With every Star Wars movie comes waves of high expectations. The fanbase is so divided that not everyone can be pleased by JJ Abrams’ decisions. Now that the 9-part story is over, Disney will let the franchise cool for a bit before adding spinoff stories. The Rise of Skywalker tied up many loose ends to the sequel trilogy and paid some lip service to fans, but it still left some of us wanting a more satisfying end.
How does power corrupt in the Star Wars galaxy? Did you expect Rey to be a Palpatine in the Rise of Skywalker? How did Disney add to the Star Wars franchise?
00:00 Landry Ayres: A few days ago in a movie theater not far away.
00:09 Landry Ayres: It is a period of civil unrest, upset fanboys striking from behind their keyboards have managed to lower the Rotten Tomatoes score of Director Abrams’ latest craft. Agents of Rian Johnson have infiltrated the fan base claiming vindication over previous installments and igniting a fierce battle over which of the leaders was the proper choice. Meanwhile, hoards flock to the Archive of Our Own, rewriting the sacred texts in an attempt to alter canon and prevent the triumph of sudden and unwarranted ships. With the adventure building to an exciting climax, four heroes gather in a recording studio to discuss the fate of the universe.
00:54 Natalie Dowzicky: Welcome to Pop & Locke. I’m Natalie Dowzicky.
01:03 Landry Ayres: And I’m Landry Ayres. As you may have guessed, we will be discussing the cinematic experience of the season. An installment in a beloved franchise eagerly anticipated by critics and fans alike. We are, of course, going to be talking about cats. So, everyone, what was your Jellicle sona? No?
01:24 Natalie Dowzicky: No.
01:25 Landry Ayres: Okay. Obviously, we are going to be discussing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
01:31 Natalie Dowzicky: We are joined today by two passionate fans of the saga, libertarianism.org’s director and editor, Aaron Ross Powell.
01:37 Aaron Ross Powell: Hey.
01:38 Natalie Dowzicky: And attorney and Star Wars super nerd, Nicholas Armstrong.
01:41 Nick Armstrong: Hi.
01:42 Landry Ayres: So, Nick, Aaron, at the climactic moment of the film… I should say spoiler warning. We’re gonna spoil the film. We should change the name of the show to Spoiler Warning, ‘cause we’re gonna spoil everything. But at the big moment in the film when the Sith Starship fleet has risen from the waste of the planet, Exegol, and Resistance fighters have seemingly fought to the end all they could. And suddenly to save the day, this huge fleet of Resistance allies arrives to save the day. A first order officer turns to General Pryde and says, “This isn’t a Navy, it’s just people.” Do you think The Rise of Skywalker and the Star Wars saga in general intentionally tries to send the message that normal people who care enough about standing up against tyranny and oppression are enough to make effective change? And do you think it does that successfully?
02:46 Aaron Ross Powell: Yes and no. So yes, I think that is a core part of the message that you have in the prequel trilogy these governing institutions that turn into an empire, and then the original trilogy is about the plucky band of just people coming together, forming friendships, and then through that, conquering and re-taking over the galaxy. And then you get this line in Rise of Skywalker, “It’s just people.” That said, I think it’s more ambivalent because… Well, we don’t know all the details about what happened between the original trilogy, the Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It seems like those “just people” who overthrew the empire in Return of the Jedi didn’t do a great job once they got power.
03:37 Aaron Ross Powell: And things turned out rather poorly, not just because the First Order came in, but it seems like what we pick up about the New Republic from the movies and then also from the secondary material, the novels and comics and so on, is that it wasn’t terribly effective. And that the reason that they needed this fleet of “just people” is because the governing institutions failed to protect them. And these were the institutions that were set up by these plucky Rebellion fighters in the beginning. So, I think it’s more complicated than a quick story about individuals coming together and solving things.
04:13 Nick Armstrong: I agree. It almost seems like it wants both ways and that it’s about… Especially in the prequels even, you go back to the Jedi being subservient to the state, and then becoming these big state actors and that leads to their fall in some ways and they’re rescued by “just people.” But then that’s sort of cyclical problem, again, where it’s like dynastic issues. It’s not “just people,” it’s the powerful, the oligarchs. In some ways, The Last Jedi undercuts its own message and then The Rise of Skywalker does the same problem. It’s like, “Hey, it’s Rey from nowhere. Rey from the Resistance. Rey from the Palpatines.” Okay, who are these “just people”?
04:55 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I was also thinking just as Aaron was saying that, too. The Resistance before The Force Awakens, we obviously don’t know exactly what happened and the system they set up didn’t do all that well, where it’s almost like they won and they got the power they wanted, and then once they had that power, they had no idea what to do with it. They were under the mindset that, “Oh, we can do better than they did or good versus evil, right? That comes back through the entire saga. But once they were given that power, they had no real conception of how they were going to do it successfully, just that they could do it better. And obviously, there’s a lot of holes, but I think that’s probably part of it.
05:39 Landry Ayres: It’s like an occupy sort of movement, where it’s like we know we wanna fight against something, but we don’t really have a clear set of goals or things we want. We know we just wanna overthrow something. One thing that I noticed, and I’m not sure if this is just because of the Rebellion winning, this is throughout a lot of the galaxy that we see in the Star Wars. I wanted to say universe, but I guess it’s just a galaxy at this point, is you have these planets that are seemingly somewhat… They seem isolated at least on their planets and they function almost like city-states that almost govern themselves, but they’re all part of this galactic alliance. And I’m sure I’m getting some of the politics of this world wrong. I have not consumed as much of the extended universe, so please don’t correct me on Twitter, whatever.
06:00 Landry Ayres: I’m just gonna admit that I have no idea what I’m talking about in that regard, but a lot of these city-states, while there are some more opulent and well-to-do ones that have a lot of technology, there’s a lot that aren’t run particularly well and that isn’t fixed when the Rebels overthrow the Empire. But I also think that those sort of stakes are what makes the original trilogy more exciting to me than the new ones. It’s characters, like they introduced fleetingly in The Rise of Skywalker like Zorii Bliss is I think how you say her name. She was one of the most interesting characters to me because she is someone like a Han Solo or something sort of in that she’s existing in a more… Seedy is the wrong word, but she is a less powerful actor fighting against much more powerful forces. So, the stakes are raised and that to me is much more compelling and emblematic of the struggles of everyday people that we can relate to than the original trilogy where the Jedi order, this quasi-state group is fighting against another… The Sith coming back. So, my question is just do you agree? Do you find that those stories are more exciting or lean more into that message that that complicated style of fighting power?
08:15 Aaron Ross Powell: I think there’s a problem with world-building that makes it so that when you see a particular instance like her, and you know what the stakes are right there, you can see this occupying force on her planet, and there we see shots of storm troopers rounding people up, and she tells you that she’s fighting against them, we immediately know that. And I think that’s one of the problems with the sequel trilogy is, we’re not really clear what the dynamic is. So the original trilogy does this very well. The original trilogy has very little detail in its world-building, it doesn’t tell us much, but we get it right off the bat through clever shortcuts. So, we know what an Empire is. So when you call it “The Empire,” we know what’s an empire. And we know what a Rebellion is and that opening shot of New Hope gives us that sense of scale so we know that there’s these little guys, and then there’s this enormous thing that’s coming after them, the Star Destroyer, that takes forever to cross the screen. And that just gives us this visual clue that, okay, this is the scale difference between these things. And we’ve called this one “The Empire,” which means that they probably control lots of stuff so we don’t have to spend our time showing you them on different planets and the scope of things, because we just get it, and we can fight against it. And the iconography tells us these guys are evil and these guys are good and so on, and then we can run with the story.
09:44 Aaron Ross Powell: I think the problem with the sequel trilogy is that we never have a good sense of what the Galaxy looks like, so we never have… We think like, “Is the first order a insurgency on the periphery that’s just hitting some small planets? Or is it the Empire that’s taken over everything?” And sometimes it looks like one, sometimes it looks like another. We know that there’s a New Republic, and we know that there’s a New Republic Senate and that Leia was involved in it somehow, but then there’s this Resistance which looks just like the rebellion, and what’s their relationship? And they seemed to be like, they just are a ragtag group of ships, but why if there’s an entire interplanetary government behind them? And so, we have no idea what the real stakes are at any given time. And so then, we latch on to these little stories where it’s very clear. But I think the overall sequel trilogy is hurt by not having that clarity that we get in just the opening crawl plus opening scene of A New Hope.
10:51 Natalie Dowzicky: I also think the original trilogy has, like Aaron was alluding to, a very obvious David-and-Goliath-type story that everyone can see. At least when I was watching the sequel trilogy, it was very unclear who was on what team. Like Aaron was just saying how big these teams were, and almost to the extent I was trying to think, “Is this an important scene?” Or “Is this an important scene?” ‘Cause I wasn’t sure what parts were adding to the story or even what characters I should think are important. If that makes sense.
11:27 Landry Ayres: Yeah. And it’s like, I wanna watch Star Wars. I don’t wanna watch Game of Thrones. I wanna watch Game of Thrones. Well, I did. But I come to Star Wars with a certain set of expectations. And maybe that’s me as being a lazy viewer, but I also think that’s part of the charm of the series is some of that clear short hand that we see that you are referencing.
11:45 Nick Armstrong: Well, and they develop that in the original trilogy, but those brief mentions of the dissolution of the Senate, it’s right up front. “We’re getting rid of the Senate, the Emperor’s on his own. The last vestiges of Republic are gone.” You didn’t even have to know there was a Republic to know. “Oh, getting rid of the Senate is a bad thing.” Or there are Stormtrooper checkpoints in the city, and they killed a bunch of people, and they blew up a planet not long ago. This is a big bad. And in the sequel trilogy, you have to consume all this additional media to find out huge sections of the most developed worlds are defecting in between movies. I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”
12:22 Landry Ayres: I didn’t know that.
12:23 Nick Armstrong: I found that out two days ago.
12:25 Landry Ayres: I thought that’s what’s happening. Good to know. I would have enjoyed some things more.
12:27 Nick Armstrong: Well, that would have made more sense to why everyone’s panicked and no one’s showing up when they ask for help and there’s dynamics at play. And Leia’s ability to build a coalition’s hurt because everyone found out that she’s Vader’s daughter. So, everyone’s very worried about her. All elements that are great and interesting, but not in the movies.
12:49 Aaron Ross Powell: So, I am on record as not liking The Last Jedi much at all.
12:54 Aaron Ross Powell: And to the point that it basically soured me on Star Wars, and I stopped consuming all the secondary stuff. I actually genuinely forgot that Solo was coming out until it basically did and I rather…
12:56 Landry Ayres: Me too. Never saw it.
13:12 Aaron Ross Powell: Never saw that Solo. And so I went into Rise of Skywalker with rather low expectations and absolutely loved it. And I guess I’m one of the very few who absolutely loved it. But it made me dislike structurally The Last Jedi even more. And part of the reason for that is that The Last Jedi… Force Awakens sets up this new status quo for us, but it leaves a lot of it unexplained and a lot of the problem with Rise of Skywalker is that tons of stuff is coming at you out of the blue. Right? Like, “Oh, Palpatine is… ” And, “Oh, the First Order has taken over?” And you haven’t heard about any of this before and that’s all because nothing happens in The Last Jedi from the universal world-building perspective that like, the fact that The Rise of Skywalker can basically pretend that The Last Jedi never happened and it works is because nothing happened in The Last Jedi. The movie, we’re at exactly the same point at the end of it, as we are at the beginning of it, and it’s done nothing to fill in any of those details. And so I think that had JJ Abrams done all three, or had The Last Jedi made an effort to be a middle segment of a trilogy, you could have say dropped the whole thoroughly mediocre Finn C plot of going to the casino planets and all that.
14:32 Natalie Dowzicky: Aww, I like Finn.
14:34 Aaron Ross Powell: That contributed nothing to the movie.
14:34 Landry Ayres: I like Finn but that plot was nothing.
14:36 Aaron Ross Powell: And you could’ve instead used that as like, “Oh, there are rumors of something happening in the outer regions and we’re gonna start looking into it.” And then the movie at the end… Because it’s not the reveal of Palpatine is a spoiler for Rise of Skywalker, because it tells us in the opening crawl that he’s back. So you could have ended Last Jedi with them just like, “Oh, god, Palpatine is back.” And so you could’ve been using that movie or half of that movie as world building to establish more of that and make it feel more coherent. So that we went into the last movie with a stronger sense of what’s going on and you could’ve been showing things like planets defecting and so on. But The Last Jedi just wasn’t interested in doing that.
15:19 Nick Armstrong: Then again in the third act of The Force Awakens we basically just do another Death Star rather than build those elements of challenges that are ahead or… You have a very good movie in The Force Awakens up until it loses steam attacking a planet that… A very strange sequence.
15:37 Landry Ayres: Right. It’s like when I was watching the Twilight movies in order every night and I skipped Twilight Eclipse and didn’t notice until I’d finished Breaking Dawn Part 2. Basically the same concept. You just gotta get to the Voltaire and figure it out. Twilight, coming next month on the Pop & Locke.
15:52 Natalie Dowzicky: No. I’m not ever gonna agree to that. Okay.
15:54 Aaron Ross Powell: Anyway. I mean you’re right about that ending of Force Awakens and I think that would’ve been stronger if you could’ve done exactly the same thing of what we need to do is have the First Order mount a crippling attack. You could have done that in a much more interesting way with them, say mounting a terrorist strike on… Was it Hosnian Prime?
16:14 Nick Armstrong: Yeah.
16:16 Aaron Ross Powell: On the Senate and blowing it up with people who infiltrated or something like that, that looked more like the kind of insurgency that it’s supposed to be. And it would’ve worked just as well for getting those plot points across, just as well for causing catastrophe in the galaxy, without having the Star Killer Base, which is silly and the ending sequence which is silly. And it would’ve tee’d up what happened later much better.
16:39 Nick Armstrong: Well, it’s the first time we find out about the scale of the First Order is the first, I think first line of The Last Jedi, which is, “The First Order reigns.” It’s been like 10 minutes. Do they? That was quick. But you know, it appears now in the sequel trilogy. The hyperspace situation is very teleport-y ‘cause I think The Rise of Skywalker takes place in 16 hours, which is very fast.
17:05 Natalie Dowzicky: Wow, I would not have said that.
17:07 Aaron Ross Powell: Geography’s always been weird in Star Wars.
17:10 Nick Armstrong: Yeah, absolutely.
17:12 Aaron Ross Powell: But yeah, the rapidity with which they’re able to just get from place to place is strange and that goes back to… We get that in The Force Awakens too of like, you have no sense of the scale of things because suddenly the… We’ve just blown up planets that seemed to be in the core from somewhere way out here and people in between can see it happen. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
17:36 Nick Armstrong: Very strange.
17:37 Landry Ayres: And then in this movie there is a hidden Sith planet that we can map the entire galaxy, amazing technology and everyone’s just like, “We don’t know where it is.”
17:47 Aaron Ross Powell: Well, but that’s tee’d up in… Is it Attack of the Clones?
17:50 Nick Armstrong: Well, we have it also in The Last Jedi with the planet Ahch-To.
17:53 Aaron Ross Powell: Is missing.
17:54 Nick Armstrong: Ahch-To and Kamino.
17:55 Landry Ayres: I mean, you can’t blame me for not listening during Attack of the Clones, of all things. If I think we can all agree that of all the Star Wars films, Attack of the Clones goes to the bottom of the list.
18:07 Natalie Dowzicky: I have only seen that twice, so…
18:08 Nick Armstrong: I wholeheartedly agree.
18:10 Aaron Ross Powell: Okay.
18:10 Nick Armstrong: Absolutely.
18:13 Aaron Ross Powell: It’s unwatchable.
18:16 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, going back to what Aaron was saying earlier about the… If we had set up the Palpatine at the end of The Last Jedi instead, it also would’ve identified the threat a little bit more or the gravity of the threat. Also I wanna just go back, does anyone ever really die? Can we ever be sure that someone is dead and gone? Because not that Palpatine was not a spoiler that, “Oh, he’s back.” I think a lot of people were sensing that was going to be it. But I don’t know, there’s just no, there’s no… You can’t rely on death in this world at all.
18:49 Nick Armstrong: He blew up!
18:51 Natalie Dowzicky: He fell into the Death Star. I just don’t… No one dies.
18:55 Aaron Ross Powell: That was my favorite part of Rise of Skywalker, was having Palpatine come back. And here’s why. Let me get to my… I think a lot of the criticisms of the sequel trilogy, which is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and there all sorts of ways it could have been improved. But one of the criticisms is that people, I don’t think understand the role that it plays in the Star Wars story. That a lot of people saw The Force Awakens and then the later movies, as these are just basically more episodes of this ongoing TV show and I wanna see something new. And that’s not what they were. What they are is, this was always conceived as a nine-movie single story sequence. And so these are the final third act of a single story that began… How you order them, but it began with the original trilogy and then had the flashback of the prequel trilogy and then on to the concluding trilogy.
19:48 Aaron Ross Powell: And our antagonist for that entire story is Palpatine. And the entire story is about the struggle between Palpatine trying to bring the dark side to ascendancy and the light side fighting back and this effort to balance the two. And so to introduce a brand new protagonist in the final chapter of a nine-chapter book wouldn’t make a lot of sense. And so, thematically, bringing him back is what fits because he’s been our antagonist all along. And then even having Rey be his child and having this story be about her establishing herself outside of his bloodline fits because Star Wars, the twin themes of Star Wars from all along, have been about redemption and have been family and it’s always been the saga of… Because the prequel trilogy tees it up, Star Wars is a conflict between Skywalkers and Palpatines. And it begins with a Palpatine turning a Skywalker but that Skywalkers, the key element that leads to him turning is an act of forbidden love that produces these children that then are the thing that take down the Palpatine side.
21:06 Aaron Ross Powell: And so, for Rey to be the child of that and the further… I saw a lot of criticisms just like this, The Rise of Skywalker pushes aside Anakin’s legacy. But it doesn’t because it’s his children and grandchildren. So it’s the ongoing effects of that act of love made all of this possible. And then the balance comes in our antagonist, the Skywalkers and our protagonist, the Palpatines coming together and setting things aside, which is the final moment with Kylo Ren, turning back to Ben Solo and the kiss and him dying, and then her taking the Skywalker name is the dissolving of these two family lines into the single balanced Force. And so I think it was necessary, and you wouldn’t have gotten that ark if we had looked at these sequel movies more as just like a new season of a TV show that has a new big bad.
22:06 Natalie Dowzicky: I would agree with that, I think. Well, just on the onset, this whole saga, has a lot of family problems, I don’t think I’ve met a family that has many. [chuckle]
22:14 Landry Ayres: Who doesn’t?
22:16 Natalie Dowzicky: I don’t know. [chuckle] But without a side, I think Aaron’s right. If they would have introduced a new enemy in the last movie, everyone had been like, “What the heck? Where did these people come from?” And it would have left us even more angry. I was not necessarily a fan of Rise of the Skywalker, but I do see how it tied together the sequel trilogy quite nicely, tying up a few loose ends, leaving still some holes but I was kinda… Did you guys expect Rey to be a Palpatine?
22:48 Nick Armstrong: I had hoped she wouldn’t be. I mean, there are a lot of fan theories going back to the beginning where here’s how it work, but the timelines don’t make a ton of sense. I guess, it’d be late Chancellor Palpatine he’d have their kids, and then she’s 20 in the show, Kylo was 30. So, I guess the timeline matching up is a very old Chancellor Palpatine having a child and that he abandoned her on Jakku at some point. And it’s a little surprising, I guess, for my credibility but…
23:23 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I also thought it was interesting because we spent… You knew she was gonna be someone because we spent two movies of her.” Oh, she’s a nobody. Her parents were drunks that left her and abandoned her.” So you had a feeling like, “Alright, we’re not following this girl for no reason.” But I don’t know, I don’t know what I expected, but I did not expect that for some reason.
23:43 Landry Ayres: I was with you. Well, it wasn’t that I didn’t expect it, I just kind of, I went, “Oh, alright.” It didn’t feel like it had weight to it, it just felt like… And I totally buy Aaron’s explanation about the struggle between the Skywalkers and Palpatines. And I think viewing it from that macro level and the legacy, it makes sense to me but in… And I think this is my biggest problem is. I didn’t have a big problem with the plot itself and what happened in Rise of Skywalker. I thought I bought all of that, I was like, “This is fun. Sure.” It was from a writing standpoint that it just felt thrown in these… Just like in Force Awakens but I think worse this time. We zip around everywhere in the first five minutes of the movie. None of the dialogue feels like it has motivation behind it, not from an acting standpoint, which I thought was fine for a Star Wars movie but it felt thrown together for me.
24:48 Nick Armstrong: Yeah, I think The Last Jedi had the luxury of giving itself time to build stakes between the two in a large part… I think Aaron may disagree with this but The Rise of Skywalker relies on the tension and the relationship built in The Last Jedi to have momentum and what bulked the story and drama that it gets, it gets from those two from the previous movie. Because the writing here is very propulsive, it moves you forward, but Rey is a Palpatine, you’re like, “Okay,” and you immediately have to go on some chase and then the next minute it’s like, Kylo’s dead and you’re like, “Oh, okay.” A lot of processing to do here. And I think the first time I saw it, my first view, I was like, “Well, that was a fun movie. It wasn’t my favorite, but… “
25:35 Natalie Dowzicky: Did it get worse? And you saw it multiple times?
25:37 Nick Armstrong: I saw it three times.
25:38 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, did it get worse?
25:39 Nick Armstrong: The last time, I fell asleep, which was very unique experience for me first time was. It doesn’t hit you as hard as it should have I think, ‘cause the writing wasn’t quite there for me. Yeah, I get the themes that Aaron it’s lining out, it’s like you’re moving the rest of the story together, Palpatine is pulling the strings. Conceptually I think those are great ideas.
25:55 Landry Ayres: Yeah, so maybe it does the job that the final part of a nine-part story, it does. It ties everything together and it’s falling action to a certain extent and it’s kind of… There are so many movies that the last ninth of, you wouldn’t really have to watch because all of your answers for the most part, unless it’s stuff that you happen to be passionate about a character with backstory, you wouldn’t have to watch it to be like, “I got the message of the movie.” But you can still get something out of it. And if we’re looking at the saga of Star Wars like that, maybe you don’t have to watch it. You do have to get it to get that entire theme brought back, but you’ll live without it.
26:49 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I was also thinking that this movie was giving the Star Wars fandom what they had been begging for, or even the sequel, it shows you as a whole, they wanted to see action and they wanted to see how all these people tied together and they wanted it all nice in a big bow, almost like the Game of Thrones fandom as well, they wanted to see how it came together. Mind you, Game of Thrones ending was terrible. But, just in a way that didn’t add a whole lot in a way, I guess, but I think part of it, this fandom is so dedicated that even when you look at reviews from this movie, it’s all over the board. Some have said… Like Aaron think it’s great and it was a good way to wrap everything up. I’m not really like… I wouldn’t consider myself part of the Star Wars fandom. I’ve seen all the movies but I’m not like a diehard and I, as a film, watching it as a sub-par fan, I was like, “Oh, this is like an alright movie.” But I just think all the reviews just show how grand and large the fan base is that no one… The whole fan base is never gonna be happy with any decision that’s made on Star Wars. And I think this sequel trilogy just shows, “Alright, we’ve milked all this out. There’s nothing else to add, unless they’re just appeasing fans now and adding more into the universe.”
28:12 Nick Armstrong: One of the interesting things to me, especially when it comes to a fan-based expectations and critical reception, it’s like the Marvel movies are a good point of comparison and I guess, this is a spoiler so sorry for anybody who hasn’t seen the last two.
28:27 Natalie Dowzicky: This whole show is a spoiler.
28:29 Nick Armstrong: There you go.
28:31 Landry Ayres: Don’t worry, we’ll change the name of the show before we release it.
28:32 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
28:32 Nick Armstrong: In that, the first Infinity War movie has huge stakes and consequence, and the second part of it is literally just time travel to undo almost all of the stakes, and critics are like, “That’s great.” And fans are like, “This is wonderful.” You come to Star Wars and they’re like, “Yeah, but we expect more from you, you can’t do that kind of stuff.” And I’m guilty of that as having seen all these movies since I was a kid in the theater with my dad and it’s like, “Oh, this is important,” but the Marvel stuff, it’s superheroes, I was like, “Whatever.” Yeah, but this is just space wizards. At some point, you gotta just take a deep breath and be like, “Eh, it was a cool movie. Like, whatever.” [chuckle]
29:11 Aaron Ross Powell: I think that’s a good point in that divergence in the way that critics and the way that reviews look between the two franchises, and this isn’t just about Rise of Skywalker but all five of the Disney Star Wars films, the reviews are more mixed and I don’t think that’s because then the Marvel movies, which all have Rotten Tomato things in the high 80s or 90s, the reviews are more mixed and I don’t think that’s because these are worse movies than the Marvel movies. I think it’s because they are movies that are deviating from expectations more. The Marvel movies, the entire Marvel franchise is about just hitting the expectations of the fans and the movies being… One of my biggest objection why I think that actually the DC movies have been far more interesting movies than the Marvel ones, even though most of them aren’t as good movies, is because the Marvel movies are all so tonally identical, they’re shot the same visually, like the cinematography looks the same, the dialogue all sounds like Joss Whedon, the characters are basically all the same and it’s just about hitting expectations with bigger and bigger and bigger special effects, and that’s fine. They’re all super entertaining movies, but the Star Wars movie seemed to have said, “We’re going to try different things, we’re gonna try doing a gritty war movie, where everyone dies in Rogue One and we don’t bring them back.”
30:45 Landry Ayres: Great.
30:46 Aaron Ross Powell: We’re gonna try doing…
30:47 Natalie Dowzicky: I loved Rogue One.
30:47 Aaron Ross Powell: It was so good. Light adventure affair heist movie in solo. We’re gonna try doing our introspective existential thing in Last Jedi, and it divides the fan base and I think that that is ultimately good, and I hope that later movies keep dividing the fan base because it means that they’re trying things out. And as a result, like there are, “I don’t like The Last Jedi at all and wish it had been totally different,” but I’m glad that they’re making movies like that, that are upsetting me than just doing exactly what I want, even if the reason I like Rise of Skywalker is because it did exactly what I wanted. [chuckle]
31:32 Natalie Dowzicky: So do you think Disney added to the franchise? Or did you think they made the fan base a little bit more divided? Do you think they added value?
31:40 Nick Armstrong: Well, they undeniably have divided the fan base, but that’s not a bad thing. The fan base has been very insular and it wasn’t always a good thing… It’s a little too… It needs some air, but I think that they’ve added a lot of good things. I’m not sure that this trilogy knew what it wanted to be before it was made. That being said, I think the notion of a storm trooper who decides not to be a storm trooper anymore and then finds purpose in being…
32:10 Natalie Dowzicky: I love Finn.
32:11 Landry Ayres: That could have been its whole own movie. I would have watched it.
32:14 Nick Armstrong: Absolutely.
32:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
32:14 Landry Ayres: I would watch just Finn like a Solo or a Rogue One but…
32:19 Nick Armstrong: And introducing larger themes of failure into the Star Wars canon is wonderful. Seeing Luke as a character who, despite not being exactly what I wanted to, and Marvel at how great it was to see like, “Wow, this hero didn’t end up being a happily ever after character until the very, very end after he died and became a ghost.”
32:30 Landry Ayres: And man, Mark Hamill, I don’t… Even as bad as the dialogue was in this movie, he sells it, he’s a 100% in everything.
32:30 Nick Armstrong: Absolutely. So those elements I think I really love having been brought in and that Kylo-Rey dynamic is so good and their acting is so much better than what we were used to. It’s great. I love the prequels, and I love them mostly for their role building and them as a whole, but their component parts aren’t great. Whereas, I feel like in this trilogy, the component parts are great and the whole isn’t as great. And I’m okay with that ‘cause the first movie that they ever made for Star Wars was amazing, and you can just carry on after that. [chuckle]
33:24 Aaron Ross Powell: I hope, too, that they stick to… It sounds like the plan right now is to… They’re done in the sense that we aren’t gonna get movies set after this. We don’t know what happens to Rey. We don’t know what happens to the Galaxy, and I hope they stick with that, in part because Star Wars is huge and there’s lots of other areas to explore and let’s go and look at them and they’ll be fun. But also because it gets us back to that ambivalence that we started this conversation with, of the failure of the Rebellion once it gets its hands on things. You get the sense… My hopeful vision of where things are as Rey wanders off into the sunset on Tatooine with her yellow light saber is that, that status quo maintains of all of these kind of independent planets doing their independent thing, and we don’t have another attempt at… We had the old Republic and it collapsed an empire, and we fought of the Empire and what do we do? We tried to set up a new republic, a new galactic empire of sorts. I hope that the takeaway from it is… Everyone has their own story to tell and they all go off and tell it, and we can leave the institution building alone so that we don’t have to repeat this whole story again with another nine movies of fighting off the next bad guys to take over with planet-killing weapons.
34:53 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I think a big part of this franchise, too, is the idea of legacy. And if they’re learning from their past, as Aaron is hopeful that they do, they would want their legacy to be like finding your own identity and seeing how you fit in the Star Wars galaxy. And I think part of it is almost… That makes the most sense of after all of these nine movies that we spent talking about identity and what team are you on. I don’t think it’s about teams anymore as the end of the movie suggests, because it’s just Rey going off into the sunset which is like a call back of sorts. But I think finding that identity is what’s been important throughout the whole Star Wars saga, and it’s like Rey found it by claiming herself as a Skywalker. And now, there’s not necessarily that there’s peace everywhere but that people have up their place, and they identify and have a sort of individual identity that they don’t wanna come together anymore ‘cause they are learning from their history.
35:58 Landry Ayres: And that’s what I wanna see. I wanna see all of these individual people telling human stories in this amazing world that we’ve built, but I don’t need to see them try and topple entire regimes. Eventually, we might get to that and that’s really interesting. And if they can make it a little bit more complex and not so straightforward, that’s fine with me. There’s a reason people really like the world that Star Wars has built in, and I think some of the extended universe is still thriving and people are writing things that aren’t being made into movies ‘cause that gives them the space to tell more human stories on a smaller scale that I think will hopefully eventually we’ll get to explore in movies as well.
36:44 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I also think that’s also what makes the Star Wars saga so unique in a sense that, yes, we all discuss those holes and there’s weird time gaps and we don’t know where all the planets are. But at the same time that allows for more people in the entertainment space in a creative space to come up with those stories. We were talking about Finn. Finn was one of my favorite characters from the sequel trilogy, partially because you could see he had an internal struggle, he was nervous to tell people about how he was a storm trooper. But then at the same time, you think he would wanna be like, “Yeah, I was a storm trooper, but I took off the mask, and I’m me now and I’m part of the Resistance.” But that wasn’t what we got necessarily, that he was more hesitant and he was scared that they were gonna judge him, but I think they left room. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but they left room to suss that out potentially in another story, I hope.
37:45 Nick Armstrong: Absolutely. And you know, I think the dissemination of power in the galaxy there leaves a lot of room for the storytelling, but also it comes back to that point of what good ever came from the centralization of power in that galaxy? The only large-scale projects we had were Starkiller Base and the Death Star, and things that were used to murder a bunch of people. We didn’t have some sort of social good projects, they were just awful bad. They’re not small-scale stories, it’s all giant threats. And those get boring after a while as I think that we learned in previous attempts at telling those tales over and over again.
38:28 Landry Ayres: Just off the top of my head. Do you think that they almost… This might be short sight in service-level analysis, but do you think that the films almost glorify the war effort in a certain way that says the only way that you can make real effective change is to resort to trying to overthrow institutions? Or is that… I don’t know if it necessarily does that but…
38:56 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, as a piece of entertainment, if you’re looking at your resistance, for instance, as “Okay, our resistance is gonna be like, enact to this policy or change in small ways towards this,” everyone’s gonna be like, “Really? We needed a movie for that?”
39:00 Landry Ayres: Give me a Star Wars movie where community organizers come together to start a social movement, and we get municipal laws being passed or something. I don’t know. Obviously, that would be probably a pretty boring movie, but somebody should give it a try.
39:00 Nick Armstrong: Well, we do actually have that a bit in the Jedi story. It goes from this large top-down organization to Luke at some point being like, “This is done. This is terrible.” And then, Rey is learning the lesson along with Luke that, “No, there’s something here of value, but it’s more individual, it’s more small scale, it’s more of a community.
39:00 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, also being a Jedi is like being part of an exclusive club at this point.
39:52 Natalie Dowzicky: And who doesn’t wanna be a part of that?
39:54 Aaron Ross Powell: Where does baby Yoda fit?
39:56 Landry Ayres: He fits right at the top. He and Babu Frik.
40:00 Nick Armstrong: They’re hanging out together?
40:00 Landry Ayres: The best parts of the entire extended Star Wars universe. Can I just say, if anyone listened to our previous holiday favorites episode, puppets make everything better, don’t give me 3D Yoda prequels, give me puppets.
40:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I also… I kinda like that it’s… Puppets are also a call back to the original trilogy ‘cause just because we’ve come up with so much more technology and how to make films since then, but I think it’s cool that they stuck with that. You’re like, “Yes!” [chuckle]
40:30 Landry Ayres: It’s real actors playing off one another in the moment. Puppets make everything better, everybody loves puppets. What about baby Yoda? And why do you think baby Yoda has captured everyone’s attention being included in the Mandalorian? Is there something about… I, full disclosure, have not seen any of the Mandalorian yet, it’s on my list.
40:52 Natalie Dowzicky: But I know baby Yoda exists.
40:53 Landry Ayres: Yes. How could you not, at this point?
40:54 Natalie Dowzicky: All the memes.
40:56 Aaron Ross Powell: I mean that’s all it is, it’s… I mean everybody likes Yoda, and then it’s baby Yoda. And it’s cute and it does cute things.
41:07 Natalie Dowzicky: Just like he’s sipping tea.
41:09 Aaron Ross Powell: But I think the Mandalorian is a good example of this, where it sounds like a lot of us hope that Star Wars goes because it is a small story, at least we think it’s a small story. The stakes seem to be rising towards the end, but it still is a pretty small story about a handful of people making their way in the world. They’re doing it on the Frontier, which is where Star Wars kind of belongs, away from the governments, we don’t… Again, it’s another one of these things where we don’t know, it’s set during the time of the New Republic. But we don’t really get a sense of what that looks like in practice. Except for one really weird scene that I don’t think it’s a spoiler much at the end of… It was the second to last episode or the third to last episode. It’s the episode where they go and they try to break a guy out of a prison ship and there’s a sub-plot about some beacon that one of the New Republic people who are running the prison ship have and the beacon, once it’s turned on, will cause New Republic ships to come and attack it as a threat.
42:13 Aaron Ross Powell: And they sneak the beacon, the Mandalorian sneaks the beacon on to a civilian space station at the end. And the New Republic ships show up and without warning, blow up the Civilian Space Station, just slaughtering civilians. And I don’t know if it was unintentional, like the writers weren’t really thinking through what this looked like, they were just like, “Oh yeah, isn’t it clever that they put the beacon on here and the bad guys who happen to be on the station died?” But it also seems to… It can tie into these institutions when they rise back up again, this is where they end up. That the rebellion ended up the aggressors against the very people that it had been trying to protect. And so, if what we get from this is the abandonment of those attempts then that’s good. And if these are the kinds of stories that we keep telling then, that’s positive.
43:12 Natalie Dowzicky: Do you also think that that’s kind of what… At the end of Rise of the Skywalker was alluding to when Rey… Rey had the opportunity, spoiler alert, this whole show, [chuckle] to be gone like the Sith Empress. And I think it could have gone either way and conceivably, but if… For instance, if she would have been like, “Okay, yeah, now I’m gonna be Empress, I’m gonna take over for my grandfather,” and then we could have gotten that ending that was more cyclical like, “Oh, we’re gonna go through all of this again.” They had the opportunity to do that and didn’t, I think is very poignant about what they pictured, like Aaron was saying earlier, about the family dynamics ending in a tied up way. But what they pictured as this is the best way moving forward. ‘Cause they could’ve easily made her the Sith Empress, it would have been a plot twist, and the fandom would have freaked out. But it would have gotten, like Aaron said, would have been cyclical right back to where we started, with one individual having mass amounts of power and then we’re gonna have to need another rebellion and so forth.
44:19 Aaron Ross Powell: Or it could have ended in that there’s quick shots at the end of people celebrating on planets where we saw the Ewoks, which I guess makes the indoor Holocaust not canon, which was a little disappointing. But they could have shown one of Rey standing in a Senate Chamber accepting the new chancellorship as leader, the inheritor of Leia’s role, but they didn’t. They showed her walking away from everything, like the last kind of epicenter of Jedi power, Jedi and family dynasty power, which is always what’s ruled in Star Wars, just taking that legacy burying it in the sand and walking away.
45:05 Natalie Dowzicky: Which I thought was a perfect way to end it. And also, I’m blanking on which movie ended similarly with Luke, right? And it was like you saw the two stars and the sun was setting, which maybe it was…
45:17 Landry Ayres: I mean that’s in A New Hope.
45:18 Natalie Dowzicky: What was that A New Hope? Okay.
45:19 Landry Ayres: When he’s on the planet. I don’t know if it ends that way, but…
45:21 Nick Armstrong: It starts that way.
45:23 Natalie Dowzicky: It starts that way. One of them.
45:23 Aaron Ross Powell: And then it’s in… Is it Revenge of the Sith?
45:26 Nick Armstrong: Yeah.
45:26 Aaron Ross Powell: When they dropped off the baby.
45:28 Landry Ayres: Okay.
45:29 Natalie Dowzicky: Were there any other call backs that you saw, or symmetries that you saw from other movies, particularly in the Rise of Skywalker that came up before?
45:36 Nick Armstrong: Yeah, we have the… I think most of them were a bit jarring to me, but they’re intended as fan service. So, when they work for people, they work very well. The Han’s medal from the original ceremony is handed over to Chewbacca.
45:49 Natalie Dowzicky: Woo! I love Chewy.
45:50 Nick Armstrong: That’s right. And Leia ends up when she dies, it’s like clutching it, which was a little odd to me. But they’d work around the unfortunate passing of Carrie Fisher.
45:50 Aaron Ross Powell: I thought they did a really good job with that. I went in thinking this is gonna be… ‘Cause I knew they were gonna do it with old footage, they weren’t gonna digitally recreate her and I went in thinking, “This is gonna be really awkward.” And they were… Every now and then there was one where it was like the line she was saying didn’t seem to exactly fit with the response that was given, but on the whole I thought it worked remarkably well.
45:50 Nick Armstrong: Yeah, it was a tough sled, and I think they made it work. You can tell that it’s happening, but it’s not bad. It’s not the Transformers movies, where they’re trying to act against the thing that’s not there, they’re looking the wrong way, as in like, “Oh, man.”
46:37 Nick Armstrong: Then you have callbacks in the throne room scene, where Rey is being challenged by the Emperor to turn, and just like, “Your friends are dying out there,” and opens up the portal in the millions of feet of rock, somehow. Special force powers, they’re pretty crazy. [chuckle] Yeah, and they’re fun, there were a lot in this movie that bogged it down for me a little bit, but some very cool ones.
47:03 Nick Armstrong: I like seeing Wedge.
47:04 Nick Armstrong: Wedge was great. And little nuggets from the prequels, where they’re speaking at the end, saying, “Rey, arise.” That was cool to hear, including some fan favorites from the cartoons, like Ahsoka Tano and Kanan from the Rebels show. Those are all fun things to have in there. And that one actually got me, I was like, “Yes! Finally, they’re here. I’m in.”
47:25 Landry Ayres: I was really hoping for a Lego Star Wars callback, they didn’t include that.
47:30 Natalie Dowzicky: Those are really popular now, too.
47:32 Landry Ayres: Yeah, ‘cause they’re great games.
47:34 Aaron Ross Powell: One thing that I thought was interesting about this, and it’s a relatively minor, I remember I had a long discussion on this, was if given that Rey takes the Skywalker name and is the last Skywalker as she walks off into the sunset, and going back to Episode I and Anakin, that throwaway line of Anakin, like there was no father, it’s like an immaculate conception, that the Skywalker lineage is bookended, begins and ends with women. That is, is it Shmi, is that the name of his mother? That Shmi is the first Skywalker and Rey is the last, which I enjoyed.
48:20 Landry Ayres: I think that is the first-ever analysis that called Rise of Skywalker a pro-feminist film.
48:26 Landry Ayres: ‘Cause most people are like, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no.”
48:29 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, even when Disney took over, I was reading something a few weeks ago. When Disney took over Star Wars, they had the intention, good intention, of adding more females to the cast, as well as more diversity in general, just because the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy tended to be a lot of white people. And I think they did a pretty decent job of that, to be honest.
48:51 Landry Ayres: In general, yeah. Yeah, I think there were some times where they made some choices where it felt thrown in. The same-sex kiss that happens does look like it was… When they’re celebrating at the very, very end, after the big battle, just from the way the shot is composed and the two women rush and embrace each other, it does look very much thrown in, either not necessarily for fan service or easy to be taken out for certain markets.
49:20 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, that was how I took it, ‘cause they pulled it out for China.
49:23 Landry Ayres: Yeah, and the Middle East, I saw, as well. So, they’re still at that point trying to… Sure, they’re trying to do something that that market might want, but at a certain point, I’m still like, “Are you really being more diverse?” It does just seem like it’s tokenism, to an extent.
49:43 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, or sacrificing quality just so…
49:45 Landry Ayres: Then there are lead characters that are much more diverse in general, but I’m hesitant to be like, “Good job, Disney. You really did it there.”
49:55 Nick Armstrong: Though we are coming from a point where, in the original trilogy, one of the pilots, who I believe it’s an alien pilot, is an actress playing the role. And they have a voice-over of a man instead, so she’s entirely erased from the film. The squishy helmet, you can’t really tell, it’s like, “Oh, cool,” and they’re a guy. There’s two women in that movie?
50:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Right, so it’s certainly come a very long way.
50:21 Aaron Ross Powell: Yes, yeah.
50:23 Landry Ayres: Absolutely.
50:23 Natalie Dowzicky: High-fives all around.
50:23 Aaron Ross Powell: And we talked about dividing the fan base and fan reactions. And I will say that one of my favorite parts of the fan reactions to these movies has been just watching the people get so mad that there’s girls in my Star Wars now. Or there’s like, “There’s black Storm Troopers? They were never black.” The weird… Because that sort of fandom of… It’s the weird disconnect they have of, on the one hand, they’re like, “God, these people. Why do these people care so much about seeing someone who looks like them in the movies? Shouldn’t they just like the stories?” But then, when diverse characters are introduced, they just flip out with all of these, it was like, “It’s not authentic to the lore,” or whatever.
51:18 Aaron Ross Powell: “Girls couldn’t really do that.” And…
51:21 Natalie Dowzicky: Hey.
51:21 Aaron Ross Powell: And I get…
51:22 Landry Ayres: Their tiny hands couldn’t hold a lightsaber.
51:24 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, like that sort of… And so, I have, ever since Disney started, and right off the bat, these responses came in, I took a lot of pleasure in watching those people just get really angry and throw fits because it’s so ridiculous and it’s such a toxic part of fandom. And I just hope that Disney keeps with both the Marvel movies, ‘cause they mentioned there’s gonna be a transgender character in an upcoming one. Because representation matters, people. It does. These are all about… The reason children get into this stuff and they get into the comic books and all that is, you imagine yourself in it, and you want to identify with it, you identify with these characters and these heroes, and you love their adventures and you wanna see what happens to them. And people who are like you are really important. And so, having that is great. And if it drives away that portion of the fan base who are just so upset that there are people who don’t look like them in their movies, or like, “There’s a girl Dr. Who? Oh, my god.”
52:30 Landry Ayres: The more we can drive those people out, the better.
52:37 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. What did you think of the new Star Wars movie? And what’s your favorite film in the Star Wars saga? Let us know on Twitter. You can follow the show and get updates about future episodes at PopNLockePod. That’s Pop, the letter N, Locke with an E, Pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. We look forward to unraveling your favorite show or movie next time. Pop & Locke is produced by Tess Terrible and me, Landry Ayres, as a project of libertarianism.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.