We went to see Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker on Saturday with my 17 year old nephew. This is not an attempt at a film review. This is rather a general reaction to its fiction – and in case you are new here, this admission from me in an early 2018 post may be helpful:
When I was a teen, with my friends fascinated with the likes of Tolkien while I had my nose in history books about Ancient Rome, France, England, America, and historical novels such as The Last of The Mohicans, my mother laughed that I had “no imagination.” I never forgot that jibe. It did hurt somewhat to hear it put that way – even lightheartedly – by my own mother.
I just preferred reality. I wasn’t at all interested in fanciful places such as a “Middle Earth.” Assigning me to produce a “book report” on a novel about… “half-humans, half-Tantors waving their ompuim swords while seeking the secret castle of Antrippil on the lost island of Yrg in the Sea of Despaire”… would have caused me to despair.
As I’ve written before, I haven’t even read Harry Potter. I tried once, but gave up after a few pages; I’ll probably die being one of the “thirty muggles” out here who haven’t…
Now, as a writer of romantic and historical fiction populated by and revolving around non-supernaturally gifted mere humans (no surprise, really, based on the above), the nature of sci-fi/fantasy fiction nevertheless does intrigue me. Having sat through Skywalker, I found myself by the end nonetheless once again largely feeling left flat about a sci-fi/fantasy effort and wondering what all the fuss is about. I asked myself why SPECIFICALLY that might have been so about this film and this post came from that self-questioning.
The film was entertaining, yes, but it all also felt a lot like watching someone else playing a video game. I realized again at one point why I find sci-fi/fantasy to be mostly emotionally sterile. Amidst all of the endless fictional technology, the spaceships blasting away, the light saber fights, the struggles against evil, and the occasional magic, the consequences are never really final.
If killed, the s/hero will probably return somehow… as a ghost or a vision or even after having been miraculously resuscitated if not later in this film, probably in the sequel. Even when a major character surely MUST HAVE DIED, it almost never feels like it is really over. (Oh, he just got thrown off a cliff? Uh, he’ll reappear. And he does moments later.) The result of all of that is I find I feel uninvested in what I’m watching because I don’t much worry about the fates of any major characters.
Getting to this film’s “end,” we have to endure the expected warning from the top bad guy: the Emperor. Wait, though, wasn’t he KILLED by Darth Vader about three films – or was it six – ago? Nevermind, he is back. You can kill him – “Your friends are dying. Strike me down, with your hate” (or some such) – he taunts you, but if you do that he warns you it is YOU who will take his place on the throne of the empire as the new EVIL incarnate; but, on the other hand, if you don’t kill him, if you put down your light saber and hand him flowers, he will kill you and all of your friends anyway. [Muuuwaaah.] So giving peace a chance does not seem a viable option.
However, despite being presented so theatrically that purportedly inescapable no-win choice is a falsehood. Defeating evil does not make you evil too. For example, the soldiers who risked their own deaths at any moment in having killed, captured, or chased away evil by bursting into Nazi death camps did not then become the new evil. For heaven’s sakes, they had extinguished the evil.
Again, uh, nevermind. Eventually AGAIN the emperor is (it appears) killed and that terrifying no-win choice he had declared seems to have evaporated into the whatever. What follows not long after is the defeat of his massive fleet (again) and the party (again) in which the sun finally comes out and everyone is dancing and hugging and even kissing (presumably after clear consent had been obtained in writing by both parties) in a forest.
Those noble characters of “the resistance” are written as yearning to have faith, to belong, to be reassured, to be loved. “We don’t win by killing what we hate, but by saving what we love,” was more or less voiced by one character in The Last Jedi, the previous film. I recall then thinking that vacuousness belonged in a greeting card, for in the REAL world there are certainly times that to save what we love we must kill what hates us and is trying to kill what we love.
In that previous film that character also saves who she says she loves and she doesn’t have to kill to do so. Another example of how there is never a real price to be paid in such fantasy fiction. Despite the haunting music and the tears of supposed loss and sacrifice, and brave words about last stands, the big victory ultimately feels (to me) empty because there was no real cost in achieving it because the heroic dead can always be brought back somehow in the sequel.
However, in non-supernatural fiction, that is not so. Dead is dead. Once dead, there is no coming back.
We don’t like to think about actual death in our real lives; but we do have to at least occasionally pay heed to that dark angel always hovering in the background. Death – especially of the young – may also have an unfathomable, incalculable cost as well that is not just found in the end of the existence of the single person. It in a sense destroys the forever in the never-existences of children, grandchildren, and descendants well beyond who will never live.
Not unsurprisingly we are desperate to want in fiction to carve out escapes from the inevitability of our death and the deaths of those we love. Sci-fi/fantasy is a natural result. Yet in such tales ironically is overlooked that there is no true joy in life nor real triumphs without the threat of real death – a death from which there is no escape: it is never to speak again in any way, never to be reborn in any form, and never magically to appear in a sequel.
In sci-fi/fantasy (I believe) the cost is never really everything. Because it aims to conjure up the superhuman, there is invariably always a chance at a way out that is unavailable to mere ordinary mortals. Always there appears a magical incantation or a new character who materializes and possesses incredible life-giving powers…
…which, to me, uh, kills the tension and undermines the drama…
…which is what I guess leaves me feeling empty: there is no truly final act.
And on that, uh, dramatic note, have a great Christmas, wherever you are. Let us cherish this brief real life and each other. There is no sequel.
As I think on that, though, I apologize: Of course you know that there is no real-life sequel. I don’t need to point that out. We all KNOW it.
Maybe my (now late) mother was right. All of that unnecessary rationality coming out of me above likely merely proves it yet once more – decades on from Mom having offered that opinion of me. Yeh, I probably just have no imagination. LOL!