Reflecting on Skywalker

In my previous post, I laid out 4 questions I hoped the final Star Wars movie would answer. Now that The Rise of Skywalker has been out for a while, and I assume everyone with an interest in the answers has seen it, I think the time has come for me to revisit the questions. (A process that will obviously involve discussing all sorts of plot turns and revelations. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you have been warned.)

So, my first question was:

  1. Who is Rey?

And now we know. Rey is the grand-daughter of Emperor Palpatine. Mystery solved.

Mostly. Of course, we still don’t know who Rey’s parents are. Was it her mother or father that was the child of Palpatine? (Apparently this question is answered in one of the Star Wars novels. But relying on every person in the audience to have read every novel, comic book, and every other tie-in is a little unreasonable, especially considering the vast scope of Star Wars material out there. But that’s a topic for another post.) The fact that we don’t know points out a problem with this scenario. While Rey being the grand-daughter of the Emperor makes for a nice duality, reflecting the conflict between Jedi and Sith, between the Skywalkers and the Palpatines, it was not set up in any way. Until this final film, there has not been any suggestion that the Emperor even had any grandchildren (or children for that matter.) We can give the first two trilogies a pass on that, since they were written and filmed long before this story line was conceived, but something this big should have been set up within the current trilogy, or the very least, within this movie. Yes, Palpatine mysteriously tells Ren that Rey “is not who you think she is,” but since we don’t know who Ren thinks she is, that doesn’t really tell us much. We do see quick flashbacks to Rey’s parents, but nothing in them suggests that her parents are connected with the Sith – in fact, they are dressed like farmers from Tatooine. To me, the revelation felt a little forced, as if, somewhere in the midst of writing the script, Abrams suddenly remembered “Oh, yeah, I have to decide who Rey’s parent are. Um, let me see, can’t be Luke or Leia or Han. She’s not a Wookie. Maybe Palpatine, yeah, that sounds cool, let’s go with that.” A twist like this works best when the audience can look back afterwards and see that the clues were there all the time. In this case, they weren’t. At least there is nothing in the previous films that indicates Rey can’t be Palpatine’s grand-daughter, so we’ll go with it. And that answer, at least, does help us answer the next question:

2. What is the true nature of the Force?

Before this movie, we had 4 movies presenting a democratic/free will vision of the Force and 4 arguing for a monarchic/pre-destination view, with The Rise of Skywalker as the potential tie-breaker depending upon the nature of Rey’s identity.

The revelation that Rey is descended from the Emperor, a powerful Sith lord, puts the final movie firmly in the monarchic/pre-destination camp. Rey is strong in the Force because she is descended from a royal family, one of the most powerful royal families. In fact, Rey is not only destined to be strong in the Force, she is destined to rule the Sith.

She does reject that second part of her destiny, which suggests there is some Free Will connected to the Force. But that choice has always been part of the story: Luke had to choose between the Dark Side and the Force. Anakin choose to become Darth Vader, and then ultimately, to reject the Dark Side. So, if you are of the right family and lineage to be strong in the Force, you can choose which path of the Force to take. The rest of us, however, are out of luck. (Unless you are close friends with one of the chosen ones, like Finn is. Then you get a little bit of Force by osmosis. Just a little.)

Thank goodness the midichlorians have disappeared, however. If they were still around, this question would get a lot messier, since Rey seems to directly inherit the Dark Side Force, which would suggest a different set of midichlorians powering her up, with Dark midichlorians choosing their champions to face off against Light midichlorians, and the chosen ones just being puppets in the midichlorians’ struggles.. But, midichlorians have disappeared, so we are spared all that.

Instead, on to the next question:

3. How badly will Poe Dameron screw things up this time?

Turns out that Poe didn’t do so bad this time. Oh, he tried. He kept taking really stupid risks, but Finn was always on hand to urge caution. Perhaps after the disasters of the previous movie, Leia decided that someone needed to keep Poe under control and assigned Finn to permanent Poe-sitting duty.

And that brings us to my final question:

4. Just what the heck is going on? Who is fighting whom and why?

Ok. I’m still confused. In fact, about a half hour into the movie, I turned to my daughter and confessed that I was even more confused than I was before we walked in. As best as I can figure out, the First Order is a secret organization attempting to undermine the government and take over the Republic/Empire/whatever replaced the Empire after the events of The Return of the Jedi. Except that the First Order also seems to be the government, for rules at least some of the galaxy outright. For example, when our heroes journey to the planet Kijimi, storm troopers are everywhere, conducting what are obviously regular, routine patrols – in other words acting as the police force maintaining the government’s control over the populace. The First Order governs this planet. And nowhere do we see any evidence of the Republic/whatever ruling anything or maintaining police or military. But if the First Order already rules, then it is attempting to subvert and overthrow itself! This sounds a bit bizarre, the movie actually supports this conclusion, for the First Order later blows up the planet Kijimi, a planet it  controls! Apparently the First Order’s strategy is to threaten opposing populations not with the threat “Join us or die,” but with the promise “Join us and then die.” I don’t see how that is an effective long-term strategy. This strategy does, however, fit with the Sith/Empire/First Order’s long-term obsession with blowing up planets as its main battle tactic. An impressive move the first time you pull it off, but if you keep blowing up your own planets, you eventually run out of empire to rule.

I got even more confused when the action moved to the Sith planet Exegol. Here we discovered a massive fleet of Sith Star Destroyers. At the sight of all these ships, my first thought was “where did they get the money to build that many ships?” And my second thought was “where did they actually build that many ships?” There is no sign of any sort of industry on Exegol, especially not the massive industrial complex needed for work on this scale. That means the First Order must have control over a large number of planets supplying vast quantities of raw materials to an extensive industrial infrastructure. Plus, the First Order must be shipping immense quantities of supplies and equipment and people, not to mention fleets of ships and components to a planet that is supposed to be super-secret and completely hidden. How is that supposed to work? (And why didn’t it occur to anyone in the Resistance to simply track these shipments? That would have been a much easier way to find Exegol than the rather convoluted quest for holy wayfinders.)

Of course, I am just as confsed by the state of affairs on the other side of the story. The post-Empire government and military have apparently simply vanished. I should not be surprised by this, however; since apparently just as that government came under threat from the First Order, its most capable generals defected and started their own, independent Resistance movement. Instead of defending the government, Leia and other leaders abandoned it. The climax of Skywalker, however, suggests that this collapse was actually a good thing, since it apparently meant that individual planets, guilds, companies and other entities all decided that they had to see to their own safety. Everybody must have started to build up their own militias and navies, arming their space ships, and developing new weapons. At the crucial moment of the final battle, a massive fleet of vessels appears in the skies of Exegol in time to turn the tide of battle, suggesting that these vessels were already armed and crewed and supplied and just hanging around waiting to be called into action by an obscure, almost forgotten hero of the old Rebellion. So, the Resistance’s plan for ultimate victory depends on chaos and confusion throughout the galaxy reaching such levels that everyone arms themselves and starts blasting away at every perceived threat? Is this really the best plan for governing the galaxy?

I give up. Good guys and bad guys run around the galaxy shooting at each other, each side doing their best to not only beat the other, but to do so in the most difficult and convoluted fashion possible.

But as the confusing dust of this confusing mess died away, we reached that final scene of Rey back on Tatooine, burying the light sabers of the last of the Jedi. That scene left me with one last, intriguing question:

What will Rey do next?

Sith and Jedi are all gone. Only Rey is left.

She can follow Luke’s example and try to resurrect the Jedi order. Some of the new Jedi will fall to the Dark Side, thus starting the whole conflict over again. The next generation will once again face the battle between Dark and Light. The far, far away galaxy will face peril. Rey and her allies will stand against the resurgent Sith. The fight will go on and on.

But Rey has another option. With Sith and Jedi all gone, the Force is finally in balance (and wasn’t that what the whole saga was about?) Rey could just walk away. Walk away from the Force and the demands of destiny. Make a new life herself, a life she chooses free of dynastic struggles, free of Jedi and Sith. Leave the rest of the galaxy in peace as well.

I have no doubt that Disney will pick the first course, for that is the path that leads to trilogy after trilogy, endlessly spinning out as long as fans have money to spend.

I, however, find the second choice the more satisfying course. It gives Rey what she never had – control over her own life. It also brings the saga to a conclusion. Good stories deserve good endings.

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