The Only Way to Salvage Star Wars Episode IX and Beyond

“It is the only way.” – Darth Vadar in The Empire Strikes Back

It’s Summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, a time of vacations and general relaxation.  It’s also a time for miserable stargazing weather.  So here is something offbeat, albeit a little ranty, still involving stars, but more fully, Star Wars.

I grew up with Star Wars.  I saw every movie at release in either a drive-in or theater.

But enough about me.  Let’s fast forward to 2015 and The Force Awakens.  I wasn’t thrilled with it but did not dislike it either.  Faint praise.  It was definitely better than Episodes I and II, though well behind my favorites.

At the risk of resounding cries heard within the now seven-month old fan echo chamber, The Last Jedi was a complete disaster.  I won’t enumerate all the problems, as other have written and made videos explaining in detail everything wrong with this sorry excuse for a film, a film sadly intended to be the next episodic installment of a beloved saga.  Yet amazingly, many of the grating and confounding problems could be excused if only the single core issue had been addressed properly: the Luke Skywalker of Jedi is a completely different character from the original trilogy.  There is no way you can convince me the fan that young Luke, who believed redemption was possible for the evilest man in the galaxy, his father, would end up as an old grumpy psychotic whose first inclination was to murder his own nephew in cold blood because he, a Jedi Master, had a Dark Side premonition about him.  Suspension of disbelief is one thing in fantasy, but re-writing characters to the point there is no consistency with any core characteristics is a fracture in imagination that cannot be easily repaired, if at all.

Let me give one example for comparison.  Hopefully you are familiar with The Lord of the Rings in either book or film format.  Suppose that halfway through the second book, The Two Towers, Frodo decided that he needed to murder Samwise to save his own skin.  Frodo came to Sam as he slept, looked at him with wide, obsessed eyes, pulled out Sting and set it to his friend’s throat, only to back off at the very last second.  Sam then awoke to see what his master was doing.

Would you believe this was the same Frodo introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring?  How would your perception of Frodo change for the remainder of the novel?  Would you still believe he was the standard bearer of hobbit lineage and the hero successor to his uncle Bilbo, if he was now revealed as a betrayer of his closest friend, let alone a potential murderer?  Is this really the hobbit Gandalf was so fond of?  Would you even care if he accomplished his mission into Mordor?

Of course, it is ludicrous to think of Frodo in this way.  This also holds true for the fake Luke Skywalker, with the only difference being that Lucasfilm actually put this concept to screen, and now we’re stuck with it, along with those who argue it was no big deal, because after all, it is now canon.

Jedi ruined the Star Wars experience for me, at least in terms of future expectations.  I have zero expectations for Episode IX.  I don’t care about the characters or what happens next to the First Order and Resistance, or whatever the Resistance will now be called (the Rebellion Reborn, as fake Luke said?).  Reasonable and modest buildups in expectations from Force were entirely cast away or destroyed in Jedi.  Finn’s backstory, Snope’s backstory, Rey’s backstory, why Luke was in hiding, all of these were recklessly cast aside just as fake Luke tossed that iconic lightsaber over his shoulder and off the cliff.

(As a side note, I have to wonder why it is so difficult to write a continuation of Star Wars that is faithful to prior material while also breaking new ground.  Force was criticized for copying parts of the original trilogy too much, and Jedi went polar opposite by blowing up many past story elements as well as threads started in Force.)

What do we have now, after two movies of this sequel trilogy?

  • No development whatsoever in explaining Finn’s stormtrooper roots, which were cleverly introduced in Force
  • A main villain, who arguably had the best mystery and buildup of expectations for any of the new characters, was “lol’ed” killed off barely midway through the second movie for no good reason beyond the new writer not wanting to deal with him anymore
  • A main hero who still fails at nothing she attempts, is better than everyone at everything, without even a hint as to why. In fact, her development went in the opposite direction with the proclamation that her parents were nobodies, hence she was too, making her several-day old Jedi Knight mastery even more bizarre.

A defender of Jedi’s story is forced to assume that everything, at least the big questions around Rey, Finn, and Kylo, are wrapped up in the trilogy’s final movie.  That’s a big presumption to take seriously.  It means that the mysteries of Force which were subverted almost completely in Jedi are going to be tied together so that everything makes sense.  Sorry, but that’s just not happening.

I care nothing of the story now or the characters.  What reason did the film writer give me, or any 40+ year fan of Star Wars, for caring about what comes next?  How can any of us relate to a main character that never fails, and when we have no reason to believe after two movies that she will ever fail?

Kylo Ren murdered his father, spared his mother, and turned out to be nothing but a hissy fit of rampant child emotion.  What level of fan investment am I supposed to have at this stage to wonder and care if he will ever be redeemed?

The First Order and Resistance are nearly playing out the same script of Empire vs. Rebellion, but with far less competence on both sides.  Why do I need to see a knock-off and inferior version of the original story?

The consistency of the story and main characters is ruined.  There is no way for the events from Episode VII to be resolved reasonably or logically in Episode IX.

There is one option on the table for bandaging this train wreck, and I use this analogy deliberately.  You can make small amends, but the damage is lasting, because the fix itself is innately ridiculous.

So how do you walk back such horrific story shredding?

Dream sequence.

Yeah, it was all just a dream.  Episodes VII and VIII were mostly a sequence of dreams and, because this is Star Wars, Force premonitions.  Some of it was grounded reality, some wishful hoping, some glimpses into the potential future.

Episode IX begins on a planet not seen before, where we immediately join our main character, Rey, as she wakes from a long and vivid dream.  She is a Padawan trainee at Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy.  She is also the least of Luke’s students, with weak powers in the Force, unconfident in her abilities, to the point that most of the other Padawans wonder why she is even there.

But Luke saw potential in her once during a visit to and chance encounter on Jakku.  Despite a meager connection to the Force, Luke felt something else he had not seen before in a Force sensitive.  An orphan of junk traders, Rey gladly accepted Luke’s invitation to be trained as a Jedi.

Ben Solo is also one of Luke’s students.  He too is an orphan, with both of his parents Leia and Han having past (this nicely addresses Fisher’s death and Ford’s earlier departure).  Ben is one of Luke’s strongest students.  He is very aware of his heritage, which makes him overconfident and gives him an inflated sense of destiny, but he is still a good young man, yet bearing an uncanny resemblance in character to a young Anakin Skywalker, his grandfather.

Rey had heard stories of these types of Force premonitions before, and immediately seeks out Master Skywalker to tell him everything and seek his guidance.  Through the conversation, Luke is amazed at the clarity of her narrative, combining actual events with apparent glimpses into the future.  This is the first time Luke hears of a possible Sith Lord named Snoke.  But more worrisome for Luke is the fate of his nephew Ben in Rey’s dream.

The New Republic, still young, is growing and largely at peace at this time.  The remnants of the old Empire are scattered and nearly vanquished.

While Rey and Luke are talking, an orbital military strike descends from the sky, catching everyone off guard.  Luke recognizes the ships as likely Imperials, but Rey says in shock, “Oh no, it’s the First Order!”

Luke quickly understands there is much importance in Rey’s dream.  What ensues is an overmatched battle between the First Order and Luke and his students, the only people on the planet.  Though most of his students are killed, through Luke’s leadership a few survive and escape from the planet, including Rey, Ben, and the droids R2-D2 and BB-8, Rey’s only companion from when she lived on Jakku.

The remainder of the story will be about Luke and the New Republic realizing they are now at war with this new foe, which is relentlessly pushing into Republic territory against their off-guard defenses.  While the Republic tries to hold ground, Luke realizes through Rey that there is a far greater danger that he and his small band of Jedi trainee’s must handle: finding the location of Starkiller Base!  In this real timeline, Starkiller Base is still under construction, and it will be up to Luke, his Jedi, and eventually the Republic as well to stop it before it comes online.  An under construction Starkiller Base in the third movie of the sequel trilogy would be a neat relation to the second Death Star still under construction in the third movie of the original trilogy.

Throughout the story, Luke and Rey leverage the premonitions from Rey’s dream to guide them in their actions.  Most likely we will learn that the dream was instilled by Snoke himself.  But through the experience and ensuing journey, Rey gains confidence and grows stronger, playing a key role in the final conflict.

If anything, there would undoubtedly be a strong mentor-apprentice relationship forged between Luke and Rey as the story unfolded, a relationship that ranged from non-existent to poorly comedic in Jedi.

The rest of the story could be worked out in a variety of ways, addressing Finn’s story as well as other key aspects, like giving Snoke an apprentice, who likely led the initial invasion of the Jedi Academy.

Will Ben turn into Kylo Ren?  Who knows!  We will let the real writers decide.

My guess is this alternate reality would be too violent for Disney, but to me it would put the wars back into Star Wars, give us back the real Luke, and offer a semblance of believability for Rey.


Our Diminishing Education Standards by Generation

Anakin Skywalker: Most powerful Force user of all time.  Despite years of academy training and extensive wartime field experience, never achieved the rank of Master.

Luke Skywalker: Learned meditation and exercise routines in a swamp for a few days.

Rey: “Look at these rocks and tell me what you see.”

Why I Stopped Watching “Doctor Who”

Here is another tangent from my normal postings, but if you bear with me for a few paragraphs more, I promise to tie it back to astronomy.

I was, or I guess still am, a lifelong Doctor Who fan, though I stopped watching the series over a year ago.  Apparently, a new Doctor actor was recently selected, which brings the series back to mind.

That this character could change physical shape and still be the same person was a brilliant way to keep the series alive for well past 50 years, minus about 15 years hiatus.  We always felt a connection to the Doctor, the same person, no matter who the actor.

When I was young, I wondered what his last regeneration would be like, specifically his thirteenth (since Time Lords could regenerate twelve times).  What would the Doctor be like, facing his own mortality?  I thought they would be fascinating tales, to explore how such a long-lived character would react to and reconcile the approach of his final, impending death.  Those potential stories, well into the future, captured my imagination.

The future and its potential never arrived, though, and probably never will.  My Doctor Who bubble burst upon the absurd twist that the Doctor was now on his final regeneration early, “War Doctor” notwithstanding, and that the Time Lords, now deities, could bestow the gift of eternal life.  The show kind of ended for me then as I realized there would be no final contemplation on the Doctor’s life and death beyond the terribly superficial rampant in “sci-fi” and fantasy today.

I and all longtime fans were robbed of this chance to learn the Doctor’s closing narrative.  There will never be a final chapter now that the canonical nature of regenerations has been sent to oblivion.  Once the Doctor would have passed, a successor could have certainly stepped in, be it a descendant, partner, or some other Time Lordy-type entity.  The entertainment industry does not like death, beyond the ability to jump-start characters back to life.  You cannot sell commercials or movie tickets when the best characters are forever dead in their fictitious realities.  And so characters keep coming back on screen, compliments of genesis worlds, alternative timelines, and pagan mercy.

It is unfortunate that death is rarely explored sufficiently in genres related to science fiction, especially for the most beloved characters.  The quest to understand, particularly the heavens, is intrinsically linked to the cosmos’s truth that all things expire in this universe.  Stars form and fade, spectacularly at times. Planets are born and live, but will either burn up or crash into bigger objects, eventually.  The energy of the universe will expire someday, when all stars have burned out and there are no light elements left, no hydrogen nor helium, sufficient to form new ones.

These are wonderful philosophical matters to ponder.  It is just unfortunate that our society goes to such lengths to impede this exploration, be it light pollution blocking our night skies or through pulp stories watched on television.