The Rise of Skywalker, the final Star Wars movie opens in a few days. As a Star Wars fan since the original release of the very first movie, I am eagerly awaiting the final movie of the saga. I am eager to see how the story concludes, and am also hoping to finally uncover the answers to several important questions about the story.
1. Who is Rey?
The first movie of this final trilogy, The Force Awakens, strongly suggested that Rey was Luke’s daughter, and hence Kylo Ren’s cousin, making the central conflict of the third trilogy a family affair and a dynastic struggle. In the next film, The Last Jedi, however, Luke gives no indication of ever having children at all, and in the end Rey is told that she needs to accept that she is nobody, just some kid abandoned by her parents years ago. Which is it?
The answer to that question has a strong bearing on the next one.
2. What is the true nature of the Force?
Peter David, author of comic books and SF – including several Star Wars novels – once pointed out that between the first and second trilogies, George Lucas’ ideas about the nature of the Force seem to have undergone radical reinterpretation. In the original trilogy, the Force is presented as essentially democratic in nature, (that’s David’s term). All life creates it, it surrounds everything, and thus it is available for anyone to tap into. Any person can, with suitable training, learn to use the Force. Some people may have a greater affinity to the Force than others (“the Force is strong with this one,”) but in general, how well you can use and control the Force is a matter of training and intent, not destiny. The prequel trilogy, of course, up-ended this with the introduction of midichlorians. The Force is created by these little creatures, and they decide who can use and manipulate it. If you have lots of midichlorians, you can use the Force, if you don’t, you can’t. And midichlorians seem to run in families. So the Force is essentially monarchical in nature, in fact, an example of the old concept of the divine right of kings (“The Chosen One.”) I have always found David’s analysis convincing, though lately I have been thinking that rather democratic vs. monarchical, we might better think of the original concept as an example of free will. The Force is there for anyone to tap into, it is up to each individual to decide if they want to invest the time and effort to learn how to do so. Some people have more talent for this, and so will do better at using the Force than others, but the choice to try is open to anyone. Luke chooses belief in the Force; Han chooses skepticism and scorn. The choices could have gone the other way. In the second trilogy, however, your relationship to the Force is pre-destined. Whether you will be powerful or powerless is set by your midichlorian level (and it is implied that midichlorians somehow consciously decide this, much like the Norse Norns spinning and weaving the tapestry of your life.) Nothing you do or decide can affect your fate. Anakin has no choice about becoming The Chosen One. Once the midichlorians have decreed, your relation to the Force is forever determined.
The Force Awakens, with its suggestion that Rey is Luke’s daughter, falls strongly in the monarchy/predestination camp. Rey is part of the royal family, descended from the Chosen One, as is Kylo Ren, and that is why she can use the Force. And Finn is not, and so cannot. He, and the rest of us, is just out of luck. But then The Last Jedi reversed this by suggesting that Rey is not part of the royal family, she is just some commoner, a nobody who happens to have a talent for the Force. And so we’re back to a democratic/free will Force. Birth doesn’t matter, individuals do.
And that leaves the count at 4 films for a democratic Force, and 4 for the royalist Force. The Rise of Skywalker will be the tie-breaker. (Though the title does hint at coming down on the royalist side.)
But Rey is not the only character I have questions about. I am also wondering
3. How badly will Poe Dameron screw things up this time?
All through The Last Jedi, Poe kept doing the rogue hero thing. We see this in movies all the time. Our action hero disobeys orders and ignores his superior officers, because, as a rogue hero, he knows best how to fight the villains and achieve victory. The rogue hero’s unconventional approach wins out, showing up his stuffy superiors as the incompetent, self-important bureaucrats they really are. Poe Dameron follows in the footsteps of every rogue hero before him. Through-out The Last Jedi, he argues with Leia and the other commanders, insisting that they are being too cautious, that the aggressive actions he wants to take will guarantee victory. If his superiors disagree, he ignores them and follows his own heroic instincts. But in a wicked send-up of standard Hollywood tropes, in this movie, the rogue hero actually wasn’t smarter and braver than his dim-witted and timid superiors. Leia and her fellow officers knew what they were doing. Poe did not. Every time Poe went off on one of his rogue actions it turned out badly. Defeat after defeat. Screw up after screw up. Poe was pretty much single-handedly responsible for reducing the Rebellion, er, Resistance from a mighty fleet to a tiny band of defeated soldiers that could all fit into the Millennium Falcon. Although Poe has been consistently portrayed as the Han Solo of this trilogy, he is really the Jar-Jar Binks. What will he do in the final film? Mesa wanna know.
And finally, I am really hoping that The Rise of Skywalker will answer a key question about the third trilogy, namely,
4. Just what the heck is going on? Who is fighting whom and why?
In the original trilogy, the stakes were clear. Evil Empire ruled by a tyrannical despot and his nasty enforcer are opposed by a Rebellion fighting to restore liberty and democracy to the Galaxy. The prequel trilogy muddied the waters by throwing in trade disputes and guild politics and clone armies, but in the end none of that mattered. Eventually we realized that all of that was really just calculated confusion designed to distract the good guys. The true story was of one ambitious politician’s plot to seize power. Once we figured that out, the stakes were clear (even if we already knew how it would come out.) This final trilogy follows after the second trilogy, after the Rebellion has successfully overthrown the Empire and, presumably, restored the Republic. Then, for some reason, the First Order arises (made up of those who supported and prospered under the old Emperor/Empire, I’m guessing.) So the First Order is in rebellion against the Republic. But the government of the Republic does not do anything to protect democracy and liberty from this authoritarian threat, so Leia and other heroes of the Rebellion break away from their own Republic, that they fought so hard to create, and start their own, private military organization, which technically makes them also in rebellion against the Republic. It’s as if George Washington turned down the offer to become the first President of the United States and instead raised up his own army so he could rush off and fight another war against the Canadians. By the time we reach The Last Jedi, the government/Republic seems to have completely disappeared, leaving the rebels of the First Order and the rebels of the Resistance to fight it out. The First Order seems to be fighting to conquer the galaxy, maybe even striving to put an emperor on the throne again? Or maybe just to make the galaxy save for the manufacturers of really, really big guns? Who knows? Meanwhile, the rebel Resistance seems to be fighting for… well, mostly to stop the First Order, because, you know, the First Order opposes the same government that the Resistance also opposes. The Resistance does not seem to stand for anything. Maybe they secretly want to crown Luke as Emperor? And then rise up in rebellion against him? It is all very confusing.
Will The Rise of Skywalker provide answers to any of these questions? Probably to the first one, and in doing so, the second, even if unintentionally. And maybe we can all play Poe Screw-up Bingo if the movie starts to drag. But will we have any idea of what was really at stake in the end?