Of Cackling Emperors and other things….

OK, so now that I’m done cranking out the words every day in a final push to complete a novel draft, what should we talk about? Why…how about the teaser trailer to Star Wars Episode IX that dropped a few weeks ago?

If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

As with all teasers, there’s simultaneously a lot to unpack there and…there’s nothing to unpack there. Teaser trailers are designed to tantalize in any of a hundred different ways, and since this thing showed up online during the Star Wars Celebration fan festival, the Interwebs have been all a-tizzy as they try to read the tea leaves.

Well, never one to leave a muddle of wet tea unscrutinized, here are some random thoughts of my own!

1. As the Lucasfilm logo fades in we hear breathing. It’s Rey, and our first glimpse of anything in the trailer is Rey herself, standing alone in the middle of a desert wasteland. This is already reminiscent of the first shot of the trailer for The Force Awakens, in which we saw Finn also standing alone in the middle of a desert wasteland…but where Finn looked visibly afraid and distraught, Rey’s manner is one of calm. She is relaxing into…a moment.

2. Luke Skywalker’s voice: “We’ve passed on all we know,” and Rey pulls out her lightsaber. It’s the Anakin-and-Luke model that she’s been sporting through this trilogy, but…it was broken in two when she and Kylo Ren Force-battled to claim in in The Last Jedi, so now it’s been reforged. The lightsaber is now Anduril to the original Narsil, if I may.

3. Luke, continued: “A thousand generations live in you now.” This establishes that Rey is, after all, the last Jedi. It’s all down to her.

4. Onscreen text: “Every generation has a legend.” This calls back to the “Every saga has a beginning” line in that first trailer way back in 1998 for The Phantom Menace. Interesting choice, given the lengths this creative team went during the TFA build-up to differentiate their movie from the Prequels.

5. A TIE ship zooms across the same landscape, approaching Rey. It’s flying right-to-left, kicking up a cloud of dust. This echoes the pod race from TPM, but reversed (the pod race mostly went left-to-right), and also the attack of the Resistance X-wings from TFA, when they streaked across a lake and kicked up water spray (and also went left-to-right).

6. The TIE ship bears down, Rey runs, we don’t see who’s flying the ship although I guess we’re supposed to assume it’s Kylo Ren, and then…Rey does this big slow-motion backflip toward the ship, with her lightsaber ignited. Hmmmm. This is not the type of action move we’ve ever really seen in a Star Wars movie. We cut away as the music erupts into a powerful rendition of Princess Leia’s theme, which is, for all intents and purposes, the Star Wars music of choice for really big emotional beats.

7. A ship flying through mountains to a city at night on some planet. No idea. Someone online noted a similarity between that ship and the one that Rey envisioned during her Force-dream in TFA, the ship that presumably carried her parents away as young Rey screamed “Come back!” But I don’t know.

8. Kylo Ren in action. I guess we have to see him, but Kylo Ren remains for me one of this trilogy’s least well-executed factors. He’s reforging his mask, he makes a power move in a fight with his goofy lightsaber.

9. Finn and Poe on some desert planet. The same one Rey’s on? Maybe. Finn seems to be holding Rey’s staff, and Poe Dameron is standing behind him on a rock outcropping that looks a bit like one of those from Obi Wan Kenobi’s skulkings-about on the planet Geonosis way back in Attack of the Clones. Hmmmm….

10. The Millennium Falcon, flying through hyperspace as LANDO F***ING CALRISSIAN laughs with glee. I’m not gonna tell you I’m not excited to see Lando in action again, because I am! I do continue to think that this trilogy’s use of the classic characters has not been handled as well as I would like. But anyway, the Falcon exits hyperspace but we don’t get to see where. Hmmmm….

11. Onscreen text: “The Saga comes to an end.” Well, yup, I suppose. I continue to view this story as not the third part of a saga but as a tacked-on thing added on by someone other than the author. Unfair? Maybe. But this trilogy, even with all its merits (and it does have them, even if most of them are in The Last Jedi), just doesn’t feel to me like an organic continuation of what went before.

12. A series of quick cuts: speeder vehicles including ones so small they look like Quidditch brooms, Poe and Finn and C-3PO in some kind of action shot, and then…fingers caressing what looks like one of the medals Luke and Han got for blowing up the Death Star in ANH, and Rey hugging Leia. I’m interested to see how this movie constructs a satisfying narrative for Leia out of pre-existing cut footage from the last two movies, now that Carrie Fisher is gone.

13. A wide shot of our heroes! Rey in the foreground, with Finn, Poe, C-3PO, BB8, some new droid, and Chewbacca all behind her. They have the classic “There it is!” expression that all movie adventurers get when they crest the last rise before whatever it is they’re looking for.

14. Then we cut to the other view: what they’re looking at. It’s an ocean shore, with crashing waves and…way out amongst the rocks…a giant piece of metal wreckage with a particular indentation in it, circular. It’s a crash chunk of a Death Star.

15. Luke: “No one is ever really gone.” Cut to black, and….

16. The unmistakable laughter of Emperor Palpatine.

17. The trailer ends with the title card: STAR WARS, and then the episode’s subtitle: The Rise of Skywalker.

OK. Operating under the assumption that this teaser is designed to create all kinds of misdirection and speculation-fodder for thoughts that will turn out false, we should go down the rabbit hole anyway! But first, here’s a cool moment from the trailer’s first screening at STAR WARS Celebration. The fans are cheering and going nuts…and then the lights come back on and there, on stage, all by himself, is actor Ian McDiarmid, who played Palpatine in the first six films. It’s a great moment, and really, shouldn’t we all admit now that McDiarmid created one of the iconic villains in movies in Palpatine?


“ROLL IT AGAIN!” Love it!

All right. So. The trailer.

Again, most of this will almost certainly be false.

First, the title: The Rise of Skywalker. What does that mean?

Well I don’t know, but I do not think it will mean that Rey’s backstory from TLJ, of being a nobody born to worthless parents, will be retconned. A lot of fans seem to think that JJ Abrams is going to be using this movie to walk back all the stuff that many fans recoiled against in the last film, but Abrams was involved in TLJ‘s production. He executive produced it, and Kathleen Kennedy has overseen all of these movies. Rian Johnson was not simply handed a wad of cash and told “Come back to us with a Star Wars movie.”

Plus, the creative team has made no bones about their using this trilogy to put the entire “Skywalker Saga” to bed, so that moving forward after Episode IX, any new Star Wars stories will be non-Skywalker tales. I’m fine with that, to be honest. It’s a big galaxy, after all. Lots of stories to be told.

But the title is The Rise of Skywalker, so if the saga is ending, what can be rising? One fan theory has the Jedi ending entirely with a new brand of Force-users coming in the wake of these events, called “Skywalkers”. Maybe. Or maybe this title simply refers to the Skywalker family’s final coming-down on the light side of the Force, after decades of being good then bad then good then bad again.

The problem there is that in this movie there’s only one Skywalker descendant left, and that’s Kylo Ren. If he’s the one who is supposed to balance the Skywalker clan’s books with regard to the Force, it implies that he gets a redemption arc, which I’m not that interested in seeing, on pure story grounds: We already had a Sith redemption arc with Darth Vader. And these films have been a lot more up front with Kylo Ren’s evil, right down to his murdering his own father, Han Solo. Can Kylo Ren be redeemed? Of course he can. These movies have already established it. But for me, a Kylo Ren redemption arc would feel like one more echo of the Original Trilogy in a trilogy that has too many such echoes already.

Maybe Rey, when all is said and done and all of the remaining Skywalkers have died, takes on the name herself, kind of like how in Titanic Rose took the surname Dawson when she arrived in New York on the Carpathia, in tribute to Jack Dawson who died saving her from the sinking ship. In that way the Skywalkers would end…but they would also rise. Maybe.

Second, what about that Death Star?

I’d hoped that we could have a Star Wars story that does not involve a giant planet-destroying weapon, and yet, here we’ve got a wrecked Death Star. Fan speculation here centers on just which of the two Death Stars we’ve seen destroyed this is: Is it the one from A New Hope, crashed on Yavin IV or another of Yavin’s moons? Or is it the one from Return of the Jedi, crashed on Endor after its destruction? And if that’s Endor we’re looking at, are the Ewoks all dead, having been wiped out in a planetary calamity of a big piece of Death Star falling out of the sky?

Maybe it’s neither.

There was a lot of galactic history outside of just the movies. Remember that the Prequels established that the Death Star was at least in the conceptual stage as far back as Attack of the Clones, and that we saw the very beginnings of a Death Star shell under construction at the very end of Revenge of the Sith, whose events took place a full two decades before the Original Trilogy.

That shot has always been slightly problematic, hasn’t it? Is that supposed to be the very Death Star that would later show up in A New Hope? Did it really take twenty years to build it?

Maybe the one in the Episode IX trailer is neither of the two Death Stars from the OT. Maybe it was a prototype. Remember above, when I noted that the rock formation that Poe is standing on looks more than a little like some of those seen on Geonosis, the planet where the Death Star was first designed.

From The Rise of Skywalker

From Attack of the Clones

Again, I’m probably completely wrong in this, but this is what makes it fun!

So, what if our heroes are on Geonosis, where construction first began on the Death Star? According to the new canon established by Disney after their kinda-reboot, the Empire eventually moved Death Star construction away from Geonosis and sterilized the planet, killing all of the Geonosans. But maybe a prototype that was never operational was scuttled, and maybe that wreckage fell onto an already-dead planet, winding up at the edge of a Geonosan ocean.

Remember, from Rogue One we know that Death Star development took many years and ran into huge technical problems that were only surmounted once Galen Erso was brought in by Orson Krennic to figure out how to make the superlaser work. So maybe the crashed Death Star is one that was never close to working…but there’s something important about it.

Maybe…Kyber crystals, which power many weapons in the Star Wars universe, from lightsabers to Death Star superlasers.

Much rumor about Episode IX has at least part of the plot revolving around a secret mission that our heroes are entrusted with by General Leia Organa. Maybe that mission is to find the crashed Death Star and recover its Kyber crystals, for the Rebellion to use against the First Order. Maybe this time it’s the Rebellion that’s trying to build a super weapon, which would actually make sense, given how the Rebellion’s numbers were reduced in TLJ to the carrying capacity of the Millennium Falcon.

So, enough about Death Stars. What about our friend the Emperor? Old Papa Palpatine? Well, I was a bit surprised to head his laughter, along with everybody else. I’m less thrilled about this, since we’ve already had a Palpatine-back-from-the-dead story (in Dark Empire, a comics series that came out in the 90s and became an accepted part of the “Star Wars expanded universe,” as the non-film content before Disney’s Lucasfilm purchase came to be known). Also, a very-much still-active-after-all-these-years Palpatine negates yet another of the happy-ending outcomes of Return of the Jedi, if it turns out that Darth Vader’s self-sacrifice wasn’t to kill Palpatine but to just inconvenience him for a few years.

No, I’m not in love with the idea of Palpatine showing up again. But…here he is, apparently. In some form.

Backing up a bit, we have Supreme Leader Snoke, murdered by Kylo Ren in TLJ. I’ve been pretty open about my frustration regarding Snoke and his personification of what I see as some serious worldbuilding errors in this trilogy. Snoke is completely without backstory of any kind, which has always annoyed me. I’ve always been bothered by the fact that these movies give no explanation for how the triumph at the end of Return of the Jedi ended up being pretty much meaningless and that the galaxy went to shit anyway. We’re given this evil Force user (Snoke never actually claims the mantle of “Sith”), with no hint of where he came from or who he is or anything at all. And then he’s killed and that’s that for Snoke.

Or is it?

First of all, I’ve wondered if Snoke actually was killed in TLJ, because Luke Skywalker clearly establishes that for a Force user of sufficient power, projecting a physical copy of oneself across the universe is a thing. Maybe Snoke was doing that and thus was never in that Throne Room.

But maybe Snoke was just a simulacrum operated by Palpatine, or a mere puppet for Palpatine…or maybe Snoke actually was Palpatine. Maybe Palpatine has been a disembodied Force spirit who moves from one body to the next. Heck, springing off my point just above…maybe Palpatine was Force-projecting a copy of himself into the Throne Room in Return of the Jedi! Maybe Vader wasn’t throwing anybody into the shaft at all!

Well, probably not. But if Palpatine’s around in a way similar to the way that Yoda and Luke and others are, maybe this makes Kylo Ren the proxy stand-in for the entire line of Sith, just as Rey is for the Jedi.

You never know…and all this navel-gazing may end up completely refuted by the next trailer. I guess we’ll see…but we’re a mere eight months away from this movie’s release. Revealed, all shall soon be….

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One Response to Of Cackling Emperors and other things….

  1. Jason says:

    The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Palpatine is even in the movie. I suspect his laugh could just be JJ screwing with the fanboys, the same way he swore up, down and backwards that Benedict Cumberbatch was NOT Khan, no, he's playing a cat named "John Harrison," and ST Into Darkness will bear no resemblance whatsoever to The Wrath of Khan, nope, nosirree, not a remake at all… Oh, caught me! He really IS Khan!!! That little stunt is one of the many reasons I'm down on that twerp. His idea of storytelling is more about stunts than actual stories.

    As for all the rest of it… well… I just don't have any faith in the franchise anymore. Not under JJ's guidance, anyhow. The sequel movies feel about as "official" to me as one of the lesser Expanded Universe novels.

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