To be honest, this is less of a review, more of a massive analysis/rant about how Episodes 7, 8 and 9 fit into the ‘Skywalker Saga’. So be warned, there are many spoilers.
Let’s say you’d just bought the Star Wars franchise for something ridiculous like four billion dollars, and you’d decided you could probably get that money back - and more - by writing a new trilogy that followed on from episodes 4, 5 and 6, and you’d had the brainwave of calling this the ‘Skywalker Saga’. Oh, and you’d announced that the entire Skywalker adventure would end at episode 9. That’s it. No more Skywalker.
What would you do next?
I think you’d write episodes 7, 8 and 9. Right? You would, wouldn’t you? I mean you’d want to know how the whole thing is going to hang together, yes?
So, why on earth did the producers decide to write and film each episode in turn, allowing the story arc to be made up as they went along? Furthermore, someone seemed to think it would be a good idea to switch writers, so no one person had the vision and persistence to see it through from start to finish. I suppose they thought that they didn’t want another George Lucas on their hands, at the helm for the entire trilogy. Where’s the fun in that?
Ridley would have made an awesome Kylo Ren, and I think Driver would’ve been convincing as Palpatine’s grandson.
In all three films, there are some great parts, but there’s an awful lot of pointless stuff. There are pointless characters. Pointless plot developments that go nowhere. There’s even pointless plot developments that do go somewhere, and then get walked back later.
It makes sense how this happened, given the way the trilogy was written, one film at a time, using different writers who had the freedom to move the story in whichever way they saw fit.
But, let’s say they didn’t actually start filming until all three films had been written. Let’s say J.J. Abrams had written The Force Awakens, and then Rian Johnson had written The Last Jedi, then J.J. had written The Rise of The Skywalker before they started filming anything at all. Maybe they storyboarded it all up. At this point what we’d be looking at is a draft version, and we could go over it fully - figure out what works, what doesn’t, and start tidying up the mess. At this stage, it’s a bloody good draft that just needs tweaking - and perhaps this is the way we should evaluate these final Skywalker Saga films…
There’s even pointless plot developments that do go somewhere, and then get walked back later.
Looking first at the final scenes - maybe we like the way Emperor Palpatine comes back. That’s pretty cool. So, we need to flesh out how it’s possible for Palpatine to still be alive, and we need to drop subtle hints much earlier in the story rather than making it feel like an afterthought.
Now let’s look at Snoke. We thought he was going to be this big bad guy, but Rian Johnson killed him off in Episode 8 fairly unceremoniously. He’s a bit shit, isn’t he? Also, the fact he appears as a shadowy figure, controlling things behind the scenes, reminiscent of Emperor Palpatine, comes across as especially bad writing, when we later realise he’s supposed to be a cover to keep Palpatine being alive a secret. What kind of bad guy says ‘I know, in order to not blow my cover, I’ll create a bad guy who reminds everyone of… me!’? We definitely need to rework how Snoke is presented to the viewer.
Ok, so - we’ve also decided that we like it turning out Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter. But the reveal is terribly clumsy. We need to tidy that up… we need to make it more shocking, more of a turning point, and more believable. Kylo Ren shouldn’t just casually mention it in the middle of a make-believe telepathic fight, Rey should find out in some sort of terrible, horrible way, and she should be pissed that both Leia and Luke didn’t tell her the truth when they knew all along. She should be furious. This also ties in with dropping Palpatine hints earlier in the storyline - Rey needs to have some sort of pent-up hatred of this guy before we get to the big reveal.
It’s a totally unsatisfying ending.
Now, back to the end of Episode 9. I mean, the film is called ‘The Rise of The Skywalker’, but Ben Skywalker dies, he kind of redeems himself, but he doesn’t pass the ultimate test - he doesn’t defeat Palpatine - Rey has to do it. Kylo Ren, having returned to the light side and getting all the way to Palpatine’s lair in the nick of time, gets his life-force sucked out of him and thrown down a great big chasm. What a letdown! The best Ben Skywalker can do is give his life to save Rey, and a Palpatine is left standing. Surely this is the opposite of a Skywalker actually rising? The Skywalkers have been entirely killed off, in disgrace and failure:
- Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side, killed his Jedi Master and, as it turns out, failed to kill the Emperor
- Luke Skywalker was a bit rubbish and eventually went off in a miserable huff
- Leia Skywalker led a rebel force to almost complete destruction, and raised an appallingly evil son
- Ben Skywalker turned to the Dark Side like his grandfather, did untold damage across the entire galaxy AND THEN FAILED to kill the emperor, JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE IN HIS FAMILY
Basically, the current plot ends with the resolution that all the Skywalkers are AWFUL. ALL OF THEM. If we were now to go back and watch episodes 1 - 9 in succession, we’d basically be watching the Skywalkers fail over and over again, and the resolution is that a Palpatine will rise as the sole survivor. Furthermore, the supposed hero of the entire piece (Rey not-a-Skywalker Palpatine) has just spent three films trying to find out who her parents are and what happened to them, and she’s now so totally ashamed of her past that she pretends to be a Skywalker. It’s a totally unsatisfying ending.
I mean, I can kind of see that maybe the writers are trying to point to something like both family dynasties (such that they are - there wasn’t actually a Palpatine dynasty until Episode 9!) have to join forces to defeat Emperor Palpatine, and that maybe Rey now feels like a Skywalker because Ben saved her. Perhaps you could also point to the fact that Luke and Leia between them have kept her on the Light Side of the Force, therefore assisting in defeating the Emperor… but it’s a bit of a stretch. Luke did nothing to really help Rey’s personal quest (he basically just makes things worse), and there sadly isn’t enough screen time between Rey and Leia to establish any real understanding of what Leia could have taught her. So really, we’re left with the impression that the Skywalkers are just a bit pants. Rey overcame her demons by having the strength within herself all along to reject the Dark Side. The Skywalkers did very little to help win this battle - and that also makes her decision to use the Skywalker name at the end seem a little unconvincing.
How on earth did we get to the point in this where the writers felt the only way to end the Skywalker Saga was by completely destroying everything we believed in and setting fire to the remains? It’s disrespectful. It’s bloody rude, frankly, and it’s a slap in the face to anyone who’s invested energy in loving these characters for such a long time. We’ve all been let down.
No. This doesn’t work. I won’t have this. We need a Skywalker to rise out of the ashes and save the day, properly, convincingly and in a way that ensures the Skywalker legacy is secure.
So, we’ve got the bones of this down, but this draft version is all wrong. What do we need to change before we start filming? Bear with me here, I have an idea about how this should have played out.
Ben Solo/Skywalker should’ve been the hero of the piece.
Kylo Ren knows Rey is a Palpatine, right? He’s also hell-bent on finding her. Why? Could it be because he knows Emperor Palpatine is looking for her too? Could it be that he wants to protect her, or maybe just use her to get to Palpatine? So, maybe he’s secretly trying to stop Palpatine, and he knows that Rey is the key to this.
He’s not the only Skywalker who knows Palpatine is back. Luke has obviously known it for a long time - and he also knew about Rey. He knows that Rey’s destiny is to take her rightful place as the mega-uber-super-evil Sith Lord who rules over everyone. So, before episode 7, he kidnapped her and hid her as far away as he could from the Emperor.
Now it makes sense that Luke is hiding out in the middle of nowhere, hoping to god to never set eyes on another Palpatine again. He’s cut himself off from the Force so that nobody can find him, or find out where he sent Rey. Imagine his dismay when Rey suddenly turns up to meet him - he’s in a massive grump and refuses to train her. He tries to get her to forget about the Force, tries to make her believe that her quest is pointless - he doesn’t want her becoming powerful and getting found by Emperor Palpatine. Maybe he makes up some old guff about trying to kill Ben Solo to make her lose faith in him. Even his line about ‘this isn’t going to turn out the way you think it is’ makes sense - she thinks she going to save the galaxy from Kylo Ren and the First Order, when really, by getting involved, it’s going to take her straight to Palpatine.
Han Solo - hero status maintained, not suffering from shit death syndrome after all.
While this is going on, Ben Solo has turned to the Dark Side, figuring this is the only way he’s ever going to get close enough to Emperor Palpatine to try to kill him. Han Solo knows this too, which is why he so easily puts himself in a position where Ben can kill him - securing Ben’s role on the Dark Side as Kylo Ren. You see, while it looks like Han is making a vain attempt to rescue his son from the Dark Side, he’s actually sacrificing himself so his son can go deep undercover without being detected. Han Solo - hero status maintained, not suffering from shit death syndrome after all.
Now Kylo Ren is conflicted, he’s smashing shit up, he’s confused about his mission, what he needs to do, and he’s mad as hell. His dad’s just died and he’s starting to doubt this insane plan. He doesn’t know if he has the strength to succeed where Luke and Anakin Skywalker failed. He’s worried he’s turned to the Dark Side for good.
We also have an opportunity to look again at Episode 8 - especially that whole pointless middle section that doesn’t go anywhere. Cut it. Cut the whole lot… and use that screen time to do something (maybe an extended flashback to just after the Return of the Jedi?) that sets the scene for Emperor Palpatine to not only return, but to have created/discovered - and then almost instantly lost - Rey.
As the audience, we now spend the first half of the final three films thinking that Kylo Ren is basically the new Darth Vader, then we slowly begin to see his conflict and inner turmoil for what it really is - his hatred of what he has become. We realise this isn’t just a replay of Episodes 4, 5 and 6, and we’re interested to see where it’s going. We’re also excited by the revelations that come out during Episode 8’s flashback section, but we don’t entirely know what it means. We just know for damn sure we have to watch Episode 9 to find out.
Back to Rey - her character development can stay fairly true to the current Episode 7-8-9 story arc - but, at the moment Luke tells her that he and Leia both knew she was a Palpatine, she acts in a more believable way. She’s pissed off. Like, really pissed off. They both knew all along, and didn’t tell her?! Who the fuck does that?
Now she’s pissed at the Emperor too - this is all his fault, after all - and she hauls Luke’s X-Wing out from it’s watery grave to go after him. That final scene with the Emperor plays out almost the same as it did originally, except Rey actually does kill Emperor Palpatine, and Rey cannot control the Sith forces that overwhelm her. I mean she’s really trying, but it’s like so totally not gonna work.
But, Ben Skywalker’s there, rising up out of the chasm where the Emperor had thrown him (yeah ok, we need to move some of that end scene around a bit) and our two heroes/villains/we’re-not-sure-anymore have one hell of an almighty force-based-fight. It’s like the best light sabre battle you’ve ever seen… and Ben defeats evil Rey! The power of all the Sith cannot defeat a Skywalker! We absolutely do not do something awful like have Rey and Ben kiss and make up before one of them kind of just quietly vanishes.
Now, finally a true Skywalker can stare up at the twin suns of Tatooine, safe in the knowledge that the Palpatines have been dispatched for good. Perhaps, at this moment, Ben Skywalker disappears in the way Luke did. The Force is finally in balance and the Jedi are no longer needed - the galaxy should be allowed to find its own way. Maybe it’s like the Force started out spread evenly amongst the galaxy and over time became concentrated into fewer and fewer people, culminating in Ben and Rey having all the Force between them both. So now, everything’s been reset.
Honestly, I don’t know if this version of events is better, but I do feel with certainty that the episodes 7, 8 and 9 we saw at the cinema should’ve been a rough draft that never made it past the storyboard stage. They are enjoyable films, but they are not worthy of being part of the Skywalker Saga.
Did Ben Solo really kill Han, or did Han do it, knowing it needed to happen?
I also wonder if J.J. Abrams was thinking of this alternative version when he wrote and filmed The Force Awakens. Take the Han Solo death scene in particular - if you were refilming a ‘Ben Solo is the hero’ version of this movie, you wouldn’t need to change the dialogue or the editing at all. We see that Ben Solo is conflicted - he doesn’t want to do what he knows he has to do. We also see Han Solo actually take hold of Ben’s lightsaber, and we don’t see who delivers the fatal blow. Did Ben Solo really kill Han, or did Han do it, knowing it needed to happen? I always thought it was odd that we see Han Solo holding the lightsabre, and then we cut away before it’s switched on.
I have one final thought. Now that I’m rewriting this entire final trilogy, I might as well address the casting as well. My opinion? We need to switch Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley’s roles. Ridley would have made an awesome Kylo Ren, and I think Driver would’ve been convincing as Palpatine’s grandson. Think about how kick-ass Ridley would’ve been as a Vader Mk.2 who overcomes everything to destroy Palpatine.
The great thing about making this change is, we’ve already got the last scene on Tatooine filmed. We just need to reshoot everything else. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?