Note: Episode IX spoilers are not the point of this article, but may occur. Be sure to read Paste’s full review of the film by Andy Crump.
I think it’s inherently false to call Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker the end to the story because that could reasonably have been said about at least three prior movies and no small number of novels or comic books. (George Lucas did say it about Episode III.) Star Wars is a brand, a label, a tradition and an intellectual property now held by Disney. It’s practically a genre unto itself. If enough folks will it to be so, a reason will be found for Rey to return. Some hitherto unknown evil wearing a face just familiar enough is always poised to strike from beyond.
The characters from that very first movie in 1977 have passed out of the narrative, though, and their passing signals perhaps the first time that any subsequent creators won’t have the specter of the original movies dangling over them like the body of a reanimated Sith Lord. Never, in a whole lifetime of watching Star Wars (and I mean a literal lifetime—I was born in 1983), have I yearned for the series to come out from under the shadow of the story beats, settings and themes we’ve already seen and heard before.
Everything about what has been in this “sequel trilogy” created by directors J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson and their galaxy of collaborators has already been written, and with all of it said and done I find myself still hoping for a few things we haven’t gotten out of the movies. For better and for worse, 2019’s final final final (we swear it’s the last!) chapter in Star Wars still remained stubbornly indebted to the quirky particulars of a story that a hotshot filmmaker in California was able to get up onto the screen in 1977.
Some things we could really do with in the galaxy far, far away:
More Asian Actors in a Film Series Deeply Indebted to Eastern Themes
“Let go!” Obi-Wan counsels Luke. Yoda tells him that we’re luminous beings, and not crude matter. Star Wars has always been informed and inspired by Eastern philosophy and concepts. Zen-like concepts underpin the idea of the Force in the very first movie, and a Buddhist rejection of material desire was a central internal conflict in some of the prequel films (whether or not you think it was handled well or believably). Throughout, there are shades of Manichaean dualism in the conflict between Jedi and Sith, and in Vader and the Empire’s sinister faith in machinery and superweapons: A light world of spirit and thought versus a dark world of flesh and impulse.
So in light of all of that, and the fact we need to keep same-sex make-out sessions to a length easily edited out for China, why the hell can’t we have some more Asian actors? George Lucas lobbied hard for Toshiro Mifune—an actor who embodies samurai cinema to the world—to play Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Vader. (Sadly, Mifune declined, worried it would make samurai look silly.)
Besides Rose Tico, any Asian characters in the main films have been background characters. Where is Michelle Yeoh’s laser sword?
A Narrative that Embraces Balance Rather than the Simplistic “Good vs. Evil” Dichotomy
We hear the word “balance” a lot in Star Wars. Supposedly, Anakin Skywalker was supposed to be the prophesied “Chosen One” would bring balance to the Force. Nitpicking fans point out that he did, if you consider there are just two Jedi and two Sith after Darth Vader is done committing genocide prior to the events of A New Hope. We hear it again as Rey begins her training with Luke Skywalker: She comes to the epiphany that the Force is a balance between the tension that arises from creation’s impossible disparity.
This is all very vague because the creators of Star Wars clearly haven’t cared all that much about expounding on it, despite bedrock series lore seeming to be dependent on just what exactly somebody means when they talk about a “balance” in the Force. There isn’t intended to be any ambiguity in the fall of the Jedi despite the fact that what I’ve seen of them in tie-in shows like The Clone Wars suggests they are boring, self-righteous assholes. There isn’t anything at all about the Sith that would lead one to believe a sane person would ever join them, partly because we have no idea what they want to use their power to do.
There are obviously not “good people on both sides” when it comes to the Jedi and the Sith, but a Star Wars movie could give some acknowledgement to the ideas that a well-intentioned order of religious zealots might be flawed, or that a wild cult of evil choking fetishists might have at least a tiny kernel of justification for wanting to overthrow a government that seems cool with Anakin Skywalker’s mother being enslaved.
A Story that Struggles with and Addresses Jedi Pacifism
“Permitting someone to perpetrate harm without consequences is not nonviolence.” —Paul R. Fleischman
But it says “wars” right there in the title, Ken!
It does. And that is one reason that some of my favorite parts of the series shine all the brighter: Luke throwing his lightsaber away and refusing to murder his own father, or making a fool of Kylo Ren without even leaving the couch. Even in that wild and weird space adventure story titled just Star Wars in 1977, there was a real streak of samurai self-abnegation in the Jedi, with Obi-Wan Kenobi accepting that his role on the front lines was over, that to clash sabers with Vader was pointless. Yoda assured us Jedi use the Force for knowledge and defense, and never for attack.
Then the series pitched all of that out the window over the course of decades of tie-in media and now, the new films, where Jedi leap around and use the Force to pull and shove their enemies, and Yoda chucks his miniature green lightsaber through the throats of soldiers he knowingly has conscripted into a war from birth.
It’s fine for the “Wars” part of Star Wars to be flashy and fun. That can coexist with a vision of the Jedi as mystics who employ violence as a last resort, in the firm belief that indolence in the face of injustice is not true pacifism. In the very first film, Obi-Wan Kenobi scares away sand people, clouds the minds of cops, and distracts stormtroopers in the belly of the Death Star because despite his aging body he is a powerful Jedi. When he’s pressed by a thug in a bar or a Dark Lord of the Sith, though, the lightsaber comes out. That approach is way more interesting to me than the more recent films’ immediate instinct to just start throwing things and beheading people.
A Story Where Our Heroes Fight to Preserve a Just Order (Instead of Just to Topple a Rotten One)
As Paste’s own Jim Vorel writes in greater depth, the largest lost opportunity of this latest trilogy of films is that each installment appears to have just rejected every significant baton it was passed from the previous one, including The Force Awakens. Our heroes had toppled the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi. One wonders what it would have looked like to see them rule, and suddenly be faced with threats from within an ostensibly stable government, or from beyond their borders.
Nothing about that dynamic need take away from the elements of the plot and setting that people like about Star Wars: Which is to say, none of the ideas above would, either. Weird alien worlds, charismatic flyboys and destined youngsters on a mystic quest of world-shattering import could all coexist with any of these ideas. And they might even bring something new to an old way of telling stories.