Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The last Jedi

I have complicated feelings about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, so I'm mostly writing this to get in touch with those. I enjoy exploring my thoughts by writing them. I hate trying to say something.

For regular readers, this should no be a surprise.

I'm not writing about The Shape of Water. A better blogger than me would. It's really good. I'd love to spread the word. But I don't feel the need to sort that out. It's just really, really good. Go. Enjoy.

I revisited The Force Awakens beforehand, and I found it, if anything, more tedious than I found it originally, as reviewed here.

So much of a grey smudge of a movie is this that if someone had asked me if there was a character in it named General Hux, I wouldn't have hemmed or hawed or said I didn't remember. I'd have said no.

"The Grand Moff Tarkin stand-in, it being that kind of movie."

"It was that kind of movie, but I don't think there was such a person. I'd remember that."

Of course, he was in it. I'll remember he was in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in the future, although it's a continuing point of distraction that his name generally sounds like "Hugs" when most people say it.

As a Rian Johnson fan, this movie was always going to be a frustration for me. If it was what I expected and hoped, it would be stranded in the middle of a trilogy that, at best, still begins with The Force Awakens, and now, even worse, will be stranded between to Abrams movies.

After a lifetime of seeing Star Trek movies, good and bad, in the theater, starting with The Motion Picture in 1979, but after Abrams's Star Trek, I realized that it was simply no longer anything I had any connection to, and gave up that lifetime habit. I don't think Abrams will be the cause of a the same thing with Star Wars generally, although it has led me to consider the possibility that with a new entry coming out every year, perhaps the future will include more that won't be for me. As a grown-up, I'm pretty ok with that.

The first half of The Last Jedi was solid overall for me, which was enough of an improvement over The Force Awakens to worth the effort. Johnson manages to infuse the Abrams characters, which in themselves were solid, with some real life. This is most significant with Poe Dameron, who was clearly intended to be the Biggs Darklighter of The Force Awakens, because, as we know, it was that kind of movie. Being developed into a real character here fits Oscar Isaac who was more than prepared for this update.

The other side of this coin is Captain Phasma, who seems to grow out of Abrams TV background, a character who was created because it seems like a cool start of a character who could be developed into something later. In this case, one that no one seems to have actually come up with anything for. Perhaps her story will close in Episode IX with something something so amazing and perfect that I'll be forced to believe it was planned from the beginning.

I'm still not sure how I feel about adding flashbacks to Star Wars. It's a fairly traditional cinematic technique. Frankly, in one of the movies outside the Skywalker Saga, it wouldn't occur to me as an issue, but I'm not sure I'm happy with them as a late addition to this group. I suspect I'll get over this one sooner rather than later, but I didn't feel right about it when it first happened.

So, the first half is a general improvement over The Force Awakens, using the tools it provides. There's more Luke and Leia, and both actors do a terrific job with their older versions.

The second half is where it really gets going for me.

Noting first, that I wholly embrace Johnson's update of what a wretched hive of scum and villainy is in the 21st Century.

I have to say, Johnson almost manages to make Kylo Ren work for me. Perhaps that'll even turn on further viewings. I think the design of him as a villain whose moral conflicts are worn so much on the outside is never going to fully work for me. That seems like it's addressed here, with it designed so that he would go forward into the Episode IX with more potential for mystery or hidden motivation. Were a different moviemaker handling that movie, I could be very excited for where they might take that.

Now, we come to the rest, and I'm not sure I'm prepared to parse it out in detail myself, but the themes about identity, legends, humanity, war and storytelling blow every other Star Wars movie out of the water. The things I love about this movie are things I think it does better than Abrams, Gareth Edwards or even George Lucas, not by a distance, but by a scale of magnitude.

That's the reason I think I'll need to live with this one a while before I can do any proper discussion.

As it stands, this will never be a trilogy for me. With a closing chapter by someone, such as Johnson, whose work I connect to, it's possible I might have found a way to warm up to The Force Awakens.

Here's the thing. Younger Neil reveled in pissing on people. My whole JJ Abrams blows goats label is an example of that thinking. It's not that old. I admit, the struggle is ongoing. Now, I'm much more comfortable with the idea that Abrams and I are simply not artistically simpatico. This can be frustrating for me, because he has worked on so many things I love, and so many others that I potentially might have. Obviously his work resonates with other people like me.

So, I believe he might make an Episode IX that will satisfy general audiences. Considering how popular The Force Awakens was and how much controversy the exact elements of The Last Jedi that I found to be easily the most compelling pieces of cinema and storytelling in the whole saga, that's almost certain. But I say that knowing that I do not believe he's capable of making a conclusion that will make this whole trilogy feel like something I'm satisfied with and feel a desire to regularly revisit.

That said, Johnson is working on a new trilogy, and I'm now more confident and enthusiastic than ever that it will be for me. Perhaps it will be even more for me than the original Lucas movies that I grew up with. That feels surprisingly plausible now.

Here are some other thoughts on the movie that I think are interesting. I'm thinking a lot about this, which is good. I might revisit the subject another day.

Toxic Masculinity Is the True Villain of Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Kayti Burt.

Star Wars, The Generations by Gerry Conway.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) by Roderick Heath

On Gender and Jedi by Chris Holm.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Outlaw Vern.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Matt Zoller Seitz.

The Last Jedi: A Mirror, Slowly Cracking by Chuck Wendig.

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