Re-imagining Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Remember back to the end of Star Wars episode VIII when Rey saved everyone by removing the rocks at the back of the cave, while Luke sacrificed himself as a distraction? Kylo Ren figures it out but by then it’s too late. Rey and the resistance are gone. Imagine that Episode VIII ended on that scene, and that Episode IV starts moments later…

Kylo

Kylo Ren standing at what used to be the back wall of the cave. Rocks scattered everywhere. Rey, Leia, and the rebels are gone. Eluded him. Again.

I imagine that in this moment, the humiliation, the rage and the self-loathing would soak his whole being.

He failed to stop them. Again. He failed to convince Rey to throw all of it away — the dark, the light, Jedi, Sith, everything — and start something new with him.

He had his chance to kill his mother, and failed. A coward, he couldn’t pull the trigger.

Meanwhile, he murdered Snoke and appointed himself Supreme Leader. He murdered his father as a display of ultimate allegiance. For what? Why? To lose, yet again? He looks at this costume, his mask, and lets himself acknowledge what he’s always known but pushed out of his head: it’s pretense. It’s posturing. He’s a petulant child playing dress-up.

We established in The Force Awakes that he’s prone to childish temper tantrums, and here he has a big one.

He rips off his cape and gloves, tosses them aside. He grabs a large rock and uses it to bash his lightsaber to pieces. Kylo has murdered or alienated everyone who ever cared for him: Han, Chewbacca, Luke, Leia. He hates Snoke for manipulating him, he hates Luke for threatening him, and more than anything he hates himself for being a querulous, immature child. “Kylo Ren” is an embarrassment and Ben has no one to blame but himself.

Fuck this. Fuck. All. Of. It.

He turns and walks back through the cave where the First Order awaits at the entrance. The AT-ATs are being loaded back onto cargo ships. Smaller fighters are returning to docking bays on the Finalizer. Two First Order Troopers approach him. 

“Supreme Leader, General Hux requests—“ he Force-chokes them without breaking stride. He approaches his TIE Interceptor “The Whisper” and gets inside. Ben engages the engine and a holo of Hux appears. “Supreme Leader, the resistance fighters —.” Ben flicks it off. Closing his eyes, he cuts himself off from The Force. Like flicking a switch, it’s gone.

The Whisper flies off into space, past the Finalizer. Ben is eager to go. Anywhere. Just away. Away from all of it. Light speed, and he’s gone.

Rey

Swipe cut to Ajan Kloss. Leia, Rey and the remaining resistance fighters are gathered at a memorial for Han. Leia says some beautiful things and places the Falcon’s dice on a makeshift altar. Chewie places his bandolier. Ben’s absence is palpable, as is Luke’s. While Leia is confident and eloquent, she seems distracted. There’s a real sense of “the old guard is dying.”

After, Rey pulls Leia aside. “That was beautiful, General. I’m sorry I couldn’t—“ “Never mind ‘could have’ and ‘should have’,” Leia says. “Destiny and fate don’t care about those things. Tell me, my brother was training you, yes?”

“Yes,” Rey says. “He told me there were three lessons, but only got to two before he…”

“Lesson three, tomorrow morning,” Leia says. “But—“ Rey answers as Leia interrupts. “Tomorrow morning.”

Hux

We established in The Force Awakens that Hux loathes Kylo. They vie for Snoke’s attention. They jockey for power among The First Order. They one-up and humiliate each other and every opportunity. Most of all, Hux believes that he should be Supreme Leader, not this little boy playing make-believe.

And now he is.

He gives a vein-popping, dictatorial speech to the remaining members of The First Order. “The deserter,” he says, “murdered Snoke in cold blood. He failed to eliminate General Organa and sever the head of the Resistance. He let ‘the girl’ escape yet again and he abandoned all of us. All of _you_. With me as your Supreme Leader, we will find and destroy the traitorous dog!”

Thus, the First Order is off to find and kill Ben Solo.

Kylo

Flying through space in The Whisper, Ben is aimless. Where could he go? He’s a monster who isn’t welcome anywhere. Then it hits him. 

Mustafar. Vader’s long-abandoned castle on Mustafar. It’s an empty, ruined relic on a hostile planet. He sets a course and follows it. Yes, perfect — he’ll hole up in that awful place and wait for his body to die. It’s what he deserves.

Rey

Back on Ajan Kloss, Rey and Leia and sparring with Lightsabers. Leia is shouting out commands — stances, movements — to Rey as they “fight.” The blades sizzle and crack as Rey turns in such a way that she is able to rush Leia. The general does not move and lets Rey come. Rey’s eyes grow wide and she leaps, impetuous…with a flick of her wrist Leia counters and in an instant has her blade at Rey’s throat.

“Again, what is lesson three?” Leia asks.

“Patience,” Rey says, her eyes downcast. Both women extinguish their lightsabers.

“Let’s try it again,” Rey says.

“No,” says Leia. “It’s…that’s enough for today.”

Rey clips her lightsaber onto her hip. “I can bring him home. I know I can. There…”

“….is still good in him?” Leia asks. “Now you sound like my brother.”

“Is that so bad?”

Leia says, “Luke rushed to confront our father, certain he could save him. Save us, save everything. And what happened?”

“The Emperor was destroyed,” Rey says.

“As was Anakin,” says Leia, “and Obi-Wan and countless others, both Rebel and Empire, all because of a rash decision. Then Luke failed in his training of Ben; yet another impetuous decision which created Kylo Ren and The First Order.”

“He’s your son,” Rey says.

“Was,” says Leia.

Later, Rey tries to establish her little “Force Skype” connection with Kylo and fails.

Kylo

Kylo arrives at Mustafar and puts The Whisper down outside Vader’s long-abandoned castle. Lava flows far below.

He finds the once proud palace dilapidated and crumbling. Wandering around he comes across a meditation chamber, much like the one we saw in Empire. He hesitates, then sits inside. The chamber closes as the upper half descends, completing the sphere. Ben examines the stark white interior as a holo buzzes to life before him. It’s Palpatine.

“Lord Vader, you will travel to Exegol and seek out Darth So-And-So [reader, we’ll call him “Darth SoS”]. Only then will you become a true Sith.” A star map appears above the holo. “Do not fail me.” The holo disappears.

A dark spark flickers to life inside Ben. “Yes,” he thinks. “Kylo Ren was make-believe. This is the real deal.” He exits the chamber and climbs into The Whisper, enters the coordinates and takes off.

Hux

The Finalizer and its compliment of First Order ships travel through space. Hux is ransacking Kylo’s old quarters, looking for anything. He rejects this and that, until he finds Vader’s ruined helmet tucked away. Of course he knew of Ren’s devotion to his lunatic grandfather as well as the legend of Darth Vader.

A First Order officer enters the room. “Sir, we’ve found a signal.”

“What is it?” Hux says.

“Its one of ours, sir. But we can’t be certain it belongs to—“

“Follow it.”

“Sir.” The offer turns on his heels.

Hux tosses the mask on the floor.

Kylo

Ben arrives on Exegol. It’s dark, dreary, scary, all that Sith-y stuff you’d expect. A massive granite wall — the landscape’s only feature — seems to rise to the sky. [I really liked this in RoS so let’s keep it].

Kylo’s mind is invaded by a grasping, violating power. He stumbles.

“You wish to join the order of the Sith.”

Ben feels all of his memories being examined, as well as his fears, his hopes and the things he loves. He’s helpless to stop it. It’s an aggressive violation. He doesn’t notice that he’s hovering a foot above the ground, nor the hooded figure, bent and impossibly old, moving toward him.

“You had much to love,” it says, “and soooo much to hate.” Darth SoS’s voice is lusty and vulgar. “You hate…yourself. Oh yesss.”

“You’ve cut yourself off from The Force,” Darth SoS says, reaching a decayed, withered hand towards Ben. He touches Ben’s face. “Let’s fix that.”

Rey

Rey is talking with Leia when she is suddenly ripped from that reality and now sees Kylo hanging in the air, Darth SoS before him. Her eyes widen with fear.

“Wh- where are you?”

“It’s too late, Rey” he says.

“I see you Ben,” Rey says. “I…know where you are! I’M COMING—“

Darth SoS Force-pushes Rey 30 feet into the air. She slams into the ground on Ajan Kloss. Leia is kneeling beside her, concerned.

“I found him,” Rey says, out of breath. “I know where Ben is.”

Hux

The First Order comes out of light speed in orbit of Exegol. “Prepare my ship and a hundred men.”

“Sir this planet isn’t on any charts. Are you sure—“

Hux pulls out a blaster and shoots the officer. “Who else has a question about my orders?” Silence fills the bridge. Hux process to the launch bay where troopers are filing into a First Order shuttle. Hux enters and orders the pilot to land next to The Whisper’s last known signal. They depart.

Rey

Rey is loading supplies onto the Falcon. What have that scene of “You aren’t going anywhere without me” featuring Finn and Poe. Rey eventually relents.

Finn and Poe take X-Wings. R2 is in Finn’s ship. BB-8 in Poe’s. 3PO enters the Falcon to find Chewbacca in the pilot’s seat. Rey sits co-pilot.

Rey shouts down the hall, “Tell her we’re ready!” Camera cuts to Leia climbing through the roof hatch, where Rose is making a repair. “That’s got to be good enough, I’m afraid,” Leia says. “Let’s hope ‘good enough’ is enough” Rose says, and the two women enter the ship and it takes off.

Kylo

Darth SoS is tormenting Ben with all of the memories he’d rather forget: Luke’s decision to kill him. Han’s death. His multiple failures. Anything to break him, to foster the misery and hatred inside him. Ben wails, as hatred and regret fill him in equal measure.

Above the planet, the Falcon and X-Wings exit light speed. Rey says, “We got company!” because, you know, Star Wars. A fight between Resistance and First Order breaks out. Rey is pulled into another Force Skype call and sees Ben struggling to resist Darth SoS’s indoctrination. He reaches out a hand, and Rey reaches to touch it. As she does she moves from the Falcon’s co-pilot seat and is now physically with Ben and Darth SoS.

Chewie freaks out. “What do you mean, ‘gone?’” Poe says, reading the translation on his dashboard. Chewie continues shouting, and flying. Leia and Rose are in the cockpit. Leia closes her eyes. “Ben,” she says.

Chewbacca yells at Rose. “Oh, no” she says. The Falcon is jolted by a blast and Rose relents. “OK, fine! Fine!” She sits in the co-pilot seat and says, “I got a bad feeling about this” because, you know, Star Wars.

Down on the planet, Darth SoS turns his attention to Rey and uses Force Lighting to subdue her. He zaps her again and turns to Ben. “Finish her. Embrace your hate and your transformation is complete.”

Ben walks over to Rey. He turns to Darth SoS. “Never,” he says. “This ends now. No more Sith. No more Jedi. It’s over.” Rey stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ben. “You would need an army,” she says.

“Indeed,” Darth SoS says just as Hux and his garrison of troopers enter the room. Hux is expressionless, staring blankly ahead. “Kill them,” he says. Rey ignites her lightsaber and Ben assumes a defensive pose.

Above the planet, the battle rages. Chewbacca barks orders at Rose who replies. “I.. I don’t understand you!” What she does understand is the Falcon. As it takes damage and systems malfunction (they always do), she fixes each one. Poe and Finn are picking off TIE fighters. Without Hux or Kylo, the First Order is in disarray. The rebels have the upper hand and are seemingly winning the battle.

On the planet the battle begins and Ben Force-pulls a trooper’s blaster to himself. Rey is picking off troopers left and right. Ben is blasting. The two get separated. Rey takes on several troopers as Ben faces Hux. Ben is grievously wounded and falls to the floor. He reaches out a hand and says “Mom,” pulling Leia into the scene. 

She and Ben make eye contact. “Hello, my son,” she says just as Ben dies.

Rey finishes off the last of the troopers as Leia ignites her lightsaber. She and Rey face Darth SoS. He turns to Leia, his eyes wide. “The last Skywalker,” he says, throwing Force lighting her way. She defects it with her lightsaber and a three-way battle between Leia, Rey and Darth SoS begins.

Darth SoS is getting the upper hand on Rey and Leia recognizes this. She positions herself in a way that sacrifices her life to save Rey. Rey cries out, flies at Darth SoS and slays him. The room falls silent and the camera pans to show Rey, alone, among the carnage.

Above the planet Poe & Co. win because, whatever. The story isn’t about them anyway. They fly down to get Rey.

They go to Tattooine to bury Leia and Ben at the old Lars Homestead (Aalderaan is gone so yeah, this seems like the next best thing). Rey sees Luke’s Force ghost, as well as Leia’s, Obi-Wan’s, and Yoda’s, plus apparitions of Mace Windu, Qui-Gon, Plo Kloon, Shaak Ti and so on. “A thousand Jedi live in you now,” Luke says. Rey smiles, pulls a bag over her shoulder and she and BB-8 walk off into the sunsets.

Yep, this is terrible. It’s half-baked and there are enormous problems:

  1. Finn, Poe, Rose et. al. have nothing to do for, like, the entire movie.
  2. It doesn’t address Rey’s parentage (that was by design but I know it will bother some of you).
  3. There’s still no explanation of who/why the Sith are.
  4. Other stuff.

However, I’ve been trapped in this damn house for almost a month and this little project kept me entertained for a few hours. Plus I love Star Wars so much, that this is my little love letter to the characters and stories that have given me so much joy since 1977.

Horror movies worth watching

mama

I love horror movies. 98% of them are garbage.

I recently saw The Conjuring 2 and found it just as predictable and boring as its predecessor. It’s well acted and well shot, but there’s nothing new or interesting here. Incidentally, the same goes for Insidious 2, which is a total bore and just as goofy as the original.

What do you like in a horror movie, Dave? Well I’ll tell you. I appreciate being scared, which is not the same as being startled. Any idiot can jump out and yell “boo.” That’s not scary. To truly unnerve an audience you must be clever, subtle and focused. Lastly, I appreciate a horror movie that avoids — or reimagines in a clever way — the same old cliches we’ve seen since Vincent Price was prowling around. With that in mind, here are five horror movies that I enjoy for being genuinely scary. In no particular order (note: all descriptions are spoiler free):

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh

LWAT

Boy do I love this movie. It takes the haunted house genre in an atypical and immensely enjoyable direction, without a single cheap jump scare. Aaron Poole is an antiques collector who is taking stock of his estranged mother’s house just after her death. He finds one strange object after another, leading him to believe that his mother was involved with a strange cult, and is using those objects now to send him an urgent message.

Director Rodrigo Gudiño has made a dark, brooding, melancholic movie that offers an unexpectedly satisfying ending.

The Babadook

babadook

This is a tremendous movie.

The Babadook follows recently widowed Amelia and her six-year-old son, Sam. Amelia is struggling with raising troublesome Sam on her own, a low-paying job and other stressors that I’ll discuss in a bit. Meanwhile, Sam has a preoccupation with monsters that manifests in paranoid behavior that gets him into trouble with his school and his extended family.

We learn that Amelia’s husband, Oskar, was decapitated in a car accident while driving Amelia, in labor, to the hospital. She has never dealt with this loss adequately. Meanwhile, Sam asks her to read a book she found on her self called “Mr. Babadook.” It’s a scary pop-up book that tells of Mr. Babadook, a spectral creature who torments those who deny his existence. “The more you deny Mr. Babadook,” the book says, “The stronger he gets.” Sam is convinced the Babadook is in their home, terrifying his family.

To jump forward, Amelia’s mental health deteriorates as she begins to see flashes of the Babadook himself everywhere. She stays awake for three days straight out of fear of seeing him while lying in her darkened bedroom. Finally, she is lured into the basement where the Babadook appears in the form of dead husband, Oskar. He tells her to “…bring me the boy.” She denies him and a violent sequence occurs between Amelia, Sam and the Babadook in its true, horrifying form. Sam insists that the Babadook is “in her” and she must “get it out.”

The movie’s climax occurs as Amelia, shielding Sam, looks the Babadook dead in its horrifying, larger-than-life face. She confronts it head on, seeing it for what it is. At this, the Babadook retreats to the basement.

Here’s the bit that really brought this movie home for me. Amelia and Sam are next seen in happier days. They’re about to celebrate his seventh birthday, which is significant as they’ve never formally acknowledged his birthday before. That specific date had always been the anniversary of Oskar’s death, not a celebration of Sam’s birth. Now that had changed.

Later they’re gardening and clearly enjoying each other’s company. We see that Sam has collected a bowl full of worms, which Amelia takes. She goes into the house, warning him to stay outside until she returns. Once inside, she takes the bowl to the basement and places it on the floor, where the unseen Babadook begins to growl and roar. “Shhhh,” she says, reassuring and kind. “It’s OK. It’s OK.” The Babadook quiets and takes the bowl. Amelia returns to the pleasant scene in the yard.

For me, this movie is a fantastic and creative representation of a person dealing with a significant trauma. The Babadook, as I’ve interpreted it, represents Amelia’s anxieties surrounding single motherhood, the stressors of raising a troubled child alone, the trauma of witnessing her husband’s sudden, violent death, as well as the overwhelming survivor’s guilt she’s clung to for six long years. “The more you deny Mr. Babadook,” the book says, “The stronger he becomes.” Note that when Amelia first saw the Babadook in the form of Oskar, he was locked away in her basement.

Now here’s the best part. When she turns to face the Babadook head on, she wins a victory. But, the Babadook DOESN’T GO AWAY. When a person endures a significant trauma, there’s a piece of that experience that they keep forever. The only “victory,” as it were, is to see that traumatized aspect of yourself and be able to say, whenever s/he rears up, “It’s OK, buddy. I got this. It’s all right. I’m taking care of us.”

Amelia does not destroy the Babadook; she learns to live with it. It’s not compartmentalized to a single room of her “house.” She feeds it when it’s hungry, she soothes it when it rages. She acknowledges what it is, and that it will always be there. That done, she can get on with her life.

It’s an excellent movie. Scary, smart, and in a way, uplifting.

Kill List

TheKillList

The ending of this smart, gorgeous and ultimately brutal movie disturbed me so significantly I still think about it years later.

A down-on-his-luck hitman gets an assignment nearly a year after botching a job. Eager to win back the trust of his employers and earn a living for his family, he agrees to perform three killings for a big payoff. Honestly, I can’t say any more than that without giving something away. You should go into this movie as ignorant of its plot as possible.

Kill List is a master class in the slow burn. It starts off as a crime thriller and morphs into unforgettable, visceral horror. It’s one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long time that also features a moral complexity that’s typically absent from the genre.

As an example of the triumph of evil, Kill List is peerless.

Let The Right One In

LTROI

The Swedish movie that inspired the recent remake with Chlöe Grace Moretz* tells the tale of forgotten, bullied Oskar and his completely indifferent mother (we never see her face). All is misery for Oskar when, one snowy winter, a girl his age and her father move into their apartment complex.

Eli is a peculiar girl. For example, she never wears shoes, despite the snow, and seems to be able to sneak up on Oskar unnoticed and in complete silence. Also, a rash of killings has coincided with her arrival.

This movie is as much about the beautiful innocence of first love as it is about the lore of the vampire. Beautifully shot with terrific young actors, Let The Right One In avoids the crap that has plagued vampire movies for years. It’s scary, beautifully constructed, heart-wrenching and yes…very bloody.

*BTW if you want to watch the US version, go right ahead. It’s nearly a shot-for-shot remake and very well done.

Creep

Creep

Hooooo-leeeee crap.

At first glance, Creep looks like a directionless combination of found footage and mumblecore. A young videographer answers an ad placed by a man who claims to be terminally ill and eager to record messages for his unborn son, as he’s certain he’ll die while the child is just a newborn.

They meet up and the guy seems like an annoying man-child, but ultimately harmless. It isn’t long before things get a little weird and well, creepy. The payoff is an absolute knockout that will leave you slack-jawed. Kudos to Mark Duplass who is fantastic, obnoxious and creepy as hell.

Bonus! (or, I couldn’t limit myself to five)

  • Mama.  Andrés Muschietti will scare the pants off of you in this film about a young couple who take on the task of raising two girls who had lived alone in the woods for years.
  • The Ring. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere and one of the best climactic scenes you’ll see.
  • The Orphanage. Edge-of-your-seat creepiness with an unexpected and very clever conclusion. I loved every minute of it.
  • The Shining. The grandpappy of them all. There’s nothing I can say that you don’t know. This is a master class by Kubrick and Nicholson.
  • The Haunting (1963). That scene at the end — you’ll know it when you see it — is awesome. Also, avoid the remake. It’s garbage.
  • The Blair Witch Project. Many people poo-poo this movie but that final scene with Josh staring at the wall is damn scary.

bwp

There you have it. Five 11 horror movies that are definitely worth your time. Rent them, turn the lights down, make some popcorn at lastly…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Losing hope for The Force Awakens

starAs an unapologetic Star Wars fanboy, I’ve been anticipating the forthcoming movie, The Force Awakens. The first teaser trailer was exciting, and got me enthused for the film. The second teaser was so compelling I went all in, abandoned my hesitation and succumbed to the prospect of this being the Star Wars movie I’ve wanted since 1983.

Today, all of that changed.

Note: the official poster appears after the break. I also discuss the “bad guy.” If you don’t want to see it, don’t click. You have been warned. 

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