Let’s talk about the Star Wars episode 9’s god-awful title

It’s … yeah. It’s bad. It’s really bad. (Btw, here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it.)

It’s up there with the rejected title for Star Wars Episode 2: Sand Is Itchy As Fuck. Like, they might as well have named it Fan Service: The Movie – P.S. We’re Sorry About The Last Jedi.

Now, while I understand that fans were divided about The Last Jedi and that the house of mouse felt the need to pivot and do something different to wrap up the trilogy, ‘do something different’ does not mean go back to the old movies and rehash a bunch of crap. The second Death Star was in there. Luke was talking over the trailer. Lando’s back (presumably so they can kill him off). And it ends with Palpatine – Sith Lord Electric Tickle Fingers himself – cackling at the end of the trailer.

My problem isn’t that I don’t like Palpatine or that the Death Star didn’t give me chills – it’s that Rey’s story deserved a whole lot better than this. Let me try and break that idea down.

Luke’s villain was Vader. The original, good Star Wars movies established this – and that arc was a story of redemption. It set the stage for things to come. Palpatine was Anakin/Vader’s villain and Return of the Jedi wrapped that up neatly as well when lightning boy got tossed down a long-ass hole. Each of Star Wars’ heroes dealt with their villains and moved on. In a way, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi followed a similar pattern.

Supreme Leader Snoke was Ben Solo’s villain. Kylo Ren was Rey’s. Snoke is now out of the picture, leaving Kylo to fully embrace his villainous nature, setting up the final conflict of the trilogy – which, since this is Star Wars, is probably going to be another redemption arc. There’s no way Rey slices and dices Kylo Ren at the end of all of this, not after finally beginning to understand him in The Last Jedi. The stage was set, the stakes were established, and that was something that The Last Jedi did very, very well.

The Last Jedi showed us that all the singing and dancing at the end of Return of the Jedi did not lead to a happy ending for poor old Luke Skywalker – and it took a surprisingly realistic look at what happens when you place that much weight on the shoulders of someone that young, that untrained, that unprepared for so tremendous a burden. Because Obi Wan and Yoda set him on the path to restoring the Jedi, pinning all their hopes on him, he diligently went about seeing it through. And failed. Failed rather terribly at it. It was, I thought, an incredibly human thing to do.

And that failure left an opening for Rey – an opportunity for her to create something new out of the ashes of the Jedi Order because Luke was entirely right when he said that it was time for the Jedi to end. Luke had no real memories of Jedi; all he had were stories. And any secondhand knowledge he got from Obi Wan and Yoda was probably heavily idealized, which was part of what led to the fall of the Order in the first place. The last two real surviving Jedi were probably looking back at the past with rose-colored glasses because it was simply in their nature to do so – and to want to restore all that was lost.

In his time growing up and growing old, Luke realised that they were wrong – The Last Jedi is pretty clear about that. The only thing he did not do was attempt to find a new way forward. That could have been Rey’s story. How this one non-Jedi, armed with nothing but raw power and an innately well-oriented moral compass, came to the conclusion that the galaxy needed something better than the Jedi and simply went about seeing that mission through. It would have been a tremendous story, because instead of being driven by the mistakes of her predecessors, Rey’s mission would have been self-appointed. The Jedi left a vacuum. What will she choose to fill it?

That is a story. A story of a true hero, who saw a problem and decided to fix it instead of being tossed and turned and pulled every which way by old men and their baggage.

Calling the movie ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ basically takes all of Rey’s freedom and agency and throws it in the garbage after taking a giant, steaming dump on it. There are two major possibilities that come to mind for how the title connects to the movie and its characters.

First, which is also the big reveal that was expected with The Last Jedi, is that Rey is a Skywalker herself. That would suck. In part because it’s rehashing Obi Wan’s old ‘certain point of view’ yarn which, let’s face it, really just was George Lucas’ way of writing himself out of a plot hole. That was legit never the intended twist, in the same way that Leia was never intended to be either a Skywalker or Luke’s sister.

But it also sucks because the story of the Force and its users isn’t bound to one bloodline. Anyone can be a Jedi. Any Force-sensitive person, with the right training and enough time, can lift things with their minds and convince people that those are not, in fact, the droids they’re looking for. The Force is bigger than the Skywalkers. Yes, the Skywalkers are responsible for quite a few disasters, but it. is. time. to. move. on. The story needs someone who isn’t burdened by the weight of that surname. Someone who isn’t forced to consider a legacy of mistakes and occasional heroisms every time they make a choice. Someone who does the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do – or the wrong thing because they believe, honestly and truly, in the importance of that choice.

I really feel like making Rey a Skywalker will diminish all that she has done and all that she will do because the universe should, legitimately, be sick of the Skywalkers and all the shit they keep getting up to (except Leia; Leia doesn’t count because she’s basically an Organa and canonically awesome at all of the things.)

But there’s another possibility. A second option for what ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ means and I think I dislike it even more than the first. The title could be about Kylo Ren. Dude’s half-Skywalker, after all, and he’s sure as hell followed in his family’s footsteps. He’s basically the budget knockoff of his grandfather and he knows, so he’s just whiny and petulant about it and throws Force tantrums all the time. Jar Jar Binks was more threatening than Kylo Ren is and Jar Jar wasn’t even trying.

So the other way to wrap this up is to make this about Kylo’s redemption – through Rey, somehow – and that he will follow in his uncle’s footsteps and restore the Jedi Order to greatness across the galaxy. Either Rey joins him as a teacher to train future generations of Jedi, or she walks off into the sunset, never to be heard from again.

What I dislike about this approach is that it takes Rey’s story and refocuses it around someone who is basically a whiny man-boy going through a serious identity crisis, and who is worthy only of a thorough spanking and a decades-long time-out. It goes from making Rey the protagonist of the new trilogy to a supporting character in Kylo Ren’s story and, ugh. She’s just so much more interesting than he is. Entirely self-made, the child of No One Of Any Particular Importance, she’s exactly the kind of protagonist that Star Wars needs.

Making this about Kylo Ren and the legacy of a Skywalker takes an excellent character and wastes her completely. It misses the point of all that the Force is and all that it can be, and of what it can do to empower anyone with potential, no matter how humble their beginnings. Rey’s power gives her the ability to effect change and her choices make her a hero. Not her surname. Not her parents. Not a legacy that should have ended when Luke disappeared into the Force.

Basically, calling this last movie ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ feels unfair to all that Rey is and all that she could be. Star Wars deserves to be free of the Skywalkers and their legacy. It’s time.

Trevor Coelho

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