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Rory Dames defends Rise of Skywalker for Star Wars day

“I’m a nerd, I don’t know what else to say. I’m a Star Wars nerd.”

Washington Spirit v Chicago Red Stars

Previously, on Rory Dames Has Opinions About Star Wars: the year was 2017, and The Last Jedi was about to hit theaters. Since then, the latest Star Wars trilogy has concluded with Rise of Skywalker, new shows like the Mandalorian have aired, and Disney has announced further plans for animated and live properties. Opinions have also, er, intensified somewhat, with Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker creating sheer kilotons of discourse, both good and bad, all of it very loud. AfXI sat down with Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames on May the 4th to pick up where we left off: being total and complete nerds about space wizards with laser swords.

There are spoilers in this article for all the films and shows through the end of season 2 of The Mandalorian.

Of course, the first question has to be about the completion of the latest Star Wars trilogy. Surely Dames had thoughts on the way JJ Abrams, Disney, et. al. chose to conclude a nine-episode, 42-year long film saga. “I thoroughly enjoyed them,” he said, “And some of the key moments, like when Rey gives the last name as Skywalker, right, like that’s a huge moment if you’re a true Star Wars purist, so I enjoyed them.”

Dames didn’t spell out what a purist is to him, but there were clues in our conversation. He liked that the new trilogy had similar themes and arcs as the original trilogy. He always recommends that new fans watch the films in the order they were released in theaters, not in numerical order, or jumping around thematically or narratively. He screamed out loud at the after credits scene of season 2 of The Mandalorian, when Boba Fett and Fennec Shand kill Bib Fortuna and sit on the throne of Jabba’s old palace. And when Luke Skywalker showed up in the season finale to rescue everyone, Dames said, “I was running around the house like a madman like, I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!”

Ultimately, said Dames, “I think people that are - not to jump to Game of Thrones, but people who believe things should go a certain direction, that are totally committed to these movies, shows, whatnot, and then when it doesn’t, they struggle with it; but I just try to enjoy it and not analyze it to the point of, it shouldn’t have done this or I wish they wouldn’t do that, as opposed to just be like, oh, that’s pretty cool they did that, I find it more enjoyable that way. It’s healthier for me to do that way.”

Rise of Skywalker is good, actually

Okay, so you’re someone who just wants to enjoy the ride and not analyze something to death. There’s something to be said for that. Then what does Dames think of Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker and does he have a favorite now of the new trilogy?

“Oooooh,” he said when asked for a favorite. “I feel like with the first three, it was easy to pick. You are either Empire Strikes Back, or you’re Return of the Jedi. I feel like these three, I don’t feel like any one jumped out more so than the other ones. If I had to pick one, I would probably pick Rise of Skywalker, moreso than anything else because I’ve always known it was supposed to be nine, right...and that was nine. There it was, it finally brought some finality to it all.”

Dames was generous to Last Jedi, though, acknowledging that it had the thankless job of all middle films in a trilogy: picking up where the first left off, telling its own satisfying story, and setting up all the threads that needed to be resolved in the third.

The other thing Dames thought called for leniency was obviously the unexpected passing of Carrie Fisher. It’s extremely clear from the awkward CGI and attempt to fit in old footage that director JJ Abrams and the RoS crew were trying to suddenly fill in huge gaps in the story. “How sad was that,” said Dames, reflecting on Fisher’s passing. “I just don’t know what the better alternative would have been, I don’t know how you do it differently or better. I thought they were respectful, certainly paid homage to her, but I just don’t know how else you could have filmed it without her physically being there.”

On Rise of Skywalker’s other criticisms, among them disregarding things set up by Last Jedi and some fairly execrable dialogue, Dames was similarly generous, going so far as to defend the reveal of RoS’ ultimate bad guy, even if he did laugh at the line “Somehow...Palpatine has returned.”

“Don’t you kind of feel like his return though was kind of an ode to the beginning?” Dames asked. “Because he fell down the shaft, right. You saw but you never really knew.” Ah yes, a classic rule of scifi: no body, no death. I know Darth Vader did it, but I just can’t prove it. Seeing Palpatine die on screen, Dames felt, was a conclusion not just for this trilogy, but for all nine movies. “We could debate for hours on that, but there he was, right? And boom, he’s now officially dead.”

Is Grogu going to be okay, dad?

Dames has also been getting into the Star Wars shows with his children, primarily The Mandalorian. “We knocked that thing out in like three days, come on,” he said when asked if had finished season two yet. “It’s probably more or less Jedi than it is Force Awakens, Rise of Skywalker. It’s got a little bit more dark to it which I think is good.” And it’s an expansion of the Star Wars universe, which Dames is all here for.

Dames has been relishing getting to enjoy Star Wars through the lens of his children, a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. He gets the fascinating dive into Mandalorian culture and more time with Boba Fett and his children get to go nuts for Grogu (née baby Yoda), though his son was worried when Grogu was captured by Imperial forces. And, in a moment that may make you acutely feel that creak in your joints, his daughter did not connect to his excitement over Luke Skywalker’s arrival.

“As soon as they show the ship pull up, and you saw the guy get out, I started looking at my daughter going there’s no way that’s Luke Skywalker, there’s no way that’s Luke Skywalker, that can’t be Luke Skywalker! And she hasn’t seen those ones yet right so she’s kind of like, wait, the old guy, you’re talking about the old guy?”

But for Dames, it was a moment of enormous payoff since Return of the Jedi shows a Luke still new to mastering the Force, and the latest trilogy shows Luke old, bitter, and cut off from the Force. It was finally a chance, as Dames said, to see “when he was like Luke, the Jedi badass of the galaxy.”

Once his children are slightly older, Dames will also sit down with them for more of the animated series like Clone Wars and Rebels. In fact, he’s holding off on the last season of Clone Wars specifically so he can watch it with his daughter, and he’s waiting for his son to get to about four-and-a-half to deep dive Rebels with him.

“When you become a parent, the things that like you really genuinely appreciate in life, the things that really had an impact on you, you want to share those with your kids. And yeah, the hardest thing is waiting so I kind of jumped a bit with my daughter,” he said. He’ll wait a little longer so his son can really get into the lore; his son’s reaction to Rise of Skywalker was apparently “Oh cool, light, daddy.” But Dames first saw Star Wars when he was five years old, and he feels that four-and-a-half is just about right to get the impact of it. “If I’m still doing this job in a year-and-a-half, call me and we can get into Star Wars Rebels,” he said.