Black Lives Matter. The following post has nothing to do with that, but I want it clear that I am not returning to normal. Systemic changes are necessary and we cannot lose sight of that. Nevertheless, multiple conversations may occur simultaneously. Black Lives Matter.
You know that part in The Last Jedi where Benicio del Toro introduces Finn to the Military Industrial Complex? The war profiteers who sell TIE fighters and X-wings and rake in the credits and therefore have a vested interest in continuing turmoil in the galaxy far, far away? Listen carefully: that is exactly what the sequel trilogy should have been about, it wasn’t too late, and if JJ had listened to Rian instead of the internet the Skywalker Saga could have had an amazing finale. Alas.
If you’re not familiar with President Eisenhower’s farewell address, you should read it. It’s really good. Delivered three days before John Kennedy took office in January 1961, among other things the speech addresses the fact that “…until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry,” and that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
The original Star Wars trilogy, inasmuch as its plot relates to real world events, is steeped heavily in World War II. The dogfights in space are based on WWII footage. Defeating the Empire, which is clearly a fascist regime, equates to defeating the Nazis.
The prequel trilogy examines the rise of fascism in a crumbling Republic. It also spends an entire fucking movie on the creation of the Grand Army of the Republic. An entire movie dedicated to the Galactic Republic, which had no military, becoming a militarized state. Until the latest of our galactic conflicts, the Republic had no armaments industry.
Now, I get the urge to create the First Order for the sequel trilogy. Fascism is indeed resurgent in the world. But Star Wars at its best was entirely disconnected from current events. Lucas may have adjusted his prequel plans to crib inspiration from the second Bush administration, or that may be apocryphal nonsense, but everyone agrees the OT was better anyway and nothing of 1977-1983 intruded on that. The OT didn’t adapt the Cold War, it borrowed from WWII.
The Force Awakens didn’t make you fuckers happy. “It’s a retread,” “it’s just A New Hope with different characters,” “we want original storytelling.” You fucking liars. You fucking hypocrites.
The Last Jedi opened the doors to tell an original story. Yes, in a very real way, it dismantled what TFA had begun to construct. Empire did the same damn thing. Both films do so in ways that do not dismiss their predecessor. They don’t say “nevermind, that was bullshit, here’s this instead.” They are instead exercises in “Yes, And…”
Yes. The Empire blew up an entire planet and there’s a throwaway line about the Emperor cancelling representative democracy. Yes, the Empire is being run by a cabal of military governors and this badass evil space wizard. But did you also know the Emperor is himself an even more evil space wizard and the first evil space wizard would overthrow him given the chance because in the next movie we’ll demonstrate the more evil space wizard tricked the badass one into a life of evil he ultimately renounces?
So: Yes, the First Order is attempting to resurrect Imperial fascism. Yes, this evil space wizard has corrupted Han and Leia’s son. Yes, the First Order blew up a whole system. But did you also know that the wealthy elite are making bank off human suffering and conflict, and the same people who are selling arms to both New Republic and First Order are the same motherfuckers who sold arms to the Empire and Rebellion? And that in the next movie we could have shown how that industry is driving these successive conflicts and this needs to be addressed?
Would that third movie have been any good?
I mean, I doubt it honestly, but Rise of Skywalker is hot garbage too busy trying to actually dismantle and retcon its predecessor to ever go anywhere on its own so it just borrows a dead villain from the other two trilogies.
Given where TLJ left off, and ignoring the leaked Trevorrow script, one way it might have gone is this:
Kylo Ren is the new Supreme Leader. Hux is dead. Ren has purged the military command of any who are not completely loyal. The Knights of Ren are filling roles much like Governor Tarkin and Darth Vader combined. The First Order is engaged in consolidating the galaxy under Ren’s rule.
The Resistance is hiding, rebuilding. Rey, in communion with Luke as Force Ghost, completes her training and reveals her badass double bladed lightsaber. However, her journey is not complete until she faces her ultimate challenge – just as Luke’s training was complete in RoTJ but symbolically incomplete until he confronted Vader.
Kylo Ren finds he cannot simply do away with the wealthy elite who run the military industrial complex. Perhaps he tries a purge similar to Hux et al, but like a hydra the industry just sprouts new heads. Kylo Ren does not have the patience for the type of careful governance required to dismantle this system. He is petulant and prone to rage. His leadership is consequently terrible.
First Order and Resistance must still have their final battle, and Rey must confront Ren. But Rey has learned from Luke about the pre-Imperial Jedi and how they were misguided and ineffective. She has also learned how Anakin was failed by the Jedi just as much as he was groomed and cornered into a life of evil by Palpatine.
Through this understanding, both Rey and the audience can gain a deeper understanding of Kylo Ren. We can appreciate his tragedy and feel empathy without a ham-fisted redemption “arc.”
Rey’s true symbolic final conflict is not defeating Kylo Ren, nor is it redeeming him. It is finding a new path forward that is not the rigid dogma of the old school Jedi nor the selfish evil of the Sith. The “Gray Jedi/new meaning for the word Skywalker” a lot of fan theories mentioned.
She defeats Kylo Ren but does not kill him. She, with Luke’s help from the Force Afterlife, has learned how to cut someone off from the Force. Not herself, as Luke tried to do, but Kylo Ren. Let’s face it: you can’t put a Dark Jedi in prison. Won’t work. But by depowering him, she removes him from the board without killing him or being plot-constrained into participating in the shoddy redemption of her abuser.
Meanwhile, the Resistance manages to win their battle with the First Order. You can still have all those ships show up at the last.
As an ending, Rey announces that the real battle has not been won: that the military industrial complex needs to be dismantled to prevent future tensions and political arguments from inevitably spiralling into galaxy-wide war. She is founding the new Jedi order, except the Jedi sucked actually and she’s naming the new order for someone who didn’t: the Skywalkers. And the Skywalkers will dismantle the military industrial complex and finally live up to the first description of Jedi we ever heard:
“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice…”
The film ends on this promise, that the newly founded Skywalker Order will be guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy, and that they will dismantle the old systems that encourage warfare, and that they will actively work to make a better future. Closing-circle-wipe, fanfare, credits.
Would that have been good? Eh, I dunno. It’d have been better, I think. But TFA really did start the trilogy off wrong, and mostly for the reasons the haters whined about at the time. TLJ works in the same way Empire did, and the finale could have been on par with RoTJ…
But the whole thing could have been better if, right from the start, there was a plan – not even a detailed one, just a general understanding that the Prequels show the Rise of Fascism, the OT shows the defeat of Fascism, and the Sequels have to move forward and deal with something like the Cold War and the rising influence of the military industrial complex.
In a forthcoming post, and at the risk of going on and on and on like certain whiny babies, I’m going to describe my idea of what that totally different Sequel Trilogy might have looked like.