Episode 599: 6 5 4 3 7 2 9 1 8

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

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On the podcast, witness the unstoppable power of the “X” as Ben Adams, Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, Matthew Wrather, and Belinkie’s son Oliver join the rebellion to Overthink Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, surely the last Star Wars film that will ever be made.

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21 Comments on “Episode 599: 6 5 4 3 7 2 9 1 8”

  1. yellojkt Member #

    First Star Wars movie memory:
    My father was in the Air Force and we were living in the Philippines the summer Star Wars came out. My dad had been back to the States and had seen Star Wars. Normally first run movies didn’t hit the base theaters for about three months after they were released but for some reason Star Wars never made the circuit.

    Instead, my father took the whole family to an off-base local theater which was showing Star Wars on a continuous loop with no fixed show times. As we walked in, R2D2 and C3PO were wandering in the desert. My dad says, “Great, this is right near the beginning. You haven’t missed anything.”

    So we watched the whole thing and then stuck around for the beginning. So I never got that initial “Gee there is a giant spaceship!” reaction that is supposed to be the first image of Star Wars.

    And since I am obviously an oldz, I do get to shame Millennials and their giant reserved seat theaters by telling them that True Fans stand inline outside in the Florida summer heat for three hours because the local triplex is only showing The Empire Strikes Back on one screen.

    Somebody, “Okay, Boomer.” me now.


  2. Margo #

    Thank you for seeing The Rise of Skywalker so I don’t have to. Your noble sacrifice has not been in vain, as you have saved me time, money, and headaches. I am more than willing to hand wave (as is were) but I never understood how the denizens of this universe can clone up huge armies but not a single limb. Although this is now a thing?

    You may be prepping for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. I am pumped for Star Trek: Picard. And there will be another Battlestar Galactica reboot, because of course there will be. But if you are looking for a new sweeping space epic, may I respectfully suggest The Expanse? I can honestly think of few pop culture properties more worthy of your Overthinking.


    • Margo #

      Kids today! When I was young(er) and I wanted to see a movie at home I had to walk to a Blockbuster! Five kilometers in the snow, uphill, both ways.


    • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

      I for one think it’s still worth seeing even if you got the impression that it’s “not” “very” “good.” I think it is really interesting in its badness, and there are one or two legitimate thrills and feels. If for nothing else, go to see original John Williams music set to Star Wars visuals one last time.

      To that point, we’ve long maintained that movies exceed the sum of their constituent parts: story, visuals, sound, music, performances, etc., and that there’s no substitute for just experiencing it all for yourself and making your opinion, especially when the movie is as maximalist as a Star Wars movie.


  3. Margo #

    Kids today! When I was young(er) and I wanted to see a movie at home I had to walk to a Blockbuster! Five kilometers in the snow, uphill, both ways.

    (sorry, I replied to @yellojkt in the wrong place)


  4. Three Act Destructure #

    I think we can all agree that Star Wars and Star Trek, bastions of pop sci-fantasy gobbledygook are currently rudderless, low on fumes and likely wounded in some ways that may prevent them from ever reclaiming their past glories.

    Which is to say, bring on that Dune remake!


  5. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    First Star Wars memory: the intro to Muppet Babies, which featured Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter cutting menacingly across the screen:


    Also, my ranking, after much soul-searching:

    Star Wars space combat games
    Original Trilogy
    Rogue One
    Everything else

    In all seriousness, over the years, the main appeal of Star Wars became mostly about the visceral thrill of space battles, particularly as experienced through the likes of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter computer games from the 90’s. Watching a Jedi knight overcomes the dark side of the force? Sure, that’s all fine and good. But sitting in the cockpit of an X-Wing, balancing energy systems, and furiously turning and burning against TIE Interceptors while trying to protect some ridiculously fragile shuttle? THAT’S the stuff. Or at least it is for me.

    General? I don’t need to be a general. Red Five for life.


  6. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    I think I can pinpoint the moment the movie REALLY lost me. They realize Chewbacca is on the Star Destroyer. They agree they need to risk everything and rescue him. (Side note: considering they have mere hours before total defeat, I’m not sure it IS worth a Hail Mary to save one Wookie, but it’s pretty clear that’s not the kind of movie this is.)

    So anyway, here’s the rescue mission. They park the ship in the Star Destroyer’s main hanger. Two storm troopers walk up to it suspiciously. At this point I’m thinking this will be an homage to A New Hope; they’ll wait until the storm troopers board, take their uniforms, and go on a stealth mission. Nope. Our three heroes simply CHARGE OUT OF THE SHIP AND SHOOT EVERYONE. Their plan is to just John Wick their way through the enemy base. No clever diversions, no sneaking through an elevator shaft, nothing. And while I’m willing to suspend a little disbelief it just felt lazy as hell. Or probably more to the point, the movie felt so rushed that it couldn’t bother to even try and do anything smart.

    Contrast with how the gang rescues Han Solo. It takes like 45 minutes and involves like four separate deceptions, and Jabba’s palace is a MUCH less secure environment than a Star Destroyer.


    • Ben Adams OTI Staff #

      I would pay fifty American dollars for a ticket to see John Wick IV: Now He’s a Jedi.


    • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

      Wait, we’re now citing the Han Solo rescue from Return of the Jedi as an example of positive plotting in Star Wars? I guess Rise of Skywalker really lowered the bar.


      • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

        Look, Return of the Jedi is one of those movies that I watched so much at a young age that I’m completely incapable of considering whether it is “good” or “bad.” But yeah, I can vaguely see how that first act is a meandering.


  7. John C Member #

    (Looks like this comment got out of control. Oops!)
    I’m never quite the Star Wars fan I think I am, because I do remember seeing the original movie in theaters as a kid, probably late in its extended runs, since even at around four years old, I thought the music was a ripoff of Superman (I’d later learn that John Williams did both iconic scores, of course, and that Superman came out a year later)…but I also happily got any toys from the movie I could. I know I saw The Empire Strikes Back in theaters, but don’t really remember the experience, and skipped Return of the Jedi for seven or eight years, until I was stuck at home sick. I remember taking a long lunch off of work to see The Phantom Menace and, while the movie-going experience was great, found myself souring on how “closed off” the prequel made the universe feel, as if nothing of consequence was allowed to happen before that point. And I…I think I’ve seen some of the movies since then, but definitely all on streaming and I couldn’t tell you what happened in any of them, even though I’m pretty sure I watched one recently on Netflix. I may give them another chance with Disney+, especially as television seasons wind down. Like Mark, I think I’m much more bullish on the early video games.
    Speaking of Return of the Jedi, the “as above, so too below” nature of the plot was teased out by the probably-no-longer-canonical Timothy Zahn novels. It’s suggested there (with some artistic license on the sequence of events) that the Emperor was psychically commanding the battle outside, so when Vader kills him, it gives the Falcon’s crew room to do their thing and destroy the new Death Star, so Luke’s role was important in that interpretation.
    One thing I’ve found interesting about the franchise, though, is how ambivalent it is about the Jedi. Like, the narrative clearly likes Luke, but Luke isn’t really a Jedi. When we hit the prequels, the Jedi are held up as heroes, but are complete screw-ups who embody toxic masculinity to the point where they drive their child soldier to the Dark Side…but they’re still the heroes, somehow. So, I guess the fact that so much about the current trilogy is ambivalent and contradictory makes some sense.
    But really, it’s strange that Disney, of all companies, could announce a trilogy of movies in one of the biggest franchises in the world without having an actual plan and allowing the writer to pull the “I’m completely on-board with what came before me, but I’m going to change all of it, anyway” passive-aggressive scam.
    Out in left field, I’ve often been surprised that Disney didn’t try to buy Battlestar Galactica, by the way. It’s a notoriously boring show, but is also very obviously an unauthorized sequel to A New Hope wherein the droids and Stormtroopers rise up against both the Empire and Rebellion, with the major characters being strongly inspired by our Star Wars leads and even an episode revealing Jedi-like powers taught at some academy.


    • John C Member #

      Oh, I forgot to mention my favorite half-assed fan theory from back in the day that I never saw get any traction: The “aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” line could have been setting up a reveal that Han was “Solo” because he was secretly a Stormtrooper clone that abandoned his post, so there are millions of Harrison Fords running around in cheap plastic armor. It’s such a goofy idea that I can’t help appreciate it…


  8. Howard Member #

    First memory: I was in elementary school at a friend’s house when he realized I hadn’t seen any Star Wars. I don’t know why he decided to start on Return of the Jedi, but we watched it on VHS – in particular, I remember Jabba pulling the dancer into the trap door.

    I really loved The Last Jedi, so having seen the reaction online the bar was already lowered for me going in. To me, the story of 7+8 is that the present day is haunted by the past, and it would have been so easy for 9 to follow that through – but instead, 9 just goes MORE PAST!!! In basically that tone. There are even elements that wouldn’t take that much tweaking to get to a satisfying conclusion, but Disney/Abrams got so scared by the reaction to Last Jedi that they course corrected way too hard.

    I do feel like there was no good way forward with Carrie Fisher’s passing (RIP). The scenes with her are so bad (it looks like repurposed deleted scenes from Force Awakens), and they’ve said that this was meant to be her movie, in the way that 7 was Harrison Ford’s and 8 was Mark Hamill’s. I think that’s why the scene with Leia’s death and Kylo Ren’s turn was so confusing – the Harrison Ford scene was nice, but I think it was clearly meant to be Carrie Fisher speaking to Kylo.

    Going off of Fenzel’s point about RotJ and stories, there are pieces of 9 that felt like they were driving in that direction. The end of 8 has the kids telling Luke’s story. When they introduced the other Stormtrooper deserters, I thought it was going to be because they had heard about Finn. When they introduced Poe’s background, I thought it was going to inspire the Han Solo smuggler types. Poe kind of indignantly says “You were a Stormtrooper, you were a scavenger, we can do this all day”, but that feels like a classic OTI moment – no matter your background, you can be heroic. I was so ready for that to be what brings in the reinforcements, rather than Lando.

    Funnily enough, the Vader twist wasn’t part of A New Hope at all. It’s famously something that Lucas came up with while writing the script for Empire, which is why it feels like it comes out of left field. Even then, it lands harder because Luke and Vader already have a relationship, and Vader is built up as a villain across two movies. It doesn’t land for Rey and Palpatine because Palpatine isn’t on screen for a single second in 7+8. I’m not convinced that they had any plan for Rey’s background. It’s classic Abrams to set up a mystery without having a resolution, with the idea being that you can fill it with whatever you want. Obviously Disney/Kathleen Kennedy signed off on Rey’s parentage being unimportant, since it’s not like Rian Johnson did that and then made the damn movie and released it as a surprise. I’d be surprised if the story was anything more than they got scared by the reaction. Even with all that, I think the movie is all set up for Rey to say her name is “Just Rey” at the end there, which is such a logical end point for her arc.

    I can’t stop thinking about Star Wars even though like…50% of the movies are pretty bad. I don’t know if that says more about the cultural power of Star Wars or about me.


    • Howard Member #

      Another thought I had that crystallized overnight: the previous third films of the trilogies (Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith) had classes in the titles, so in a similar way, I thought they were setting up “Skywalkers” as the new “Jedi”. Luke was the last Jedi so that Rey could be the first Skywalker and rewrite the rules for the Fraternal Order of Skywalkers. That way it both wraps up the story of the specific family, but also opens up to new possibilities.


  9. Three Act Destructure #

    I have no intention of ever seeing Star Wars Reboot 2: Part 3, or probably any new Star Wars thing at this point. But since Disney’s marketing team decided that it was that time of the year, and all of my favorite content creators rightfully latched on to that sweet viewership bump, I did decide to purchase a three dollar copy of Knights of the Old Republic 2 and to try to get its clunky, bug-riddled, unfinished jalopy of an engine up and running on my PC.

    It has been… a task.

    I’ve been struggling with it for days now. First trying to get my mouse to even show up on the screen. Then changing my v-sync options and my framerate settings to allow my player character to be able to move again after combat without quick-saving and loading. Then finding the right guides and stat charts in order to not accidentally miss chunks of content, which is both easily doable and never signposted to the player. Before finally just figuring out how to access the console (which is invisible so you never actually know what you’re typing until it’s done) and cheating my way through the combat (which is godawful and not really the point anyways). My mouse still drifts off the screen and stops the camera if it moves too far to the left.

    It reminds me of analysis videos I’ve seen on the Pathologic series. Which is, by its own fans’ admissions, poorly designed in most ways. It’s a masochistically tough nut to crack and you have to be willing to pour in hours of unrewarding time in order to uncover anything of substance. You have to be convinced before going in that nothing is going to stop you from playing it, not even the game itself.

    That’s passion, if nothing else.

    What I’m re-discovering about this game, and what I now have a better ability to understand intellectually rather than just emotionally, is how much of its story is about trauma and the hesitations that it creates in not only people but systems of people. Some of this is simple, although surprisingly complex for Star Wars: the asteroid that you escape from at the beginning of the game, which you have to blow up in a whizz-bang spectacle to out-maneuver your pursuers, was the sole fuel source for an entire planet which you then immediately land on. You’ve ruined their economy, which was already a fractured mess of corporate tyranny and political skulduggery, possibly also damning the ecological restoration project being performed on the planet’s surface. A project that was launched as a test bed for similar efforts across the galaxy in the wake of a costly civil war. Meaning that you may have doomed everyone because, in the moment, you thought that blowing things up was an acceptable way of saving your own skin in the middle of a situation that you knew nothing about.

    But some traumas are more personal and more messy. At one point, the third-rate Han Solo ripoff character reveals a surprising amount of depth when he details all of the ways in which he used to kill Jedi by fighting dirty, including disrupting their concentration by killing their allies. He finally quit and deserted his army when he captured a Jedi and tortured her until she reached into his mind and he realized how connected to all things he was and what his actions were really doing to himself and others. His words: “I think I loved her, but it wasn’t that kind of love. It was the kind of love where you’re willing to give up everything for someone you don’t even know. I killed her for crawling in my head, for showing me that. But before she opened her mind to mine, my only thought was that I would love to kill her. And at the end, I killed her because I loved her.”

    The connection point between all of these ideas is Kreia, the blind old woman archetype that you’re force-bonded to (back in 2004!) when the game starts. She has a ruthlessly “pragmatic” view of the world in which suffering begets strength and even minor moments of kindness can ripple outwards into catastrophic failures. The whole story is structured as an endurance test to see if you’ll give in to her way of thinking.

    I was considering how much of this was in Rian Johnson’s head when he made the Last Jedi. He’s talked about loving those games and he was clearly inspired by elements of them. I was also thinking about why The Last Jedi and Empire Strikes Back are, to me, the only worthwhile Star Wars movies in 2019.

    There’s something sick about the way that our culture reacted to A New Hope. You can see it in the split between contemporary critics who were unimpressed with its story and the generation of filmgoers raised in its shadow.

    We praise Lucas and co. for marrying Hollywood screenwriting to Joseph Cambell’s theorizing but the reality seems to be that all they did was sand a lot of the rough edges off of both. Luke Skywalker is fine, I guess, but he’s no King Arthur, which older and more studied critics at the time had the perspective to know. But that’s the point of Luke. He’s really just a farmboy who became a terrorist (or freedom fighter, or whatever). Unlike actual combatants, he has no real opinions and no eccentricities of personality that weren’t gifted to him by the much more interesting Mark Hamill. And all of A New Hope’s characters are like that. It’s the least possibly offensive version of the dullest fairy tale ever, supported by eye-popping effects work that turned it into something much more than the sum of its otherwise forgettable parts. (And it still, hilariously, found a way to be just a little racist.)

    But when Star Wars first came out, we started the legend. Rather than what it really was, it became something more. We pretended that it invented storytelling. That it was the monomyth. People literally stopped watching pre-Star Wars films. It was so important that it had to be the most important, and so simple that it must have come before anything else. It was the King James edition of Flash Gordon.

    George Lucas felt he had to apologize for Empire Strikes Back. Outraged weirdos in “Han Shot First” t-shirts have tried to make Rian Johnson, and all of his female cast members, do the same.

    My earliest Star Wars memory is the trilogy playing in the background on TV while I was busy having more fun making up my own stories with my action figures, occasionally pausing for a particularly cool scene. I don’t remember how I first came to these movies. They were always wallpaper to me. Just noise in the background while I did something more interesting. They’ve only ever piqued my interest when someone does something to bring some of those rough edges back. Stories about trauma and seclusion and the death of mythos that it might be reborn. Stories that complicate our national space religion and attempt to impart some wisdom while we glumly file into darkened theaters out of little more than obligation.

    Star Wars is so often a dirge for itself. At least KOTOR 2 and The Last Jedi are trying to remind us that we’re not dead too.


    • John C Member #

      The revisionist history of Star Wars is definitely one of the most interesting aspects of it. It spontaneously morphed from a nod to German movie serials inspired by a specific Japanese movie (huh…) to just a tiny part of a master plan. And that master plan spontaneously morphed from “movies about humans, movies about bacteria, then movies about gods” to some sort of pseudo-mythological saga.

      But Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia, so the foreign pastiches and the stories about Midichlorians (literally a story where they were the leads) and Whills? Nope, never a thing. Don’t even speak of it in polite company.


      • Margo #

        By “Specific Japanese Movie” I assume you are reffering to Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress”? George Lucas had freely admiteed that he borrowed lot of elements from that film, including the Rebel Princess.


        • John C Member #

          Right. My point was that the original vision of the pre-franchise movie was as a pastiche of foreign films Lucas appreciated, with some evidence of this still in the Holiday Special (the opening with no English, the random highly-stylized cartoon, cabaret-style acts). When the movie was popular enough for a sequel beyond the Holiday Special, the vision retroactively became the weird trilogy of trilogies (people, bacteria, and gods), and then definitely always Monomyths.


  10. Benjamin #

    Return of the Jedi has some problems, but in my opinion the most impactful moment of the franchise takes place when Luke throws away his lightsaber and chooses to love his father. This becomes the enduring metaphor of the original trilogy and much of the rest of the saga. If the prequel trilogy is about the fall of Rome/America, the original trilogy is about learning to forgive your terrible drunk/abusive/absent parents even though they don’t deserve it, lest you be consumed by hate and follow in their footsteps. It is about breaking cycles of abuse.

    Your mileage may vary on any of that stuff, but my point is we can imagine a very different Star Wars franchise if Luke just follows his hero’s journey to the logical conclusion by killing the evil wizard. The original and prequel trilogies were ABOUT SOMETHING. Disney Star Wars has no subtext, no mythology, no substance.


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