Review of the Movie We’ve All Been Waiting For

Like many people, when I heard the news that the Disney corporation had purchased the rights to make Star Wars sequels, I feared they might gut the heart of the series, fumble even basic storytelling principles, and insult the viewers with Mary Sue heroines, diversity hire characters, tangled yet aimless  plots, deconstruction and desecration of the original fan-favorite heroes, all topped off with heavy-handed political posturing crammed down the throat of the audience, mangling and mutating the most beloved franchise in movie history into an putrid and unsightly sewer fire.

I am glad to report that I need not have fretted. Two films of the new trilogy are out, and the filmmakers avoided all these pitfalls and pratfalls.

The twin errors any sequel in any genre must avoid are these: first, the sequel must not violate or overturn anything established in the original, including taking care to continue with themes, story elements, characters and backdrops the audience expects; second, the sequel must not cling too closely to the original, nor be content merely to repeat story elements.

You cannot simply have the rebels still fighting the selfsame Empire they defeated in the last movie blowing up yet another iteration of the Death Star. That would be ridiculous! Luckily, they didn’t do that!

It is something of a paradox, since the audience wants the same story that they liked the first time, but not done in the same way.

The cleverest and most satisfying way I have ever seen a writer answer this paradox was E.E. Doc Smith, when he opened GRAY LENSMAN with the startling revelation that the villainous space pirate king, Helmuth, slain in climactic combat at the end of GALACTIC PATROL, was himself merely an agent of a larger, deeper, darker group.

Now, of course, this tradition is not new to EE Smith. Beowulf, after slaying Grendel in the golden hall of Hereot, is permitted no long rest, but must descend into an accursed swamp to fight Grendel’s Mother, a monstrous hag tougher than the first monster.

In this way, the hero, or the hero’s heirs or disciples, is, in effect, fighting for the same cause and against the same foe, but the significance of the first victory is not diminished. Instead, the scope is larger, and the battlefield gets bigger.

How to make something as huge and simple as an evil Galactic Empire merely the outward sign of a deeper hidden power is a question to stump most writers, but I think the filmmaker here answered this cleverly, and in a way in keeping with everything the canon had established.

Let me give a scene by scene review. I hope I can be forgiven for giving such a long and in-depth description, but this film was so remarkable, and the mistakes that could have been made were so neatly avoided, I think it worth the time to ponder how well the Disney writers treated the franchise. Remember how worried we were that it would just be a piece of leftwingnut feminist crud?


THE DARK SIDE RISING in the opening word crawl announces that Luke Skywalker has vanished. The young and untried Jedi graduating from his new Academy are scouring the galaxy, searching for him. However, there is one place no searcher dares to go: the mysterious Black Sun Nebula surrounding the supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy. One by one, the core stars are going out, leaving whole planets to freeze in darkness.  And the nebula is spreading.

One young Jedi, hunted by sinister agents of the power behind the Empire, holds the sole clue to the secret of the dying stars…

I thought it was cool that, as the word crawl was done crawling, the stars were going out, one by one. Then the camera zooms in on one emerald-green planet, Ambria.

We are quickly introduced to the heroine of the film, as well as the heavy. We meet young Lyra Sentara in flashback.

She is orphaned when the sun of her home world of Ambria flickers and fades like a dying candle, snow fills the air, and maddened mobs rush to seize any starship to be found, including her father’s one-man fighter parked on the roof of the Jedi Temple. Her father, lightsaber in hand, fends off the panicked crowd on the narrow and un-railed bridge leading to the launch pad. Explosions throw the screaming refugees off to either side, and Imperial Stormtroopers, close in on the father. The father draws his lightsaber. The lead stormtrooper flourishes a weapon that looks like a cross between like a two-forked trident and a Jacob’s ladder (I am sure they got the design from Matt Wagner’s GRENDEL, if any of you are old enough to remember that). The father blasts the stormtrooper with a gush of red lightning right in the face.

The mother sacrifices her life getting Lyra to the one-man ship, cut down from behind. The scene is all the more effective because there is no dialog: only the sound effects, and the stirring music.

The scene where the stormtrooper captain yanks off his burnt and scarred helmet to show his burnt and scarred face beneath, and glare with his remaining good eye at the fleeing X-wing just as the sun flickers and goes out is the one you saw in all the trailers.

Now, I realize continuity mavens will object that all the stormtroopers are clones of Jango Fett, and therefore one could not be a black man, but since the black man, in this case, is Will Smith playing a bad-ass bad guy, I, for one, do not mind.

It is not as if the film makers put in a Black Stormtrooper and then just make him an incompetent cowardly boob easily beaten up by a female half his size. Also, when Smith’s character Captain Keyel Ansteel [SPOILERS!] does an about face and works for the good guys [as if anyone expected Will Smith to remain a bad guy the whole trilogy], he does not become a good man. He is still a battle-scarred killer, cold and remorseless and totally hard-core.

Frankly, I thought the idea of having a stormtrooper defect to the Republic was simply brilliant. Previous movies merely assumed that the viewer would assume any empire was a bad thing, and any rebellion a good thing. What life in an Orwellian totalitarianism was like was not on stage. In fact, I was a little surprised that, in this day and age of political correctness, we would have a scene where a grown man finds out that he has been lied to his whole life on the screen. Most likely the filmmakers did not realize what a sharp criticism it was of political correctness to have the ex-stormtrooper taken to a bazaar, and simply to see the lavish amounts of goods for sale, the children laughing and playing, men and women talking and walking freely.

More haunting is the scene where he looks at a star map, and we find out, for the first time in his life, that the stormtroopers are raised from birth believing that all the stars in the galaxy, all the planets he has never visited, are still loyal to the Empire. The stormtroopers are told that there is no republic: only a few scattered and discontented planets engaged in a futile rebellion.

Like many viewers, I do not mind a racially mixed cast, as long as it is done to help the movie tell a good story, and not done merely to score boasting rights for would-be social justice warriors pretending to battle prejudices that died out over half a century ago. The decision to have the main character of DARK SIDE RISING be an oriental female did not strike me as being particularly boast-worthy, not in these days, but I am glad the girl was not some Mary Sue to whom everything is easy and everyone loves, as far, far too many modern female characters are portrayed.

I am also glad that the rumors that the oriental actress portraying Lyra was not a “body-positive” “healthy at any size” ugly and chubby girl turned out to be false. The Chinese have an eye for beauty, and nearly all Chinese actresses in their films these days are drop-dead gorgeous. So it was very pleasing to me that the actress here was one whose name I recognized Tiffany Tang (Tang Yan).

Also, the complaint that we saw the Mom hand the sacred scroll to the robot, that later changed into a space map, is false. The thing the Mom is bending off to place in the robot is the space map. I am not sure why anyone is confused on this point.

Now grown-up Lyra wakes in a panic sweat, remembering her dreadful childhood. Red force-lightning crackles on her fingers and in her eyes, until she can meditate and calm her anger. Then she opens one eye, and looks around, as if trying to tell if anyone noticed.

We discover she is one of the few remaining students of the Jedi Academy on planet Ossus, a poisoned planet of vapors overgrown with deadly fungi and giant mushrooms. The domed temple of the Jedi looms above an empty, deserted city. The temple itself is almost empty, since most of the students are on the quest.

Lyra says her farewells to those who have taken up the quest. As their ships depart, we see sinister ships hidden in the ring system circling the planet. Robots wake pilots and assassins from suspended animation, saying that the place must be almost deserted by now. Dark ships with quiet engines follow a shower of meteors down through the atmosphere, undetected.

Lyra goes to the Headmistress of Jedi Academy, Tlon Solandra, and reports her dream, and says she now remembers more of what happened on that day. Stormtroopers did indeed kill her parents nine years ago. Tlon says, no, the Empire was defeated twenty years ago, and is no longer a threat. Lyra retorts that the Empire still does exist, and must be the power behind the Black Sun Nebula.

Rumors persist that the Admirals of the Imperial Starfleet, driven off but not driven to surrender, have soldiers, ships, and materiel hidden among the uncharted pirate planets beyond the edge of the galaxy. Tlon says the once-proud imperial stormtroopers, if any still live, have been reduced to being mere space pirates, preying on random, unarmed freighters at the edge of the galaxy, and are no threat to anyone here.

I got to say, I love the idea of pirate planets.

Lyra has spent months scouring the Jedi Library, and has found many references to one sacred scroll describing the source of the Dark Side, naming the legendary figure that started the Sith Order, and telling of an ancient, mystical artifact called the Great Eye of Darkness. Vader once boasted that the Death Star’s power as was nothing compared to the power of the Force: the Great Eye might have been what he had in mind. But she can find no trace of the sacred scroll itself. She is convinced her father had found the sole surviving copy.

Lyra and Tlon journey to the Library of the Jedi, which is housed in a great tree in the midst of a garden, beneath a huge dome. It looks like something out of a Miyazaki movie. Tlon tells how Master Ood Bnar, a thousand years ago, transfigured himself into an immobile, treelike being, growing over, around, and into the library, in order to protect it. The scrolls, books, tapes and datafiles had been scattered during the Imperial times, but the tree was intact, if damaged, and Ood’s memory remained impregnated in the bark long after his death. The tree itself remembered each book that had been lost, for each shelf and cubby in the library was carved out of his living substance.

If the sacred scroll was indeed a missing treasure of the Jedi lore lost during the Imperial years, the tree would know it was missing.

Lyra places her hands on the tree trunk and talks to it using the jedi-mindspeech. The voice of Ood, or his blue-lit ghost, appears, and assures her that the sacred scroll her father was guarding was not any part of the Jedi library nor lore. There is no scroll missing. All have been recovered.

Tlon makes the point that the plants (the glow-in-the-dark floaty puffballs taken straight from James Cameron’s AVATAR) here in this garden are the only surviving descendants of the original ecosystem of Ossus, and that the Jedi are replanting the seeds outside, regrowing the survivors, aiding and nurturing the healthy growth, in the hope that one day the biological weapons, mold and fungi, introduced by the Evil Empire overwhelming the planet outside will fail.

The metaphor was obvious, and Lyra gets it, and agrees to stay and concentrate on her training.

Even though it is brief, we a get a clear description of the difference between the Force and the Dark Side. The Force is a field of positive energy flowing between and through all life in the galaxy: when an organism turns to fear, hatred, aggression, falsehood, the force is disturbed and out of balance. It creates a snarl, a shadow, as a rock in a stream creates a back eddy.

During all this, Lyra realizes that Tlon is keeping her here to protect her. From whom? From what? If the Empire is dead, what is the threat? Tlon says cryptically that there are “Phantoms of the Empire — even when dead, there are some things that cannot die.”

But there is also a pretty clear implication that Tlon is afraid of Lyra turning to the Dark Side.

Just then, the sun starts flickering. It suddenly gets very dark.

The filmmaker evidently believes the old rule of thumb that any story is better if you add ninjas. The argument between Tlon and Lyra is interrupted when thin and creepy looking aliens in black camouflage crawl up the side of the tower. Much has been written about the space ninjas, and you saw them on the teaser trailer, so let me just say they were visually dramatic. The fight scene between the overmatched Jedi students and the cyborg space ninja in the burning Jedi Temple is a classic.  I particularly liked when the Ood tree came to life and used its branches to punt people.

Like everyone, I was sorry when the Jedi Library tree was burnt down to a stub. Burning books, especially burning holy books containing thousands of years of painfully accumulated lore and wisdom, is about the most vile thing I can think of, and the filmmaker thought so too. At that point, there is nothing else the viewer needs to see or know about the book-burners to know they are irredeemably evil.

Some reviewers did not understand that the atmosphere is not poisonous, but the spores that come in when the dome is broken are poisonous, which is why Tlon can survive with just a scarf over her face. The scene were she dies, I thought she was dying of wounds from the laser-throwing-star thingies the space ninjas throw, not that she was choking.

Tlon is dying and tells Lyra to go find Luke Skywalker. He alone, if anyone can, will discover the reason behind the Black Sun Nebula. But she warn Lyra to be mindful of herself, to avoid wrath and pride, because there is a darkness in her past, and a darkness in her destiny.

Lyra demands “What past? My father was a great Jedi!”

“He was something else…” But Tlon passes away and vanishes before she can explain more. (Not to worry: she just fainted. She gets better, and comes back in the last reel).

Lyra is captured, but saves herself when red lightning bursts from her eyes and mouth, and she cuts down her captor.

She then kills the TIE fighter pilot and puts on his uniform and helmet. As she is leaving the planet in her captor’s captured ship, she sees the true size of the space pirate fleet. The ring system circling the planet (the astronomic knowledge-free filmmakers call it an “asteroid belt”) had ships behind every boulder in space.

She joins the fleet and leaves the system. The Jedi Temple on Ossus burns behind her, the only point of light on a sunless planet.

Lyra radios that she has engine trouble, saying she has to halt for repairs. The fleet captain is suspicious, but is apparently vulnerable to a Jedi mind trick even over the radio. She drops out of the black fleet formation, lags behind, and makes a break for it.

As the camera pans back, we see an X-wing, with the familiar dome of R2D2 protruding from the hull, following the black fleet at a distance.

Lyra discovers the navigation pod is locked. Only the origin and destination stars are visible. Every other part of the map is blacked out. She has to navigate by dead reckoning and dumb luck.

After the defeat of the Imperial starfleet, Queen Leia and General Solo have retired to a life of peace on the rural prairie planet Dungreen, content to let a younger generation guide the fledgling Republic.

Lyra flies to a golden planet Dungreen, lands, and after some silly rigmarole involving giant prairie dogs, is rescued by Chewbacca the Wookie. He leads her to the sprawling royal hacienda, which is dug into the a wide pit just below the level of the endless grassland, and so is invisible from even a few yards away, to someone approaching on foot. It is a cool visual.

(Why Lyra did not see it from the air is a nitpick viewers with too much time on their hands have argued about. I love being a Star Wars fan. We nitpick and argue about everything.)

The actors are a little long in the tooth, and I understand that Carrie Fisher passed away after most the primary filming was done, but not all.  May she rest in peace. Some of the scenes of Queen Leia surrounded by her children and grandchildren in their huge hacienda were done with clever computer graphics. Some people complained they looked fake or had the uncanny valley effect: my eye was fooled. I could spot no difference between CGI Leia and real Leia.

And, of course, General Solo still has the Millennium Falcon in his garage, that he tinkers with and overhauls, even if he has twenty other prettier and new space yachts all bright and shiny right next door.  “This old girl still has some fight in her,” he says.

We get to meet their younger kids, Ben Solo, the twins Jaina and Jacen Solo, and little Anakin. In the Expanded Universe books (which I have not had the pleasure of reading) I believe one of them ends up as a Sith Dark Lord named Darth Caedus. I am glad the movie makers did not go with this. The idea that Han and Leia would have anything other than a long and happy marriage with well raised and happy children would betray the fairytale flavor and concept of the whole STAR WARS universe.

Chewbacca, in subtitles, explains that in his 400 years of life, he has taken to keeping and breeding Solos. Den Solo, Jonash Solo, Han Solo, and now the younger generation are like his pets: they are rascally critters, and he has to keep them out of trouble.

Some of the fans do not like the scene where Leia dresses down Lyra, but I thought it was fine. At the time, I also wondered by Lyra, disguised in one of the enemy TIE fighters, did not simply follow along with the fleet and find their secret base. Lyra is told she is too young and inexperienced. But Lyra thinks Queen Leia’s objection has more to do with whatever the “dark destiny” hanging over her is. She thinks the queen is afraid of her.

Lyra says the Empire is real, and they are the ones extinguishing suns. Leia says that such a thing is impossible: no known technology, no known science, could explain how to kill a sun. Only the sith, with their command of the force, could do such a thing: but they are all dead.

Queen Leia insists that the raid on Ossus must have been conducted by space pirates, merely villainous scum, and that the organization and morale of the Empire was shattered decades ago. There is no more Empire.

Why would the Empire, if it still existed and was still a power to be feared, attack what amounted to an empty building with a few teachers and children in it?

Moreover, the police have impounded Lyra’s stolen pirate ship, because they want to examine it for clues, and to decrypt the navigation pod. Lyra is thanked, but told the space police and star navy will handle the pirate threat from now on, and seek out the pirates who raided Ossus.

Lyra sits brooding, red sparks dancing in her eyes, trying to control herself.

Now we cut back to the black fleet. We see the secret planet of the space pirates: a barren and airless landscape of craters. And then we see a hatch open between two mountains, and the fleet enters a hollow world with an artificial sun at that center.

Scientifically, of course, it makes no sense at all (all points inside a sphere whose skin layer is equal mass in all directions would suffer zero gravity). But visually, having oceans and farmlands and mountains and cities clinging to the inside of a vast sphere is cool. It is a quick way of showing the audience that the Empire has entire worlds and industrial cities at their command, of which the Republic knows nothing, and cannot detect from space.

We meet Captain Ansteel again. (Will Smith in an eyepatch). He is reporting to the a sober-looking six year old boy, who is apparently the Emperor. Grand Admiral Thrawn, a blue-face Kalonian, tells the Emperor to go play, and hears the report. The sacred scroll was not found. The daughter of Sentara was not found. They were not on Ossus.

(How the kid could be six, if the death of Palpatine at Endor was twenty years ago, is not explained. Maybe he is a clone. Or maybe he is a nephew. Or his species ages slowly.)

Thrawn speaks to two scientists, asking them how long until the Great Eye of Darkness will be restored, and ready to use again. The scientists explain the artifact is very old, and only the sacred scroll contains all the secrets of its construction. One of them says, “If, perhaps, if one of these young Jedi students were allowed to examine it, he could tells us things our instruments cannot.” Thrawn dismisses them angrily.

Captain Ansteel says that some of the student captured at the academy are younglings, little more than children. “If they were trained properly …  if they could be turned to the Dark Side …”

Thrawn says, “The loyalty of Dark Jedi is never complete. They are not Sith. They never will be. No Sith can turn to Jedi, not completely. No Jedi serving the Dark Side can be trusted, even after years of loyalty. Remember the treason of Lord Vader! It is your turn to babysit the Emperor.”

Thrawn then speaks to an unseen personage, promising that the Great Eye of Darkness will be up and running again soon, and that it will not be long now until the Republic…er, Rebellion…will fall, once and for all.

The students we saw captured by the space ninja are brought out into an arena. Little Jedi kids are thrown to the Sarlac and eaten alive. Ansteel is stonyfaced, standing next to the throne, as the six-year-old Emperor laughs and claps.

We see a mysterious robed man watching Ansteel. Ansteel flinches, and turns, scanning the crowd, knowing he is being watched.

Then back to Lyra. Why Chewie decides to steal the Millennium Falcon, and go flipping off into space with her, is not really made clear. I assume the filmmaker just wanted the iconic ship back on screen, and this was the easiest way to do it.

Lyra and Chewie fly to Coruscant, the capital. The spaceport is crowded with throngs of refugees fleeing from solar systems whose suns have died.

There is a brief montage of Lyra trying to talk to various bureaucrats and naval officers, and being given the brush off. Lyra says she knows where the secret of how the Empire is killing suns is hidden: her old home planet, Ambria. But this is in the Black Sun Nebula at the core of the galaxy, and too many ships and outposts near there have been mysteriously lost, and so it is unsafe to travel there. No one is allowed to go for any reason.

She sits by a fountain in a park, head in her hands, beneath three statues (poised in the iconic posture similar to the old movie poster) of young Leia, Luke and Han as heroes of the New Republic. Lyra tells the statues that they were lucky: the Death Star was a large and obvious threat. But when the enemy is a phantom no one can find, how can anyone fight it?

Chewie indicates that he has an idea. He leads her to the vast and grand Senate building, and finds a small and unguarded door in an narrow back alley nearby.  Chewie says Han Solo’s eldest son works in this building.

We now meet Napoleon Solo. He is leaning in a chair, his feet up on a desk, tossing a rubber ball against the far wall. A robotic mop is swabbing the floor. Lyra says to Chewie, “I thought you said he worked in the Senate.”

Naps says, “I work in the building. I am a janitor. I clean up messes.”

Lyra, “But this is a senator’s office. And I thought only robots did janitorial work?”

“This senator in particular makes messes. I supervise the clean up robots.” He bounces his rubber ball off the automatic mop, which beeps loudly at him. “You missed a spot.”

Lyra explains her quest: she believes her frozen homeworld of Ambria holds the sacred scroll where the secret weapon being used by the Empire to extinguish suns is described. But Ambria is inside the spreading effect of the Black Sun Nebula, and to journey there is forbidden.

Naps hops out of the chair. He says that as a member of the Senatorial staff, he has a pass to allow him where other citizens are not allowed to go. He says “C’mon! I could use a vacation.”

He opens a closet, and we see robot duplicate of him: Robo Solo.  Robo Solo is told to hold down the fort and clean up the messes while Naps is gone.

Lyra goggles. “You have your own robot duplicate to do your janitorial work for you?”

Naps grins. “My Mom is a Queen. Rank hath its privileges, don’t you know.”

Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Chewie, Lyra, and Naps head toward the dark core of the galaxy.

Meanwhile, back at the hollow pirate planet, Kaas, Captain Ansteel travels to the barren surface. He stands in the middle of a flat plane of black glass, draws his blaster rifle, and waits. After a while, the mysterious robed figure is seen walking slowly across the black surface toward him. Ansteel shoots: the blaster bolt sizzles through the air. The robed man raises a hand. The bolt slows, and halts, frozen in midmotion. The man walks past it, whereupon the blast leaps into motion, striking the ground. The gust of wind throws the man’s hood aside. It is Luke Skywalker, now a fierce-looking old man, battle-scarred and bearded.

Luke says: “There is a better way.”

Ansteel says: “Empire requires iron discipline, yes, and even cruelty. It is bad, but the alternative is worse.  Whenever one rebellion is squelched, another rises. So it has been my whole life. So it will be for all eternity.”

Luke: “There is always the third option, Flint.”

Ansteel: “Wait. How do you know my birth name? I have been KL-NSTL since I was taken from my parents! They were traitors. My whole life has been spent in service to the empire, attempting to expiate that stain!”

“They were heroes. They would have wished for something better.”

“Better, how? Either there will be lawlessness and destruction, or there will peace beneath the iron boot of the Empire.”

“The Republic might win, and bring peace and freedom to the entire galaxy.”

Ansteel, looking confused: “The Republic? What’s that?”

Luke offers to show him. They board Ansteel’s runabout, and fly off.

Meanwhile, aboard the Millennium Falcon, as they approach the dead star of Ambria, they run into pirate ships with big skull and crossbones emblazoned on their hulls. A fight ensues. When the Falcon’s guns cuts one of the smaller ships in half, the skull and crossbones falls away, revealing the imperial cogwheel beneath. Tractor beams grapple the Falcon, and stormtroopers jetpack across the space between, clamping to the hull with magnetic shoes and unlimbering cutting tools to get through the hull.

The difference between modern special effects and the 1970s effects is well on display in the fight scene in zero gravity while the wounded Falcon is suffering hurricanic winds due to explosive decompression. This was filmed in a soundstage built in the belly of a Boeing Stratotanker. Now, I realize that in real life, wearing nothing but a little mask over your mouth and nose would not protect an astronaut from zero air pressure, and no one can possibly, just by holding a hand-hold, pull himself up against decompression winds blowing at fifteen pounds per square inch, but maybe unseen gravity rays were keeping part of the air back, or protecting the crew, or maybe the Force was with them. Whatever. It was cool looking.

Captain Ansteel’s ship arrives on the scene, and he orders the pirates to stand down. They defy him. He opens fire.

Luke then shows his awesome power, what a Jedi can really do, when he floats into the space between the ships, deflects or parries the full barrage of a warship. As he concentrates, switches onboard the enemy ship flips themselves, red lights light up and sirens wail, and kaboom.

A lot of people complained that this was more power than the Jedi were ever shown to use before. Maybe. But having a Jedi float around in outer space without a suit I suppose could be possible for a man with lifelong training. It is not as if the movie is asking to believe, for example, that an untrained elderly politician whose brother merely happened to be a Jedi could pull off a stunt like that.

Luke floats in through the broken hull of the Millennium Falcon. He sternly asks Lyra why she is not studying at her classes at the Academy, and she, even more sternly asks him why, he is not teaching her classes at the academy.

Luke says that his visions of the future grew darker, and vanished entirely. Only one order ever learned how to use the Dark Side of the Force to cloak their actions, so that even Jedi could not see, feel, or sense their hidden moves. As the sole remaining Jedi Master in the galaxy, it was his duty, his alone, to seek out the source of the dark power.

Untrained Jedi, those who had never touched true evil, and who had no understanding of how seductive the Dark Side could be, would be in greater danger than someone with no training at all.

Lyra demands to know what he fears. Luke will not say.

It cannot be the Sith! Lyra says that the Sith are dead. Vader and Palpatine were the last of them. The dead cannot harm the living.

Luke says that we can never leave the past behind: the dead inspire the living and guide us. It was Obi-Wan Kenobi’s guidance, after he was dead, which destroyed the Death Star.

Ansteel takes the wounded ship in tow.

They reach Ambria. The sunless world is coated with ice, and cities and still-preserved corpses in postures of panic are trapped in the frozen atmosphere.

In special toyetic cold suits, they walk until the reach the spot under which the old Jedi Temple is buried: and they come across an excavation pit. Someone has burrowed down into the frozen ice, hauled it away, and carefully cleared the buildings of ice, digging everything free.

Lyra walks through her old bedchamber and kitchen (which we saw briefly in the opening scene.) Throughout the excavation someone dug tunnels. Recovered rubbish, flotsam and jetsam is neatly stored and numbered and piled in what once was the spaceport, each piece inside its own block of ice. All is surrounded by spidery black lamps. Some crew had been doing archeological work here, digging carefully, looking for something.

Lyra looks at the frozen rubbish. She see her old Ewok doll and other toys. The ball-shaped BB-8 droid is there in its own icecube. She rests her hand thoughtfully on it for a moment. Someone calls. She turns to go.

After she leaves, we see the droid stir to life. Its lenses and status lights light up. A whirring blade comes out of a slot. The little droid begins to cut itself free.

One of the tunnels through the ice leads into the Jedi Temple. They reach the door of the temple, but find it locked.  The spidery lamps lining the ice tunnel turn out to be droids who had been stranding still. They unfold into long insectoid killer-droids, and emitting blaster bolts from their lighting fixtures as they stalk forward. The group is trapped in a narrow tunnel leading to a locked door.

Just as all is lost, BB-8 opens the door from the inside, revealing a conveniently placed giant gun. He makes a comical beeping and opens fire. The fighting droids are blasted into smithereens.

It turns out that BB-8 does not have the sacred scroll. But he does have Lyra’s father’s research and records, including an ancient star map, thousands of generations old. The map is so old that the stars are in different positions than are marked here, and different stellar types. The hidden location of the sacred scroll is given at a star which is a black sun that appears on no map known to civilization. Lyra’s father calculated its current location from its orbit around the center of the galaxy (and I am sorry for the fanboys who complained that this was a gaff, and that stars did not have orbits­­—this part is scientifically accurate).

It is labeled as Nastrond, the homeworld of the Sith. It is currently inside the Black Sun Nebula.

There is a scene where they land on a planet Takodana to get Millennium Falcon repaired. Ansteel goes sightseeing with Luke, and he learns what life in the Republic is like. He sees a map for the first time, and discovers that the Black Sun Nebula, which he thought covered the entire galaxy, is only the small volume of space near the core.

I thought this scene was awkwardly placed, considering we were in the last reel, but at this point it was also clear to me that the filmmakers were not going to resolve all their ongoing plotlines in one movie.

Nonetheless, I really like the bit where we find out how much the dwindling remnant of the Empire (which still includes scores of planets) lies to the stormtroopers. Flint had no idea that the many rebellions he had fought over the years were part of one organized effort, or that his enemies had won some of the battles. The Empire tells its subjects and troopers that every time a battalion withdraw from battle, that another battalion actually won that skirmish. Flint had been raised to know of nothing but a string of uninterrupted victories in a galaxy he thought was nearly all loyal planets. Instead his whole civilization is nothing but a few pirates clinging to scattered bases either in a dark area near the core where no one goes, or planets hidden in small star clusters outside the main disk of the galaxy.

Flint says his ship is a pirate ship, and will attract attention. He moves his gear aboard the Millennium Falcon, including a mysterious black box which, when his back is turned, unfolds and antenna and starts beeping.

The Millennium falcon and the black runabout are met by a Republican blockade when they try to enter the Black Sun Nebula: Naps beams his credentials across to the picket ships, but the officers say that their ship is reported as stolen. Naps groans and mutters “Mo-om!” But then he grins, and over Lyra’s objection, he dives into a nearby convenient asteroid swarm, dodges flying rocks, and leads the picket ships in a merry chase, and dumps flares, blows up an asteroid behind him, ejecting prepackaged debris as he does so, and then sneaks away, clinging to an asteroid going deeper into the Nebula.

They arrive at Nastrond. The planet has no sun, but, somehow, the atmosphere is heated and the surface is habitable. Chains of volcanos and oceans of surface lava cover the surface.

They land at the designated spot. The mountain ranges, like evil versions of Mount Rushmore, have all been carved into devil faces and skull faces. On an island in the middle of a lake of lava, connected by thin and unrailed bridges to the many-windowed cliffs all around, is a flat-topped red dome. A ring of parabolic dishes surrounds the crown.

Cautiously, they land, cross the bridge above the lava, and enter the dome.

The inside of the dome, in all its ruby and gold magnificence, is revealed to their eyes. Gothic caryatids of skeletal, bat-winged figures hold up a vast dome. A giant crystal hangs in mid air above a glowing red pit.

Everyone looks awed but Luke. “This is a temple” he says. A Jedi Temple? “No. A Sith Temple.” He points at the giant crystal, and says it is a lightsaber crystal, focusing an immense amount of the Force in this chamber, but distorting it, staining it, snarling it.

On an altar beneath the crystal is a Chinese puzzle box. Chewie scans it and says it is empty. Luke says this is an ancient Sith artifact, known as a Schrodinger box. The matter inside is held in a state of encrypted non-exitance. It cannot be cut or forced open. Only solving the combination correctly will pull whatever is stored inside back into time and space and give it physical existence.

Lyra and BB-8 step up to it, her father’s notes in hand, and she attempts to open the locked box. With a click, it opens: inside is the sacred scroll.

Elated, she goes to pick it up. Luke calls out a warning. Lyra hesitates, pokes at the scroll with a stick. A cage of lightning flickers into existence around the altar, throwing Lyra back.

With a hum of noise, machinery built into pillars and ramps lights up. Chewie is worried: instruments detect radio beacons in the area going off. There is a powerful emitter on top of the Temple. Flint says, “We’ve tripped an alarm.” He recognizes the code as an Imperial code.

But Naps says the signals are also coming from Flint’s black runabout.

Luke says, “It appears that your defection was foreseen, Flint. But only the Jedi would see the future in such detail as to anticipate this. Or a Sith. But their dark fire was extinguished with the death of Palpatine … and my father. That was long ago.”

Lyra said, “Or there was no defection. This whole thing as been a trap.” She accuses Flint of leading pursuit after them.

Enemy star destroyers, running dark, now turn on their lights, appear in the sky above the skull-shaped mountains, and begin sweeping the area with searchlights. TIE fighters and fighting droids begin dropping from the belly of the great ships.  Explosions and blaster bolts rain down.

Outside, the TIE fighters are landing, and stormtroopers in black armor are gathering in force to rush the bridge over the lava to the door. Naps runs off, looking for a way up to the emitter on the roof, telling Flint, Luke and Chewie to hold the door. Flint puts on his helmet, draws his trident and turns it on.

Lyra sees Flint and the memory comes clear of where she has seen a him before: She recognizes the damaged helmet. This is the stormtrooper that killed her father and mother, with the same murder weapon in hand. She reaches for her lightsaber…

(Personally, I thought the idea that she would recognize him from the burn mark on his damaged helmet was ridiculous. In all the years since her parent’s death, the trooper has never had his gear cleaned? He never had a parade inspection? He never had the scratches and scars buffed out? C’mon.)

Luke cries out in alarm. Out from the hooded statues of the temple now step nine red glowing ghosts. Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyrnus) is leading them, played by a CGI version of Christopher Lee. The other eight are red ghost versions of Darth Maul and his seven brothers, all with ghastly devil faces like his.

Luke draws his lightsaber; an invisible force swats it from his hand. He clutches his throat, strangling. Invisible power draws him up into the air, legs kicking, and dangles him over the central pit.

Chewie, seeing this from the door, fires a bolt from his bowcaster. It passes threw the immaterial spirit being of the dead Dooku and blasts a hole in the wall behind. This red-lit phantom waves a hand at the door controls. The panel slams shut, trapping the raging Chewbacca outside with the oncoming stormtroopers.

In a reprise of the finale of RETURN OF THE JEDI, Darth Dooku tells Lyra the terrible truth. Her father was not a Jedi, but a Sith. Lyra herself is a Sith, and has been trained wrongly by enemies who fear her power. The sacred scroll she seeks is not a Jedi scroll, and has never been in their lore. It is sacred to the Sith.

For many years it was locked here – her father changed the combination and prevented them from opening the Schrodinger box – and she was kept alive, guided here. Her hands are needed to pick up the scroll for them.

He tells her to unleash her hatred and to strike down the man who killed her parents.

Dooku tells Flint that the Jedi never meant to accept him. His crimes will never be forgiven. Flint looks unsure. Darth Dooku makes a gesture, and Flint’s bifork jumps in his hand, and strikes at Lyra.  Red sparks fly from her eyes. She and Flint battle.

Meanwhile, Naps, having found a ramp leading to the roof, runs into a squad of Stormtroopers descending from TIE fighters coming down the ramp. He draws a blaster in either hand, and enters a running gun battle.

Down below, the strangling Luke opens his eyes, revealing a terrible look of calmness and power. His eyes light up with an eerie blue light. Blue light issues from his hand and strikes Dooku who screams and vanishes. The remaining eight ghosts shoot Luke with red lightning. He screams horribly.

Meanwhile, Chewbacca, fights like Horatio on the bridge, bloody and magnificent as he is outnumbered, roaring and tossing Stormtroopers left and right like ninepins into the lava, which starts to erupt.

Flint sees Luke suffering, and throws down his weapon, calmly waist to see whether the Lyra the Sith will strike him dead.

She hesitates. She meditates, turning the red lightning crackling about her blue.

Just then, the blue and ghostly image of Tlon appears. She tells Lyra that forgiveness is the cure to hate, and peace is answer to anger.

The two of them turns and strikes the central crystal with the blue aura. The red crystal turns blue, and begins to rise into the air. The red phantoms flinch, blocking the calm blue light with their ghostly fingers as if the calm light hurts them.

Luke recovers. Tlon and Luke now concentrate, commanding the red phantoms to depart. They retreat into the walls.

One of the retreating Sith, who is still robed and hooded never showing his face, offers a polite farewell to Lyra, predicting that she will embrace her heritage, and return to the Dark Side. There has been some internet debate on this point: I think the voice was clearly that of Palpatine. Who else?

Luke rises into the air, following the giant blue lightsaber crystal. It smashes upward into and threw the roof of the temple, scattering the stormtroopers surrounding Naps. Naps makes it to the huge dish emitter, and plugs in an instrument from his finger ring, and sends out a message to the Republican Fleet.

Flint and Lyra, together, (after pausing a suspicious moment, and then exchanging a confident look of mutual understanding) haul open the jammed main door, just in time to see Chewbacca, oversized field gun looted from a dead stormtrooper in one hand and bowcaster in the other, cutting the main supports of the bridge, sending the attacking force tumbling to their fiery deaths. Burnt patches mar his fur, and smoke is coming from his wounds. He turns, shows his teeth, gives one last happy grunt of noise, and faints.

The Imperial Star Destroyers now descend toward the Sith Temple. Luke directs a beam of energy from the giant crystal to sever the nearest ship in half. The return fire shatters the crystal. Luke is knocked from his feet, dazed.

Star Destroyers surround the Sith Temple. Gun turrets aim at the outnumbered group. Defeat is inescapable!

But, just at that moment, the Imperial star destroyers are struck from above and start blowing up. Republican battleships by the hundreds emerge from hyperspace, guns blazing.

At the helm of one, we see Admiral Ackbar, exulting that the Imperials have been neatly caught in an ambush. “It’s a trap!” He shouts.

A superstar destroyer sized vessel, with General Solo at the helm, comes diving out of the direction of the dead sun. He utters a war whoop. “Kid! How come I am always saving you? You never watch your back!”

The Imperial Admiral calls a retreat; the Republic blows the retreating fleet to smithereens.

Admiral Thrawn gets away as the boy Emperor raised his little hand, and his ship fades from view in a mysterious red glow.

Aboard the Republican flagship, General Han Solo has apparently come out of retirement. Medals are handed out.

Tlon, in the flesh, is aboard the ship. Lyra is astonished and overjoyed. But how is she not dead? The planet froze! Tlon explains the spores overcame her, and she fainted. We see the scene in flashback: Ood, the tree, was burned only on the surface: his extensive root system is where the real scrolls and records were kept, and he drew her down beneath there. The burning upper stories of the buildings kept the two of them warm until help arrived. Ood sacrificed himself, burning more and more of his substance, to keep her warm as the interstellar cold closed in.

She sent her soul to Nastrond to aid Luke, but not because her body was dead.

Tlon announced that Lyra has achieved the quest. Luke Skywalker is found. A look of mutual understanding, perhaps of sorrow, passes between Luke and Tlon. Maybe a spark of something more.

Luke dubs Lyra to be an official Jedi knight, and graduates her.

She goes to Naps, and asks him how he happened to have a space fleet standing by in a place where the Republic was maintaining a cordon. Napoleon Solo grins and shrugs and says he is actually an officer in the Naval Intelligence Service: a spy.

He actually had permission to enter the Black Sun Nebula to aid her search for the sacred scroll, but since he did not know how far he could trust a turncoat stormtrooper, and the daughter of a Sith, so he could not afford to make it look as if the Republican government actually was looking into the threat.

He hints that there are people among the government who cannot be trusted, and he could not tell anyone his mission, except for the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Also, Napoleon says he has friends in high places. Han Solo, his father, appears, groaning and saying that one day his son will be the death of him! How dare you make me worry? And yells at him for ducking out on his job.

Lyra asks, “His job as a janitor? Or his job as a spy?”

Han Solo guffaws. “Is that what he told you? He is a Senator. He is supposed to be in the Senate, helping guide the Republic threw our current crises. I told him his job was to clean up all the mess the previous administration left behind.”

Naps says, “I also happen to be the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. So I have the discretion to hire whoever I would like as an intelligence asset. And, come to think of it, I can also hire someone to serve on the housekeeping staff, just in case Naval Intelligence needed a man able to act as a janitor and sniff around.”

Han Solo mocks him gently for having failed his mission: the sacred scroll was just a trap. And the scroll, even if it were real, was gone, leaving them with no hint as to how the Sith find the impossible power to destroy whole solar systems.

BB-8 whistles at him, nudges up to Lyra, and opens up a compartment in its ball shaped body. Out pops the scroll.  The robot with his mechanical claw had had no problem reaching through the electrical trap field protecting the scroll while everyone else was busy.

This, Lyra announces, contains the secrets of the construction of how Sith Dark Lords, thousands of generations ago, constructed the mythical artifact known as the Great Eye of Darkness. “It will tell us how to destroy it, I hope. But we have no hope of finding it.”

Flint Ansteel enters the cabin, and announces his resolve to swear fealty to the New Republic. He has been taught all his life that peace and freedom were opposites: that to have one meant to lose the other. He sees now that this was a lie. He had been taught that a Sith cannot become a Jedi; nor a Jedi turn Sith. He now believes each man controls his own destiny.

Lyra still looks skeptical. “But how can we trust you?”

Flint smiles for the first and only time in the film. “Because I know where the Great Eye is hidden. I can lead you there.”

Luke reveals that this was why he chose Flint to follow and enlighten.

The film ends on a dark note: the Empire still exists, at least as a fragment, a ghost of its former self, and the power that was behind the Empire, the Sith, even from beyond the grave, still exists and is growing.  The Phantom Empire was destroying suns quietly, without claiming credit, and perhaps was using the power sparingly, slowly. Now the masks are torn. The peace are over.

Naps grimly announces that he will introduce a declaration of war into the next meeting of the Senate. The twenty years of peace was just a vacation, not an end.

Cut to a final scene: We see Admiral Thrawn vowing revenge. In an awesome curtain shot, we see the entire hollow planet of Kaas being towed away by a trio of Death Stars, deeper into the Black Sun Nebula.

And roll credits.

The only thing that this movie did not have was “TO BE CONTINUED” in the last frame. But it really captured the look and feel, not only of the first STAR WARS movie, but, more to the point, it reached back into the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, and captured their energy, look, feel, and flavor.

This was pure unabashed fun, folks. I am sure that, somewhere, in some other galaxy far, far away, or some time long ago or in times to come, a world curiously like our Earth exists, a nearly perfect twin. But it will have this one difference: their Star Wars franchise fell into the hands of incompetent boobs who cared more about political correctness than telling a story.

I pity the audiences on that world. The will never know what they might have had.

I will review the next movie in the trilogy THE LAST DARK LORD, when time permits.