"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is the third and last film of the third (and last) Star Wars Trilogy, completing the arc that begin in 1977 with Star Wars: A New Hope, and in 2015, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Because Star Wars has such a powerful position in popular culture, all of the twists and turns that happened outside the story, the various attacks and counterattacks about how much Star Wars should change, are hard to describe. As part of our times, every minor casting choice and plot point of Star Wars has been debated endlessly on the internet. I am sure whoever is reading this has already read several years of Star Wars debate on the internet, so I will summarize it as people believing that 2015's "The Force Awakens" clung too heavily to Star Wars' formula, and that 2017's "The Last Jedi" departed too much from Star Wars' formula. That is just background to what I saw as I watched the movie. Also, this review will contain spoilers.

The first thing I noticed about this movie is that it was packed, to the point of having almost psychedelic changes of focus, scene, and feel, as the movie shifted from one location to another. It was hard to keep track of just why characters were doing what they were doing: there was a lot of McGuffin chasing, and a large part of the middle of the movie was filled up with the characters chasing a McGuffin that led to another McGuffin. Star Wars has always been more fantasy than science fiction and this movie leaned into that: we are transported between scenes of an alien rave, a misty underworld that looks like hell, a cavalry charge on the deck of a space ship, a hive of scum and villainy...the scene changes are dizzying, and in another film, might need more explanation. But this is Star Wars: the viewers know what they are looking at, and improbable landscapes are part of the charm. Leaps of logic and setting are a feature of Star Wars, not a bug.

But my own criticism of the movie, such as it is, is that after three movies, none of the characters in this third trilogy have managed to make it feel like Star Wars is their own. This is both an internal, and external, problem with the story. The three new characters introduced, Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron, are all well-portrayed by their actors, and are Rey, at least, has real character development. This film does away with much of the roll of Rose Tico, with her basically having only a few lines of dialogue. Kylo Ren, as a villain, gets some development, and is an interesting character in his own right. But this film keeps bringing back ghosts: Emperor Palpatine is revealed as the main villain. The ghosts or memories of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo show up. Princess Leia, despite her actress Carrie Fisher having died three years ago, is a prominent character. Lando Calrissian stops by to save the day. Chewbacca gets almost as much screen time as Poe and Finn. This movie, then, is about the original characters, with the new characters mostly being used to carry on their struggle. After Star Wars: The Last Jedi "revealed" that Rey was a "nobody", this film destroys that, instead revealing that she is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. The climax of the film is Rey deciding that her lineage doesn't define her, and that she can refuse to become like her grandfather.

At the same time as the movie gives this message to the characters, it gives the viewer the opposite: because this movie, and the entire sequel trilogy, is careful to not upset the careful balance of the Star Wars universe. As a cultural symbol and commercial franchise, Star Wars is beholden to its past. I am not grumpy enough to feel that Star Wars, a major marketing operation for Disney, is wrong to make centrist, commercially viable movies. And I enjoyed the film greatly while watching it. But after four years and three films, Star Wars has not truly developed any new characters or themes, and we are, overall, left in the same position as we were at the end of both Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith. The original Star Wars came out 43 years ago, in a very different world, but as it stands now, the Star Wars franchise has made very few allowances for the past five decades, at all. So while a good movie, a fun, dramatic, and enjoyable movie, I am left feeling just a little bit empty after "The Rise of Skywalker".


Imagine you had a book series that was ostensibly about combating fascism. Now, imagine that this series became universally popular. Popular in almost every demographic. Picture that the author introduced a character to that series that a certain fascistic element of his fan base hated, and they petitioned, whined, and threatened until the author decided to remove the character from subsequent entries in the series.

Remember, this book is about fighting fascists.

A few years ago, maybe more than a few now, Illumination Entertainment produced a film called The Lorax based on the Dr. Suess book of the same name. The book has a strong pro-environmental message and is anti-capitalist. The movie is similar and has songs such as “How Bad Can I Be” with lyrics such as “How ba-a-a-ad can I be? I'm just building the economy.” This movie was also used as a vehicle to sell everything from Burger King to SUVs. In such cases, it is a little hard to take the core message of the movie seriously when it is part of a large machine itself selling the very thing the movie is critical of.

I don’t know if there is a word for when the real world context of a piece of art undercuts the art. Meta-demolotio, de-apriorize, or self-castration or some shit like that.

I’m not talking about creators behaving badly here. This isn’t a discussion on whether or not Polański’s Macbeth is still enjoyable despite the director being a child rapist. What I’m thinking of is works of art that are sabotaged by their creators by directly thumbing their nose at a central message they're trying to send.

So, the book series I’m talking about is not a book series but the Star Wars series of films, and specifically the final two films in the new trilogy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I doubt anybody doesn’t know what Star Wars is, but in case they don’t, I’ll run down the conflict. The story of the original trilogy is two tier. There is an evil Galactic Empire that is highly reminiscent of Nazi Germany in terms of aesthetic, and there is a high ranking servant in this Empire who once, we are told, was a good man, but fell to the rise of this Empire and now serves it. The story follows heroes fighting against both the Empire and the man and the man’s ultimate redemption is contrasted with the defeat of the Empire.

The new trilogy is about a group of extremists, more clearly coded as fascists than the first trilogy, who idolize the old Empire and wish to destroy the fledgling republic that has come about since the heroes' victory in the original series. The heroes are the usual plucky band opposed to these neo-fascists.

Now, the Star Wars fan base has always been contentious, and frankly toxic. The child actor Jake Lloyd and ‎Ahmed Best‎ received horrible treatment for their portrayals of their respective characters with Best even saying in interviews that he contemplated suicide over it.

In the modern political climate this aggression has become even more virulent. Even before the new films came out, a certain subset of Star Wars fans had expressed disgust at the lead being a woman. They also had problems with the films having a black stormtrooper as well as man of Latinx origin having a starring role. This pales to what happened next.

The Last Jedi is a deeply flawed film in a lot of ways, however its quality is not what I’m concerned with since events external to the fiction are only tangentially related to the fiction. I relate the fiction for context. That film by necessity of plot split up the main characters and because the Finn character would be by himself, a foil to his worst tendencies was created. The character could be both a romantic interest as well as a catalyst for his character arc. Not the best reason to have a character. I’m deeply skeptical of female characters whose purpose revolves narratively around a man. But for having such a role, she seemed to be a fine character none-the-less.

Many people disagreed. The vitriol directed at the actress online led to her removing herself from having an online presence. Most of this was extremely racist from a small group of fans who are either fascists or so close to being fascists that there isn’t any meaningful difference.

The result of all of this is that the character of this woman was almost completely cut from the following film The Rise of Skywalker. The directors has since said this change came at the editing level while the film was being cut. I don’t believe this, to put it mildly. The scenes she does appear in are blink and you miss her affairs, hardly the treatment you’d expect from having a few scenes cut.

Either way she’s been removed.

This film series is about fighting fascists. Right? Or have I got that wrong? Is there nothing more here than space-shooty-boom-boom? If there is more to it, if Star Wars is about something deeper, then the last thing it should do is kowtow to the very group that its heroes are fighting. When you have a racist yelling things at a minority online, what really is the difference between that and the evil general yelling fascistic things throughout the movie?

The most charitable explanation I can give is that the director of the films, JJ Abrams is a very safe film maker. That is, he never takes risks with his films, so that they’re all good, but never excellent. Star Wars is owned by Disney, which, as a corporate entity, also doesn’t like to take risks. The Last Jedi was criticized on almost every creative decision that it made and a lot of the The Rise of Skywalker is dedicated to undoing the more controversial ones. Which would be fine except for one detail: this film series is about fighting fascists.

If you even appear to give into fascists, they will take that as a win and will become emboldened. So, this film-- that’s about fighting fascists-- has helped fascists. I know from watching Abrams’s Star Trek that he often misses the deeper philosophical underpinnings of franchises that he is picked to helm, and it is entirely possible that he missed this salient point that permeates all of Star Wars, just like the internet hit squads seem to have missed that they’re the bad guys these films’ heroes are always taking pot-shots at, so I’ll spell it out again; these films are about fighting fascists. That they come in bright, neon space wrapping is incidental. The Empire is bad, the First Order is bad, and people who harass women online are bad, and they are bad for the same reason-- they are the same people.

I know the people who made these three films are simply taking what they’ve been handed and trying to make a buck. It’s at the expense of story and plot and morals, but ultimately the dollar is the only thing that matters. And Star Wars will always make money no matter how compromised it is.

Depressed dogs and mentally ill cats. Vomit puke, puke vomit, blaaaarararraggg.

1. There’s some oddities about how these fascists are portrayed in that while they spout fascist rhetoric they do weird things like have women commanders, and people of color in their armed forces, though no alien characters which leads me to conclude that in the Star Wars universe, humans view themselves as largely homogeneous while still holding on to the cliquish tribalism that has plagued every step we’ve taken from the Cradle to Outer-Space.

2. I’ve even seen one reviewer complaining that it is impossible to critique The Last Jedi-- because of the very vocal and racist criticism from certain, ah, “Nazis”-- makes it seem like anyone criticizing the film is a Nazi.

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