The Star Wars Saga has some of the most iconic and memorable characters in pop culture, but when watched chronologically, their screen time, or lack thereof, can be surprising.
The Rise of Skywalker has officially concluded both the Disney-led sequel trilogy and the Skywalker Saga. As happens with any fresh product, the criticisms fly. One oft repeated criticism is how the legacy characters, Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Artoo and Threepio (oh, and Lando, baby) are handled, not just in terms of depiction, but also in how much screen time they each receive. Many expected them to appear more consistently through the new trilogy. Han Solo dominates The Force Awakens but is killed off only to appear briefly in The Rise of Skywalker. Luke Skywalker has only one full appearance and that is in The Last Jedi. He has a brief, but important role, in the follow-up, but only appears at the very end of the sequel trilogy opener, The Force Awakens. Leia may have the most consistent presence of the three, with Carrie Fisher’s unfortunate passing limiting the character in The Rise of Skywalker. The bulk of Chewbacca’s screen time and action is in The Force Awakens, diminishing somewhat in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. The droids have the least amount of screen time of all the legacy characters when compared to the previous two trilogies.
Now, to be clear, there is a whole new dramatis personae introduced in the sequel trilogy. Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo, BB8 and company have plenty of screen time and this makes sense, since the sequel trilogy is really about them. But, the legacy characters are called as much for a reason – it all started with them back in 1977, therefore it stands to reason that the expectation of having more of them in the sequel trilogy has merit.
The problem with this take is that, while the films started in 1977, the saga really started in 1999 and when viewed in chronological order, and without any preconceptions, the Star Wars (specifically, the Skywalker) Saga has always maintained a shifting focus on which character the audience should follow and to grow accustomed. This piece will take a look at some of these characters as they roll out (and roll back in) over the course of the saga.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi, meet Anakin Skywalker.”
…said a new character named Qui-Gon Jinn – except he’s not just a new character – he’s the first character of the Saga. The Omega. He is a fully trained Jedi Master. He has a side kick, too: Obi-Wan Kenobi who is Kato to Qui-Gon’s Green Hornet. He’s not quite ready for his own show, but grateful to be on Qui-Gon’s.
Qui-Gon is the main protagonist of The Phantom Menace. He’s large and in charge. All the major decisions are made by him. He’s wise and kind and powerful. He defies conventional authority when it flies in the face of what is right and just. He is a paragon of virtue. Fallible, but well intended. He finds the Chosen One – a boy named Anakin Skywalker who, he believes, will bring balance to the Force. He risks everything to free the boy from a life of slavery and train him to be a Jedi, while protecting a pacifist Queen from assassins and a droid army and he does all this backwards and in heels.
Then he gets killed.
And he’s never seen again.
To be fair, he is heard briefly – ever so briefly – in Attack of the Clones and The Rise of Skywalker, but otherwise, Qui-Gon Jinn, this characters who started it all, trained Obi-Wan, was trained by Yoda and discoverer of Darth Vader-to be, fades into the background radiation of a galaxy far, far away.
Anakin will never mention him again (He was set free by the guy, after all) and Obi-wan and Yoda will never tell Luke about Qui-Gon’s place in his family history.
In any other story, other than perhaps Game of Thrones (Hi, Ned), Qui-Gon’s presence, at least, if not his name, would have remained throughout the rest of the saga. That’s not how Star Wars rolls and that’s been okay.
There’s another character named Captain Panaka who commands the Queen’s guard. He’s very important.
“Begun, the Clone War has”
…said, Yoda, who was introduced in The Phantom Menace as the head honcho of the Jedi. He’s almost nine hundred years old and the most powerful Jedi on the council. As darkness falls on the galaxy and war begins, he will become one of the sole survivors of the calamity to come. For now, he saves the day, and his fellow Jedi, by riding over the hill with the Clone cavalry and opening up a can of Yoda on the evil Count Dooku (Who is so evil, that he absolutely cannot appear until the last act, clearly saving him for Revenge of the Sith).
But the actual protagonists in this movie are Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker. The former leveled up and became ready for prime time, so get used to him. Anakin, as well, is now in full swashbuckler form. The two of them, not Qui-Gon, will head things up from here, thank you very much.
Hey, there’s Jimmy Smitts!
Also, Panaka’s out, Typho’s in. Reasons are classified, but Typho is very important. Believe it.
“Get Help. You’re no match for him. He’s a Sith Lord!”
…said Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. Like Obi-Wan, Anakin and Padme, he’s been in the Saga since the beginning. Unbeknownst to everyone, he was the true villain behind the scenes the entire time. He’s in charge of it all. He’s the Sith Lord they’ve been looking for. He’s the master of Count Dooku (who got killed in two seconds, wait -what??) and he’s just taken over the galaxy and subverted its greatest hero Anakin to the dark side. Fortunately, the audience will know what Qui-Gon thinks about all this since training the boy was his idea (they won’t? oh. Nevermind). In any case, the evil Emperor Palpatine will be huge in the next movie. So will Obi-Wan and Yoda! They’ll train those two babies and the four of them will take the fight to the Emperor and Darth Vader! Jimmy Smitts will be so proud.
Also, Typho is out.
“Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”
…said Princess Leia when she was captured by Darth Vader and the ultimate big bad of the universe….the Emperor. Okay, not the Emperor, just Darth Vader. The former would have loved to appear, but he’s off screen dissolving the Imperial Senate. He’ll sit this one out. It’s a filler chapter of the saga, anyway.
But Obi-Wan is here! He’s going to answer the call and ride into into action with his new protege’ Luke Skywalker! And since Obi-Wan is not Leia’s only hope, first thing he’ll do is reach out to his compatriot-in-hiding, Yoda, with the code phrase: “Skywalker Rises!”
Yoda will know what that means.
Wait? Where is Yoda? Why isn’t Obi-Wan mentioning him and why is this blond kid suddenly the hero? Also, the brunette is his sister! Maybe now’s the time to mention that??
Never mind, just go with it. Obi-Wan and Luke have just met a cool character named Han Solo and (is that the same Chewbacca that was with Yoda in Revenge of the Sith???) they’re headed to Alderaan, so we should be seeing Jimmy Smitts again. Cool.
Oh. There goes Alderaan. No Jimmy Smitts, I guess.
Well, at least Obi-wan can train Luke so he can fight his father (he doesn’t know he’s his father? oh, not cool, Ben) At least Obi-wan can train Luke so he can fight Darth Vader!
Obi-Wan just died?? What the–?
Luke hasn’t learned jack!
There are some cool Rebel Generals at the final battle. It’ll be fun to see them in the next movies!
“Great Warrior…Wars not make One Great”
…Says Yoda who finally gets screen time after he was last seen in Revenge of the Sith. That was a lot of down time. He might have been helpful on the Death Star in the last movie. Anyway, the training of Luke is up to him now, although he’s reluctant and cranky about it which is strange after all that planning and waiting. Yoda’s not exactly chomping at the bit, but Obi-Wan is back and seems like he might remain a player in the films. Just took a little patience.
Also, the Emperor, finally, if briefly, is seen. To be fair, he’s always had a penchant for delegating, but this is a bit much.
Looks like they just introduced a new main character in the last act. If history is a guide, this Lando ought to be killed in the first ten minutes of the next film.
Where the hell are all the Rebel leaders from the last movie??
“So Be it…Jedi”
…Says Emperor Palpatine, who is finally back in all his evil glory. That was quite a build up over two films, but he hasn’t missed a beat and is as evil and nasty as the last time he was seen in action.
Yoda’s gone to join Obi-Wan. Their story arc makes more sense now. It, also, just took a little patience. Nice touch seeing them as force ghosts together.
Vader is burning the same as Qui-Gon way back in The Phantom Menace, but that’s the only connection to the Omega character to be found in any of these three sequel films.
Dammit, where did Mon Mothma and Admiral Lobster come from? Where they there the entire time?
And that Lando made the most out of it. Bravo, baby.
The focus on characters clearly shifts between films and trilogies – sometimes rather abruptly. So, as this criticism is leveled at the Disney Trilogy, it’s useful to remember that, when viewed in order and without preconceptions, that’s just Star Wars. It may be difficult or impossible for current and past generations to view it through this lens, but it will be interesting to see the reaction from the generation of viewers to come who didn’t know these films any other way.
The preconceptions of a thousand generations of Star Wars fans does not live in them now.