If JJ Abrams Had Said, “Yes, and…”

If you’re reading this, you’ve hopefully seen The Rise of Skywalker, meant to be the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga that started forty-something years ago with a New Hope.

I’m gonna be honest: I never liked Star Wars as a kid. I watched A New Hope and I wasn’t filled with wonder at the idea of a Force or lightsabers. I thought it was, frankly, dumb. And as I grew up, I kept to that opinion. Until the Sequel Trilogy, and until I caught hint of a villain that had the potential to be redeemed.

Kylo Ren.

Thanks to my interest in this character, and the idea that the rather simplistic Light = Good/Dark = Bad might be challenged in this trilogy, I quickly watched The Force Awakens, and then the next day, saw The Last Jedi in theaters. I fell in love, watched it more than 10 times — a record that had only been reached by Mad Max Fury Road — bought the movie when it came out, read up all I could on Star Wars so I could understand how everything connected.

To my mind, The Last Jedi had promised a new direction, promised that Star Wars might evolve into something other than the simplistic dumb space opera I had seen it as before. I dared to hope that I might see a hopeful end to what was ultimately a tragedy (starting with Anakin indirectly killing Padme, the love of his life).

And three days ago I saw The Rise of Skywalker, and had all my hopes dashed.

There’s no point in wasting words on why I had my hopes dashed. This piece is to show what directions JJ could have taken The Rise of Skywalker, given what Rian Johnson had left him with the end of The Last Jedi.

(Disclaimer: I’ve seen people bring up these ideas during my two years of fandom. I don’t claim any full ownership over these. Maybe like 5%.)

Finn

We meet Finn in one of the first scenes of The Force Awakens. He is a stormtrooper, indoctrinated as a child into the First Order, but ultimately unable to pull the trigger on innocent villagers. Later, he helps Poe, a Resistance pilot, escape from the First Order, but during their escape, he ends up stranded and alone on Jakku. There he meets Rey.

The Force Awakens has Finn start off as someone who is only concerned with surviving. He wants to get as far away from the First Order as possible, and he begs Rey to come with him to the Unknown Regions. Rey refuses to go, and ultimately, Finn stays behind, throwing away his selfish but entirely reasonable desires to help his friends.

In The Last Jedi, we see Finn, having been injured in the heat of battle against Kylo Ren, start taking more of an interest in the Resistance. Instead of going after Rey, he decides to go with Rose Tico to Cantobite to find a hacker that can get them into Snoke’s ship. The Force Awakens Finn wouldn’t have dared to even think about stepping foot onto a First Order ship again, but The Last Jedi Finn has grown and has begun to realize that he has the power to do something against the organization that had indoctrinated him.

To further emphasize this point, The Last Jedi has Finn attempt to take out a cannon during the Battle of Crait, totally willing to die if it will allow the Resistance to fight another day.

So, where could Finn have gone after The Last Jedi? Now a man totally dedicated to the Resistance, but still empathetic and with roots in the First Order, Finn could have gone undercover to provoke and lead a stormtrooper rebellion. We see in The Rise of Skywalker that other stormtroopers had defected; it was not only possible, but probable, that there would be enough stormtroopers willing to take up arms against their enslavers that Finn’s promise of a new life outside the First Order wouldn’t have fallen on deaf ears.

Poe

The Force Awakens has relatively little for Poe, a Resistance pilot that was tasked with picking up a map that would lead to Luke Skywalker. He’s handsome, he’s rebellious and impulsive, he’s a great pilot.

The Last Jedi decides to work within these parameters to give Poe more depth. We see him struggle with Holdo’s leadership, eventually cooking up the hacking plan with Rose and Finn and leading a mutiny aboard the Resistance ship in an effort to give the Resistance time to get away from Snoke.

This plan ultimately fails. Not only does Finn and Rose get captured, the hacker they brought from Cantobite flips on them for payment and his freedom, giving the First Order the heads up that the Resistance would be attempting to leave via the transport ships, leading to a number of deaths.

“She was more interested in protecting the light than seeming like a hero.” Leia says this to Poe after she cripples Snoke’s ship via lightspeed kamikaze. We get the feeling, all throughout The Last Jedi, that Leia is grooming Poe to take over command of the Resistance once she is gone, but it is only now that we see Poe getting it.

Thus, instead of doing a heroic last stand on Crait, Poe gives the order to retreat once they are able, giving the Resistance another day to fight. The Rise of Skywalker could have continued on this thread easily, showing how Poe attempts to learn and grow from a hotheaded impulsive flyboy with his head in his cockpit into a general who was able to lead his fighters into taking the First Order down once and for all.

Rose

Rose was introduced only in the Last Jedi, but within those two or so hours, she was able to influence both Finn and provide some thematic gravitas to The Last Jedi.

Rose and her sister, Paige, whom we see die in the first fight, are from a poor planet, one that is used as a First Order weapons testing area and a place to kidnap children for stormtrooper ranks. She isn’t Force-sensitive like Rey, she doesn’t come from a distinguished background like Kylo, she’s not native to the Resistance like Poe, and she’s not an ex-stormtrooper like Finn. She is an everywoman, the embodiment of the people that (hopefully) the Resistance is fighting against the First Order for. Because of this everywoman background, she is able to give one of the most iconic lines of the Sequel Trilogy, that the Resistance (and he) should not be trying to fight what they hate, but saving what they love. She brings back the focus where it should be, not on just defeating the First Order, but on saving the people in the galaxy that the First Order oppresses.

She also brings up a surprisingly contemporary point, pointing out to Finn on Cantobite that the wealthy there are weapons dealers, profiting from the continuous war between the First Order and the Resistance. This idea that there are actually non-First Order people profiting off the misery of the galaxy brings a very welcome sense of realism to The Last Jedi.

So where could this everywoman have gone after the Battle of Crait? Let her continue doing what she does best: making sure that the Resistance focuses on the reason for their resistance, focuses on saving what they love. Let her be a free agent, stirring up the background folks, the normal people who are just trying to live their lives while the First Order and the Resistance fights over their fate. Let her make us remember that it’s not only someone with special blood, abilities, or skills that can make a difference; regular-ass people can, too.

Hux

Yes, Hux is in this, too.

Introduced in The Force Awakens in a scene rife with fascist imagery, this character seems to be little more than an antagonist and rival against Kylo Ren for the Supreme Leader’s regard. The Last Jedi pokes fun at him, making him the butt of many a joke. However(!), near the beginning of the climax, we sense Hux is beginning to be treated by the film with a little bit more seriousness. Why?

Because he tries to kill Kylo Ren while he is unconscious in the throne room.

Just the subtle gesture of opening his coat, touching a stun gun, and then closing his coat again when Kylo Ren awakens turns him from a petty, comical character into one that is a threat to Kylo Ren. Despite Kylo Ren’s claim of the throne, we see Hux continue to vie for power during the Battle of Crait, giving identical orders almost as soon as Kylo Ren does. In one of Kylo Ren’s final scenes, where he is kneeling on the floor in the Resistance base, vulnerable, we see Hux in the door, giving him a calculated look. You get the sense that he might become serious trouble for Kylo Ren, especially since Kylo doesn’t respect him as a potential threat.

This would have been one of the more interesting and pivotal threads of The Rise of Skywalker. Have Hux sow discord in the First Order against the obviously conflicted Supreme Leader; have him spread rumors that he killed the Supreme Leader to take his place; anything to weaken Kylo’s power over the First Order. Then, have him strike against Kylo Ren in an attempt to gain the throne for himself.

Kylo Ren/Ben Solo

(My favorite character)

So we first see Kylo Ren, masked, monstrous, in The Force Awakens, but on his shoulders he carries a legacy stretching back all the way to the prequels. This is the grandson of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, known Dark Side aficionado, as well as the son and nephew of our heroes Leia Organa/Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, respectively. Once one knows his family, onen wonders immediately why he would turn to the Dark Side, particularly so early in life.

The Force Awakens has Kylo Ren make his connection with Rey, a connection that only deepens in The Last Jedi. Despite having killed his father to seemingly completely fall to the Dark Side, it is obvious to anyone that Kylo is still conflicted. In the throne room, he kills Snoke and then the guards, fighting back to back with Rey. This is a thrilling turn of events, that turns yet again when we realize that Kylo wants to “let the past die” and build something new (but presumably evil) with Rey at his side.

Rey, of course, refuses, leaving Kylo to hunt down the Resistance on Crait, and then presumably kill Luke Skywalker, the man who he feared had been ready to kill him so long ago, and his uncle.

Kylo’s story in The Last Jedi ends with him on his knees, having allowed the Resistance to get away due to his fight with what amounted to a ghost, making a fool of himself in front of the organization he had just taken over. We are left unsure as to whether Kylo will fall completely to the Dark Side now, or whether his conflict will make a return in The Rise of Skywalker.

The Rise of Skywalker could have gone multiple ways with Kylo: they could have had him cement his power over the First Order and become the villain some fans had hoped he would be. They could have had him finally turn and renounce the Dark Side, becoming the man that his family had hoped he would be. If they wanted to do something really interesting, they could have had him utilizing the passionate emotions of the Dark Side for good, becoming the yin to Rey’s Light Side yang, balancing the force, or even going into exile to live the rest of his life on Luke’s island, or wandering the galaxy in a quest for atonement, doing little bits of good to make up for all the evil he had done, or, or, or…

Ultimately, the question rested on whether he would live or die.

Despite the flood of positive pro-Kylo/Ben Solo propaganda before The Rise of Skywalker, (including the confirmation that he never killed any of his peers that night at Luke’s Jedi school), and the fact that he was the last Skywalker, and the fact that his parents (living and dead) still wanted him to come back to them, Ben Solo dies.

Redeemed, sure. But still dead.

*sighs*

There’s a lot that can be said here, but the basic fact is that he was given Anakin’s death. There’s nothing wrong with this, except for the fact that we’ve seen it before. And he had been the character who had known Rey best, letting her know that she wasn’t alone. And that, ultimately, the Skywalker saga ends in tragedy, beginning with a little boy taken from his mother and turned to darkness via a predatory male figure and ending with a little boy taken from his mother and turned to darkness via…you get the point.

For something that is supposed to be about “hope”, this sure doesn’t seem hopeful.

Rey

The character on which the saga rests, the new Luke of the Sequel Trilogy, Rey is an orphan, abandoned on a desert planet, still waiting for her parents to come back for her.

She also happens to be powerful in the Force.

In The Force Awakens, we see her leaving Jakku despite her not wanting to (in case her parents happened to come back) for other planets on a mission to return BB8 to his rightful person. Kylo becomes intrigued with her almost immediately, and during their final battle on Starkiller base, he offers her his mentorship. She turns him down and nearly kills him, and leaves the planet to be trained by Luke.

In The Last Jedi, we see this urge for family and connection and belonging come up again and again, driving her to the Dark cave in an effort to find out her parents and then on a mission to turn Kylo against Luke’s warnings. Having shared an intimate fingertip touch with the man, and been assured that she’s not alone, she completely expects Kylo to turn to the Light. He kills Snoke, but doesn’t turn.

Instead, he has her admit, out loud, that her parents were ‘nobody’, and then rather callously telling her that her parents were likely dead, essentially making her acknowledge that the only connection, family, and belonging she could find would be ones she made herself (callback to Maz Katana telling her that the belonging she seeks is ahead, not behind). He then offers her his hand (see, belonging and connection).

She refuses, because she won’t turn to the Dark side, and leaves Kylo on Crait, closing the door in his face, but indirectly leaving another chance for him to do the right thing (because she could have killed his ass in the throne room when he was unconscious).

Now, with the acknowledgement that her parents aren’t coming back, and a connection that might be a bit iffy (the Force Bond between her and Kylo), where could Rey have gone in The Rise of Skywalker.

Simple. She could have accepted that she was Rey Nobody, taken her happiness into her own hands, and made her own family. Whether that would be of the Resistance, or Finn, or Leia and Chewie, or Kylo, or all four, it didn’t matter. The point is, her fate was hers, and hers alone. Her destiny was waiting to be written, and she was the sole author.

The idea that Rey had to be somebody, even at the expense of logic, completely threw out the idea that blood isn’t important to who you are. That you could be born in the grimmest slums and make something of yourself, make a name that everyone would know. That anyone could make a difference. That they could be special, despite their heritage.

Frankly, in these troubled times, this is a message children (and the rest of us) can’t hear enough.

link: https://twitter.com/goodjobliz/status/1208731074408390657

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Studying wildlife in PA & Madagascar with trail cams. twitter: @am_anatiala.

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Asia Murphy

Asia Murphy

Studying wildlife in PA & Madagascar with trail cams. twitter: @am_anatiala.

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