hopped from role to role aboard the ship, trying out different postings in different departments. The main story stuck with Mariner and Boimler, and derived much of its attempted humour from her mean-spirited selfishness. The ending of the episode did go some way to humanising Mariner, and arguably set the stage for her becoming a much more likeable character across the remainder of the season. But that opening sequence in particular is awful, and is the main reason why I’m crowing Envoys as the worst Star Trek episode of the year.

Best Episode:

This is a much more fun category than the one above! And there are plenty of candidates. All three shows managed to have some real gems, and picking just two was not an easy task.

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Far From Home (Star Trek: Discovery)

After Michael Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century in the season premiere, Far From Home saw Discovery and the rest of the crew arrive too. We were treated to an excellent crash landing sequence that was reminiscent of Voyager’s fourth season episode Timeless, and we got an interesting storyline which saw Saru and the crew forced to adapt to a very different and difficult future.

Saru and Tilly both stepped up, and the dynamic between these two characters has been continued through the rest of the season. As two main characters who hadn’t spent a huge amount of time together before this episode, their relationship was somewhat new and very interesting. Saru stepped up to become the captain we all hoped he could be in Far From Home, and Tilly showed us that there’s more to her than mere comic relief.

As the second half of the series premiere, Far From Home does a lot of world-building, establishing the violent, chaotic nature of the 32nd Century. It was also rare in that it was a Star Trek: Discovery episode with practically no input from Burnham – something which allowed many other crew members to shine in unexpected ways.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard)

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a Star Trek episode than I was for Remembrance. This was the moment Star Trek returned to the 24th Century for the first time since 2002’s Nemesis – and it was the first time the overall story of the Star Trek galaxy had moved forward since we heard about the destruction of Romulus in 2009’s Star Trek.

Children of Mars – the Short Treks episode that served as a prologue to Picard – had been somewhat of a let-down, so there was a lot riding on Remembrance as far as I was concerned! And I’m so happy to report that it delivered. It was mysterious and exciting, with moments of tension and action, and although the now-retired Admiral Picard was not exactly the same as he was the last time we saw him, flickers of the man we knew were still there.

Remembrance set the stage beautifully for Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. It took things slow and didn’t overwhelm us with storylines and heavy plot all at once. By the end of the episode we’d only really met two of the season’s principal characters. Perhaps seen in the light of the rushed finale this could be argued to be a mistake, and that we needed to get a quicker start. But I don’t think I agree with that assessment; Remembrance is perfect the way it is, and probably the best single episode of television I saw all year.

Films:

Let’s be blunt for a moment: 2020 has been a catastrophic year for the film industry. So many titles that should have been released simply didn’t come out due to the pandemic, and as a result it’s been slim pickings. A few bigger titles managed to premiere in January or February before the worst effects hit, but since the end of February very few titles have come out. We’ve missed out on films like No Time To Die, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Dune, all of which have been delayed to 2021. And there will be ramifications for years to come, as titles planned for 2021 are being pushed to 2022, and so on.

There have been some titles that managed to come out this year, and from my selfish point-of-view, I’m happy that more have come straight to streaming! My health is poor, and one thing that I sadly can’t do any more is get to the cinema (I haven’t been able to for several years). So in that sense I don’t feel that I personally have missed out in quite the same way! However, the massively-curtailed release schedule has had an effect, and as a result I don’t really have a lot of titles to choose from for this section of the awards. In another year I might’ve split up the films into several genres, but instead we just have three categories.

Worst Film:

Luckily there’s only one film in this category this year. If you recall my review of it from the spring, it perhaps won’t be a surprise!

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker is saved from being the worst Star Wars film solely by the existence of The Phantom Menace – and it’s not always clear which is worse. The clumsy insertion of Palpatine into a story that was clearly not supposed to have anything to do with him is perhaps the worst example of corporate-mandated fan service I’ve ever seen. Not only does Palpatine ruin The Rise of Skywalker, but the revelation that he’s been manipulating the entire story of Star Wars from behind the scenes undermines every other story that the cinematic franchise has tried to tell. It was a monumentally bad decision; the worst kind of deus ex machina. And his presence wasn’t even explained.

But while Palpatine stank up the plot, he wasn’t the only problem in The Rise of Skywalker. The ridiculously choppy editing meant no scene lasted more than a few seconds, leaving the audience no time to digest what was happening. There was some truly awful dialogue. General Hux’s story makes no sense at all and was totally out of character. Rose Tico was sidelined, despite her character being a huge part of the previous film. Palpatine’s plan – and his decision to announce it to the galaxy before enacting it – makes no sense. The stupid limitation to his fleet also makes no sense. Rey’s character arc across the trilogy was ruined by the decision to listen to bad fan theories. Poe and Finn basically did nothing of consequence. And the scenes with Leia – I’m sorry to say given Carrie Fisher’s untimely demise – were so obviously lifted from another film that it was painful.

JJ Abrams ran around undoing so many storylines from The Last Jedi that The Rise of Skywalker felt like two films haphazardly smashed together, but cut down to the runtime of a single picture. There was an occasional moment where either something funny happened or perhaps the nostalgia hit hard, but otherwise it was a total failure, and by far the worst film I’ve seen all year.

Best Animated Film:

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Frozen II

Disney does not have a good track record when it comes to sequels. Most of the time their big animated features are one-offs, with any sequels being relegated to direct-to-video offerings. But Frozen had been such a cultural landmark after its 2013 release that a sequel was, perhaps, inevitable. And far from being an afterthought, Frozen II was a film that equalled – and occasionally surpassed – its illustrious predecessor.

There was some fantastic animation work in Frozen II, such as the effects used for the fog. There was less snow than in the first film, and the snow in Frozen was beautiful, so that’s a shame in a way! The soundtrack was fantastic too, with several catchy songs that are well worth listening to.

Frozen II’s story was engrossing and genuinely interesting, and unlike some Disney sequels managed to avoid feeling tacked-on. The parents of the two sisters at the heart of the story had been killed early in the first film – and Frozen II saw them learn more about what happened to them, as well as discovering the source of Elsa’s powers.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

Phineas and Ferb went off the air in 2015, and as Disney Channel shows are usually one-and-done affairs I didn’t expect to see it return. But Candace Against the Universe premiered in August on Disney+ and was absolutely amazing.

After a five-year break the film brought back practically everything that made Phineas and Ferb great. There was a wacky but fun plot that brought together the kids and Dr Doofenshmirtz, there were some great musical numbers, and above all a deep story that had heart. Candace – the sister of the titular Phineas and Ferb – took centre-stage in a story that made depression accessible to even the film’s young target audience. It ended by telling a story that showed kids that they don’t have to be the centre of the universe to matter, and I think that’s an incredibly powerful message.

I’m a big advocate of sensitive depictions of mental health in entertainment. Not every story has to touch on the subject, of course, but Candace Against the Universe did – and it did so in a way that was relatable and understandable. But beyond that, it was a fun return to a series I thought was over. It’s possible the film could be the springboard for more Phineas and Ferb, but even if it isn’t I’m still glad we got to see it.

Best Live-Action Film:

Ordinarily I’d try to split up films by genre, and at least have sections for comedy, sci-fi, and maybe one or two others. But so few films have staggered out the door this year that there’s not really a lot of choice. As I’ve seen so few new films I just picked my top two. It wasn’t even all that difficult.

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Sonic the Hedgehog

In any other year, Sonic the Hedgehog wouldn’t have got a look-in as one of the best releases. But this is 2020, and as we’ve already discussed, there aren’t a lot of options. After receiving backlash for its visual effects when the first trailer was released in 2019, the creative team behind Sonic the Hedgehog went back to the drawing board and redesigned the titular Sega mascot, bringing him closer to his video game appearance. The willingness of the studio to delay the project in response to fan criticism is appreciated, especially when many other studios have chosen to double-down in the face of such backlash.

The film itself is surprisingly fun, though as with 1993’s Super Mario Bros., features a storyline quite far-removed from the video game franchise it’s inspired by. Jim Carrey hasn’t exactly disappeared in recent years, but has been nowhere near as ubiquitous as he was in his late-90s heyday, so his performance here feels like a return to form. And that’s all I have to say, really. It was a fun film, and an enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours. Is Sonic the Hedgehog going to be hailed as a classic of modern cinema alongside Lincoln and Bohemian Rhapsody? Of course not. But out of the available titles this year, it’s one of the best.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
1917

Now for a complete change of tone! 1917 was released in December last year, and is a truly epic war film that missed out on winning any of the top Academy Awards. However, despite the snub by the Oscars, it’s an outstanding piece of historical cinema, and though its novel “one-take” style of editing was perhaps less impressive than I expected it to be, it was nevertheless interesting.

I fully expect 1917 to be considered a classic of the war genre in decades to come, such is its quality. At its core is an emotional story of two young men thrown into a gut-wrenching situation. The First World War was one of the worst and bloodiest in history, yet few films have depicted that horror with such brutal accuracy as 1917.

Though it isn’t the kind of popcorn flick you’ll want to watch a dozen times in a row, 1917 is artistic and inspired in all the ways that matter. From the performances to the costuming to the camera work, every tiny detail has been honed and perfected. Director Sam Mendes deserves a lot of credit for putting together this masterpiece.

Announcements:

In this final section I’ll briefly cover a handful of announcements for upcoming productions that got me excited in 2020. There are so many interesting projects in the works, and while some of these may not see the light of day until 2022 or even later, they’re still genuinely appealing and I’m keeping my ear to the ground listening for news!

Video Games:

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

I’d been hoping for an announcement of the remastered Mass Effect trilogy ever since rumours of its existence began to swirl earlier in the year. Though EA and Bioware kept us waiting, the remaster was finally announced a short time ago and is due for release in 2021. Whether it will really tick all the boxes, and whether enough time has passed for a remaster to feel like a substantial improvement are both open questions… but I’m very interested to find out!

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Hogwarts Legacy

It’s been a long time since a video game announcement got me so excited – and an even longer time since anything in set in the Wizarding World did! Hogwarts Legacy looks like a game with great potential – telling a new story set decades before the Harry Potter books. It also seems to be a game that offers a great degree of player choice. That combination worked very well for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and I think it could do wonderful things here.

Television Shows:

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Alien

There’s a television show based on the 1979 classic Alien in development! Practically everything is being turned into a streaming television series right now, so perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’m truly interested to see what the Alien franchise can do with more than a couple of hours. Television as a medium allows for longer and more complex stories than can fit in a two-hour film, so there’s a lot of potential here.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Almost since the moment he beamed aboard Discovery at the beginning of the second season, fans had been clamouring for a Captain Pike series, and Alex Kurtzman and ViacomCBS listened! Strange New Worlds was announced in May, along with a short video from its three principal cast members. The show has already begun production, and while I doubt it’ll see the light of day before 2022, it’s one of the things keeping me going right now!

Films:

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
The Matrix 4

Though I have no idea where the story of The Matrix 4 could possibly take the series, I’m cautiously interested. Filming has already begun, but was disrupted by – what else – the pandemic. The two sequels to 1999’s The Matrix didn’t quite live up to the first part of the saga, but nevertheless were solid action-sci fi titles. I’m hoping that, after the series has taken a long break and with access to better CGI than was available in the early 2000s, The Matrix 4 will be just as good as the first. Could this be the beginning of a greatly expanded franchise?

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Dune

The first part of this new Dune duology should have been released this month, but because most cinemas remain closed it’s been pushed all the way back to December next year. Dune has previously been difficult to adapt, with at least one attempted film version never making it to screen, but this adaptation has clearly been a labour of love. It seems to feature a great cast, and based on the trailer will have some stunning visual effects. Here’s hoping that it can get the cinematic release that the director and studio hope for.

So that’s it!

Those are my picks for the entertainment highlights of 2020. It’s been a very unusual year in terms of what all of us have been able to watch and listen to. A number of big titles weren’t able to make it to release, especially in the realm of cinema. We’re also going to be feeling the knock-on effects of this disruption well into 2021 and 2022, even if things get back to normal relatively quickly – which hopefully will be the case!

2020 brought Star Trek back to the small screen in a huge way. There literally has not been this much Star Trek to get stuck into for decades, and as a big fan of the franchise I think that’s just fantastic. It’s also been a year which has accelerated the move toward streaming as a main way of accessing content. I wouldn’t like to guess how many cable or satellite subscriptions have been cancelled in favour of Netflix, Disney+, CBS All Access, and the like!

I hope that you managed to find some fun things to watch and play this year – even as the outside world seemed to be falling apart. Entertainment is great escapism, and we all needed some of that in 2020. This may be my last post of the year, so all that remains to be said is this: see you in 2021!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. Some promotional images and artwork courtesy of IGDB. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. 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 naΓ―ve 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.

Why fan petitions don’t work

There are plenty of projects in recent years that I took issue with. When passions run high, it’s natural to want to find an outlet for whatever anger or frustration we might have about a film, game, or television series. Just in the last few weeks I’ve looked at three big titles that I felt didn’t work for one reason or another – Game of Thrones Season 8, The Rise of Skywalker, and The Last of Us Part II.

All of these titles, and many more besides, have something in common: fans have set up online petitions to erase, edit, or rewrite them to fit what they think should have happened. Some of these petitions can get tens or even hundreds of thousands of signatures on websites like change.org – but what’s the point? Even if a petition got a million signatures, does anyone seriously think that Disney and Lucasfilm are going to say “oh okay then, I guess we’d better remake The Rise of Skywalker”?

The Last of Us Part II is the latest in a long line of titles to receive a petition demanding changes or cancellation.

Fan petitions can be a legitimate way to protest a decision in an entertainment product that you don’t like, and in that sense they arguably serve a purpose. I can understand the desire to make one’s voice heard – my website, after all, serves a similar purpose for me. Did anyone at Lucasfilm or Disney read my tear-down of The Rise of Skywalker? Doubtful. Even if they did, would it make one iota of difference? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t stop me writing. I’ve always loved to write, and I run this website just for fun.

As long as we remember to treat fan petitions in the same way as we might treat a YouTube comment or scathing Twitter post – i.e. by not expecting anything to come of it – perhaps it’s a harmless phenomenon. I think it’s comparable in that respect to review-bombing (the practice of leaving large numbers of negative reviews on sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes). As fans and members of the audience, we want to make our voices heard, especially when we feel a title has been disappointing. And similarly to review-bombing, seeing that hundreds or thousands of people share your opinion can be a good feeling. The desire to complain is as old as humanity itself; one of the oldest extant examples of writing is a complaint about poor-quality copper from ancient Sumeria! So it shouldn’t be a surprise that people in 2020 are using the internet to make their voices heard and to take complaints directly to those behind the shows, games, or films that they feel didn’t succeed.

The issue can be that some people take petitions very seriously. They consider their opinion to be the only one that’s acceptable and valid, and will attack anyone who disagrees, often viciously and offensively. In the aftermath of 2017’s The Last Jedi this happened a lot – many of the film’s detractors insisted it was “objectively bad”, as if that were the only opinion and the end of the discussion. The Last Jedi was not objectively bad – they just didn’t like it. In their subjective opinion. Nor can The Rise of Skywalker or The Last of Us Part II be said to be “objectively” bad. Storytelling is always going to be subjective, and there will be a range of opinions from the overwhelmingly positive to the horribly negative depending on the individual.

Lucasfilm and Disney aren’t remaking The Last Jedi.

Some of this comes with age – as you get older, you meet more people and get to see firsthand a variety of opinions on every topic. Getting out of a bubble is important – if you only ever talk to like-minded people and never try to get an opposing viewpoint or broaden your understanding of a topic, you’ll never have a chance to grow. This doesn’t just apply to entertainment, but to everything else in life too. Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the like can amplify these bubbles – creating groups and networks where only one side of an argument is discussed and where only one opinion is acceptable. Often, at least in the context of entertainment, this is a negative, critical opinion, but not always.

Companies care about their bottom line. In practically every franchise, hardcore fans are a tiny fraction of the overall audience, and as such, companies can flat-out say that they don’t care what you think. At the end of the day, if their product is making money and has been successful, the opinion of a tiny number of people who disliked it or who felt its narrative choices were wrong does not matter to them in the slightest. And often, what you’ll find is that controversy can be turned into a selling point. A fan petition gets more people to hear about the title in question, and some of them will go on to pick it up to see what all the fuss is about – resulting in more sales, not fewer.

William Shatner once told Star Trek fans to “get a life!” Luckily this was a joke, but it illustrates how entertainment companies can view their franchises’ biggest fans.

I don’t sign petitions on entertainment topics as a rule. I have, very occasionally, lent my name to petitions on other issues when I felt strongly about something, but never on an entertainment subject. Before I founded the website I would usually just keep my opinions to myself or perhaps discuss things with friends, but of course nowadays I have this outlet! However, I don’t want to say you shouldn’t sign a petition if you feel you want to and that it warrants your time and attention. Just don’t expect a response, and especially don’t expect your petition to accomplish its goal of having that episode or film you hate struck from canon.

There are some very specific cases where fan feedback in a more general sense has led to changes. The one that springs to mind is Mass Effect 3 in 2012. After releasing to huge controversy for its pick-a-colour ending, EA and Bioware released a free piece of downloadable content – the Extended Cut – which provided some more dialogue, expanded some cut-scenes, gave more explanation to some story points, and generally padded the ending a little. This wasn’t in response to a single petition – though there was a popular one at the time – but rather it was a response to broader feedback from reviewers and fans that was practically universal. The changes they made through the Extended Cut didn’t fundamentally change the game – or even really address the basic issues people were complaining about – but at least fans felt that their feedback had accomplished something.

The Extended Cut of Mass Effect 3 was initially offered as free DLC and is an example of feedback resulting in a response.

Overall, though, one success story does not count as proof of concept. Fan petitions are ignored by big companies, and often mocked online as people ask: “do those whiny fans really think their petition is going to make a difference?”

Partly the reason why is that a petition is just a collection of names – in online petitions, often patently fake names like “Deez Nuts” or “Anony Mouse”. It takes almost no effort to lend one’s name – fake or real – to such a petition; most participants must merely write two words and then click or tap off the petition. When I see critical comments on social media, while many of them can suffer from poor spelling and grammar and be silly, nitpicky, or even rude, at least the individual writing the comment has made a basic attempt to string more than two words together to make their point or express their dislike. In that sense, fan petitions rank even lower than social media comments or short posts on Twitter. If they take so little effort, it makes sense why they’re so easily dismissed, and why it takes an exceptional case of negative feedback – which may or may not include petitions – to convince any big company to make even minor concessions, such as in the case of Mass Effect 3.

I’m not in the business of telling people what to do. And if you want to create a petition or sign a petition calling on a company to change or cancel a film, series, game, or episode, that’s your call. Nor am I saying that petitions in general are a bad idea – in the sphere of politics and when dealing with other issues out there in the real world, a well-constructed petition on a specific issue can be effective. They just tend not to be when it comes to entertainment companies. At the end of the day, most people don’t take things like Star Wars or Star Trek as seriously as we do.

A photo I took at Star Trek: The Experience in the UK. Most viewers aren’t hardcore fans and don’t attend events or attractions like this.
Photo Credit: Crazy Uncle Dennis – feel free to re-use under the Creative Commons share-alike principle.

The desire to express how one feels about something is natural and a fundamental part of the human condition. But there are better ways to go about it than signing a fan petition that will invariably fail to accomplish anything. Letter-writing may be a lost art, but I think many people will find that actually writing out their thoughts and opinions will not only be cathartic but can also be an enjoyable experience. Whether they choose to write directly to the company in question or do what I do and publish reviews and criticism in a publicly-accessible forum is a personal choice – some folks on the more introverted side of the spectrum may find the former is preferable, for example. I’d recommend giving it a try, in any case. Not least because I love stumbling across new blogs and critics to read!

In the days of the internet and social media, it’s easier than ever for fans to critique their favourite franchises, and storytelling decisions in particular. It’s also easier than ever to get sucked into social media bubbles where everyone is expressing differently-worded forms of the same opinion, and to make the mistake of thinking that opinion is objective truth or the only valid position to take. From the point of view of companies, while some feedback can be valuable, and while they undoubtedly take notice of the rare cases of overwhelming backlash online, if at the end of the day their film, game, or series is popular and profitable, they don’t really care. And they care even less about fan petitions. Sorry.

All films, games, and television series mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, network, developer, publisher, broadcaster, and/or corporation. 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 clichΓ©d, 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 clichΓ© 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 clichΓ©s.

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.

Reviews for The Rise of Skywalker are mixed

Spoiler Warning: While I have tried not to reveal any significant plot points from The Rise of Skywalker, this article does stray into somewhat spoiler-y territory. There will also be potential spoilers for The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens.

Last time I wrote this about The Rise of Skywalker: “if it’s only okay – and even if it’s good but not great – the online hate and anti-Disney sentiment will continue”. After all of the controversy surrounding Star Wars over the last two years, which began with the reaction to The Last Jedi and continued through Solo: A Star Wars Story – which significantly under-performed – this film needed to work especially hard to bring fans back together.

Pre-release reviews initially seemed to be positive, but now that we’ve hit release day in the United States and other territories around the world, the full picture is coming into view, and it seems as though The Rise of Skywalker is not being particularly well-received.

Promo poster for The Rise of Skywalker.

Critic reviews are not always a reliable metric for judging a film – after all, critic reviews for The Last Jedi were glowing and completely failed to predict that film’s divisiveness. But this time, it seems as though critics and a significant number of Star Wars fans are on the same side, believing The Rise of Skywalker to be a flop.

As a caveat, this isn’t a review. While I have read a synopsis of the story, I haven’t seen the film for myself, and I won’t until it’s available on home video in a few months’ time. My health unfortunately precludes me taking trips to places like the cinema, and because I knew I couldn’t realistically avoid spoilers for months I chose to read a summary of the plot when it became available. But I won’t dig too deeply into that here – I will save reviewing the film itself for when I’ve seen it in the new year.

What The Rise of Skywalker had to try to do is bring back together two groups of fans – those who liked and hated The Last Jedi. The way to do that wasn’t by picking a side, because by so doing one group or the other will end up feeling alienated. The only way to bridge this kind of gulf would have been to set aside The Last Jedi and neither overwrite it nor celebrate it. There are ways that The Last Jedi could have been built upon to tell a new story which wouldn’t have been controversial. By trying to retcon large parts of it, The Rise of Skywalker has picked a camp and will have unfortunately upset many fans of its predecessor.

As I said last time, bringing back Emperor Palpatine risked coming across as cheap and lazy – and by most accounts, that has been exactly the outcome. Palpatine’s appearance in The Rise of Skywalker – after only the scarcest of references in the last two films and having had essentially no impact whatsoever on their stories – seems to be a deus ex machina. And this is a direct consequence of who was brought in to tell this story – JJ Abrams, who’d set up a mystery box in The Force Awakens that he didn’t know how to solve. He didn’t know how, of course, because he never expected to be in this position.

The decision to break up the writing of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, giving each part to a new writer/director, is inexplicable. It is by far the biggest issue that these films have had, and I’m saying that as someone who loved The Force Awakens when I first saw it, and as someone who greatly enjoyed The Last Jedi. As much as I liked The Last Jedi, the shift in tone from its predecessor is noticeable, and apparently The Rise of Skywalker is yet another change in tone from that film.

After buying Lucasfilm and the Star Wars brand in 2012, Disney needed to get together one team of writers and task them with crafting a new story – one which would play out over three films. If they wanted a JJ Abrams-style of storytelling, leaning very heavily on the original trilogy, then okay. If they wanted someone like Rian Johnson to shake up the whole trilogy and take Star Wars in a new direction, that’s okay too. But pick one – by trying to do both they’ve ended up with a disjointed series of films that have literally gone out of their way to overwrite one another. When there are a grand total of seven hours to tell the story, there’s just no time for rushing around undoing parts of it to cram in something new.

Realistically, this began with The Last Jedi, where Luke Skywalker famously throws away his lightsaber. That moment, set up at the end of The Force Awakens was a literal passing of the baton from one writer/director to another. And instead of taking that moment and building on it, Rian Johnson threw it away and told his own story. And from what I’ve read about The Rise of Skywalker over the last couple of days, JJ Abrams has essentially done the same thing this time too.

Instead of a triumphant return to Star Wars after the disappointment of the prequels, this trilogy simply hasn’t known what it wanted to do or what it wanted to be. Is it supposed to be a reboot, retelling Star Wars’ “greatest hits” for a new generation? Or was it supposed to be a bold new direction for a forty-year-old franchise that had serious issues with its prequels? Someone needed to be in charge to make that decision, and not allow the trilogy to sit on the fence and try to be both – while ultimately ending up being neither.

Theatrical release poster for The Rise of Skywalker.

When I’ve had a chance to see the film for myself in its entirety I will review it, but for now suffice to say that the division in the Star Wars fanbase looks set to continue, and this last best opportunity to patch things up has been lost. That’s a huge disappointment – and an own goal from Disney, as they needed to bring back fans of the franchise who’d drifted away in the last two years. Despite my own personal misgivings about it, The Mandalorian television series has been well-received and hopefully that will go some way to mitigating the issues with Star Wars as a brand.

Indeed, The Mandalorian and its success may well have bought Star Wars some breathing room. Despite that, however, if the next Star Wars project underwhelms or disappoints, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that there’s going to be a major shake-up, including cancellations or possibly even the brand going on hiatus. We should remember, after all, that it’s only in the last four years that we’ve had Star Wars as a franchise back. And it’s only since 1999 that the idea of Star Wars as ever being anything more than three films has existed. In short, we can’t take for granted that the franchise will just go on churning out new content, especially if that content doesn’t meet Disney’s objectives.

Reviews for The Rise of Skywalker, to get back on track, mostly seem to say similar things. The overriding feeling is that, for better or worse, there’s an absolute ton of nostalgic throwbacks and returning content from previous iterations of the franchise. And in addition, the film goes out of its way on a number of occasions to undo and retcon moments from The Last Jedi. Several reviewers have written that The Rise of Skywalker feels like it’s trying to be both Episodes VIII and IX – almost as if JJ Abrams has completely written The Last Jedi out of Star Wars lore and has tried to cram in two films of his own into the runtime of a single title.

One positive aspect of seeing films late is that I know what I’m getting myself into when I finally do get around to seeing them. And with The Rise of Skywalker I have suitably lowered my expectations – which may actually make for a better experience. When it came to The Last Jedi my expectations were similarly low owing to that film’s controversial nature, and I ended up really enjoying it (despite the shift in tone). So we will see – and I’ll report back when I’ve seen it in the new year.

One thing I hope all Star Wars fans could agree on is that more Star Wars on our screens should be a positive thing, whether we’re talking about films or television series. But there are some people who now feel that Star Wars in the Disney era is wholly without merit, and they won’t tune in for new shows nor show up at the box office for new films. That could be a problem for the brand going forward, and one that will have to be addressed. Even if future Star Wars projects are great, I fear some fans have already decided to essentially quit the fanbase, or at most stick to the original trilogy and the now-outdated expanded universe.

It really does feel as though the best opportunity to bring fans back together was missed with The Rise of Skywalker.

The Rise of Skywalker and the Star Wars brand 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.

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.