Kylo Ren

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.

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.

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.

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.

Your Snoke Theory Doesn’t Suck

“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”  Gautama Buddha

Ever since The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015 there has been a lot of speculation about the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. To be fair, questions about Snoke’s identity began even before the film came out, but in the wake of the movie’s release the conversations about the First Order’s mysterious, Force-sensitive leader exploded. Just doing a simple Google search of “Snoke” will result in a trove of articles, videos, and podcasts attempting to identify/explain who Snoke may or may not be. With the next film, The Last Jedi, only months away, conjecture about Snoke will undoubtedly ramp up, and if his identity remains a secret beyond Episode VIII the cavalcade of Snoke theories will continue to pour onto the interwebs until Episode IX arrives.

Like others I too have my own theories and hypotheses about Supreme Leader Snoke, and while I won’t be putting each and every one to paper in any elaborate form, I never-the-less find myself constantly drawn back to my Snokie thoughts. Honestly, I just can’t help myself. Mystery breeds curiosity, it attracts me like a moth to a light, drawing me in and igniting my imagination. From there my imagination runs wild, my brain using the information available to me – information from the Star Wars movies, novels, comics, games, etc. – in hopes of figuring out something about Snoke’s mysterious identity. At times I return to the same theories my mind has conjured up, at other times I head down a different path, a new thought leading me on an imaginative journey which may center on Snoke’s disfigured face, or perhaps his connection to Kylo Ren, or his relationship with General Hux, or his statements about the Force/Jedi, and so forth.

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Kylo Ren stands before Supreme Leader Snoke.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Mystery breeds curiosity, and as the trove of Snoke-related articles/podcasts/videos prove, the mystery surrounding Supreme Leader Snoke has captivated Star Wars fans of all types. While I certainly haven’t sifted through every Snoke theory or hypothesis, I have dabbled in a handful that have crossed my path. Some theories have left me really intrigued, and I have incorporated ideas from these theories into my own musings. At other times I have found theories uninteresting or based on questionable Star Wars logic. Still, even in moments where I am not captivated or believe a Star Wars-related flaw exists in the theory, I can still appreciate that the theory means something to that person, that they put the time and effort into its construction. After all, it is hardly my place to trash someone for engaging in space fantasy inspired speculation, to tell someone their Snokie ideas suck simply because I might not agree or because I have my own theories. 

Yet, there has been a proclivity within elements of the Star Wars fan base to do just that, to tell people that their Snoke theories suck. The phrase “Your Snoke Theory Sucks” has become a spontaneous, uncritical and churlish way to throw shade on any theory that explores Snoke’s mysterious identity. Well, I am here to tell you this: if you have a Snoke theory, it absolutely does not suck. Is it possible that when Snoke’s history, background and identity are finally revealed that your theories, or my theories, end up being incorrect? Absolutely! The potential to be wrong is omnipresent, a reality that always exists when one engages in contemplative and abstract thought. But here is a little secret: when it comes to Star Wars, I don’t theorize because I think I am 100% right, I theorize because it is fun. And if you have fun theorizing about Snoke, or anything else in Star Wars, then I say keep it up. We all might end up being wrong, in fact we probably will be wrong, but who the hell cares? 


Check out this piece by Michael from My Comic Relief for an expanded take on the topic:

Really, Your Snoke Theory Doesn’t Suck

Generational Echoes in the Star Wars Saga

Guest Talker: Andrew

A few weeks ago while watching Return of the Jedi, I was struck by a particular scene. In fact not a scene per se but a small section of a scene that lasts for just over ten seconds in total. It occurs in the middle of the film just after Luke Skywalker contemplates his father (now Darth Vader, formerly Anakin Skywalker) and pronounces, “then my father is truly dead“. Luke is led away by Imperial Stormtroopers and as the doors shut one senses a distinct lapse in Vader’s demeanour as he places his black gloved hand on a steel girder in the corridor where the scene takes place. Although Vader is masked, one is left with little doubt as to the turmoil boiling within him which his son has sensed only moments before being escorted away.

CapturedLuke
Captured, Luke stands before his father.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

This is a scene that I am extremely familiar with and it’s no exaggeration to say that I have viewed it hundreds of times at this point. Many of you reading this will be in the same position. An interesting point of note however, is that as time progresses in Lucasfilm’s new canon, layer upon layer of light and shade is gradually being cast onto erstwhile familiar scenes. What made this particular scene reverberate once again for me was both the advent of a sequel within the cinematic saga – namely,  The Force Awakens, and the work on Anakin/Vader’s back story that we are now aware of from the new canon (the novel Lords of the Sith, and television series The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels).

Now I’m no neuroscientist, but I’m in no doubt that some neural connection (figuratively or otherwise) fired within me during my recent viewing of this “Vader scene” in Return of the Jedi. I think that having been shown evil and vulnerability co-existing so obviously on screen in the character of Kylo Ren, I may now have increased sensitivity towards those traits within Vader. One can’t help but note the incongruity of Kylo Ren seeking strength in Vader’s artifact (his Mask), when Return of the Jedi shows us, particularly in its last scenes, that Vader himself obviously harbored tensions between internal light and shade. Indeed, those tensions within Vader would have occurred not just in that scene but presumably at other points that George Lucas did not show us. Our insight into Kylo Ren has shown us that witnessing a character purveying violence and atrocities, does not mean that they aren’t conflicted. We know that Ren seeks strength from his Sith relics, erroneously viewing Vader as a pillar of pure, un-tempered dark power.

KyloRenVaderHelmet
Kylo Ren sits with and speaks to his most precious artifact – the mask of Darth Vader.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Ironically it is actually Ren’s insecurities that heighten his ability to strike fear in the viewer. Vader’s representation of ultimate martial strength may have been underpinned by the portrayal Lucas chose to focus upon in episodes III, IV, V and VI. Importantly though Lucas also spoke of the need to use Vader sparingly so as not to dilute his impact on the viewer.

Consider for a moment your perception if all you had seen of Kylo Ren was the Battle of Jakku, the interrogation of Poe Daemeron, and the killing of his father Han Solo. You would in all likelihood take the view that Ren demonstrated darkness and nihilism on par with Vader. As it is, due to the different approach to character portrayal within Episode VII, we have been given an insight with a wider focus as plot device. In turn that insight sends us back to what we have seen before and makes us wonder if the same kind of internal conflict occurred in Vader’s early years, only to be buried deep before ultimately being released by his son Luke in advance of his final hours at Endor.

In The Force Awakens itself we see Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, also struggle with a pull towards the light, the draw of his family, and the effects of surprise dissent and challenge. Vader’s struggle, although less obvious, is sensed by Luke and is driven by his son’s appeal to the traces of the Anakin Skywalker that his father once was. What adds a further dimension to the scene in question from Return of the Jedi, and shades of gray to Vader’s portrayal in the overall saga, is the fact that we now know so much more about Anakin than we once did.

It’s worth noting in this context that I write this article after the broadcast one of the most heart-rending moments in the Star Wars canon, the confrontation between Vader and his former Padwan learner Ahsoka Tano. Forged in The Clone Wars series, their relationship as Anakin and Ahsoka reached its cessation (for the time being) in the Rebels Season 2 Finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Like the scenes within that finale, this scene in Return of the Jedi is rendered so powerful through a contextual knowledge of the Star Wars saga. We now watch such scenes while projecting both forwards and backwards in our Star Wars knowledge. This isn’t compulsory for viewer enjoyment, but it will significantly enhance it.

VaderAhsoka
Ahsoka Tano receives a Force vision that reveals the truth – her former master, Anakin Skywalker, is Darth Vader.

Photo Credit: Star Wars Rebels Season 2, Episode 18 – “Shroud of Darkness”

Unlike a viewer of the Return of the Jedi scene in 1983 we are now aware of a cinematic portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, the innocent young boy from Tatooine, and his desire to assist the stranded Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé, we are aware of his later awkwardness as a teenager, and his ultimate seduction by Palpatine towards the ways of the Sith immediately in advance of Mustafar. We know of the Shakespearean tragedy of Anakin’s fall in Episode III Revenge of the Sith, and his becoming the symbol of terror known as Darth Vader. Likewise, we know that those events occurred due to a desire to save and preserve family, and in some respects as a response to loss of family, both his mother Simi and his wife Padmé, and his unborn child (in fact his unborn twins although he didn’t know this).

Now we see Vader facing his only son, a son who senses a residual light within Vader through the Force. Luke is certain that there is good left in him. Let’s watch the scene in question, paying close attention as the scene builds towards its conclusion:

The scene begins with an exchange where Luke acknowledges his father and Vader notes his acceptance of the familial relationships. Luke qualifies this however. His first move in this meeting of minds is to state “I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker…”. Note how quickly Vader interjects, instantly snapping that, “that name no longer has any meaning for me!”. The reaction of Vader is instinctive; Luke has sparked a reflex triggered by Vader’s most private of ruminations. Luke persists however stating that, “It is the name of your true self you have only forgotten” and concludes “that’s why you won’t bring me to your Emperor now.” Watch Vader closely in the background behind Luke. He marginally but notably withdraws. Crucially there is no sense of aggression or loss of control.  Instead Vader’s eyes, or at least his direction of vision indicated by the direction of his Mask, turns towards Luke’s new lightsaber. One senses an indication of remorse, regret, or contemplation.  The crisp ‘snap-hiss’ of the lightsaber igniting then throws us, and immediately breaks any sense the viewer has that Vader doubts his position in any way. The noise, one of the many unique sounds in the Star Wars universe, snaps the viewer back into focus on the peril Luke is facing.

Vader says to Luke “your skills are complete – indeed you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen.” In doing so he brings the conversation back to Luke as the focus. Luke in turn again  attempts to persuade and this time we start to anticipate a much more noticeable thaw within Vader. Crucially we are given our first verbal indication of the doubt conveyed earlier only by discrete body language. Vader speaks to Luke and states “Obi Wan once thought as you did…”and the soundtrack theme softens. The viewer is now thinking of the brothers in arms that Anakin and Obi Wan once were. Luke tries to persuade but Vader eventually concedes, “it is too late for me Son“. There is a marked sincerity in Vader’s voice and as he utters the words “The Emperor will show you the true meaning of the Force – he is your master now” one is left wondering if the warped mind of what once was Anakin Skywalker now actually believes that Palpatine will do the best for his son, and the best for the galaxy.  

Then comes the highlight of the scene. Luke responds with the words “then my father is truly dead.”  Luke’s tone highlights his disappointment but also his courage given what lies in wait for him. It shows the strength of Luke that he is not cowed in this situation. He is confident that his path lies in his Jedi teaching, and his compassion towards his father.

FatherisDead
“Then my father is truly dead.”

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Vader tracks Luke’s withdrawal with the Stormtroopers and this to me is critical. At 3:19 on the video, watch Vader and wonder what is going on behind that Mask, knowing as we now do that Luke was right. What are the thought processes that occur? The door of the elevation capsule closes, and Vader turns and looks out the window of the corridor, there are almost ten seconds that pass while the viewer listens to Vader’s mechanical breathing apparatus and looks into the depths of his blank stare.

Projecting forward, and as noted above, we are at the time of writing exploring the legacy of this scene and the events immediately thereafter. The Knights of Ren in the new sequel era have a false understanding of both this event and those immediately surrounding it. They view Vader as a quasi-Divine figure. We are not quite sure of their relationship with the Sith at this point. What is certain, however, is that Ren seeks strength from the ultimate in Vader artifacts, his Mask, indeed literally Vader’s death Mask. Ren seeks strength to overcome the same emotions that trouble Vader in the scene we are contemplating, and then tragically uses the inspiration obtained from that relic to do what Luke refuses to do: kill his own father, Han Solo.

The reason that I now view this section of Return of the Jedi as one of the critical scenes in the saga is because from it we see the linkages that span from the opening scenes in The Phantom Menace and trace the repercussions those events still have around 70 years later. We see how Luke’s relationship with his father is having a direct effect in the sequel era on a misguided Ren’s relationship with his own father. We see the death of one of the saga’s most beloved characters and the hero of the New Republic slaughtered because of a false impression of strength that has cascaded from the myth of the grandfather to the reality of the grandson. We see Luke’s beliefs and Luke’s obvious failure to impart his own beliefs, and their wisdom, to his nephew who has become corrupted.

This is what is beautiful about these films and why the latest developments in the saga and new canon have enriched and embellished films that we have known and loved for nearly 40 years. With the developments in the beautiful animation found in The Clone Wars and now in Rebels, and the love and passion brought to such works by people like Dave Filoni, we can probably look forward to another 40 years of thoughtful and inspired mythology.


Writer’s note: I know that others will have different takes on these cinematic events and portrayals. As always this is part of the enjoyment of these films and I look forward to exchanges with fellow fans on these issues. Find me on Twitter @PartisanCantina and check out my site (Partisan Cantina).

Fan Reactions to The Force Awakens

While I certainly love sharing my own views on Star Wars, and I could talk to no end about The Force Awakens, it’s also nice and refreshing to get some different perspectives and hear other voices.  I’ll definitely be offering my own thoughts and experiences of the film in more of my posts, but for now I wanted to mix things up. So, like I did during Ewok Week, I gathered a smattering of reactions to The Force Awakens from fans of the Star Wars franchise. Check out what they had to say and keep the conversation going in the comment section!!!


From Jenmarie (Check out her blog Anakin and His Angel)

Now that I’ve seen The Force Awakens four times I can tell you that I have fallen more in love with it after each viewing. Each time I’ve seen it I’ve noticed more ties to the other films, I’ve experienced different emotions during pivotal scenes, and I have grown to appreciate the characters even more than I did the first time. I went in knowing that this was going to be a continuation of an incredible story but that it would also be filled with new adventures being led by new faces. I have never really compared the films but have rather seen them all as one taking place at different times with unique stories all intertwining with each other. In my experience, this mindset has allowed me to appreciate each film within the Star Wars Saga for what it is to the very fullest which has resulted in my primary focus being on what I love most about these movies.

That being said, as a fan, I can tell you that The Force Awakens is very much a Star Wars film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you shouldn’t worry. It does a remarkable job of combining the familiarity we have with these movies with the new, and there’s some fresh and extraordinary new content that has made fans like myself go crazy! Like the haven’t-seen-it-in-a-week-withdrawals kind of crazy. Without going into too much detail, the new material consists of things that I’m sure many of us never knew we wanted or could exist in the Star Wars Universe. There are some insanely incredible scenes where the Force is used in a way where you just don’t want the scene to end no matter which side you’re on, light or dark. There are personalities within characters (and a particular droid) that we have yet to see until now and it’s fascinating to watch and  wonder what goes on inside their heads, what their pasts look like, and why they do what they do. There are also brand new themes that will tear you apart emotionally. Rey’s Theme is so powerful, it has honestly messed me up once or twice. The Force Awakens is full of memorable moments (both heart-felt and hilarious), exciting action, and tear-jerking scenes that will leave you sitting there in the rawest of forms. It sounds draining, but it’s a great thing to be so impacted by a new Star Wars movie! GO SEE IT!

From Jake

I thought that the movie was fantastic. It has been years since I was sitting in a movie theater, jaw dropped, waiting for the next scene to happen. I think that the plot and characters were well written, if very derivative (A droid is being hunted for the information it holds, but it crashes on a desert planet only to be discovered by the last remaining person able to use the force who then, through a series of misadventures, makes their way to an older Jedi to be trained, but, on the way destroys the biggest, baddest, most unstoppable space titanic of a weapon”). My biggest issue with the movie actually comes from the original actors. I think that it was great that they reprised their roles, and I went into the movie excited about it but when they appeared on screen it took me out of it for a second, it seemed a little “force”-ed to me (other than Anakin, I loved his cameo). I loved the movie as a whole, though, and am looking forward to the next installment.

From Andy (aka Andykin)

The Force Awakens, oh boy, I was an emotional wreck throughout the whole movie. Seeing all of our beloved characters come back from the original trilogy was like going home. I got those warm fuzzy feelings which lead to lots of joyous tears- the lady next to me for sure thought I was crazy! I was clapping, laughing and crying like a little kid. And of course, I had no shame in it.

FirstOrderTroopers
First Order Stormtroopers
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII:   The Force Awakens

Rey was an incredible character to be introduced to and she delivered; she is easily my favorite new character. I could not be more happy with her and the strength she represents as a female. The First Order is so badass, I LOVED the new modernized feel the Stormtrooper armor has. They got a sweet, sleek, upgrade but kept the integrity of the original design. The riot baton was so cool to see in action!

John Williams, god bless that man, (thank you Steven Spielberg for introducing Williams to Lucas all those years ago) he did it again. My favorite track is the The Scavenger, as it has so many beautiful elements to it and personifies Rey so well. Special effects/sound effects were amazziinnngggg, it’s an IMAX dream and still holds up so well in the standard version. My favorite still has to be the humming and sparking of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, you hear him before you see him coming, and I thought that was genius. You gotta tip your hat to the sound editing team for that and so many other things! (pew pew!) So, uh, I think it’s safe to say that I loved this movie and it’s the best time to be a Star Wars fan!

From Alicia (Check out her blog Not So Super Heroes)

Let me begin by saying, I love spoilers. Love them. I read the epilogue to The Deathly Hallows to prepare myself for the possibility that Harry might die. [Spoiler: He didn’t.] That being said, as the release date for The Force Awakens drew near, I found myself wanting to avoid the dreaded spoilers. And, since I’m not a good enough fan, I wasn’t able to see the film until almost two weeks after its release; the anticipation was killing me. But still I attempted, for the first time, to steer clear of blogs, Tumbles, and Tweets. I failed. Miserably. About a week and a half after the release, I learned the truth about my forever love, Han Solo. [Spoiler: He dies.]

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Kylo Ren
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Crushed. Inconsolable. There were lots of aggrieved moans and groans. Han dies. I needed to know more. I immediately went to Wookiepedia and got the scoop. Damn that Kylo Ren. Damn him straight to hell. But—by the time I saw the film, I had moved into the acceptance stage of grief and watched the film knowing that my first and constant movie crush was going to die. As I walked out of the theatre, I left with a sense that it couldn’t have played out any other way. And, of course, not being a rube, I knew as soon as the film was announced and Harrison Ford signed on, that they’d kill him off. I just hoped they’d make his death worth something.

I wasn’t disappointed. Star Wars has always been about fathers and sons. The Force Awakens carries that motif throughout. We see Han struggle with his belief that he is not enough to redeem his son, to bring him back from the Dark Side. Han never once shows that steadfast optimism that Luke embodies so clearly in Return of the Jedi. And as Han walks out on the bridge and calls him son by name, he does so knowing how it will end. Han was never enough for young Ben. But finally, in his last act, Han gives Ben everything he has, possibly for the first time.

From Jared

It’s hard for me to sort through all my feelings about The Force Awakens. To start, Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood growing up, and through the podcasting and online community I’ve been fortunate enough to become a part of, it’s helped my life become much better.

Over the last year and a half or so I’ve become more and more a part of the fandom, and a large part of that was following The Force Awakens news as it broke, and the advance spoilers that were released through various reports. The build up to The Force Awakens has led me to some of the most meaningful friendships in my life.

Finn
Finn
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Which brings us to the film! To be able to share it with every member of my family, and to discuss it with friends from around the world, it makes the whole experience that much more incredible! I immediately fell for all our main heroes. Finn was my favorite by a VERY small margin, with Rey a close second. The earnest quality and sweetness of their bond, the seeds of romantic potential on both sides (Finn more than Rey) had me like a teenager with all them feels! I’m pulling for both of them in the future saga films. At half an hour into the movie, I was sold, they’re my new heroes.

I loved Adam Driver’s performance as well. He really nailed the quiet rage and, the more violently expressive kind as well! But his performance was exceptional. Overall, this film was a great way to share in something I love with my family and my new Star Wars family together, and to have fun doing so!

I am completely ready for the future of the Star Wars franchise!

From Mark (Excerpt taken from a piece Mark wrote entitled Star Wars and Good Stories.)

“What makes The Force Awakens so refreshing is its clear attempt to move the series back to a place where it can tell stories about people at their most people-y. Stories about a group of individuals; their hopes, dreams, fears, pains. Stories about lives lived. You and I can’t connect emotionally to intricately woven plots about trade negotiations and senatorial upheaval any more easily than we could emotionally connect to a newspaper. But a story about a boy, lonely, eager to do something special with his life, who finds friends and adventure, who feels the crushing disappointment over his father’s identity on top of the grief he’s always felt for his absence… these experiences we can get. These are things any one of us might actually live through.

Good stories are about people. When a story isn’t about people (or at least people-like things), for better or worse we have a hard time figuring out why we should care. Good stories, as those which connect us to other people across time, culture, distance, or even reality (when we’re talking works of imagination), also connect us to our deeper selves. We love the tale because we see ourselves in it. This connection rings so deeply to who we are as humans, it pulls taut the line between us and the first storytellers, passing words around a campfire about gods, humans, and the nature of the seen and unseen world. In this way, we are also connected to the divine, inasmuch as the desire to create comes from Createdness itself.

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Rey
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

This connectedness to Being through story and myth is also an answer to one of the more prominent critiques of the new film. Some feel that Episode VII lacks originality. While I agree that the plot follows the same structure as the first movie, A New Hope, I’m just as quick to say that this isn’t cause for critique. Rather, it’s what works about The Force Awakens. The new film is resetting the myth, not reinventing it. This is what we do with good stories. We develop them, not scrap them. Han Solo takes the place of Obi Wan. Rey is our new Luke. The story isn’t unoriginal for these facts because originality doesn’t always come from inventing new themes; in most cases, it comes from using myths we already know to develop new strands of the tale through old character growth and new character perspective.”

(Check out the rest of Mark’s thoughts HERE.)

From Michael

When I walked out of our first showing of the film on December 17th I…I didn’t like it.  I felt horrible owning those feelings but I didn’t know what to do with it. I mean, I thought it was fun and funny and exciting but it didn’t feel like Star Wars. George Lucas’ absence was obvious. Whether you love Lucas, hate him, or are indifferent to him, you can’t deny that Star Wars is his story.  It’s his world, his characters, his myth.  So to have a story set in that world, with those characters, but lacking his influence and his vision in the writing and/or directing felt jarring. It felt wrong.

Mike
Mike stands in line for The Force Awakens
Photo Credit – Me

Walking into the second viewing (1:10 Friday afternoon) I knew what to expect and was ready to appreciate the film for what it was.  By the third viewing (7:50 Friday night) I found myself really enjoying it.  The fourth viewing (9:50 Saturday morning) saw fatigue begin to set in but, after a needed break, the fun was back for the fifth viewing (8:10 Sunday night) and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.  As I’ve spent (more than a little) time with this film over the last few weeks I learned something for certain I’d believed would be true.

Star Wars is George Lucas’ story.  Nothing, in my mind, can be as good as what was created by the original myth-maker.  He thought all of this up and has guided it directly (the original six films) and indirectly (the EU, the Clone Wars TV series, etc.) for over thirty years.  Those are the Star Wars stories I grew up with, the ones I fell in love with, and they will always be the bedrock of all things Star Wars (at least in my mind).  After all, we’d have none of this if Lucas didn’t share his vision with us.  In addition to being the myth-maker, few filmmakers can rival Lucas’ intelligence.  I love Star Wars (meaning ALL six films) and I’d argue what he did in his films mythically, theologically, literarily, and creatively, was unprecedented and remains unduplicated.  Glance at the works of Joseph Campbell.  Google “Star Wars and Ring Theory.”  Read any number of books published explaining Star Wars through various faith traditions (from Christianity to Buddhism to Taoism).  While the new film does a brilliant job referencing Star Wars itself, Lucas did a brilliant job of incorporating the tapestry of human thought, mythology, and theology to give us a story at once both new as well as ancient and familiar.

My initial problem with The Force Awakens was I was hoping it would (or could) be as good as what Lucas created.  I was hoping it would feel like it fit perfectly after Return Of The JediBut even seeking that comparison makes no sense.  Star Wars has moved into a new era.  There was Star Wars.  And now we have Star Wars: the Disney Era.  Those are two very different animals.  Looking at The Force Awakens in this light, I can say I love the film.  I do!  Obviously, I’ve seen it nine times.  It is, easily, the best entry into the Disney Canon (which is how I choose to see this new era) thus far.  I’ve loved J.J. Abrams since Alias and he made a film worthy of the Star Wars name.  He gets Star Wars, even if he can’t replicate what Lucas can do.  The Force Awakens was made with love, by people who clearly love Star Wars.  And the end result is something worth seeing (again and again).

What struck me with The Force Awakens was, no matter how exciting it was to see Han and Chewie piloting the Millennium Falcon again, all my absolute favorite moments centered around the new characters.  And I think that’s how it should be.  In the Disney Canon, Star Wars isn’t the story of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie anymore.  It can’t be.  They are Lucas’ characters and their story was Lucas’ to shepherd.  The story now belongs to Rey, Poe, Finn, and Kylo Ren. And I can’t wait to see where their story goes!!!  They are captivating, layered characters who have worthily claimed their place in my Star Wars-loving heart.  Yes, the classic characters will always remain on the periphery of the story, as will Lucas’ influence and presence. But they are not the stars of the story any more.

We are now living in the age of Star Wars: the Disney Era and the story will be shaped by the Disney Canon. The myth is moving in a new direction, and if The Force Awakens is any indication, it’s in good hands.  I’ve let go of any illusions that the Disney Era can be as brilliant, connected, and intelligent as Star Wars was with Lucas at the helm.  But that’s okay.  I’ll always have the original six films, the EU, and The Clone Wars.  And as long as we have talented filmmakers who truly love Star Wars, like J.J. Abrams to guide the story, I’ll keep excitedly buying tickets (and spending a day waiting so I could be first in line) to explore the next chapter in a galaxy I love, a galaxy far, far away.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Sith Lord

First things first, if you have never watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars, do not read a lot of Star Wars comics, or have not followed news about The Force Awakens, then this post contains some spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Second, I am going to come right out and say that in this post I am pushing some of the limits. I know that some of you will push back against what I say, and I am perfectly fine with that. Do it! Just be nice about it when you do.

Alright, let’s begin…


Anakin Skywalker lifts Sidious, preparing to hurl him into the depths of the Death Star. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Anakin Skywalker lifts Sidious, preparing to hurl him into the depths of the Death Star.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Watching as his pleading son is electrocuted by Darth Sidious, Darth Vader chooses to intervene on his son’s behalf. Vader, or rather, the redeemed Anakin Skywalker, lifts Sidious and plunges him into the bowels of the Death Star. Keeping in line with Sith philosophy dating back to the ancient Sith Darth Bane, by killing Sidious it is then Vader/Skywalker’s right to assume the role of Sith Master and take an apprentice of his own.

HOWEVER, the redeemed Anakin Skywalker, having shed himself of his Sith title, does not take up the mantle of Master. While Vader was interested in taking Luke as an apprentice, Anakin Skywalker has no intentions of doing so since he has shed himself of his Dark title and returned to the Light Side. With Sidious dead, and Vader no longer a Sith, the Order came to a sudden and dramatic end.

Or did it?

“There has been an awakening, have you felt it…?”

A dark robed figure walking through a wintry, wooded area suddenly stops and ignites a crackling red lightsaber, two shorter blades extending to form a cross guard. When the first teaser trailer for The Force Awakens landed, speculation immediately began about whether this mysterious individual, this Kylo Ren, was a Sith.

Kylo Ren ignites his lightsaber. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Kylo Ren ignites his lightsaber.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Questioning whether this figure was a Sith was natural. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker is the last Jedi. If Luke went on to rebuild the Jedi Order in the days, months, and years following the Battle of Endor, perhaps another figure had decided to rebuild the Sith Order as well. Besides, it would make sense that if the Jedi were restored that their ancient and mortal enemies would be as well, right?

But just recently, J.J. Abrams, director and co-writer of The Force Awakens, dropped two important nuggets about Kylo Ren. Just as “Darth” is a shortened form for “Dark Lord of the Sith,” Kylo Ren, as Abrams pointed out in an article in Entertainment Weekly, belongs to a group called the Knights of Ren. Presumably, “Ren” is a title.

Secondly, Abrams also confirmed in an article in Empire magazine that Kylo Ren is NOT a Sith, though he does work for First Order Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke, as Abrams notes, is a powerful Dark Side user but there is no indication that he is a Sith. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. If I was a betting man, I would put my money on the latter.

Alright, brief recap before continuing:

Anakin Skywalker killed Darth Sidious but did not continue the Sith line. Kylo Ren is a user of the Dark Side who works for another powerful user of the Dark Side. But Kylo Ren IS NOT a Sith, and he is a member of a group called the Knights of Ren, so we can probably bet that there are a handful of other “Ren-ites” out there.

Darth Bane Photo Credit - Star Wars The Clone Wars (Season 6, Episode 13),

Darth Bane
Photo Credit – Star Wars The Clone Wars (Season 6, Episode 13), “Sacrifices”

Having arrived at this point my question is this: who exactly can we say is the LAST Sith in the line that extends back to Darth Bane? Remember, it is Darth Bane, the ancient Sith Lord who, after surviving the destruction of the Sith millennia ago, re-created the Sith in a new image. You can think of him sort of as the hinge that connects all who came before him and those who came after him. And so, given all that we know, WHO is the Last Sith Lord?

Well, logic dictates that it be either Darth Vader or Darth Sidious. As the Master-Apprentice duo at the end of Return of the Jedi, one should get the technical distinction of being the absolute final Sith Lord. Wellllll, this is the point where you all start groaning at me so let’s just get it over with…

The last Sith is not Darth Vader OR Darth Sidious. The last Sith Lord is Darth Maul.

Darth Maul

I know, I KNOW, I’m as surprised as all of you! I never saw that coming either!

Well, okay, I did see it coming, but whatever. Honestly, my rationale behind this is pretty simple: at the end of the Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comic series, Darth Maul is still alive. With the help of a few Mandalorian commandos, Maul escapes from the grasp of Darth Sidious, Darth Tyrannus, and General Grievous.

The cover of Star Wars Darth Maul Son of Dathomir: Issue # 1 Photo Credit - Lucasbooks

The cover of Darth Maul Son of Dathomir: Issue 1
Photo Credit – Lucasbooks

Like I said, it is all pretty simple. As it stands right now, at this very moment, Darth Maul is still hanging around the galaxy far, far away. And the thing is, we can’t just presume he died before the events of Return of the Jedi. Maybe he did, but, then again, we all THOUGHT he had died once before because we actually saw him get cleaved in half. From May 19, 1999-January 21, 2011 Darth Maul WAS dead. But then, when The Clone Wars Season 3 episode “Witches of the Mist” aired, we all learned that HE WAS STILL ALIVE!!!

Bringing Darth Maul back into the fold not only forever altered the way we watch The Phantom Menace, but also how we are to think about Darth Maul. No longer was he the quiet but vicious junior Sith Lord who killed Qui-Gon Jinn then was subsequently killed by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Oh no, this menacing Zabrak is VERY STRONG in the Dark Side of the Force, so strong that he relied on the Dark Side to stay alive even though he was cut in half. Cut. IN. HAAAALF. Yeah, there is no way I am going to sit here and pretend Darth Maul just happened to grow old and die. At this point, if you want to convince me that Darth Maul is really, REALLY dead, then he better be ripped apart atom-by-atom.

But Darth Maul still being alive is only half of the issue. On the flip side, we also need to ask a pretty obvious question: since Sidious took on a new apprentice, is Darth Maul technically still a Sith Lord?

Once a Sith, Always a Sith?

In The Clone Wars Season 5 episode entitled “The Lawless,” Darth Sidious senses a tremor in the Force and goes to the planet Mandalore to confront Darth Maul and his brother/apprentice Savage Oppress. Interestingly, it is not until Sidious senses this tremor that he recognizes Maul has become a threat, although he was made aware of Maul’s existence in an earlier episode. When the two encounter each other, Sidious states that he is impressed that Maul survived his injuries. However, only a moment later, Sidious calls Maul out as a rival. This is, of course, true — in a previous episode, Maul declares that he and Oppress are Sith, the “true Lords of the Sith.”

Maul and Oppress - the

Maul and Oppress – the “true Lords of the Sith.”
Photo Credit – Star Wars The Clone Wars (Season 5, Episode 14), “Eminence”

Now, this is where things get complicated. See, in “The Lawless,” Sidious will ALSO remind Maul (after Sidious kills Oppress) of “the first and only reality of the Sith: there can only be two. And you are no longer my apprentice. You have been replaced!” Well, this is quite true, Maul WAS replaced… but then again, Maul was also not dead.

And that right there is the key – since Maul did not die in The Phantom Menace, neither did his title as Dark Lord of the Sith. Sure, Sidious replaced Maul with Tyrannus, but he did so under the assumption that Maul was dead. As the Sith Master, Sidious should have been more careful, but he wasn’t. Instead, Sidious moved forward with his plans while Maul survived, albeit mentally and physically scarred, on the junk world of Lotho Minor.

But not confirming Darth Maul was dead was Sidious’ first mistake, but not his last.

Although Darth Sidious defeats Maul in lightsaber combat in “The Lawless,” he does not kill him. Instead, in an elaborate ploy (one that plays out in the Son of Dathomir comics), Sidious uses Maul as bait to draw out and destroy Mother Talzin, the powerful Nightsister. With assistance from Darth Tyrannus and General Grievous, Sidious will succeed in destroying Talzin, However, as I already noted, at the end of the four-part comic series Maul is able to survive. While Sidious exclaims at the very end that “Maul’s future has been erased” this does not mean Darth Maul has been erased. This is the second mistake Sidious makes, believing Maul is no longer a threat and choosing to let Maul flee instead of doing the obvious – just killing him.

A Final Thought

Movie Title Idea - Darth Maul: Sith Bad-Ass Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Movie Title Idea – Darth Maul: Sith Bad-Ass
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I really have no doubt that the people at Lucasfilm have a plan for Darth Maul. The fact that he does escape with his life is reason enough to think that this mysterious and vicious Sith Lord will receive further treatment at some point down the line. In fact, given that actor Ray Park has said he would love to reprise the role, I really hope we end up seeing a live-action Maul once again.

Of course, when Darth Maul does decide to reappear, I hope his reemergence is handled with care. I do not want him to be brought back just so he can “officially” be killed off. No, at this point Maul deserves to much respect for a cheap, quick death. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Darth Maul eventually dying, I just want it to be done in a way that does him justice. And while his story may very well come to a close before the events of Return of the Jedi, I am not going to sit here and just pretend it does.

So, for right now, I am going to hold on to the idea that Darth Maul is the last Sith Lord.


Update: Sadly, Darth Maul is not the last Sith Lord. In the Season 3 episode of Star Wars Rebels titled “Twin Suns” Maul meets his end at the end of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s blue blade on the planet Tatooine.