The Skywalker Saga: Strangest Story Ever Told?
the Skywalker family has it worse than the family in Hereditary
Imagine you were trying to pitch the nine mainline “Skywalker Saga” movies to a movie studio. You are upfront about the fact that you’ll need $300 million to make and market each of these. They’re looking for a light and fun franchise for the whole family. Now imagine you had to tell them not the idealized version of the story most people think of, but the story as it actually happen. For example, imagine telling them the fates of the canonical members of the Skywalker family.
Shmi Skywalker: lives an impoverished existence on a desert planet, her son literally gets sold into slavery, she’s murdered by Tusken Raiders and dies alone and in agony
Anakin Skywalker: no dad, becomes a slave, probably got felt up by Watto, joins this cool order of knights only for them to take turns browbeating him, is the worse half of an incredibly poorly executed love story, can’t publicly express his love for his profoundly hot girlfriend, gets insulted by the Jedi Council when they don’t give him the title of master for no reason at all, turns evil because of a 10 minute speech by the bad guy, slaughters children and lots of his friends, burns his own order to the ground, kills the wife he was trying to save, it certainly seems like his dick gets burned off by lava, ends up encased in a dehumanizing and uncomfortable plastic suit, blows up planets, slaughters billions, all for the asshole who manipulated and used him, has his legendary status as a cool villain reduced to this
Padme Amidala: has her voice digitally lowered in an effort to satisfy some weird George Lucas fetish, has to witness her planet get saved by the species of aliens her culture is racist against, watches the Republic she fought to preserve be effortlessly dismantled and turned into a empire, Force-choked by the love of her life, dies in childbirth, never gets to experience the pleasures of raising her children, those children end up making out, her job is taken over by Jar Jar Binks
Luke Skywalker: an orphan, foster parents won’t get off his jock, just wants to go to Tashi Station for some power converters but gets cockblocked by some creepy old wizard who’s been surveilling him since birth, his buddy Biggs dies, is deceived and manipulated by both of his mentors, loses his hand, loses out in a love triangle with his buddy and, uh, his sister, tries to save his father but his father dies, seemingly never experiences love in his life, the new Jedi order he tries to start literally burns to the ground because he kind of sort of was gonna murder his nephew in his sleep, so he runs and hides on an island like a mopey old dick until he starts caring again, Yoda shows up to give him one more smarmy lecture, projects himself onto another planet with the Force equivalent of Just For Men, after which he promptly dies
Han Solo: is the protagonist in the worst scene in the history of cinema, Lando stole his own movie, his first love almost definitely got dicked down by Paul Bettany before flying off into a future sequel that will never happen, his marriage collapses so he tries to go back to the good old days like he’s having some sad midlife crisis, gets stabbed through the chest by his son, Chewie is honestly kind of chill about it
Leia Organa Solo: an orphan, tortured by her dad, watches her home planet get blown up, falls in love only for the guy to get turned into a statue like a day later, has a non-consensual relationship with a slug, is told by a guy she tongued that he’s her brother in an intensely creepy scene, seems to have achieved final victory over the Empire only to watch the nearly-identical First Order achieve similar domination of the galaxy and destroy the nascent new Republic, her marriage collapses and she tries to get the Rebel band back together like some depressing divorcee who can’t move on, dies in a an effort to save her son’s soul that is successful but, well…
Kylo Ren/Ben Solo: his absentee parents (one diplomating, one smuggling) create the emotional and practical conditions for a Sith lord to manipulate his mind, he grows up with the burden of an extremely complicated family lineage and under the pressure of immense natural talent in the Force, he wakes up to find his beloved uncle and mentor standing over him with a lit lightsaber (according to both of their versions of events), becomes evil and commits all kind of awful war crimes but feels all sad about it, worships burnt plastic, has to take orders from some dude in a gold Lamé suit and pal around with a fascist ginger, kills his dad and it tears him up inside so it’s not even cool, holds hands with an insanely hot girl and that same dickhead uncle breaks it up, he finds out he didn’t kill Snoke which ruins his coolest moment, his incredibly vague “plans of my own” go nowhere, he wants to be part of the final victory but gets thrown down a hole, he makes out with said hot girl but immediately dies, he gets put into countless “toxic masculinity” memes on Instagram.
All of that is a factually-true accounting of the history of the family who this ennealogy is about. What would those film execs say if they heard it that way? Does it sound like a crowd pleaser? It’s like a Michael Haneke approach to popcorn movie filmmaking.
I get that Rey declaring herself a Skywalker at the end is supposed to make all of this OK, to the degree that Kathleen Kennedy and JJ Abrams had any coherent plan beyond “let’s get this shit over with.” But, well, that’s not compelling. She’s not really a Skywalker and declaring herself one to some desert crone doesn’t change that. Look I agree that the fixation on bloodline in Star Wars is creepy. But fundamentally these movies are concerned with this particular biological family. Their strength in the Force passes down from generation to generation. The cursory tacked-on “poignant” ending of the sequel trilogy doesn’t, for me anyway. And, you know, Rey ends up exactly where she started - alone, on a desert planet, I guess vaguely motivated by the need to restart the Jedi order but (I hope) cognizant of the paradox of doing that. Forgive me if I think that’s not the happiest ending.
Members of the Skywalker family are forever sacrificing themselves for the next generation, only for those sacrifices to be brutally wasted. Shmi Skywalker gives up her only child, Anakin, so that he can have a better life; you know what happened to him. Anakin turns evil and betrays everything he was in a misguided attempt to save Padme; you know what happened to her. Anakin sacrificed himself to kill the Emperor and save Luke; the Emperor returned (offscreen!) and Luke ended up a lonely-ass bitter old hermit who fucked off to an island and never left. Han sacrificed himself to save his son; his son did turn good but died like 20 minutes later. Luke sacrificed himself to save the Resistance, but they were left with like literally 12 people anyway. Leia also sacrificed herself for Ben Solo; again, he ended up disappearing into the Force soon after. Bleak!
I will lose many of you here - I am one of those people who thought that Rey and the redeemed Ben Solo should fall in love and start a new Jedi order together. This is very controversial, but it’s controversial because of a narrow kind of perspective that develops from the way these films are talked about. People will assume that I want that development because of an attachment to “Reylo,” the most controversial of all ships, which has started many brutal fan wars on Tumblr and Instagram. Well, look, I fundamentally feel that the actors/characters have chemistry, yes, and I also believe that if you look at the movies objectively you’ll see that they’re pulling off a flawless “enemies to lovers” arc from the very beginning. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I think the Rey-Ben pairing would be better because it makes far more sense for the story. It’s a natural culmination of the Skywalker Saga: the last son of the line unites with the women that the Force awakened and, together, they continue the family literally by having children and figuratively by producing more Jedi. That’s a very narratively satisfying way to wrap up these films and pay off all of that loss and death. But people on the internet used the word “toxic” so Disney got too scared.
There’s another layer of this that’s much harder to support with evidence but that I think is also true. Here’s part of my big read on these movies: they’re about breaking a cycle that never gets broken.
I want to say that, if you watch the prequel trilogy with your eyes open, there’s no way you can avoid concluding that the Jedi were a corrupt and cruel organization that deserved to fail and did. I want to say it’s obvious but many, many people seem to miss this. Look, they not only were the enforcers of a galaxy-spanning government, not only were the most intrinsically powerful powerful beings around, but they also had a real if limited power of foresight. Yet they sat idly by while Palpatine rose to power, looking like the evilest dude you’ve ever seen, and effortlessly took control of everything. They had all of these powers but they went down in the most embarrassing display I can remember. Why did this happen? Because they were shitheads with a cruel set of rules, that’s why. A Jedi must not know love! A Jedi must not know fear! A Jedi must not know anger! A Jedi must not know hatred! Hey you know who feels love, fear, anger, and hatred? EVERYBODY. Those are bullshit rules that nobody could follow. So of course Anakin turned. And, again, you would think most everyone would take that as the explicit lesson of the prequels. So from the beginning we have the idea that there’s something deeply unhealthy about the good guys as well as the bad.
What’s important to add is that, as explicitly stated in the movies, the Sith rose because the Jedi were dominant. There’s an idea that is brought up in the prequels that summarizes the basic dynamic and which is stated explicitly in the sequel trilogy: “Darkness rises, and light to meet it.” This should be pretty discouraging to our heroes; no matter how many Sith they defeat, there will always be more. (We’re also told “always two there are,” which, I don’t know man…. George Lucas is next level when it comes to not making any sense.) The whole thing suggests a story of people trapped in a terrible and pointless cycle of violence. The immensely confusing prophecy about bringing “balance to the Force”also points in this direction, but bear in mind that Lucas appears to have been sniffing glue when writing those screenplays.
And the original trilogy and the sequels bear this out. Luke is drawn into the Jedi’s bullshit by Obi-Wan and Yoda being flatly dishonest with him; he unsurprisingly ends up bitter and alienated from the whole Jedi deal. (People hate his characterization in TLJ, but what does he say that’s wrong? He says that the Jedi don’t own the Force, that it belongs to everyone; he’s right. He says that the legacy of the Jedi is failure; who could possibly deny that after the prequels?) The sequel trilogy hits this home hard, as the political and military conditions from the beginning of the original trilogy are replicated exactly. And characters keep calling out the problem. Kylo Ren says repeatedly, hey, let the past die, if you keep doing this there will always be Jedi fighting Sith. Luke says, look, this whole deal is bullshit, you’ve gotta get out, the Jedi religion deserves to die, move on. Even the gambler/rogue/conman DJ says, gee, this Rebel/Empire stuff sure seems to be a perpetual cycle of pointless warfare, maybe get out. What’s gonna happen to Rey when she starts her Jedi school? Darth Dildo will rise and take her on. It’s all pointless. Like, in the sequel trilogy especially they seem to set up this who “pointless cycle” thing but they do nothing with it. The cycle is unbroken. Because Disney was afraid.
This is all why I’m a supporter of the “Grey Jedi” idea you may have heard about. I only watch the movies and don’t fuck with the books, comics, or shows, but as I understand it a lot of people associate this idea with the Ahsoka Tano character. The basic idea seems pretty appealing to me: that some group of Force users reject the unnatural and unrealistic strictures of the Jedi order but also aren’t evil Siths. (Honestly, what would the Force care about a light side or a dark side? Those are human ideas. The Force is just the Force.) They set out on their own path to determine a way to use the Force that attempts to do good but that rejects the straightjacket of the Jedi that had failed in the past. And Kylo Ren and Rey were the perfect vehicle for this. Kylo is a bad guy but shows constant conflict with that fact and eventually turns good; he’s not a real Sith. And the repeated invocation of Rey’s dark sideis one of the things I like most about her character. Them, coming together, would be the perfect way to break the cycle and move on to something more realistic and humane, and again that would be a far more satisfying end to the narrative in conventional terms. A new order that is both human and humane and that lets the past die, and the family is redeemed.
However you don’t sell footie pajamas with moral complexity, so.
The reason for this fundamentally bizarre storytelling arc isn’t hard to divine: no one was guiding this ship. George Lucas has repeatedly said that he knew all of the major plot beats in the original trilogy from the beginning, but this has been denied by people that worked on them and is very obvious from the films themselves. (Obi-Wan’s pointless deceptions toward Luke and the aforementioned sister-kissing being major clues.) I believe that he had a plan for the prequels, but it was a shitty plan. And the sequel trilogy was based on the famously bad idea of putting two different guys in charge of three movies, splitting them up in the middle. (Giving Colin Trevorrow the last one would have sucked even worse IMO.) I vastly prefer Rian Johnson’s approach to that of JJ Abrams, but I would have preferred a unified Abrams trilogy overall. Probably. Maybe. One way or another you end up with nine movies that are somehow both a cruel funeral dirge of a family suffering and dying pointlessly and also ones where podracing is wizard.
These are the kinds of things I think about, when I watch Star Wars. Also in Rogue One everyone dies and Solo is a brooding meditation on the loss of innocence and youth. It’s all pretty weird for a tentpole franchise designed to sell action figures, is what I’m saying. I could go on. But I’ll stop, I’ll stop.
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Posts coming soon or soonish….
Thoughts on this David Shor interview and the lessons of 2016 and 2020 re: shifting political demographics writ large, through the lens of a particular rhetorical problem we have (coming Monday)
My remembrance of Elizabeth Wurtzel
A look at canceling purely from the standpoint of considering it as a tool for affecting material change
What does materialist anti-racism look like? (A big one so might take some time)
A post about balancing legitimate Covid concerns against people who constantly use Covid as a personal branding exercise (ie “I’m so much more responsible about this than you! Being locked in your apartment is good, you science denier!”)
I have begun reading the soon-to-be released book The Education Trap, which looks like it shares many themes with my book, and will write a review when I am finished (probably behind the paywall, as subscriber-only posts are starting soon)
My biggest problem with the Marvel movies
Have a great weekend.
“I sense much fear in you.” No shit he’s afraid! You pack of old fucking weirdos basically kidnapped him and now you’re treating him like shit! He’s 9 fucking years old! “See through you we can”? Are you serious? Oh, a little boy is worrying about his mother, who you stole him from. WHAT A FUCKING SURPRISE.
Seriously, try to watch Obi-Wan and Yoda’s behavior without the positive feelings you’ve had for them since you were 5. These aren’t nurturing mentors; they are dishonest, manipulative, and cold.
Which is why the fan anger about Rey potentially being a nobody was so annoying, and why Abrams making her a Palpatine was so pathetic. And unnecessary! Tell me: what changed in Rise of Skywalker because of Rey being a Palpatine? What difference did it make in either plot terms or thematic terms? I mean, I guess you can say that he wouldn’t have wanted to recruit her a his successor so badly? But wouldn’t a guy like Palpatine go after this super powerful Force user no matter what? Seems fishy! There is a modicum of angst from Rey when she learns? … maybe? What are we accomplishing here? What would the difference have been if she had learned she was, I don’t know, a Kenobi? Who cares? Rey Nobody sends a powerful message: anybody can be a hero in this universe, even Broom Boy. Rey Palpatine says the exact opposite message, which sucks. “But Rey has to be a somebody. If she’s a nobody, where did she get her power?!? She’s a Mary Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuueeeeeeee! If she’s an ordinary person, you’ve ruined my childhood!” The name of the movie is The Force Awakens. It’s awakening IN HER. You fucking incels.
I also think the third movie could have been immeasurably better if Kylo Ren offers Rey his hand closer to the end of the Last Jedi, she takes it instead of turning it down, the crucial “all is lost” moment at the end of the film is Finn and Poe and Leia watching in horror as Rey stands by his side, and then the first half of the last movie is Rey, and potentially Ben Solo, being redeemed. But this is not a very original idea.
Yes, Kylo Ren committed many crimes, and if he were a real person I would say he should go straight to the Hague. But he’s not a real person. This is fiction. And despite what everybody seems to think now, in fiction you don’t have to perfectly replicate what would be moral in real life. You can represent things that aren’t aligned with real-world morality because one of the points of art is to explore that which is unjustifiable. We all have feelings we can’t morally defend. Art is where we can explore them safely. It’s like the Beatles song “Run For Your Life.” If someone I knew expressed those thoughts literally, I would tell them to go to a therapist. But those thoughts aren’t literal. They’re an exploration of the kind of unhealthy, unintended feelings that we have when we’re romantically possessive of someone. And it’s the same with Kylo Ren; I don’t need the Star Wars movies to have their own Nuremberg trials because he’s a movie character. He’s not real. Human beings were able to understand these distinctions for years. I don’t know why we can’t now.
Help me out here, please. Yoda suggests pretty strongly that the prophecy was misread because it was assumed that it meant that “balance” was good for the Jedi, but in fact balance would be what they got, which is a lot of dead Jedi to more evenly match the numbers between the Jedi and the Sith. So was Order 66… good? Some say that the actual interpretation is that Anakin did eventually bring balance to the Force because he killed the Emperor. But the Emperor came back, because JJ Abrams hates you and the movies you love. Maybe the prophecy says that Anakin is the one to bring balance to the Force because, uh, his son was the guy who… refused to train the woman who killed the Emperor? This is confusing. I’m confused.
This is obscured somewhat by the fact that the relative balance of power between the First Order and the Jedi is utterly vague, but I think it must be a dominant First Order over a plucky Resistance, just like in the original trilogy. In every encounter the First Order has a huge advantage over the Resistance, they’re holding space Nazi rallies out in the open, and they were able to build Starkiller base, which must have taken massive manpower and resources. Speaking of which, the nerds on the internet say that it took 20 years to build the original Death Stars. Starkiller base is vastly bigger. But there’s only 30 years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. What’s the timeline here?
Her dream in Maz Kanata’s place; her encounter in the cave; her immense attraction to Ben Solo and serious consideration of joining him (“I did want to take your hand”); her vision of her evil self in the relic of the Death Star; her succumbing to anger and hatred in the fight against Kylo Ren on the water moon. There is definitely a dark streak in her and to me it completes her as a compelling character.
Starting Anakin off as a 9 year old was so strange, especially considering the bizarre way he ages and Amidala doesn’t. And the biggest problem with the whole thing - on the top of a very long list - is the inexplicable decision to have three movies to chart someone’s downfall but to compress the actual turn towards evil into 20 minutes of screentime. Such a weird and unforced error.
Not sure why you would stop, I'd pay double for this content. As someone who has become a hardcore prequel defender I'd largely agree that the biggest problem - other than the AWFUL attempts at comedy - is starting with a 9 year old. It makes zero sense with what we already knew, turns Anakin into a semi-comedic character, and provides the creepiest romance in a series that also involves siblings making out. Meanwhile, Episode III was legitimately good but horribly rushed. Compressing the first two movies and drawing out the third into two separate movies - with an entire film of conflicted but increasingly more evil Annakin - would've clearly worked better.
Also, I always thought my problem with The Last Jedi was that most of it was painfully boring. But my mind is blown because the ending you propose makes that movie actually interesting and provides a more satisfying narrative to the entire trilogy.
I also will defend those of us who wanted Kylo and Rey together as being anti-shippers. It wasn't out of some "I want to see them as a couple!" nonsense. It's that the only time the sequels were consistently good was when those two were interacting. They were two excellent actors (who had chemistry) with the only even remotely interesting characters in the trilogy. Wanting them together isn't shipping, it's wanting a good movie. Your idea of them creating a new non-Sith/Jedi version of Force users also has the added benefit of providing a narrative that doesn't completely shit on the emotional stakes of the first six films.
Instead we got what we got.
What scene is the worst in movie history that Han Solo was the protagonist of? The video has been removed from YouTube.