What Is Really Challenging: Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi

The Rise Of Skywalker, supposedly the last of the mainline Star Wars saga is coming soon. And even so, people are still talking about Rian Johnson, and The Last Jedi. Even me. There is something about the eighth Star Wars film, and Rian Johnson’s own responses to fans that I’ve tried to explain, and put into words.

I mean, I even wrote an article for Sequart on The Last Jedi itself, and while it isn’t perfect, I knew the moment I saw it, it was going to become a classic: if only because of how controversial it was, how final it felt, and jarring, and experimental in some ways, while being conventional in others.

Then, I came across this article from IndieWire. It’s title is practically a thesis statement, and it doesn’t hide what it is: Rian Johnson Says Catering to Fans, Rather Than Challenging Them, Is a ‘Mistake.’ This title, combined with the subheading “I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard,” left me with quite a few strong thoughts on the matter, and I want to attempt to communicate them as clearly, and lucidly — as both a writer with critical background, and as a Star Wars fan myself — as much as possible.

A lot of what I am going to write is something that has already been written, or talked about, before. After reading the article, which derives its points from an interview Johnson made, and then states that some critics apparently believe The Rise of Skywalker is “disrespectful” to Johnson, his work, and the originality of what he was attempting to do, I was reminded of something.

In 2015, I took took classes in Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Bootcamp. And, in those classes, we learned many lessons not just about comics writing, but writing, world-building, and even franchise-making and supporting fandoms around it. It wasn’t completely indepth, but there was something Ty mentioned about “supporting a fan club.” Let me try to explain it as best I can recall.

Everyone likes to feel like they belong somewhere. Everyone, to some extent, also likes to feel smart, and informed, and included. Ty taught us about creating emblems, and certain recurring phrases, and the value of “always bringing a character home” each time for each new story or episode: figuratively, and literally. I don’t think about forty or so years, I need to explain how that concept particularly applies to a franchise like Star Wars. But there is something in particular about this that I want to make clear.

A lot of the time, fans will speculate on a work, or details within it. And, sometimes, they will come up with an idea of where something is going to go … and they will actually be either close to it — or completely right. And especially in this Age of Information, these speculations and their conclusions are more accessible and widespread: along with the means of more rapid and open communication.

There is nothing quite like figuring something out, and realizing that you were right. And, while some fans or audience members might be like Rian Johnson and say something like: “‘oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me,” there is another contingent that will feel pleased, and enlightened. They might even feel a sense of belonging to that fan club. Of course, you can take that too far as well into the pedantic and condescending, but I think every story has a common source: especially human stories like mythology. Like Star Wars.

Back in ancient times, if you look at Greece, you have plays being created. And everyone knew about Oedipus Rex, Agamemnon, Lysistrata and the like from oral tales but they still watched the plays. The point I’m trying to make is that even if someone does predict a story, or they want something to happen, you can still give it to them … in the way that you want to give it to them. You focus on the details, on the buildup, the pacing of the narrative, on especially the character development. You don’t do it to give the fans what they want when and how they want it. Likewise, you don’t change the story, or the way something is going to happen just to “subvert expectations.” You do it to make a point, or make an interesting twist: to focus on the story itself.

There are a lot of interesting elements in The Last Jedi that I appreciate, such as Johnson’s critique of the cycle of violence in Star Wars itself. There is a bit of preaching and condescension, and the mess that is Canto Bight but there is also the meditations on the Force itself, the stop motion illustrating an ecosystem and circle of life and death, some words about self-actualization, and even a metaphysical look on how to break out of the cycle. Then you have the milking creature, and Luke Skywalker not learning anything after the lessons of thirty years ago when dealing with his nephew.

But all the Star Wars films are flawed in some way. I mean, I don’t even have to go into the Prequels now, do I? Or even some of the questionable decisions about clunkily revamping character origins like Ventress’ or Maul’s in The Clone Wars cartoons.

I can see, for instance, that The Last Jedi was meant to be an Empire Strikes Back as Johnson put it in the article. You have a story and even advertising build up to make you think A New Hope was going to lead to the enemy being defeated in the next film, but then you get that bombshell: only Johnson attempted to do this by subverting tropes and themes in a very heavy-handed, but clever manner.

The problem is, to imagine Yoda stating this point as I did in my other article, cleverness does not always for good storytelling make. And sometimes what some might see as challenging, can also be perceived as condescending.

This is especially true when you consider all the build up and hype towards Rey’s origins, Snoke’s and then … nothing. It’s supposed to show that those expectations are irrelevant and it is the current adventure and the concepts of overcoming war and hatred that matter more, as well as friendship and love being ascendant. But they are particularly abstract concepts. So is the cycle between good and evil, of course, but then we have the other issue.

What changed as a result of The Last Jedi?

Did the concept of war get challenged? Did the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force get scrutinized and be seen beyond a simple binary good verses evil dichotomy? Did Rey and Kylo Ren realize they didn’t have to be enemies and go into a Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis Hegelian dialectic: two opposites meeting to make something new, and challenging for the next film. According to the Indiewire article, as I mentioned critics are annoyed that Johnson’s innovations are seemingly being downplayed to “pander” to fan and fandom expectations for Star Wars in The Rise of Skywalker. However, it was Johnson himself who kept Rey and Kylo Ren on different sides. Rey is still on the Light Side. Kylo Ren is still motivated by the Dark Side. Perhaps they are challenged, as fans are supposedly challenged, but in the end their resolve is more or less the same: except for the regret in Kylo, which doesn’t matter as he continues on from that point until, presumably, the next movie by J.J. Abrams.

I could make a compelling case that Johnson uses the aesthetic or the seeming of innovation and subversion, but really just makes opposite, contrary trope choices that ultimately lead right back to the status quo. And this seeming of change or challenge, doesn’t really change anything. And it wouldn’t if it were simply a standalone film with its own story, but the issue is that it is supposed to be part of a nine film saga arc in which seven of those films said something else entirely. It’s jarring. And it does sometimes feel like he is subverting tropes to make it look clever, instead of actually focusing on character development and working with what came before, and making something cohesive after.

It reminds me of those creators that imitated the style and edginess of Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s comics works, but didn’t really look at the content or spirit of them. I’m also reminded of something EA Games apparently did where, apparently, when some fans figured out a major plot point in the Mass Effect series, the creators went out of the way to change it so as not to seem “unoriginal” or to have people guess their story, and not want to play their game. But they forgot the lesson: that the fandom, in solving that puzzle, would only make it more interesting because even they couldn’t realize all of the details, and it’s one thing to know something — like an ancient Greek tragic story — but it is a whole other thing to see it play out, even with that knowledge or good guessing.

I don’t know. Sometimes, I think that Rian Johnson in how he has dealt with the criticism of his work can be as condescending as some of the fans who also have a tremendous sense of self-entitlement.

Either way, it is all right to like The Last Jedi or this Sequel Trilogy. It is also valid to dislike it. But I do think that if it is ridiculous to think one is insulting a fandom over the change in a film in a forty year old franchise, it is just as silly to believe a writer is being slighted when something else is being written in a different tone from his own work: which is what he did to begin with, and even then he ultimately went right back to where it all started despite that finality of a child with a broom sweeping away the past, readying for the next words to be shown on a screen.

Shadow

I kriffing hate those clankers, Nora.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

arc-trooper

A tarnished white figure, with a pack, and a black T-visor Mandalorian helmet swims through the water. Through the grainy lens of the surveillance camera, it is clear that the man is carrying a length of synth-rope across the current. He pauses as a bloated corpse floats by. Then, he continues for a time.

He is almost at the other side of the shore, until he stops. An Imperial aqua hunter-killer droid: a large, sleek mechanism with deadly synthetic tendrils. He floats in the water silently. He stands on the bottom of the river. His image wavers under the shifting current or out of the way of the camera’s specific focus. One blaster shot. It pierces the cranial carapace of the hunter-killer as the lights in its optics dim.

The man swims up to the large, immobilized droid. He does something to it and then it carries him on its back the remainder of the way, along with the synth rope. The images cut out and he swims back with a Sluissi as an assorted band wait for him at the sewer entrance.

Somehow, perhaps unconsciously, it seems as though the soldier is standing triumphantly on a large and successful trophy: the hunter having become the hunted. He’s leaning back, holding up the Sluissi with one arm, but his leg bends forward on the head of the droid: conquering it. It is a scene fit for a propaganda war holo-film from another time.

I’m scared, General Ro … Nora … that’s why I have to go. I have to sleep facing that man with the empty eyes, those dead eyes, every night. I have be the best I can be.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Nembasa City Tunnels

The image swirls. It is as though the scene is being viewed through some kind of remote. There is blaster fire from a fleeing Twi’lek woman as three other floating spheres are destroyed. She, a Sluissi, and three humans run into different tunnels outside of some crumbling ancient pillars and a lake in the centre of the room.

This perspective remains undetected. The lens flickers and the time-stamp goes back a few minutes. There is an Iktotchi fighting a large dark armored man. The former holds a green energy blade, while the latter has a larger crimson one. The image is excellent, crisp, and clear with only a few moments of static due to the bad reception below Praadost II. The dark man dominates the Itkotchi, scoring a slash to his leg and burning it into a bladelock into his shoulder. But the Iktotchi is holding his own in a defensive stance: barely.

The lens flickers again to another perspective: the time-stamp indicating that this happening at the same time as the combat with the other two. The soldier in the white tarnished armor shoots his rapid-fire blaster rifle at another figure: a dark woman with a double-bladed red energy weapon. He’s visibly trembling. But he keeps shooting. She deflects most of his shots with lightning fast reflexes that the camera barely even captures.

One shot gets through. It singes her shoulder. But another burns across the right side of her face. It leaves a burn scar. The trooper backs behind a pillar. She waves her hand and three small droid spheres begin shooting him. Then the rest of the people in the tunnels separate and the Twi’lek shoots them all down.

The trooper runs backwards, keeping his distance, shooting at the woman as he runs towards another exit. She waves her hand and he trips and falls to the ground. He fires again rapidly as he goes down. She deflects most of the blasts again, with an equally rapid circular pattern, but a stray shot hits her in the leg. She staggers, even as another more powerful shot ricochets off her blade and into a pillar.

It falls between her and the trooper. She barely rolls out of the way of the crumbling debris and a large cloud of dust obscures the rest of the recording.

The image flickers again. The trooper blocks the dark man from the fleeing Iktotchi’s escape, throwing an object and forcing the other to jump out of the way into the lake. The trooper shoots his rifle one more time and runs as the dark man is suddenly attacked by a large reptilian creature. The dark woman climbs around the ruins of the pillar and engages the creature as the dark man runs after them.

The image flickers again: almost shaking. There is a shockwave as the dark man is flung out of the tunnel: crumpled and bleeding on the ground. Recording ends.

Elsewhere, Imperial Agent Aaron Garay and the two Inquisitors face their superior on a viewing screen: attempting to explain what happened.

It just never ends, Nora. It just keeps coming.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Power Supply Room

A grainy surveillance camera lens. The battered Iktotchi’s energy blade is blocked by the arm guard of the stormtrooper captain as he stabs him in the abdomen multiple times with a vibro blade. Just moments before, the Iktotchi disarmed the captain of his blaster rifle, sending it into the chasm below. As the Iktotchi falls to the ground, the trooper with the Mandalorian helmet riddles the captain with blaster bolts, sending his body plummeting into the core below. The other stormtrooper attempts to fire on the tarnished soldier panickedly. Some of his shots even get through before, he too, joins his superior in the abyss.

You made your choice, shinie.

Shadow and Nora are flush with drink on Zeltros. The rest of Thorn Squad is there too, each brother also equally drunk and having a few of Nora’s sisters, brothers, and friends around their arms as well. Planetary leave.

All against regulations, of course, but you only die once. Besides, they’ve all earned it. Double celebration really. The completion of his ARC training and missions, and his marriage with Nora. You can never top a marriage on Zeltros.

“Being a Zeltron and a Jedi isn’t a mutually exclusive thing,” Nora said to him after he came back from his solo missions, “You have to remember your duty over selfishness, but duty also includes compassion for all living things. And compassion is a part of a greater empathy and love for all living beings. So you can say, Shadow, that it’s natural for a Jedi and a Zeltron — for anyone — to pursue love: without greed or attachment, but connection in its purest form.”

And boy, did he feel connected that day. Between brotherly congratulations, drink, good food, strong Zeltron pheromones and physical intimacy, Shadow is having a good time, even more awed by the fact that Nora is enjoying watching him have a good time when she isn’t participating.

This wasn’t anywhere in the manual on Kamino or the cadets. Neither is being a father. Shadow puts a hand on Nora’s abdomen and he can somehow feel her and their child. After the War, he tells himself, with her sisters’ arms around them both, his brothers cheering him, cheering them, after the War they will resign their commissions, and everything will be different.

I’m so kriffing tired, Nora. I miss you. I miss you every fierfeking day …

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

The battered trooper and Iktotchi stagger out of the Sewers. He places the Iktotchi behind an incline as he begins toggling with the remains of the hunter-killer droid. He reloads one torpedo into its compartments. Then he takes the Iktotchi and himself and they hide behind the droid.

The trooper maneuvers the broken droid to aim at the Sewer Entrance tunnels, like a makeshift ebweb cannon. And they wait.

I see this face. This face in my dreams. With its dead eyes. And I hate it. I hate it so much …

Slinger made the mistake of thinking it was his lieutenant waiting for him in their bivouac on the frontlines. But now he’s on the ground, a blaster bolt through his chest plate. The other trooper takes of his stolen brother’s helmet, and he sees another brother.

“Shadow …”

“Been waiting for years for this, Slinger.”

“You killed the others.”

“Yeah.” No-One cocks Mercy at Slinger’s face. Part of No-One feels bad. Slinger’s blaster is inches away from him. His brother … he still thinks of them all as his brothers, he was always good with a blaster. They practised together a lot. If he’d been feeling more charitable, he would’ve ended this with a blaster duel. But No-One never had a weapon named Charity.

“… fair enough.” Slinger coughs up some blood. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Won’t bring back my wife, Slinger. Or my kid.”

“Please … Shadow.”

“You’re the last one, Slinger. I’m No-One.”

“I know.” Tears and snot stream down Slinger’s face. “We’re all gone. This War killed us. Those chips killed us.”

No-One’s gun trembles at Slinger’s temple. “… what?”

Slinger laughs through his blood. It’s so bitter. “That chip in you. Made you all barvy the General had to … send you to Mender. We all had it. It worked for us. Even all our training … good soldiers follow orders … had to be sure. Damn long-necks gave us those chips. Never … had a chance, Shadow.” Slinger coughs harder, deeper. “Had a good time on Zeltros, didn’t we. Heh. Heh … You were the lucky one, Shadow. You were …”

Slinger’s eyes roll back into his head and he breathes out the last of his blood. No-One stands over him. He’s stunned. Unconsciously, he turns off the audio of his stolen HUD. He falls to his knees. And, silently and alone, he screams.

We’ll bring down those clankers, Nora. We’ll take them down and get the hell out of here.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

The camera captures a series of blaster bolts coming towards the trooper. Some are absorbed by the cover of the droid. But many hit him. He staggers, but keeps the droid at the entrance. He activates its weapon. The concussive torpedo hits. A squad of stormtroopers come flying out of the tunnel in various positions and pieces by the force of the blast.

The trooper collapses to the side. He’s breathing heavily, very clearly as injured as his companion and utterly exhausted. A stormtrooper sergeant staggers out of the tunnel. He is firing randomly. He gets in front of the trooper and misses him by a wide margin. The trooper activates his gun and shoots the sergeant, his body trembling under the rapid shots from its barrel and being thrown away like a rag doll.

Steam comes from the trooper’s blaster rifle. The trooper is looking down at it. He falls to his knees. It’s almost like he is cradling it like a small child. Then the Sewer Entrance and its hill collapses, revealing the light of the Nembassa City, leaving the trooper with his damaged weapon.

Never had a weapon named Charity …

Drax Cole, one of the Cuy’Val Dar and instructors of Jango Fett’s myriad clones, watches one of the cadets looking at the weapons’ rack. The boy can feel the scarred older man watching him. Cole is one of the best firearms instructors of the rest.

“Hey.”

The boy looks up and stands to attention. “Yes sir.”

“Growing into those blaster rifles well, son.”

The boy understands. His growth spurts, like those of his brothers, are quick. Even with the genetic treatments, they are still painful. But at eight he is tall, lean and fast with a good eye. He will serve the Republic well. But praise from one of the Cuy’Val Dar is rare and he doesn’t know how to respond. Instead he defaults to the default.

“Thank you, sir.”

“What’s your name, son?”

“I am CT-24601.” The boy tells him by rote.

“No. I mean, what do you they call you?”

“… they call me Shadow.” It will be many years before the boy accepts this name from his last Squad working for the Republic, and a few more before he rejects the name, any name, completely. He has no idea. Right now he just wants to serve the Grand Army as best he can and to the best that his genetic perfection and rigorous training can provide.

“Shadow.” Drax Cole walks behind him and looks at the blaster rifles. “You do have a good eye. I see you looking at that rifle. You know the one.”

Shadow hesitates. But reaches out and takes it in his hands. It doesn’t take him long to calibrate and arm it. It’s second nature to him. Drax Cole nods.

“That blaster rifle, Shadow, it’s going to save your shlebs. You treat her right, you maintain and mod her, she’ll be at your side the rest of your life. More than your brothers, she’ll be your mother, your daughter, your wife. She’ll be your whole damn family. You got that, shinie?”

“Yes Instructor sir. I understand.”

“Good lad.”

It’s all right, you know. We’re disposable. As long as we complete the mission. The mission …

The trooper and T’Soth hide in the city. They hide in the garbage. They are buying Revenant Squad and the Praadost Rebel cell time. They barely escape notice even in the worn-torn city ripped apart by civil disorder and Imperial reprisals. Finally, the trooper hooks a grappling hook to a building. They climb up and hide. It’s a good spot … until more of those spherical droids are sent out to find them. The Inquisitors are not giving up.

They get into the building and run into a scared family. A cowering mother and her children. Then their father comes out swinging. T’Soth, trying to be the consummate Jedi, fails to calm him down. But it’s the trooper that does it. He almost takes his helmet off. Instead, he takes his gun, takes Mercy, and places her on the ground with his hands up. He lets T’Soth tell them that they are not scavengers or Imps.

The father tells them they need to leave. The trooper asks if he knows where they can hide. The man directs them to a warehouse. He gives them cloaks to hide them. The trooper turns back and thanks the man. He points up the stairs, where the man’s family is hiding.

“Take care of them.”

It hurts, Nora. I don’t want to feel anymore. I just want to see you again. But Ayla …

After his time, helping those early resistance cells, watching them get crushed, getting his own hollow revenge on his former brothers, he’s tired. He retires, in a way. He just doesn’t care anymore. Not about much. He takes all jobs. Even from Imps. All the money goes to Clan Pall, to Ardin … to his daughter.

As long as Ayla lives, as long she gets that chance …

But even that doesn’t stop the thoughts. It doesn’t stop from looking at Mercy. It doesn’t stop him from thinking about it. He’s lost so much already …

And then, one day, in a grimy motel on Nar Shaddaa as he’s pointing Mercy at his head he gets that transmission. He doesn’t know how they found him. How he found them. There is a central Resistance. They have unified. And they tell him they can help him. They can help his daughter.

It doesn’t take much for No-One to accept Spectre-7’s proposal.

It’s all right if I go. As long as Ayla’s safe, and a proper Jedi trains her. I did my job. I had something to fight for. I did my duty. I made up for my kriff-ups. I can finally rest.

Footage from Praadost II [Currently Restricted]

Location: Nembassa Warehouse

It’s an amateur Praadostian camera. It keeps moving around, but the jist of it is seen well enough. An A-Wing and Z-95 Headhunter are dogfighting TIE Fighters in the sky above the city. Two figures are on the roof, seen through the rudimentary lens of the civilian camera uploading to an illegal HoloFeed. It is a figure in tattered robes and a bounty hunter. The hunter sends up a flare and a U-Wing comes to hover over the roof.

The figure in the robes leaps up with impossible velocity into the ramp of the ship. The bounty hunter, or soldier stands there. He looks like he is about to jump. A TIE Bomber comes in. It releases a volley of proton torpedoes at the U-Wing.

The U-Wing’s shields flicker dangerously and it lurches, but the shock wave destroys the warehouse roof. The trooper is caught in the fire. He goes flying with the wreckage. Then he falls, flaming, into the ruins below.

The feed cuts out.

I will see you soon. I love you, Nora Ro.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Nebassa City District [Currently Restricted]

Another feed flickers back onto another scene. A figure leaps out of the ship as the U-Wing engages the TIE Bomber. It picks up another figure from the wreckage of the Warehouse. Then it goes back into the ship.

… live, Shadow. Our daughter needs you.

Live vode. Live brother. Someone needs to avenge us.

“Spectre-7.” T’Soth says.

“Jedi T’Soth. I’ve heard from the Bantha Special that the mission has been successful.”

“Yes. But our plans have changed. We’re not going to Ord Rodama. Tell the Senator that we need to call in another favour. We will be at Arda.”

I hate clankers. I hate this face. Clankers … this face … I can’t see them. Dead eyes. I can’t feel it …

A tattered figure floats in a bacta tank.

“Live, Shadow.” T’Soth says. “Revenant Squad needs you.”

Yes. Good soldiers … follow orders …

Spectre-7 looks at his monitor. He has captured all of Praadost II’s footage of the event: from the Imperial censored civilian cameras to the Sewer Entrance.

“Pity we couldn’t get footage from the fight in the Tunnels. Maybe his helmet recorded the event.” He turns to the technicians. “Meantime, send out these recordings. Some good propaganda. Even better for morale. This will be enough.”

“The Unknown Soldier finally has a name.”

My name is Shadow. I’m Shadow. And I’m not finished yet.

Long, Long Ago is Now: Star Wars The Force Awakens

If love and hate are two sides of the same impulse, then so was the prospective hope and dread that many fans potentially felt — that I certainly experienced — while waiting for the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The fact is, if you read this article, right now, you will be skittering close to the dark side of The Force Awakens reviews known also as Spoilers. Remember, you can draw back from the abyss and recall the patience and calm that you need to actually watch the film, if you haven’t already. Or you can succumb to the quick and easy path, right now, if random comments on the Internet didn’t cut off your hand and leave you wailing like Luke in despair on Cloud City.

First, let’s start with what really works in this film.

The introduction.

I’m not kidding. Instead of the Prequels, where we got deluged with taxes, politics, and nebulous “heroes on both sides” that didn’t happen in the actual movies, we have the place where Return of the Jedi left off: namely, Luke Skywalker is missing and the Resistance against the First Order is searching desperately for the last Jedi. There. Right there you have an introduction, after the monumental “Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away” and the glory of the Star Wars logo that hooks you. It feeds into the questions that the film’s multimedia campaign has raised in many of us. Where is Luke? What is going on? And where in the nine Corellian hells that may, or may not still be canon, is this going?

Force Awakens Attack on Jakku
The First Order likes to make a dramatic first appearance, just like the Empire before it.

Then we see the slow reveal of the First Order and their deployment on the desert world of Jakku. The First Order also wants to find Luke Skywalker: so that they can outright kill him. Three characters are introduced at this stage: Poe Dameron, Finn, and of course Kylo Ren. Poe Dameron is with his now iconic droid BB-8 getting part of a map to find Luke Skywalker, while Kylo Ren and his First Order troops are there to also get that information and kill all witnesses. It seems pretty standard, at first when you consider how events in Star Wars movies often go: but it establishes right off the bat who the heroes and the villains are in this saga. Or so it seems.

"It was a pleasure to burn."
“It was a pleasure to burn.”

This is where J.J. Abrams begins to change the script a little bit, as it were. As Kylo Ren executes the leader of this settlement and orders the deaths of the villagers, and Poe Dameron hides but also tries to defend them, something else happens. Even as stormtroopers and flametroopers are causing death left, right, and centre, we see Poe kill some stormtroopers. Now normally that would be the end of it. Stormtroopers are generally a dime a dozen, but then … one of them falls into the other’s arms. You see blood come from the fallen trooper as his comrade holds him and he dies in his arms. Three streaks of blood mar his comrade’s helmet and you see the latter genuinely shaken.

That is the beginning of Trooper FN-2187: whom we find out later is one soldier out of many who were recruited and indoctrinated into the Storm Trooper Corps and assigned only serial number designations by the First Order as children. Abrams manages in that one scene to do something none of the films really had done. He shows us that the stormtroopers are thinking and feeling beings just like anyone else: and that they can suffer pain and post-traumatic stress like any soldier … and begin to question orders.

" Take four red capsules. In 10 minutes, take two more. Help is on the way."
” Take four red capsules. In 10 minutes, take two more. Help is on the way.”

We also get a look at some new Force powers and a visual cinematic representation of some old ones as Kylo Ren manages to casually freeze a blaster bolt in midair for several minutes, and use telepathy and mind-probing on a captive Poe Dameron. The first Force application was definitely something I wasn’t expecting and it actually raised my expectations of Kylo Ren just a little bit. And that mind-probe skill comes into play later: for all the reasons that Kylo Ren doesn’t want it.

Mind probes: for when you can't find the droids you're looking for.
Mind probes: for when you can’t find the droids you’re looking for.

Of course, our trooper friend finishes questioning orders after a cold encounter with his commanding officer Captain Phasma and actually decides to act against them. He ends up freeing Poe and they escape in a new and modified TIE Fighter that actually has two seats, and may well even possess a hyperdrive. The banter between Finn and Poe is excellent. Poe is a hotshot pilot and soldier for the Resistance, but that is only one part of who he is. While many people call him this film’s Han Solo, he is actually the opposite of the smuggler’s jaded and cynical nature: still managing against capture, torture, and conflict to be idealistic, optimistic, and overwhelmingly positive. He is the one that gives Finn his name and they celebrate their escape with adrenaline-fueled screaming together even before they are shot down and they crash land onto Jakku in order to find Poe’s droid: who has part of the location of Luke Skywalker in his databanks.

And all of this happens even before we are introduced to Rey.

There is some very excellent character development and promise in The Force Awakens to look at. I’ve already talked about Poe’s incorrigible spirit, and Finn’s sense of conscience. But then we have Rey. Rey is a scavenger on Jakku. You have probably heard enough about her at this point: she is self-sufficient, hardened by the desert world of Jakku, canny, and curious. You can also tell that she has a great of experience in self-defense: particularly in wielding her staff. But it’s not until she meets BB-8, who finds her in the middle of the desert, and she has the choice to sell him for a massive amount of food rations — as that is how the scavenging economy on Jakku seems to work — and she decides to keep him that you see her real character: her sense of integrity.

Some things are worth more than rations.
Some things are worth more than extra rations.

Right here, we have our hero. Anakin Skywalker was an idealistic slave child with his mother on Tatooine who flew in deadly podraces. Luke Skywalker was a moisture farmer on that same world who was raised by his aunt and uncle while whining and dreaming of greatness. Rey seems to have been raised by no one after being abandoned on Jakku when she was five. Her dream is the hope that one day her family will come back for her: whoever they are. In the meantime she grows up a free and solitary woman on a harsh world where just survives … until a little droid comes into her life and changes everything.

He kind of grows on you.
He kind of grows on you.

It’s hard to talk about one character without looking at how they interact with others. This is another strength of The Force Awakens: interpersonal development. Finn is stranded on Jakku after his stolen ship is destroyed and Poe Dameron seems to have died: his newest friend and fellow liberator since the death of his stormtrooper comrade. He has no idea what to do now and is constantly afraid of being hunted for his betrayal. When he encounters Rey and BB-8, he is wearing Poe’s jacket and they think he is a thief. Then he pretends to be part of the Resistance, which encourages Rey to help him as she wants to get BB-8 back to the Resistance: realizing that there is more to her life than just waiting for the family that seemingly abandoned her. She makes that active choice because, again, it is the right thing to do.

Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.
Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.

In fact, aside from the absent and presumed dead Poe Dameron, Rey is the only one who sets out from her familiar life to do exactly that: the right thing. Finn runs because he is afraid and also wants a sense of belonging. Even Han Solo and Chewbacca, who they meet after finding the Millennium Falcon appropriately in a junkyard, are just on their next job on the fringes: having become alienated from Leia Organa and the Republic years ago. She is the unifying point to remind them of what is important: and she doesn’t stop there.

Starting, and continuing, down the dark path ...
Starting, and continuing, down the dark path …

In contrast to Rey is Kylo Ren. Unlike Rey, he knows exactly where he comes from. But right now, he is following what he thinks is a legacy. In fact Ren is actually the product of a few legacies. Being born to a founder of the New Republic, a legendary smuggler and General, and the nephew of the last Jedi are just a few of the expectations he has discarded. You can imagine the amount of pressure to conform to those expectations too and perhaps the role they’ve played in Ren’s decision: especially when you consider the one legacy everyone involved wanted him to avoid.

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“I will finish what you started … minus losing all my organic limbs, getting burned all over my body, accidentally destroying everyone I love and, well … having children I knew nothing about.”

But Kylo Ken is not Darth Vader. On first glance he seems like a shadow of the Sith Lord. He displays perfect control and ruthlessness when dealing with a situation well in hand. When he’s told by a subordinate that they lost BB-8, you think he is going to pull a Vader: that he’s going to Force-choke the man and levitate him off the ground and let him die in midair for his failure. Instead, after a pause, he draws out his lightsaber and proceeds to slash the computers and technology around him in a purely psychotic rage. It’s that moment that makes you realize that there is a major difference between Darth Vader and his successor: that when Vader caused damage, it was purely calculated to punish incompetence and cause fear, whereas Ren lacks focus and control. He is a young man who is perpetually angry and follows Supreme Leader Snoke and the legacy of Darth Vader in an attempt to actually deal with the insecurity and instability inside of himself: and for most of The Force Awakens it isn’t working when he needs it to be.

Everyone has a Kylo Rage once and a while. Some more than they'd like to admit.
Everyone has a Kylo Rage once and a while. Some more than they’d like to admit.

What we have with Kylo Ren, at least through most of the film, is a young man who hasn’t proved himself yet. It’s like seeing Padawan Anakin Skywalker alternatively whining and raging, or Luke Skywalker whining and fumbling to find his own heritage: except that while the first two sought to grow in the light side of the Force, Kylo Ren chooses the darkness for reasons that haven’t been yet revealed: which are hopefully more than just impatience and for the sake of rebellion. We are looking at the growth of a darksider and his own self-perceived hero’s journey into realizing what he is, and the prices he will pay for getting there.

I won’t go further into a recap of the film, except to say that there are a few scenes that were utterly striking. The first and foremost was Rey gaining a hint of what her destiny truly is: with the vision she gained as Luke’s old lightsaber — which we could sense from its treasure chest with all the sounds of screaming and agony — summoned her to it.

Your father wanted you to have this ... whoever he is ...
Your father wanted you to have this … whoever he is …

There was also the apex of Kylo Ren’s own character arc where he kills Han Solo — his own father — as his personal sacrifice to the dark side in order to drive the light away from him forever: and to earn the undying enmity of fans everywhere. It was … hard, watching the Solo Luck finally run out in the worst possible way.

But watching Chewbacca shoot Ren with his bowcaster is utterly satisfying. The only thing more satisfying, would have been if Han had already known his son was irredeemable from the start and as Ren thanks him, a dying Han touches his face and says, “Don’t thank me”: pressing a trigger to the series of thermal detonators he was wearing under his vest: trying to take his murdering son down with him.

But what actually happens next is epic.

We have Finn actually facing his fear, after running for so long, and fighting and losing against Ren: only to have Rey step up and take her destiny.

It's on now.
It’s on now.

The Force Awakens is primarily about Rey’s own awakening. After Kylo Ren captures her and tries to tear the information on Luke’s whereabouts from her mind, he inadvertently activates her latent Force potential: which she uses to mind-trick and rescue herself. She sees into his mind: and sees his fear. She makes him confront it.

Up until this point, you have to figure: Kylo Ren has only dealt with non-Force sensitives. He has encountered other Force-sensitives through his seemingly untrained mother, his fellow Knights of Ren, and his former fellow Jedi trainees that he slaughtered. The only people that he perceives to be more powerful than him, with his Skywalker bloodline, is his uncle Luke and his Master Snoke. At Starkiller Base, Kylo Ren is wounded but he draws on his physical pain, pounding his ribs where Chewbacca shot him, and uses it to augment his power in the dark side. He has been trained, he has defeated the obstacle of killing the man he loved — his own father — and it is still raw and untempered. And he thinks he is the only one, perhaps even the Chosen One, that can do what must be done.

"You're afraid you'll never be as powerful as Darth Vader."
“You’re afraid you’ll never be as strong as Darth Vader.”

In an inadvertent way, Rey also helped him. She revealed his fear: that he would never be as powerful as Darth Vader. But he did something that not even his grandfather could do: he killed someone he loved in order to embrace what he thinks is his destiny. Rey has also helped him to awaken in a warped and twisted way. But he severely underestimates her. At her age, Luke was still getting his ass handed to him by training remotes. And even Anakin was still a Padawan with questionable judgment. Also remember that Rey grew up on a desert world with no luxuries, and where battle is not training and is ultimately a matter of life or death. She has incredible Force potential, she’s already already learned not to shoot blaster bolts at Ren, and she is fighting to save her new found friends. I know I rooted for her when she brutally and efficiently beat Ren down.

And it could have ended right there. It could have ended with the destruction of Starkiller Base and Rey returning to a grieving Resistance General Leia Organa — a development that I thought was excellent given Leia’s background in guerrilla warfare and rebellion compared to her previous political fate in the now Legends continuity — and promising to see an unconscious Finn again before riding off on the Falcon — the ship she basically inherited from Han — to find Luke Skywalker.

But the film doesn’t stop there. Instead, it stops at that point in time where she finds him. She actually finds Luke Skywalker: and presents to him his old lightsaber. The look of grief and heartbreak on Luke’s face after the destruction of his Order before it even began by his own nephew, his possible farsight of what occurred in his absence, the sudden appearance of a blade that had a mixed place in his own past, and the look of hope and desperation on Rey’s face says it all. It all comes full circle and you can see — right there — that the legacy is going to continue.

Luke having memories about the good old days with his lightsaber: getting shot by training remotes, barely being able to summon the lightsaber to him in the Wampa's cave, his own father cutting off his hand, not to mention the lightsaber ending the lives of children by his father's hand. Ah, those were the days.
Luke having memories about the good old days with his lightsaber: getting shot by training remotes, barely being able to summon the lightsaber to him in the Wampa’s cave, his own father cutting off his hand, not to mention the lightsaber ending the lives of children by his father’s hand. Ah, those were the days.

Of course, there are the other aspects of the film to consider as well. I have to admit that seeing Poe Dameron just appear out of nowhere after he supposedly died did seem kind of anticlimactic: though it was also good to know he is going to stay around.

Don't worry. Not only do I explain how I escaped, but you might be able to see how it happened in the novelization.
Don’t worry. Not only do I explain how I escaped, but you might be able to see how it happened in the novelization.

But I think my main quibble with The Force Awakens is Starkiller Base and the New Republic. The Republic really dropped the ball on this one: underestimating the First Order as an Imperial remnant with all of these resources clearly on hand. It also strikes me as hilarious that Snoke seems to order the use of the Base’s star system destroying lasers as something of an afterthought. And it is never clear in the film if it was just the Republic’s capital world and Starfleet destroyed by the lasers: or if it was all of it. If the First Order just destroyed all of the New Republic in one shot, it just seems to be a little bit of a cop-out to me: not the least of which being the fact that this film didn’t really need another “Superweapon of the Month” my Death Star is bigger than yours element.

"You'd think we would have seriously learned by now."
“You’d think we would have seriously learned by now.”

Also, Supreme Leader Snoke’s CGI Voldemort meets Gollum appearance was a little off-putting in a movie that used less computer-generated special effects. And there are many things that have happened, gaps in the thirty years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that have yet to be explained.

But these are minor quibbles really.

Many fans and writers have already covered one other aspect of Star Wars The Force Awakens. They say that it is highly derivative. But perhaps it is more apt to state that it parallels elements from the other films. And even if it is derivative, with its hearkening to deserts, ice planets, forest worlds, Force visions, the wise old mentor dying, rebellions, the destruction of life, heroes journeys, and light and darkness vying against each other in self-referential ways, or with acute self-awareness of their tropes, so what? Mythology itself is derivative. Storytelling is derivative. Stories come from somewhere: from a convention of ideas, events, and feelings.

Star Wars is a mythology that draws on the archetypes of interactions with certain environments and situations and certain characters. Of course its latest movie is derivative. But I think there is another consideration to take in when thinking about mythology. Even though stories are derived from other stories, the best ones are those that tend to add something new to the mythos. The question you have to ask yourself is this: does Star Wars: The Force Awakens add anything new to the Star Wars cinematic universe?

Personally, I think that if it already hasn’t with the way it is has subverted some of the tropes, I think it will. After all, Kylo Ren had clearly been suffering from a lack of focus or certainty in embracing his power: and he is not going to stay that way. He will awaken too and hopefully realize that he should do more than live up to Vader. He has to surpass him.

Still a better antagonist than Jacen Solo from the Star Wars Legends continuity.
Still a better antagonist than Jacen Solo from the Star Wars Legends continuity.

And as for Rey, it is pretty clear she is going to learn the ways of the Force, continue to kick some ass and struggle with what is important. She might even learn about what she came from and integrate it into where she is going. And I look forward to seeing what J.J. Abrams, LucasFilm, and Disney will build from this impressive beginning.

Rey is a bad ass.
Rey is a bad ass.

A Step Back Into a Much Larger World

It’s time for another retrospective.

In May of 2005, I was twenty-three years old. My girlfriend and I had broken up for the last time and it was as pleasant as you could expect. I was sitting in a movie theatre, with my brother who’d already seen the film, watching Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. My disillusionment with the Prequels had been growing for some time: from the three-hour commercial of The Phantom Menace to the atrocity that was Attack of the Clones. I wasn’t even pretending to like them anymore because they were Star Wars. It had gotten to the point where I spoiled myself on what happened in Sith because, frankly, I was just so tired of the entire ordeal.

After much anger, sadness, disappointment, and bitterness — and all the other stages of grief — I had to accept that this would be my final Star Wars cinematic experience: surrounded by ashes and a haze of post-adolescent hate. In fact, The Clone Wars not withstanding, I was almost relieved that it was finally over and I would have time to ruminate on what could, or should, have been.

Anakin Gets Burned

Ten years later, in December of 2015, I am sitting in another theatre. This time I am there with my girlfriend. I don’t really know what to expect when we’re both sitting there waiting for the film to start. I’d heard good things, but I also know about the power of hype. The mere fact that George Lucas was no longer involved with Star Wars was enough, but I didn’t want to raise my expectations.

But when that introduction, followed by the logo and the scrawling opening narrative somehow, despite the passage of time and adult cynicism, that I was seeing a Star Wars movie again: in the cinema, in good company, and that there is at least the hope of it only getting better from there. The fact that Revenge of the Sith was not my last Star Wars experience and that The Force Awakens is the first of the new, was a gift in and of itself.

The Force Awakens

And then there is the second notable geeky thing that I undertook this year. A week ago, I finished Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Bootcamp Writing Classes. What can I say? I learned more about writing in four months than I did for years. It was intense. Between Ty’s engaging and witty lectures, spontaneous collaborations with my classmates, and writing assignments on the spot, I felt as though I were Luke Skywalker getting a crash course in Jedi training.

Yoda Training

Seriously, I’d studied writing and novels before. I had even created some of my own comics scripts from what I could piece together from scholarly and professional books. But if there is one thing Luke could tell you is that it’s one thing to glean information from books and Holocrons, and the occasional visit from from a Jedi Master’s Force ghost but it is a whole other to have an actual interactive teacher: someone who passes on lore and knowledge but also knows how to create exercises to challenge you, and to encourage you to share what you have learned.

One of the main lessons I take away from Ty’s class, if anything else, is the following. Perfectionism is death. If you spend so much time trying to think of something perfect, it will never happen. You have to just keep going. Just take some time, have an idea, and run with it. You will be surprised at what you might create.

I found that the ultimate challenge for me was our final assignment. The idea was that at the end of our course, we were going to send Ty a script for either a television show or a comic book. I chose to make a comics script for a twenty-two page comic. My plan was to take one of the pitches I made for the course and flesh it out into a crude outline. Then I was going to sit down and use the script format Ty taught us and give him an actual script.

What really ended up happening was that I left it for too long. I was on a creative streak and then life happened. My aunt passed away towards the end of the course. Obviously, I had great difficulty concentrating on anything afterwards and I almost gave up completely. And I could have. There were no marks riding on this final assignment. No money. I was already working on another project and it would have just been easy to let it go and sleep.

But something … wouldn’t let me. Part of it was the encouragement from my peers and loved ones. But another part of it was that I knew that this was what Ty had been talking about. While in the professional world it might not have been acceptable to hand in something so skeletal, or even miss a deadline for life reasons, I thought about what was important. In this case, it was to tell a story.

So I sat down and typed out a comics outline. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever written, but I think it got the point across. The truth is, the most important thing about the final assignment of writing course was that if we met the deadline, Ty himself would provide “copious notes” — suggestions, critiques, and insights — to what we had given him. And feedback from a professional in the field is utterly invaluable. I just couldn’t turn that down: even if what I wrote was not much to work on.

Still. I did that.

Luke Skywalker's Lightsaber

It’s funny though that, even now, I am getting new ideas for the series that I came up with in Ty’s course. That this course and its assignments gave me that much is another well-earned gift. But finishing that final assignment, even with such a basic and most likely flawed outline, was an achievement. Four months before this course, I was filled with almost nothing but stress and frustration at where my life was not going despite everything I was putting into it. Four months later, I feel like I truly graduated from Ty Templeton’s Writing Bootcamp: and that is something for which I am definitely proud.

And this is how I want to end the last post of this year: not in anger, or disappointment, but in the promise of something new. There is plenty of time for sarcasm and hellfire, but right now my batteries feel recharged. And perhaps there might yet be room inside me: for more wonder.

Oh and, one more thing. Please consider taking some of Ty’s Comic Book Bootcamp classes. They are completely and utterly worth it. Happy New Year, my friends.

Looking Outward

Star Wars Episode VII and The Knights of Ren

The following contains fan speculation and possible spoilers. Reader discretion is advised. 

It’s been a confusing time for older Star Wars fans: or at least an older fan like myself. Imagine two time lines: one you knew, and one that is still forming; The latter is overwriting the former while you still remember it. Legends series and the new Star Wars Expanding Universe aside, it’s also intriguing to watch LucasFilm and Disney at work in fleshing out the mythos using only the six films, the CGI Clone Wars and Rebels series, and the new comics and novels.

But what I’d like to take a look at today are the Knights of Ren.

For something that we’ve heard a lot about, we don’t know very much else. One potential element of confusion is considered that the Knights of Ren are either working for, or are an extension of the First Order: a galactic organization created from the remnants of the Empire and its own ideologies. But what are the Knights of Ren?

So let’s make an experiment. Let’s see if we can construct a plausible story as to what the Knights are from the revised Star Wars continuity. It might be hard for some veteran Expanded Universe fanatics and even I expect to make some errors along the way due to some of my own lack of familiarity, but it could be fun and it might shed some light on this new and infernal venture into Star Wars villainy.

Perhaps in order to know about the Knights of Ren, we need to review what we know about the Sith. We know that by The Phantom Menance that the Sith had supposedly been extinct for a thousand years. In addition, we are told by the end of that film that there are only two Sith at one given time: a Master and an Apprentice. So we could assume that with Palpatine and Darth Vader’s deaths at the end of Return of the Jedi that the Sith are not coming back.

Of course there is that age-old adage about assumptions, the fact that the Sith were thought to be dead before, Count Dooku’s training of Asaji Ventress (and that training bout with the unfortunately named and created Savage Oppress), treachery being the way of the Sith, and that the new continuity may retcon any mention of the fact that the Sith were once more than two. But for now, this isn’t about the Sith, even though it may well be definitely related to their actions.

Star Wars Inquisitor

Think about what we know about the Empire now. It was created and controlled by the Sith Master and Apprentice. However, it also had Force-sensitive agents. Rebels makes this very clear with the introduction of the Inquisitor: that and the fact that there are more of them. Inquisitors seem to be dark side acolytes or adepts created to hunt down Jedi fugitives, other Force-sensitives, and generally anyone trying to ruin the Empire’s day in any real way.

Inquisitors wouldn’t violate the Sith Rule of Two as they are not Sith, but rather agents and minions that serve the Sith. This is no new idea. All you have to do is look back further at The Clone Wars and see Dooku and Ventress. Palpatine knew about Ventress as a dark side agent and had no issue with her: provided that she wasn’t being trained as a Sith apprentice. I mean, she was — supposedly — but again we are looking at treachery being the way of the Sith.

The point is that Darth Sidious and Darth Vader died: leaving the Empire in a very precarious and potentially lethal situation. So what happened to all of those Inquisitors?

Star Wars Rebels Inquisitors

I mean, some of them might have died. Certainly hunting Jedi and displeasing Darth Vader could be death sentences in and of themselves. Perhaps some of the people that accompanied Palpatine onto the Second Death Star, sinister robed beings that they were in Return of the Jedi, were more than just close political advisors and retainers. And just what were Palpatine’s plans for the galaxy once Luke and the Rebellion were dealt with?

Aside from some sanctioned experiments from outside sources as some of the Darth Vader comics delve into, I think there is the Clone Wars “Children of The Force” episode to consider. While its execution seemed really unseemly to me at the time, as a fan of the Old Expanded Universe, Palpatine securing Jedi information on Force-sensitive children throughout the galaxy makes a certain level of sense. He apparently wanted to make an army of “Sith spies” from the kidnapped children. This plan failed, but the mentality was still there.

Star Wars Children of the Force

The theory that I would like to make is that the Inquisitors were the next step in Palpatine’s regime: to create a dark side leadership over the Empire and sentience. It’d be similar to how he was operating in the now defunct — for good or ill depending on what fan you talk with — Dark Empire comics series. But he and Vader died before anything like this could become completely commonplace: and before the last of the Jedi could be purged or turned.

But these Inquisitors, if there were any left by Return of the Jedi, probably weren’t all dead. While the remnants of the Empire maintained their control over various sectors, became warlords, defected to the power of the Alliance, or entered into civil turmoil I also doubt these remaining Inquisitors would remain idle.

Imagine it. They always knew about the Sith and the potential that they could receive further training one day from either Vader or Palpatine. Then both of them are gone before one can succeed the other through the usual method of betrayal. Then their Empire, the one they’ve been serving and enforcing, begins to collapse in on itself. Three decades pass and despite their efforts Luke Skywalker seems to be bringing back the Jedi Knights to help the New Republic, or at least is training his family members to oppose them. This is the man who killed both their Masters seemingly at the same time. What do they do?

They help found the First Order.  The former Inquisitors have the resources they gathered over the years to pool into this Order along with many disaffected Imperial soldiers and politicians. Maybe they appeal to Humanocentricism. J.J. Abrams himself mentioned that his team modeled the First Order after the idea of what if former Nazis reorganized themselves in collaboration in Argentina.

Supreme Commander Snoke of the First Order, who is said to be a powerful figure in the dark side of the Force, may well be a surviving Inquisitor or a potent successor to an Inquisitor. I imagine he or his predecessors would have seen the threat of the Jedi and realized they needed something to counter it. The Sith seem to be destroyed. But they never lacked for followers. So the Supreme Commander creates the Knights of Ren: an organization of dark side Force-sensitives to fight against the Jedi Knights.

Again it is more fan theory assumption but think about it in another way. Whatever the Knights of Ren are, J.J. Abrams and his team have a lot of pressure on them. They are expected to return to the magic of what the Star Wars Old Trilogy meant to so many people. Even the special effects of the film seem to be minimizing reliance on CGI: being hand-made and material props instead. They are going back to the basics, and wouldn’t be interesting if Abrams and his team even went so far as to look at The Star Wars Rough Draft and were inspired by the Knights of the Sith: those that fought the prototypical Jedi-Bendu?

Of course, LucasFilm also hasn’t ruled out incorporating other elements of the Old Expanded Universe into the new continuity either, so the Knights of Ren could have many different inspirations: whoever or whatever they are.

But they are interesting: in that while Abrams has stated they are not Sith, they have a similar naming ritual. Instead of their title becoming a prefix like Darth, Ren becomes their new surname: with perhaps a new first name as well. So my thoughts are that the Knights of Ren are an order of dark side adepts that work for the First Order and under Supreme Commander Snoke: if the fact that Kylo Ren working under him is of any indication.

Kylo Ren

Yet what of Kylo Ren. Well we have been presented with the idea that Kylo Ren will be the main antagonist of The Force Awakens: or at least a visible one. He has created his own strange cross-guard lightsaber and he is very obsessed with Darth Vader. Perhaps his obsession is original to him, though if we go with the theory that the Knights of Ren are the successors to the Inquisitors, who were given partial training in the dark side by the Sith, the Knights might also be dedicated to finding any Sith lore they can get their hands on: to further their own training and power. Who knows: maybe one of them wants to become the next Dark Lord.

Darth Vader Helmet

However, it is possible that Kylo Ren’s interest might be more … personal. I just find it fascinating how there are theories that he is the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo. Yet there is also another interesting point to consider. There is also Luke Skywalker. There are rumours that Luke went into exile and that the events of The Force Awakens begin to bring him out of it.  But if Luke was in exile, why would he be? I’m obviously not saying that Kylo Ren is Luke, as it wouldn’t be in character and Kylo is portrayed to be a much younger man.

Kylo Ren Unmasked

I do think the problem is the importance that George Lucas placed on Anakin Skywalker as the Chosen One and being genetically the most powerful Force sensitive in the Prequel Trilogy. In this way, it kind of undermines any attempt to make someone not related to the Skywalker bloodline a potentially powerful Jedi or dark side user in their own right. However, I could be wrong. Perhaps Abrams has his own ideas and we might get more plot twists than we know what to do with.

Many people in the Star Wars galaxy believed that the Sith had been extinct for a millennium. Many more believed the Jedi had been extinct for almost two decades. But if there is one thing that hasn’t changed about Star Wars, it’s the following. Whether it is about family, ideology, philosophy, or war Star Wars has always been about legacy: and I want to see how this legacy is going to play itself out.

On The New Star Wars Video: Feeling That New Hope

The last time I talked about Star Wars here on GEEKPR0N I was talking about how it was made of mysteries. I thought that was what made the Old Trilogy so effective. You saw characters that died before you could get to know them more like Obi-Wan Kenobi, and even characters you didn’t ever see despite the lead up into thinking you would see them like Bail Organa on Alderaan. These are the stories that, at the time, could have been and it just added another layer to the story that we already had right in front of us. But there is more to Star Wars than mystery.

I eventually found out about the Old Trilogy when I was eleven or twelve years old. Before that, I’d only known about the Ewoks and Droids cartoons, but I never thought they were part of something much more potentially vast. Even so, I loved those stories as they conveyed that age and feeling that I couldn’t name at the time. Then, of course, I saw the Old Trilogy and that specific feeling exploded inside me more fiercely than an obliterated Death Star.

There’s nothing I can really say about the behind the scenes video of Star Wars Episode VII shown at the San Diego Comic-Con of 2015 that hasn’t already been said before. However, there is one thing I can tell you. A little while ago, Kevin Smith was invited onto the set of Episode VII and he described how he felt, without violating confidentiality, just how he felt to be there: especially when he came across the set of the Millennium Falcon.

I know that I’ve shown a lot of hesitation when thinking about more movies in the Star Wars universe after much of the disappointment inherent in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. I mean, as a fan I will be honest and say that I will be seeing these films no matter what, but that hesitation — in hoping to avoid more disappointment — is hard to overcome. But my reaction to this behind the scenes video of Episode VII drew on the interest I started to feel in the first full trailer of the movie and it hasn’t been until now that I’ve been able to name that feeling that I had when I first encountered and watched the Star Wars Old Trilogy.

Kevin Smith said it best when he stated that he felt wonder. He felt magic. This is precisely what I felt was missing from the Prequel Trilogy and even a lot of the work drawn from it. But when I did watch this behind the scenes trailer, I’m not sure how it happened really. Perhaps its because J.J. Abrams is insisting on the creation of actual sets and props. Maybe it’s due to the selective use of CGI that will hopefully be implemented to complement instead of overwhelm. Or it could be due to the use of real locations. And yes: the inclusion of the original cast is also a selling point.

But since the Sequel Trilogy and the Star Wars standalone films had been announced, I’m actually starting to feel a bit of that wonder again. I’m starting to really hope for the magic and the movies many of us have been really waiting for since the end of Return of the Jedi.

Yet more than that, watching this behind the scenes video of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens reminds of another feeling from my childhood that perhaps maybe of us could relate to. Han Solo himself said it, and is hopefully going to say, it best.

“Chewie, we’re home.”

Han Solo: Before He Shot First

There have been a lot of Star Wars mysteries after the Old Trilogy. Some of these have been answered: such as how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, what happened to the Skywalker twins’ mother, and how the Empire came to be. Still more mysteries occurred however: such as why Jar Jar Binks ever existed, why Palpatine now has the first name Sheev, and who thought it was such a great idea to give Han Solo a wife.

But I digress because, aside from the fact that we still don’t know what Yoda’s species are, there is also the other matter of Han Solo. No, I’m not talking about whether or not he shot Greedo first in a cantina long long ago in a galaxy far far away, because the answer to that should be painfully obvious at this point.

On the contrary: I’m talking about finding how he got that blaster in his hands to begin with.

As part of a whole slew of planned Star Wars standalone films, in 2018 we are apparently going to see a movie detailing the origins of our smart-mouth smuggler friend. What is even more fascinating about this is that the writers of the script are, none other, than Lawrence Kasdan — the writer of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and the yet to be released The Force Awakens — along with and his son, Jon Kasdan.

It’s not certain if the film will reveal the entirety of Han’s story, but it certainly show us how he became a scoundrel and a scruffy nerf-herder: and that could be something. I have to admit that I am pretty leery of many prequel ideas after of the disappointments many in geekdom have faced from the Prequel Trilogy and some of Disney`s decisions in the new Expanded Universe. It will also be very strange not to see Harrison Ford who is Han Solo be Han Solo.

But we have the man who created some of the best films of the Star Wars series and the team behind The Lego Movie coming together to make this movie a reality so speaking for myself, I will reserve my judgment on this and The New Trilogy.

And yes, I could definitely see Chris Pratt, Star Lord, playing a young Han Solo. It goes without saying.