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December 28, 2017

What’s Going On with Star Wars?


Man, I wanted to do another post on Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, but I guess this is slightly more important.



See?  Now you’re all going to have to wait at least another week for the context behind that.

Okay, so Star Wars.  If you exist, then you’re probably aware of the fact that there’s a new one out.  As promised by Disney, Lucasfilm, and all the rest, 2017 saw the release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi in theaters.  It’s the continuation of the story laid out by Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  What’s the secret behind Rey’s origin?  What will Finn do now that he’s cut ties with his Stormtrooper commanders?  What’s Snoke planning with Kylo Ren?  Who is Snoke, for that matter?  Can the Republic beat the First Order once and for all?  What about Lukey McLukerson?

I should probably use this space to be honest (as I did back in 2015): I wasn’t exactly in love with Force Awakens.  I didn’t think it was bad or anything; in the end, I thought it was okay.  Fine.  It had its strengths, for sure (various Poe-related things), but it had some weaknesses, too.  There’s more I have to say about that movie, and I will in a bit -- but the important thing is that I’ll gladly admit that it did what it had to do.  It built a foundation, and then opened the doors for future Star Wars content.  If TFA was the Assassin’s Creed 1 of the new trilogy, then The Last Jedi would be the Assassin’s Creed 2 -- an installment that took the “proof of concept” and refined it into its strongest form.

Did that happen?  Uh…

I haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet.  And, confession time: I’m probably not going to.  There’s a chance, for sure, but I’ll explain why later.  For now I have to admit that the movie’s only vaguely been on my radar -- on the periphery, even though I said back in the past that I was down to see the continuing adventures of Rey, Finn, Poe, Ren, and the rest of the new blood.  That still holds true, to some extent.  The problem is that now I’m starting to parse through the information that’s making the rounds because, as far as I know, this movie is extremely divisive.  Divisive in a way I never would have expected. 

Like, I thought that the movie crew had this in the bag.  I thought it’d be a slam dunk, 10/10, drowning-in-accolades production because they figured out what they needed to do with TFA.  I thought that the MovieBob review would be the standard, and the general reaction -- a movie that exceeds its predecessor, offering up originality while staying faithful to the feel of the franchise.  Then the YMS review shows up and it’s…uh.  Then I caught Spoony’s review/vlog, and he called it fine…after admitting it was a nitpicker’s paradise, and proceeding to do so for about 90 minutes.  I almost feel like I don’t need to bring up Red Letter Media’s take, because A) of course, and B) we can probably expect a Plinkett review down the line.  Then there’s the Rotten Tomatoes page, which is full of glowing critical reviews and a percentage to match, but a ho-hum audience score.  Then there are various comments all over the internet, from YouTube to Reddit to Birth.Movies.Death and more, where some people will staunchly defend it as a good movie, while others will let the hate flow through them.  AND THEN there are stats like this making the rounds, which either signals trouble or…no trouble at all, depending on your interpretation.

And I’m just sitting here asking, “What the fuck is a Porg?”

No, I’m serious.  I actually typed “wtf is a porg” into Google one day, because I had to know.

Probably the biggest warning sign -- and the reason I might miss TLJ in theaters -- is, of all things, my brother’s reaction.  We were making plans to see it together, but he decided to have a watch with his lady friend first.  The next time I saw him, he started off his post-movie conversation as he usually did (with the appropriate title subbed in).  “So I saw TLJ last night,” he said.  And I barely got to ask him how it was before he went “It was terrible.”  And then he turned into me for a few minutes so he could rattle off a list of problems: too long, pointless, stupid, boring, doesn’t make sense, killed off the characters you care about but still made the deaths feel worthless, few fights, lame fights, etc.

On the one hand, it raised a red flag the size of Montana.  For those who’ve been reading this blog for a while, think about what this means.  For those that haven’t: my brother has a much, much, much higher tolerance for dumb stuff than I do.  RoboCop ’14?  Fine by him.  Batman v. Superman?  Not bad.  Jurassic World, 47 Ronin, and The Wolverine?  Nothing wrong with them.  He even went out and saw Suicide Squad and Justice League, and at worst (with the latter) he was mildly annoyed and disappointed.  I legitimately cannot remember the last time he lashed out at a movie like he did with TLJ.  And more than anything else, that made every neuron in my brain fire of the same, singular message:

“I gotta know.”  And now I do.

I went ahead and watched all the spoiler-filled reviews and posts and comments.  And while I’m still confused as to what a Porg is and why it exists (I heard about it in passing elsewhere, but I thought that it was a cheap merchandising gimmick from an old Star Wars thing, not a new one!), now I have even more questions.  Or to put it more precisely?  I’ve read/heard about what happens in the film and I’m left rearing back in my chair and going “WHAT?” 

(SPOILERS, if it wasn’t obvious by now.) 

Let me see if I have this right.  Leia gets knocked into space, but flies back into her ship like it’s nothing?  Yoda’s back as a Force ghost and shoots lightning?  Luke is a weird hermit that chugs raw milk almost straight from the teat?  Snoke gets killed because…uhhhhhhhh?  Shirtless Kylo Ren?  A casino sequence that adds nothing?  A Rebel (?) plan that makes no sense and nearly gets everyone killed?  Rose sabotaging Finn’s heroic sacrifice attempt with a treatise on love ripped from a trashed draft of Interstellar?  Luke using a holographic projection to remotely save the day and then dying because…uhhhhhhhhhhh?   Do I have that right?  I…I can’t have that right, can I?  Surely I’ve misinterpreted for the sake of brevity, right?  I have to be getting something wrong.  I have to, right?

What the hell is this movie even supposed to be?  I DON’T UNDERSTAND.

I mean, yeah.  I recognize the fact that all of that stuff makes more sense in the context of the movie, i.e. if I actually sat down with TLJ and watched it unfiltered from start to finish.  Plenty of stuff sounds goofy if you remove it from the source material/main presentation and report on it so matter-of-factly.  But I’m worried that the story beats don’t properly sync up with or match the lavish production values -- and therefore money -- behind the film. 

If I’ve learned anything from Final Fantasy and Uncharted, it’s that top-notch audiovisual work isn’t enough to overcome the basics of good storytelling (and gameplay, in their examples).  I mean granted that’s all you need to get 9s and 10s from Game Reviewer Joe, but the fans have different ideas as to what constitutes a good product.  Sometimes.

But with TLJ?  I don’t know.  And really, that applies to Star Wars in general.  I’ve got no problems admitting that I’m out of my depth when it comes to the franchise; the original trilogy was never a part of my childhood (and beyond), and while the prequels certainly came (slightly) closer to filling that slot, they didn’t leave too big of an impression on me in the long run.  I don’t have a horse in the race when it comes to understanding SW, and I definitely don’t when it comes to debating either its merits or its faults. 

All I can do is sit back and watch as others take up arms and fight for their ideals.  But now?  Now the waters are muddier than ever.  Is TLJ good?  Is this sequel trilogy good?  Is SW in general good?  It’s as if everything is being called into question, and I can’t get a good read to reach my own conclusion.  Like, I feel like I’m on the jury in a courtroom with 80 attorneys arguing with 80 prosecutors.  Simultaneously.

Here’s the thing.  Like I said, I think TFA is okay.  It’s a start.  I know that there are people who love it and think it’s amazing.  I know that there are people who hate it and want it to burn.  I’ve dealt with both sides of the coin.  But lately, it seems like I was (and am) both right and wrong for having such a neutral stance.  Like, back when that movie started making the rounds there were plenty of people that were onboard, and gushed about it, and gave it a thumbs up.  Yet the more time passed, the more people started commenting about how it was just a retread of A New Hope (a point the Red Letter Media crew brought up recently).  And yeah, that’s a fair thing to comment on, but I’m like…where have these commenters been?  Why did it take so long for people to turn on such an obvious issue with TFA?  Why did they turn on the movie in general?  Why?

Did TFA do the right thing, or the wrong thing?  Did it set up future movies for a fall by leaving everything to “the mystery box” and future filmmakers?  Did it create a foundation made out of soggy Ritz crackers?  I mean, look -- I watched MovieBob’s spoiler-filled take on TLJ, and I understand why and how he can defend it so staunchly.  It’s not just about facts or details, but the whole package -- ideas and themes that’ll outlast discussions on continuity errors.  One of his arguments was that this new trilogy is focusing on a meta-discussion of what it means to have more SW movies; it’s a franchise so entrenched in the past and nostalgia, so now the new kids on the block have to overcome it or face self-destruction.  And I get that.  I got that in TFA, least of all because of Kylo Ren’s desperate struggle to be Neo Darth Vader ver. Ka.  I know what they’re trying to go for as an overarching idea.  I see them trying to be meta.

Now here’s the problem.  Even though I recognize that meta-context, hearing MovieBob explain it clearly for those who might have missed it (or those that didn’t) got a specific, one-word reaction out of me.


I get it.  I got it.  It’s an idea.  It’s a theme.  It’s thoughtful.  It’s at least trying to acknowledge the nostalgia elephant in the room.  But I still can’t help but go “So?”  For me, that’s not enough.  There has to be more besides that -- because A) the meta-context is so obvious that at this point it’s almost suffocating, and B) I’m starting to suspect that you can’t build a whole movie, let alone a trilogy, on trying to deconstruct an obsession with the past…partly because it means you’re still kinda having an obsession with the past.  Also, C) we’re only being forced to deal with this trilogy being meta because the old stuff is being forced on us; it wasn’t a conscious choice by the audience.

My loyalty to the SW canon and ephemera is minimal, to put it mildly.  I get that it carries a legacy, standards, and expectations.  The problem is that the more I’m asked to care about that legacy, the less I do.  The details about Rey’s past are only a means to an end -- a way to take the character and the story to new, interesting, exciting places.  That’s a given simply because she’s a new character.  I wasn’t too wound up about her parents or family or whatever, because I just wanted to see Rey stand on her own merits.  She did in TFA, and I assume she does that in TLJ -- but even if she does, there’s still a bitter taste left because she’s chained to DA CANNEN and fan expectations -- partly because the craftsmen behind the new trilogy put her there in the first place.

Like, TFA -- directly or indirectly, in-universe or out of it, you decide -- makes Rey’s origin and family seem like some big secret that needs to be unpacked.  Maybe she’s related to Luke!  Maybe she’s related to Obi-wan!  Maybe she’s a long-lost friend of Kylo Ren!  Speculation ran rampant.  Then it turns out that, according to TLJ, Rey’s parents were just nobodies and there’s nothing special about her or her bloodline.  That’s…kind of flaccid to me.  I get what they were going for, but it really was the only obvious answer and conclusion that could be had, given the themes these guys are going for.  And to what end?  Why bother with an obfuscated, speculation-breeding backstory?  Why couldn’t we start with Rey being some rando nobody instead of pretending there’s some legacy or destiny in store for her?  Isn’t that basically the deal behind Finn?  You think Poe’s bloodline is what drives him to be a badass space pilot?

Stop.  Don’t yell at me yet.  I get itI get itHaving a special family or bloodline is important to Rey so she can feel special -- so she can believe that she’s one of the chosen ones and not some garbage tossed aside on a desert planet.  And from a meta perspective, it’s a reflection of droves of fans who want to be special in kind.  Gotta be a Jedi!  Gotta use the Force!  Gotta be cooler than cool!  Stronger than strong!  And I can only do that by being like someone else, not by being me!  And in some ways, that’s not a bad theme to impart.  It’s certainly a through line.  But for me?  It only does so much.  And because it only does so much, I have to admit that I would rather see future SW movies -- or the current ones -- focus on something else because they’ve gotten as much as they can out of this concept.  And, they’ve gotten as much as they can out of this concept by addressing a problem they created in the first place.

*sigh* I feel like I’m derailing here.  Let’s get back on track.

I guess the important takeaway from this post is that I don’t get SW.  At this stage, I probably never will -- so by no means should you take what I say as a statement of fact or truth.  Then again, this isn’t just about me.  Not right now.  With people seeing TLJ, my suspicion is that this latest movie has made people think (or maybe realize) that they, too, don’t get SW.  Maybe not to the same level of ignorance as yours truly, but the divisiveness -- let alone the criticisms -- around this latest entry wouldn’t be there if something wasn’t going on. 

Have we hit the peak?  Have people grown wise to the filmmakers’ games?  Have some people reached their limit on how much of the SW aesthetic they can take?  Has the house of cards tied to the canon’s culture finally tumbled?  Has TLJ betrayed too many expectations?  Have the promises of the new trilogy been met in the worst possible way, or betrayed in the best possible way?  Have we simply entered a new era of nerdy combat, wherein arguing about the quality and circumstances of SW movies and minutiae is simply a part of the human experience?  Have we the Porgs to blame?  What the fuck is a Porg?

I don’t know.  I don’t know how people are reacting to this movie, and I certainly don’t know why.  I can read up on reactions, and I can reason why, but I don’t exactly have unfettered access to humanity’s collective consciousness.  My reach is a little limited on that front, you see.  Still, there is one point worth keeping in mind.  How long did it take for people to start “turning on” TFA?  That’s obviously a debate in its own right.  But by comparison, look where we are in the timeline, and look at how much buzz -- positive, negative, or otherwise -- TLJ has gotten across the internet.  That has to stand for something.  We’ll just have to see if it’s good or bad. 

I’ll say this much, though.  My brother thought TFA was also remarkably okay.  He thought Rogue One was amazing.  He thought TLJ was garbage -- and now he has no interest in seeing another SW movie again.  That has to stand for something.

But what’s your take on TLJ?  Like it?  Love it?  Loathe it?  Left it?  Anyone you know have a strong reaction either way?  If so, why?  Feel free to weigh in, and enlighten me.  Guide my hips.  As one would.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to a happy new year.  Let’s all eat some Porgs to celebrate.


…You’re…you’re supposed to eat Porgs, right?

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