The Child is Star Wars

To all fellow former Infinity Warriors, and that would probably be most of you reading this, don’t read any further unless you have finished watching Season Two of The Mandalorian. Spoiler Alert.

Have you done so?

Good.

I first started watching Star Wars, the Old Trilogy, when I was about twelve. I’ve mentioned how my parents took us to Hollywood Movies, and we rented the VHS tapes. Before that, I grew up with Ewoks and Droids playing on Channel 3 Global Television whenever I went to my grandparents’ place that Saturday afternoon. Around that same time, and in that same area we would visit my uncle’s house and I would play with a giant shelved container shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet. In this container were action figures of Bossk, and IG-88, and a Snowtrooper. There were many toys missing. They looked old and, literally, from another world and another time. And I saw these labels on each alcove: Obi-Wan Kenobi and See-Threepio. It confused me, then. Was Obi-Wan a droid like Threepio?

It’s safe to say that I grew up with a lot of mysteries and a sense of magic in a world that didn’t really make sense, but seemed larger than I could even dream. And this was before I watched A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

This was before I knew anything.

The Old Trilogy exploded my mind. This space fantasy shaped my brain forever once I saw it: from the crucible of the desert world of Tatooine, to the stark terror and mythology of Dagobah’s Jedi training to the horrifying duel over Bespin, and the redemption and celebration on the forested moon of Endor where my Ewok friends lived in a live-action sense.

And they grew on me: Princess Leia with her assertive power and fierce love and determination, Han Solo overcoming his world-weary cynical nature to save his friends and be a better person, and Luke. Luke Skywalker.

So many of us, I think, from that time saw ourselves in Luke. We followed this young man, this boy, who knew nothing about the world — much like us — as he continued making mistakes, but forever showed his loyalty, always persevering, always wrestling with his emotions to do the right thing. We saw his wonder as he looked at a lightsaber for the first time, the same time that we did. We felt his pain when he saw the charred remains of his aunt and uncle, and that sense of powerlessness in realizing just how brutal the galaxy was. And we were happy when he found his friends, when he started getting better at his Jedi training, and we were worried when Obi-Wan was gone, and wondered just how someone who could barely deflect the blaster bolt of a training remote and then pull a lightsaber to him on Hoth could fight Darth Vader.

I remember just his sense of frustration, and fear. It felt so real to me. But the fear wasn’t just for his life, or the lives of his friends and those he fought for. It was the fear that all he would ever get would be these scraps of a life and a tradition — of great and beautiful arts, powerful cultural tools — that his father had, and that he might not succeed in earning. It was the actual vicarious terror of seeing that there was a chance that Luke might not achieve or realize his full potential, and that he could fail.

Being a perfectionist child with learning disabilities and clear neurodiversity and frustration over my body’s cooperation with my mind, I could feel that so hard, and it made me root for Luke whenever he succeeded, kicked shlebs, and took names.

When Obi-Wan’s spirit told him that he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — help him if went to Cloud City to face Vader before his training, after his failure understanding his vision in the Dark Side Cave, I felt Luke’s frustration. Why wouldn’t Obi-Wan, his mentor and friend, help him against his enemy? And watching Luke lose … so badly, so brutally … I’ve written about it before, how I grew up on eighties and nineties cartoons where the hero always wins their conflicts and the villain runs away to fight another day, or gets put in jail. That didn’t happen. And then the way Luke received that reveal …

Luke didn’t learn from his failure at the Cave on Dagobah. But he learned from his encounter on Cloud City. I knew that Vader was Luke’s father going into this, as it’s been so seeded into the popular consciousness for years, but I didn’t know about Leia. And I didn’t know what was going to happen on the Second Death Star: another subversion of expectations, after so much lead up that ultimately paid off. And then we see Luke at the end: rescuing his father, only to lose him, but not really lose him in a metaphysical sense.

Leia and Han succeeded in their mission on Endor. They became a couple. The Ewoks dominated. The Empire was defeated. Luke had to “pass on what he had learned” and a whole new story began after the ending of an old one. This was in 1983. I watched these in the nineties after being confused about the numbering system.

We did not see another Star Wars film until 1999.

I want you to understand something. Many of us, and I am mostly speaking about myself though I know others felt the same way, wanted to see what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han. We wanted to see Han become a General of the Republic or continue to have adventures. We wanted to see Leia rule the New Republic, and the decisions she would make, and the life she and Han would have together.

And, most of all, I wanted to see Luke become a Jedi Master. I wanted to see him restore the Jedi Order, and what his Jedi would be like. I thought about all the enemies they could face, the challenges, and I just … I wanted to see my friends again.

I just wanted to see my friends again.

And we got that, in a way. We got it through Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, where Obi-Wan’s spirit tells Luke that he isn’t the last of the old Jedi, but the first of the new. We got more of it in further books of varying quality, comics, and video games. Not all of the continuity made sense, but we got the idea that Leia was the Chief of State of the New Republic, Han became a General, and he and Leia had children together that would carry on the legacy and burden of the Skywalkers. And Luke would become a powerful Jedi Grandmaster, and meet with all the remnants of the old Jedi and new Force-sensitives to build something entirely different: exploring the remnants of the old ways, giving us those hints of what time was like before the Empire and when the Jedi were numerous and whole, and showing us just how our hero evolved.

Luke would go on to fight many different adversaries, make mistakes, but always try to redeem those he could from Darkness. He even gets a love interest, after several disastrous relationships, who initially wants to assassinate him but has a son with her. And there were books that took place long after Luke’s time with Skywalker descendants and successor governments to the Republic and Empire, and a myriad of different ideas. There were cool books like Tales of the Jedi and Tales of the Bounty Hunters that fleshed out so much background stuff.

The thing is, this is all we had — for the most part — for literal years, and it was okay. We got to see our friends continue to struggle, but also grow. Was there a sense that nothing could happen to the Big Three? Of course. And I admit that could get tiresome. But they were … they were my friends growing up in a real world that, like I said, didn’t always make much sense. And I would have loved to see them come back in a Sequel Trilogy.

It wasn’t Disney’s fault that we didn’t get to see the Big Three together on film again. George Lucas was the one who made the decision to focus on the Prequel Trilogy. I’ve written on here before about an alternate reality where Lucas and Lucasfilm had made interquel cartoons while he perfected the technology for the Prequels. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Lucas had made the Sequel Trilogy instead of the Prequels.

Unfortunately, we learned a lot over the years about George Lucas and, while his ideas and insights were good, a lack of oversight made his narratives unwieldy and his character and actor direction even worse. George Lucas wasn’t perfect, and the Prequels certainly were not even though I will always be grateful to him and his collaborators for creating the Star Wars universe.

So when Disney bought LucasFilm and made the Sequel Trilogy instead, I knew it was too late for Leia, Han, and Luke to be the protagonists. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill were older then, and it was a better bet to have them as mentor characters to pass on what they had learned to the next generation.

I think the unease began with me when they rendered what was the Expanded Universe — all those books, cartoons, comics, and games — into non-canon status: into Legends. At the same time, I felt like there was an opportunity there: to tell a new story, and utilize the wealth of material there to do so, which seemed to be the plan.

The Force Awakens was like a breath of fresh air: with characters that had proper dialogue, great chemistry and interactions, much more subdued CGI and just that more lived in world that we had grown up with. And J.J. Abrams set up so many possibilities and questions. What happened to this world? Why was Leia leading a Resistance? Why did Han leave on his own with Chewbacca? And just what happened to Luke’s Jedi students, and Luke himself?

I have talked about this so much. The Sequel Trilogy, I felt, was supposed to be the heir to Skywalker: literally. It was the successor part to the Skywalker Saga. It had that heritage. Even without George Lucas, it had enough material and people working on it — the company that made it — to make it official. I recall hearing about Rogue One, and Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan, and Solo, and while I felt like they would be interesting, they were films that weren’t part of the Skywalker Saga that I grew up with. I thought of them as distant cousins, or relations that could add to the context of the others, but they were cadet branches of the main line: the central heritage. Some of these films, like Rogue One and Solo happened, and they were entertaining. The other two did not. At least, not at the time.

I reviewed The Force Awakens. I also reviewed Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. In retrospect, I saw my own experience paralleling this journey. I saw all the other films with other people: my family and friends. I saw The Last Jedi by myself. I saw Solo by myself.

I saw The Rise of Skywalker by myself.

The Last Jedi had some fascinating ideas, and interesting moments, but it is a controversial film, and with good reason. But it wasn’t the issue. It all comes down to the magic of Star Wars, of the Force, of the overarching story, and that sense of continuity. Yes, there were weird elements and oddities displayed throughout the cinematic series, but every scene felt like it wasn’t wasted: like they were telling their own stories, and they were just all interesting. Everything was built up to lead to a particular conclusion of some kind. But when the Sequel Trilogy went on, it became pretty clear that the plan was haphazard at best, and sometimes the message or the moral behind the story became more like transparisteel than actual character interaction, development, and storytelling. When you combine that factor with something that felt standalone added onto other material that led to a conclusion that just … didn’t have the momentum, that wasn’t earned, and felt sloppy and gimmicky, and full of special effects instead the back to basics approach of the first film, the magic was thinning. And the ending …

I think the ending of The Rise of Skywalker is emblematic of Luke Skywalker’s treatment. Because it always comes back to Luke. Imagine seeing a character you relate to, who you grow with, and you know he had a whole ton of stories where he excelled, continued and improved on an entire culture nearly wiped out through genocide, and even had a family and friends and loved ones, and then a company renders that all non-canon. It didn’t happen. And then you are left with someone who has lost everything, including his sense of redemption. And hope.

Luke Skywalker was the New Hope of Star Wars. You could argue Leia Organa was another, but Luke was that optimism despite all the odds, and defeats, that you could just … that many of us could just root for. And an interesting story could have been told about how he lost that hope, and we have a bit of it. Unfortunately … after growing up with the powerful Jedi Grandmaster who made other mistakes, but still recalled the lessons of the past, only to see him repeat them in the new canon films, basically knowing his adventures had been erased and replaced with a characterization that would strike down a boy for something he didn’t even do yet after trying to spare and redeem his mass-murderer father … You can see how it just didn’t sit right.

But around this time, after The Last Jedi and Solo, came … something else.

I didn’t know what to think about The Mandalorian, especially given how ambivalent I was to the idea of a Boba Fett film. I was still struggling with hope that the Sequel Trilogy could find its way after The Last Jedi’s sense of finality, and this series provided a distraction for me, and I imagine for many of us.

It felt … low-tech. It was rendered by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni back to Star Wars’ roots in its Spaghetti Western influences: its weekly serials. There was just more sense of time. More pacing. So much more space to tell a story, and develop characters from simple premises and archetypes into something more. They had nods and Easter-eggs to Star Wars lore and fandom: letting us in on the Secret Club feeling that is an open secret. But it world-built, and slowly revealed mysteries and details to us about the Mandalorians and Mandalorian culture. And Din Djarin and Grogu … Grogu, the Child, was the make it, or break it element of The Mandalorian. He was an obvious reference to Yoda and his own mysterious origins, but also to the Jedi and the Force that we didn’t know would even be involved in this series. He was there for merchandising and fan service and the neoteny of his cuteness, and it could have been as blunt as a Tusken gaderffii stick to the face.

But it worked. Grogu was iconic for the magic of Star Wars. And Din himself mostly stayed in his beskar’gam, his armour. He could have just been a Boba Fett knock-off, or a video game character whose identity the audience could just assume as a surrogate in experiencing this world. But slowly, perceptively, over time we see these two characters bond. And it is endearing. Even their associations with other characters is just entertaining and heartwarming to watch. So many characters I thought would be enemies, became associates and friends. There would be a new story every week, but one that built into something bigger.

It was a slow burn. Season One was all about protecting Grogu and figuring out what the nine Corellian hells was going on. Season Two was about returning Grogu to the Jedi, whoever they were after the Empire purged most of them out of existence. We got to see different kinds of Mandalorians, disillusionment with the Republic, the general independent nature of the Outer Rim, and the genuine danger of even the Imperial Remnants. And we got to see Din’s humanity, and Grogu’s love for him. I felt more for Din and Grogu than I ended feeling for most of the characters in the Sequel Trilogy. Din was a warrior raised by a sect of Mandalorians called the Watch after his parents were killed by Separatist super-battle droids. He earned all of his skill, and even when we run into him he is still earning his beskar: his Mandalorian ore for his armour.

And Grogu? Grogu is hope. He is a child, young for being fifty years old by his species’ standards, but also something of a sacred living relic that survived the genocide of the Jedi all the way to the New Republic to be found again. He is the old, and the new. He has seen, and survived, darkness. And Din recognizes that, and yet protects him — rescues him after retrieving him for his first mission in the series because, at the end of the day, it was the right thing to do, and he was willing to risk his people’s location and turn against the Bounty Hunter Guild’s Code to do so.

The evolution of the characters these past two years, the Star Wars details and eye for continuity, and the continuing mysteries kept me going. It kept me interested. I didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. At all. To give you an idea, I never reviewed it. Not once. It took my European friends calling me on Discord one day to even get me to talk about it, and I hadn’t said anything about it in a few days. I hadn’t wanted to talk about a Star Wars movie in a few days. I just felt … tired. Drained. Just let down. I almost didn’t even finish Season One of The Mandalorian around that same time. I was down to the last episode. I thought to myself: what was the point? The people and characters I loved for years were gone. They were desolate and disappointed by life. They were too close to what I was now. I just … didn’t want to think about it anymore. I didn’t want to deal with Star Wars anymore.

But then I watched that last episode with IG-11 heroically sacrificing himself for the Child he attempted to kill in the first episode of the whole series, the death of Kuiil the Ugnaught as he tried to protect Grogu, even Greef Karga’s redemption after the Child saved his life, and the disillusioned Republic trooper Cara Dune respecting Din enough after their first adventure and rivalry to help him save Grogu from the Imperials … I felt it then. It saved a part of me. It saved a part of me that loved that magic.

It saved a part of me that loved Star Wars.

And now, I come to the real reason I’m writing this, and reminding everyone that we were all once Infinity Warriors against the forces of Spoilers. Because I saw the last episode of Season Two.

I was already enjoying the series. Seeing Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano, and finding out more about Grogu already made the series great, especially with tie-ins to other potential stories in Ahsoka’s standalone live action series. That line about finding Grand Admiral Thrawn took me right back to Timothy Zahn. Hell, even the ending of the last episode and making us really look forward to “The Book of Boba Fett,” either another series or the next chapter to The Mandalorian more than I had ever been excited for a movie around him, was inspiring. The way they reintroduced Boba again, and showed us how bad ass he really was made up for a lot. And resurrecting Fennec Shand after her ignominious death in one episode of Season One, along with a whole development for the mercenary Mayfield really made me appreciate the storytelling. They could have left it there. They really could have.

But then …

They did it.

I remember seeing the X-Wing. And I knew.

I saw the black hooded figure with the green lightsaber, and I knew.

I was looking for that one black glove. And I wanted it to happen. I was downstairs in my basement, screaming at my computer screen. I was yelling at it. Please.

Please.

Please be him.

Please. Be. Him.

He moved like Darth Vader in Rogue One. But where Vader slaughtered Rebel troops, the figure destroyed insanely powerful Dark Trooper droids like they were nothing. He was the pay off of two episodes ago when Grogu was taken by Din to Tython, the supposed homeworld of the sects that led to the Jedi, to summon a Jedi Knight to protect him.

And Grogu reached for the screen, and it was only later I realized he was communicating with the figure telepathically. By the time he came in, to face Din and his companions, and Grogu …

It was him. It was the person we’d read about in books. It was the individual we’d played in games. It was the man we saw fighting alongside his friends in comics. He was young, just as we remembered him, but he had further growth. He was so much stronger. Much more skilled. He’d taken after his father’s fighting style after dueling him. There was CGI on the actor’s face portraying him but the voice was unmistakable.

We got to see Luke. We got to see Luke fight the way we’d always hoped. We got to see him in his process of rebuilding in a cinematic place where he wasn’t crushed by despair, or dissipating after using one momentous Force technique in a process of great metaphor.

We got to see Luke Skywalker again.

And when Din Djarin took off his helmet, against the Watch’s Code, to let Grogu see his face, and touch it when saying goodbye to him … It broke my karking heart. There was joy and sadness in that parting that will hopefully just be a farewell.

A lot of ossik — a lot of shit — has been happening in 2020. This year had been garbage. It is a far harsher crucible than Tatooine or Jakku ever was. These past four years have been pretty bad. It would be so easy to give up. To not care anymore. To just surrender to cynicism and bitterness and disappointment. To just give up hope.

But for one moment, after every Friday morning looking forward to the next episode, at 3 am in my basement I felt a sense of joy and wonder I hadn’t experienced in years. For just forty-seven minutes, I felt like a child again.

Din Djarin was called The Mandalorian, or Mando before we found out his name. And Grogu, when he wasn’t called Baby Yoda, was referred to as The Child. But The Child was not just literal. It was metaphorical. It’s in The Mandalorian that we find out the Star Wars universe has a name for those beings genetically engineered — either cloned or altered — from a previous donor: a strand-cast.

The Mandalorian is a strand-cast of the Star Wars Saga, more continuous than Rogue One and Solo, and almost a whole other species but having more in common with its originator than its supposed biological heir in the Sequel Trilogy. Grogu might be The Child, but I feel that The Mandalorian is The Child of Star Wars.

I know there will be more. It isn’t over yet. Even so, I think about how Din Djarin passed Grogu onto Luke: the Mandalorian fulfilling his almost holy quest, the child relic that is more than foregone story but a living, breathing story of possibilities. And all us — my friends that played our homebrew Star Wars game with Lego those after-school afternoons, the child I was with my old Return of the Jedi writing notebook, and my friend who met us in the park in high school wearing Jedi robes like Luke Skywalker — we got to see our hero again, in all his glory, at least one more time. It was all many of us wanted. And there he was.

So much world-building and meaning in just two seasons of an online serial about a warrior, and his child, and all the people they’ve touched along the way.

Because, in the end, as this continues I feel this truth. That this is the Way.

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