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

Gaming Round-Up: Torchlight II, Star Trek Online, Anthem, and More

Time for another quick round-up of some of the gaming I’ve done in recent weeks. This month I got a free month of Origin Access (somehow…), which allowed me to check out a bunch of games for free.

The Icetide season in Anthem.Torchlight II

The main coup of the free month of Access is that it let me play through Torchlight II, which means I’m now caught up and ready for Frontiers.

TL2 is an upgrade over the original in virtually every way. It’s still kind of a by the numbers ARPG, and not a lot about it is terribly original, but there’s a lot more variety of enemies and environments than the original, and it’s fun.

I can’t put my finger on why, but something about this game reminded me of the original Dungeon Siege. Strange to feel so nostalgic playing a game that’s new (at least to me).

The highlight of the game for me was my class, the Outlander. It may as well have been built for me. Bows, dark magic, support abilities, pets… it’s everything I ever wanted all rolled into one.

TL2 is still a little repetitive, and the last few areas in particular turned into a bit of a slog. There was never a lot of story in the game, but in the latter half it feels like the writers gave up altogether. The Alchemist started out as a relatively nuanced villain with a sympathetic motivation, but that just flew out the window after a while with no explanation as to why.

My Outlander in Torchlight II.My other major complaint is that the skill system is pretty awful. I’m not a big fan of traditional skill trees at the best of times, and this one embodies all of the worst sins of the concepts. You don’t just spend points to unlock skills but have to constantly dump more into them to keep leveling them up. Everything is massively level-gated.

And worst of all the respec only lets you change the last three points you spent. I wound up with a bunch of points sunk into skills that I only took because I had no better option at the time (thanks, level-gating) and no way to reclaim them and put them into abilities I was actually using.

Frostpunk, They Are Billions, and Diluvion

These are some other games I tried via Access, but I didn’t stick with any of them long.

They Are Billions sounded really fun in theory — zombie horde mode RTS is something I’m all for — but there’s little to no story, and it’s just not that fun. It takes so long to build up your base and get your economy going. It’s tedious.

Frostpunk is another one that sounded cool (hurr hurr) but didn’t deliver. It’s brutally punishing, to the point it feels impossible to ever get ahead. It’s just one crisis after another.

My city in Frostpunk.Beyond that, it’s just not that fun. You spend the vast majority of the game just watching your town run itself. You can speed up the game speed to hasten things along, but it constantly resets itself to the default speed, which is painfully sluggish. Bafflingly, this is intended behaviour and not a bug.

Diluvion is something I tried on a whim when I was scrolling through vault games. A post-apocalyptic steampunk submarine RPG sounded interesting, but there’s no voice acting, and the controls are terrible. I don’t think I lasted fifteen minutes.

Anthem

I haven’t been playing a lot of Anthem lately, but I have dabbled a bit to check out the new Icetide season. While it is a bit disappointing to not see more new gameplay (just a new Freeplay event and the time trials), I am nonetheless surprised there isn’t more buzz around the fact Anthem literally reskinned the entire game world to reflect a real world season. Has any other game ever done that before? I’ve never heard of it.

It’s gorgeous, too. I always like winter zones, but even for me this is a cut above. The light dusting of snow paired with the vivid red leaves is so striking.

It seems a lot of art design work for what is otherwise a fairly small update, and that has conspiracy theories spawning in my head. Given the rumours of a reboot, I wonder if the snow environment is something they were working on for the reboot that they realized they could port into the base game…

The Icetide season in Anthem.Time will tell, I guess.

Star Trek Online

The real surprise lately is that I’ve suddenly started playing Star Trek Online again. I didn’t really see that coming, but between getting caught up on Discovery and the hype for the upcoming Picard series, I guess I’ve had Trek on the brain, and I wanted a fix.

It’s been a long time since I played last, and I didn’t get that far before, so I started over with a new character, though still a Romulan. Only real difference is this one’s an engineer rather than a tactical officer.

The one big change from when I played last — at least in my view — is the addition of scaling tier 6 ships, which allow you to just stick with one ship throughout instead of changing every ten levels or so. If you ask me that’s how the game should always have worked. Changing ships constantly never felt right to me.

The scaling ships are mainly a microtransaction thing of course, which isn’t ideal, but I can live with it. I bought myself a D’deridex warbird (or more accurately bought the T6 equivalent and reskinned it as a D’deridex) and named it the Tomalak, which is all I ever wanted.

My D'deridex warbird in Star Trek Online.I’m choosing ships purely based on aesthetics and nostalgia, so I had no idea what the stats of a D’deridex were like until I started playing it. Turns out it has all the cornering ability of a brick lodged in half-frozen mud.

On the plus side, though, it seems very tanky. I can just shrug off most threats like they’re nothing. That plus a powerful but very short range AoE DoT make this ship very much a bruiser, but I’m enjoying it. Using my cloak to get in close and then popping my DoT can get pretty hilarious.

Otherwise my view of the game remains much the same as it always has. It’s super janky and full of bugs and clunky, over-complicated systems.

But it does capture the look and feel of Star Trek very well, and for now, that’s enough for me. I just wanted a decent Trek fix, and STO is giving it to me.

Also, I was jonesing for a new MMO to play. I’ve mostly played single-player and “not-so-massively” games this year, and I’ve had a great time with that, but it did feel time to sink my teeth into a meaty new (or new to me) MMO.

I will say this game is a bit like crack to a fashionista like me. So many options for both my character and my bridge officers. It feels like I’ve spent half my time in-game so far just tinkering with outfits. It’s a shame you can’t save multiple outfits for your officers the way you can for your own toon…

My Romulan engineer and her bridge crew in Star Trek Online.I did pick a good time to pick up the game, what with all the holiday sales on. When I got my D’deridex, I got a package with tickets for three T6 ships for barely more than the cost of a single ship. I still haven’t decided what to spend the remaining two tickets on. I’m considering Akira class, Galaxy class, and Valdore class (or again their T6 equivalents, which I would then reskin), but I’m also tempted to try something that launches fighters. Carrier has arrived and all.

There’s also alts to consider, as well. I’m not sure if I want to stick with my Romulan or branch out. If any STO players are reading this, do you think alts are worth it as a story fan? Would I get a lot of different content playing Federation or Klingon, or would it just be the same stuff as my Romulan past the tutorial?