Wednesday, January 01, 2020

On Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and that big, dumb reveal

I was born in 1977, the same year that Star Wars was released, and I am now, like the film-turned-multi-media franchise itself, 42 years old. In other words, I quite literally grew up with Star Wars, and while I don't think I would go so far as to say that I was ever completely immersed in it, certainly not relative to others in the fandom which, after all, includes people who organize themselves into Stormtrooper legions and build their own R2 units, I think its safe to say I'm more than a passing fan, too. I eagerly consumed everything Star Wars I could throughout the life of the original trilogy, back when it was still possible to do so without completely devoting one's life to the endeavor, and afterwards I at least casually consumed most of the "Expanded Universe" material that was of the least bit of interest to me, reading—or at least listening to the audio book versions of—the prose novels and continuing to read the comics in fits and starts, depending on their focus and their creators.

I say all this because, while I might lack the encyclopedic—or Wookiepedic—knowledge of Star Wars that many other fans can boast, I feel fairly well-versed in Star Wars, particularly the strict, filmic canon of 11 theatrically-released films...The Rise of Skywalker being the twelfth.

Now, if there is one thing I know about Star Wars, one thing I am and always have been 100% completely sure about, down to a cellular level, something I was so certain of that I never even paused to consider the possibility, because it was so self-evident one needed not even consciously think of it, it is this: Emperor Sheev Palpatine does not fuck.

I can think of nothing more preposterous than the idea of Palpatine having sex with a lady in all of the Star Wars stuff I have seen, from Chewbacca's dad Itchy watching a virtual reality performance of Diahann Carroll on Life Day, to Wilford Brimley making his home on the forest moon of Endor in Ewoks: Battle of Endor to the giant green Star Wars rabbit.

It's not just that Palpatine was seemingly always unfuckable, even at his youngest, fittest, least-decrepit in 1999's Episode I: The Phantom Menace (and it was revealed in 2005's Episode III that Palaptine's semi-mummified look was the result of Force lightning being reflected back at him by Sam Jackson's purple light saber, rather than the ravages of old age, anyway.)
Be honest now: Would you hit this...?
It's not even that nowhere in any of the first eight installments of the so-called Skywalker saga has Palpatine ever seemed to have spoken to a woman who wasn't played by Natalie Portman; in fact, women were so few and far between in the first six films that it's hard to think of any aside from Padme or Leia with more than a line or six. I mean, what are the chances that Palpatine and Mon Mothma had hate-fucked at one point, or that he put a bounty on his virginity that one of the prequel trilogy's female bounty hunters Zam Wessell or Aurra Sing had collected, with their vaginas? (Certainly he had a a fellow female Sith in the expanded universe material set during The Clone Wars in Asajj Ventress, and her appearances from the Clone Wars animated series is now canonical; I never watched that, so if she and Palpatine were dating at some point, I guess I missed it).

No, more than that, it's the simple fact that, in all of his many, many appearances, Palpatine has never demonstrated an interest in anything other than the acquisition of power and the demonstration of cruelty and evil, concocting ridiculously byzantine plots in order to consolidate his power over the entire galaxy, plots that usually make somewhere between little and zero sense (It's been about 20 years now, and I'm still not sure I can make sense of all of the moves Palpatine made in the course of The Clone Wars to create The Empire; I may never understand his retroactive-as-of Episode IX plan to regain power after getting tossed down the Death Star II's reactor shaft to reassert control decades later). Unlike other Imperial villains like, say, Grand Admiral Thrawn, I'm not sure Palpatine even had hobbies, unless he was really into light bubble opera, and that wasn't just a political nicety he was forced to sit through.

So yeah, I did not like the big reveal of Rey's parentage in the recent supposed conclusion of the Skyalker saga, which is not what the title and the altered line of dialogue that appeared in the final trailer indicated ("This be the final word in the story of Skywaler" Ian McDiarmad intones as Palpatine in one of the shorter, made-for-TV ads; in the film, the word "Skywalker" is replaced with "Jedi").

In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren told Rey that her parents were nobodies who had sold her for drinking money. At the time, I wasn't convinced that was necessarily the truth, as it was narratively unsatisfying, fairly un-Star Wars-ian, and it's not like Kylo Ren was the most reliable source of information; it would certainly have been in his best interest to convince her she had no connection to anyone in the universe save for him, so she might as well join him. I fully expected her to turn out to be related—at least genetically—to Kylo Ren.

I've read reviews written shortly after the release of The Last Jedi in which this reveal was praised, because, when paired with the ending, in which one of the urchins who helped tend the giant horse fox stables on the casino planet is seen using the force, it seemed to suggest a democratization of the force and its powers, that the most powerful warriors who use it weren't by necessity a royalty-like family dynasty, nor must they belong to some sort of warrior caste, but literally anyone could sense, use and wield the force. Anyone could be a Jedi, and thus anyone could be a hero Maybe. I wasn't entirely convinced by that, as it's not like Anakin and Luke were even the most powerful force users ever (Certainly Palpatine and Yoda were as strong or stronger than Luke or Anakin, meaning there were at least three bloodlines of similar power). Also, it was only part two the story. Yes, Luke was told that Darth Vader was his father in part two of the original trilogy, but I expected Lucasfilm/Disney to hold out the official revelation of Rey's connection to the Skywalkers in the third and final installment (Particularly because there were so many other big surprises in Last Jedi).

And, ultimately, Lucasfilm/Disney did hold out to make the official revelation, but they did so in such a way that it probably is worse than Johnson having Ren make the offhanded remark that her parents were nobodies in Last Jedi. Here he once again drops a bombshell to her in the middle of a conversation, completely casually and matter-of-factly, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. He wasn't lying last movie, he tells her, her parents really were nobodies, but only because they chose to be nobodies: In fact, she is Palpatine's granddaughter. Which means Palpatine had a child. Which means Palpatine fucked, at least once. And this I cannot abide.

I mean, I'd just as soon imagine Yoda fucking as I would Palpatine. And it's not like Lucasfilm/Disney are asking Star Wars fans to imagine the possibility of Yoda having sex, is it...?

So this is pretty poor storytelling. We've known Palpatine was going to show up in Episode IX in some capacity ever since the first teaser trailer, which featured his laugh. Dialogue from him appeared in all the subsequent trailers, and there's even a glimpse of his hooded figure in one of them. Given that this is the third film in a trilogy and there has been nothing in the way of foreshadowing that Palpatine survived The Return of The Jedi, or might still be alive, or had fuck all to do with anything, his very presence in the film, let alone his role in Rey's origin, is so out-of-left field they could have just as easily stuck Jabba The Hutt or Darth Vader or CGI Grand Moff Tarkin in the role of Secret Bad Guy. I'd have to rewatch Force Awakens and Last Jedi to be certain, but I don't recall Palpatine even being mentioned in either film.

And it's not like director and co-writer J.J. Abrams did the best he could with the reveal, either. Palpatine's apparent survival and new plans to re-conquer the galaxy with planet-destroying technology again is revealed in the crawl that begins each of the Star Wars films. The result, then, is that the biggest story point of this film, and thus the the nine-film saga itself, is announced in a recap of the imaginary events that occurred between episodes VIII and IX and in an offhanded remark by Kylo Ren part of the way through the movie.

I think it's safe to say that J.J. Abrams completely fucked up the movie with this, but then, let's not be too too hard on the guy. George Lucas himself fucked up at least half of the six films in the saga when it was still under his control, so, really, fucking-up Star Wars is part of the proud Star Wars filmmaking tradition. The fact that this film was so thunderously disappointing owes more to our heightened expectations by the occasional much-more-good-than-bad Star Wars film like Rogue One or The Last Jedi and, for Star Wars fans who pursue the expanded Universe material, the fact that so many of the comics, novels and cartoons are so much better than any of the actual films, we keep expecting the filmmakers to up their game and, well, it just never--or at least rarely--happens.

I think the "Oh by the way Rey is Palpatine's granddaughter surprise!" reveals was the worst in-film aspect of the film, but, like the previous 11, it had its positive qualities and negative qualities. I was joking when I tweeted shortly after seeing the film that I wished Abrams had ran a few things by me ahead of time, but, if he had, here's what I would have told him about the reveal.

I think Rey should have been a clone of Anakin Skywalker.

If Han, Leia and Luke had all interacted face-to-face with Rey in the first two films and none of them either told her they were here parents, or betrayed to the audience that they might be, then it seemed safe to assume she was not the daughter of any of them (While watching Force Awakens, I thought perhaps she would be revealed to be Ben Solo/Kylo Ren's secret twin sister, and, afterwards, I thought perhaps she would be revealed to be Luke's daughter. By the time Last Jedi came out, I knew the first was a no-go and that film confirmed she wasn't Luke's either).

That's when I started considering the fact that she might be a clone, or maybe something even stupider, like maybe she had no parents, but was spontaneously generated by The Force itself/the midi-chlorians. Remember how Anakin Skywalker, who was thought by some Jedi to be the chosen one destined by prophecy to bring balance to the force, was born of a virgin birth like Jesus, his mom impregnated by The Force...? Well, perhaps Rey was the actual chosen one, and she too was fathered by The Force or, going one better than Anakin, was fathered and mothered by The Force...? (This is stupid, but it is no stupider than Anakin's birth...or Rey being Palpatine's fucking granddaughter).
From Veitch and Kennedy's Star Wars: Dark Empire.
Cloning has been a part of the post-Return of The Jedi expanded universe since at least 1991, when Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy's Dark Empire comics series posited Palpatine cheating death with a combination of Sith magic and cloning technology. And then, obviously, we learned some of the ins-and-outs of cloning in the Star Wars universe in 2002's Attack of The Clones, wherein we learned it played a key role in Palpatine's long-term plan to take over the entire galaxy.

So here was my thinking. Sometime before the events of Return of The Jedi, Palpatine had stolen some of Anakin Skywalker's genetic material (maybe while he was on the operating table at the end of Revenge of The Sith, before he woke up and said "Nooooooooooo!"...?), with the intention of making a clone or clones of Anakin so he would have future chances at breeding apprentices with that powerful Skywalker bloodline. That, or maybe when his own body failed, he had planned on transferring his consciousness into a clone of Anakin. Maybe his untimely death and the collapse of the Empire lead to that plan never seeing proper fruition, but somewhere along the line a clone was made, and it turned out to be Rey.

The advantage of this over her being Palpatine's granddaugther? She would still be a Skywalker—the fact that there is not a Skywalker at the center of the three films that Lucasfilm/Disney have been telling us are part of the "Skywalker saga" seems like a pretty dumb oversight, right?—she would indeed be related to Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, but in a way no one could have expected, it would explain her powers and it would explain the fact that she has no parents and was abandoned by someone or other on a desert planet. There are other ways I think Abrams could have cloned his way out of the question of who's Rey parents were if not Han and Leia and Luke and some lady, and how she fits into the Skywalker saga. Instead of being the biological daughter of the biological child of Palpatine, she could have been a clone of Palpatine himself, or a clone of Luke Skywalker, or even a clone of Leia.

In any case, the basic plot of Rise of Skywalker would/could remain in tact (So yeah, there'd be plenty of other problems, but we'd be free and clear of the Palpatine fucking a lady problem). Palpatine could still be trying to force his essence into Rey's body, but there'd now be some clearer reason/rationale for it: She was created specifically by him to be a vessel for his essence when he was old/dying. It wouldn't solve the problem of Palpatine's return being completely out of left field, but it would at least offer retroactive connection to the earlier trilogies, and retroactively fit the clues to Rey's origins offered.

Anyway, that's what I would have told Abrams if he had run that by me. (I also would have said a lot more Rose, a bit more Lando and get Mark Hamill, Ewan McGregor, Sam Jackson, Liam Neeson, Frank Oz and a muppet, Hayden Christensen and Freddie Prinze Jr. in front of a green screen to play force ghosts for the climax, but we'll talk about that stuff a bit more in future posts). But no one in Hollywood ever runs anything by me.

Like so many of the problems with the storytelling weaknesses of the Star Wars films, though, the backstory of a Palpatine-who-fucks, what was up with his kid/kids, who exactly Rey's parents are or were, and just what the fuck Palpatine's plan was with is Final Order underwater on a secret Sith planet will eventually be decided upon, detailed, straightened out and made sense of in the expanded universes novels and comics and now, perhaps, on Disney+ shows.

That backstory will be be relegated to the fascinating "Aftermath" era between Return of The Jedi and The Force Awakens along with Luke trying to refound the Jedi and all of the other implied adventures that seem infinitely more interesting than what Abrams did in his two films.


Medraut said...

The concept that Palpatine fucks may lead to some extremely uncomfortable expanded universe material detailing the "courtship", or worse yet fodder for the inevitable Rise of Skywalker porn parody.

Jose Gregorio Bencomo Gomez said...

Happy New Year!