Quick Review: The Rise of Skywalker

SWsplatterEverything in here is SPOILERS, because we’ve reached that reality in Star Wars movies. The guys at Red Letter Media have been saying since Rogue One that there are only so many things that can happen in Star Wars, so even if you technically haven’t seen the ninth (and final?) episode, you’ve seen most of the things it has on offer. There are escapes and jumps to lightspeed and blasting stormtroopers and epic lightsaber fights and grand space battles. Heroes will be tempted to turn to the dark side of the force. The villain who’s been THE villain will be THE villain again, and he will do the same villainous acts. There are one or two mild surprises, but even these are predictable. This is a Star Wars movie that approaches an almost mystical reverence for itself as such.

Thus, it veers hard away from whatever Rian Johnson was attempting to move towards with The Last Jedi, almost apologetically giving the fans every emotional touchstone they could want. Of course, such a course precludes any possibility of expanding on the Saga. What we are left with amounts to a do-over of Return of the Jedi, minus the Death Star (or with a million Death Stars, depending on your point of view). The only real emotions in it are feelings of being haunted by the weight of past actions and past glories, an unavoidable meta-commentary on the state of the story and the fandom and everything else. This movie, and Star Wars itself, is a run-down mansion haunted by ghosts.

Just to beat this point home, the climax of the movie is determined precisely by the past flooding back in to save the world from the past. Just as THE Villain (yup, it’s Palpatine), is back, standing in for *every* Sith, so Rey hears the voices of *every* Jedi. No one at Lucasfilm can think of doing things any other way. It’s either desperate or cynical and possibly both.

None of which is to say that it’s a bad movie. It moves along snappily. You’re not ever confused as to what’s happening and why. You never have a scene end and think “what was that all about?” J.J. Abrams’ trademark visual energy is very much present. I’ll even cop to one or two moves bringing about genuine emotion. But once it’s over, it feels entirely forgettable. It’s Star Wars: A Star Wars Story: Featuring Star Wars. It’s exactly what Scorcese was talking about with movies becoming theme park rides.

Which leaves us with that show about not-Boba Fett and not-Yoda. I’ve heard its pretty good. If they can keep that going a few more seasons, that galaxy might grow after all.

Judging My Predictions: A Solo Review


At the beginning of the month, I made a handful of predictions about Solo: A Star Wars Story. I saw it over the weekend, and have digested the various reactions to it on social media. Let’s now see how well I did:

Everyone will go in with very low expectations. The rumor about this film is that it’s been a giant clusterbomb that’s been 90% reshot. Everyone who hated The Last Jedi will have all guns trained on it, ready to blast it to hell.

It was worse than that. People were staying away in droves. People who went to see it did so out of the kind of fan-obligation (or quiet hope under the guise of fan obligation) that brought them into the theaters to see Revenge of the Sith in 2005. No one ever really wanted a Han Solo-movie. The idea was kind of irritating when it dropped. And after at least half the fan base found The Last Jedi completely irritating, there was almost no enthusiasm for seeing this. So I don’t think this prediction really panned out.

It will not suck. It will not be brilliant. It will not become anyone’s favorite SW film. But it won’t suck. It will be entertaining. I will like it better than Rogue One.

This proved correct, in my eyes. I’m not the biggest fan of Rogue One, for the simple reason that I did not find the characters, and especially the protagonist, compelling. Bringing us down into the nitty-gritty of the early Rebellion would have made a find story. They should have stuck to that story, and given us a protagonist committed to that.

Solo, by contrast, has very watchable characters in a kind of makeshift plot. Alden Ehrenreich makes the right decision not to do an overworked Harrison Ford impression, but to take his own read on a young Han Solo, making the film about this nobody from the slums of Corellia becoming Han Solo, the outlaw anti-hero. He’s not that person we know at the beginning of the film, but he is getting there at the end. Good choice by an actor who got a lot of flack from the rumor mill.

The other characters are also good. Donald Glover is fun as a goofier Lando Calrissian than we might recall. Woody Harrelson works as Tobias Beckett, the smuggler who mentors Han. Emilia Clarke has a nice turn as Q’ira, playing a compromised love interest without going the obvious femme fatale route. Thandie Newton is good, Paul Bethany is good. They’re all good, fully real and fully inhabited. The reason I keep holding the New Trilogy above the Prequels is precisely because the characters in them – Finn and Poe and Rey – come across as real people, rather than the wooden kabuki puppets of Episodes I-III. We get the same thing in Solo.

The story won’t have much if anything to do with the main SW plot. We won’t see Vader, we won’t see Leia, we won’t see Obi-Wan Kenobi. It will be entirely about being a criminal smuggler under the Empire.

This was an easy prediction to make, but it was still right, and it’s one of the best things about it. The movie brings us down into the worlds, shows us some of the dirt of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, and thereby shows us what life is mostly like under Palpatine’s Empire. We go almost the whole movie without a lightsaber ignition (and the one we do get is one of the dumber moments of the film, a hackneyed piece of obligatory fan service, as if we needed reminding that we were watching a Star Wars film), and it was nice seeing a story in the SW universe totally uninvolved with the Skywalker Saga. Solo is more like a western than anything else, which fits, because in A New Hope, Han Solo is basically the Man With No Name from A Fistful of Dollars in space (including the classic double-back-to-save-a-friend antihero move at the end).

People’s reactions will very from “meh” and “whatever” to “That was better than I thought,” “actually kind of fun,” and “Best SW Prequel.” There will even be some “better than Last Jedi” (there will also be some “worse than Last Jedi“).

This jibes with what I’ve seen on Reddit and Twitter. No one really loves it, no one really hates it. Some like it better than others. I’m not seeing the vitriolic anger that Last Jedi got (which, as I said, I don’t share, but I understand). However, there is an almost palpable desire to see this movie fail, which brings us to…

It will do decent box office. People will have a bunch of dumb arguments about What That Means.

This has proven wrong. All the chatter in the entertainment media is that Solo is the worst-performing SW film ever. Yes, making $100 million over Memorial Day weekend is considered “failure” for a SW film. It’s below expectations, and now everyone is scrambling to explain it. Variety is chalking it up to “fan fatigue”, Polygon is blaming it on Prequels being unnecessary.

Both of those are ignoring the elephant in the living room, which is that the SW fandom is one of the grumpiest in the geek universe, and has been so since The Phantom Menace permanently sundered it into cynical Bashers who hate everything since The Empire Strikes Back, and brainless Gushers who will line up for a Jar-Jar standalone if the trailer looks cool. And that fandom, which was mixed at best about Disney taking over Lucasfilm, is now in open revolt.

The Force Awakens got slammed for being A New Hope 2.0Rogue One got slammed for being a bunch of fan service glommed onto a story we already knew. Both of these paled in comparison to The Last Jedi, which reached almost Phantom Menace levels of hatred. And here the difference between 1999 and 2018 shows its face. Back then, before social media, fan reaction was limited to fan-related SW websites, and people still held out hope that if the first of the prequels stumbled out of the gate, maybe Lucas would find his footing for the rest of it. Today, it’s impossible to avoid noticing the discontent if you’re anywhere on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. And at this point, people are so tired of SW movies not living up to the originals that they’ve decided they’ve had enough.

The Last Jedi got slammed for destroying the Hero of the Original Trilogy in a lame and bitter manner, for having spinning plot wheels that don’t go anywhere, and for bringing ham-fisted gender-and-class politics into populist entertainment (The Force is not Female. The Force doesn’t have a gender. That’s not how the Force works). Whether you think that’s true or not, that’s what the reaction is, and that’s why no one feels the need to watch another prequel of an Original Character. Why bother? They’re just going to screw it up.

Hence, for the sins against Luke Skywalker, Han Solo must pay.

Grant the Relentless Invoked as a Model for Authors

Amanda at Mad Genius Club:

One might argue that Grant’s simple faith in success, not only saved his career, it also saved the war for the Union, and made Grant into a legend. Not because Grant was the most talented or creative officer in uniform. He wasn’t. No, not in his own Army; and certainly not compared to the Confederate side, either. Grant was just the man who didn’t let setbacks cripple him as he drove forward. Grant’s friend (and right-hand man) General Sherman once said, after the disaster at Shiloh, “We’ve had the devil’s day.” To which Grant merely replied, “Yup. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”

If you can be that author — the man or woman who simply refuses to accept setbacks — you will be able to carve legitimacy out of even the most inhospitable publishing terrain.

Now, the history nerd in me is bellowing that this is unfair to Grant. Managing armies in the 1860’s was a maddening affair, as the careers of McClellan, Rosecrans, Beauregard, and others will testify. One of the things Grant and Lee had in common was the ability to grasp the essential and edit out the rest, to keep operations focused, to select competent subordinates and not micromanage them. To look at Grant’s campaigns, from Fort Henry all the way through to Appomatox, is to see a man who made KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) his watchword (this is especially true of the Vicksburg campaign. No one but Grant could have pulled that off. No one).

That said, Amanda’s point stands. Grant’s thoroughgoing Relentlessness, his refusal to accept defeat, was perhaps his strongest characteristic. I submit that no general, North or South, who experienced what Grant experienced on the first day of Shiloh would have had the sands to fight back the next day. No, not even Lee or Stonewall Jackson (Lee’s retreat from Antietam is perhaps the best analogy for this).

Shelby Foote observed that at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, Grant was outfought by Lee as thoroughly as Hooker had been, at Chancellorsville the year before (and on much the same ground). But while that was an embarrassing failure to Hooker, it was a mere nothing to Grant, who simply moved south anyway, and fought again, dragging Lee on a game he could not win no matter how many times he knocked the Union army back from the objective of the day. “If it gets to Petersburg,’ Lee observed, that summer “it will become a siege, and then only a question of time.” It got to Petersburg, and became a siege, and then only a question of time. Lee understood the game. He could not undo it, because Grant was not the sort of man who would be undone. Grant was more than a general; he was a Terminator.


Referring to it as “faith in success” has perhaps a better ring to it, though. Anyone in the game of producing art of any variety ought to have some.

Anyway, read the whole thing, as it’s about a metric for “legitimacy” necessary for publishing in the new age.

An Analysis of Geekdom

Normally I find this topic so profoundly uninteresting, and so motivated by marketing, that I cannot even, as the kids say. But this post encapsulates so much of what I dealt with as a young adolescent that I can’t not pass it on.

Something of being a Geek lies in the aesthetic rejection of modern society, a longing for an escape to a realm more in line with one’s spirit. The reasons for this are manifold, and this touches on them some.

(This is the first part of a two-part series by guest blogger Jacob Lloyd — ASG) “Give them an inch and before you know it they’ve got a foot; much more than that and you don’t have a leg to stand on.” -General Melchett, Blackadder Goes Forth I am a geek. My time at school […]

via Fear and Loathing: Geeks and Social Justice Warriors by Jacob Lloyd — Mad Genius Club

A Series of Thoughts on The Last Jedi

It’s not 1999 anymore. I don’t actually care whether you liked TLJ or not, and I have no intention of telling you your opinion is wrong. If you hated it so much that the flames on the side of your face are heaving breaths, that’s fine. We don’t all have to like the same stuff.

I enjoyed The Last Jedi. It wasn’t perfect, and it could have been better, but I had fun watching it. Honestly, that’s all I care about.

Herewith are presented, in no particular order, a set of thoughts and reactions to the film.

Your Messiah can only save you once.

  • Once the day has been saved, the savior retires and let’s others do the business of functioning in the new world.
  • Moses could only take Israel out of Egypt, not lead it to the Promised Land. Mohammed died two years after cleansing Mecca. Jesus ascended to heaven a mere forty days after his Ressurection.
  • Frodo Baggins cannot live in the Shire after the Shadow is gone and must take the ship to the Undying Lands. Eventually, all of the Fellowship save Aragorn follow him.
  • Paul Atreides conquers the galaxy in Dune, and rules it as Emperor, and is destroyed by it. Dune Messiah tells the tale of his spiritual collapse and renunciation of his status as Emperor and Mahdi. In Children of Dune, he returns incognito, only to be defeated by his son.
  • It is fitting, then, that Luke Skywalker be defeated in his effort to create a New Jedi Order, and that he should give in to despair, and recover from this at the price of dissolving into the Living Force. He gives the Resistance one last escape and then passes the baton to the younger generation. This is entirely proper.

The sub-plots were short on payoff. But at least they had a thematic purpose.

  • Poe Dameron’s plot involves him being wrong, and then wrong, and then wrong some more. And nothing he did seemed to matter at all to the outcome. That’s annoying, but at least there was a character payoff: he got the idea that, for a rebellion, survival is often the only victory available. That tiny amount of character growth was more interesting than anything Obi-Wan Kenobi (or anyone else) did in the Prequels.
  • Finn’s plot seems to have no real plot purpose, either, but it does give the SW-universe a needed piece of world-building. We see something of the class structure of the Galaxy, and are reminded that every tyranny is supported by a wealthy parasite class that profits from the tyrant.
  • Watching Benicio Del Toro do whatever the hell he was doing was a million times more fun than Sam Jackson’s numb take on Mace Windu.
  • The theme of escape as victory echoes somewhat the plot of Empire Strikes Back, but whereas in Empire it’s more a cliffhanger, here it’s central to the movie. Empire is about the centrality of Luke to the struggle between light and darkness; the Rebel Fleet escapes from Hoth and disappears from the movie. Here the survival of the Resistance in any form is called into question. And it explicitly states that Luke is no longer central, contra the entire plot of The Force Awakens. Find this annoying if you want to, but it’s different.

Rey is still the most underwritten Character in the new series, and Kylo Ren the most interesting.

  • There’s nothing to Rey. She has no motivation and nothing to seek. Luke, an orphan, wants two things, to discover who he is, and to find something to belong to. He discovers who he is by becoming a Jedi and redeeming his father. He finds something to belong to in the Rebellion and his surrogate family of Han, Leia (who, we discover, is real family), Chewbacca, and the droids. He has a momentary refusal of the heroic journey, but once that passes, he never thinks of Tattooine again, and only smirks in ROTJ that he used to live there.
  • Rey, by contrast, seems to want nothing but to return to Jakku, and gets involved in the plot of TFA more or less against her will. And why? To find parents that, we now know, are dead nobodies who never wanted her. This did provide a minor twist to those of us who were speculating a connection to the Skywalker lineage, and underscored the populist theme that the new trilogy is going for, but… it’s not like the Skywalker family are galactic royalty. Anakin Skywalker was a nobody. A slave. So who cares that Rey is a nobody too?
  • We still don’t know anything about Rey or what she wants or why. She’s generally a good person. She’s kind and good-hearted. But why does she want to stop the First Order? Why does she want to fight/save Kylo Ren? Han Solo was more of a father in a few short hours than Rey had ever known, noted. Kylo Ren killed him, noted. Is that it? Daisy Ridley is working very hard to imbue this enigma with any kind of life.
  • Kylo Ren, on the other hand, is very well drawn. He’s shown more of an arc, and more internal conflict, than Anakin did in three movies. He feels drawn to the darkness, and hungers for power, and yet feels guilt at his actions. His parricide haunts him, and he’s unable to commit matricide. His hatred of Luke is overwhelming (far more believable than Anakin turning on Obi-Wan in ROTS), and clouds his judgement in a way that serves the plot. His may be the central narrative of the new Trilogy, and I’m very curious to see how it will end.