Astral Projection, the Force, and Logic

My generation could accept the idea that Force users could sent a thought, as a voice as in, “Run, Luke, run” or, “Hear me, Leia.” We could accept that a dis-corporation – the collapse of a garment that once had a person in it – and a ghost vision giving advice. The next level in mastery of the Force, full Astral Projection and the ability to transfer an object, was a bit harder to swallow in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I have spent many an hour from teen years into middle age defending anything in Star Wars that I could. If we have to accept this new force power, then retro-actively it solves as many problems as it creates. Especially knowing that a force user can choose their avatar seen by whomever they are contacting.
Luke chooses to show himself with a trimmed beard that is more pepper than salt. Leia locates a character as a silhouette and merely says his name to distract him in a fight – and either you believe the exertion of that brief flash of time takes much of her energy … or more likely it is extra effort of moments later manifesting the form of another character expected to have persuasive impact. So retro-actively it makes sense that in the prequel era Palpatine’s polite human-like mask might have been located directly over his actual form, which Lucas says is more the Darth Sideous look with disfigured forehead and yellow eyes. That veneer dropped when Mace Windu deflected force lighting back at him. In Return of the Jedi, in hindsight, it might make sense to say that The Emperor Palpatine did not even have to be physically in his throne room during Luke’s confrontation with Vader. Yoda as a ghost has been shown to summon lightning from the sky, so it is not much of a leap that an astral projection of Palpatine could attack Luke with Force lightning. The man himself might not even have been aboard the Endor Death Star while that was happening. There is that gray area with transfer of matter. Some fun is had with that in The Rise of Skywalker. I remember it being a head-scratcher in The Last Jedi when water droplets or a solid object like Han’s dice were handed over and later dissolved to nothing. That might explain how a physical body of Palpatine could be lifted and dropped by Darth Vader. We might not know just how much that astral projection weighted.
As I reach to excuse how the atomized space station had a surviving chunk, I might theorize that while the explosion is in full bloom as a fireball we can’t see the other side where the chunk might be hurling off into space and it is out of sight by the time we are only seeing white embers. When it landed perhaps the desert and ocean we see might be on a different planet than the forest moon of Endor. The chunk might have floated as debris for a while. Wherever it landed, it was still big enough that it might have caused an extinction event as described in another Jeffrey Jacob Abrams screenplay Armegeddon.
There is an industry of youtubers and columnists either defending these movies for ideological reasons or picking at them for assumed writing oversights due to behind the scenes information or things openly stated. Speculation could be eliminated if we had the opportunity to read whatever has been discarded. George Lucas had written outlines for the sequel trilogy. Some say that Bob Iger despite buying the outlines didn’t “buy” them because they dealt with elements of Star Wars lore that had little nostalgia and were more abstract. The original novelization and early drafts refer to Star Wars coming from The Journal of the Whills which are a microscopic network of beings that give witness to things. In a Japanese interview Kathleen Kennedy was asked about those discarded outlines and she said George had just written, “a couple of paragraphs.” I’d like to see those outlines even if they are just paragraphs. And not because I feel entitled to it, or that as a fan I have “ownership” of Star Wars (that spin has gone way past being tired). We know from the earliest Star Wars drafts Lucas referred to The Force of Others, which was a term that Rogue One ended up using and Ashlan and Bogon were terms for the light and dark side which eventually were used in the series Rebels by characters from yet another culture. I’d also like to read what Michael Arndt wrote for his pass at an outline for the new films. Those had been supposedly intended to cover all three sequel episodes. I’d sure like to read what Colin Trevorrow intended for Episode IX when he thought Snoke was to remain as the Big Bad and Carrie Fisher was still around. I would even gleefully listen to the recorded breaking of story between Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams if someone were so unethical as to hack JJ’s iphone.
The most angry sounding youtubers hoping for Lucasfilm to fail are those who have a hate-on for Rey (Daisy Ridley) and if someone does not like her chances are they won’t like The Rise of Skywalker. Much of the resentment comes from the suggestion that she is a Mary Sue who enjoys aptitude without explanation or struggle. She is said to represent the “participation award” society. If this were true, that might fit the concerns about trends toward not only calling Meritocracy an illusion created by white straight males but also suggesting there is no such thing as merit at all and it just a matter of jockeying for position and making connections to game the system. But I think Rey has merit. She is helpful to BB-8 and when tempted to sell him she respects his AUTOnomy and does not.
As for discovering her force abilities, they are a matter of visualization and focus. For years Rey might have assumed that she just has a knack for finding components of electronics that are of some value and safely dislodging them and understanding what things do, and how they connect. Much the same way that the little boy Annie Skywalker knew how to build vehicles and repair them on the fly and how Luke Skywalker (in less politically sensitive times) used to bulls-eye womp rats from his T-16 in Beggar’s Canyon. Rey’s mental focus had been exercised during that time. And it seemed clear to me that she knew the history of Unkar Putt’s acquisition of the Millennium Falcon and the condition it appeared to be in because the Force-back sequence shows her as a girl having her arm tugged by Unkar Putt so he must have either adopted her or more likely bought her as the sort of slave Annie and Shmi had been to Watto – doing tasks like fixing, testing, or piloting various vehicles or tackling mundane chores. In other words, such a tame version of slavery that in The Force Awakens the word is not used.
This is without having read the answers in other media. I started reading the novelization but there is enough to connect the dots in the movies. Even though Kathleen Kennedy irked a lot of fans with a “The Force is Female” spin, we’ve always wanted to see Leia using the Force so that seems organic (or Organa) and we miss Mara Jade who was most deserving of a TV series and a place in established lore. We have Ahsoka Tano, Ventress Asajj, The Seventh Sister, and the coven they come from as well as various Inquisitors who are force users. Like many elements of Star Wars (desert planet, sand worms, exotic spice) the Jedi have some inspiration from Frank Herbert’s Dune. We will be seeing more of the Bene Gesserit “witches” on TV after the Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Dune Part One in 2020. Movie producers might want to wave a flag of progressive intent, but as we saw with Simon Pegg announcing his ret-con of Mr. Sulu as gay and JJ Abrams trying to coax the LBGTQ crowd by saying there is representation of them in Rise of Skywalker, these things get people riled up on both sides and then it is a blink and you miss it kind of thing. Same with feminism in Star Wars. Princess Leia is now General Organa, fine. Like Jar Jar Binks was a general. Disney discontinued the “slave Leia” action figure immediately, and Carrie Fisher’s response was to remind them when asked for a reaction that story-wise the costume was Jabba’s imposition and that the slave chain came in handy to strangle him.
The Democratization of the Force is something people talked about after The Last Jedi, with the broom boy and with Rey’s background presented as supposedly having no lineage of consequence to the universe. This may be the a reversal of the Midichlorian count in the blood we heard about in The Phantom Menace which described organisms that allowed a person to use the Force. But it also stands to reason that while everyone can enjoy music and benefit from it very few have a clear talent for playing instruments or singing or composing. Whether or not they discover they have that skill or develop it and focus it is yet another issue. Everyone and everything may be one with the force and part of the force, and for me that is fine, and there will also be people with exceptional abilities and disciplines.
My own Star Wars interest is generally the Original Trilogy. I did not care for the Prequels, although Revenge of the Sith is the least weak of those. The current Disney trilogy is entertaining enough, although The Last Jedi wasted valuable running time with Canto Bight as Finn and Rose went on a wild goose chase so we Luke’s third lesson to Rey became a deleted scene on the BluRay bonus disc. There was a false conceit there that we want to spend out time on a side-bar jaunt that doesn’t pan out. They could have met their thief code breaker in the Rebel Brig where Rose was presumptuously dragging Finn after stunning him supposedly as a suspected deserter (from a volunteer Resistance Han, Chewie, and Lando could come and go from without being considered deserters). The character or Rose Tico (the mechanic who seems to know everything about the casino planet but routine protocol about permission to land) seems all about talking down to Finn, while Vice Admiral Holdo talks down to Poe Dameron and Rey often talks down to Luke from the superior positive position after Luke has been ret-conned as somewhat mentally ill or in a funk that robbed the target audience of a change to really see Luke at full power. So it is natural that half the fan base withdrew from Star Wars until the recent Mandalorian show brought back a familiar tone. The Last Jedi has entertaining moments but it lays its ideology on pretty thick. The Rise of Skywalker is not so antagonistic and not as off-putting, even though damage done by Episode VIII has turned some people off of seeing Episode IX just as it did with Solo in 2018. Kathleen Kennedy did assemble a “Lucasfilm Story Group” that reportedly disliked JJ but loved Rian Johnson and the most passionate fans and youtube pundits have carefully named and looked into the work history and background of each member to a scary extent to prove that ideology and not a mastery of the genre or storytelling is what got them hired. So to that extent there is blame to go around where anyone has baggage to bring to a brand. The hyperspace coordinates to Mustafar are twinkling with good intentions.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is worth seeing if you have seen the previous entries in the Saga. Nobody overstays their welcome. (Can’t say the same for this post, I know.) The role of Ms Tico is reduced, causing some Last Jedi fans (many of whom did not call themselves Star Wars fans before they put the J in SW to make it SJW for that movie) to complain that the character wasn’t as prominent as the one that inspired punks on Instagram to unfairly go after the actress Loan “ Kelly Marie” Tran.
So the eye-roll discourse resumes. Now the director of Crazy Rich Asians has tweeted
that he would happily make a Disney+ series for Rose Tico. Somehow that gets reported as news.
The Mandalorian from what I’ve seen so far seems worthy of the name Star Wars. The Kenobi series with Ewan McGregor will also please a range of fans. Alan Tudyk will play K-2SO in the Cassian Andor series set before Rogue One so that might be fun. But a Rose Tico series just seems to be encroachment of sensibilities of people who typically have not been Star Wars fans but just want to pee in the soup. There is nothing we know about that character that screams a story must be told…. God damn it…. I suppose she said she wanted to destroy Canto Bight and those of us “man babies living in out mother’s basement” want to see that. If she deliberately found a pretense to go back to Canto Bight or get revenge against DJ and then instead of freeing Neverending Story horses ( fathiers) she could conceivably organize broom boy and the other slave kids to revolt. That kid has the ring and maybe can signal for help? I don’t know. I just hate the fact that I thought of something useful Tico can do in a show. Luckily, Disney will never read this rambling “note.” If you made it through to the end, you have more discipline and merit than I do because I failed to resist typing up my manic opinions. May the Force be with you, assuming you have a choice about it if it is in your blood.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Reviewers as Trolls – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve seen the movie and my first reaction was lots of smiles and even some surprises despite having been exposed to spoilers from Midnight’s Edge, Doomcock and other youtube pundits. I liked it, and admitting I liked it comes with a side order of crow because I wasted some time on social media and comment threads hoping it would fail because it was part of the mess that came to a head with The Last Jedi which itself lavished running time on a side trip to casino planet Canto Bight and annoyed many viewers by indulging in at least three sets of woke-scolding. That would be substitute teacher figure Vice Admiral Holdo lecturing pilot Poe Dameron, Motor pool mechanic Rose Tico assaulting and arresting war hero Finn for suspected “desertion” from the volunteer resistance and then providing knowledge of everything other than routine protocol about where to land a space ship, and of course novice Jedi Rey lecturing Luke Skywalker about right and wrong.  In this movie, unless you have a hate-on for Rey (Daisy Ridley) you are likely to enjoy this new movie. No matter what you’re read.

As of this writing. Rottentomatoes indicates only 56% of 277 critics gave it a recommend so it has a green splat whereas 88% of two thousand one hundred and sixty-three audience members gave it a recommendation.

Contrast this with how the controversial previous entry The Last Jedi was greeted.  A whopping 91% of the 455 critics submitting reviews recommended it so it has a fresh tomato. The Two Hundred and Fourteen Thousand two hundred and seventy-nine audience members who weighed in gave it only 43 %.

Look at the number of people contributing to voting in each category, critics or audience. To me, that is whatever number of INDIVIDUALS who are either satisfied customers or not, and audience members don’t have to worry about how the thumbs up or down looks to their peers. We are way past the point where we can kid ourselves that professional or rotten-tomatoes-certified critics are an elite with special qualifications for submitting an evaluation of movies, especially when many of them are youtubers and bloggers and from any number of outlets introduced during the influx of new official reviewers intended to give more diversity to the field of critics. Few of us have the time to sort through the review samples available, let alone explore the background and preferences of each critic.

Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson might hold the code key for why such a difference between ratings for Episode VIII versus Episode IX. He has described himself as a card carrying SJW of outrage culture and celebrates the more ham-fisted messaging of The Last Jedi.  But he does not like The Rise of Skywalker. One remark rings false, “I expected this to be a well made movie I would not like but it is also a badly made movie.”  Well, objectively it is not badly made at all.  And it looks fantastic. He anticipated that Lucasfilm was going to have to acknowledge the split in the fandom that was caused by The Last Jedi and steer the tone back to a brisk pace that isn’t dwelling on messages but letting the story speak for itself. The movie has done that, so it is not regarded as a win for Mendelson’s ideology or tribe who dismissed a huge segment of the fans as “man-babies” regardless of gender (so mis-gendering many of them) for pointing out shortcomings of the Rian Johnson written and directed entry of the Disney Star Wars Trilogy.  It would not be a huge leap to suppose a similar connective tissue is shared among other critics who were among the 91% who loved The Last Jedi and the 44% who denied the recommendation to The Rise of Skywalker, leaving it with only 56% positive reviews.

One would expect the audience member score to be down for The Rise of Skywalker because there is such a grassroots campaign to bring down Disney Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy who is regarded as having prioritized identity politics over all other elements of storytelling and certainly over respect for legacy characters. But looking at the film itself, clearly there has been a course correction in that regard. Yes, there is a social justice nod to “representation” of LBGTQ as advertised in interviews by director JJ Abrams, which (not a spoiler) amounts to a few seconds of the Resistance Commander D’Acy (Amanda Lawrence) referred to by fans as the “bird lady” kissing a woman in a wide shot during a crowd scene. There is nothing that felt out of its way or heavy-handed or intended to alienate the once built-in fanbase, typically Generation X and white male.  The #WithoutRespectWeReject or #StayAngry movement would like this film to fail financially so it looks bad for the record of Kathleen Kennedy and the Lucasfilm Story Group she hired to consult with creatives.  But it looks like Episode IX is mostly the work of Chris Terrio and JJ Abrams doing their best to pick up the ball and run with it.

My inclination is to withdraw from several Facebook groups and unsubscribe to youtubers who have been riding a wave of tribal griping and cheering on any rumored setbacks of this project and gleefully claiming #SoloLostMoney because of backlash from The Last Jedi and that the Star Wars brand is damaged.  It is not easy to make a movie, let alone a good one, so actively hating filmmakers for making something that wasn’t quite up to the standard is like hating a musician for not being Mozart.  I don’t know that it breaks down into politics although there are some youtubers like Jeremy of Geeks and Gamers or EVS of Comic Book Artist Pro Secrets who refer to the Peachy Orange Man in glowing terms as a way to dismiss certain media outlets.  That hurts those of us who might want to see audience feedback as being purely about an entertainment product and whether it delivers or whether it has gone astray. Rather than dismiss these voices as “toxic,” it would be more fair to say that they work the algorithm of youtube and maintain a sort of community and relationship with scribes who will contribute to their Patreon page or send in donations during long live sessions usually with other guest youtubers.  The content itself may be about the same as listening to a college cafeteria chat about movies, except that when an article is being read it is not unusual for some well established youtubers to stumble over basic words and names that are familiar to movie buffs.

People may be wanting to connect with someone who shares their frustrations over brand appropriation and some of the poor ideas the studios and creatives have to appear “aware” of issues by piggy backing intellectual property that has one traditional target demographic and try to either trash it entirely and render it uninhabitable for future directors or writers or to make it appealing to the demographic that typically recoils from its trappings and who do not buy merchandise.  Ideally, we could recognize that one person’s food is another’s poison and that any individual can click on Dave Chappelle’s Sticks and Stones while a neighbor clicks on RuPaul’s Drag Race and ne’er the two shall meet.  (Except that Dave Chappelle and Lady Gaga were both in A Star Is Born so both audiences might watch that.)

Whether someone is a paid pundit or an amateur, published in magazines or merely blogs like this one, the designation of “troll” can come from anywhere. The “respectable” columnists are often trolls with better reach or more followers than the average moviegoer.  What might be called the woke media overstepped infamously while interviewing Billy Dee Williams in promoting this new Star Wars where he returns as Lando Calrissian.  He made a remark about having soft qualities and while being the icon of the suave male he also had his feminine side.  Certain outlets ran with that and said he was “coming out as gender fluid.” This got back to him and he had to set it straight by asking, “What the hell is gender fluid?”  He had to spoon feed them a description of anima and animus from Carl Jung to describe what he meant about human nature.  He also then remarked that it was a mistake for people to focus on the humorous insinuation that in Solo: A Star Wars Story the young version of Lando played by Donald Glover has some sort of love for his droid L3-37 voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and was therefore considered “pan-sexual.” He said this likely hampered the success of the movie with initial audiences draws.

Those of us who feel a sense of relief and sanity at the impeachment of the 45th President of the United States may not be on the bandwagon of making sure that science fiction or space fantasy/Samurai/Western/Cliffhanger/operas are free of current year sociopolitical messaging or genre-busting subversion.    Some youtubers crowed over trailer images of Rey leaping supposedly through outer space or the Resistance armies on horseback in space but in context it is clear that the scenes are set in the sky over a planet. We could quibble over the oxygen content in the atmosphere and the pressure at a certain height but this is a universe where humans and Wookees come and go from any planet without environment suits and manage not to carry so much as small pox to the new worlds or take on viruses or suffocate themselves.

We can suffocate ourselves with constant exposure to decompression by youtubers and the community of disgruntled former fans or those who may feel disenfranchised by some of the new content….  streaming their content on free wifi seems like a harmless kind of radio background white noise, so to speak, except that there is a scent of unrest that may or may not influence movie studios.  Box office may be more influential.  Enough has been said about knowing a target audience and not taking anything away from them.  The bad fallout of Ghostbusters (2016) has been resolved with 2020’s promising restoration of the original iteration or universe audiences wanted to revisit. The return of Linda Hamilton to Sarah Connor in the new Terminator had great promise, as did the idea of a Terminator showing his age on his exterior and the return of Eddie Furlong as John Connor. But that was a bait and switch to steer the movie away from testosterone and more to faux images of girl power. There was over-reach. The Elizabeth Banks update of Charlie’s Angels was a presumptuous victory lap without a victory. Oceans 8 looked like a great idea because it was in continuity with the other three recent Oceans movies, following the sister of Danny Ocean and her team. When a boss of mine told me that she stayed through the end credits and there was no sign of Linus because indeed Matt Damon’s scenes had been cut after he made the mistake of saying something truthful and fair about distinguishing between grades of crimes in the MeToo era.  That was an eye roll and another title I was able to enjoy a few months later for free. It was an entertaining movie that deserved more financial success but lost my ten dollars by pandering to the herd mentality of the moment.

The Youtubers like to say #GetWokeGoBroke but it is fair to say that Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker while not regressive is also not going to alienate people who actually go to see it, unless they have an ax to grind like many professional reviewers and internet pundits.  Nobody wants to admit being wrong. When I first saw The Last Jedi I kind of accepted it.  I laughed in the right places and cried a bit and enjoyed certain scenes like Luke saying, “Nothing you can do will change my mind” and Artoo Detoo plays back the original SOS hologram from the 1977 film, “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”  I certainly can’t hate Rian Johnson for that, nor for lifting the ending of John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. and trading out Snake Plisken’s hologram for something else faking out the bad guys.  But this movie manages to have eschewed much of the baggage in between cool moments.

 

 

 

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.