Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Star Wars thoughts and many, many spoilers

A few thoughts on Star Wars and on the latest chapter – beware, here there be spoilers galore…

I was exactly the right age when the first Star Wars movie was released. Just like Luke, I was a whiny teenager complaining about having to do homework or chores rather than run into Tosche Station for some power converters (and to hang out with my friends). I was going to LOTS of movies then – midnight showings of Kentucky Fried Movie and Rocky Horror, first runs of almost anything that looked decent (and many that didn’t) – from Rocky to Rollercoaster. There was a LOT of build up for Star Wars and my girlfriend and I made it to the very first showing in Charlotte - at the old Charlottetown Mall theater. It might be a little overkill to say that it was life-changing, but it certainly blew me away. A few days later I was in Winston-Salem for the summer attending Governor’s School, surrounded by fellow geeks who had already seen the movie 3-4 times before they arrived on campus and it was a major topic of conversation.

All of this is to say not only that the Star Wars cosmology is very important to me but also that I come at it differently than someone now in their 20s whose parents made them watch the original trilogy over a weekend before taking them to see Phantom Menace in the theater.

Let me first get out of the way that Eps I, II and III are mostly unwatchable – the result of Lucas being so completely in charge. The man may be the worst writer of dialog in the history of screencraft and it didn’t help that the actors chosen to portray proto-Darth Vader were completely inept. The guy that created the Machete Order for watching the first 6 films makes a very valid point that The Phantom Menace can be completely ignored without any effect on the rest of the series. Darth Maul and Qui-Gon are both introduced and both killed before the end of the movie. Jar Jar almost completely disappears after TPM, other than a couple of short scenes where he is used by Palpatine. On the other hand, II and III do offer some insight into the backstory – I don’t watch them often (and I take extended bathroom breaks during the Anakin/Padme courtship) but they do provide some insight into both Vader as well as the path that Luke is trying to navigate. But they are not good movies.

The Force Awakens had to try to do a lot. It had to bring back people like me that were turned off by the prequel trilogy while not losing the younger generation that grew up wearing Darth Maul backpacks to school and it had to attract an even younger audience as well. So I get the fan service aspect (the retelling to some extent of A New Hope, the reuniting of the original trio as a new one is being formed, etc) and I certainly have no problem with the broadening of casting by adding more women and people of color (I found that refreshing). I found the movie enjoyable but thin (a common criticism of JJ Abrams, I suppose) and ultimately somewhat forgettable. In other words, it was par for most movies that I’ve seen (ever, frankly) – a good couple of hours entertainment. Which I guess is fine but I wanted more.

Then there’s Rogue One. One can argue whether it needed to be made or not but I’m damn glad it was. It wasn’t just a good Star Wars movie – it was a damn good movie, period. The final 45 minutes make it one of the best war movies I’ve ever seen (admittedly not a genre I go very deep in). I kept expecting to see a pack of Luckies tucked into the helmet band of one of the rebels. There was a time when movies ending in major character deaths were fairly common – in this case it was inevitable and known before you saw the movie but the way they handled that ending was excellent. If they want to tell more stories about the stuff that happened off camera and they’re as good as Rogue One, I’ll be all over them.

My expectations for TFA were not that high. My expectations for The Last Jedi were actually QUITE high and they were met. Yes it could have been a little shorter and yes it did drag for a few minutes in the middle and yes they wasted a perfectly good Del Toro (unless he’s back in IX) so I’ll give 4.5 out of 5. Still a fantastic movie and a worthy entry into SW canon. I honestly don’t understand most of the critiques I’ve read (by non-critics) – they don’t like the humor (there has always been humor in SW), they don’t like the way certain prominent characters were killed off (still trying to be a little careful about spoilers despite my warnings), the alt-right puppies don’t like the fact that the cast isn’t lily-white and possessing a Y chromosome, blah blah blah. The folks that say this doesn’t feel like Star Wars to them don’t have the same understanding of Star Wars as I do. I’m not saying they’re wrong. But they’re wrong. :)

Let me talk about Princess Ambassador General Leia Skywalker Organa for a minute. I wrote elsewhere today about her story arc in the original trilogy and her often-overlooked kickassedness. In the prison deck of the star destroyer, she was the one that took action that allowed them to make a (smelly) escape. She had complete control of the male attention coming her way. Even in the first act of RotJ, despite her ridiculous outfit, she single-handedly kills her oppressor. She was not only a leader of the Rebellion, she was the one they trusted to receive the Death Star plans and to get them back to the rebel base. In the last couple of years, I started following Carrie Fisher on Twitter and came to love her as much as her character. So I was prepared for emotions. I was not prepared to lose it three times – in her last conversation with Holdo, with her exchange with Luke’s projection and in her last scene with Rey. Niagara Falls, Frankie. In this movie, I see Leia as George Washington, who was known more for his strategic retreats than his military victories. Live to fight another day – that’s the premise for the whole movie. She was brilliant. And I miss her.

One of the best things about The Last Jedi is one that I’ve seen fans complain about – Poe’s arc throughout the movie. Apparently some want their dashing heroes to be faultless. Instead you start to understand Poe as the Star Wars version of the World War I flying ace, doing one-on-one combat above the trenches with little regard for the boys below or the ground crew (or overall strategy). His jubilation after expending the whole damn bomber force to take out one Dreadnought is followed by Leia watching the lights representing bombers (and crews) blinking out. You know she was both lamenting the loss of life as well as thinking about what the hell they were going to do when the NEXT Dreadnought showed up. Follow that with Poe’s mutiny against Holdo (which he probably only survived because they were so short-handed – otherwise I’d have spaced him) and one hopes that he may finally be learning about command and strategy beyond his tactical combat skills in ways that will show up in the next movie.

I’m still pissed off that years ago Lucas replaced the planet of Wookies in the initial RofT scripts with “the forest moon of Endor” populated by annoying furry mini-Chewies called Jawas. And I was prepared to hate the Porgs. But they were such a small (get it?) part of the movie that they were just fine.

Middle movies of a trilogy are always tough. If the Interwebs had been around when Empire Strikes Back came out, I can only imagine the screams from ANH fanboys - “Vader is Luke’s father? Where did THAT come from!” “You froze your best character!?” Yet it is considered by most now to be the best movie of the lot (I still place A New Hope ahead of it because it is a complete movie – it all could have stopped there and the ending would have been satisfactory). In middle movies, you have to break up the “fellowship” so you can reunite them and they have to end dark so that the third movie can restore the light. The Last Jedi does that in ways that are enough different than the original trilogy that it doesn’t suffer the same “we’ve seen this before” issues that plagued The Force Awakens.

I was not a believer in Kylo Ren in TFA. He just didn’t seem that formidable of an opponent. That changed during the scenes with Rey in TLJ – while his grandfather was content to essentially be muscle for his mentor/master the Emperor, Ren wants to be THE GUY. And he also wants to burn it ALL down and start over – no more First Order, no more Resistance, just a galaxy united as… Renland? Kyloville? At least the kid’s got ambition now. I'm a little readier to see him as the Big Bad.

I would have liked a little more Rey and a little less Finn, but that’s a minor quibble. And unlike some fan critics, I hope like hell that Kylo Ren was telling the truth about Rey’s parents. We don’t need her to be a forgotten Han Solo by-blow or a hidden Kenobi or Yoda’s love child. I’m perfectly happy with her being an extremely powerful force-sensitve nobody and I’ll be disappointed if JJ Abrams walks that back in XI. The fight in Snoke's throne room was awesome - the best choreographed light saber battle they've yet done. If you've ever seen any videos of Daisy Ridley's insane workout routines, you can see there where it pays off.

So The Last Jedi moves into the number 3 spot in my Star Wars order of goodness – behind A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and just ahead of Rogue One. I’m hoping JJ does XI right and I’m much more interested now in the three-movie deal that Rian Johnson has for new SW movies to come. Interested in what you guys think!



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