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Let’s Talk About Star Wars

I don’t want to, not really. But let’s. It has to do with bravery, and since there seems to be a lack of heroic figures in our present society, perhaps imagining heroes with laser swords will help us. It’s also May the Fourth Be With You, so forgive me the indulgence.

I have recently begun watching the series Star Wars Rebels. It’s a fantastic show. And it’s not difficult to see why. The cast is dynamic, interesting, full of depth and from a diverse group of alien backgrounds, and of course, lots of laser swords (I love lightsabers. Seriously, just the sound makes me feel like a ten year old who discovered a lighter and an unattended set of fireworks. Yes, I might blow off my hand but it’ll be awesome!) But most importantly, the characters are allowed to change. From one season to the next, they are entirely different people (or fur-people, or twilek-people, or robots, like I said, it’s a diverse cast). They learn lessons. They grow. And they are allowed to fail. This not only makes them human, it makes you root for them like you never would with a perfect character. And it goes against everything we’ve seen in the recent movies.

Rise of Skywalker was not a terrible movie. But as a cap to a nine-movie saga, including all the other non-episode movies (and we’re not excluding the ewok movies here, which I’m going to pretend I only saw when I was five so I can remember them as not terrible), it utterly fails. Mainly because nothing changed between episode 7 and 9. Rey got more powerful, sure, but she’s just as ignorant of who she is and that’s her only driving force. Finn did all his evolving in episode 7, and it was great, but then he just sticks around for no reason, hinting at character development but never touching it. And Poe, as cool as he is, is too perfect a character. He tried to evolve in episode 8, but in 9 Abrams noped out of that evolution just like he did pretty much everything good or new from Last Jedi. The most complex character in episode 9 is Hux, the general who becomes a traitor but then gets hilariously shot in the stomach. It’s almost like J.J. Abrams wanted to dangle a complex character in front of us only to immediately kill him for a cheap laugh just to shut us up.

This isn’t entirely a dig on Episode 9. It’s the problem with Solo as well. That movie was supposed to be Solo’s origin story, but instead Han Solo starts the movie as cool and perfect as ever. Episode 8, for all its flaws, tried to do something. It tried to evolve the characters. And because it went against a billion-dollar formula, it got ret-conned and led to an even worse, less money-making movie. Now, doing this poorly is what made episodes 1-3 fail. The characters were supposed to change, but it was done so rigidly that it dehumanized them, and by the time Anakin’s burning on a volcano planet I had to ask myself, why do I care? I asked myself the same thing when Rey was getting lightning blasted by the Ghost-of-Plot-Convenience Past. But when Luke Skywalker is getting blasted and Vader saves him, you stand up and cheer. Because you watched this ignoramus turn nigh-on evil and then abandon it at the last second. It was a brilliant arc!

There are bad episodes of Star Wars Rebels. But there are episodes that in 20 minutes tell a better story, allow their characters to change and do more interesting things, than in the entirety of the 7-9 trilogy. But it’s also a-typical for storytelling. The arc of storytelling, especially in a TV show, is simple: characters are introduced, characters face a challenge, characters fix challenge, and then everything goes back to normal. But what really good stories do is modify that last bit and have the characters change. They either improve, degrade, or learn some sort of lesson that makes them a different person/fur guy/angry robot. So to see this in a TV show makes me think of only one word: brave. It’s brave that this show allows characters to evolve, when so much pressure exists to not. It’s brave to have them fail. And it’s cowardly to stick to the formula. There needs to be more bravery in story-telling. We need to demand more bravery of ourselves. Of our government. Of our laser-sword-wielding space heroes! Because formulas work if the audience itself never changes, never learns, stagnates. We must be brave people, and so we must have brave stories. Otherwise, we’re just as cowardly as a sitcom where nothing ever changes.