Wednesday, December 20, 2017

THE LAST JEDI: Why I love this movie (Spoilers)

There is so much to love in THE LAST JEDI, and I think the haters are being given way too much attention, though I've found (at least at my office) that there are a number of relatively rational people who just don't like this film. I get it. Hey, it's product. Hey, it's a franchise that's been around for forty years. (One co-worker said it was a little too Guardians of the Galaxy. I held my tongue.) Etc. etc. I get it. Don't care, but I get it.

But here's the thing I love most about the film. And it's a spoiler, but I said that at the start. Rey's parents are nobodies. There's no lineage, she's just super talented. Rian Johnson has returned the Jedi to the people.

Now, I can't say I'm so old that I remember seeing the first film in the theater, I don't, though my parents told me I was scared of Darth Vader. I have scant memories of seeing EMPIRE on the big screen, which I saw at four, and it left such an impression I would hang upside down on the jungle gym and try my damnedest to make objects move (alas, it never worked out, though one girl said she was a witch and chased me around the playground because that's how Kindergartners crush on each other). As a young blonde boy I wanted to be Luke Skywalker more than anything until I realized - around the time of puberty - girls were better than magic tricks. There's a reason I wanted to be a Jedi: In the original STAR WARS, Luke Skywalker isn't the son of the most famous Sith lord, he's just a regular kid whose head is in the stars, and who thinks he's special. It turns out he is.

You could say the big reveal in EMPIRE betrays that, but as much as Luke is related to Darth Vader, it's also about having the narrative rug pulled out from the main character as hard as possible at the end of the second movie, which also means it doesn't really become about bloodline until the next film. Ultimately the twins stuff is where it gets messy, but from a narrative perspective, the son confronting the sins of the father and redeeming the father isn't bad, and as someone who grew up in peak early STAR WARS - I remember going to a mall where a television center was playing the first film and two teenage boys were reciting every line as it played - even I could tell that some of the narrative decisions were based on making the love triangle play out so Luke wasn't a chump. It wasn't planned no matter what Lucas said, and so it was about creating the most difficult obstacles for this young man to navigate, and what is more difficult to maneuver around than finding out the person you think you hate more than anyone happens to be your father?

And here's where it's hard not to kick dirt at the prequels. When you have a writer who says he always had a plan and then makes films that had no obvious plan, and a director (both George Lucas) who was not only off his game, but also had no interest in getting back on his game after he gave up when the only film (THE PHANTOM MENACE) that reflected his interests was rejected by a large section of the audience. Because the storytelling is so shitty, it becomes about bloodline and destiny. There was no tragedy in Anakin's turn, because he's a lackluster character with an unbelievable love story. At no point does Lucas challenge himself or the narrative. He doesn't paint himself into corners and find organic ways of getting out, he enters round rooms and still gets paint on his feet.

Back to THE LAST JEDI. The great thing about avatars is that they can be anyone, and when you tie that to bloodline and destiny, you limit possibilities, on top of suggesting something that history has shown is generally not true. In fact, Episode VIII shows that the children of famous people are often the worst. Rey came from nowhere, yet she's still amazing, Ben Solo had everything, and he'd rather destroy the world/past because he'll always be in the shadows of legends. Modern dynasties give us people like Paris Hilton and the Trump children, and the idea that a bloodline is somehow a determiner of worth or fame is something best tied to kingdoms, and other wholly outdated belief systems. STAR WARS was about, and probably always should have been about, how the force can belong to everyone - as the denouement underlines.


Snoke sucked in THE FORCE AWAKENS, but I loved how THE LAST JEDI made him dangerous and a character, but also cleared him away. If they went another route, It would have been easy to say that Snoke showed the worst aspects of J.J. Abrams's instincts in repeating another round of servants and Emperors - this time with an even more thinly developed character - but by killing him it makes his inclusion in THE FORCE AWAKENS all the better because he proved to be a Macguffin and not a mystery box. Regardless of how this new trilogy ends, we care about Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, because he's an interesting character, and whether he is victorious (never gonna happen), killed, imprisoned or redeemed, that will have more weight than anything that could ever involve Snoke. Even if Snoke was some reincarnation of a figure like the Emperor, that shit isn't interesting.

I loved how Hux becomes a character in this film. He's a toady, he's a bureaucrat, he's a modern neo-Nazi with a tiki torch who is as dangerous as he is laughable. And Phasma gets ditched, which, whatever, she's a costume.

I wish Finn wanted to leave the ship because he thought he was the tracking device. Just saying.

Puppet Yoda felt like a return to form for the character in so many ways. George Lucas never got Yoda like Kasdan and Kershner did, in the prequels it became about bad sentences more than a belief system.

I love how the film starts. At the end of TFA, the first order says they know where the rebels are and the meeting between Luke and Rey needs resolution as well, so that's where you have to start. You can't cut to three months/days/years/decades later. Abrams punted so much, but now I'm thankful he did.