Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Rise of Skywalker

First off, I have a couple of non-spoiler things to say. I thought that The Rise of Skywalker was great. And I also find it important for people to remember that Star Wars is intentionally extremely archetypal and highly symbolic--and it is also fantasy.

Alright, now let's move into the content that will include spoilers.

In a way, it didn't make sense to continue the Skywalker saga past Episode VI. It made sense to go back in time and do the prequel trilogy, but how could you move forward past Return of the Jedi when that film already wrapped everything up in neat endings? The sequel trilogy was aware of this, so with The Rise of Skywalker they effectively came up with a way to place the original trilogy in the middle of the story, with a trilogy that happens before and a trilogy that happens after. They brought everything full circle and wrapped it all up again. So if anyone criticizes this film for repetition or not being original, they're kind of missing the point: all of that is the point.

When Poe says, "Of course they can," about the flying stormtroopers, he is essentially echoing the audience's reactions to everything. Again, with Star Wars being extremely archetypal, everything in it is meant to be predictable on a symbolic level. Of course Darth Vader was Luke's father. So from that same line of thought, of course Palpatine was in Rey's parentage. It was the only natural conclusion, that she would have to face the same realization that Luke did. If it seemed potentially a little silly like, oh, why do they have to bring back dead characters, you just have to remove yourself from thinking about the story literally and bring it back to that symbolic level. The Emperor isn't the Emperor--he's the ultimate symbol for evil. So Rey isn't learning that the Emperor was her grandfather; she is learning that she was born with the potential for evil. That's the important part.

And when Palpatine starts shooting lighting bolts into the sky and all that, well, it kind of just gave the film more of a high fantasy feeling. I'm in the camp that always emphasizes that Star Wars is fantasy and that was highly evident in this movie. The dark lord with his dark throne. The legion of evil ships whose source didn't so much matter--and the legion that wasn't defeated by cunning or power but by the mere triumph of good versus evil.

Now is time to bring up Kylo Ren and Ben Solo. Of course Kylo would be redeemed. Of course. It's Star Wars. It was just a question or when or how. Many of us suspected that it would have something to do with his mother. I thought he might unintentionally cause her death and then that would make him feel so terrible that he would turn away from the dark. Pretty close. What was so beautiful about those scenes with Kylo, Rey, and Leia was the near silence. Barely there music. No words between Kylo and Rey. It was all internal, all so powerful and strong that it was beyond words and yet that it was so evident in their faces. Kylo is heartbroken. And Rey is struck that her mentor is gone--and that she just dealt a killing blow to her son, the son who seems more wounded by the pain of the loss than the pain in his side. (Side note: to anyone who can only dwell on the fact that Kylo is whiny, haven't you noticed how well he takes physical pain? He is dealt near-death blows on multiple occasions and just charges right through it.)

While I imagine that the Han/Ben scene was meant to be a Leia/Ben scene but obviously couldn't be filmed that way because Carrie Fisher was no longer around, they made the Han/Ben duo work quite well. It was the heart of his mother that drove Kylo to turn back. But it was renewing his relationship with his father that helped him to take the actual steps involved. As a man speaking to another man, he was able to admit, I've lost my way and this is tough but I don't want to be lost anymore, I want to do right again. There was something incredibly beautiful about restoring that father/son relationship.

So we had that great man to man talk there--and the film also had some wonderful woman to woman moments. Even though, again, they were obviously limited in what they were able to film with Leia, the training scenes were beautiful because they showed a woman training another woman. We've had little to no female Force users in the movies and here we also had that added depth of training. And while Maz's presence was rather random, the farewell she gave to the princess was kind of worth it. Then you also have the moments with Rey's name. First the girl at the festival asks her name, and then the woman on Tatooine asks her the same question and she is finally able to answer. The girl who doesn't know who she is and the woman who does know; it's highly symbolic.

These connections between like people took place in other ways, as well. When Finn and Jannah have their little moment of realizing that they are both ex-stormtroopers, they are sharing a special moment of shared experience. And I don't think that it's unintentional that you can read in racial undertones, as well. That moment of seeing that hey, there's someone like me out there in such and such a place (in this case, the Resistance, but in our world it might be just liking to see your particular race represented in films or TV or whatever).

Okay, now let's go back to Kylo and Ben. When the marketing for this film began, I wondered why Kylo had brought back his mask. Wasn't he past that now? Then I got it. He's glued his mask back together using evil red glue so that he can parade around his brokenness and say, I'm broken and dark and evil now, can't you tell? And he sees that vein of brokenness in Rey, too, and so he says to her, come and be broken with me. But she just looks at him and says, no, that's not what I want for myself and it isn't what I want for you, either, but it definitely isn't what I want for me. And that's what's so wonderful about Rey: she is feminine and she has emotions and she has a heart and she is attracted to Ben and she does like him but she absolutely is not willing to choose him in any way until he himself chooses to be Ben and not Kylo. That's strong, to be able to stick to that choice. Eventually, of course, Kylo sees that Rey is right, he doesn't have to be broken.

It is so wonderful that after Ben and Rey have that moment together of experiencing Leia's death, Rey just leaves. She heals Ben and she leaves him free without any sort of retaliation towards him, but she also just leaves. She doesn't ask him how he is and she doesn't offer him a hand of help. She's tried that before; now is just the time for him to figure it out on his own. Only he can make the choice to leave Kylo Ren behind.

I think I've covered the main topics I wanted to touch on. There is only so much I can say in one post, so what I've tried to convey is that issue of highly symbolic content. That is what made The Rise of Skywalker a good film and a classic Star Wars story. It was a story of a hero's journey and a story of the triumph of good over evil and a story of friendship and community.

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