Forward, to the Past! 2 – Episode 1: Mind Tricks
A note on formatting: I refuse to call the movie Star Wars “A New Hope” or “Episode IV”, so when I put Star Wars in italics (like just then) I mean the first movie they made, the one with Jawas and Greedo and Mos Eisley, etc. When I put Star Wars without italics (like just then) I’m referring to the series or franchise or meta-text as a whole.
Having finally seen The Last Jedi, I was free to take a look at what others were saying about it. I’d been aware that the film was proving controversial… by which people seemed to mean that almost everyone liked it apart from a tiny sliver of white men whose disapproval was creating the artificial impression of controversy, and who – paradoxically enough – probably also deny the existence of privilege.
I won’t go into the objections of the tiny layer of voluble fanboys who decided to hate (or rather angst over) Last Jedi. I’m sure all that has been well covered elsewhere. But I will just point out one thing: the tendency to point to moments when the film took a stance or expressed a viewpoint and to see these as objective mistakes.
It was, some say, a mistake to depict Luke in the way the film did. It was also, according to some, a mistake to depict Poe the way the film did, especially in his relationship to Holdo. It was a mistake to leave Snoke unexplained, and to kill him off. It was a mistake to reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies, of no significance to the plot or mythos. It was a mistake to see Leia use the Force impressively to save herself. Etc. And so on.
The ways in which these things are said to be mistakes varies, but the basic idea of the mistake is a running theme in the complaints. The film is also too comedic, which was yet another mistake. It’s a comedy of errors, one might say. Though it lacks identical twins and dirty jokes.
Luke, it is said, is depicted wrongly according to his established character. The mystery of Rey’s background is squandered. Etc, etc. The mistake is either a betrayal of some established bit of lore or characterisation (a continuity error of characterisation, basically), or it’s a bug in the storytelling mechanics, a bit of faulty engineering.
This is all rather telling, and in ways that are pretty obvious really.To adumbrate the complaints is almost to explain them.
We’re often dealing with people who see storytelling in terms of correct and incorrect decisions, with these measured against a kind of ‘instruction manual’ conception of how narrative works.
This is, of course, a case of the porgs coming home to roost, since such a view of storytelling has a purchase on the ideas of a couple of generations of fanboys precisely because of the slavish (if initially post-facto) devotion to Campbellian ideas about mythic storytelling that were championed by Lucas, and which turned out to be so unfortunately influential. The terminus of such a view of storytelling is the thoroughly disenchanted world of TVTropes, and the jaded, can’t-impress-me-I’ve-seen-it-all-before weltanschauung it represents and feeds.
The irony of such a view is, of course, that in its fetish for cod pseudo-Deconstruction, it actually makes it harder for people to ‘get’ texts. It’s a classic case of reductionism. How do you understand something? Take it to pieces and look at how they fit together. It seems to make so much sense. Trouble is, not even actual machines are just the sums of their parts, and stories are far more like living things or natural processes than they are machines… and studying water molecules in isolation is a really bad way to understand rivers, let alone the social history of waterway navigation. If you follow me. If your impulse when approaching a text is to break it down into its component tropes – or its component scenes, or symbols, or it component anythings really – you’re not going to see what the sum of the whole is doing. Texts are meant to be experienced as unities, albeit unities full of contradictions and differentiations, and which unfold temporally. But that’s the point. A text worth understanding works by gradually building a greater and greater total effect from the progressive development of its elements and their interactions. If you chop it up as it comes out, you end up with lots of nice little blocks which look easily graspable… but you end up studying each artificial block in isolation, and that’s a structure that you imposed on the text which also makes the whole text incomprehensible. You’ve cut it up into chunks that can’t interact with each other.
There is something of this approach inherent in the fan approach to texts. Texts in the series are seen as bundles of propositions about the series, each of which must be tested against the rest of the series… which, in practice, means evaluating it in terms of its ‘success’ of ‘failure’, or ‘correctness’ or ‘incorrectness’, as judged against a databank of ‘facts’ about the series which the evaluator has stored in his head. The character of ‘Luke’ in The Last Jedi is not a nested and interrelated part of a text, needing to be interpreted as an aspect of the whole; he is a chunk/proposition that needs to be tested for his score of rightness or wrongness against the facts catalogued on Wookiepedia.
Similarly, though in a distinct way, Rey’s parents. As of Force Awakens, they got categorised under the heading ‘Mystery’, which of course also meant that they were in ‘Pending’. There was no reason for them to be in it, even as a noticeable absence, if they were not going to be returned to and ‘resolved’. The resolution would have to take the form of a revelation, because that’s how stories work (apparently). You set up a mystery and then you provide a revelation. Stories are about the tactical withholding and disclosure of information. You can draw flowcharts. And, this being Star Wars, the revelation will probably be something to do with bloodlines and families and inheritance… because Star Wars is (this is another of those ‘facts’) a story about lineal destiny and family, etc.
As it happens, Star Wars has indeed been obsessed with such things… but then confronting and circumventing Star Wars’ seemingly innate tendencies and obsessions is one of the tasks Rian Johnson evidently set himself when creating Last Jedi. (Whether he succeeded, or partially succeeded, is another question.)
It is dunderheaded to view the anti-revelation that Rey’s parents were insignificant drunks, and that Rey herself is ‘nobody’, as an error, a kind of glitch in the storytelling mechanics. It rests upon refusing to see the text for what it actually is, or to judge it by its own actual aims, or to even admit that it is a story with its own integrity, and instead to insist upon viewing it as another package of information about Star Wars which needs to be evaluated as correct or incorrect according to the fan fact-hoard. (An approach very much reinforced in recent years by several texts and their owners, most particularly J. K. Rowling.)
This view is why someone – albeit someone who subsequently apologised and explained that their thinking was skewiff at the time owing to chronic pain and meds, which isn’t something to laugh at – launched a petition to have Last Jedi de-canonised. Their complaint about it was that it failed the test of correctness or accuracy against which all new fact-packages have to be checked. It flunked the exam.
I’m being a bit harsh. Not all fans think this way. As I say, the people who disliked Last Jedi are in a minority that only seems significant because it’s so loud. Also, some people just didn’t like it – which is totally fair enough.
Even so, I wanted to start with this issue because it’s a way in to thinking about what Last Jedi is up to.
Last Jedi clearly set itself the task of developing Star Wars by questioning some of its assumptions. As noted, when it does this some people see it as having made mistakes, and the mistakes are of two kinds: mistakes of content and mistakes of form. Remember, above, we identified two propositions being put (consciously or unconsciously) by some: that the film is making what we called continuity errors of characterisation, and also that is it making technical mistakes of narrative. The first is the content mistake, the second is the form mistake. The very fact that the film is being criticised on these two axes concurrently suggests that it is consciously working on those same two axes concurrently.
It is by no means clear that the silly critics are actually as deluded as we might want them to be. I mean, they’re being silly, but they’re not entirely imagining the things they’re being silly about. They whinged about Force Awakens being an SJW conspiracy, and they’re whingeing the same way about Last Jedi – and in both cases, while their claims are both malignant and overblown, they’re not exactly wrong to suggest that both films are more politically conscious, or that both deliberately position themselves in a certain way in terms of current political discourse. (This is also – perhaps even more so – true of Rogue One.) There is, to be frank, a germ of truth in the idea that Star Wars has gone all SJW. Of course, it’s only a germ.
The series has always had a basically liberal orientation (with all the pros and cons that entails) and part of its reinvention has been an interesting shift towards greater diversity and inclusiveness, etc. (I’ve looked at this, and suggested possible reasons for it – and ambivalences around it – elsewhere.) This is why it’s fair to say that the axis of criticism we identified as targeting what it thinks of as a content mistake (see above) can also be characterised as an ideology mistake.
There is clearly a link between the worry about characters behaving ‘out of character’ and characters not thinking or saying the right things, ideologically speaking. Luke isn’t just (supposedly) not behaving like Luke, he’s doing so in a particular way. Indeed, it is probably the specific way he is behaving (the things he’s saying, the ideas he’s espousing and/or questioning) which is the real spur to the complaints that he’s acting out of character. It’s wrong because he’s saying things he shouldn’t be saying, and we know he shouldn’t be saying them because they’re ideologically dissonant. He’s seen as behaving ‘wrongly’, which is then seen as a writing mistake, because he is saying things that are judged as ideologically incorrect.
This isn’t new. Nobody believed that Stefan Molyneux was worried about Rey’s alleged hyper-competence because it offended his ideas of narrative plausibility. It was seen as a mistake (a violation of the aesthetics of storytelling, and/or of believability) because it was seen as expressing ideology he found odious, namely that women are not necessarily all worthless garbage. The film’s brave stance on there being no reason why women shouldn’t behave as implausibly as men in fantasy narratives was characterised by him as evidence of a female supremacy agenda. To buttress this case, he – and many like him – pointed to Rey’s mysterious abilities and accused the film of ‘making no sense’, etc because it was thus full of writing mistakes. What they meant, of course, was that it made no sense to them to suddenly see a cultural product like Star Wars rejecting a double standard they were used to, and which flattered them. They apparently failed to notice that it was a plot point that Rey had mysterious, magic abilities – much as it usually is in such narratives. Did they fail to notice that half the students at Hogwarts were girls?
The issue of who is fallible and who is infallible continues to be a way of phrasing these ideological objections. Much as Rey in Force Awakens was said to be infallible (which actually just refers to the fact that, being the magic hero, she is thus magically heroic, just like Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, etc, except female), so Luke in Last Jedi is said to be distressingly (and wrongly) weak, etc. But again, this isn’t a mistake, a continuity error of characterisation. It is a conscious choice which both fits in with established narrative structures (i.e. the discouraged old hero must be roused from their slough of despond and given new hope… if you want to be all TVTropes about it) and also allows the story to communicate one of its deliberate stances. The story is deliberately trying to subject some things about the Jedi to question, and some things about heroes generally. It deliberately has Luke mimic the established (if, so to speak, accidental) pattern of old defeated Jedis just giving up and fucking off into hiding.
Actually – as much as I liked the film a lot, on the whole – the scrutiny and deconstruction to which Last Jedi subjects the Jedi, Luke, and the series generally, is pretty weaksauce. The Jedi are explicitly called out by Luke for permitting the rise of Sidious and training Vader, but their failure is cast as a lack of proper supervision. In their pride, they failed by not being efficient guardians. The film does not seriously question the idea that they have the right to be the guardians in the first place, or that people need guardians. What it questions is how good the Jedi are at this apparently necessary job. Is it not the case that their pride and hubris caused them to fall down on the job? What seems glossed over is the fact that both Vader and Sidious emerged from the Jedi/Sith continuum, the Force religion as practiced by moral warriors (light or dark). Vader was a Jedi. Sidious arose as a reaction against the Jedi, drew power from the exact same religion/energy as the Jedi, and rose to power in the Republic, the political system the Jedi enforced, and which the Resistance is still trying to resurrect!
The Jedi are seen as failing – but could the truth be that they succeeded? Aren’t the Jedi actually reliant upon the Sith (or whatever) to give them meaning as warriors? They two are not oppositions so much as an eternal and mutually-reliant continuum. This itself is not questioned. It’s semi-recognised – in ways I’ll go into – but even the recognition of the existence of the continuum is not questioned.
At most, like so much in Star Wars’ fatalistic view of how life works, it is an unfortunate inevitability.
To Be Continued…
(Get advance access to the next bit – and forthcoming bit – by sponsoring me – for as little as one dollar a month! – on Patreon. My sponsors got all of the above (plus more stuff about Last Jedi) ages ago.)
Oh, I meant to link to this brilliant piece by Andrew Rilstone, which touches on related subjects to the above.
January 12, 2018 @ 10:47 am
How about the complexities regarding the treatment of Finn? I heard the complaints prior to seeing the movie, and enjoyed it more than I expected, but I do still agree with the fact that Finn’s injuries are mostly glossed over (he lands on a newly healed back), while Kylo’s get a lot of focus. There is an argument that the “lesson” FInn learns is cyclic – he was trying to “save those he loves” like Rose says at the start, and is tasered for his troubles! The multiple “I washed this” lines are also a bit iffy – according to the Force Awakens tie-in stuff he was officer material, and thus we can infer was on sanitation duty on Starkiller base to try to get over perceived squeamishness. Him having cleaned all sorts of different installations turns him into “the janitor” some mocked him as 2 years ago.
Also, Rey is a lot more generic Jedi here than she was in the Force Awakens. To me, at least, her initial anger at Kylo in this movie felt much more performative than it did in The Force Awakens – presumably to set up her wanting to redeem him. (Why does she think he can be “the light”, she kicked his arse?) Rey talking about how important the republic is doesn’t seem to gel with her motives for seeking luke in the prior movie, either. It’s supposedly barely been a few days!
Sorry to ramble/nitpick, I’m sure you’ll address all these things later, but fancied getting them off my chest now.
January 12, 2018 @ 5:23 pm
To me, at least, her initial anger at Kylo in this movie felt much more performative than it did in The Force Awakens – presumably to set up her wanting to redeem him.
I’d say in TFA she was still in her immediate emotional reaction to his actions. Here some time has passed, the immediacy has faded and she’s finding it harder to maintain that attitude in the face of her disturbingly innapropriate feelings. Hence the fact that she seems to be at least as much shouting at herself about how she ought to feel about him as expressing how she actually does.
“Not much time!”, you might very reasonably object, but that sort of improbable time compression has always been something of a recurring glitch in Star Wars, right back to the original with things like “The Force? You mean that thing you only just heard about, but which you are now judging me for not believing in?”, or Leia’s near-instantaneous recovery of her equanimity after being tortured and seeing Alderaan.destroyed.
(Speaking of which, that track record of tin-eared character development in this saga seems to me like better grounds for looking askance at objections to such failings in it now than the notion that consistency is a generally invalid criterion on which to judge a portrayal of a character or the work in which it appears.)
January 12, 2018 @ 6:57 pm
That’s “inappropriate“. Sheesh.
January 12, 2018 @ 6:26 pm
There is an argument that the “lesson” FInn learns is cyclic – he was trying to “save those he loves” like Rose says at the start, and is tasered for his troubles!
This, together with his very similar motivations in TFA, is the crux of my problem with the portrayal of Finn which I mentioned earlier, and which I may as well just go ahead and spout now.
In the first film his whole initial concern is to get out of the war and as far away from it as possible, not to join the other side or try to hit back at the Primords in any way. Then when he changes course and gets involved, it’s purely for the sake of protecting Rey. For him, destroying the mutli-billion-slaughtering fascist superweapon devastating the galaxy is a secondary detail, so much so that he effectively jeopardises the only chance of doing so by pretending to have knowledge that he doesn’t, just so that he can bluff himself into a position where he can help one person he cares about. He’s all about “saving what he loves”, to a near-psychotic extent.
Then in the early part of this film, as you say, he carries right along with that same pattern of behaviour. If there was ever a character who did not need to hear that message, who could be expected rather to preach it to others than vice versa, and who if anything needed instead to be taught to expand his concerns beyond that – that the problems of two blobs and a droid don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy cosmos – it’s Finn.
And at the end, what he’s doing is aimed at saving the lives of the rest of the Resistance survivors, by blowing up the enormous gun that’s firing at them and about to make them all dead. If anything, that action reflects a moral progression in Finn during this film, signalled earlier when he hands over Rey’s homing beacon to Poe, whereby he takes on a larger sense of responsibility for protecting people other than himself and the one or two others closest to him.
As for “destroying what we hate”, he doesn’t even finish off Phasma, his principal tormentor, when he has the chance (he doesn’t need to hold off for long before a collapsing deck does the job for him, but still).
And yet, we got that moral-of-the-story scene. The only thing setting him up for that which I can think of is that line about how “it was worth it just to make them hurt”, which for me landed with a deafening clang as something quite out of keeping with everything else we had seen of the character.
I have only seen the film once (same with TFA, for that matter), so maybe there were notes elsewhere that passed me by because I wasn’t looking for them, and maybe Jack will even be coming round to all this in due course, but as of now, it seems very strange.
January 12, 2018 @ 6:41 pm
Speaking of Finn handing over the beacon-bracelet, if we were in another place and if I had the technical capacity to do so, I would probably at this point be posting a gif of Gul Dukat contemplating a baseball and saying “It means he’s coming back”.
January 12, 2018 @ 8:52 pm
I think what we’re seeing with Finn is an arc that stretches over both movies. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to make an argument that Finn has learned the lesson about considering the universe over his loved ones in the first movie. After that critical move of lying about his knowledge to save Rey, he has essentially no processing time to learn anything — he fights, gets injured, and wakes up in The Last Jedi with his head and heart still very much in The Force Awakens.
It’s his side quest with Rose, and her relentless perspective, that actually starts teaching him that lesson.
January 15, 2018 @ 3:47 pm
You’re assuming the moral of “saving who we love” was intended for Finn but I think it was the more about Rose’s character arc than Finn’s. Finn didn’t really react to her words and just moments later was all too eager to go risk his life once more to help Luke with the fight. He also clearly had very mixed feelings about the whole “I saved you” ordeal and at the end of the movie seemed unsure what to do with this girl who fell in love with him. To me it seemed more like this moral was a revelation Rose had and said out loud to indicate personal growth. She was always in the shadows, too shy to imagine herself as a hero but now she became one. She just needed the right motivation.
Also, I don’t really mind Finn being “a janitor”. Finally someone with a mundane job who matters! It also connects him more closely to Rose, wherever this plot might be heading.
January 12, 2018 @ 12:52 pm
It was a mistake to reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies, of no significance to the plot or mythos
This one in particular baffles me, since it seems to contradict their other criticisms. “This character is a total Mary Sue! Also, why isn’t she secretly Luke’s daughter or something?” Like that wouldn’t have checked at least four boxes on the Mary Sue Test.
(I get that, ideologically, these people would find “This girl has powers because of who her dad is” more palatable than “This girl has powers because sometimes random people in this universe have powers, and some of them are girls”. But in terms of their actual complaints it makes no sense.)
January 16, 2018 @ 9:48 am
Yeah. This is the one complaint I find myself unable to empathize with at all. The most interesting resolution of this mystery, an exciting subversion of the usuall SW conventions… and people complain.
January 12, 2018 @ 1:16 pm
I’m probably unwise to jump in like this on Part 1 of n (hey, spot the non-Patreon-backer, sorry), but this does seem to beg the question a bit on continuity of characterisation. It seems to be taken as a given that this is not something that matters, and indeed that this is so self-evidently and unarguably the case that objections relating to it are by definition silly and probably a tell-tale sign of ulterior motives (because surely no one would mind enough to raise objections on such flimsy grounds unless something else is going on). Given the degree to which storytelling tends to rely on characters bearing a serviceable resemblance to working models of people, I think this position needs more justification than it’s given here.
It’s also a little unclear to me whether you are saying that character continuity is dispensable within a text, or only between sequential texts. If the former, I think it becomes an extremely dubious proposition; if the latter, it begs the question on what the boundaries of a text are.
(I have some misgivings about continuity of characterisation (or continuity with characterisation) in this film (though more about Finn than Luke, as it happens). You’d guessed that already, hadn’t you?)
January 12, 2018 @ 8:16 pm
On reflection, I am probably being wildly unfair here, conflating an argument that something is not an error with an argument that it is not a weakness (justified or otherwise).
January 12, 2018 @ 8:44 pm
“The issue of who is fallible and who is infallible continues to be a way of phrasing these ideological objections. Much as Rey in Force Awakens was said to be infallible (which actually just refers to the fact that, being the magic hero, she is thus magically heroic, just like Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, etc, except female) …”
I’m no fan of Molyneaux or any other crybaby who goes at these films, or any other films, due to the presence of a female hero who’s better than all the males in her film. I loved Wonder Woman. Haywire is one of my favourite Soderbergh films. My favourite thing in Serenity is when River does her thing. Some my best friends are female movie heroes.
THAT SAID …
It’s not Luke who is presented as infallible in Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back. It’s Leia.
Luke loses track of Artoo because he is impulsive and not focused on what it important but on what he wants to be doing instead. On Dagobah he is shown to be a sulky, self-doubting quitter when Yoda instructs him to lift his X-wing. Again his impulsiveness is shown to be a flaw when he abandons his training, sucked into Vader’s Cloud City IT’S A TRAP. (In addition to his personality flaws Luke is constantly defeated and in need of rescuing throughout the first two films – something much, much more rare for Rey – but I suspect this is not the type of fallible to which you refer.)
Leia though? Zero personality flaws. Leia is essentially indomitable. No matter how high the odds are stacked against her Leia never falters. Unlike Luke. But … like Rey.
And I’m all for it. We don’t need a Rey who is a female Luke. We loved Leia for being so fiercely RIGHT all the time. It’s RIGHT to love Rey for the same thing.
January 16, 2018 @ 10:07 am
Interesting! Rey indeed seems to have much more in common with Leia than with Luke. Which once again makes me wonder what would have happened in Episode IX had Carrie Fisher been alive. I feel like even if her absence gets written around quite skillfully it will still warp this movie in a way that Heath Ledger’s absence warped “The Dark Knight Rises”.
I guess it’s Finn who resembles Luke (or Luke’s narrative function) the most. Impulsive, kinda sefish, prone to failure and needing saving. The only major character flaws Rey seems to have are her naivety (yeah, let’s become a prisoner of Snoke to save Kylo Ren’s soul!) and her reluctance to choose her own path (waiting for her parents, waiting for Luke to show her the way, trying to imitate Luke’s turning of Vader). Which she is quickly growing out of. I really like her but I kinda get why some people consider her too perfect.
January 16, 2018 @ 1:45 pm
Rey is a lot more fallible here than in TFA, basically because her metatextual nature as a Moffat-companionesque fan-insert character plays so differently in a film that subverts the old conventions rather than embracing them. She knows how the original story went and expects it to work out pretty much the same way again (because that’s what fans generally expect/want, and because the previous film gave support to such an outlook), which means she keeps being wrong-footed when it goes a different way.
The Primords, by contrast, seem to have fetishised the “badass” imperial imagery of the original trilogy without ever actually seeing the films (or diegetically, knowing the history). So Ren takes as his revered Dark Side exemplar a predecessor who ended up rejecting that path, and as for Hux? “A small, one-man fighter? I for one consider the threat-bearing potential of such a thing too negligible to be worthy of consideration!” “Couldn’t have put it better myself, sir.” Snoke probably has a better handle on things, knowing the conventions,but feeling safe in putting himself on a collision-course with them because he correctly recognises that they can be upended now – he just guesses wrongly which axis they are being rotated on. (Since this seems to be my thread for DS9 references, for me his satisfaction at Ren’s newfound resolve gave a pleasing echo of Weyoun’s gratified recognition that the disgruntled and drunkenly dejected Damar finally seems to have pulled himself together.)
January 12, 2018 @ 9:41 pm
“… so Luke in Last Jedi is said to be distressingly (and wrongly) weak, etc. But again, this isn’t a mistake, a continuity error of characterisation. It is a conscious choice which both fits in with established narrative structures (i.e. the discouraged old hero must be roused from their slough of despond and given new hope… if you want to be all TVTropes about it) and also allows the story to communicate one of its deliberate stances.”
This appears to suppose that something cannot be both “a mistake, a continuity error of characterisation” AND “a conscious choice which both fits in with established narrative structures and also allows the story to communicate one of its deliberate stances” when I would contend that it can.
To get at this we can drill down to the key “character continuity” point upon which this all seems to hinge for most of the fans whose issue with the story is not THAT Luke fell, but HOW he fell. It is that they are asked to buy that Old Luke – who doesn’t appear to believe family can be turned back from the dark side – is continuous from Young Luke – who had learned by the end of Return of the Jedi that he was entirely correct to have believed family could be turned back to the light (even when his father was apparently a million times further and deeper into the dark side than his nephew).
Because, as you say in another paragraph … “A text worth understanding works by gradually building a greater and greater total effect from the progressive development of its elements and their interactions.” Those who don’t jibe with the Young Luke-Old Luke “discontinuity” agree 100% with what you say there. Where they disagree is that Old Luke is the result of a gradual building of a greater and greater total effect via progressive development of its elements. Old Luke doesn’t feel continuous from Young Luke, because his turn from “I believe in family” to “I’m turning my back on family” is not portrayed as gradual, it’s portrayed as essentially instantaneous (not the instant he lights The Green, but the instant he wakes, emerges, sees the flames and turns away from The Galaxy in shame). It’s not achieved via “progressive” development, but by an extremely sudden one.
Ironically, to those who hang up on this issue the Young Luke-Old Luke deal only works if one does exactly what you counsel against. If you “chop it up as it comes out” such thay “you end up with lots of nice little blocks which look easily graspable”.
Because The Last Jedi works beautifully if you’ve never met Young Luke. To go back to that first paragraph of this rambling reply, everyone would agree with you that the “discouraged old hero must be roused from their slough of despond and given new hope” was an established narrative structure/TVTrope Johnson “consciously” leant into. They would also agree with you that taking the course he did “allows the story to communicate one of its deliberate stances”.
The question is whether those two benefits (which I agree are legit benefits, I loved seeing everything Rock Bottom Luke did aside from the revelation of HOW he began his path to Rock Bottom) were worth the cost of breaking the character of Luke Skywalker at a fundamental level. Especially since we know even Big Hero Luke from the end of Return of the Jedi wasn’t a flawless character, so the notion that Johnson would ignore those ready-made flaws and instead invent a brand new flaw which goes completely against Luke’s greatest – some would even say DEFINING – strength is flummoxing to say the least.
January 13, 2018 @ 12:28 am
Some commenters on a thread at http://outlawvern.com/2017/12/18/star-wars-last-jedi/#comments made what I thought were some good points about Luke’s choices shown in TLJ being plausible in terms of his previously established character, first this one from the poster Skani:
Then this one from a poster named Analog:
January 13, 2018 @ 12:52 pm
I’d be careful about statements like that. Firstly I don’t think someone’s skin colour or gender affects their ability to be critical on media. Secondly pretty much everyone in my office (a lot of ‘real’ people rather than nerds) were really disappointed by the film. My sister actually went on a huge rant about it to me and she is the most anti-nerd person ever.
I think a film can have good intentions and a good political message behind it but still be rubbish. Otherwise we could create 10/10 classics by publishing a list of political idealogies and calling it a day.
I had no issue with the Luke/Rey origin/death of Snoke bit. Saying that, the film does sort of squander that – I mean yeah it gets alluded to but she really should have gone all out onto the “Luke are you my dad???” and ten maybe “Snoke are you my dad????” so that the “Sorry you literally have no legacy” is more of a come-down than just being mentioned as a ‘by the way’.
The first half of the film was quite boring apart from the opening, the setting it as a reaaaaaally slow chase scene where you can pop out to space Vegas for a day and then go back to the chase was ridiculous and stretched believability. Whilst I was glad Leia wasn’t dead, the bit where she flies through space just flat out didn’t work (I wondered if that was a scene they had to do post-Carrie’s death, it felt so clunky). I liked that ending battle in Snoke’s chamber but then the sodding film went on another hour! Didn’t find Luke being a projection being an issue but didn’t understand why he had to die anyway.
I liked Admiral Holdo, but agree that it’s absolutely absurd she didn’t fill Poe on in the plan. Either do that or lock him up after his temper tantrum on the bridge, but you can’t really fault the crew for mutinying. There is a very worrysome undercurrent in that subplot in that you should obey authority blindly.
The film doesn’t really build on criticising the Jedi apart from a few hand-waves. In your Ep 1 review you talk abut the Jedi accepting slavery, but Finn and Rose do that exact same thing in space Vegas – they choose freeing the animals over freeing the slave children. Frankly I think Snoke should have been revealed to be a Jedi (or ‘the last Jedi’) which would have tied that up thematically a lot better.
My main issue with the film is that it’s message is about letting go of the past and moving forward with hope, but at the same time being a big franchise rooted in nostalgia, it literally can’t. It says this message but at the same time painfully transforming itself into the ‘small plucky Rebellion against evil Empire’ we’ve seen before.
The new characters aren’t particularly interesting, so I find myself in the odd position of not actually caring about the next film.
January 13, 2018 @ 4:59 pm
“It says this message but at the same time painfully transforming itself into the ‘small plucky Rebellion against evil Empire’ we’ve seen before.”
It’ll be interesting to see where they go with the next one, but I hope they find a way to make it not be a story of the rebellion (sorry, ‘resistance’) being the one to defeat the empire (sorry, ‘first order’) singlehandedly through some clever daring attack, but more like the resistance helping inspire a mass uprising against them. This would be in keeping with the analysis of the themes of TLJ discussed in the article at https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/12/the-last-jedis-biggest-storytelling-innovation/548609/ — see especially the line “Johnson, though, uses The Last Jedi to underscore the power of the collective.”
January 13, 2018 @ 6:06 pm
Does it though? I mean the sort of collectivist grassroots efforts in the film fail (Poe, Finn, Rose et al). The only successes are mistrusted authority (Holdo) and (whilst I hate identity politics with a passion BUT) old white man coming back to sort stuff out for the new generation.
January 13, 2018 @ 6:27 pm
None of those are what I would call “collectivist grassroots efforts”, they are individual hotshot schemes to turn things around by characters that are the “heroes” of the film, even if they aren’t powerful force-users. And Holdo and Luke don’t really achieve any kind of great victory, they just help make the defeat a little less terrible (unlike the schemes by Poe/Finn/Rose, neither Holdo or Luke seem to have any illusions that their plans can actually turn this particular defeat around, they just want to save all the rebels from dying here so there can be some sliver of hope for the future). What I’m saying is that TLJ could potentially be a nice setup for a third movie where the First Order is overturned by some much larger mass uprising, as suggested by the scenes of the kids drawing hope from the symbol of the rebellion and the myth of Luke Skywalker.
January 13, 2018 @ 6:50 pm
Episode 9 could be very interesting if it takes up the trajectory of this one and runs with it, but the choice of personnel makes it look like a conceptual mess in the making, unless there’s some sort of clear and robust narrative masterplan (which would presumably depend on Kathleen Kennedy’s supervision) to keep things moving in a coherent line.
I mean, for the first film of the trilogy we had JJ Abrams making a lovingly nostalgic recapitulation (mutatis mutandis) of the original film, with the second film we get Rian Johnson systematically upending and rejecting a lot of the conventions that have characterised the series up until now and saying “from now on, we’re going to do things differently” (while along the way quashing any possibility of the final film emulating the original trilogy finale’s structure), and then for the third film … we go back to JJ Abrams.
Abrams does have an executive producer credit on TLJ, and maybe he’s fully and enthusiastically on board with the TLJ course-change and has a definite original vision for where things go from here, but on the face of it he’s not well-suited to picking up from where this one left off.
January 13, 2018 @ 7:46 pm
Another thing about the demands this puts on Ep 9, and the improbability of Abrams being able to deliver on them – this film has already done the “Apology For Poesy In The Face Of Fascism” thing on the general level. That is, it has done the thing of saying “No, our good-triumphs-over-evil stories can’t make things right in reality, but they’re honestly not just a sad mockery in a society sinking into the moral slime. We’re not all just wasting our time here, because, while our heroes can’t save you, they can inspire you, set an example and give you hope” (cf. Extremis).
(This stuff is a large part of the reasons why it makes sense for Luke, the established hero with the big cultural profile, to be deficient in the heroic role here, and to deny entirely his own ability or right to make a difference and need to be persuaded of it. It’s why it’s such a nice touch that when he does intervene in events, it’s not really him that does it but his image, the idea of him.)
That works as a place to finish, to say, as the coda effectively does, “Over to you, kids!”. When you have already done that in the penultimate part, the finale can only avoid anticlimax by doubling down on the proposition and delivering more concrete and specific political prescriptions. I can’t really see Abrams being the one to do that.
January 15, 2018 @ 9:27 am
I just want to say that I love this reading and how it ties to Extremis and Luke appearing as a vision only at the end!
January 13, 2018 @ 7:03 pm
Well, the Poe/Finn/Rose plan was also exclusively aimed at escaping. More exclusively, in fact, since Holdo’s required getting help from sympathisers elsewhere, and hence tied the escape directly into in an attempt to build a new coalition (though that would in any case have been the obvious next stage following a successful escape).
(Plus Holdo’s led to smashing up the enemy flagship, though that was presumably not part of the original plan, since if that had already been in her mind I imagine she would have done it earlier, as soon as the transports came under fire.)
January 16, 2018 @ 12:28 pm
The problem with arguments like “something stretches believability” or “someone act out of character” is that they’re so inherently subjective. They all depend on what you personally can and are willing to believe. I, for one, never had a problem with the slow chase. My brain immidiately went “oh, it’s a naval chase, like in WWII movies” and accepted the premise. Same for Leia flying: it looked pretty dumb but was quite touching.
The fact that you didn’t connect emotionally to the characters and events does not neccesarily mean the movie was rubbish. There could’ve been many reasons for that.
January 14, 2018 @ 10:24 am
What I have personally found odd about the film’s fans reaction to it is that everyone believes what Kylo says to Ray about her parents being true.At this point in the film he is trying to break her spirit and convince her to join him so maybe the statement that her parents are nobodies is just a lie to take away any noble ideas she has. If not it seems an ideal get out if they decide to change her lineage in the next film due to fan backlash .The next bit is the oh they’ve killed Snoke already bit. Yes he could of just been a red Herring but…… We see Luke project an image of himself Snoke is supposed to be a really powerful force user so presumably he could do the same. He states something along the lines of he can feel Kylo’s every emotion. And supposedly is blind to the fact that he can’t sense Kylo turning on him. Why would Snoke travel on a battle cruiser in a war zone surely like most leaders he would stay safe at home. Is the Snoke we see killed actually just a projection of himself on the ship? Who has now pushed his apprentice further over to the dark side by clever manipulation . The apprentice kills his master etc. It could all be reset by J J Abrams in the next film as neither of these issues is actually a concrete fact. It has of course created lots of publicity and maybe got everyone looking the other way for what maybe a traditional Star Wars style ending to the trilogy.
January 14, 2018 @ 3:19 pm
Yeah, but I think you need to take the film at face value. Apparently JJ Abrams set up everything in #7 with no idea what the answers were. Rian Johnson wrote the script for #8 on his own. It’s likely with JJ taking on #9 that there isn’t some sort of ‘plan’ suddenly. I mean sure JJ might go in that direction, but going by what’s happening already that would be retconning rather than building on an established twist.
(Also Rey’s backstory in this DOES make sense with the themes of the film, which is why I buy it)
January 14, 2018 @ 9:58 pm
It seems odd to be going back to the previous director for the trilogy’s resolution. As it happens, I think Abrams’ style is far better suited to Star Wars, rather than Star Trek, but maybe that’s because he evokes classic Star Wars effectively? And is that a good thing if we want to progress? Episode 9 is still something to look forward to, but it would be more interesting to have a new imagination in the mix. I’m curious to see if Abrams decides to be radical and set the traditional sci fi tropes aside.