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What if we AREN’T here for a reason?

by Thom Yee

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“BOBA Fett?”  “Boba FETT??”  “…What!?!”

I’m pretty sure that’s how it went the first time I’d ever heard the name Boba Fett coming from the mouth of a Star Wars fan.  What the hell is a “Boba Fett”? I thought to myself [probably].  I’d soon learn that he was a warrior, a bounty hunter, and, apparently, a real badass in the Star Wars canon.  He was a fan favourite and certainly seemed interesting, and he even had an unusual out-of-story origin as a character fans first met as a mail-away action figure and in the Star Wars Holiday Special, years before he would make any major impact on the movies themselves.  And then I found out he was just this guy.  And I wondered to myself, “Why the hell would anyone care about that guy?”

Star Wars fans are just different than most people.  There’s an entire universe of Star Wars minutiae and a full-on Star Wars taxonomy that’s been established over decades, codified and embraced by the type of fanbase that knows what the major differences are between an “X-Wing” and an “A-Wing”, will argue over the pronunciation of the word “Kashyyyk”, and may even own the action figures of characters like “Malakili, the Rancor Keeper” or “Yarna D’al’ Gargan”.  And that’s just not me.  Frankly, I don’t think I would have even noticed that the milk was blue if fans hadn’t made such a big deal about it.

And don’t get me wrong, I get obsession, I understand fanbases and nerding out, but for a guy like me, Star Wars has always been around (the original trilogy’s been around for longer than I’ve even been alive), but it’s never been the fictional universe closest to my heart.  I doubt it’s even in my top five.  And for me, unlike almost any real fan of the series, one of my favourite episodes of Star Wars is Attack of the Clones, a chapter in the series that’s frequently discussed as being among the series’ worst.  What makes it special to me is a scene the chase scene where Obi-Wan and Anakin raced after Padme’s would-be assassin.  It’s not the most thrilling chase, but it’s colourful and it takes place over a large and busy city skyline, and that big, widescreen visual was one of the first times I ever felt like Star Wars was a universe.  Intellectually I knew that Star Wars takes place in an entire galaxy of different planets and peoples (even if almost none of them were women), but seeing that city finally made the world of Star Wars feel big in a way the tiny villages, the sparse, empty deserts, and the self-contained and often claustrophobic sets of the original trilogy never did.  Of course, Attack of the Clones is also clunky, awkward and poorly acted, and it contains one of the most so-bad-it’s-good moments in cinematic history, but I still like it more than… oh, let’s say Rogue One.  Just as an example.

To be honest, it’s Rogue One, the most recent Star Wars installment, that had me a little bit down on the Star Wars franchise as a whole going into The Last Jedi.  I was still incredibly excited in that way I always feel nervous and anxious when it comes to movies with the possibility for major spoilers, but I can’t say I was looking forward to The Last Jedi in the same way I was excited to see The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi just wasn’t quite carrying the same spark of nostalgia that The Force Awakens’ trailers conveyed so well.  It simply didn’t have that extra push that comes with being the first in a new series of movies.  And, since its release, it’s been hard not to succumb, even if just a little bit, to the backlash this second chapter has faced.  Having just recently seen it for a second time before our review, I have to say that everyone who hates The Last Jedi is an idiot.

What’s it about?

“The FIRST ORDER reigns. Having decimated the peaceful Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy. Only General Leia Organa’s band of RESISTANCE fighters stand against the rising tyranny, certain that Jedi Master Luke Skywalker will return and restore a spark of hope to the fight. But the Resistance has been exposed. As the First Order speeds toward the rebel base, the brave heroes mount a desperate escape….”  That’s a four-dot ellipsis (a.k.a., an ellipsis and a period) at the end there! The text crawls almost all end that way!  Isn’t that weird?  I’d have gone with three.  Anyway…

Last weekend marked four weeks since The Last Jedi’s release last December, and, outside of the first two weekends, it’s the four-week point that may have been the most illuminating of The Last Jedi’s theatrical run.  By now there’s a good chance that, if you care about Star Wars, you’ve probably either already seen it (perhaps multiple times) or you’ve consciously and explicitly avoided it.  It’s been out for more than a month after all, you’ve had plenty of time to see it, so what makes this past weekend so important?  It’s the fact that this past weekend marked the point where theatres were officially allowed to start dropping the movie.  You see, with Star Wars:  The Last Jedi Disney laid out a somewhat onerous set of demands, including taking a record-setting 65% cut of the ticket sales revenue, controlling the rollout of the theatre’s’ in-store marketing of the movie, and, perhaps most notably, dictated that theatres must show the movie in their largest auditoriums for at least four weeks following the movie’s release.  That meant that if a theatre was going to show Star Wars:  The Last Jedi at all, it would have to devote its biggest spaces to it for four weeks no matter how much they would rather have transitioned those spaces to other movies (like the unexpectedly successful Jumanji:  Welcome to the Jungle) as The Last Jedi gradually lost popularity.  Now, four weeks may not sound like a lot of time, but it’s an eternity in terms of new movie releases, and, particularly for the last two weekends, Star Wars:  The Last Jedi hasn’t even been doing very well.

What’s become increasingly clear with The Last Jedi in the four weeks since its release is that it’s not a movie that’s sitting very well with audiences.  Though it’s comfortably in the upper half of Star Wars movies critically, it holds the second lowest audience score of all of the major Star Wars movies at 49%.  In and of itself that’s a worryingly low number, but it’s also notably lower than the series other lowest installments, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones (at 59% and 57% respectively), far below The Force Awakens and Rogue One (at 88% and 87%), and massively far apart from its Rotten Tomato score of 91%.  People just don’t seem to have liked many of the directions The Last Jedi took, and considering these negative audience reaction, considering how far away The Last Jedi is from making the kind of money The Force Awakens made, and considering how badly The Last Jedi just bombed in China in its second week of release, it seems unlikely that the next few chapters in the Star Wars saga will be taking many risks.  I hope not though.  That would be a huge step backward.

Is it any good?

This might seem like a strange comparison, but I think there’s really only one word to describe the moves the writer/director Rian Johnson took with Star Wars:  The Last Jedi:  Courage.  Like with Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 last year, it took courage on the part of The Last Jedi’s creators to make the decisions they did with this movie, to move on and do something new that benefits all of us.  So of course a lot of you hated it.  And I loved it.star-wars-the-last-jedi-hand

Sometimes you have to make a clean and definite break from engrained habits and beliefs in order to get anywhere new because people don’t tend to change until they’re forced to.  Yes, wired headphones were functional, and maybe wireless tech isn’t quite at the point where we’re fully ready to move on, but didn’t you always find those wires restrictive and cumbersome and inconvenient?  Didn’t we always want wireless headphones?  Isn’t that what the future always looked like?  Without going further down the we’re-better-off-without-the-headphone-jack rabbit hole, that’s basically how I feel about Star Wars:  The Last Jedi.  It’s Luke’s journey in the original trilogy that people identify most with the Star Wars saga, the hero’s journey parable, but it’s just that, a parable, a simple story used to illustrate a simple moral or spiritual lesson.  In order for Star Wars to move forward, its creators had to start making some bold choices, and that’s exactly what we get with The Last Jedi.star-wars-the-last-jedi-rey

As the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker is an avatar for our ideals, a kid who comes from nothing and nowhere, finds out there’s more to the world and something to live for, and, through hardships and trials, grows to become the hero he never knew he was born to be.  It’s in that way, with some variations and swerves along the path, that we’ve been taught to receive and expect stories, but the path in life is rarely that clear.  A call to adventure is incredibly rare and when they come they’re not so clearly articulated and posed with such clear representations of right and wrong, our hardships and trials in life do more than just stand in the way, they obscure it and make us wonder at what the path is or if there ever really was a path to begin with, and when we come through the crucibles of life, if we ever do, we are what we are whether or not we’ve grown or regressed, and there will always be more crucibles to follow no matter how well we handled (or didn’t handle) the last one.  When Rey and Kylo Ren once again face each other in The Last Jedi, both having just gone through trials that have rightfully made them question their prescribed paths, it becomes clear that neither particularly wants to fight the other.  They still have their perspectives, but they both want to believe that there’s another way other than just light and dark.star-wars-the-last-jedi-head-kylo

More than anything else I think The Last Jedi represents uncertainty, and for a series that’s become the backbone of what we think of as movies, that’s an incredibly progressive choice.  When we first meet back up with Luke he’s no longer the series’ saviour, he’s bitter, he’s abandoned the world.  His victories with the rebellion and becoming a Jedi haven’t ushered in a new age of peace and prosperity and he hasn’t restored the Jedi order.  He’s just a lonely, resentful hermit who’s, for a variety of fairly valid reasons, intentionally removed himself from the overarching narrative.  And it’s more than just having lost Kylo Ren to the Dark Side that’s brought Luke to this point (if that’s really the whole story), it’s the realization of the hypocrisy inherent in the old ways that had him believe he was the one to bring balance to the force.  What does that even mean?  By the time we meet Luke he doesn’t really even use the force anymore.  It was those types of prophetic ideas that made the original Star Wars trilogy so easy to identify with (and were supposed to make the prequels so tragic), but they were ideas that always had easy answers. “The dark side and the light”, “do or do not, there is no try”.  As much as those thoughts are appealing and capable of providing guidance at their most basic levels, there’s a toxicity to them, an absolution and a denial of the ways we experience the world and the ways we really feel as we try to make our ways through life.  As fun and exciting and effective as the stories of the original trilogy are, their lessons provide answers only at the most superficial levels, and seeing where Luke, Leia, and Han end up in the current trilogy is like a sobering admission that life is more complicated and happily ever after is a lie.  But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing even if it makes the ongoing saga of Star Wars much more divisive than the original trilogy was ever intended to be.

We’ve always known that Leia was the other that Yoda spoke of as the galaxy’s last hope, and there’s a point in The Last Jedi where Leia displays more power than we ever thought her capable of (I’m not going to say here whether it’s literal, figurative or political power), and, for me, it’s a relatively simple moment that, neverthless, speaks volumes of her character.  We’ve always wondered why Leia never used the force (and doesn’t seemed to have learned its ways between the end of the original trilogy and now) or never became the hero that Luke was, but in The Last Jedi Leia’s true power makes Luke’s journey in the original trilogy seem banal and almost beside the point.  Leia always had potential in the force, but she knew where she was most needed and, in many ways, actually took the tougher path than Luke who was always running off chasing fairy tales.star-wars-the-last-jedi-leia

There’s a point with Finn and newcomer Rose Tico on a casino planet called Canto Bight where they meet the criminal coding genius DJ that doesn’t exactly go to plan.  It’s a whole section of the movie that many people view as a waste since it doesn’t directly work towards the movie’s conclusion, but if you’re paying attention to what’s happening, it does speaks directly to the movie’s overall themes by questioning the difference between the grander views of good and evil and how they affect the people nearer to the ground just trying to survive.  It also expands the ideas of the Star Wars universe just a little more into reality as it shows us how, as in all worlds, the rich live in many ways at the expense of the poor as well as where the many weapons of the First Order and the Resistance come from.star-wars-the-last-jedi-rose

There are moments between Rey and Kylo Ren that upend everything we know, think we know, and were expecting with where this story was going.  It’s all of these scenes, some more successful than others, that make The Last Jedi so much more sophisticated than any preceding Star Wars movie even as they tear many of the basic elements of the Star Wars saga down.  Importantly though, The Last Jedi doesn’t go so far down the path of deconstruction that it destroys the integrity of the universe, instead they reframe issues like good, evil, the Dark Side, and the Light as forces to be understood and respected,  the difference between fighting for what you love rather than fighting to destroy your enemies, doing the right or wrong thing, and being able to make a difference no matter who you are, where you come from, and what people think of you.  And it still has some really great action sequences too.  The opening space battle, to me, was easily better than anything in Rogue One, partially because it just was really good, but mostly because it got me to care about even the minor characters in the skirmish almost instantly and in a way that I never cared about even Rogue One’s main characters.  And if you are more of a traditionalist, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of fine little details that made The Last Jedi still clearly a Star Wars movie like the weird, sudden way automated doors would close or how the First Order’s Gorilla Walkers moved around in a way that still felt sort of stop motion-y.star-wars-the-last-jedi-gorilla-walkers

Also, the porgs are great.star-wars-the-last-jedi-porg1

They’re cute, they’re funny, and they don’t overstay their welcome.star-wars-the-last-jedi-porg2

So should I see it?

I used to have a saying I’d repeat to myself whenever something stupid or humiliating would happen to me:  “And that’s how you know you’re not the hero of the story.”  Because heroes never have an embarrassing sneeze that everybody laughs at; they never cause the toilet to overflow or fall flat on their ass slipping on a patch of ice.  Stupid things like that never happen to heroes.  And when things like that happen to you?  That means you’re a background character.  A supporting character if you’re lucky, but still, just a small part of someone or something else’s story.  But the further I’ve gotten into examining movies (and stories in general), the more I’ve wondered how much they, in their pristine appearance and perfect facades, have sometimes acted more as discouragement than entertainment.

Classic movies and classic storytelling structures tell us that we have a journey to take and lessons to be learned in order to fulfill our destinies and become who we were born to be, and we all want to be those heroes.  But that isn’t real life.  We don’t usually have mythic backstories, cool hero names, or paths filled with glories and victories and supernatural affirmations.  Those things aren’t real, but we often hold on to them like they must be in order for us to be someone and to do something.  At its heart, no matter how inspiring and alluring and attention grabbing things like that have been in previous installments, The Last Jedi exists as a rejection of those concepts as necessities.  It’s okay if things aren’t perfect, if you don’t fit the mould of the classic hero, you can still be somebody.  You can still make a difference.  And if you’re watching The Last Jedi with an open mind and if you’re open to that idea, that’s what makes Star Wars:  The Last Jedi truly great rather than just fun or neat or fanservice (or disservice as many are choosing to see it).

That said, if you don’t like The Last Jedi because it’s not like the other Star Wars movies and it doesn’t fulfill the promise of the mystery box that was The Force Awakens, I get where you’re coming from even if I don’t stand totally with you.  And if you don’t like The Last Jedi because its messy or too long or sometimes unfocused, if it felt like there were way too many times it could have ended and it tried to fit in way too many things that may have been better served in their own separate stories, then I actually agree with you.  Especially if you can be objective and recognize those things as problems rather than proof that the movie’s junk then I definitely can stand with you.  It’s just that for me, none of those negatives outweighed the positives.  In questioning the conventions of the preceding chapters and, therefore, many of our most primal ideas of what stories are, The Last Jedi sharpens our thoughts about all of those forms of thinking, recognizing their faults without diminishing them to the point where they lose essential meaning.  In order for movies to progress and continue reaching an ever-changing audience, it’s important that these types of questions are asked.  And the fact that all of those things are contained in a Star Wars movie of all things is truly astonishing.

Thom’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi final score

4.5

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On the Edge

  • Kate Dickie!
  • So those droids on the back of X-Wings? They’re all just screwing around back there, aren’t they?
  • Thought for a bit that we had an “I shouldn’t have stopped for that haircut” moment with Luke, but no, it was a little more complicated than that.
  • That blaster fire bounced right off Phasma’s armour! That’s why it’s all silver and cool!
  • Holy crap, Rey and Poe have never met before!
  • Why don’t more characters have jet packs as standard equipment (à la Boba Fett)? That would make a lot of things easier on a lot of different characters in a lot of different moments.

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