One could make the argument that the Internet, and the overwhelming take-over of all that is franchise geek becoming synonymous with popular culture, that the movie experience is not what it used to be. Cinema is not the sandbox playground that it once was, alas… cinema is about making money, and single digit millions are small change. Imagine, Lucas or Spielberg creating Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., and The Goonies under the Atlas weight of studio executives, stock prices, keeping up with the competition, and market expectations.
There is simply no way! In today’s market, those kind of projects have found a very lucrative home in streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Stranger Things, The Man in the High Castle, The Handmaid’s Tale, Longmire and Bright come to mind immediately.
No… nowadays, Cinema is about the almighty dollar, franchise options, post-credit scenes to immediately get you going, “What’s next” before you even process what you just saw, and the Internet. Social media has made the speed of fan outcry almost instantaneous. In many cases, these outcries (often full of spoilers) are available before many have even had a chance to view the film.
It is an interesting perspective to watch what used to be my geek childhood becoming mainstream. It is not like we had conversations in junior high with the football jocks about The Empire Strikes Back. That simply did not happen. So in many ways, watching the phenomena of things like Marvel Comics, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and DC Comic films becoming this cultural mega-story has been a bit double edged. That said, it is also a very interesting phenomena to watch the true second generation of super geeks come into adult hood. Fans like J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson are not fad fans. They are the geeks, just like me, who grew up to make films and write stories… just like me.
So, the backlash and division of Geekdom with the release of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, sparked me to think about what it was about the film that I liked… or what I did not. For me, the more I talked about it with friends, I started to realize what I liked the most about the movie was the director. I liked the passion. I liked the visual construction. I enjoyed being able to see his process. It was awesome, and it was totally separate from a fan reaction: the reaction that says, “I own these characters. They are my entire youth. Do not ruin my childhood.”
Therefore, in many ways… I felt that it was perhaps most appropriate to use this opportunity to give that voice to a younger generation of Geek. A younger generation, coming into adulthood, with a child of his own on the way. Perhaps… the most clear perspective on a global franchise such as Star Wars is that which is beginning to be a generation once removed from the rawness of never-before-seen awe. That is my youth. That… you cannot have or take away.
This year I want to make a concerted effort to try to diversify on Keep the Greasy Side Down. I don’t so much want to broaden my topics, but I would very much like to broaden voice…. So, without further ado, the first of that endeavor, is the first article of the new year. Welcome 2018! and welcome the new voice of a former student, debater, and individual event performer. One of my great success stories….. Mr. Wade Crossman, who not only runs Star Wars Miniature Campaign tournaments, but is a lights-out teacher of his own right in the West Phoenix Valley.
The first time I saw The Last Jedi, I was smiling, but also had an uneasy feeling after it ended. It was nowhere near the euphoric sense of, “I have got to go see this again!” that I had after The Force Awakens.
I started my usual analysis of the plot and storylines, and I came up with essentially a list of ideas I though were brilliant and a list those that were perhaps ill-conceived.
- Kylo + Rey mindlinking
- Seeing Poe Dameron 1v1 a Star Destroyer (er… Dreadnaught)
- Crait’s visual design
- Making the pressure of “the last three ships of the resistance” the driving force of the Resistance story arc
- Bickering Hux and Ren
- Praetorian Guard Fight
- Giving Luke a chance to be nonviolently awesome.
Things I didn’t like:
- The entire B plot with Rose and Finn – mostly because it broke the tension of “we can’t escape” with an entire escape and return.
- The flashback to Luke’s failure. I didn’t like the staging of that flashback in any of the three times we saw it. It never felt like more than clumsy exposition.
- Speaking of clumsy exposition – Rey just being told “Your parents are nobody” by Ren was… clumsy. Not bad, I’m not upset she comes from nowhere, but it’s a plot point that doesn’t match up with the vision she had. She was definitely dropped off as a ship flew away. That’s not nothing.
- Also.. Super Leia was… really weird. I’m not opposed to making sure we know Leia is force-sensitive, in fact, I thought that was cool, but I think I would have rather her have just held herself to the remainder of the bridge rather than have her zooming through space..
Basically, like what is proving to be the vast majority of fandom, I was pretty torn up about it. It failed to deliver on many of the promises that The Force Awakens set up.
- Luke was not a Jedi Grandmaster
- Rey was not the heir to a legacy to counter Kylo
- the Resistance did not score a crippling blow on The First Order after Starkiller Base was destroyed
- Snoke was not the primary antagonist at all
- and we still don’t understand what made Ben Solo lean so heavily towards the dark in the first place
There were so many questions The Force Awakens made me feel like we needed the answer to and for some reason… The Last Jedi intentionally subverted, ignored, or told us those questions didn’t matter. It felt like a huge step backwards, and it bothered me a lot.
Then I saw it again last night, and this time, I looked specifically for character arcs. What does each character go through – what’s the true theme of The Last Jedi? I think that helped me understand the director’s vision a lot better. TLJ is all about letting go and there are things we don’t want to let go of, like the idea that Luke was suposed to be a Jedi master who was going to teach Rey the ways of the Force, when really, Luke in TLJ is awfully similar to Luke in Return of the Jedi. He’s whiny, bull-headed, annoyed… Luke actually basically says just as much to Rey, “I became a Legend.” He is saying… I never really was more than me, but people thought differently. I thought I was myself.
(If just this once, I can interrupt my young Padawan here, and provide the counter argument. I disagree. I believe that with The Last Jedi, after more than three decades, we finally are gifted with seeing Mark Hamill act. I thought he had range, true emotion, and for once… was not the whiny little bitch I always thought Luke Skywalker was…. but…. this review is about new voice….. shhhhh)
Yeah, he screwed up and that mistake put him into so much shame that he closed himself to the Force and retreated to die. Which… while not the choice I would have made, actually does… kinda make sense for Luke Skywalker.
Anyways… I digress…
TLJ has a clear thesis. Kylo says it out loud. “Let the past die, kill it if you have to, it’s the only way you can what you’re meant to be.” He is not…. wrong, really. And that line is about the fans as much as it is about anything in-universe. It’s saying… we can tell future stories and we don’t have t be beholden to what happened before. Old heroes die, new ones rise. The villains don’t have to look the same as villains we had before……
“No one is ever really gone”, and we end the movie with literally the next generation of dreams, looking up at the stars and wondering what their story will be.
My wife is pregnant right now, and that scene made her cry both times, because she’s thinking of our son, and what his dreams and hopes will be.
What adventures will he dream up?
It’s really kind of beautiful…. so, in a list form:
- Kylo lets go of Vader as his legacy and Snoke as his mentor.
- Rey lets go of the idea of her parents as her legacy and Luke as her mentor.
- Poe lets go of his confidence that violence (even awesome X-wing driven violence) is the solution to everything.
- Finn lets go of his fear of the First Order and goes from defector to [almost] martyr.
- Luke lets go of his regret for his failures, and even more importantly, lets go of the idea that The Jedi Order(tm) deserved to die because of its failures.
- Leia lets go of the idea that she has to be the one leading the Resistance. Her allies are all used up, and it’s going to be up to Poe and the rest to take over going forward.
- Chewie lets go of his desire to eat Porgs. (okay, I’m joking about that one)
Now, the hard part about letting go is that it sucks. It’s emotional. It’s hard. You want to cling to things you love and wish they would never change. But of course, the truth is that they always do and always will, and there is a small comfort and beauty to that as well. Those things are still with you… still a part of you.
And always will be.
Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends…. and May the Force Be With You