Decided to go full-res on the cover, because I love it.
I’ve already talked a couple of times about my plan to read 52 books by women of color this year– no link, because it’s not complicated, that’s the entire plan— and I decided to start with Brittney Morris’ Slay, which had been on my unread shelf for a minute waiting for me to be in a YA mood.
The premise has been described as Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give, which … isn’t half-bad, actually, as these things go; it’s about a seventeen-year-old named Kiera Johnson, an honors student and coding prodigy who has created a Black-themed MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, for those of you who don’t speak fluent geek) called SLAY. And then one of the players is killed in the real world over a dispute connected to the game, and, well, all sorts of merry hell breaks loose.
Here’s the interesting thing about this book: having read it, and having had various and sundry opinions about how certain things were handled this way as opposed to that way, or how this aspect of the plot might align with my understanding of how the world works vs that aspect … I have come to the conclusion that a fair portion of My Opinions on this book don’t matter. At all. Which is … kind of a weird thing to say in a book review?
Y’all, this is the Blackest goddamned book I have ever read in my life, and any young Black women you may happen to know should have this book put into their hands as quickly as possible, particularly if those young Black women have any preexisting interests in science or technology or video games, and once you’re done making sure all the young Black women you know have read the book, you need to start making sure everybody else reads it too.
When stood up against that fact of the book, my lil’ white-dudeley quibbles about whatever goofy-ass thing I might want to nitpick are just not that goddamn important. Evangelizing for the book is.
So, yeah: read it. And buy some copies for your local schools. And then buy some more copies, and give those away. But, uh, buy it at a bookstore, because for no clear reason Amazon doesn’t think it’s out until this summer. I assure you, it’s available.
… or, rather, I read the first two hundred pages of Blood and Elves, which I’ve come to discover is technically the third Witcher book, after two books of short stories, but is branded as the first book because it’s the first novel.
And it’s terrible. Absolutely unforgivably terrible. I went and looked at other bad reviews of it on Goodreads, and many of them seem to feel like the first two books (the short stories) were pretty good and then this one shit the bed, but that sentence with all the arrows pointed at it up there is where I decided I really was going to put this down, and then I read a few more pages anyway, and it’s just a Goddamned awful book. I’m going to lay a bit of the blame on the translator– I am willing to wager a small sum that the words she translated as “bite your own backside in fury” are a Polish proverb expressing angry frustration, but if that’s the case it should never have been translated literally. As a guy with a couple of degrees in Biblical studies I take translation pretty seriously, and there is no good reason to ever translate a proverb literally when you’re translating for a different culture. But it wasn’t the translator who wrote the endless conversations where characters explain things to each other that they already know, or the utter disgrace to women everywhere that is Triss Merigold’s character, or who decided to write two hundred pages about a guy called a Witcher where he does no Witching of any kind.
Seriously, the dude’s supposed to be a monster hunter. There is none of that in this book, or at least not in the first half. It’s dreadfully boring. And I was dumb enough to jump straight to the box set of the first three novels, so I not only have this thing sitting on my shelf now but two other books that I have no intention of reading. Bah.
And so long as we’re talking about works read in translation, the book before dipping into the world of the Witcher was Jin Yong’s A Hero Born, which is the first book of a massively successful series in China that has only recently been translated into English. This is one of those books that I ordered because I got flooded with people talking about it in a short period of time, and the phrase “Chinese Lord of the Rings” kept coming up.
I don’t know what the Chinese Lord of the Rings might be, but it is not Legends of the Condor Heroes. To be honest, having read it, I cannot for the life of me imagine what the hell possessed anyone to compare those two books to each other, other than the knowledge that it would get my specific subtype of nerd to order a copy. They were both initially published in the fifties. That’s all I’ve got. What A Hero Born is is a perfectly serviceable wuxia novel, or in other words a book set in ancient China that is all about powerful martial artists going around and doing things.
What things are they doing? Hard to say, because rather than describe the action most of the time Jin Yong just names the move and either expects you to know what that is (which I can’t believe is actually the case, but I suppose might be) or expects you to fill in the details yourself. In other words, you might have one character attack another with a Rooster Masturbates the Moose move and have that move be countered with an Insipid Charlatan, but the variant from the Batman Eats a Blueberry Crepe school of kung fu, not the normal one.
What’s that mean? Hell if I know. And clearly this works in China, and I didn’t hate the book by any means, but it was sort of a slog.
So, yeah. So far, not regretting writing my Best Books of the Year post with a couple of days left in the year.
I’m coming at this show from sort of a weird angle: I had not read any of the source material (but I ordered three of the novels after watching, and am about a fourth of the way through the first one right now) and I have played one of the three video games and didn’t like it very much. So it’s kind of difficult for me to explain why I jumped at watching the show, particularly since I’ve never really been a fan of Henry Cavill either.
tl;dr you should probably watch this if you’re into This Sort of Thing, but don’t pay for a Netflix account for it or anything like that.
The show mostly dispenses with the rampant sexism and PoC erasure of the game, at least– I don’t recall a single use of the C-word, which is everywhere in the game, and the cast is reasonably diverse;
Henry Cavill is having the time of his life playing a man whose only emotion is exasperated— Geralt of Rivia is so over all of this shit, all the time, and it’s hilarious; I never thought I’d use the word “adorable” to describe Cavill but it’s entirely accurate through most of the show;
Anya Chalotra as Yennifer of Vengerberg also does a fantastic job in what is probably the show’s best role. Yen is a complicated, meaty role, and she digs deep into this character;
The majority of the smaller roles are well-acted as well. I don’t know any actor in this program outside of Cavill himself and I don’t know where they found all these folks but they’re great. Definitely worth singling out are Joey Batey’s Jaskier and Jodhi May’s Queen Calanthe, who I want to get a show all on her own;
Fun fact about Jaskier: this is the character who in the games and the English novels is called Dandelion. Turns out jaskier is the Polish word for “buttercup,” and the books and games made the decision to render the character’s name as a slightly less feminine-sounding yellow flower in English, but the show just stuck with Jaskier, which in English scans perfectly well as a fantasy name;
Netflix went all out with budget and FX; there’s a suspect mask early in the series but in general the show looks really good, and it’s well-directed across the board, with good action scenes.
The not as good stuff:
I’m willing to be patient with Ciri’s story while she becomes the character I know from the third game, but she basically just runs around in the woods uselessly for the entire season. She’s getting Sansa’s character arc from GoT right now without the endless, twisted speculation about when she’s going to get raped, and we’re very much in the “young and whiny and mostly pointless” phase at the moment. Hopefully this gets better quick in the next season;
Costuming is generally pretty good, but two exceptions are Henry Cavill’s wigs and the Nilfgaardian’s utterly ridiculous, impractical, please-stab-me armor;
The show follows three timelines separated by at least several decades, and wants you to figure that out rather than making it clear, and while I don’t mind TV that rewards the viewer paying attention it’s not at all obvious what the show gains from making all the time-jumping effectively a background detail. They also hurt Yen’s storyline quite a bit with this; she goes from a novice to someone who has spent three decades as a royal advisor between the earliest storyline and the middle one, and those three decades change her character quite a bit– it would have been nice to see some of it;
It’s possible that Cavill’s bad wigs are a timeline hint, but even if they are– I think one of them might be blonder than the others– they’re still terrible;
Related to the timeline issue, the show isn’t great at explaining things in general, and my wife spent most of the season asking me questions I couldn’t answer with my limited background knowledge. You’re asked to take quite a bit on faith and I think the show works much better for people with deep background knowledge, but it’s hard to say, since I don’t have it. One of the best things about GoT was the opening sequence, which effortlessly laid out the entire map and let you know where everything was without wasting show time on it. This show could have used something along those lines. At least sprinkle some maps into the background somewhere.
So, yeah: if you’re one of the ten Netflix subscribers who hasn’t checked this out yet, you should probably think about it. If you don’t have Netflix and are a big fantasy person, maybe think about it. If you’re neither, give it a pass. I’m in for Season Two and at least the first of the books, but I’m not gonna lose any sleep waiting for it either.
It’s that time of year again— it’s in between Christmas and New Year’s, and I’m not completely in love with the book I’m reading right now and it’s gonna take at least another day to get through, so there shouldn’t be any late surprises that might cause me to want to modify this list. I read 133 books this year, and that number’s likely to grow by at least a couple more by the end of the year, and (he says, for the second year in a row) 2019 was an utterly shit year across the board except for the quality of the books I was reading. I had to go to fifteen this year, y’all. I might go back to ten again next year, we’ll see, but this year it had to be fifteen.
As always, “new” in this context means new to me, not came out this year, although I think this is the youngest batch of books I’ve had — I think the oldest book on this list is no more than four or five years old– and not that I think anyone will, but don’t get too het up about the rankings of the books past the top five, maybe; if you think #7 should be #10 or whatever chances are I’ll agree with you if I’m writing this on a different day.
15. MIDDLEGAME, by Seanan McGuire. Seanan has been making consistent appearances on this list since the beginning, and while her Into The Drowning Deep, which was #4 on my list last year, remains my favorite of her books, Middlegame is probably her best book on a technical level. It’s one of those books that it’s best to go into as blind as possible. Needless to say, there’s a hell of a lot going on here– Middlegame features alchemy, quantum entanglement physics (yes, in the same book,) time travel, parallel timelines, twins, wicked experiments, Frankenstein, The Wizard of Oz, The Midwich Cuckoos, and a whole lot of other stuff. One of the things I’ve always liked about McGuire is that she writes fairly straightforward, entertaining stories; this book is every bit as entertaining as her previous work but the story structure is a level of magnitude more complicated than anything I’ve ever seen from her before.
14. THE GENE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I read this book on the rarest of recommendations: my brother, who does not read nearly as much as I do but if he tells me he thinks I would like something it is a sign I should sit up and pay attention. You already know what the book is about; the title is not exactly subtle: this is a history of the study of genetics. Mukherjee is a hell of an author, though, and he takes what could be a very dry and complicated subject and makes it clean and accessible. His book The Emperor of All Maladies, which is a history of cancer, got ordered right after I finished this, and frankly has been sitting on the shelf for too long waiting for me to get to it. If you’re a science person, you probably ought to check this out, and even if you’re not a science person it never hurts to learn anything new. Well worth the time.
13. THE HAUNTING OF TRAM CAR 015, by P. Djèlí Clark. This is the second of P. Djèlí Clark’s novellas I’ve read, after his The Black God’s Drums in 2018, and it just blows my mind how solid Tor’s novella line has been since the beginning. I don’t have the money to read all of them, but it’s something I’d seriously consider trying to do if I did. The novella is set in an alternate version of Cairo, where an agent of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities is called upon to exorcise a possessed tram car. So it’s a great mix of magic and mid-level technology set in a (still) Islamic culture. You will note that a ton of the books on this list got extra points for sheer inventiveness; I got a lot of enjoyment this year out of reading stuff I’ve just flat never seen in books before, and this is a great example. Read diverse books, y’all. It pays off.
12. REVENANT GUN, by Yoon Ha Lee. This one’s a bit of a rarity; it’s the third book in Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy, and the first and second books did not make the list. How did this happen? Well, first, I accidentally bought the second book of the trilogy first. Then I tried to read the first book, which was complicated as hell, and couldn’t get through it. Then the third book came out and I randomly heard about it and, feeling bad about bailing on the series on book one when I already owned book two, tried to reread the first one, and this time it clicked and I quite happily read all three of them. At any rate, this is outer space military science fiction, only most of the technology used in the book is based on the calendar in a way that eventually makes sense but be prepared to be puzzled for a while when you’re reading it. This series is rewarding as hell but you are going to have to work for it. I just wasn’t in the right headspace the first time I checked it out.
11. THE TIGER’S DAUGHTER, by K. Arsenault Rivera. The morning after I finished reading this, I got in touch with a former student and ordered a copy of it for her. The Tiger’s Daughter is a cross-cultural lesbian love story set in a fantasy analogue of China and Mongolia, told from the perspective of one of the lovers, who is definitely a princess and may be a goddess as well. It is mostly told as an epistolary sort of novel, and the main characters are kept apart for the majority of the present-tense portion of the story. The most impressive thing about it is the ending; The Tiger’s Daughter might have the single most perfect ending of any book I read all year, and I was in tears as I finished it. There are two sequels out– I’m not sure if it’s a trilogy or if there are plans to go beyond the third book, but I’ll know soon as it shows up today. I was not as enchanted by the second book as I was the first, which is probably the reason this isn’t slightly higher on the list, but it’s still worth recommending. Tiger’s Daughter reads quite well on its own, though.
10. THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE, by Samantha Shannon. I effectively bought this book at random– I was wandering through Barnes and Noble and it jumped off the shelves and into my hands, mostly because of the interesting cover and title and the fact that it’s huge. This is a standalone fantasy novel, no sequels are planned, although I’d be happy to see them. The overall plot is a trifle on the been-there-done-that side; ancient evil awakening, world in peril, blah blah blah, but it makes up for it by involving damn near every corner of the globe in the story, an interesting and yes, fruit-based magic system, and an interesting cast of characters dominated by women and fairly heavy on The Gays as well. The plot isn’t the most original but it does some really interesting stuff within that framework and I ended up enjoying the hell out of it.
9. CHASING NEW HORIZONS: INSIDE THE EPIC FIRST MISSION TO PLUTO, by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon. I am, as most of you probably know, a huge astronomy nerd, and I was all kinds of excited with the New Horizons spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto a few years ago. This book isn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be when I bought it– I was expecting more space science, when in fact it’s really a book about politics more than anything else– an inside look at NASA during the (many) years that it took to get the New Horizons mission off the (literal) ground and out to Pluto. This isn’t a book about Pluto, it’s a book about what it took to get to Pluto, told by a couple of insiders to the entire process, and while that’s not what I wanted when I bought it I’m enough of a NASA nerd that it was a fascinating look at what it takes to get these sorts of multi-year, massively expensive projects approved and funded. If that sounds dry to you, don’t worry about it; Stern and Grinspoon are a talented couple of authors and this is an engaging read throughout.
8. THE BUTCHERING ART: JOSEPH LISTER’S QUEST TO TRANSFORM THE GRISLY WORLD OF VICTORIAN MEDICINE, by Lindsey Fitzharris. I first encountered Lindsey Fitzharris through Twitter, where she is awesome, and you should all be following her. This book almost didn’t make this list; in fact, it almost didn’t get read, as I made it through the detailed description of a bladder stone removal in the first few pages, put the book down, and walked away to cross my legs and keep them crossed for a week. I have never been gladder to be alive in the age of anesthesia and antibiotics than I was after reading this fascinating little book, and you are absolutely going to have to have a strong stomach to be able to read this– Fitzharris has a ridiculous eye for detail, only since she’s talking about hospitals and surgeries in the early days of both none of the details are anything you want to hear. The book could have been the words “It sucked” over and over again and it would have been fine, but if you have the constitution to make it through the read you’re going to enjoy the journey a lot.
7. QUEEN OF SHADOWS, by Sarah J. Maas. Consider this a stand-in for the entire Throne of Glass series, which is eight books and five thousand pages long and which I read in its entirety this year. The books themselves vary in quality somewhat, as you might expect, but the good news is that they get much stronger after the first book and continue to improve as the series continues on. Queen of Shadows was probably my favorite of the lot so it gets the actual slot here, but if you’re a fan of epic fantasy fiction you should go grab Throne of Glass and The Assassin’s Blade right now and get to readin’. Don’t be put off by having to wander into the YA section to find the books, either; I think that was a publisher mandate, not a decision Maas made, and by the third book or so it’s clear that she was being allowed to write whatever the hell she wanted without any interference.
6. THE LUMINOUS DEAD, by Caitlin Starling. So here’s how these lists work: as I read throughout the year I add books that I think might make the list to a Goodreads shelf. I don’t remove anything from that shelf over the course of the year, and then on the day I’m going to write this post I sit down and organize the books into the list. There are usually 20-30 books on the shortlist; this year there were 32. And The Luminous Dead wasn’t one of them, and I got partway through my list and realized I hadn’t shortlisted it at the time, and went wow, forget that and put it onto the list. There is, obviously, an element of how well the book stays in my head in addition to how much I initially liked it, and … well, man, did Luminous Dead manage to stick around. This is a book with some definite flaws to it, chief among which is that the basic premise wouldn’t make sense if the book was set today, much less set a few centuries into the future, but this is one of the most atmospheric and creepy books I read all year, and the story– an exploration of an extrasolar cave, and yes, that’s it– stayed with me to a degree that very few other things I read this year managed to do.
5. WAR GIRLS, by Tochi Onyebuchi. Nigerian science fiction is a thing, y’all, and I think I read four or five books this year at least that were either by Nigerian authors or set in Nigeria or both, and Tochi Onyebuchi’s War Girls was the best of the lot. He apparently pitched the book as “Gundam in Nigeria,” which is accurate in the sense that the book is set in Nigeria and does in fact involve giant mechs beating the shit out of each other, but it leaves out the part where the book is also about the Nigerian civil war, and family, and Afrofuturism, and slavery, and sisterhood, and oh also cybernetics which isn’t quite as, like, serious but is damned cool. This book is listed on Amazon as being for 7th through 9th graders, which is bananapants crazytalk; I mean, I would have enjoyed it at that age, but it doesn’t feel like a YA book at all and there’s plenty of adult complexity there for older readers. I loved it.
4. WANDERERS, by Chuck Wendig. The second book on this list– well, chronologically the first I read, but whatever– that I’d describe as a massive level-up by the author, Wanderers has been described, not unfairly, as “Chuck Wending writes The Stand,” and it’s on par with that book, which is one of King’s best. Wanderers is interesting in that the world-ending plague doesn’t start to be a thing until a good chunk of the way through the book; until then, it’s a horror mystery about a group of steadily-growing group of sleepwalkers who are heading … well, somewhere, and the concerned family members and CDC people who are staying with them and trying to discover what’s wrong. It’s three times as long as anything else he’s ever written and I loved every word of it; there aren’t a lot of books on the list this year that I’d describe as horror novels, but Wendig hits this one out of the park. Even if you’ve read something by him in the past and haven’t enjoyed it, this is different enough from his previous work that you should check it out anyway.
3. ESCAPING EXODUS, by Nicky Drayden. Nicky Drayden is a madwoman, y’all, and I actually didn’t manage to finish her first book (due for a reread early next year) because of how nuts it was but I figured if I stuck with her my patience would be rewarded, and oh man was I right. Escaping Exodus is about the occupants of one ship in a fleet of living generation ships. Everything about it is endlessly fascinating, from the different subcultures within the ship to the family structures to the way the ship is maintained and kept alive (and, later in the book, the look at how other genships’ occupants have kept their ship-creatures up and running) and yet another intensely satisfying Juliet-and-Juliet, cross-class romance. I swear that I didn’t go out of my way to read gay-themed love stories this year, but I appear to have come across quite a few of them, and several of them were just great. The book is completely insane and I was completely enthralled from start to finish.
2. CHILDREN OF TIME and CHILDREN OF RUIN, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I read both of these books this year and they were both amazing, so following on the fine and previously-established tradition of “my list, my rules” we are going to honor both books with the #2 slot for 2019. The series is about a posthuman future where Earth is gone and the only human beings remaining may well be the characters in the book. Children of Time follows the entire evolutionary path of an intelligent species of Portiid spiders, and Ruin adds two more alien species to the mix along with the handful of human characters. The amazing thing here is Tchaikovsky’s amazing talent for writing what feel like genuinely alien cultures; he includes just enough Earth touchstones to give the reader something to grab ahold of and everything else is there to be puzzled out. Children of Time is an amazing enough achievement on its own; the fact that Children of Ruin is equally good is incredibly impressive.
Speaking of amazing sequels…
1. JADE WAR, by Fonda Lee. And, let’s be real here, there was never any doubt once I read it that this was going to end up the top book of the year. Not only did Jade City end up as my #1 book last year, and by a not-uncomfortable margin, but Jade War was actually better than Jade City. If Jade City was The Godfather, this was The Godfather, Part II, and it is not just the best book I read in 2019 but it is one of the best books I have ever read. I cannot overstate my affection for this series, and I will eventually be building an altar to Fonda Lee somewhere in my house and attempting to start a world religion. There’s literally an entire-ass church for sale not too far from my house and I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy it. Starting the Church of Fonda Lee seems like probably the best reason I’m going to get. This year was amazing, and this series is amazing, and this book is amazing, and if you ignore the other fourteen times I said “you need to read this” through this post you need to pay attention to it this time. If nothing else, being the first author to get two books in the #1 slot, much less in two successive years and two successive books, is pretty damned impressive.
HONORABLE MENTION, in NO REAL ORDER: ON THE COME UP, by Angie Thomas, CIRCE, by Madeline Miller, A STORM OF LOCUSTS, by Rebecca Roanhorse, THE HUNGER, by Alma Katsu, BODY BROKER, by Daniel M. Ford, QUICHOTTE, by Salman Rushdie, INTERNMENT, by Samira Ahmed, FRESHWATER, by Akwaeke Emezi, THE OUTSIDE, by Ada Hoffman, THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS, by John Wyndham, and THE WATER DANCER, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
PART ONE: THE FACEBOOK FILIBUSTER, WHEREIN THERE ARE NO SPOILERS, AND ALSO THIS REVIEW IS 10,006 WORDS LONG SO YOU MIGHT WANT TO GET A DRINK
I was gonna wait a couple of days to write this, but I found myself thinking about it every time my cat woke me up last night (every three hours, on the dot, in other words) and it’s not like I’ve got anything else I want to talk about today. So, standard disclaimers for a Star Wars spoiler review: I’m talking about everything, and you should really see the movie before you read this. I did the non-spoiler review yesterday so you already know I liked the movie and there’s no reason to read this unless you want to compare what I think with what you thought.
Be aware: I plan on yelling at the internet a lot. That’s gonna be thing that happens. Because somehow from what I’ve seen so far the internet has been even wronger about this movie than they were about Last Jedi, and that shit should be impossible.
Also, I’ve only seen the movie once, of course, and this film has no time at all to slow down and fuck around, so I’m gonna misremember some stuff and forget some stuff and rearrange some stuff. Unless it’s critical, don’t worry about it too much.
Okay that’s enough to get past the Facebook quote; let’s go.
PART TWO: IN WHICH THE MOVIE OPENS STARTLINGLY WELL
And I’m not kidding: the movie is two and a half hours long, and it could probably use another half hour to give some of it time to breathe. Y’all knew Palpatine was in this movie, right? Were you maybe expecting some sort of explanation about how he was still alive? Nah. The opening crawl announces that Palpatine is alive, that he’s basically announced that he’s alive and out somewhere in the Unknown Regions, and that get ready, motherfucker, because he’s coming. And both Rey and Kylo Ren are trying to find him, and both of them are looking to kill him– Rey to keep him from taking over the galaxy and Ren because fuck that guy. Well, we start off mid-battle, on some planet somewhere that might actually be Mustafar, and for the first time I wish the mainline Star Wars movies were willing to use title cards once in a while. Kylo Ren has some Stormtroopers with him and he is killing the shit out of a bunch of aliens I’ve never seen in a forest somewhere, and eventually he finds what looks like a Jedi holocron but which we are eventually informed is a Sith “Wayfinder,” which … basically is a fuckin’ holocron. Anyway, he plugs it into his ship and it shows him how to find a planet called Exegol, which is where Palpy is hanging out.
Now, a moment here: This is going to be one of those places where me being a habitual consumer of the comic books and the tie-in novels helps me and, maybe, hurts other people. Because the supplementary stuff has been very clear that Palpatine has had some sort of post-death shit going on out in the Unknown Regions since way back in TFA. And that there was something going on on Jakku, too, for that matter. So I’m a little less surprised, perhaps, than some of you might be to learn that not only is he hanging out out there, and I mean hanging out literally, because he spends the first 90% of the movie literally dangling from some sort of machine, but that he’s got a bunch of mega-Star Destroyers out there underneath an ocean ready for the Wrecking of Shit.
But I’m a bit ahead of myself. Kylo finds Palpatine, who appears to be blind and whose hands are completely messed up, and there’s a great bit where he’s walking through the temple Palpatine is in and Palpatine explains to him that he has been responsible for allll the voices in Kylo’s head since the beginning– and the voice-over shifts from Palpatine to Vader to Snoke back to Palpatine’s voices while it’s happening.
Speaking of Snoke, we walk past what looks like some sort of bacta tank or cloning tube that has two Snokes floating in it on Kylo’s way to Palpatine.
It is difficult to overstate how unbelievably creepy and tense and atmospheric all of this is; the first fifteen minutes of this movie are fucking awesome. Palpatine raises his fleet and tells Kylo that all of this can be his; he just has to kill Rey first. No problem, everybody’s been super successful with that so far, right?
PART THREE: THAT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT. NOTHING WORKS LIKE THAT, DAMMIT.
MEANWHILE! One of the major issues with this movie is the editing. It’s simply not done well, and nowhere more poorly than the initial half-hour or so of the movie, where the movie occasionally forgets to use the traditional Star Wars we’re-changing-locations wipe cut and just jumps from scene to scene and planet to planet with the same kind of A-B cut you might use during a conversation. It’s jarring and weird and kind of shockingly unprofessional at times; I’ve complained about a lot of things in Star Wars movies over all these years but never the editing.
Anyway, the Lesser New Characters (Poe and Finn) and Chewbacca are … out somewhere … getting some information from a dude? And hell if I remember exactly what they’re trying to find out, specifically– they’re chasing down clues to the Emperor, and the movie stays true to Star Wars’ analog roots by requiring a giant cable be run from one ship to another ship– oh, yeah, this was the part with the spy! There’s a mole in the First Order, and he’s passing them some information using this other ship as a go-between, and they get what they need but then there are TIE fighters everywhere and it’s time for a space battle, and Finn’s playing gunner with Poe and Chewie flying the Millennium Falcon, and Poe keeps throwing the Falcon into lightspeed, but just for, like, a few seconds at a time, which isn’t a thing, because Goddammit lightspeed requires calculations, and we have talked about this, and he does it three or four times anyway, emerging in various entertaining locations, and don’t do the math about how far apart these places should be for this to work, and somehow the TIE fighters are following them, even though TIE fighters don’t have lightspeed capability, and on the one hand it’s exciting and I think at some point they actually use the word parsec correctly for the first time in Star Wars history but this is not how these ships work, dammit.
Anyway, they escape.
PART FOUR: WHERE’S REY?AND LET’S TALK ABOUT CARRIE FISHER.
Rey is floating five feet off the ground surrounded by a couple of toruses (tori? Torii? Fucking circles) of floating rocks. She’s “training,” and Leia is involved in her training in some sort of not-entirely-clear way, and at some point she decides to go run off on the “training course,” which involves lots of blindness and jumping and eventually a battle with a couple of those floating zap-droids from ANH. Kylo reaches out to her at some point, and I think maybe he takes one of them over, because she gets zapped a couple of times, and she seems kind of surprised by how hard a time she’s having with them, but then she throws her lightsaber and while the thing is tracking the saber she spears it with a stick, and seeing her toss her lightsaber onscreen is pure awesome.
And then, a talk with Leia. And this was one of the things that I was worried about with this movie– JJ Abrams can handle spectacle just fine, but he’s not been shown to have a fine hand with story, and Leia needed to be handled perfectly. And having heard that her entire part in this movie was basically in b-roll shot for TFA that they had lying around, I think I wasn’t being unfair in worrying that she was going to feel shoehorned in.
So, good news: other than a couple of scenes where she’s standing in the background between two people who are having a conversation and she doesn’t seem to really be there, as if she’s paying attention to something else, it’s pretty seamless. There will be more about this later, of course, but in general her presence in the film was only very rarely jarring and was never disrespectful. And I was really concerned about that, coming in.
And then the Falcon lands, and it’s on fire. Like, all of it. A bunch of people yell at Poe about how the Falcon can’t … skip-jump, I think they called it? And they’re right, because that’s not a goddamn thing, but Poe basically reacts by saying “We just did that thing that you’re saying we can’t do,” but dude, the ship is on fire, and also you can’t do that thing you just did, shut up and quit shitting on my continuity. Han Solo his goddamnself said you can’t do the shit you just did, so you didn’t do it. Shuddup.
Anyway, they know all about the Emperor being back, and they have a planet they can go to to chase down another clue, and they might know the word Exegol by now, but whatever– they’re coming, like, soon– in a matter of a day or two– and we gotta go find out where they are before all sorts of shit breaks loose and the Emperor basically attacks everywhere simultaneously.
PART FIVE: SOME BITCHING ABOUT JJ ABRAMS, BUT NOT AS MUCH AS YOU THINK
And this is one thing that JJ Abrams never got right, and that Rian Johnson didn’t get right either, which is the idea that you can spend five minutes in lightspeed in Star Wars and get anywhere from anywhere. It’s not quite as bad as it was in TFA, which literally had Starkiller Base fire a laser from itself toward another planet which you could see from a third planet, but there’s a bit here about how they only have 36 hours or some shit like that, and there’s a reason that Star Wars kind of never talks about time, guys, and that’s because when you’re bouncing around between different planets and different solar systems and across the galaxy concepts like day sort of shit the bed and fall over and die, and you should never tie anything in Star Wars that’s gonna involve a lot of travel to “this has to happen in eight hours,” because it’s lightspeed, or more realistically something faster than that but not fucking teleportation, and while we’ve never worried about relativity in these movies it has always been clear that it takes a little while to travel from one place to another until this last trilogy. This is not fixed in this movie, at all, and still stays on my nerves, but I’m used to it by now, for whatever that’s worth.
PART SIX: THE PART WITH ALL THE EXPOSITION
There’s a meeting, and Poe tells everybody what the mole told them, and Greg Grunberg and his stupid Greg Grunberg face are there, still playing Jek Porkin’s fatter son Jark, and I think Grunberg has gained weight since TFA, which, hey, running from the First Order must lead to stress-eating or something, and I break a tooth accidentally when I see him, because he’s terrible. Rey stomps off to go find and/or destroy Palpatine by herself, and for the first time in all three movies doesn’t immediately solve her own problems, because Poe and Chewie and Finn and BB-8 and for some reason C-3PO stop her and insist that they’re going too because these people have never all actually shared any scenes longer than a couple of seconds together and they’re ferdamnsure gonna interact in this movie. And there’s a really odd scene with Rose Tico, who Finn talks to for a moment and is like “So, you’re not going?” and she’s like “Nah, Leia needs me to flibber the flabberjabbery here” or some sort of space engineer shit and then she doesn’t go with them, and … like, okay, she gets some screen time and some stuff to do later, but it’s weird that they included a scene specifically to make sure that she says she’s not going with them to Desert Planet Five.
Meanwhile, and this might not happen exactly in here but whatever, Kylo Ren has a board meeting with a bunch of First Order types in natty uniforms that he starts by dumping a severed head onto the table while bitching about the obvious existence of a mole and ends by Force-Choke slamming somebody into the ceiling, so if you’ve been concerned that maybe he’s mellowed at all you can drop that idea. I’m not sure whose head it is– it might be the alien whose ship the Falcon gets information from at the beginning, but I’m not certain and I definitely could be wrong– but the mole is definitely still out there. Also, there’s a scene where they re-forge his helmet. Apparently they’ve already used up the “new helmets” budget line for the First Order, and have to reuse the old one? One way or another, for the rest of the movie sometimes he has his helmet on and sometimes he doesn’t.
PART SEVEN: IN WHICH I BITCH AT INTERNET NONSENSE, NOT FOR THE LAST TIME
There are some people who are trying to put this scene up as some sort of repudiation of Last Jedi, because in Last Jedi he wrecks his helmet when Snoke makes fun of him for it, and then all the sudden in this movie he … wants to wear a helmet again?
Y’all. I know fanboys gotta fanboy but can we not? If anything this shit is perfectly in character for Kylo– get angry and wreck things is kind of his move. He wrecked his helmet because he was mad, and then a few scenes later you might remember he had a scene with the dude who was making fun of him where he cut him the fuck in half, and apparently that was enough for him to get over being made fun of, and now he has his helmet back. This is not a thing. It’s not a repudiation of anyfuckingthing. It’s sure as hell not a retcon, which is a word I’m seeing tossed around a lot lately by people who have no idea what the fuck a retcon is. It’s a costume choice. Anyway, for the rest of the movie, sometimes he’s wearing his helmet and sometimes he’s not. You know what’s sometimes missing that is a problem? His scar, which is prominent as hell in some scenes and just gone in others. It’s another little editing issue in a movie that’s chock-full of them.
We get our first look at the Knights of Ren (REN, fucking spellcheck!!! not TEN!!! How many fucking times do I have to correct this shit???!!?!?!?) during the helmet-reforging scene, by the way. They’re cool but don’t get your hopes up too much about them.
PART EIGHT: DESERT PLANET FIVE
Our Heroes are at a festival on Desert Planet Five, trying to find … somebody’s ship, he’s a bounty hunter, and Luke and Lando were looking for him at one point, hell, I don’t remember, but one way or another they think he has a clue for them and it made sense during the movie I just don’t remember it now. The festival is a classic little example of the stuff Abrams does right, which is alien-based Star Wars spectacle; it’s full of colors and cool shit to look at, and a little girl gives Rey a necklace and asks her her name (helpfully translated by Threepio, since Rey has no idea what the hell the girl is saying, but she seems to understand Basic well enough) which is going to be some foreshadowing for later because Rey has to admit that she doesn’t have a family name. And then the screen goes dark and Ren’s got ahold of Rey again. And they yell at each other and threaten each other a bit and somehow Ren snatches the necklace off of Rey’s neck, teleporting it who the hell knows how far into his hands, and he’s able to use it to figure out where they are.
(Oh, right: Palpatine told Ren back at the beginning that he was the one who created the link between the two of them. At some point the phrase “dyad in the Force” gets used, and it’s gonna keep popping up.)
Anyway, Rey figures out pretty quickly that they’re coming for her, and because this is an Abrams Star Wars movie they’re gonna be there in like ten minutes (to his credit, Ren has a line where he barks at someone to alert the local garrison to their presence, but he’s still gonna be there in ten minutes) and they run off and get picked up by a guy in a mask, who tells them to follow them.
“It’s Lando!” I say to my wife.
And it’s Lando. Hi, Lando!
Lando exposits at them for a little bit while they hang out in what appears to be some sort of space mobile home that he lives in now and he points them toward where the bounty hunter’s ship was. He and Luke checked it out years ago, when Luke was chasing down rumors that Palpatine was still around, but they didn’t find anything and the trail went cold. Rey says they’re gonna look again anyway, and tries to convince Lando to rejoin the Resistance, which I think he seems initially against but spoiler alert: he’s gonna come around.
(I am pleasantly surprised that he is not in the yellow shirt that the character wore in Solo during this scene; he’ll have it on later but at least we’re not pretending that a man who once had an entire closet dedicated to his capes has only been wearing one outfit since the end of Return of the Jedi. Lando feels like Lando here; there’s none of the Harrison-Ford-playing-Harrison-Ford nonsense from TFA. It’s not a long scene, but it’s nicely done.)
PART NINE: THEY FLY NOW
We’re off to find the ship! In a couple of janky stolen speeders, being chased through the desert by Stormtroopers in slightly less janky stolen speeders, only now some of them have jetpacks, because of course they do, and I bet when the toy comes out they’ll be called Jetpack Troopers, because these films don’t do subtle. And there’s a running battle, and I spend the entire time waiting for Rey to remember she has a lightsaber and I’ve heard those things are pretty useful when facing blaster fire, only she really doesn’t, and eventually both of the speeders are blown up (no worries, everybody’s fine) and then … this is another bit of editing weirdness, I think, because when they get knocked out of the ship they land on regular sand, and then everybody shoots at the last Stormtrooper and they kill him, and then all the sudden they’re in weird black sand and, oh, it’s quicksand! And they all get sucked into it– seriously, when was the last time fucking quicksand was a plot point in a movie?– only it drops them into some sort of tunnel network underneath it and everybody’s fine.
… yeah, it doesn’t make any fucking sense, roll with it.
Several things happen down there: they find the body of the bounty hunter dude, and he’s got a knife with him that has some Sith writing on it, and apparently that was the clue they were looking for, and C-3PO can read it but he can’t translate it, and also there’s a giant snake-beast that Rey notices is injured and she Force-calms it and then Force-heals it, making sure to mention that she did that by transferring some of her Force energy into it, and it sneaks off and oh look the way out was right behind it, great job getting past that obstacle at the end of this level in the video game, and if you think the snake-beast might be called an antonchekhovian or something like that you should pat yourself on the back.
Right, but back to Threepio: apparently it’s against his programming to translate Sith language into Basic? And I go through the fastest bit of fanwanking ever when he says this, because my first thought was that’s an odd thing for Anakin Skywalker to have thought of when he was eight and building you, and then right on the heels of that it hits me that Anakin probably didn’t understand six million forms of communication, either, and that there are lots of other protocol droids out there all of whom look at least vaguely like Threepio and oh holy shit, he was building him from a kit or some shit like that, and suddenly it’s less impressive than it used to be because he basically just bought his parts off the shelf and put him together with an instruction manual and there’s probably an ancient CD-ROM rotting away somewhere in Watto’s shop on Tatooine with a file on it called protocoldroidv3.exe that he used to get him up and running.
Everybody’s real mad about this, but it turns out that he knows the translation, he just can’t say it, and I don’t remember exactly but either Poe or Maz Kanata (she pops in on the comlink from time to time; she’s with Leia and the others) knows a dude on another planet who might be able to do something about that, and Poe’s initially not super happy about going there because of Story Reasons, but okay sure. They escape the tunnels and OH NO KYLO REN IS HERE let’s all flee in bounty hunter dude’s ship.
PART TEN: IN WHICH I GET REALLY MAD FOR A FEW MINUTES, BUT SPOILER ALERT: IT’S GONNA BE OKAY, ALSO REY DOES SOME COOL BACKFLIPS
At this point in the movie, I was starting to suspect that I might be enjoying myself. I was startled by this; as I said a few days ago I was expecting to hate this movie, and by this point other than the weirdly crap editing and the occasional timing issues I really didn’t have much to gripe about, and in fact the cool shit– I cannot express how awesome those first fifteen minutes are– was way better than I was thinking it was gonna be. But I was already thinking that I might have been wrong about the movie.
So naturally we were due for our first bout of nerd rage.
Kylo’s here. And he’s brought the Knights of Ren with him, and at some point there’s a scene where the First Order is literally towing the Millennium Falcon from wherever they found it back to Kylo’s ship. And it’s the scene from the trailer, where his ship is chasing her across the desert– she tells everybody else to get the bounty hunter’s ship up and running, she’ll be right back– and she does that awesome backflip move that you’ve already seen, only they left the part where she cuts his ship in half out of the trailer, and holy hell it’s cool. So, somewhere in here, Chewie leaves the ship for some reason, and it’s not clear why, and then a few minutes later Finn notices he’s not there, and Finn leaves the ship, and …
Chewie’s captured already, and is somehow handcuffed and neck-cuffed and stripped of his weapons, and man he looks weirdly naked without his bandolier, and … this all happened offscreen? In like a minute? Motherfucking Chewbacca got captured by these Knights of Ren scrubs without a shot being fired, offscreen? Fuck that. Rey comes running back, and Finn’s all They’ve got Chewie! and then the ship with Chewie on it takes off, and she grabs it out of the goddamn air with the Force, and won’t let it get more than fifty feet or so off the planet, and on the one hand this is bullshit but on the other hand this is really fucking cool, and I’m totally fucking conflicted about the whole thing and then of course Kylo Ren survived his ship being cut the fuck in half and he’s there and they’re wrestling over the ship, him trying to break it free from her control and her trying to drag it back to earth …
… and a bolt of Force Lightning shoots out of her fingertips, and the ship explodes, and Rey just fucking killed Chewbacca.
And part of me goes yep, he’s the oldest male in the movie, he’s gotta die, and the rest of me is blowing a blood vessel, because hell no this is not how Chewbacca dies, if you’re gonna kill Chewbacca you better hit that motherfucker with a moon, and then they’re all really upset about it and they manage to get off the planet– Kylo basically just lets them go, I think?– and there’s lots of talk about how they Gotta Do This for Chewie, and Chewbacca’s death gets more respect in two minutes than Han’s got in two entire movies. Rey is a fucking mess, convinced that it’s her fault because she lost control of her abilities, which is, uh, not an unreasonableposition, and Finn is trying to convince her it’s not her fault and she is having none of it. But they’re off to New Planet X, The One With The City.
PART ELEVEN: I GOOGLED IT, IT’S CALLED KIJIMI
Kijimi has a really cool look, very dystopia/police state, with Stormtroopers everywhere, and apparently they’re raiding the shit out of the entire place, only it gets played off like just ordinary business. The idea is that Poe is gonna hook them up with some of his old spice runner buddies (oh, that’s right, Poe used to run spice? Which is Star Wars for drugs? And Finn is all horrified and makes fun of him for it) and he knows a guy who might be able to hack into Threepio’s system and get the translation out of it.
Sure, why not?
Anyway, they run into/get caught by one of Poe’s old smuggler buddies, of the Cool Mask division of Star Wars costuming, named Zorii Bliss. Zorii is played by Keri Russell, which drives my wife nuts until I tell her whose voice that is, and she’s not super happy with Poe being there, and there’s strong hints that they had a relationship in the past, which is dumb because Poe only loves Finn and has only ever loved Finn and will only ever love Finn, dammit. She takes them to their base and to their hacker, a tiny little dude named Babu Frik who looks like this:
PART TWELVE: PROBABLY SHOULD STILL BE PART ELEVEN BUT I’VE SET UP A PATTERN HERE AND I’M GONNA STICK TO IT
Anyway, Babu tells them that yeah, he can get the information out of Threepio, but he’s gotta do a total memory wipe to do it, and for a moment this is worrying but then somebody makes a comment about how R2-D2 has a backup of Threepio’s memories anyway (really?) and you know it’s gonna be okay sooner or later. Anthony Daniels really sells the bit, though, taking a long “last look at my friends,” and really you’d think somebody would be arguing against this but fuck it Threepio really is a toaster, apparently.
Entertainingly, his last words before his mind gets wiped are “Wait, I have a better idea!” and then his eyes go all red and he tells them whatever the knife said– and the honest to God truth is I don’t remember at all what the damn knife said. They eventually figure out there’s another holocron wayfinder for them to find? Is this where they get sent to Endor? Sure. Maybe the knife sends them to Endor. They’re gonna end up there sooner or later anyway. Let’s say that’s what happens; if I remember later I’ll edit it back in. Point is, there’s another wayfinder there and they should go get it.
So, good news! Rey wanders outside and … shit, how does this part go again? Somehow she Force-intuits that Chewbacca is alive and on Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer, and it turns out that the ship she grabbed and blew up wasn’t the one with him on it and there was more than one … only that implies that Ren is already near Kijimi, but she doesn’t have her next talk with Ren until she’s on the damn Star Destroyer … shit, I’m lost in the details here.
Eventually Zorii Bliss gives Poe Dameron a doohickey that he can use to get past Imperial security. She forgave him, I guess. One way or another, they head off to Ren’s Star Destroyer to rescue Chewbacca. He must have already figured out they were on Kijimi. Hell if I remember how.
PART THIRTEEN: OL’ RED-EYES
(WordPress is starting to really choke on the length of this post.)
One way or another, once they get on the Star Destroyer using the doohickey, Rey realizes quickly that the knife and Chewbacca’s stuff are in a different area of the ship and separates from everybody else to go grab everything. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren is tearing up shit on the surface of the planet, looking for them, and they have another one of those Force mashups, and everything keeps switching back and forth from the planet to the ship and back and forth and it’s all very creepy as usual, and they fight, and he’s all join me and she’s all be good and back and forth and eventually she manages to wreck his giant Darth Vader shrine, and some of the debris from that translates through their bond back to him much like the necklace did earlier, and he realizes that she’s on his ship and radios back up for everyone to go to his quarters to find her.
They don’t find Rey, but they do manage to capture everyone else, again, and they’re all lined up for execution when General Hux, who is there for some reason, tells a Stormtrooper to give him his rifle so that he can execute them himself. Only then, oops, he blasts the Stormtroopers instead, because Hux is the mole? Who saw that coming? Not me!
Hux takes them to the Falcon and tells Finn to shoot him in the arm so that he can claim to have been overpowered. Finn, who is a dick, shoots him in the leg instead, and asks him why he’s been feeding the Resistance information.
I actually like his answer quite a lot. “I don’t want you to win,” he says. “I just want Kylo Ren to lose.”
Oh, and also at some point Rey touches the knife again and let’s add psychometry to her list of powers, because she realizes that it’s the knife that killed her parents, and also that the bounty hunter’s ship was the ship she remembers flying away and leaving her on Jakku. That part might have happened earlier– seriously, this film for better or worse never slows down for even a single second and on one viewing it’s just impossible to get everything about it straight.
Off they pop, to one of the moons of Endor– possibly the forest moon, although it’s never specified. Time to raid the remains of the Death Star!
PART FOURTEEN: ACTUALLY THIS BIT IS KIND OF IMPORTANT
One other thing that happened during that conversation where Kylo Ren was on the surface of Kijimi and Rey was hanging out in his bedroom? He told her the truth about her family. Turns out she’s Palpatine’s granddaughter.
I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.
Now, my initial theory after TFA was that Rey was Luke’s daughter. I figured that there was no way that they cast damn near a body double of Natalie Portman and didn’t make her be Portman’s descendant in one way or another. TLJ pretty much blew that theory out of the water, because if she was Luke’s kid Luke sure as hell didn’t seem to know about it and him having a kid he didn’t know about seemed just a teensy bit out of character.
You may remember a conversation between her and Kylo in that movie where Kylo forces her to say that her parents were nobodies, and more than that, nobodies who were probably dead and rotting in a trash heap somewhere and who were never, ever going to come for her. I never took this conversation seriously– it was clear to me from the jump that this was Kylo manipulating her emotions and her deepest fears, and it’s been quite clear about this character from the beginning that never finding out who her family was was genuinely one of her fears.
Star Wars fandom, uh, felt differently, and for some reason this conversation was treated as gospel? And for some reason I’m seeing people calling this conversation a fucking retcon, which again, no, it isn’t, stop using that damn word, and even folks bitching about how Rian Johnson made it clear that you didn’t have to Be Somebody to become a Jedi, and how JJ Abrams is all about eugenics– I have literally seen that word used– and that you have to have Skywalker blood to be a powerful Jedi?
Bullshit. Utter bullshit, all of it, and y’all ought to be ashamed of spouting this nonsense. First of all, it’s total nonsense for anyone who has ever seen a Star Wars movie to claim that you have to be a Skywalker to be a Jedi, which is a thing I have seen people saying lately with a straight face.
Fucking Palpatine wasn’t a Skywalker.
Yoda wasn’t a Skywalker.
Obi-wan Kenobi wasn’t a Skywalker.
Qui-Gon Jinn wasn’t a Skywalker.
Neither were Mace Windu or Darth Maul or Count Dooku or Ki-Adi Mundi or Yaddle or Plo Koon or Kit Fisto or Ahsoka Tano or Asajj Ventress or Quinlan Vos or Adi Gallia or the dude from Fallen Order or fucking any of the rest of them, and cut the shit, dammit, these movies have always been the story of the Skywalker family, like it or not, and frankly making Rey a Palpatine was the only choice they could have made that wouldn’t have pissed me off. There were rumors flying around about her being Obi-wan’s kid (dumb) or Han’s illegitimate daughter with Qi’ra (which would have been worse, as she’s younger than Ben Solo) and frankly her being the scion of Palpatine squares nicely with what they’ve been doing in the comics and the books for the last few years. There is nothing wrong with this, and it’s not a fucking retcon, and it’s not Abrams adopting some sort of genetics = destiny eugenics storyline because that’s stupid and how do you explain every other Jedi ever then. And it’s not Abrams shitting on Johnson, either. That conversation was obviously not to be trusted from the goddamn beginning.
Shut up, nerds.
Anyway, she’s not super happy about this revelation, but she keeps it to herself. There’s a Force vision somewhere in here where she sees herself sitting on Palpatine’s throne, and she’s less than enthralled with that idea, too.
PART FIFTEEN: IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING, THIS IS THE PART WHERE I GAVE UP ON GETTING THIS WRITTEN IN ONE DAY AND WENT TO BED, SO IT’S SUNDAY MONDAY MORNING NOW
Let’s use this block for some semi-unrelated thoughts: I liked Finn a lot more in this movie than I have in the previous films, because for whatever reason they dialed back on the weirdly Kevin Hart-like aspects of Finn’s personality. I’ve always felt like John Boyega was doing the best he could with an inherently misconceived character, but he kind of comes into his own in this movie and I mostly liked him for the first time– or, at least, I can’t remember a place where he actively annoyed me.
Chewie, also, was blatantly misused as comic relief in TFA and didn’t have much to do in TLJ, and I thought he was treated with a lot more respect in this movie than he got earlier in the trilogy. He has a particularly powerful moment later in the movie that I haven’t gotten to yet; but one way or another I can say now that I was a lot happier with how they used him, other than the aforementioned captured-offscreen bit.
PART SIXTEEN: IN CASE I HAVEN’T MADE IT CLEAR YET, ALL OF THE LOCATIONS IN THIS MOVIE ARE AMAZING, AND THAT’S SOMETHING THAT THE DISNEY-ERA MOVIES HAVE ALL DONE REALLY, REALLY WELL
So, to recap the recap: All of Our Heroes, plus a brain-wiped C-3PO who will entertain us with his lack of memory and meeting everyone “for the first time” for the rest of the movie and another droid from the bounty hunter’s ship who I think was named D-O, are on their way to, not Endor, and I don’t think the forest moon of Endor, which is where the bulk of ROTJ was set, but another moon of Endor, which probably has its own name but which for convenience’s sake I’m going to refer to as “Endor” for the rest of this piece and assume y’all will just forgive me. Turns out a bunch of the blown-up Death Star II crashed here and, according to the knife, the other wayfinder is somewhere in the wreckage.
The Falcon gets the hell kicked out of it in this movie, guys, and something goes wrong with the landing gear for no clear reason so the ship kind of has to skid to a stop, and the team quickly meets up with a group of … I think they’re human natives, or at least People What Live There, and they’re sympathetic to the Resistance, so they take them to where the Death Star’s ruins are, and there’s talk about how the water’s too choppy to get out there so everybody is sort of resigned to waiting until morning to try, but of course Rey just steals a skimmer and heads out to the ruins by herself and there’s a throwback to her scavenger days going through the Star Destroyer back on Jakku as she navigates the dead Death Star and ends up in the Emperor’s throne room. Along the way she has a brief Force vision where she fights the evil, double-bladed lightsaber version of herself, but it’s brief, and if you blink you’ll miss it, and then Kylo Ren is there again, this time in the flesh, and he gets the Macguffin away from her and crushes it, and they have probably the single best lightsaber battle of the sequel trilogy, both inside the throne room and outside in the elements, and by the end of it they’re both exhausted and just trying to batter each other into submission. Kylo keeps trying to bring her over to the Dark Side– and if there was ever a candidate for Qui-Gon Jinn’s living Force theology, it’s Rey, who really does have a lot of anger to deal with– and Rey keeps insisting that Kylo can be a good guy again if he just lays all the evilling he’s been doing for the last three movies aside.
This all takes up like fifteen minutes, but really, “they fight and it’s amazing because water” sums it up sufficiently, and at one point Finn and Jannah, one of the Endor people, manage to catch up with them, and Rey’s only reaction is to Force-slam Finn as far from her as she can get him. One thing dude never realized, and it’s consistent over three films: no one ever saves Rey. Period.
Oh, also, the Endor-people have horses. Space horses. They’re not fathiers, they’re horses with horns and not moose-things, but they’re gonna be important later.
PART SEVENTEEN: I AM, TO BE COMPLETELY HONEST, NOT QUITE SURE EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS HERE
Somewhere during this fight, as Rey and Kylo are struggling to stay on their feet, much less beat the shit out of each other, we cut back to Leia on whatever planet they’re on. And Leia realizes what is going on, and she appears to connect to both of them through the Force, and she goes to a nearby bed and lies down. And then we’re back on Endor, and Rey and Kylo both have a moment, and then all the sudden Rey has Kylo’s lightsaber in her hand and– blam– straight through his chest. And my recap really isn’t going to give this scene the weight it deserves, but what I think happens is that Rey and Leia together actually heal him and bring him back to life, only the stress of it is too much for Leia, and she dies. And there is a very cool conversation between Rey and Kylo about how she’s killed Kylo Ren, and if he wants to be Ben Solo again he can be, because that’s who she brought back, and one way or another you’re going to have to take my word for it that it’s a really touching and well-done scene, and I don’t know if this was always in the cards for how Leia was going to go out but even if it was just them doing their best with what they had, it’s a really good way to wrap up her character.
Rey steals Kylo’s ship, leaving him behind on the planet– and, not for nothing, managing to steal his Wayfinder in the process. The rest of the Good Guys, including Jannah now, head back to Leia Planet. And Kylo …
We hear the words “Hey, kid,” and Han Solo is standing behind him.
I didn’t know Han Solo was gonna be in this movie.
And he’s not a Force ghost– he’s a little translucent but he doesn’t have the blue tinge or the glowy look that Force ghosts always have, and at one point Kylo actually tells him that he knows he’s a hallucination and all in his head, but Harrison Ford sells this scene harder than he’s done anything in years, as he and his son basically recap their scene from TFA, including the line “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it,” and Han’s touching his son’s cheek. And this time, rather than, y’know, kill his father again, Kylo turns and chucks his lightsaber into the ocean, leaving Kylo Ren behind and re-embracing his identity as Ben Solo.
PART EIGHTEEN: IN WHICH IT IS MADE CLEAR JUST HOW WELL AND TRULY SCREWED WE ALL ARE
This part is out of order again, but somewhere during all of this General Hux has a scene with another First Order general named, I think, Pryde, and he tries his little story about how he got overpowered and the Rebels got away, and Pryde, having none of it, shoots him in the chest and kills him. The First Order has made it out to Exegol, and they’re starting to take over all the Star Destroyers, which are still in Exegol’s atmosphere and can’t quite be deployed yet. Oh, and remember the cannon that blew the doors open on Crait at the end of TLJ? Remember how Finn called that cannon “miniaturized Death Star tech”?
Yeah, each of the Star Destroyers is kitted out with one of those, and basically just to prove it at some point one of them blows up Kijimi. So the die is more or less cast here: once these ships are all ready we’re gonna send one of ’em to each planet with a Rebel presence, and your choices are going to be 1) surrender or 2) the local system’s gonna have a problem once one of their gravity wells is gone.
It’s bad, in other words. At any rate, the Resistance is having a hard day; everyone but Rey is back on whatever planet they were on at the beginning, and Chewbacca’s grief-stricken reaction to finding out Leia is gone is everything I wanted from when Han died, and I know I said this already 3000 words ago but this film treats the death of its major characters with so much more respect than TFA did, and Poe lays out just how screwed they all are.
… wait, shit, I gotta talk about something else first.
PART NINETEEN: I TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE FIRST
Seriously, this movie has no respect for travel time, because Rey has left not-Endor and headed to Ach-To, where she’s set Kylo Ren’s ship on fire, and she’s just thrown Luke’s lightsaber into the fire when Luke shows up as a Force ghost and snatches it out of the air– like, can they do that? Okay, sure– and she tells Luke that she knows she’s destined to turn, and that she’s going to follow his lead and die on Ach-To. And, well, Luke talks her out of it. Turns out he’s got Leia’s lightsaber, too, from her brief and eventually aborted Jedi training, and he gives her his lightsaber back and tells her where to find Leia’s, and hauls his X-Wing out of the bay he’d hidden it in, and she feels better and she’s back on her way to meet up with everybody else, which is when …
PART TWENTY: RIGHT, BACK TO WHAT I WAS SAYING
… one of the Resistance soldiers, one of the two women who had speaking roles in both TLJ and this film and whose names I don’t know, says that she’s seeing something unbelievable on the scanners: Luke Skywalker is coming to them. Well, big surprise, it’s not Luke, it’s Rey, returning to the fold, and in quick succession C-3PO gets his memory back from Artoo and it turns out that the little D-O droid had Exegol’s location in his memory so they can go find it and Poe and Lando have a brief and pep-talky sort of conversation and Here Is The Plan:
Everybody but Lando and Chewie are heading to Exegol. Rey will confront the Emperor. Poe will lead what few fighters they have against the fleet, while Finn, Rose Tico and Jannah try to prevent the Star Destroyers from being able to take off into orbit via the tried-tested-and-true Star Wars method of blowing something big up.
(For whatever it’s worth, this actually makes some sense when folded into older continuity– Star Destroyers are not supposed to be in atmosphere, and are built in orbit. I’m willing to buy the idea that they need some sort of centralized guidance system to get all of them out of atmosphere. Plus, sure, Star Wars.)
Lando and Chewie, meanwhile, are heading into the central systems to recruit as many people to come help as they possibly can, and the end of TLJ when they tried the same thing and no one showed up is darkly alluded to. Poe has faith, though: the backup is coming. Lando and Chewie can do it. The galaxy will rise up if they lead them.
If you’re wondering how they’re going to have time to do that … well, this is an Abrams Star Wars sequel. Time is a round circle, or some shit like that. There’s no answer to this other than “roll with it,” but at least they’re consistent with the idea that performing actions doesn’t take any time any longer, I suppose.
Off they go.
PART TWENTY-ONE: IN WHICH IAN MCDIARMID IS JUST HAVING THE TIME OF HIS GODDAMN LIFE
So here is the Emperor’s plan: he’s still dangling from his creepy-ass resurrection/cloning machine, living off of nothing but spite and scenery-chewing, and he really wants Rey to strike him down and take over as the Empress, with the spirits of all the previous Sith Lords within her, and this bit isn’t explicitly said out loud but “my dead ass will be taking you over” is kind of implied here. And this is going to be one of the bits where my recap kind of fails, because 1) there’s a lot going on here, including an audience of what appears to be thousands of black-robed Sith acolytes who may or may not actually be there, and 2) plus it’s Return of the Jedi all over again, basically, only holy shit is the Emperor more powerful now than he was back then. Ben Solo has escaped not-Endor and is on his way but is a bit behind Rey, and the Knights of Ren are there, and he has to fight them, but he’s lost his lightsaber. So he reaches out to Rey, who manages to teleport Luke’s lightsaber to him through their bond and he quickly dispatches the rest of the Knights to join her at the Emperor’s throne. And Palpatine is super pissed that he’s there and he hasn’t killed Rey like he was told to, only it was apparently all part of the plan that he bring Rey to him rather than kill her, and really if you’re Palpatine you’re allowed to both crow that your plan worked and get mad that your minion didn’t achieve the part of the plan that he wasn’t really supposed to do. Inconsistency is a perk of being evil.
He drains a bunch of life energy out of both of them and disconnects himself from his Resurrect-O-Tron, and now his eyes are orange instead of all cataracty, and y’all I really cannot express how cool all of this is.
PART TWENTY-TWO: MY FAVORITE PART OF THE ENTIRE MOVIE
Meanwhile, Poe’s plan isn’t going very well, as it turns out that there are an awful fucking lot of Star Destroyers and like fifteen Resistance fighters and basically they’re getting the living shit kicked out of them. In my favorite moment of all of Star Wars history, Jark Porkins gets blown up good, and I actually cheer and give the screen the finger in the theater, earning me at least one dirty look.
Finn’s plan doesn’t work either, as General Pryde figures out what they’re trying to do and reroutes all of the navigation stuff from the Thing They Were Gonna Blow Up to his own ship, meaning that we are about to have the biggest “roll with it” moment in Star Wars history, as Finn’s ground team isn’t able to blow the thing up on the planet, so they land on the Star Destroyer, which is in atmosphere, remember, so it is, just barely, not as ridiculous as this might sound, and try to take out its nav systems from the surface.
Also, they brought space horses, because of course they did. Why wouldn’t they? Left unsaid: whether he stole a bunch of space horses from not-Endor and brought them to the meeting, just in case they needed them, or made a side trip back to not-Endor to grab some space horses after leaving the Resistance planet, again, just in case. Because, again, nothing ever takes any time in this movie. They quickly get pinned down and it’s all going very poorly for everyone.
PART TWENTY-THREE: UNTIL …
And then Lando shows up with the cavalry. And, oh, holy shit, has he brought a lot of cavalry. And those of you on the ARGLE BARGLE ZORP JJ ABRAMS EUGENICS HEROES ARE BORN train might want to pay close attention to the scene a moment later, when General Pryde asks an underling where they got the navy from and his underling replies “There’s no navy, sir. It’s just … people.”
Because yes, this movie does get that regular people can be heroes, God damn it, to the point where they literally had someone specifically point that out, just in case it wasn’t sinking in. Because this entire line of criticism of this movie is garbage.
Oh, and Wedge Antilles gets a brief two-second cameo that made me very happy. I didn’t know he was going to be in the movie either.
So they start fighting back and blowing up some Star Destroyers, and it’s going a bit better. For a minute.
PART TWENTY-FOUR: IN WHICH THE EMPEROR IS THOR ALL THE SUDDEN
… as Palpatine spits out a piece of set dressing back in his throne room and slaps Ben Solo into a convenient nearby giant hole in the ground, and can just once someone falling into a giant hole actually kill them in one of these movies? Because we all know he’s not dead, but the Emperor’s pissy dismissal of him, as he basically says “Remember when your granddad did this to me before you were born? My turn” before doing it, is kind of hilarious.
And then he raises both hands over his head and engulfs the entire battle going on overhead in Force lightning, which doesn’t hit the Star Destroyers but disables most or all of the Resistance ships and makes them sitting ducks for the remaining Destroyers.
Rey manages to break loose of his control, and he turns the lightning on her. She blocks it with Leia’s lightsaber, but it’s not quite enough and the Emperor is still winning. So she calls Luke’s lightsaber from where Ben Solo conveniently dropped it, and now she’s able to redirect Palpatine’s lightning back at him, like, dude, I know the Stormtroopers can’t figure out not to shoot at Jedi, but the last time you fired Force lightning at a Jedi who had his lightsaber in his hand it didn’t go well for you, and maybe you should have learned here?
He didn’t. Zip zap zorp, he’s dead, and he takes most of the throne room (and the hordes of still-possibly-imaginary Sith) with him, and Rey collapses, pretty clearly dead.
The fleet, freed from the Force lightning, mops up the rest of the Star Destroyers and Finn and his team take out the flagship. I am stunned to discover that both Lando and the Millennium Falcon make it through the battle; I was convinced they were going to off Lando by the end of the movie, another opportunity to piss me off that this movie doesn’t take. So really the only named character this battle kills is Greg Grunberg and his stupid Greg Grunberg face.
Which is the best.
PART TWENTY-FIVE: MORE LIKE THE RISE OF REYLO, AMIRITE
Back in the throne room, Ben Solo climbs out of the pit Palpatine threw him into, finding Rey dead and Palpatine gone and various forms of merry hell breaking loose basically everywhere else.
Remember that gun on the wall, a million words ago, when Rey said she had to use Force energy to heal the snake-thingy, and how it very well may have been helping Rey bring Ben back that killed Leia? FORESHADOWING!
Because Ben brings Rey back, and the two of them share a brief but highly anticipated kiss, and the hearts of Reylo fans the world over explode, and then he dies and ruins all their fun. And before Rey can continue this ridiculousness and resurrect him again, and man Romeo and Juliet would have been way different with the Force, he disappears, vanishing into the Force, and they cut back to Leia’s body and she disappears too, which is … highly interesting in a way I’m not sure I know what to think about right now.
And Rey escapes in Luke’s X-Wing, which luckily hasn’t gotten wrecked in all the craziness taking place outside.
And there is much celebration, and brief shots of rebellions breaking out on Bespin, and Ewoks watching from the forest moon, and a few other places, and — heh– Maz Kanata gives Chewbacca a Rebellion medal, and a weird and kind of creepy conversation between Lando and Jannah that feels abrupt and kind of inappropriate, and the music swells …
… and then Rey is on Tatooine, at the Skywalker homestead, and for a minute she’s being uber-cute Daisy Ridley again, skidding down on a sand dune into their house, and then she takes Luke and Leia’s lightsabers and buries them outside the house. And a passing dune-dweller says something about how there hasn’t been anyone at the house in forever (what are you doing there, then?) and asks Rey who she is, and Rey says her name, and pauses dramatically for a moment, and finishes with the family name she has finally adopted.
And she pulls her own lightsaber from her belt, and twists a dial to ignite it, and the blade is yellow.
PART TWENTY-SIX: I SWEAR I’M ALMOST DONE
I could probably be fairly accused of reading too much into the yellow lightsaber, but I really like that Rey’s saber isn’t green or yellow. So far, as far as I recall, the only character in the movies not to have a blue, green or red lightsaber was Mace Windu– there might have been a saber or two of another color during the big Jedi battle on Geonosis in Episode II but I don’t think there was and none of the screenshots I can pull up show any. I haven’t followed the Clone Wars animated series, but my understanding is that Ahsoka Tano has abandoned the Jedi order, and her lightsabers are white. So the shift to a yellow lightsaber for Rey signifies a break from the Jedi order, and the implication is that she’s taken Luke’s advice to heart that the Jedi as an order needed to go away.
(She’s still got the books, though, and she refers to them at a couple of points during the movie.)
One way or another, even if it ultimately ends up not being anything, I thought it was a nice touch.
Ultimately, this isn’t a perfect film by any means, and I don’t think I’ve been holding back in my criticisms over the course of this ridiculously lengthy mess of a blog post, but a couple of days after seeing the movie I’m still surprised at how successfully JJ Abrams managed to close off the trilogy. Most of the problems with TFA are not present in this movie; I hated how the first movie used the original cast, and this one treats everyone with the respect they deserve. The more annoying aspects of Finn’s personality are toned down. Poe gets to actually grow up a little bit. It definitely echoes Return of the Jedi at various points, the climactic battle with Palpatine being the most obvious example, but not as slavishly or pointlessly as TFA did. Its biggest weakness, honestly, is that you really are better prepared to watch this film if you’re a big nerd like me and you’ve picked up at least some of the various books and comics leading up to it; there is a bunch of stuff that simply makes more sense if you’ve done the prep work in advance, and the movie doesn’t work at all on its own, but we probably shouldn’t expect it to. Rose Tico gets kind of pointlessly sidelined, but this movie has so many characters and so much going on (and manages to introduce Zorii Bliss and Jannah, who are both pretty cool) that I can’t get that mad about it.
It’s good. And it’s a worthy end to the series, which I was not expecting, and two days later the bloom isn’t wearing off, which started almost immediately with TFA. Right now, I don’t know when the next Star Wars movie is coming, or what it’ll be about. And if (I know this isn’t happening, but if) there aren’t any more, somehow, and this turns out to be the last one, I think I’m okay with that.