On The John
An Editorial By John Camarena
Growing up, there were two types of geeks: those that liked Star Wars and those that liked Star Trek. Though there was certainly some overlap, you were usually relegated to one camp of the other. The original series of Star Trek premiered in 1966, a time that was rife with civil unrest, and made for a great vehicle to convey social commentary along with an optimistic view of a future where humanity has learned to work together for a common good. Then in 1977 Star Wars came along and blew that boring Trekkie nonsense out of the water with an epic space opera about good vs evil, with lightsabers and awesome space combat. The popularity of Star Wars reinvigorated interest in science fiction, so in 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released, and it had to be one of the most boring movies ever made. It was slow, plodding, and dense. This is where the distinction between the franchises became the most contrasted; while Star Wars was entertaining popcorn fare, Star Trek became a philosophical and character driven venture with deep clinging to actual science. The lines were drawn and Star Trek became known as the franchise for the uber-nerds. For the rest of the decade, Star Wars would be over and Star Trek kept pumping out movies of debatable quality with the original cast. Then in 1987, Star Trek returned to the small screen with The Next Generation. Featuring an all new cast, a continuation of the story taking place about 80 years after the original series ended, and updated production value and special effects; this series would pump new life into the aging franchise, attracting fans old and new alike. I would catch episodes randomly when they first aired between 1987 and 1994, but didn’t care much for it. I was loyal to Star Wars and looked down upon trekkies as they were considered geeky even by geek standards. And yet, there was always a curiosity about the series, and a pandemic has a way of opening up opportunities to binge several seasons’ worth of shows. So I dove in head first to experience the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation and finally go where so many others have gone before.
Some preconceived notions before going: I had assumed that Captain Picard was a bad ass, Commander Riker was a ladies man, and there would be no overarching story line, mostly just a story of the week with the occasional call back to other episodes. I was very wrong. While Captain Picard was, in essence, fearless, he was also a skilled diplomat who only resorted to violence as a last resort. He was always composed and exhibited an air of class and sophistication. Also, it turned out that Picard is a consummate ladies’ man in his own right, having possibly the most chances at romance compared to Riker, or at least wasn’t exploited as much as Riker. While there is much to dive into, I’m going to start with the big unanswered questions left over in the show. These are some of the things that I thought had a good set up, but are never resolved within the show or direct films. Some of these plot points have been covered further in the companion books or spin-off series, but I don’t read so these will remain unsolved mysteries.
The Dyson Sphere. Season 6, episode 4 titled “Relics”. The Enterprise rolls up on a distress signal coming from a very old shuttle and find it crashed on the outside of a Dyson sphere. Inside the shuttle they find Montgomery “Scottie” Scott in an energy stasis he rigged up while waiting for rescue. The main plot is Scottie coming to terms with now living 75 years later, so the relic in the title is both the Dyson sphere and himself. Now, a Dyson sphere falls into a science fiction trope I’m actually quite fond of: the Big Dumb Object. Typically this is an impossibly huge and derelict alien structure. Part of their mystery comes from not knowing who built these objects, how they work or what their purpose may be, with technology that is far more advanced than what the protagonists usually can understand. Dyson spheres are structures designed to enclose entire planets, or in this case, a solar system, as there is a sun at the center of this sphere with what looks like a planetary surface complete with atmosphere along the inside of the sphere. Basically it’s a giant enclosed Halo ring. What is its purpose? Who built it? Where did they go, as it appears to be abandoned? Who knows. They have one throwaway line at the end of the episode about sending a research team to study it and that’s it, onto more important things I guess. This drove me nuts, as this is exactly the kind of thing that I would have loved to watch an entire episode about, but the fact that the main plot is actually quite good lets me forgive it, this time. Side note: they also completely brush off that Scotty basically created an alternative to cryogenics for preserving/extending life. Up until now, we’ve had characters from decades if not centuries prior being reanimated from cryogenic freezing, but Scotty’s improvised method would have been a major leap in the field of life extension.
Klingon Jesus. Season 6, episode 23 titled “Rightful heir”. So Worf has a crisis of faith and goes to a sanctuary to pray for a while. That’s all fine and everything, but then he thinks he has a vision of the Klingon Jesus name Kahless. This is no vision at all, but rather a flesh and blood reincarnation of the messianic figure that founded the Klingon Empire. At first everything seems to check out; they ask him questions only the real Kahless could know the answer to and looks exactly like the depictions in the cave paintings; you know, the way you would authenticate any resurrected mythological hero. Worf jumps right in to accepting Kahless but soon the cracks start to show. Long story short, it’s revealed that this Kahless is not divine transubstantiation, but rather a clone created from genetic material from an ancient knife that belonged to him. Basically it would be like someone took the Shroud of Turin and Jurassic Parked a Jesus out of it. The cat is let out of the bag and rather than killing the clone, Worf helps convince the current Klingon Chancellor, whom Worf also helped get into power mind you, to accept Kahless as emperor in name only, serving as a figurehead with the chancellor still running the day to day side of things. Ok, so what happens to the Klingon political atmosphere next? Do all Klingons accept this as truth? Is there a mass shift within the factions that were constantly trying to obtain power in the empire? We never find out.
“Thomas” Riker. Season 6, episode 24 titled “Second Chances”. In this episode, the Enterprise goes back to an abandoned Star Fleet base where Commander William Riker performed some heroic rescue operation a few years back. They are trying to retrieve some old data when they come across a survivor that has been living in isolation for 8 years, and this is no ordinary survivor, but an exact copy of Riker! How can this be? Well, the explanation is that there was a disturbance that was affecting the transporters at the time, and this caused a feedback loop that made an exact copy of Riker, and one got transported successfully while the other remained back on the base. So Riker now has an exact copy of himself with all the same memories up until the transporter accident, meaning they are essentially the same person up to a point. What kind of challenges does this pose? Well for one, Enterprise Riker is a higher rank, so copy Riker has to take orders from his other self. Second, this Riker never broke up with Deanna Troi, the ship’s counselor with whom he had a relationship prior to the beginning of the show. Enterprise Riker and Troi agreed to go their separate ways to further pursue careers in Star Fleet, and only coincidentally ended up together again on the Enterprise several years later. So when copy Riker sees Troi for the first time, it’s like nothing has changed and immediately wants to continue their relationship. The two Rikers have to learn to work together despite their differences and eventually come to an understanding. Copy Riker accepts that Troi moved on and decides to continue his own career in Star Fleet by taking an assignment on another ship and… that’s it. Copy Riker adopts their middle name of Thomas as his first name in order to more clearly distinguish himself from the other Riker, but aside from that, we never find out how Thomas Riker shakes out after the events of this show. Original Riker had a troubled history with his still-living father that received some resolution in a different episode, but Thomas would technically still have those paternal hang-ups, unless he off-screen decided to pay their father a visit in order to have the same catharsis. Did he struggle with living in the shadow of the other Riker? Did Star Fleet want to study him and see if the accident was repeatable and there was practical application to the copying? Though he does make another appearance Deep Space 9, his ultimate fate is unknown.
The Seed Race. Season 6, episode 20 titled “The Chase”. Another episode similar to the Dyson sphere plot, this one has Picard’s former archeology professor on the verge of a huge discovery with galaxy-spanning implications. The professor is attacked and dies before he can complete his research, but other alien races are interested in his discovery also, particularly the Cardassians. After piecing together the clues using markers found in the DNA of several of the galaxy’s sentient races, the Enterprise converges on a distant planet along with some Klingons, Romulans and Cardassians. The other races believe they are being led to an ancient and powerful weapon or power source left behind by a long extinct alien race. Once they collect all the necessary DNA, a hologram of a humanoid alien appears and explains that they explored space millennia ago and found no other intelligent life, so they left samples of their DNA on different planets and let evolution takes its course. The other races were not impressed by this information, and the Cardassians were downright offended at the thought that their origins were tied to the other races. The episode ends with Picard and the Romulan captain sharing a moment where they imagine that perhaps someday, all the races could come together over their shared origin instead of quibbling over their present differences, but that’s it. This seed race, like a more benevolent version of the Engineers in Prometheus, is a fascinating concept and also helps to explain why the majority of the alien races in Star Trek all basically look the same. But who were they really? Besides their DNA, did any of their tech or structures survive? Did they build the afore-mentioned Dyson sphere? I would think that a scientific discovery of this nature would also have far-reaching consequences, both good and bad, but this episode makes it seem like the handful of people that saw this revelation are going to keep quiet about it, as it may not be worth the trouble it could cause. Very unsatisfying. Perhaps we are meant to infer that this microsample of reactions is indicative of how the rest of the galaxy would have handled the news.
Wesley Crusher. Season 7, Episode 20 title “Journey’s End”. Regardless of how one may feel about the character in the early seasons, Wesley Crusher seemed to be poised for a promising future. Being a gifted student that got to serve on a star ship while still very young, it was pretty much a given that he was going to have a luminary career. He is also the son of two Star Fleet Officers; his father died while under Picard’s command on a different ship, and his mother was the chief medical officer aboard the Enterprise. Early on, a random episode introduced a character known only as the Traveler; an alien with the ability to travel to different dimensions and across vast stretches of space seemingly at-will. In Wesley’s last appearance on the show, he goes on a vision quest that basically convinces him to leave Star Fleet and follow the Traveler to begin learning how to expand his mind and explore the universe and other dimensions. I guess. While it’s not a bad thing that he was presented as some wunderkind meant for greater things, the real question here is why did he return to Star Fleet? At the beginning of the final Next Generation movie, Nemesis, Wesley is present at Riker and Troi’s wedding, in Star Fleet uniform. He very decisively abandoned Star Fleet in that TV episode, but then here he is, back at it apparently. There’s no explanation for this and there is a deleted scene where he says he’s working as an engineer on Riker’s ship. That’s fine, but what happened with the Traveler? Did he accomplish enlightenment and decide to come back to a more mundane existence? Did he fail in his endeavors? For what was seemingly a pretty epic and open ended story arc, it would surely be disappointing to end up exactly where he didn’t want to be after everything that happened. Perhaps he will appear in a future season of Star Trek Picard and have a throwaway line about how he realized he had some unfinished business, but I’m not holding out for a satisfactory resolution.
There are still plenty of other mini-mysteries to wonder about in this series, such as Worf’s time-traveling son, multiple paradoxes and time loops, and of course, the Q. Join me again next time as we wonder what the hell was the point of it all!
An Editorial From John Camarena
Well it’s been a nice hiatus brought to you by COVID-19, but life goes on and so must the creation of content. Continuing with my series of favorite Youtube channels, the next three are specific in that they are all intelligent, geeky ladies that create longer form videos. Chock-full of interesting information, ranging from topics about pop culture media and hot takes to deeper psychological and social issues, these creators never fail to have my attention.
Jenny is an acerbic young woman who is deeply steeped in the nerdy fandoms of Star Wars, Harry Potter and especially Disney. She’s a former Disneyland employee and admits she has a fascination with theme parks in general and Disney parks especially. Jenny’s style is to deep-dive into whatever she’s making a video of, whether it’s a movie, book, or even merchandise, all while providing a running commentary and generally tearing them apart in a loving fashion. The majority of her videos are filmed from her bedroom, with a few rare exceptions that have her out and about at a con or otherwise somewhere outdoors. While she is never mean-spirited, she does not mince words when calling out the ridiculousness of the plot holes or story decisions in the books or movies she’s discussing, and has sharp observations combined with a sweetly innocent and slightly monotone voice. While most of her videos are 20 minutes or longer, she also has a few shorter videos where she sarcastically pretends to pitch movies by solely highlighting the elements of that movie that arguably made it bad, or just presents a short video on a recent moment in pop culture. She’s also fascinated by Reylo (Rey and Kylo Ren) fan fiction, and reviews these stories as well as other questionable works of fiction in her dry style. She’s also collaborated with Screen Junkies/Fandom Entertainment for a series called Millennial Falcon, in which she would speak to guests about Star Wars-related topics, and while she obviously had a higher budget for the production of those videos, they lack the charm of her independent videos. Some of my favorite videos include “15 Very Dumb Things in Fantastic Beasts 2”, “Justice League Bad”, and “Tomorrowland Ruined My Life and Dreams”
Now, while Jenny is precociously sardonic and satirical, Lindsay is much more sharp and scathing. Previously known as Nostalgia Chick on Youtube’s Channel Awesome, she continues on her own channel where she post videos about pop culture observations, with a heavy emphasis on reviews of Disney movies, but also touches on other relevant releases. Lindsay’s content is approached with a more academic eye and really breaks down the tropes involving feminism and woke culture, or rather the way that some of the media tries to implement it and usually in the worst way possible. Lindsay also hosts the PBS Digital Studios series It’s Lit!, which focuses on literature, and is now an author herself, with her first novel, Axiom’s End, set to be released soonish. Some of my favorite videos she has created include “Woke Disney”, a dissection of the Dumbo remake and the problems it chooses to ignore; “The Hobbit” 3-part mini documentary; and “How Aladdin Changed Animation (by screwing over Robin Williams)”. Overall, Lindsay is not shy about taking a stance regarding the messages that pop culture media tries to, and often fails to depict.
Natalie Wynn is probably one of the most interesting and unique Youtubers I’ve come across in recent history. But unlike other controversial Youtubers like your Logan Pauls and your Jon Trons, she is an academic intellectual that earns her vitriol by challenging preconceived societal norms and surely antagonizing her detractors head-on by performing as a multitude of characters, each meant to mock a certain stereotype such as fascists, TERFs, and even herself. Found while searching for videos about the incel phenomenon, Natalie caught my eye thanks to her colorful and moody lighting and fancy wardrobe. She has in distinctive sense of humor, that when paired with her clearly brilliant analysis of important social topics, make for some long-form videos that are never boring. What is probably the most refreshing aspect of her video style is her willingness to explore her own psyche in relation to the subjects she discusses, and being very honest about her feelings from the perspective of a person transitioning into a woman. Natalie’s videos, when viewed chronologically, contain a meta-narrative as she becomes more accustomed to the changes she’s going through, both literal and metaphorical. Although her videos tend to be on the longer side, her style of humor peppered throughout very well written and filmed video essays keep you engaged. Besides the before-mentioned video on incels, I also highly recommend Beauty, which focuses on the preconceived notions of attraction and the lengths that some go through to achieve physical perfection, and Shame, in which she analyses her struggle to figure out dating and physical relationships during her transitioning.
I highly recommend checking them out, if only for a different perspective to what is a mostly male-dominated medium, but are strong enough to stand on their own.
An Editorial By John Camarena
There are so many different types of YouTube channels out there, from the broad to the scarily specific. Some real gems may get passed up if you don’t sometimes search for things outside of your regular interest zones or feel adventurous on a thumbnail. But I’m here to dig through the dregs of content to filter out some unique or otherwise good channels that don’t get the attention they deserve. All of these that we’ll be looking into are channels I too am a fan of, and therefore can also serve as an insight into my inner workings.
Classic horror film and retro gaming enthusiast James Rolfe’s “Angry Videogame Nerd” character actually predates Youtube itself. Making videos since he was a child and posting online since 2004, he created a unique brand of comedy videos focusing primarily on criticizing retro games from the 80’s that were known for their ridiculous difficulty. Games like Back to the Future, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Karate Kid, Castlevania 2 and Legend of Zelda 2 were all on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which is due to the character originally being called The Angry Nintendo Nerd; the name was modified to avoid copyright later on. Not long afterward, the Nerd covered other consoles and games as well as accessories like the Powerglove. The Nerd made his mark by having a unique way of reviewing games in which he will become increasing agitated by the games’ difficulty, drink beer, and eventually unleash a colorful stream of imaginative expletives. It’s a style that has since been copied with varying degrees of success, but there’s nothing like the original. The Nerd is still going strong to this day, and James will also appear as himself in some offshoot videos like Rental Reviews and James & Mike Mondays, and a personal favorite of mine, Monster Madness, in which he’ll give a short review on horror movies new and old, and themed runs such as the complete Godzilla series or every Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. There was even a movie in which he reviews arguably the worst game of all time: E.T. Some notable reviews that I love to revisit include his review of the Atari, NES and SNES Star Wars games, his review of the Virtual Boy, and the Wish List episodes 1 & 2, which was like a time capsule from the 80s.
2. Red Letter Media:
Now, shifting focus from retro games to popular movies, we have Red Letter Media. First rising to almost overnight prominence after the likes of Simon Pegg and Damon Lindelof tweeted about it, their 70 minute Phantom Menace review broke down all the things that I subconsciously hated about the Star Wars prequels but lacked the general understanding of the language of cinema at the time to truly articulate. The narrator, a Mr. Harry S. Plinkett, speaks in what can only be described as a homicidal maniac’s voice and his choice of things he finds funny would corroborate that. That being said, the man behind the voice, Mike Stoklasa, is a former film student who has written and directed several projects under his own production company now known as Red Letter Media, and is well versed in story structure, shot composition, and possesses a sharp wit when pointing out inconsistencies and gaps in the logic of the screenplay. The Plinkett reviews actually started with reviews of the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies, in which he points out that the character of Picard was written almost as an exact opposite of his TV character for the sake of making the movies more action-driven. From there, we have gotten all the prequels, 2 of the 3 Disney sequels, and an assortment of other films such as Titanic, Avatar, Baby’s Day Out and Cop Dog. With their newfound success and attention, the channel began to branch out to some less scripted fare, from Half in the Bag, where they review one or two movies that are currently still in theaters, to RE:VIEW, where they do an in-depth analysis and praise some of their favorite classics movies such as The Rocketeer, Tremors, and Ghostbusters; and The Nerd Crew, where they essentially make fun of nerd culture in general. There’s also Best of the Worst, in which they will randomly, and sometimes creatively, choose from their massive collection of VHS tapes and have a roundtable discussion about them, ending with them destroying whichever they vote was the worst viewing experience. If you love film and want to listen to a bunch of interesting characters making fun of each other while also making some great observations about the movie industry, you can’t go wrong here, just be warned that they won’t shy away from joking about inappropriate things or events.
3. Girlfriend Reviews:
The most recent entry into my regular video rotation is a cute video series by early twenty-something Youtubers Matt and Shelby, better known as Girlfriend Reviews. The gimmick here is that Shelby was a backseat gamer that decided to start commenting on the games her boyfriend would play from her own unique point of view; not being an avid gamer herself, she brings some interesting and humorous insights into video game tropes that are normally taken for granted. Things such as overly convoluted storylines or play mechanics come under her scrutiny as she questions why they have to be the way they are. Eventually she started joining in and getting some first-hand experience, and also branching out into other media such as one of my favorite videos: watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time as an adult. Their videos are funny, well-edited, and very entertaining. So much so in fact, that there were rumors on the channel’s subreddit page that Matt and Shelby were just actors and the videos were actually being professionally produced by some marketing company. This is doubtful, although there is a suspiciously clean level of polish to their videos, they are not outside the realm of a couple of plucky kids with some video editing software and a razor sharp eye for meme humor. Three good videos to watch are the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening review, in which she stops three-quarters of the way through and just plays the Untitled Goose Game; Doom, where she realizes her potential for enjoying bloodshed; and Bioshock, where she really goes into detail about the setting and art deco design juxtaposed with the horror of the story.
These are great primers for some good pop culture consumption, all from very different yet highly entertaining points of view, and really just the tip of the iceberg for deep-diving into the depths of my own geekdom. And no, you’re eyes are not tricking you, Macauly Culkin has appeared two of the three channels discussed today, since he is branching out and embracing the Youtuber culture with channels that he also finds entertaining.
An Editorial By John Camarena
The End of 2019 brought us some genuinely awesome entertainment of the sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book variety to our TV screens. We at the Geeks’ Watch podcast had some less than stellar viewing experiences early on; looking at you, Star Trek: Discovery, Electric Dreams, Carnival Row, and the last season of Game of Thrones! And while there were a few bright spots intermittently, it wasn’t looking like there would be much to look forward to. But thankfully I was proven way wrong. We ended up getting some of the best watching experiences of the year pretty much back to back just as it came to a close, and my faith in humanity has been restored! So let’s break it down and see what made these shows so great…
A sequel to the seminal classic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibson. My initial trepidation with this show was that it would have no involvement whatsoever by the writer/creator of the series. Moore famously cut ties with DC after he felt the company was just trying to commercialize his works and diminishing their value in the process, so he had zero involvement with the previous attempts to capitalize on the property, from the 2009 Zach Snyder movie to the prequel series Before Watchmen. The movie was good, not great, as it made some changes, some for better and some not so much, and the prequel comics had some interesting ideas but felt like fan fiction more than a part of the canon. Add to that, the show was going to be run by Damon Lindeloff, someone whom I had cursed to the heavens for ruining the script for Prometheus and making Lost feel like a meandering mess. But I was told The Leftovers was good so I gave it a shot. Right off the bat, the trailers didn’t seem that interesting. It looked confusing and a little silly with what looked like police wearing yellow masks, a brief shot of Night Owl’s airship Archimedes, or Archie for short, and a tease of Dr. Manhattan. This series was to be a sequel to the graphic novel, set in the present time some 34 years after the events in the story. Whatever, let’s see what it’s about. From the very beginning, this was not a show that was messing around. It begins during the Tulsa Massacre and continues in an unrelenting and uncompromising narrative about race relations, past transgressions on current generations, Redfordations, and moving forward. The true genius of this surprise hit is that it doesn’t attempt to rehash the plot points of the novel, but expound upon them. Miniscule details and mentions from the novel turn out to have surprising consequences. Questions set up 30+ years ago are answered, some in unexpected ways, and more than anything, the show provided us with a way to supplement the viewing experience with a collection of documents mirroring the world-building segments from the end of each issue of the original via the Peteypedia website. This show was deep, well thought out, and respectful of the source material. Three of the episodes in this singular season were three of the best hours of television watching in a good while, with some interesting story telling and cinematography. All the new characters were interesting and striking in their own right, definitely up to the standard set by the original. It didn’t deserve to be this good and yet here we are, wishing that Lindeloff will decide to come back for a second season. As it is now, this will probably be a stand-alone miniseries, but even so, it was satisfying with enough plot threads left over that should they decide to continue, I will be there waiting to devour it.
Now this show had a bit more expectation behind it. Being set about 5 years after the end of Return of the Jedi, a time period not yet explored in the new Disney continuity, we follow a Mandalorian bounty hunter just trying to be the best bounty hunter he can be. Within the Star Wars fandom, there are subsections devoted to this class of characters, with their cool armor and mysterious history, it felt like it was going to try to make both the fervent fans and more casual followers happy. Not a balancing act I’d like to tackle. But in the capable hands of Jon Favre, and with guests like Taika Waititi, Bill Burr, Clancy Brown, Ming Na-Wen, among others, this show turned out to be arguably better than the recent spate of movies in the Skywalker saga. And that’s not even touching on the incredible cultural impact that a certain baby has had. The Child, referred to by pretty much everyone as “baby Yoda”, has shifted the zeitgeist of what Star Wars can be. With the tone of a sci-fi western and a dash of Lone Wolf and Cub thrown in, The Mandalorian has become a runaway success and Disney cannot license baby Yoda merchandise fast enough to meet the demand. It’s a simple story, predictable even, but feels like such a breath of fresh air in a stale series that it, and the upcoming Clone Wars final season, may be the cure for the lackluster cinematic entries.
Now for the last show we watched just before the end of the year, The Witcher is not a series I was too familiar with. Outside of knowing it was a video game and book series, and some memes about taking a bath, I had no real anticipation for what this ended up being. The first trailer looked interesting, and to be honest, I was happy to see Henry Cavill in something after his absence from Shazam! hinted that he might no longer be involved in the DCEU. I love fantasy, magic, alchemy, monsters and swordfights, and this show looked like it was set to deliver all that, but I wasn’t truly sold until the first time Cavill’s Geralt of Rivia, when confronted by a group of angry villagers, realizes he’s going to have to fight his way through and kill them all. His exasperated “Fuck” was so well-delivered that I was hooked from that moment. All in all, I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would, even though I felt like I only understood what was going on maybe 75% of the time. Characters like Jaskier, the annoying bard that just grows on you, and the innocent-turned-power-hungry Yennefer, all have wonderful chemistry with our lead protagonist. Even long, drawn out scenes with crazy amounts of confusing plot elements, while obtuse, are never boring.
While 2019 was a dumpster fire of a year, it was great to finish it out with an explosion of good content. And if only 2 of these 3 shows continue to develop, that’s alright by me. We already got three good seasons and for the first time in a long time, I have hope for what’s to come.
By John Camarena
Going into The Rise of Skywalker, expectations were low to say the least. The Last Jedi felt like a slap in the face to the fans that held the franchise close to their hearts, and having 2 of the main characters essentially tell us, the audience, that we are basically stupid for holding onto it, while a brave and interesting move, is not what Star Wars should be. By now it’s been revealed that even though JJ Abrams had an outline for the rest of the trilogy, Rian Johnson was given free rein to make the second movie however he wanted, and what he chose to do was interesting but also misguided. Rian Johnson, in my opinion, is not a bad director; however, his choice to deconstruct the mythology in order to water it down for mainstream audiences split the fandom. Some people liked it, many hated it, and I felt like maybe Star Wars just wasn’t for me anymore. This was most disappointing after the acceptable movie that Abrams had crafted. The Force Awakens, while a soft reboot/remake of A New Hope, was exactly what we wanted in order to bring the old fans back after so many adults were let down by the prequel trilogy. Abrams set up a familiar premise with the potential for meaningful payoff. Then Johnson said “nah” to that and essentially ended the trilogy with the second movie by making the theme one of letting go of the past and starting something completely different. There was nowhere coherent for the third movie to go and it showed: the big bad villain was unceremoniously killed before we get to know anything about his past, his motivations, and his goals; the second most important character also dies kind of pointlessly after spending the whole movie being a downer and refusing to be involved. This was Luke Skywalker! And the movie even makes a meta commentary on the fact that Luke was the former hero now reduced to being a sad hermit. Finally, the big set up that Rey was somehow important got flushed down the vac-tube by revealing she’s actually a nobody and her parents were just drunks. More on that in a bit. Needless to say, Disney was in a bit of a panic and their solution to try and win back the fans was to get Abrams back for the third movie. For some strange reason, it was never intended to have a unifying vision guiding these movies the way Marvel does, but nevertheless, this was a hail Mary play. So we get Abrams back and what happens next? Well, he basically has to undo many of the plot threads from The Last Jedi, or somehow twist them so that they fit into what I presume must have been the original outline of the trilogy. The perfect metaphor for this situation is being introduced to Kylo Ren in Episode 7 with his black helmet, then Snoke makes fun of Kylo Ren for using it so Kylo destroys it in Episode 8, followed by Kylo Ren reconstructing the damaged helmet and wearing it again to bring us back to form. It’s as beautiful as it is stupid. So what happens next? Let’s take a look.
- Palpatine was behind it all. We thought he was long dead, having been thrown into a pit on the second Death Star, and thus fulfilling Vader’s redemption and the prophecy that would bring balance to the Force by eliminating the Sith once and for all. But no, somehow Palpatine survived his Force lighting self-electrocution, falling down a bottomless pit, and the Death Star explosion, so he could go into hiding for the next 30 years where basically no one would know where he was and secretly build a huge fleet of planet-destroying Star Destroyers, which now makes them the most inappropriately named ships. Palpatine literally created Snoke as a pawn and influenced Kylo through the Force, making him think his grandpa, Darth Vader, was communicating with him. The problem here is there was absolutely zero set up for this reveal. Which leads me to my next point…
- Rey is a Palpatine. So it turns out she isn’t really a nobody; she’s a direct descendant from one of the characters that’s now been a part of all three trilogies. Sure, her parents weren’t infamous, but the son of Palpatine would most certainly not qualify as a nobody. There are so many more questions that come from this reveal: why were Rey’s parents not on the same page as the Emperor? Who did the Emperor have a child with? Were there other children? Were the parents not Force-sensitive? Was selling Rey into slavery to a shady junk dealer as a small, defenseless child really the best option to keep her away from Palpatine after I’m assuming it was discovered she had Force potential?
- The Rule of Two. The Rise of Skywalker introduces a couple of ideas with deep implications, but like everything else in the story, they get glossed over with minimal explanation. First, Kylo states that he and Rey are a dyad in the Force. Somehow, the two of them are inexplicably and inexorably interconnected within the Force; soulmates. But this idea is new to the canon and has no previous frame of reference really understand the meaning of this. Then the Emperor wants Rey to kill him so she can fulfill her ultimate destiny and the Sith can inhabit her being. This is actually very interesting because it implies that the Rule of Two, first mentioned in The Phantom Menace, is with the goal of the master training an apprentice to eventually kill him in order to transfer his soul into the body of the apprentice and thus defy death and continue the cycle with a new apprentice. Since the Sith cannot commune with the part of the Force that would essentially turn them into ghosts like Luke, Ben and Yoda, they have strived to cheat death through unnatural means, and it seems that this is the secret that Darth Plagueis discovered and Palpatine briefly alludes to in Revenge of the Sith. Again, a very interesting idea worth exploring further, but no we move on and this is not mentioned again.
This isn’t to say the movie was bad as a whole. In truth, I liked this one the best out of the three. If you shut your logic circuits and can regress to being 5 years old, this is an entertaining ride. It’s only under basic scrutiny that the flaws in the story become apparent. A simple peek behind the curtain and the whole things begins to unravel. The main issue is the course-correction Abrams implemented that both had to undo or recontextualize a lot of the previous movie in order to make this work, and as a result, this felt like two movies compressed into one. Everything moves so quickly that you barely have time to grasp what just happened before we’re whisked away to the next plot point rushing to the finish line. Some of the best parts of my favorite entry in the series, The Empire Strikes Back, are the slow, character building and exposition scenes. Had Abrams at the very least been the guiding hand of the trilogy, we could have avoided a lot of the ill will garnered by the last movie. Had the idea of Palpatine being the puppet master been implemented earlier, this would have been an amazing reveal. In contrast to the movies, Jon Favre has demonstrated that it is still possible to make something good with the Star Wars brand when you have the right people and a vision involved. Here’s to hoping that this is a learning experience for Lucasfilm and better quality control begins to seep in.