Star Wars Reviews: Rise of Skywalker and Solo

A few weeks ago, I rewatched The Last Jedi, and I was impressed by how much I enjoyed it. I realized that all of my problems with it are actually problems with The Force Awakens. If you pretend TLJ followed a film that actually gave you context on the current state of the galaxy and what’s going on, all the problems with TLJ melt away, and it turns into a truly excellent movie full of heart and emotion.

Rey and Kylo Ren in Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.Feeling better about Star Wars than ever, I was inspired to give one of the spin-off movies a watch on Netflix, and to go see Rise of Skywalker sooner rather than later.

I now bring you my thoughts on the two films.

Rise of Skywalker:

I have not hated a movie this much in a long time.

The Force Awakens was pretty much just a rehash of A New Hope, and with JJ Abrams back at the helm, my fear was that Rise of Skywalker would just be a rehash of Return of the Jedi.

This fear was justified. It is absolutely just a clone of what’s come before, right down to yet another super weapon with a single and easily exploitable weakness, because apparently there’s only one story that’s ever allowed to be told in this setting.

If you have watched the trailers, there is no need to see the movie. They’ve already given away the whole story.

There is only one genuine surprise in the entire movie, and it’s an incredibly cheap twist that utterly ruins everything that made Rey compelling as a character. Meanwhile her unique rivalry/bond with Kylo Ren is reduced to just another cheap love story.

Poe and C3PO in Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

I’ve never been a big Star Wars fan, but I’ve stuck with this new trilogy because I absolutely adore Rey as a character, and Rise of Skywalker systematically destroyed everything that ever made her story interesting.

None of this is on Daisy Ridley, mind you. She remains an excellent actress, and she makes a heroic effort to inject some life into this soulless, illogical mess of a movie, but it’s just not enough.

Also on the subject of excellent actresses who couldn’t save this movie, Kelly Marie Tran’s character Rose — one of the best things about The Last Jedi — is now sidelined so much she might as well not even be there. It’s hard to see this as anything but a capitulation to the racist and sexist trolls who hated her character, and it’s despicable.

Meanwhile Kylo Ren/Ben Solo also has his entire character arc destroyed by making it just a rehash of Vader’s journey in Return of the Jedi. I don’t want him to be “redeemed” to the Light Side. He’s right. He’s the only character in the whole franchise who’s actually trying to make things better.

Yes, he makes the wrong choices in how to achieve his goals, and that’s what makes him compelling as an antagonist, but he’s the only one who sees how the traditional structures of Jedi and Sith have failed the galaxy. He’s the only one who understands that the old ways have to change if the cycle of war is ever going to end.

Rey and her companions in Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.Or he was, until JJ Abrams decided that all nuance must burn.

You can also pick apart the copious plot holes and continuity errors — Leia’s lightsaber is green in one scene and blue in the next, ships are frequently chased through hyper-space jumps even though the last movie was almost entirely about how that’s virtually impossible under normal circumstances, Poe is appointed to a leadership position by Leia even though the last movie made a major plot point of the fact he’s not leadership material — but that’s just the garden variety dumb I’ve come to expect of Star Wars. On its own, I could forgive that.

But Rise of Skywalker fumbles all the character arcs and major plots of the trilogy. It takes all of the potential created by The Last Jedi and throws it in the trash. All the nuance introduced by the last movie is ignored. There’s no acknowledgment that the Jedi are also to blame for the state of the galaxy. There’s no further exploration of the systemic issues in the galaxy that keep the war going. We’re back to a shallow fairy-tale where Jedi are good no matter what, and Sith are bad no matter what, and if those evil Sith are killed everything will be sunshine and rainbows for ever and ever. Let’s all cheer Rey as she heroically seeks the genocide of another culture!

What a disaster.

Overall rating: 2.5/10 Worse than the prequels. The prequels were bad from the start, but this trilogy had all the ingredients of a truly powerful story, and Rise of Skywalker squandered them all.

Solo:

Han Solo and Chewbacca in Solo: A Star Wars Story.I liked this one a lot better, though that’s a low bar.

The thing about Solo is that I liked most of it, but it just never really seemed to come together into a cohesive whole.

My one major complaint is the character of Qi’ra, his love interest. I’m generally in favour of prequels, but this is one case where being a prequel really sucked the drama out of the story. We know Qi’ra isn’t in the picture by the time of the original trilogy, so the only question is whether she dies or betrays him. You can’t really get invested in her or her story, and the whole movie is pretty much just about Han trying to get her back, and I think that really sucks the life out of it.

Other than that, it’s a solid ride. Being Star Wars, there’s no shortage of action and beautiful imagery. The iconic Kessel Run sequence definitely lives up to the decades of expectation built around it.

There’s some memorable side characters, too. Droid rights activist L3-37 particularly stands out. The show kind of ping pongs between different groups of side characters, though, so none of them quite get the screen time they deserve.

On the downside, Alden Ehrenreich’s Solo himself is probably the weak point of the cast. I think this is less his fault and more down to Harrison Ford being such a tough act to follow. I honestly feel bad for the kid. Those are such big shoes to fill; there are so few people who can hold a candle to Ford’s charisma.

Donald Glover as Landa Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story.All in all, Solo’s a decent ride, but it does end up feeling like less than the sum of its parts. Its tortured production process does show, and it’s definitely about thirty minutes longer than it needs to be.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

BlizzCon 2019 Leaves Me With Mixed Feelings

This is a sad day. While it may have had its disappointments before, BlizzCon has always felt a bit like Christmas morning to me. But nowadays Blizzard’s games have strayed far from what made me love them, and after they started creeping on female employees’ periods and stomping free speech to appease China’s government, I’ve decided to tentatively boycott future purchases.

A preview of Overwatch 2's new Sojourn heroStill, I’m watching the coverage. I have to for work if nothing else. The reveals so far give me a bit of hope, but perhaps not enough to turn things around for my dying love of Blizzard.

Yes, J. Allen Brack did open the convention with an apology for their screw-up regarding Hong Kong, and to be fair, he sounded pretty sincere. But waiting until now undermines that sincerity, and so far that apology is not backed up by any action. I’ll need to wait and see if this really changes my opinion in the long term.

Before I go any further, I will mention I’ve had a terrible week filled with health problems and other misery, so if I’m bit more ruthless in my rantiness than usual, I apologize.

Diablo IV:

Huge disappointment.

Everything about this reeks of an attempt to appease the edgelord fanboys who didn’t like Diablo III. It feels like they’re basically trying to pretend D3 didn’t happen. No returning characters, no indication that they’re picking up where Reaper of Souls’ cliff-hanger left off, no mention of the growing power of the Nephalem, no mention of saving Leah’s soul, no reckoning with Imperius.

A screenshot from Diablo IVOh, yes, and skill points are back, so you rest assured that once again get your build from Google and feel superior to everyone who didn’t! Who needs flexibility and meaningful customization?!?

Even the environments feel painfully uncreative. Just the same moors and deserts every Diablo game is apparently required to have. Take us to Xiansai or Skovos and I’d actually be excited.

Honestly, if Diablo III hadn’t happened, this would be an exciting sequel to Diablo II. But in a world where Diablo III exists, this feels like a step backwards in every possible way.

Except the graphics. Those are pretty awesome-looking.

Shadowlands:

I’m not sure how I feel about the new World of Warcraft expansion.

For most of the cinematic, I was terrified they were just going to make Sylvanas the Lich Queen, which would have been the Worst Twist Ever, but then… then things got interesting.

The cinematic trailer for World of Warcraft: ShadowlandsFrom a lore perspective, Shadowlands looks genuinely intriguing. Delving into the afterlife to confront a heretofore unknown threat is daring. It reminds me of Mists of Pandaria; it’s a setting we’ve heard of before, so it doesn’t feel like a total ass-pull, but we know basically nothing about it, so it’s a total blank slate to create new lore and stories.

That is deeply appealing.

On the other hand, Shadowlands appears to be the most unambitious expansion to date in terms of gameplay features. No new race, class, or even allied races.

The only new feature of any note appears to be Covenants, which sound like Legion’s class hall campaigns but fewer in number and therefore theoretically more fleshed out. That does sound cool, though. Encourages alt play, which I like.

Not sure that’s enough to win me back to WoW at this point, though. If they’d announced a permanent end to the faction conflict, or free to play, or an end to the restrictions on flying, I’d be ready to hop on the bandwagon, but as it is I’m on the fence on Shadowlands.

Arcturus Mengsk:

So after years of people asking for Valerian to be playable in StarCraft II co-op, we instead get… his father, who worked for Amon, the villain of co-op.

The Dominion Fleet calldown ability in StarCraft II co-op missions.Sure. That makes sense.

I don’t really feel the need for new commanders in co-op at this point, so I won’t be heartbroken if the new ones are no good, but yeah… this was not a good choice.

Overwatch 2:

Somewhat surprisingly this is what has me most tempted to break my boycott right now.

First off, that cinematic trailer was bloody amazing. Overwatch cinematics usually are, but this one takes the cake. Epic, fun, emotional. I loved Tracer posting a picture of her girlfriend in the cockpit of her jet.

Overwatch 2 itself is essentially a huge expansion pack for the original game that fleshes it out to what it should have been at launch. There will now be a story campaign and repeatable co-op missions that sound a lot like StarCraft II’s co-op.

This is what I wanted Overwatch to be from the start. Finally we’ll get to advance the story and explore this beautiful world Blizzard created.

Oh, yeah, and we’re getting Canadian representation. There’s a new Toronto map that looks fantastic — TTC streetcars! A Jamaican restaurant! — and if I’m not mistaken I’m pretty sure I saw a red maple leaf badge on the new hero, Sojourn.

A preview of Overwatch 2's Toronto mapYeah, this could win me back.

My one concern — aside from Blizzard’s recent scumminess in general — is that it looks you can’t solo the story missions, which could make for an unpleasant experience. SWTOR taught us how well story-driven experiences work with four player PUGs (poorly).

We’ll see what other news comes out over the coming days and weeks. If this BlizzCon had come in a different context, I would be far more impressed. As is, it’s a struggle for them to crawl out of the hole they’ve dug themselves… but there might be a sliver of hope yet.