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: Bioware and Blizzard

I’ve found myself in another period of jumping between a bunch of games in rapid succession lately. Without intending it, I’ve ended up on a bit of a Bioware kick, though Blizzard has also put in an appearance.

A Season of Skulls event in Anthem.

I’ve chosen to participate in IntPiPoMo again this year, so I’ll be including extra screenshots of every game. Click to enlarge!

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I’ve been meaning to do it forever, but I finally did a third playthrough of Mass Effect: Andromeda. As I’ve said before, the new game plus in this game is truly second to none. After two playthroughs, I had all the skill points and gear I could possibly need. I didn’t need to waste any time mining, gathering, or even looting bodies. It makes for a much tighter, more story-driven experience.

I skipped even more side content this time — especially on Kadara — making for a nice breezy playthrough.

This time I did something I haven’t done in Mass Effect before: I played as a soldier, using mainly combat abilities. It’s definitely not as fun as biotics, but it’s not without its charm. Overdrive plus a rapid-firing assault rifle gets pretty hilarious.

I also romanced Jaal this time. It took a while to get to the good stuff, but I can see why his romance is so well-regarded. Dude’s so passionate he makes even me feel a bit weak in the knees.

Sara Ryder and Jaal in Mass Effect: Andromeda

SWTOR: Onslaught

I had pretty low expectations for this expansion, but even so it’s a disappointment.

First of all, calling it an “expansion” is pushing credibility to a breaking point. It has barely any more content than their recent content patches. I think the whole thing took me maybe five hours.

That might be forgivable if they hit the ball out of the park on the quality of the content, but they didn’t, at all. The entire story is crushingly dull. It feels like they rehashed some rejected side quests from the base game. It’s a very small, ultimately irrelevant story. It’s downright insulting to go from being a galactic super power to doing fetch quests for some nameless back alley gangster.

The faction conflict worked in the original class stories because it was just a backdrop for more personal stories. My agent had personal reasons for fighting back against Hunter and his ilk. There’s none of that in Onslaught; you have no reason to care about anyone or anything in this story. It’s just shooting faceless NPCs of the enemy faction.

At the very end, there are some teases of a new direction for the story, and it sounds very interesting, but it begs the question of why we didn’t just skip to the good stuff. Why waste time with the tedious chores that make up Onslaught?

The planet Onderon in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The one thing I can praise about Onslaught is that it doesn’t feel like a total reboot of the story after the Fallen Empire/Eternal Throne arc. I was worried it would be. But the Odessen Alliance is still a player in the story, and there’s lots of cameos by familiar cast members. Even Koth put in an appearance.

I would have liked more content with Lana — weren’t we supposed to be getting married? — but at least she’s not gone entirely. That gives me some hope for the future.

But man, even for the low price of a month of subscription, I feel ripped off by Onslaught. What a waste of time.

Anthem

I’ve also ducked back into Anthem for a brief visit. I was drawn by the new Mass Effect-themed Javelin skins. I’d yet to find a look for my interceptor that I really liked, and Quarians are my favourite ME aliens, so buying the Quarian skin was a bit of a no-brainer.

I love it. Even if I hadn’t been a Mass Effect fan, I might still have gotten the skin because it just looks so damn good and is so different from anything we have in the game right now.

Anthem has done a really good job at adding interesting cosmetics, and the fashion endgame is getting pretty serious. And I, for one, welcome our new fashionista overlords.

The Quarian Interceptor skin in Anthem.

I also checked out the new freeplay events added for the “Season of Skulls.” They’re pretty fun. The one with the torches in the darkness especially stands out as being very atmospheric and rather different from any of Anthem’s previous content.

Anthem unquestionably has a problem with anemic content right now, but I must say the quality of what content does get added never disappoints.

StarCraft II

I’m at the point now where I think I’m willing to drop my boycott against Blizzard, though I definitely plan to be more skeptical of what they do in future. Brack’s apology at BlizzCon doesn’t count for much, but the tolerance they showed to protesters at the convention does speak to a willingness to walk the walk on free speech. It’s the bare minimum necessary to maintain the illusion of decency, but the bare minimum is by definition good enough.

I still the company’s changed, and I’m trying to lose my blind fanboyism for them, but I’m willing to give them another chance at this point.

For now all that’s manifested as is finally buying Stetmann in SC2’s co-op, though even then I paid using some of my remaining WoW Token balance.

Playing as Egon Stetmann in StarCraft II co-op.

He’s an interesting commander, but I don’t think he’ll ever be my favourite. I like the concept of the Stetallite mechanic, wherein he blankets the map with satellites that project various buff fields, but the way it’s implemented feels like a bit of a chore. You spend every free moment dropping more Stetallites, and it gets exhausting after a while.

Zerglings with Immortal shields get pretty hilarious, though. I’ve had surprising success just massing swarms of Lings and swamping the map with them. Back them up with Hydralisks for anti-air; their missile attack is godly.