Sequel Trilogy

Star Wars: Last Shot (An Imperial Talker Review)

There are few things I like and a lot of things I dislike about Star Wars: Last Shot by first time Star Wars author Daniel José Older. In fact, the bad so significantly outweigh the good that it is a little overwhelming to figure out where to begin. Perhaps the most obvious place is to just say that this story is entirely inconsequential to the Star Wars universe. While the book centers on Han and Lando coming together three years after the events of Return of the Jedi to stop a maniacal Pau’an who has plans to cause a violent, galaxy-wide droid uprising, the story never truly convinced me of its necessity, or that it was providing the Star Wars universe with any greater meaning. There are certainly a number of Star Wars elements in Last Shot. There are Star Wars places – Takodana, Utapau, Bespin, Kashyyyk – and Star Wars species – Twi’leks, Ewoks, Gungans, Ugnaughts – and a cast of familiar Star Wars characters – Han, Lando, Leia, Chewbacca, Maz Kanata – but as a whole these elements never truly coalesce into a Star Wars story with gravitas.

To save you time, I will just come right out and tell you what happens: Han and Lando survive, the bad guy (Fyzen Gor) dies, and the galaxy is once again saved by everyone’s favorite scoundrels. Thus, we are left with an altogether generic, run-of-the-mill Star Wars novel that is easily forgettable. But what is truly disappointing is that the opportunity for some memorable moments with incredibly profound consequence do exist within Last Shot. When, at the end of the novel, Lando must choose between saving himself or the galaxy at large, he chooses the latter. This IS a profound move, a “holy crap” moment in a book that really REALLY needed one. Yet, Lando’s moment of altruistic sacrifice is undercut when he is saved by a laughable plot device: the offspring? of his former droid L3-37 (who shows up in the novel in flashbacks) known as the “Elthree Assault Team.”

L3-37
L3-37
Photo Credit – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Had Lando died, the Star Wars galaxy would have been shaken to its core. Why isn’t Lando in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi? Answer: because he was atomized in an explosion in the Mesulan Remnant. Instead, he is saved by a contrived group of vigilante droids made in the image of L3-37 and goes on to live happily ever after with the Twi’lek woman known as Kaasha, wanting to finally (sort of) settle down after years of galactic promiscuity. And who is this Kaasha you ask? I can’t tell you because she is given little development. She is ultimately in the novel because the author needed a sexual/romantic foil for Lando. Their backstory together goes to the Galactic Civil War when they found comfort in each others arms during the battle of…who knows, I can’t remember. She was smitten by the General, has sought him out, and joins him (and Han) on their adventure. While she is given glimpses of agency – she can communicate with their Ewok companion and she aids Han as he attempts to retake a ship during the novels climax – Kaasha is a Twi’lek woman otherwise beholden to the whims and feelings of a man. Shocking!

Kaasha is not the only new character appearing in the book. A human from Alderaan, and the pilot whom Han and Lando hire to assist them, Taka is a gender-neutral character and is referred to as “they” throughout the book. If there is one truly good thing about Last Shot, Taka is it. I appreciate and applaud that Older chose to include such a character in the Star Wars universe, especially since Taka’s gender-neutral status is so banal. I certainly hope more characters like Taka emerge in Star Wars as their inclusion paves the way for more gender-boundaries to be broken. And, I hope Taka shows up again in Star Wars because they are an interesting and fun. Plus, Taka goes out of their way to annoy Han with heavy metal music which is a pretty funny moment in the book.

Taka is one of the few bright spots in Last Shot, and if I were to chose another it would be the inclusion of 2-year-old Ben Solo. Now, I should note that Ben’s appearance(s) in Last Shot primarily serve Han’s story, specifically the smuggler’s inner turmoil about whether he is a good father (I’ll get back to Ben in a moment). Han’s fatherhood questions are dragged out to the very end when, finally, Han talks to Leia and she reassures him that “no one knows how to be a parent before they are one…” (pg. 340). That it takes the entire book for Han and Leia to have the “parenting is hard” conversation is pretty ridiculous (it is a convo he could have had with Leia without going on a galactic mission) but given that this is the core of Han’s character development it is hardly surprising. I don’t begrudge this particular angle on Han, though. We know from The Force Awakens that he and his son had a rocky relationship, so incorporating little bits of that relationship – in this case whether Han feels like he can do the parenting thing – is a fine angle to take. What is truly disappointing, though, is that there was a massive missed opportunity for Han to learn the importance of the parent-child relationship from Taka.

At one point in Last Shot, Han happens upon a recording of Taka’s parents. From the recording we learn two things: Taka’s parent loved them unconditionally and Taka’s parents were Alderaanian which means their parents are dead. Later, Han will mention to Taka that he watched the recording and they will tell Han that it is the last little piece of his parents they own. Han clearly sympathizes with Taka, particularly since he reflects on comforting Leia when she feels down abpout the destruction of her homeworld. But what was missed was the chance to unite Han’s parenting woes with the fact that Taka is holding onto a small remnant of their deceased parents. I cannot help but imagine a different version of Last Shot where Han comes to a fuller appreciation of his role as a parent, as a father, as he listens to someone who lost their parents. In turn, the conversation he had with Taka, and the lessons he learned/chose to reflect on, could have easily tied in with the remained of the novel (particularly the conversation with Leia at the end). Instead, Han’s parenting woes culminate in the final moments of the book when he receives cookie cutter wisdom from his wife. Ugh. Let’s just go back to Ben Solo…

Moments that Left Me Speechless

That Ben Solo makes a handful of appearances in Last Shot was certainly a positive aspect of the novel, enabling the reader to experience the sequel trilogy villain as an innocent toddler. In fact, it is two lines about Ben Solo – coming through the inner thoughts of Han – that left me completely stunned early in the book. The child looking up at his father, Older writers:

“Han had no idea how a two-year-old could have such ancient eyes. It was as if Ben had been waiting around for a millennium to show up at just this moment in history.”

Wow! Like, wow! With clarity and brevity, Daniel José Older captures the entire trajectory of the Sith Order which Darth Bane instituted, an Order based on the Rule of Two, an Order which survived for a millennium, an Order which was finally destroyed with the death of Darth Sidious at the hands. Now, as if he had been waiting for the Sith to die out, Ben Solo’s time has finally come, his conception coinciding with the death of Darth Sidious. Ben Solo’s conception and birth are the prophetic sign of a new era of Darkness, a Darkness which has been waiting to emerge for a millennia, a Darkness the boy will one day help to bring about as Kylo Ren. And the “ancient eyes”? Those are the eyes which Han  will sees when his son pushes a red lightsaber through him on Starkiller Base. They will be the very last thing Han ever sees, and perhaps in that moment he will think back to that moment he saw the “ancient eyes” in his two-year-old son.

Han and Ben
Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) looks at his father with “ancient eyes.”
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

That Han’s small reflection on Ben came early in the novel left me hoping more moments would pop up that packed a punch. But there are really no other Star Wars gems in the book on par with Han’s reflection on Ben. Instead, the opposite is true, with two other lines showing up which left me dumbfounded and at a loss. They are (and I can’t believe I am about to type this):

“Tight enough for a bulge and the insinuation of an ass…” (pg. 41).
“Like a droid orgy of some kind, but with astromechs and those old battle droids from the Clone Wars?” (pg. 335) 

My problem with references to “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy” is pretty straight forward: they don’t add anything of value to the novel. Unless, that is, one counts shock value, which, in this case, I don’t. There is a time and place in a story to really shock the audience, to authentically catch the reader off-guard with something that comes out of left field. Lando choosing to sacrifice himself for the greater good is shocking, and if he actually died in the process would have been even more shocking. But “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy”, these sexually-charged references caught me off-guard and shocked me in a way that left me thinking only one thing: this book is really bad.

The Bad Outweighs the Good

To be fair, I would say this book is really bad even if it didn’t reference “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy.” Here, I will list a handful of other things that are problematic about the book (to go along with things I have already mentioned):

  • The flow of the book is choppy and confusing, the narrative jumping back and forth as it follows four storylines through flashbacks. I am not opposed to flashbacks in general, but the book jumps across timelines far too many times without giving the reader a chance to catch their breath.
  • Speaking of flashbacks, Lando’s storyline (“about 15 years ago”) does not line up with the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story. How do I know this? Because I was paying attention in the 1st Grade and learned addition and subtraction.  But there is a bit more to it: L3-37 was destroyed, and uploaded into the Millennium Falcon, in the Solo movie (which takes place around 10 BBY). However, Lando’s flashbacks in Last Shot take place in 8 BBY and L3-37 is still intact and NOT uploaded into the Falcon. Oh, and let’s not forget that at the very end of Solo, the Millennium Falcon no longer belongs to Lando…
  • The villain, Fyzen Gor, gets his own flashbacks but is completely unconvincing as a bad guy and, even worse, uninteresting. What makes his story all the more confusing is that he is from Utapau, his evil plan involves melding organic body parts with droids, and his evil conversion takes place sometime around 13 BBY, but there is not a single reference to General Grievous!!! At the very least, Gor could have been doing his initial evil organic- droid stuff and reflecting on the droid General who died on Utapau in 19 BBY.
  • The droids Gor activate to kill people literally say “Killlllll.” #facepalm
  • Speaking of those killlllllller droids, when Han and Leia’s kitchen droid is activated and moves to killlllll little Ben, a brilliant opportunity existed for the toddler to destroy the droid with his adolescent connection to the Force. This would have been awesome and a perfect connection the “ancient eyes” moment early in the book. Instead, the droid is activated and then immediately deactivated. Ugh!!!!!!
  • Oh, and what about all of the other droids galaxy-wide that were activated? Even though it was brief, a lot of droids probably killllllllled quite a few organic beings in those moments. And by “quite a few” I mean millions, and by millions I mean tens of millions.
  • Where are R2-D2 and C-3PO? This book is about killllllller droids but the two most famous droids in Star Wars never show up. Were they activated?
    Boss Nass
    “Meeeeeesa don’t lika Aro for being preachy.” – Boss Nass

    Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

  • Aro, a Gungan working on Substation Grimdock, gets upset with Han for saying “meesa” and chastises him for assuming all Gungans talk like…like Gungans. I understand what Daniel José Older is TRYING to accomplish here, giving the reader an object lesson in not assuming how individuals speak based on stereotypes. But it comes off as preachy and makes Aro even more annoying than the average Gungan. And besides, there are plenty of Gungans that say “meesa” who do some pretty great things in Star Wars (check out this piece:  The Sacrifice of General Tarpals).
  • Chewbacca doesn’t need to be in the main storyline. Like, at all. He is there…and I know this sounds crazy…just because this novel is partially about Han. Now, to be fair, Older does drum up a reason for Chewie to go on the adventure: young Wookiees being kidnapped by Fyzen Gor for his experiments. However, there is no definitive resolution to this other than Chewie fighting the half droid-half Wookiee abominations. In turn because Chewbacca is “lugging a sack” (pg. 337) following his battle, Han presumes it is full of Wookiee body parts but this is never confirmed. Nor does anyone, at the end, question whether some Wookiees are still being held in some secret laboratory. Oh welllllllllllll….

Here is the deal – if you want to read Star Wars: Last Shot, go for it. It you end up liking it, more power to you. And, if you would like to convince me this book is far better than I have suggested, by all means, leave a comment below. I will gladly give your thought(s) careful consideration. But as of right now, beyond the few things in this book that I actually liked (Taka, Ben Solo, “ancient eyes”) there is just too much stacked against Last Shot for me to give it anymore significant thought. In turn, Last Shot has given rise to an unintended consequence: it has made me less likely to purchase/read Star Wars novels in the future, especially novels by new Star Wars authors. If nothing else, this will (I hope) save me from having Lando’s “bulge” and “ass” shoved in my face again. 


***Page numbers are from the first edition of Star Wars: Last Shot.***

Reflections on The Last Jedi

I can say, with little remorse, that I have not yet purchased The Last Jedi. This isn’t to suggest I never will. The need – not a want, a need – to place the film next to the other Star Wars films on my shelf will eventually take over. For now, I can fight that urge, pushing back against the feeling that my shelf looks incomplete. But why am I fighting this feeling? Why not give in and just buy the most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise? I am a die-hard Star Wars fan after all, so why haven’t I gone out of my way to purchase and obsessively watch the film? Good questions.

I don’t review films on this site. I don’t review films on this site because I am not a professional reviewer, a critic trained to offer an appraisal of a piece of work. I am a fan of Star Wars, I have opinions, but those opinions do not give me the authority to offer any truly nuanced or unbiased “take.” I don’t review films on this site, but I am never-the-less, here and now, ready and willing to offer my thoughts and opinions on The Last Jedi, doing so with as little bias as possible. But again, this isn’t a formal review, and I don’t get paid to say these things.

A Smattering of Things I Liked

Paige Tico
Paige Tico
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi. The movie has some remarkable moments, and to me none is more remarkable than the moment Paige Tico sacrifices herself to save the small Resistance fleet. Tico, a character who never utters a word, a ball gunner in a Starfortress Bomber blasting away at First Order TIE Fighters. In a desperate moment, with everything on the line, Paige climbs out of her gunner’s chair and performs an act of sacrifice heroism, unleashing the bombs that destroy a First Order Dreadnaught. The action saves the fleet; the action takes her life.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and I genuinely appreciate the acting of Kylo Ren actor Adam Driver. I was captivated by Driver’s portrayal of Kylo in The Force Awakens. I was swept away by his portrayal in The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren is not just a villain in The Last Jedi, he truly is the “monster” Rey calls him. The Dark Side isn’t just strong in him, it consumes him in a flame that burns hotter than Mustafar. He is ready and willing to destroy everything to prove himself, to be like his grandfather, to be his grandfather, to be greater than his grandfather. Darth Vader, Lord of Death. Kylo Ren, Supreme Lord of Darkness. Redemption isn’t even on this guys radar. Only death, only destruction, only darkness, only power.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and there are smattering of moments and characters and events I really enjoyed. I loved the design of the Resistance Bombers, the First Order Dreadnaught, the AT-M6 Walkers, the Resistance capital ships. I liked the geography of Crait, and the fact that Caluan Ematt is a General leading the Resistance forces on the planet. Laura Dern is great as Vice Admiral Holdo, although I wish her sacrifice – which is visually incredible – had been saved for Episode IX since it overshadows the sacrifice of Paige Tico. Carrie Fisher’s final portrayal as Leia Organa is  very moving (sans the weird space floating moment) and her final interaction with Luke, even though he isn’t physically present, is quite touching.

KyloRey
Kylo and Rey fighting together is a pretty cool sequence. Watch closely and you’ll notice that Rey should have easily been killed.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I could list other things, other aspects of the film I genuinely liked. But I am not here to just list things, and I don’t think you want to read a list. The truth is, those aspects of the film I just listed – and a few others here and there – are all I can muster when it comes to this film. I can identify “things” about The Last Jedi I liked and that is all. I envy those who have been so moved by this film, who have elevated it into top place in their Star Wars rank lists. I wish I could do the same – it wouldn’t supplant The Empire Strikes Back in my list but #2 is a fluid spot – but sadly I cannot. I am a life-long Star Wars fan and this film just doesn’t move me, it just doesn’t feel right. There are a handful of profound moments but this movie just isn’t very profound.

Wading into the Shallows

I am well-aware that those who love The Last Jedi see incredible depth in it, that they believe this film has done something to Star Wars that is magnificent, breathtaking, groundbreaking. I understand what they are saying, I even understand how they are thinking. I just don’t agree. The common refrain I run into is that the writer/director Rian Johnson has “let the past die,” jettisoning aspects of the Star Wars saga – even aspects of The Force Awakens – to tell a unique and different type of Star Wars story. Perhaps nothing points to this more clearly than by Rian Johnson’s depiction of Luke Skywalker as a broken shell of a Jedi, a man determined to die in-exile.

Heading into the film I knew Luke Skywalker was going to be broken in some form and I was perfectly fine with that reality. “Luke Skywalker has vanished” the opening crawl to The Force Awakens tells the audience in the very first line and to its credit The Last Jedi shows us that the line is not solely about being geographically lost. Heck, the film could have been titled “The Lost Jedi” because Luke Skywalker has completely lost touch with who he was when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi. “I am a Jedi like my father before me,” young Skywalker once proudly declared to the Dark Lord Sidious in the single most important moment in the Original Trilogy. “I’m ending all of this. The tree, the texts, the Jedi. I’m going to burn it all down,” he now tells Master Yoda (who appears as a Force ghost). Damn, the Luke Skywalker we knew really has vanished!!! It’s no wonder so many older fans of the franchise have lamented that this isn’t the Luke they remember…

Is This REALLY Luke?

In a guest post on this site – An Ignoble End to the Skywalker Saga – my friend Nancy  succinctly notes that the Luke Skywalker we experience in The Last Jedi “…could not cope with the crushing disappointment of Kylo’s turn towards the dark side and the guilt he felt towards letting Leia and Han down.” To this we can add that he feels equally guilty for Ben Solo’s ultimate turn to the Dark Side. You know, that moment when he stood above his sleeping nephew, ignited his green lightsaber and contemplated, momentarily, ending the boy’s life. When he recalls the event, Luke initially lies to Rey about what happened. Or rather, he offers a “Kenobian” point-of-view to his new protégé. But I digress. Ben Solo, frightened as he wakes and looks up at his uncle holding the blade, defends himself. Who wouldn’t? But then the young Solo does more, tearing down the Jedi Academy that Skywalker had built, killing the students (with the help of other students who had dark feelings?) and fleeing to the warmth, love, and manipulation of Supreme Leader Snoke.

That Ben Solo-turned-Kylo Ren destroyed everything Luke had painstakingly built in the years after Return of the Jedi makes sense. It was the story I expected after watching The Force Awakens. The surprising bit is that Luke Skywalker took a completely non-Luke Skywalker action which was the catalyst for Ben’s final step into the Dark Side. With the momentary ignition of his green lightsaber as he stands above his sleeping nephew, the scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke cast aside the exact same blade, refusing to kill his father, is itself thrown aside.

“This is not going to go the way you think,” Skywalker declares to Rey at one point in the movie. “Let the past die, kill it if you have to.” Kylo Ren tells Rey at another point in the film. Over and over again, The Last Jedi champions what it is doing: tearing down the foundations of Star Wars with something new and radical. The movie spends a lot of time self-referencing with quotes and metaphors (a building literally crumbles, burying Luke, when Ben defends himself) to prove this is the case, to make us believe we are watching a radically new and fresh version of Star Wars. The thing is…

I don’t buy it. From my vantage point, the self-references and metaphors – and the shallow depth of the film – are just clever tricks distracting us from the obvious. Namely, that we have seen this story once before:

A teacher takes on a gifted, young student who has incredible power. The teacher trains the student, but the student has dark thoughts and feelings, and those thoughts and feelings grow like a virus in the mind. Eventually, the teacher must confront the student, and the student fights back. While the teacher chooses not to kill the student, the damage is already done. The teacher is left feeling guilty and flees into exile. The student puts on a mask that represents their dark turn. Years later, the two finally confront one another again. The teacher is aware of their own shortcomings, that they failed the student. The student believes they are the more powerful now, but little do they know that their teacher is truly more powerful than the student can possibly imagine. Their final battle ensues, and in a critical moment, the student slashes a red blade through their former teacher…only to be left stunned and confused by their former teacher’s final lesson.

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker?
Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo?
Rey and *insert the villain from Episodes X, XI, XII*

LukevsKylo
Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren face off on Crait.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi


We Need to Talk about Rey

Speaking of Rey, for being the heroine of this new trilogy, The Last Jedi goes to ridiculous lengths to build her up through Acts I & II only to have her be a non-factor in Act III. Her story is an interesting one and I genuinely like Rey, but for all of her training with Luke, her Force connection with Kylo Ren, and her (brash) decision to run off and try to save Ben from the monster within him, her story is effectively set aside in the Final Act. Why? Because this film isn’t about Rey. It is really about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. Don’t get me wrong, Rey has a lot of cool character development and some intriguing bits happen to her. Never-the-less, from my vantage point, Rey is ultimately set aside in what is supposed to be her own story. 

Of course, one could argue that Rey’s connection with Kylo Ren is the most fascinating aspect of the movie. In fairness, I wouldn’t entirely disagree. The relationship between Kylo Ren (Dark Side) and Rey (Light Side) is where a lot of the philosophical “depth” in The Last Jedi comes into play. This depth is certainly interesting, but it is a depth that is knee deep at best. For all of the Ontological-meets-Ethical Dualism which Rey and Kylo Ren represent, specifically as it relates to the “Balance of the Force” (whatever the hell that even means at this point), any opportunity to truly dive into the mysterious abyss of the Force never really happens. An opportunity certainly existed, one where Luke  could have helped Rey work through her connection to Kylo (and vice-versa with Snoke helping Kylo work through his relationship with Rey). This would have been a prime opportunity to highlight Luke (and Snoke) as mentors, while shedding light on this intriguing and new conception of the Force. Instead, the movie gives us only fleeting glimpses of these deeper philosophical undertones while simultaneously distracting us from them (i.e. – Kylo being shirtless; the two awkwardly touching hands; Rey running off to save Ben). Then again, I’m not sure the film even knows how to take things into the deep end of the pool. In fact, I would liken it to this: The Last Jedi (and Rian Johnson) give off the impression of a college freshman who took Introduction to Philosophy, read snippets from the I Ching, the Avesta, the Gathas, and The Jedi Path, and is now acting like a pretentious know-it-all who has minimal grasp on what they are saying. Which leads me to this…

“Getting” The Last Jedi

As Nancy and I were chatting recently about the film, she mentioned that “…there is this attitude that if you didn’t like Rian Johnson’s vision then you weren’t smart or deep enough to ‘get’ The Last Jedi.” In other words, it is as if one must possess a gnostic knowledge to truly “understand” the esoteric depth at the core of this movie. If only Nancy, or myself, or others who do not love and worship the film as a gift to Star Wars had the special knowledge to understand it, we would finally see just how profound The Last Jedi truly is. But like I said earlier, I really don’t think it is very profound.

For over two hours, I watched a film I had already seen before. Or rather, I watched a film that took thematic elements from a handful of films that I have already seen before. Don’t get me wrong, there ARE things in this film that are new, and things in this film that are intriguing. I mean, I have NEVER seen the aliens in the Canto Bight Casino before (but I have been confronted by never-before-seen aliens in a casino/cantina-esque setting before). Yet, for all the new stuff in this film, as a whole it just came off as an amalgamation of ALL the Star Wars films, pretending to be something radical and fresh while simultaneously offering philosophical possibilities that are never really teased out.

I envy those who have experienced The Last Jedi as this new and fresh dive into the Star Wars universe. Truly, I do. I wish I had the gnosis they possess and the connection tot he film that leads them to see it as philosophically deep and spiritually mystical. Then again, I don’t really believe there is any there “there,” or at least not enough to elevate The Last Jedi to the top of the Star Wars pantheon. Rather, The Last Jedi is just a film masquerading as something truly special, a “child in a mask” playing Star Wars dress up. Does it attempt some intriguing things, even getting away with a handful? Of course it does. But the thing is, if I want to really experience Star Wars, I will watch the Original six films. Hell, I’ll even watch The Force Awakens – which is also a derivative amalgamation but is at least AWARE it is – and I will definitely watch Rogue One – which woefully lacks women but is never-the-less a stellar homage to A New Hope. On the flip side, if I feel like watching something that is “technically” Star Wars but that thinks it is way smarter and self-important than it really is, I’ll watch The Last Jedi. Granted, I’ll need to buy it first, and right now I have better things to spend my money on.

An Ignoble End to the Skywalker Saga

Guest Talker: Nancy (of Graphic Novelty²)

This is not going to go the way you think.”  No truer words were said, and Luke Skywalker’s words proved to be prophetic as the movie The Last Jedi unfolded.  

I grew up on the original trilogy of Star Wars movies, with Luke being my first crush. Even as a child I was a practical lass, and the bad-boy swagger of Han Solo held no appeal to me. Instead it was humble and heroic Luke who held me enthralled.  Years went by; with the trilogy being the only Star Wars I knew until the late 1990’s when the prequels began. While the prequels have been derided for many deserved reasons, I still felt they were authentic to the Star Wars universe. George Lucas might not write good dialogue, but his vision held true, and there were many strong moments in the prequel trilogy.

When Disney bought out Lucas’s Star Wars movie rights and announced yet another trilogy with other stand alone movies planned, I was apprehensive but hopeful. The Force Awakens combined both the legacy characters and added some intriguing and strong new ones and I was thrilled with the new direction. It honored the past but looked towards the future, as did Rogue One. My first Star Wars movie review post on my blog about Rogue One  (https://graphicnovelty2.com/2016/12/22/rogue-one-movie-review/) said “if this storytelling continues, Disney will have handled the buyout of Star Wars beautifully.” It turns out I spoke too soon.

star-wars-the-last-jedi
Photo Credit – Disney/Lucasfilm

*While I assume at this stage people reading this post will have watched the movie, I do want to warn you that there are spoilers ahead.*

I headed into the movie with incredibly high hopes, but twenty minutes into my first viewing of The Last Jedi, I was whispering angry thoughts about the movie to my husband. By the end of the movie I was seething. I felt it dishonored Luke’s legacy, and I was distraught.

Soon afterwards I contacted Jeff here at The Imperial Talker and Michael at My Comic Relief to vent. Both men are huge Star Wars fans and I wanted to see if I was alone in my thoughts. While I certainly cannot speak as to their reactions to the movie, my conversations with them were enlightening, and I watched the movie a second time on their recommendation. Once all the surprises were gone, I could concentrate more on the movie as a whole and get a more nuanced view the second time.

Afterwards, I gave myself some time to mellow, but then I struggled with writing this post. I hate to be provocative and feared a backlash of other bloggers who would vehemently disagree with me. I’m typically a go with the flow person, who rarely let’s people know if I’m truly upset (except my children- they know when I’m mad). This post was going to make me push my boundaries, and I did some over-thinking before I started to write.

But here we are, so let’s get into WHY this movie affected me so negatively. There were several smaller issues such as: Leia’s use of the Force, which was visually comical, Rose’s part, which ate up time that could have been given to already established characters, Chewbacca being treated as a pet/afterthought and the Rey/Kylo scenes (don’t even get me started on the connection through time and space!). On the other hand, there were many memorable moments, one of my favorites being when Poe is schooled on long-term strategy by General Organa and Admiral Holdo. I enjoyed the overriding idea that the rebellion is for everyone and that a small spark can ignite a winning rebellion.

But that’s not what upset me the most. It was Luke, all Luke.

As Star Wars has been around since 1977, there are now several generations of fans who have come into this franchise at different times.  So you have fans like me who grew up on the original, fans such as my children who watched the Prequels as they came out in the theatres, and now a new generation who will grow up loving the newest set of characters. You can even argue, as my oldest son observed, that I am a “purist,” for although I have occasionally read some of the Expanded Universe (now called Legends) books, the movies are really my only touch stone to the Star Wars universe.

Luke in yellow
Luke Skywalker at the end of A New Hope.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

As such, I have always viewed Luke as the true hero of the movies. Whereas Anakin, Ben Kenobi and certainly the Jedi Council from the Prequels let pride, power or shame affect their judgment, Luke was pure. He came from a humble background, not knowing of his true parentage yet, and with little training was able to defeat Darth Vader and bring balance back to the Force.

This new movie gave us a nihilistic Luke, who years later, was filled with so much remorse and regret that he refused to leave his island where he had banished himself to wallow in misery. When the actor Mark Hamill, who has embodied Luke and will be forever connected to the role, tells Rian Johnson, “I think I fundamentally disagree with everything you’ve decided for me” that is telling as to how Luke’s hero arc was going to play out. Now I know there has been further clarification that MH has shared about this quote, and he supposedly stands behind RJ’s version…but, if his first thought was unhappiness, as was mine when I first watched it, then this viewpoint cannot be discredited.

Now this is where another quote can be used to explain the movie’s direction. “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to,” says Kylo Ren to Rey. I understand if Star Wars is to be a viable movie franchise, it needs to grow and change. Han Solo left us in The Force Awakens, and Carrie Fisher’s death meant that Leia’s arc was going to end earlier than expected. That left Luke. He was to be the torch bearer to Rey and the new Rebels. So why did his destiny need to end so ignobly?

In this role, Luke could not cope with the crushing disappointment of Kylo’s turn towards the dark side and the guilt he felt towards letting Leia and Han down. Yes, I understand that he helped the rebellion when he sent an astral projection of himself to the planet Crait and was able to distract Kylo and send his sister and the other rebels to safety. I even understand that he used his hard won wisdom to help and wasn’t the impetuous youth who left his training with Yoda early to help Leia and Han. On one level- I get it- but I didn’t like it.

Luke & Leia
Photo Credit: Vanity Fair

Luke’s and Kylo’s flashbacks to the night that Kylo destroyed the new Jedi Academy are what truly turned me against this version of Luke and led me to feel that he was dishonored in director Johnson’s interpretation. My Luke never would have considered killing his nephew. He put his lightsaber down in front of Darth Vader, and never gave up hope that his father still had a remnant of love left in him (Jeff’s post Luke Skywalker: A Farewell To Arms beautifully describes this moment). A wiser and older Luke would have tried anything to prevent Kylo from joining Supreme Leader Snoke. Killing him would not have been an option. I believe the quote “You were the Chosen One!” that Obi-wan Kenobi shouts at Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, is in fact a better one to have used to describe Luke. His entire character was crucified in this latest movie, and he deserved better.

In real life, there are times when things go to hell. Our lives do not turn out the way we envisioned. A great success can be eroded away with failures later in life, and becoming disillusioned can be a sad reality for some. Taking all that into consideration, Luke should have gone out as a battle-worn but still dignified warrior. I wanted him to have a loving goodbye to his twin (as I wrote about in this post: https://graphicnovelty2.com/2018/01/24/star-wars-comlinks-favorite-tlj-scene/ ) and for him to have been a mentor to Rey. This lack of a proper conclusion to Luke’s story arc was not a fitting end to the Skywalker saga.

20171231_170859
I laughed at this meme about Luke, Ben and Yoda, for despite my opinion about the movie, I can see other perspectives!

Guest Talker Bio: Nancy is half of the writing team for Graphic Novelty², a blog that centers around graphic novels and geek life. She is a married mom of three who loves her job as a teen librarian and is a Star Wars & Star Trek aficionado.

The (Mis)Use of Captain Phasma

So this post has spoilers from The Last Jedi but you probably guessed that already…

Following the release of The Force Awakens in December 2015, I was perplexed and annoyed by how small Captain Phasma’s role had actually been in the film. The marketing for The Force Awakens had led me to believe that Phasma, the villainous First Order stormtrooper wearing chrome armor and a cape, would play a larger part in the movie. However, that wasn’t the case, and I was left grasping for understanding about why Captain Phasma was underused. 

In a previous post – Star Wars: Phasma – I highlighted this disappointment, noting in that piece that “I was pretty shocked by how little she factored into the movie.” As well, I also noted my conviction that Captain Phasma would undoubtedly be a greater factor in Episode VIII. In fact, I wrote as much, stating that,

“…I can’t imagine a scenario in which Captain Phasma doesn’t play a larger role. It would be silly for writer/director Rian Johnson not to utilize Phasma in a more direct way, particularly now that Starkiller Base is gone and, presumably, First Order and Resistance forces will be fighting a dirty and gritty war. Besides, with many fans expressing disappointment over how little she appears in The Force Awakens, it would make practical sense just to give us more of her.” 

Well, Captain Phasma certainly shows up in The Last Jedi, but her appearance was woefully underwhelming, even more so than her brief appearances in The Force Awakens. Rather than “more of her” we actually get less, and while we do see her fire her blaster and watch as she battles Finn (one of her former stormtroopers) this hardly makes up for the brevity of her screen-time, not to mention the fact that she dies only a short while after she finally shows up. To say that I was left stunned by Phasma’s (mis)use is an understatement, and while my expectations were admittedly high and could partially be to blame for how I feel, it is never-the-less perplexing that this mysterious villain would be so quickly laid to rest in Episode VIII without her doing anything of significance in the developing war against the Resistance which would serve the First Order’s interests. In fact…

…I find it most perplexing that Phasma died right BEFORE the climactic ground battle the First Order launches on the planet Crait. With Resistance fighters staging a last ditched effort to hold off the First Order, this would have been a perfect and brilliant moment to see Captain Phasma in her prime, leading soldiers fearlessly into battle (*What could have been an engagement that echoed Rogue One’s gritty Battle of Scarif was more of an aesthetic homage to the film at large with the bright red mineral dust of Crait overwhelming the battlefield*). Captain Phasma charging into a battle against the Resistance, that was what I was hoping for, that was the expectation I had anticipated when Phasma was first introduced in the lead up to The Force Awakens. The set up was there, the pieces in place for the Captain to lead her soldiers into a deadly battle, and yet…

…what we get is Captain Phasma falling to a fiery death on a burning First Order ship after being struck by Finn. Talk about disappointing.

FinnBattlesPhasma
Captain Phasma battles Finn
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

The thing is, this disappointment is amplified by the fact that two stories about Phasma were released in the lead up to The Last Jedi. The novel Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson and Marvel’s Captain Phasma comic series offer readers a deep and intriguing look at the woman inside the chrome armor. In particular, we learn in these stories is that Phasma is a survivor, that she will literally go out of her way to stay alive. Having discovered that survival at all costs is her modus operandi, it feels out of place that Captain Phasma would purposefully put herself in harms way by engaging Finn in a fight while the ship around her breaks apart and burns. As well, that she lets her guard down once she believes she has beaten Finn is equally confusing, something she never would have done in her earlier life on the planet Parnassus. 

In laying out my disappointment, and my belief that she was misused in The Last Jedi, I will readily admit that a small sliver of my brain believes Captain Phasma survived her fall. Given all of the unexpected turns that happen in The Last Jedi it wouldn’t be surprising if Captain Phasma survived her fiery flirtation with death, and Phasma is certainly the type who could do so. If so, this could create a very interesting plot-line in Episode IX, with Finn realizing that Phasma is still alive, and a badly injured Phasma holding a blistering grudge against him for besting her. In fact, I am just going to go on record and say this:

I think we will see Captain Phasma again in Episode IX. 

If I am right, I hope Captain Phasma and her re-emergence is treated with incredible care, and that she isn’t misused once again. An opportunity exists to not only show audiences that Phasma is a survivor, but for her to use her survival as a means of rising within the ranks of the First Order, to challenge General Hux for the #2 spot behind the newly minted Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. In fact, I think it is safe to say that IF Captain Phasma survived, Kylo Ren will be pretty damn impressed she did. And I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Phasma were to execute General Hux with Kylo Ren’s blessing…

But if I am wrong, if we won’t be seeing her again in Episode IX, then so be it. While I believe she deserved far more treatment and was misused in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I am otherwise left with the worry that watching her fall to her doom was a cheap trick, a “gotcha” moment where she will return in IX just to be dispatched once again. At this point, while I have yearned for more of Captain Phasma on the big screen, and grew even more fond of her through the novel and comic series, I am otherwise just flat out tired of investing the time and emotional energy into this character….and I guess I will just leave it at that.

Haikuesday: Poe Dameron

Star Wars Trivia:
Poe’s parents fought for Rebs at
Battle of Endor


Mission to Jakku.
Poe handed crucial info.
First Order arrives.


A battle ensues,
Dameron sprints to his ride.
“Come on BB-8!!!”


His X-Wing damaged,
Poe passes the mission off
to his trusted droid.


Taking aim, Poe shoots.
A trooper is hit, goes down.
Blood. Pain. Death. Panic.


Lor San Tekka killed.
Dameron reacts, fires.
Frozen by the Force.


Interrogation.
Torture. Pain. Resilience. Grit.
Kylo will break Poe.


“The right thing to do.”
“You need a pilot,” Poe says.
“I need a pilot.”


TIE Fighter stolen.
Dameron heads to Jakku.
Finn isn’t happy.


TIE Fighter crashes.
Poe is no where to be found.
His jacket remains.


I have to be frank:
I never understood how
Poe just disappears.


Fast-forward the film:
Now we’re on Takodana
and Poe reappears.


“Fighters incoming!”
“It’s the Resistance,” Han says.
Poe leads Black Squadron.


Star Wars Trivia:
Poe flies a T-70
known as the Black One.


Dameron blasts TIEs.
“That’s one hell of a pilot!!!”
Ace in a dogfight.


Poe and BB-8,
pilot and droid reunite
at Resistance base.


Finn looks on, sees Poe.
Dameron looks up, sees Finn.
The two friends embrace.


Scrubs: Turk and J.D.
“It’s guy love between two guys.”
Star Wars: Finn and Poe


I have to be frank:
Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe,
is one handsome dude.


Star Wars Trivia:
Poe flew with the Republic’s
Rapier Squadron


“Disable the shields.”
“Take out the oscillator.”
“Blow up their big gun.”


 Preparing to fight,
the Resistance springs to life.
Poe readies his ship.


Base to Black Leader:
“…go to sub-lights on your call.”
Poe gives his orders.


Leading the X-Wings.
“Hit the target dead center.”
TIE Fighters inbound.


Hole in the target,
Dameron creates a plan.
He just needs cover.


Into a long trench,
Poe is pursued by TIEs and
targeted by guns.


“I need some help here.”
Ello Asty is destroyed.
Black Leader persists.


Threading the needle.
Poe blasts the oscillator.
Proton torpedoes.


Thermal Exhaust Port
and Thermal Oscillator.
Thermal Bros – Luke, Poe.


“Starkiller” destroyed.
“Our jobs done here, let’s go home.”
Hard fought victory.


I’m of the belief
that Poe should be given the
nickname “Starkiller”


Leia: Huttslayer
Poe Dameron: Starkiller
You know you want this.


Haikuesday is a monthly series on The Imperial Talker, a new post with poetic creations coming on the first Tuesday of each month. The haiku topic is chosen by voters on Twitter so be sure to follow @ImperialTalker so you can participate in the voting. Now, check out these past Haikuesday posts:

Droids (February 2017)

Ahsoka Tano (March 2017)

Darth Vader (April 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

The Truce at Bakura (June 2017)

Queen Amidala (July 2017)

Ryloth (August 2017)

Cloud City (September 2017)

General Grievous (October 2017)

Millennium Falcon (November 2017)

The Prayer of Kylo Ren

“Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light. Supreme  Leader senses it. Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I will let nothing stand in our way. Show me, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started.” – The Prayer of Kylo Ren

It is a scene in The Force Awakens in which the audience is invited to witness a small, sacred act – the prayer of an individual seeking forgiveness from, and offering continued devotion to, the object of his worship. Sitting before an altar, an altar which bears a cherished relic – the burnt helmet of Darth Vader – Kylo Ren, the film’s primary antagonist, invokes the strength and guidance of the deceased Sith Lord, his grandfather. The words spoken by the young Knight of Ren, brief as they are, offer a glimpse into the soul of a young and clearly tormented man, a man seeking respite and aid from his divine ancestor.

One can certainly imagine that this is not the first time Kylo Ren has offered a prayer to his grandfather, nor will it be his last. In turn, there are any number of things – thoughts and questions – that this scene, and this prayer, leaves open to the imagination. For example, while his prayer is offered to the burnt shell of Vader’s helmet, a narrative indication that he self-identifies with the Sith Lord, I have often wondered what Ren knows or understands about the man Vader once was – Anakin Skywalker. In turn, as Ren states “I will finish what you started” it is left open-ended as to what he means by this phrase. Is Kylo Ren referring to the destruction of the Jedi Order? The conquest of the galaxy? The continuation of the Sith Order? Or, perhaps, if he is thinking of his grandfather as the “Chosen One” who, according to prophecy, would bring balance to the Force, does Kylo Ren believe it is his responsibility to “finish” the balancing act? And if so, does Kylo view the “balance to the Force” as being not about equal sides, Light and Dark, but rather about completely extinguishing the Light altogether?

These and other thoughts/questions percolate in my mind each time I watch this scene (and even when I am not watching, like right now), and to be entirely frank I do not find any easy or quick answers. Which actually begs an entirely different question altogether:

Is it even necessary to interpret Kylo Ren’s prayer beyond what it is – a prayer?

Asking this hardly means we Star Wars fans need not, or even should not, consider what Kylo Ren says, using his words to further our conceptual understanding of the Force, the Jedi, the Sith, the Prophecy, etc. Rather, it is simply a question, nay a suggestion, that Kylo Ren’s prayer serves as a very direct reminder that within the Star Wars galaxy matters of the Force are matters of religious belief for many characters. It is easy to forget this, to become so focused on piecing together every last detail of Star Wars, obsessing over how “A connects to B” and “B connects to C” that we (myself included) can at times lose sight of the reality that Star Wars serves as a mirror which reflects our own concepts of the Sacred and religion. And, in the case of this particular scene, it is a reflection of devotion and supplication. Instead of contemplating the near infinite “meanings” of the words Kylo Ren directs towards his grandfather we should instead sit back and ponder, with open hearts and minds, how this scene serves another important purpose: as a reminder that prayer is a powerful tool/act which religious persons engage in as they seek connection and guidance from the Sacred.

Beyond that, we really do not have to dig any deeper.

Directing Star Wars

Reporting Star Wars news is not my thing, in large part because there are more than enough sites – official sites and fan sites alike – that deliver a near up-to-the-minute stream of happenings in the Star Wars franchise. Yet, I felt compelled to say something about the recent announcement from Lucasfilm that J.J. Abrams has accepted the offer to write/direct Star Wars Episode IX. While Episode IX was originally slated to be the brainchild of Jurassic World writer/director Colin Trevorrow, the studio parted ways with Trevorrow, thus paving the way for Abrams to return to the Sequel Trilogy he launched with The Force Awakens.

That Abrams is reentering the Star Wars universe is neither surprising or all that controversial. For the studio (and parent company Disney), bringing a known and successful variable back to the writers/directors chair makes perfect sense. Still, with the announcement I could not help but feel a pang of dismay, having hoped that the head of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, would choose a woman to write/direct Episode IX in the wake of Trevorrow’s dismissal. Abrams may have been the safe and reasonable pick, but choosing a woman could have injected an entirely new and fresh perspective into the Sequel Trilogy, particularly to round out the heroine journey of Rey. But alas, that ship of possibility has sailed (unless, of course, Abrams crashes and burns, prompting a third writer/director to be named…a doubtful prospect).

And so, as we move forward, towards the end of the Sequel Trilogy and into a new era of storytelling that will certainly follow – not only with continued standalone films but also, perhaps, a fourth Star Wars trilogy – I am left wondering: when will Lucasfilm finally hand the writing/directorial reigns over to an accomplished woman? Certainly, there are an endless stream of successful women adding to the Star Wars universe already – authors, editors, producers, production managers, sound mixers, makeup artists, wardrobe and costume designers, artists, actresses, and more. Yet, the most coveted position, that of director, is yet to be filled. Will Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow, or another accomplished woman ever be given the chance/opportunity to bring their experiences and worldviews into the Star Wars franchise? My hope is yes, my gut tells me yes, but my heart is tired of waiting.

You might, in turn, wonder: why do you care, Jeff? It will happen someday, so why not let bygones be bygones and just go with the Star Wars flow? I do not deny it, it will happen. I know it will happen, it is only a matter of time (and there is a prime opportunity to really mix things up with a woman directing the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone film). But I do care because I am frankly tired of people like me – translation: men – getting all of the g-damn credit for the Star Wars franchise’s pinnacle achievements. This is neither a slight towards Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy (whom deserves great respect for overseeing the franchise) or against those countless women behind the scenes (or literally in the scenes as actresses). Rather, it is a deeply held desire to sit in a theater and watch a Star Wars movie that does not simply present female characters (and male counterparts) adhering to philosophies that seek, and teach us as viewers, to dismantle normative and oppressive ideologies, but that does this most loudly when a woman’s name appears on the screen as writer/director.

Lest I be interpreted incorrectly, I do not only desire to watch Star Wars films directed by a woman, but also films written/produced/directed by all varieties of people, men and women alike. The experiences and worldviews of women, people of color, persons of different religious and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and more WILL bring new, fresh perspectives to the films we experience in theaters. I truly hope, nay I pray, that those Star Wars stories are not far, far away.

Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge

With the arrival of Force Friday II on September 1, 2017, “a global fan event celebrating the launch of Star Wars: The Last Jedi products,” I felt the desire to jump back into the Star Wars toy/collectible conversation once again by doing something special. For those of you who regularly read this site, you know that I don’t often discuss Star Wars products, having only done so a handful of times in previous posts (you can search the site for them if interested). Given the understandable excitement surrounding the new, soon-to-arrive Star Wars film, Force Friday II is a way and a day for fans of all ages to begin adding The Last Jedi merchandise – action figures and Black Series figures, Lego sets, Funko Pops, etc. – to their collections. And, in the spirit of Force Friday II, and as a way of adding to the excitement surrounding it, I thought I’d share the details of my very own Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge, a giveaway challenge that I plan to extend long after Force Friday II is over.

The Giveaway

For the past month, I’ve collected Star Wars toys with the sole intention of giving them away. Thanks to an over-abundance of toys associated with The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Star Wars Rebels being on store shelves, and the need for stores to clear their shelves for The Last Jedi merchandise, all of the toys I have purchased have been on clearance. As a personal rule, I never buy any Star Wars products at full price, and purchasing toys on clearance has actually maximized my ability to give away even more! 

So, all that being said, here is the moment of truth, the details about how my Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge will work. In short, I am giving all of those toys that are pictured above to Toys for Tots, a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children in families that struggle to purchase gifts at Christmas time. Once the Christmas season rolls around, I am taking all of the toys I have collected – the those pictured and others I’ll be purchasing –  to a local Toys for Tots drop-off location so I can, in a small way, help children from low-income families add to/create their own Star Wars collection.

And the Challenge is for you to do something similar.

The Challenge

Here’s the thing: I am blessed to live in comfort, with the ability and means to spend some of my disposable income adding Star Wars “stuff” to my already massive collection of, well, “stuff.” But the thing is I don’t need every item that is produced with a Star Wars label, and there are many children who come from families that struggle financially. While there is a tendency to judge these families, and particularly their parents, I refrain from it and have no time for it. Love and compassion are non-negotiable for me, especially when children are involved. In wanting to give away Star Wars toys to families in need, who struggle during the Christmas season to provide gifts for their children, it is my hope that I can bring some small bit of happiness to some of those kids. Star Wars has been, and will continue to be, a massive part of my life, of my self-identity and joy, but what I want to do – what I will continue to do in the future – is give away Star Wars toys so that children in need can experience that same joy.

My hope and challenge to you, my magnanimous reader, is that you will follow suit and do something similar. Whether you go out and buy one Star Wars toy, or ten, or twenty, or a hundred, I hope you will stand in the toy aisle at a store, pick up a Star Wars action figure or Lego set, and say “I don’t need this but there is a little girl or boy out there who deserves it.” Or maybe you will pull something out of your own collection to give away. Or perhaps you know a family in need and are willing to take them shopping, to buy the gifts – any gifts, not just toys! – for their kids at Christmas time or for a birthday.

Oh, and this needn’t be limited to Star Wars toys either. While I intend to give away Star Wars toys because they reflect something I love, there are so many other toys representing different franchises that kids would love to play with! The point of this challenge is, quite simply, to spread some love, and if you do that by giving away non-Star Wars toys to kids in need then I say more power to ya!

It is also my hope that other blogs and podcasts – be they Star Wars oriented or not – will challenge their readers/listeners to give away toys to children in need. And if you don’t have a blog or podcast, then I hope you’ll challenge people on social media, or in your non-online life, to participate. 

Lastly, if you do participate, tweet me a pic (@ImperialTalker) of the toys you plan to give away using the hashtag #TalkerToyChallenge. The more visible we are, the more we can encourage others to join in!

Son of Solo

The line, coming in a dramatic moment in The Forces Awakens, is powerful in its brevity and delivery. Han Solo, helping to plant charges which he hopes will give the Resistance an advantage in destroying Starkiller Base, sees the film’s villain Kylo Ren standing alone on a bridge, a bridge which spans a seemingly bottomless chasm. At this point in the film we know that Kylo Ren and Han Solo are related, that Solo is Ren’s father. However, it is not until Solo advances towards the dark-shrouded man that we  suddenly and unexpectedly learn Kylo Ren’s given name. “Ben!!!!”, Solo shouts to get the villains attention, doing so and beginning a conversation which, we also know, ends just as suddenly and unexpectedly when Solo is killed by his tormented offspring.

There are any number of ways one could approach/discuss the events which unfold in this dramatic scene in The Force Awakens. And, I am sure I could provide some well-developed and, I’d like to believe, insightful thoughts on it. But my intentions in this brief conversation far less overarching, and I am much more interested in providing, for now, a small morsel of consideration regarding the moment Han Solo shouts the name Ben.

To begin, when I heard Solo pronounce Kylo Ren’s true name, I was, undoubtedly like many others, struck by the fact that Ben is also the pseudonym used by Obi-Wan Kenobi whilst he lived on Tatooine (Ben Kenobi). Assuredly, this is an indication that Han Solo and Leia Organa named their only child after the famed Jedi Master, perhaps as a way to honor the man who, from a certain point of view, brought the lovers together. Plus, if we backup and consider the countless ways The Force Awakens borrows from/echoes A New Hope, it seems appropriate that the film includes a character named Ben. And yet, that Kylo Ren’s real name is Ben has another equally important and symbolic meaning, one that resonates as loudly as Solo’s voice when the name leaves his mouth.

A Hebrew name originating in the Jewish Tanakh, Benjamin (the anglicized form of Binyamin) is often translated in two distinct ways: “Son of the south” or “Son of the right hand.” Thus, taken alone as a masculine noun, “Ben” quite literally means “Son” and/or “Son of” (Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira = Joshua [Jesus] son of Eleazar son of Sira). Ben is used in both given names and surnames of Hebraic origin, although philologists who study Hebrew will be quick to point out that “Ben” is used in a number of other ways as well.

While I would enjoy delving deeper into the nuanced meanings and usage of “Ben” and “Benjamin” in Biblical texts, my reason for noting its usage as a masculine Hebrew noun should be fairly obvious. On the one hand, Han Solo is not just yelling the name “Ben!!!” to get Kylo Ren’s attention, but he is also, quite literally, yelling “Son!!!” On the other hand, we can translate the name Ben Solo as the “Son of Solo.”

I cannot say with any authority that the writer(s)/director of The Force Awakens, when  choosing the given name for Kylo Ren, were aware that the name Ben could be translated as “Son” or “Son of.” While it is likely that the name was chosen to create superficial connection with Ben Kenobi, I am never-the-less left wondering whether Ben was also chosen because of it’s original Hebrew meaning. Still, intentional or not, the meaning in the name Ben is present, rippling outwards as it leaves Han Solo’s lips. With these complimentary meanings in mind – “Ben” = “Son” and “Ben Solo” = “Son of Solo” – the potential for new insights about The Force Awakens may emerge. And if they do, I hope you will share some of those insights with me.

Ben Kenobi: Desert Father

Theory: Rey is the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Since The Force Awakens hit theaters, the idea that Rey is related to Obi-Wan  has picked up quite a bit of steam among pockets of Star Wars fans. I’ve not only seen this theory show up across the interwebs, but I have a handful of close friends who are pretty adamant that Rey is directly related to Kenobi. On the surface of things, I’m really not surprised by this theory. If one doesn’t believe Rey is a Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi does feel like he should be the next likely choice. Plus, it is a rather easy leap to go from Skywalker to Kenobi, particularly since Kenobi makes an auditory appearance during Rey’s Force Vision sequence in The Force Awakens. At one point during the Vision, we hear Kenobi say “Rey” while, at the end of the Vision, Kenobi can be heard saying “These are your first steps.”

What could Kenobi’s words to Rey mean!?!?! What do they imply about his relationship with this curious orphan from Jakku? Only time will tell, but for some people his words to Rey are at least partial proof that she is directly related to the former Master of Anakin Skywalker and guardian of Luke Skywalker.

But here’s the thing: I don’t buy it. Actually, not only don’t I buy it, I think it would be a massive mistake for Obi-Wan to be Rey’s grandfather. Do you hear me Lucasfilm – IT WOULD BE A MASSIVE MISTAKE!!! 

Listen, I’m fine with all types of speculation and theories, and say more power to ya if you believe Rey is directly related to Obi-Wan. But keep this in mind: if Kenobi has a granddaughter, that means he had a son or daughter of his own, which means he had sex. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time believing Obi-Wan Kenobi, during his nineteen years in exile on Tatooine, took the time to flirt with someone, let alone have sex with anyone. A relationship of any kind, be it a committed affair or a one-night stand just doesn’t fit who Kenobi is – a Jedi Master, sworn member of his Order and devoted follower of the Light Side of the Force, with a moral obligation to protect the child of his former padawan at all costs.

In fact, in those moments when he was not actively watching over or protecting Luke, Kenobi-in-exile on the desert world of Tatooine should always be viewed as a hermit.

Granted, it is easy to overlook Kenobi’s religious isolation since his early life was massively expanded by the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars animated series. The Obi-Wan who comes to mind for many a Star Wars fans is undoubtedly the younger, more active (and attractive) Jedi Knight/Master who battled Darth Maul and fought in the Clone Wars, not the wizened old man living a life of poverty and spiritual contemplation as he watches over a young boy. Yet, it is important to remember that it is the older Kenobi that informs all of his other iterations. While the stories about his younger life provide interesting and exciting depth to his character, it is his introduction in A New Hope that sets the tone for how we are to view him, and at least in part, how we should view the Jedi Order. 

When the mysterious old “wizard” named Ben first appears in A New Hope, elements of hermitic life bleed off of him. He wears simple and unassuming robes, lives in solitude on the edge of Tatooine’s Western Dune Sea, and he speaks about his devotion to the mystical and mysterious energy field known as “the Force.” For all intents and purposes, Kenobi is meant to be a pop culture re-imagining of a Desert Father.

Beginning their religious practices in the late 3rd Century CE, the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) of Early Christianity were ascetics who lived in seclusion – some as hermits, others in small communities – primarily in the deserts of Egypt. Believing it necessary to withdraw from society, these monastics lived austere lives, believing the harsh desert environment would teach them to eschew the need for material possession and tame their ego. As well, the Desert Fathers engaged in numerous spiritual practices – to name a few: recitation of scripture, interior silence and prayer, kindness and hospitality – all with the hope of becoming closer to and united with God.

Menas

Now in the Louvre, this icon of Jesus (right) with St. Menas (left) is from the sixth century and is one of the oldest in existence. That Ben Kenobi happens to look a bit like this depiction of Menas, a desert father, is coincidental, though the resemblance is striking.

Now, it is absolutely worth pointing out that the above paragraph only scratches the surface of the Desert Fathers and their place in Early Christianity. Then again, my intention is not to write an academic treatise on them and the way they influenced Christian monasticism (here is a link to book if you are interested in learning more about them). Rather, my brief description of these ascetics is to highlight the obvious: Obi-Wan Kenobi shares a number of similarities with them, similarities that are clearly present in George Lucas’ seminal film. Again, that Kenobi lives on a desert world is one thing, but that he is also a hermit, a member of once grand religious order, lives an austere life, and is devoted to his “god” (the Force) is reason enough to view him as the Star Wars equivalent of a Desert Father. And, as such, it is imperative that this fact not be undercut by Kenobi’s going off and having “relations” that would take him away from his moral duty of safeguarding Luke Skywalker and, as was added in the 2005 film Revenge of the Sith, his spiritual aspiration of learning to preserve his life force upon physical death. Both are religious commitments which Kenobi is wedded to on Tatooine, duties that he, as a character, would not shun out of a desire for companionship or sexual enjoyment.