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Taxied to the Dark Side

Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The first three words in the crawl are "The dead speak!"

Other critics can talk about how the movie looks awful – the reliance on CGI and seizure-inducing light effects doesn't make up for its feeling of flatness. Others can tell you how the camera swooshing around constantly is supposed to provide big emotions. Others can tell you that the death of Carrie Fisher apparently killed all the ideas the film apparently had for its climatic 40-year resolution of this fight between good and evil, but that did not stop them using her likeness (body doubles, CGI superimposed on footage with poor Daisy Ridley, and yes, full CGI again) to make it appear she was part of this. And if that was the only way the dead spoke, it would almost – almost – have been bearable.

But no. The narrative arc of the movie is Rey learning she is not a throwaway child, sold for spite by alcoholic parents. Oh no. Her parents sold her into a life of abuse to save her, because of who her grandfather is. All her skills as a Jedi, all her charm and fighting spirit and kindness, they are nothing compared to her genetic history. A revivified corpse kept alive through machines can condescend to speak to her about destiny and her future, and the movie agrees. Her genetic history and who her family is has ever been the only thing about her that mattered. Who she is for herself doesn't. So the stormtroopers who refused to kill unarmed civilians are arm candy. The engineers who instinctively know how to do the right thing are part of the crowd. Women with big dreams and unstoppable sexual charisma despite being dressed like a knock-off Power Ranger must sacrifice themselves for former boyfriends (thank heavens for plot holes). And we are meant to believe all of their struggle is secondary to that of an empathetic, genius fighter with the worst grandfather of all time.

Six years ago J. J. Abrams directed “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and for this site I wrote one of the very few reviews of it that called out its fascism. Mr. Abrams must not read my work, because he has gone and done it again. He has made a blockbuster about how the most important thing in the galaxy is who your parents are. He has twisted a beloved series of movies about how anybody has the power to defeat evil to preach a sermon enshrining the divine right of kings. It is beneath contempt.

The only glimmer of hope in the movie is this: The movie makes it explicit that the corporate juggernauts must rely on the dead for their power. But we all know the dead who speak are only flickers of our memories and imaginations. They are not really there. If dancing corpses and special-effect vampirism are the best the powers that be can offer, audiences will turn away for something alive, relevant to the current moment, and, most of all, human. No wonder Disney is so keen to peddle this trash on all frequencies. They're desperate, because they know we're not buying it.


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