Fair Warning: I try not to put out overt spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the movie The Rise of Skywalker but think you may want to, it is possible you’ll learn something that you’d rather not know.
I posted my official review of the movie Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on my Facebook timeline. Here is it again: I liked it. I’m not reviewing the movie here so much as I am trying to address some of what I’ve seen as criticism of the film, much of which might seem legitimate ifyou don’t know the whole story of the creation of Star Wars.
George Lucas was a friend of Joseph Campbell, who is most famous for his tome The Power of Myth. In that volume he outlines the mythic hero’s journey, something many writers refer to as they try to produce the next Odyssey (I know I do.) One reason for this is that, when you apply Campbell’s ideas to famous literature, then tend to work almost perfectly. I mentioned The Odyssey already, which is literally a classic example, but almost any book that lasts in popularity can be analyzed according to Campbell’s ideas. Huckleberry Finn? Yep. Catch 22? Indeed. War and Peace? You bet! (I’m quoting Alexa with that line.) Mister Lucas wanted to make a new epic adventure using what he learned from talking with Campbell, and from reading The Power of Myth. And he did. And, it works.
In the beginning of any mythic hero’s journey, things aren’t all that horrible. This is no surprise, given that the Journey is, to Campbell, a coming of age story. A nine-year-old kid isn’t difficult at all to be around. In fact, they can be fun, until puberty hits, and then things get strange indeed. This is why the first couple, maybe the first three, Star Wars movies (going by Chapter number, not release dates) are less exciting than, say, Episode IV, which is when the hero, personified by Luke Skywalker, is torn away from his everyday world and into a world of strange creatures, strange circumstances, and strange powers, which he starts learning for himself. It’s worth knowing that prior to Episode IV, most of the plot unfolds for young Aniken (the first representative of the growing child) not all that far from home. Not exactly home, but prior to Episode III, not that far away, either. In Episode III, all that learning and logic gets seduced by “The Dark Side,” which is probablly best seen as a metaphor for all that stuff that hits one at puberty. But, people don’t routinely turn permanently bad at that point, do they?
No, because their better nature is called off into strange (for a child) territory where it learns how to be a human being and take it’s place in society. And, of course that dark side being is father to the better nature. What else could it be? And sooner or later Luke has to kill it, but actually redeems his father before the man dies. So, Aniken dies connected to the good guys again. Except that there is plenty more dark side to deal with. You’ve ditched your nine-year-old judgement, but now what? It’s so tempting to run with that wild dark nature, to steal that pair of shoes, to cheat, lie and be obnoxious. That’s what people do, and the youth (no longer a kid since Vader is gone) has to deal with that. Which brings us into the final trilogy, with Rey and Ren as opposite sides of what is, mythically speaking, the same person. Yin and Yang, if you will. Both halves come to understand that they are joined spiritually, and eventually the better nature must confront, and embrace, the darkness, which results in the person’s dark side becoming a great strength, which helps the young adult finally to throw off the temptations of adolescence and emerge a adult who accepts who and what she is. And that is the secret of overcoming the dark side: embracing it, accepting it as a part of you, and using it. Rey embraces Ren in the end, and shortly after he is no more. This after they, together, overcome the greatest darkness that threatens them (and our fictional galaxy far far away,) which boils down simply to succumbing to fear of the darkness rather than confronting it. Okay, big spoiler in the next paragraph. Sorry. Stop here if you don’t want to know the very end.
In the final scene of the nine episodes, Rey, who has represented the hero in the last three movies, returns to the very farm where Luke was living when it all started. (The first three chapters are prologue, really.) An old woman asks her for her name and she says, “Rey.” “Rey what?” “Rey Skywalker.” (Her family name is not Skywalker. I’ll leave that for you to discover as you watch.)
So, is it pandering to Star Wars fans? Hell yes it is! But what if that pandering is exactly what is needed to properly close out the myth? What if it is so satisfying precisely because it is so successful in completing Lucas’s original mission? I’m pretty sure that such is the case. The criticisms I’ve seen all appear to come from people who do not understand that basic fact, nor even how to properly construct a story. But, as they say, everybody’s a critic. Not everybody is a creative writer, are they?
And, honestly, I’m sad that the series is over. Sure, there will be plenty of stories that can be crafted in the Star Wars universe. Heck, I’m into the Mandalorian bigly, especially that cute child, as they call it. You know, “Baby Yoda?” But the big story, which I first saw in a theater in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1977, is over. No more speculation. No more trying to come up with a plausible solution to the whole thing. The writers, may they live long and prosper (yes, that was deliberate,) have done an excellent job of it. And Rey? Well, she’s a Jedi, and out living her life. Probablly a dull one compared to what her predecessors went through. I doubt if it would be all that interesting to follow the mythical hero of Star Wars any further. It’s kind of like with my own kids. I was sad as Hell to see them grow up. And proud as Hell to see them grow up. They don’t need me any more. And I’ll live without a new Star Wars episode. I just hope they get that kid to a safe place!