Aw Luke… won’t see him no more

It’s been a hot minute or three since keys have been punched in anger around here, and it only seems fitting that after 26 months away from my last entry that I’m back to talking about Star Wars again. I don’t know why these things happen, it just seems right to roll with it when they come along.

Once again, I’ll have to disagree with the marauding hordes of true believer geeks who think that The Last Jedi is the worst Star Wars movie since… well… the last time they saw The Force Awakens. Funny how quickly their opinion changed, isn’t it? All of a sudden, that one isn’t looking so bad now that they have a new punching bag to work on. Of course, this will probably hold true for when the next episode sees light of day (or dark of theatre depending on how literal you’d like to be) since JJ Abrams will be at the helm of that one. It’ll be interesting to see how many folks crawl back to what was the most absurd thing I’d heard in a long time when they said that they thought The Phantom Menace was better than TFA. Right… and Greedo shot first…

Truth be told, some folks will never be satisfied with any Star Wars movie outside the original trilogy – it’s their childhood and those memories only get more golden as their hair gets more silver. As someone who curses under his breath every time Michael Bay runs out another Transformers abomination, I can sympathize. (On a sidenote, it’s my contention that centering a movie around sentient transforming robots wasn’t the main hurdle and that there was and is a good movie or three to made out of that material – it’s just that Michael Bay is a lazy, immature director with the attention span of a 6 year old after a dozen pixie sticks and a bottle of Mountain Dew… but I digress…)

Personally, I love the new Star Wars movies because of their combination of reverence and irreverence for the original material. It acknowledges how beloved the characters and story is to its fans while at the same time realizing that the only way forward is to blaze its own trail. As I mentioned in my previous post, yes there are some repeats and callbacks, but there’s also twists and extra depth to them. Sure, Maz’s place was a callback to the cantina in Mos Eisley… but did anyone think there’s only one space bar in the whole galaxy? Hell, that probably wasn’t the only bar at Mos Eisley…

The most interesting part of The Last Jedi for me was in the bonus features where you can actually see and hear Mark Hamill’s reluctance and outright disapproval of how his character was being used. So speakth Skywalker…

After reading the script for the film, Mark Hamill told director Rian Johnson, “I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character [Luke Skywalker]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.”

Hamill says that the character of Luke Skywalker doesn’t belong to him anymore, it belongs to the fans and the world at large – they just let him borrow it. For my money, that’s one of the best descriptions of what happens to art once the artist has released it into the world – it’s not theirs anymore. George Lucas kinda-sorta recognized this when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney… and then bitched and moaned that they didn’t follow the ideas he left behind. Sorry bub, guess you shouldn’t have sold the store then, huh? Star Wars fans would do well to realize that it doesn’t necessarily belong to them either.

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Star Wars & Cyclical Storytelling

Watching people turn on The Force Awakens has been pretty interesting over the last few weeks. It was all breathless anticipation for a bit, giddiness when it was released, and then the backlash immediately started to make itself known within a few days.

In the interest of full disclosure, I loved it and will probably see it again before it leaves theaters. My faith in any project involving JJ Abrams has been reinforced with Adamatium – whether it’s the new Cloverfield movie (that somehow managed to stay under wraps this entire time) or something he dreamed up with a 6 year old kid over lunch. Doesn’t matter, I’m in. So feel free to begin sharpening up the knives if you wish.

The main complaint I’ve heard is that The Force Awakens is basically a reboot or re-telling of A New Hope (Episode 4). I feel this is misguided for two reasons…

#1 – It’s not like A New Hope was some incredible original idea that no one had ever had before, it’s the hero’s journey and coming of age. George Lucas was studying Joseph Campbell while writing Star Wars and was interested in the myths that are present in all cultures. Lucas was also basing the story and structure off the old serials he’d grown up with as a kid. Saying that TFA isn’t original is a gigantic “Duh!” moment because neither was ANH – it was a tried-and-true story structure and path that hundreds, if not thousands of authors have used throughout time.

#2 – It’s supposed to similar.

Okay, so the second point might seem a little simple, but stay with me for a moment… Star Wars is nothing if not cyclical. Luke learns the ways of the Force from a master Jedi and is then tempted by the Dark Side – the same way that his father was. Luke breaks the cycle and brings balance to the Force where his father succumbed to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. In TFA, we’re catching another person learning the ways of Force, but the villain is at a slightly different place in his path. Rey is obviously strong in the Force and is able to use her powers by the end of the movie – Kylo Ren is still fighting with his final turn to the Dark Side. Instead of getting yet another bad guy who’s driven from the get-go, we have someone who is still somewhat on the fence and we get to see his final turn – a bit like the end of Revenge of the Sith.

Then there’s the little matter of Finn and who exactly he is and whether he’s on the path to becoming a Jedi as well. This adds in something new that hasn’t been present in either of the other trilogies – another Jedi beyond the master/student or hero/villain form that’s worked in the previous 6 movies. That’s a huge difference going forward.

As for the other criticisms, I don’t know what to tell you other than there’s some fans for whom nothing will ever be as good as the original trilogy. I can understand that since there’s a special place in my heart reserved for that summer when my parents got HBO and they were running Star Wars pretty much around the clock. But at some point, you have to admit that a lot of the criticisms are fairly petty and fall flat. At best, TFA is a solid to really good movie – at worst, it’s damn sight better than The Phantom Menace, which gives a some hope for this upcoming trilogy.

 

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