Too Many Cooks, I.Q. and Merit

Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media’s Half in the Bag youtube review series has pronounced that anyone who loved Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker must have a low I.Q..  So just putting those cards on the table so you can take my opinions with a grain of salt factoring in my intellectual limitations as estimated by Harry S. Plinkett himself.

Some viewers may be impervious to the aesthetic and energy of a movie, and may not be able to get past a story revision where a space station that was atomized at the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi – turned into embers with a concussion ring added in the 1997 special edition – had a section of it survive and land. Some of us will not accept the idea that The Emperor Palpatine who was thrown down a shaft and further killed in the above mentioned explosion somehow returns having been a busy bee for thirty years amassing an implausible and cost prohibitive new armada.  No matter how much people enjoy the actor, as negative reviews often admit, we know too well from leaks about script revisions and reshoots and actors being deleted that this was not the original plan.

We may wonder what Rey’s originally intended backstory was, back when the new villain Snoke was supposed to survive to appear in all three episodes of the new trilogy. Were we only supposed to HEAR about who created Snoke and who might have been the grandfather of Rey? And have people been overly delighted by the idea of Rey as the patron saint of Participation Awards? There are some who feel the democratization of the Force illustrated in The Last Jedi (and a deleted Maz Kanata scene in The Force Awakens) is a good thing for society to ponder.  You too can make things float with your mind powers!! Just concentrate and you can do it. Those who feel this way might be especially let down to learn that Rey has biological lineage tying her to a powerful force user. She has been called a Mary Sue because her aptitudes and abilities don’t appear to come from struggle or training.  Some of those issues are retroactively dealt with as she learns the ancient Jedi texts and gets some formal training.  The outrage from critics who liked Rian Johnson’s entry The Last Jedi may come from the popular belief that not only is there no Meritocracy (a structure designed by white straight males to shut out other “voices”) but that there is in fact no such thing as merit.

For all its faults, The Rise of Skywalker is a better film than The Last Jedi and it is about as good as The Force Awakens. The Disney era offers objectively better feature films than the prequel era.  But the areas where they are flawed expose too much of the creative process and political push and pull between creatives and executives.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe the official word and posted recollections of Lucasfilm or youtubers quoting sources.  There are enough plausible dots to connect.

The Force Awakens had a production disruption when a door on the full scale Millennium Falcon was accidentally closed on Harrison Ford’s leg. While he took time off to recover, and Disney collected insurance, the time was used for Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams to do some rewrites.  Among them was answering Oscar Issac’s request that his character Poe Dameron not die. So had there been an outline for JJ’s planned Trilogy, there would not be much of any substance for his character to do down the line. In The Last Jedi he is demoted and sidelines, lectured, and given one redeeming moment of intuition. In The Rise of Skywalker he does something called Hyperdrive skimming, which should not be done, meets an old flame to establish his heterosexuality, and basically does nothing as if he may has well have died as in the original script of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Rogue One is a one-off prequel (which will have its own Disney+ prequel) following the daughter of the original designer of the Death Star.  It finds its narrative legs in the second half as a heist film.  Scenes of Darth Vader steal the show.  It has heart for the father-daughter relationship, and even has a blind semi-Jedi played by Donnie Yen who may or may not have a love relationship with his sighted male side-kick. This movie was directed by Gareth Edwards who went from the impressive and subtle Monsters to Godzilla to this Star Wars film and has no further credits on imdb since 2016. He has kept quiet about Lucasfilm bringing in Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy officially to rewrite the script and unofficially to direct some new scenes or reshoots. Directing a Star Wars feature should have launched Edwards.  Maybe it broke him. It brought Peter Cushing back from the dead with CGI and also showed a digital 19 year old Princess Leia on movie screens a couple of weeks before the heart attack. Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy immediately reassured people that CGI would not be used to bring her back in the final film.

The Last Jedi displays Rian Johnson’s formidable direction but also tangents in storytelling to the casino planet that eat up running time and cause familiarity to breed contempt for new characters Finn and Rose.  Finn’s “former stormtrooper” had the most promising premise to build on, but instead Rose treats him as a suspected “deserter” of the volunteer Resistance when he tries to use a pod in order to find and alert his friend Rey. When Carrie Fisher died before a planned set of reshoots could be done, this caused people to look at the finished film with an expectation that Princess Leia would be killed off.  Some moments have unearned poignancy because the actress had passed. There is plenty of entertainment to be had in the film but it antagonized have of the presumed built in fanbase by inter-cutting between three sets of women talking down to men, and the fact that in order to contrive those relationships the male characters had to be dumbed down or worse. The flashbacks of Luke creeping to his nephew’s quarters with intent to kill him and the general depiction of Luke as surly and cynical seemed to exist only on the whim of Rian’s typing and the blessing of a Lucasfilm Story Group appointed by Kathleen Kennedy whose membership has been exhaustively explored by youtubers looking into their backgrounds and credits and finding only woke ideology and presumably a third or fourth wave feminism that was to be interjected beyond any other consideration (ie: storytelling skill). And yet, Leia starts by slapping Poe literally in the face when demoting him and by the end says, “Why are you looking at me?  Follow him.”  The high-handed Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) doesn’t even discuss or consider placing a robot on her flagship to pilot it instead of sacrificing herself by crashing into the bad guys, so how intelligent was she after all.  Luke Skywalker as the unenlightened Grinch for most of the movie, retroactively darkened so that Rey seems like the glowing beam her name suggests, finally does deter the last stages of an attack by the First Order and his nephew in a character arc (back to something resembling the character we knew) that seems contrived by the implausible mental state he was introduced in. So any ideology brandished early in the film to alienate the fanbase gets flipped. No story progress is made with the main characters. Yoda wants Luke to think the Jedi texts are destroyed, so he zaps the tree where they had been stored with lightning. Why he needs Luke to think the texts are destroyed is not explained. The legacy of this movie is that Rian Johnson engaged many disgruntled audience members on Twitter and perpetuated the idea that to reject his movie or its characters is to be a sexist, a bigot, or a Trump supporter.  This radicalized a loose group of audience members called The Fandom Menace who mostly rant on youtube and share spoilers.

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3452021/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t30

Solo: A Star Wars Story is instructive in terms of breaking down audience reaction and how it is that a decent Star Wars movie can lose money at the box office. Was its failure due to a May release when the “traditional” May releases of Star Wars films were only every three years from 1977 to 1983 and then after a gap from 1999 to 2005 ? Lucasfilm had stumbled into giving families a new tradition of Christmas Star Wars which Bob Iger could have perpetuated by holding onto Solo six more months to keep a year between films. Was the box office disappointment also due to disgruntled activist Star Wars enraged by The Last Jedi and the looming threat of Rian Johnson potentially being still employed for further Star Wars movies despite stirring bad blood on Twitter?  Some people had hoped Anthony Ingruber who played a young Harrison Ford in Age of Adeline thanks to impressions he posted on youtube would be chosen to play Han Solo. Lawrence Kasdan had apparently signed on to this project before The Force Awakens, asking only that his son Jon also write on it. His name was a promise of authenticity.  The script would be a plus.  The most likely turning point might have been the hiring of Lord and Miller as the directors. There had been a brief Millennium Falcon cameo in The Lego Movie, which seems to be the only connection. Had anyone vetted them, it might seem strange to hire improv wranglers who made 22 Jump Street for a movie where following the script might be essential.  They went overtime daily, and one would expect the producer would see those reports and the additional expense incurred by indulging in improvisation. Here is where there is a difference of opinion among fans.  Those who are wrong believe that firing Lord and Miller and hiring Ron Howard to take over and reshoot much of it was the mistake.  Those who are informed and correct will say that hiring Lord and Miller and not having communicated as to their working process or intentions was the problem.  Ron Howard made the film as good as it could be.  In addition to those avoidable problems, a leading question by someone at a Q and A over-analyzing a flip line of dialogue in the trailer, like Lando calling Han “baby” as a jazz person might call everyone babe, caused Jon Kasdan to give the somewhat forced answer that it is okay to view Lando as pansexual and that he might have something going on with his female-voiced robot L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). His father Lawrence shrugged that off as maybe meaning nothing, but the younger Kasdan seemed more concerned about woke signalling. The trouble with that is that it only appeals to those who are not likely to see a Star Wars movie anyway and it is a misstep that alienated older fans incensed that after two movies and three novels and also comics that gave no indication of Lando being anything other than heterosexual now someone was ret-conning him with characteristics that might not be as much of a draw. Some had said that nobody ever asked for a young Han Solo movie.  Well, many people of Generation X did want one.  In the early Eighties there had been three novels by Brian Daley who had adapted the Original Trilogy to radio for NPR and a trilogy of Lando novels by L. Neil Smith which Jon Kasdan is aware of because he refers to them as Lando records his memoirs. There were three Han Solo novels in the late Nineties by Ann Crispen and various other novels like Scoundrels or Millennium Falcon.  There was demand.

The Rise of Skywalker is more fun than it should be.  It also has moving moments and grace notes that are quite worthy of the name Star Wars.  Despite all sorts of leaks via Midnight’s Edge, Doomcock, and World Class Bullshitters, among others there were still some surprises and there were moments that I might intellectually reject but emotionally and unconsciously accept or delight in.  Scenes interpreted as having occurred in space are shown in context to happen inside the atmosphere. Threepio is not turned into a battle droid.  Someone just draped Chewie’s ammo belt onto him. There has been active spoiling and a push to turn people away from even checking out this movie, purely out of rage for Disney Lucasfilm and the Disney Trilogy especially, despite the acceptance of Disney + series The Mandalorian and the child that is referred to as “Baby Yoda.”  The ideology championed by Kathleen Kennedy and Rian Johnson especially may have been designed to alienate the original built in audience. But there are some younger disgruntled fans who say they would have preferred these new films to just recast Han, Luke, Leia and Lando with younger actors and adapt some of the books.  The books that are now considered non-canon and “Legends” do have stronger stories, but the excitement of the new trilogy was to see the legacy cast members return.  The potential disappointment has been in how they were used. Luke became a destination in VII more than a role, then an antagonist for most of VIII, and a ghost in IX that actually at least feels more like the Luke we remember. Mark Hamill was given a bonus to say nothing about the minimal screen time he would have in Episode VII.  And he was candid about his objections to the changes made by Rian to Luke in VIII. He had to walk those remarks back in the meantime, but clearly he was as frustrated as the core fanbase that Luke, Han and Leia never has so much as a coffee together in VII or even the tail end of one small mission while all the characters and cast were still alive.

Did everyone want to make the same movies? Was there a lack of oversight by Kathleen Kennedy, or was it just her priority to make sure people were politically falling in line and the daily reports on filming didn’t have to be monitored and the directors carefully chosen?  JJ himself was the one who hired a female second unit director for The Rise of Skywalker. It seems that if someone doesn’t love a particular intellectual property or series films and perhaps looks down on the core demographic it traditionally appeals to then getting that right becomes less important than using it as a vessel or delivery device for social programming.  I like Rey and I think this last film is entertaining, so I’ll take the fun and the feels where I find them and frankly overlook the messy stuff.  Maybe half an hour was trimmed from the beginning. Maybe that is why the pacing is too fast for some. I had no problem following it and shrugged off the sillier stuff.  I was pleased by the lack of woke scolding and obnoxious posturing.  The film has also revealed critics to often be 100% motivated by perceived politics of a film and not whether it is well done.  I do hope this movie does well but at the same time I have no interest in seeing what “original” and “unconnected” new films carry the Star Wars brand in years ahead.  The belief of Disney Lucasfilm seems to be that once the baggage of nostalgia for the original characters of what they call the “Skywalker Trilogy” then they will be free to explore anything they like.  The trouble is that they have tarnished the one thing they cared about: the brand.

They had a license to print money but they reached too far for ideology.  I cant just blame Kennedy, since it took a lot of enabling to make a movie miss the mark.  It is scary to think how many films and TV shows on many levels put woke posturing ahead of screenwriting and directing skill.  You can be on the left, but not far enough to the left.  It is too bad that learning those lessons (assuming they can be leaned) came at the expense of a true extension of Star Wars.  But the one thing I agree with Red Letter Media about is that no matter how flawed the new films are they do not make the Prequel Trilogy look good.  The Prequels, especially Episode I and II, are pretty bad.  I will most likely see The Rise of Skywalker again in the cinema and eventually get the Blu Ray, even if that means I have a low I.Q.

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Straw

Anticipating the release of The Rise of Skywalker, Episode IX of Star Wars, this might be the right time to join the chorus and have a last rant.

Before The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson had been quoted as saying that he didn’t write in isolation but bounced ideas off of something called the Lucasfilm Story Group. I thought wow, they must be the cream of the dramaturgical crop to be in that circle of experts! We could speculate about some great writers that might be consulting there.  In the aftermath of The Last Jedi, Star Wars fans went on a mission to expose each member and examine the credits and education of each Story Group hired by Kathleen Kennedy.

Like  JJ Abrams’ wife Katie McGrath who went on to found the TimesUp movement on the heels of MeToo blowing up, Kathleen Kennedy is driven by identity politics.  In a movie like Lincoln or Schindler’s List, a social message is so central to the story that there needs to be no labored imposition of it.  Looking at something like Star Wars, is someone is not genuinely a fan of it and looks down on the genre at all, it might be seen as nothing more than a delivery device.

At no other time in the history of cinema has it been easier to find out what the core built-in audience for a brand wants to see.  By 2012, the bitter aftertaste of the Prequel trilogy meant that Star Wars fans could see room for improvement and the possibility of a fresh take if George Lucas was not 100% in control and jaded about his creation.  All Disney had to do was get the main characters back together.  The worst thing to do would be to sideline or disrespect them and taint the Original Trilogy.

Let’s look at intentions and whether the logic works.

They wanted to lure audiences with the possibility of getting the band back together. Mark Hamill was paid a bonus to say nothing about how drastically Luke Skywalker was sidelined in The Force Awakens, being a destination more than an active participant.

Harrison Ford’s career as a leading man had a lot of longevity, so his agreement to play Han Solo again opened the door to certain mischief. They would want Chewbacca to be in the movie, which is fine. Chewie died in a much publicized Lucasfilm-approved novel called Vector Prime, being on a planet when it exploded, around the time Han would have been 55.  This opened the door to totally abandoning over a hundred previously approved novels and beyond that also comics that were now branded Legends instead of canon.  Many fans, especially post-Last Jedi, would prefer to consider those novels as representing what “really happened” after Return of the Jedi as seen in 1983.  Some remember the old Marvel comics run that somewhat extended the story, and most refer to Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy.

What we got had the priority of setting up a few new heroes for the future, propped up by the classic Star Wars characters.  Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose Tico, and Kylo Ren were functional enough ciphers and the actors are talented but the writing – thanks largely to the priorities of the Lucasfilm Story Group – ring false.

Finn was raised as a storm trooper and chose humanity and abandoned the First Order, but The Last Jedi portrays his character as if he is an all-round deserter.  This partially through Rose Tico a mechanic who takes it upon herself to spend her hours loitering around escape pods looking for people to stun and drag to to the brig – including a known Resistance hero surely outranking her.  And for this, she is allowed to tag along on a mission.  The whole way, she is the person in the know about the meeting point Canto Bight and informing Finn about where he is wrong and sending them on a wild goose chase or two. She has to be in power and leading because TimesUpMeTooGirlPower.

Princess Leia / General Leia Organa says no to a magnetic bombing run Poe wants to do, so Poe switches off his intercom…. thus making sure he can’t hear her, but why the hell doesn’t the GENERAL have direct communication on the open line to all of the fleet, including the BOMBERS she could call off?

After Poe’s demotion, and aiding a covert mission that fails, and finally leading a mutiny, Leia asks people why they are looking at her and “Follow him.” Which confuses the woke narrative a bit.   Admiral Holdo decides that only she should be left in the rebel flagship, which is known to be a flagship and a one way trip whether she thought of ramming initially or not.  How brilliant is she that she couldn’t pick a droid to sacrifice itself? Rose Tico the mechanic who likes to zap war heroes considers saving the Fartiers (Neverending Story type horses) from the abusing racetrack by helping set them free gets onto a ship with Finn and leaves them in the fields to be easily rounded up again and brought back to their stables.

General Leia is sidelined by recuperation from FLOATING IN SPACE without oxygen.  Her replacement is Vice Admiral Holo, and one would think there would be great comedic potential if a great leader had to be replaced by an incompetent one but that can’t happen because she ALSO has to appear to know better than Poe and keep him in his subordinate place as a male.

Finn is reduced to pining for Rey, ostensibly concerned for her safety but – especially in this universe – isn’t she capable of looking out for herself?

Rey gets to be the enlightened and optimistic, right, and sympathetic one compared to Luke Skywalker’s ret con as a grumpy old Jedi gone to seed.  This is the most disappointing change to Star Wars.   IT ONLY went that way because Rey can’t be mansplained (what we used to call trained) by a white old male.  Master, schmashter. It strains credibility on the script level by finally having Luke (once his force connection is restored) collapse a shelter using “force-push” technique only to have Rey chase him down and fight until he lands on his back supposedly helpless and lets Rey stick her (formerly his) light-saber in his face to pin him down. He could use the very same force-push to flip the saber from Rey’s hand and then suspend her upside down. Instead he gives us his side of the most useless backstory about himself and his nephew.

If he thinks Ben Solo (Kylo) is going to turn to the Dark Side, WHY CREEP to his bedside in the night with a light-saber ready to kill him? Why not ask his mother, Leia, to go talk to him?

And no mention of what uproar happened politically when Luke and Leia’s parentage (Darth Vader) was outed ? There is a Disney-era novel called Bloodline that covers that, but they couldn’t be bothered to make that a pivotal point in the movies.  It makes sense if Ben distrusts his parents and his uncle for keeping a big secret from him.  But if it makes sense, it could not belong.

So there is much to account for.  The woke Lucasfilm Story Group, their boss Kathleen Kennedy, and Rian Johnson especially but also JJ Abrams.  When Lawrence Kasdan was co-writing The Force Awakens, at least the Han Solo material had humor and focus and felt like Star Wars.  And that movie at least flowed, even though it had its own share of head-scratchers and questions never to be answered.

And now they say retroactively that Luke trained Leia in the force and swordsmanship before the events of these new movies.  Okay, fine.  But we know it was not the plan all along because in The Force Awakens Leia refers to Luke as “a Jedi” when talking to Han. That might have been an opportunity to give SOME hint that she is also one.  Maybe Luke is a “better” or “lesser” jedi than her.  But even THEN, I’m sorry but I can’t buy even a Jedi waking up in the vacuum of space and force-pulling herself to safety.

I don’t know if the Sage – or what’s left of it – can force pull itself to safety now.  Too many of the most ardent fans already see Star Wars in a vacuum.  That is to say that – other than the unaltered Original Trilogy – it sucks.