The Rise Of Skywalker

I must admit, the title intrigues me.

I don’t want to speculate too much, but the title suggests an ending on a high note.

A Rise is something coming into being, gaining in power and prominence. This is distinct from a Return, something gone coming back, or a Revenge, the destruction of a foe. A Rise can include these things, but does not have to.

Skywalker has been, heretofore, a name. A surname. Three characters in Star Wars have had that surname: Shmi, Anakin, and Luke. Leia had the right to it, but never used it, retaining the Organa she grew up with. Kylo Ren was born with the surname Solo.

But this title doesn’t feel like a surname. It feels like something else. It feels like a mantle. An order, perhaps.

Who knows. Maybe it means nothing at all. The Force Awakens” has no particular meaning to the plot of that film. However “The Last Jedi” did.

We shall see.

Economist Crunches Numbers, Makes Box Office Condemn “The Last Jedi”

This post by Captain Capitalism falls under the category of Interesting, With Caveat.

In essence, he calculates Box Office As a Percentage of GDP, to evaluate the relative success of the Star Wars Movies in 1977 vs. today.

Naturally, A New Hope tops the list, bringing in .035% of the US GDP.

Solo does the worst, at .0019% GDP.

The blogger/economist thus observes that “Kathleen Kennedy wiped out 95% of the Star Wars franchise value”.  He then twerks the numbers a bit more, and gives us a more conservative, mere 75%.

Which, as I said, is interesting, and certainly grist for the mill of those who want to make Kathleen Kennedy the Palpatine of Lucasfilm.

But.

We cannot know, at this point, if Solo was an outlier or not. The narrative – that fans boycotted Solo in protest of The Last Jedi, is commonplace, and indeed was argued on this very blog. But we can’t call it a trend yet. Solo had things wearing it down in addition to the reaction to Last Jedi, such as the fact that no one wanted it in the first place. If Episode IX returns to the mean, then that means: a) Solo tanking had nothing to do with any boycott, b) said boycott has run its course, or c) the fan base is gaining new members to replace the old ones. And any of those will mean that the conclusion – that Kathleen Kennedy destroyed Star Wars – will be inoperative.

Also, the data suggests that, Solo notwithstanding, The Disney films are doing about as well as the Prequels. Force Awakens more or less ties Phantom Menace at .011% GDP, while Rogue One and The Last Jedi do about the same as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Now, it is absolutely damning with faint praise to defend the Disney SW films by saying “they’re doing as well as the Prequels”. But if that’s true, then as I’ve been saying, the real damage was done to the franchise 20 years ago, and Kathleen Kennedy is merely the golem operating under George Lucas’ ghostly hand.

If Episode IX does fail, then Kennedy will certain deserve opprobrium for taking a profitable if damaged franchise and driving a stake through its heart. But if it doesn’t, then we must all revise our narratives.

 

And Now For Some Mindlessly Speculative Guff About Star Wars Episode 9

Get obsessed over product, swine!

tenor

Actually, this article at Digital Spy  hews very close to verifiable fact, and leaves the theoretical where it belongs.

A few pertinent facts:

  • Mark Hamill will be back.
  • Previously shot footage of Carrie Fisher will be used, rather than CGI.
  • We’ll also see Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian
  • Most of the cast of The Last Jedi will be back, including Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, and Laura Dern.

These are interesting, but by no means surprising, nor as relevatory as we might want. Back in May, I made some predictions about Episode IX, one of which has been basically confirmed (the return of Hamill/Luke), and one of which has been made more likely (The Finn/Rose or “Frose” romance, as both are predictably back), and one of which has become rather unlikely (The Kylo/Rey or “Reylo” Romance, as Disney is adamant that the Skywalker Saga is ending here).

But these things are not known. Luke fading into the Force at the end of Last Jedi probably means his return will be as a blue-outlined ghost a la Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda, but Abrams might hard-cut away from Rian Johnson and slap together some internal logic of Force Rebirth that would give us real, actual Luke. Do I think that will happen? No. Do I discount it? Also no.

Same with Frose. Maybe they have these characters in LUV, or maybe Rose gets killed in the first act, and Finn is Sad about it. Or maybe both.

As for the End of Skywalker, let me shove my glasses back up my nose and point out that a child of Kylo Ren would not be surnamed Skywalker, but Solo. And Disney ain’t said nothing about that. Just sayin’…

But again, these are all useless, deeply hedged, speculations. Until we see a trailer, we have no idea what will happen, and we really won’t then, either. So keep your lightsaber crystals dry.

Rian Johnson Blames Critical Reception of The Last Jedi on Russian Trolls

Yep. That’s a thing that happened.

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You know, I didn’t walk out of the theater disliking The Last Jedi. Quite the contrary. I enjoyed it. My whole family – all SW fans in general, none quite as obsessive as me – liked it, too. When the Vice Admiral Hole-Card jumped to light speed right into the First Order Fleet, I whispered under my breath “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” and my six-year-old said “Me, too.” That was a cool moment I got to have.

But this kind of idiocy is going to put me right into the camp of the haters. It’s just a gussied-up version of the wearisome defenses of The Phantom Menace that got slung around in the summer of ’99. Back then, “Bashers” were told that they needed to get in touch with their “inner child” and then they’d see that the new movie was really great and entertaining, not tedious and disjointed. Now, critics are told the reverse, that they’re hapless stooges of Rooskie Mind Control. Both of which are ways to Dismiss and Disqualify, which are pernicious, weedlike versions of the Argumentum ad Hominem.

On top of that, it reminds us that Lucasfilm has no intention of breaking its 20-year habit of treating Star Wars like a rented mule to carry money. They have no interest in finding out what the problem is. They have no interest in meeting fans halfway. Anyone not singing the Oceania anthem for every piece of product is a filthy miscreant who is guilty of all manner of thoughtcrime.

If Episode IX tanks, they will have richly deserved it.

Addendum: Want to watch something way more subversive than The Last Jedi? Here’s a 7-minute short by some Japanese-style animators that will have you rooting for the Empire. Subversive, and awesome.

 

You Done Poked the Hive: Larry Corriea, provoked by this paranoid buck-passing, de-lurks (as far as The Last Jedi goes) to poop all over it from a great height.

Characters it’s all about rooting for someone. When your characters do nothing but stupid shit, it’s hard to root for them. Your antagonists need to be menacing, not clowns, or worse, just thrown away! (hey, Snoke is interesting… and never mind…).  Or Phasma. Hey, wow, she must be super bad ass to have the silver armor and…. Garbage chute… Maybe some menace this time and…. Oh fuck it.

The Ewoks had more character than this. AND THEY COULDN’T BLINK.

It’s official. Disney has managed to make a SW move that the fans hate as much as The Phantom Menace. Heckuva job, guys.

John C. Wright Hates the Last Jedi

He hates it soo much

flames

…that he devotes a series of posts at his block to smashing it into tiny bits, and then jumping on those bits. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty amusing. But in one of these bromides, he does kind of gloss over some stuff that I think would merit a more thorough discussion:

Hotshot Pilot, now demoted to Dogcatcher, goes to the new commanding officer, who is not fan favorite Admiral Ackbar, but instead is a thin-faced crone in a sadly sagging evening dress with brightly-dyed purple hair, hereafter called Girl-General Gender Studies van Grievance.

He politely asks her what plan he and his men should be following to preserve their besieged and dying flotilla from the hot pursuit at that moment shooting at them. She replies by telling him men are the inferior sex, and are not allowed to hear plans invented by Gender Studies crones with purple hair.

He must obey orders without question, mechanically and mindlessly. After all, that is the principle and the philosophy the rebellion has stood for during the entire Star Wars canon of films, novels, and comics: The Empire stands for freedom and initiative, and the Rebels are fighting to bring about a regime based on perfect mindless obedience of authority. How clear. How reasonable.

Okay. A couple of things on the Vice-Admiral Hole-Card Super-Secret Escape Plan:

  • In the military, you don’t have any right to have your orders explained to you, or your superiors plans laid out for discussion. Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do and die. So I’m completely fine with Hole-Card not explaining things to Captain Jump-Into-An-X-Wing. At first.
  • However, there’s a scene later on, when Jumpy emits a J’Accuse at Hole-Card, and names her a Coward and Traitor, in full view of everyone on the bridge. In every navy that has ever sailed, this constitutes mutiny. So Hole-Card has one of two options:
    1. Pack him off to the brig and let him cool his heels while they get out of this situation, whereupon he can answer to a court-martial,
    2. Take him aside and Explain Her Stupid Plan to him.
    3. Why not Do Both of those?
  • Instead, she does neither, and carps at him to leave the bridge, as if that’s going to solve the problem, and has the nerve to look surprised when he tells her he’s cooked up his own scheme to save the day, which he is prepared to back up with Non-Technical Mutiny. You’ve got a guy you’ve sussed out as being Dangerous and Hot-Headed, who just got a stripe ripped off for pushing the envelope, and all he wants from you, is BEGGING for from you, is to know what you’ve got in mind that isn’t Wait for the First Order to Blow Us All To Hell. And you’re Surprised that he wasn’t content to sit on his hands while his comrades were dying?
  • Because, while an admiral doesn’t have to explain her orders, it’s generally a good idea to build consensus among officers, to have them point out potential pitfalls, to allow them to keep morale up among the ranks. This is called Good Leadership, and it makes following orders you don’t agree with easier. When you know the plan, and get a chance to get heard, you tend to accept the decision better, even if you really think it’s the wrong call. Militaries at the upper echelon do operate that way.
  • It’s kind of a clever plan, except for the fact that it has no flexibility. It depends on a surmisal of First Order operations, which is to say, it depends upon your enemy doing something one way and not another, when you have no means of influencing that. And once committed, you have no backup plan. You’re in these lifeboats that have no hyperdrive, shields or weapons, and you’re sitting ducks, and the only thing that has to turn this from Clever to Nightmare is one First Order officer saying to himself “any chance they loaded up escape pods and headed over to the salt planet?” I dunno, I feel like Sun Tzu would have had a problem with this.

21b5y6

 

First Order After Action Review for Operations on Jakku – The Angry Staff Officer

I know I’ve been doing a lot of Star Wars content lately, but that seems to be where my head’s at.

Anyway, this is pretty funny. First Order After Action Review for Operations on Jakku.

Okay, so, operations on Jakku: what was supposed to happ – dammit, GD796, if you can’t keep your hand out of your crotch piece for five seconds, I will cut it off. As I said, what was supposed to happen?

RL29: Um…sergeant, we were supposed to land on Jakku and find some dude with a map.

SG51Okay, yeah, in frikkin’ Bantha-speak, I guess that’s what was supposed to happen.

AK22: Sergeant! At 0045 we received orders for 1st Platoon, 2nd Company, 4th Battalion, 225th Legion to conduct an air assault onto Jakku in order to interdict a high value target for interrogation by Kylo Ren.

SG51: No one likes a show-off, AK22. But yeah, that’s exactly what was supposed to happen. What did happen? Anyone?

Read the Whole Thing.

What’s Wrong With Star Wars

SWsplatter

Solo bombed. It may not have deserved to (I liked it), but it bombed. The Last Jedi didn’t do nearly as well as The Force Awakens. The narrative has switched from endless-franchise-money-machine to “maybe we have a problem with the fans“.

And they do. Whether or not they want to acknowledge it, they do.

There are many reasons for this. Some of it is Disney’s fault, some isn’t. But it’s a blunt reality that the Star Wars fandom has a lot of anger inside of it. Disney chose poorly treating the SW universe as it did Marvel.

I’m going to put my premise here, and let you decide how well I argue it:

All problems within the Star Wars fandom hinge on the creators of Star Wars not showing the same respect to the story that the fans do.

Compared to Star Wars, the Marvel Universe is an easy lay-up. These are a set of comic book characters that have never been successfully translated to the screen. The bar for a successful Iron Man, Avengers, or even Thor movie was low enough for any reasonably competent film to clear. They cleared them (and then some, as far as fans are concerned).

The exception to this is Spider-Man, which had been a trilogy already, and then rebooted, with mixed results.

Note how this explains the issues the DC Universe has been having. Batman has already had critically and commercially successful film franchises. Superman has, too. You know who hasn’t? Wonder Woman.

See the pattern?

Now translate that to Star Wars, a film trilogy from the late 1970’s-early 1980’s that had a mass of fan canon and even a second, inferior trilogy, long before Disney got its hands on it.

See the problem?

Marvel fans did not have a very clear idea of what good Marvel movies would look like, and so were content to accept anything not horrible (I’m on record has having enjoyed all the Marvel movies I’ve seen, so that’s not me damning them with faint praise). DC fans do have a clear idea of what good movies in their universe look like. Star Wars fans have a very clear idea of what a good Star Wars movie is, and a clear idea of what a bad one is. They are bound to be a great deal more picky, right out of the gate.

On top of that, the fandom has been feeling very disrespected by Lucasfilm for a very long time. Not directly disrespected, mind. Lucasflim loves fan events and fab merchandise and Fan Experiences.

But it’s been a long time since Lucasfilm treated the story with anything like respect, as far as the fans are concerned.

And unfortunately, this goes all the way back to the beginning.

A Long Time Ago, in a Retcon Far Far Away

As The Secret History of Star Wars has it, George Lucas hates writing. The last thing Lucas cares about is flawless devotion to continuity. He based Star Wars on the Flash Gordon-style adventure serials he grew up on, and those things were wild and sprawling and made up on the fly. Star Wars was, too.

Darth Vader was not originally Luke’s father. Princess Leia was not originally Luke’s sister. Both of these were retcons that got turned into Surprise Twists. There really was supposed to have been a Father Skywalker, separate from Darth Vader. Indeed, some early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back has Ghost Anakin training Luke. They were changed because after Obi-Wan Kenobi started Luke on his journey, another father-figure would have been redundant, while the Vader reveal creates a powerful low-point for Luke’s character. There was also supposed to have been a lost twin-sister from Luke, on her own journey, whom Luke was to find, perhaps in the second Luke Skywalker trilogy (there was originally supposed to be nine of them). This is what Yoda’s line in Empire about “There is another” meant. Leia became Luke’s sister in the writing of Return of the Jedi to cover this plot hole up so that Return of the Jedi could wrap the whole story up, as by 1983 Lucas was exhausted from making Star Wars and wanted to do something else.

The fact that these changes made whole scenes of exposition from the first movie nonsense or early Luke-Leia scenes suddenly weirdly incestuous was papered over with silly dialogue (say it with me: “A Certain Point of View?”) in the third film. But Vader being Luke’s father worked for the characters, and Leia being Luke’s sister at least settled Leia’s romantic affections without need for further competition between Luke and Han. So fans shrugged and accepted it.

But Lucas’ takeaway from this was apparently that he could get away with anything. Which he began, it the 90’s, to do.

The Shot Heard Round the Galaxy

In 1997, Lucas re-released the first SW film, cleaned-up and re-edited, under the title “Special Edition”. Most of the changes to the film were unnoticeable. Some, like the bigger Death Star explosion, could even be called an improvement. But none of that mattered when Lucas changed the scene Han Solo-Greedo scene to make Greedo get a shot off first, missing Han at point-blank range, while Han hits from under the table.

It looks ridiculous, and it scuttles Han Solo as a character. The essence of Han is an anti-hero who looks out for number one, thus making his double-back to save Luke from Vader at the end a meaningful turn. Shooting first to shut Greedo up is in line with that. Waiting until Greedo shoots first, hoping he’ll miss, is what Luke would have done. Han is not Luke. That’s the whole point of Han being in the movie.

George Lucas does not care. He even shoehorned in a discarded scene in front of the Falcon with a CGI Jabba the Hutt (initially Jabba had been human) in which Han states much the same dialogue we just heard in the Greedo scene. It ended up on the cutting room floor for a reason. It doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know. Jabba actually works better as an offstage threat, until appearing in full monstrosity in ROTJ.

And when fans protested the changes, Lucas told them they were wrong, that Star Wars was his, and that he had always intended Han to shoot second, despite the fact that the shooting script, as tweeted by Peter Mayhew, said the exact opposite.

And in a Mini-Truthian turn, the Special Editions stopped being labelled as such and became the definitive versions of the films. You cannot currently buy the versions of the original Star Wars trilogy as they appeared in theaters. Lucasfilm has decided they don’t exist.

This is How Not to Treat Your Fans for $500, Alex. This is Customer Relations 101. You don’t get to memory-hole a movie this popular. This early instance of Lucasfilm showing no respect for the story paved the way for much of the rancor that followed. The fractious relationship between Lucas and fans, leading to a documentary called The People vs. George Lucas had its beginning here.

Fandom Menace

It’s difficult to quantify how much The Phantom Menace divided fans when it appeared in the summer of 1999. Very few people were just okay with it. There were those that loved it, and those that hated it. Time has not been kind to it. Lucas himself has admitted that it was a “jazz riff” on a Star Wars that did not particularly pay off.

The rest of the Prequels are hardly better. Many, including myself, actually think Attack of the Clones is worse, for it’s dreadful Padme-Anakin romance and it’s barely-there plot. But the fans kept buying tickets, hoping that This Time we’d get something like the original trilogy. We never did. Revenge of the Sith was borderline-competent, but still felt flat and uninspired. I spent a long time trying to like them, but I no longer do. I don’t ever watch them. I’ve seen enough of them.

The combination of the Prequels and the “Special Edition” sundered the fandom into TrueFans, who like everything, and Original Trilogy Purists (“Gushers” and “Bashers” as they were known in the 90’s) who really only like the first two movies and tolerate Return of the Jedi. We see a similar dynamic today, between critics of the Disney films and those content with anything after the John Williams fanfare plays. Only the names have changed: from “Bashers” and “Gushers” to “Toxic white male fanbois” and “idiot SJW harridans” today.

The online slapfights of the prequel era were obnoxious, but this was before Twitter, so unless you were specifically logged on to various Internet fan message boards, you would have known little about it. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, George Lucas made some dull CGI-borefests that pale in comparison to the originals, but they made a bunch of money, so whatever. But the schism was real, and never healed, even as the balance of opinion moved slowly in the direction that the “Bashers” were more or less right: the Prequels are inferior. This is not enough. For many, the existence of them is an insult.

In 2012, over a decade after The Phantom Menace premiered, a YouTube channel called Red Letter Media created a 70-minute video dissertation, intermixed with silly, macabre, and gross-out humor, explaining why the movie doesn’t work. It’s something of a masterpiece, if you’re into that sort of thing, but the fact that it exists at all is a sign that the Star Wars fandom was still arguing about it, thirteen years after the fact. Here begins that sense of memory tainted, of “childhoods raped” as the more hysterical ones put it, that sits underneath the nostalgia. Disney had no idea what they were getting into.

You Will Pay the Price For Your Lack of Vision

Even the news that Disney had acquired Lucasfilm in the first place met a divided response. There were those who thought Disney would finally Ruin Star Wars, and those who thought Disney could fixing the saga by showing respect to the franchise. I was in the latter camp, bone-weary with Lucas’ meretricious shenanigans and reasonably hopeful that Disney, at least, knew how to make popcorn movies.

And The Force Awakens met that expectation. I remember thinking, back when I saw the Star Trek reboot, that J.J. Abrams would be a good director for a Star Wars movie, and The Force Awakens vindicated this belief. You can look at the whole movie, with it’s Find-Luke maguffin, as a metaphor for getting back to Old-School Star Wars. I was satisfied, and a great many other fans were, too.

But again, not all. The biggest problem in TFA is the character of Rey. Despite a very charismatic performance by Daisy Ridley, Rey remains too underwritten (so far) to center  the series as Luke Skywalker did. I don’t really know what she wants, other than to sit on Jakku and wait for her parents to return. And that’s fine as a start. But it’s less than heroic, so making her the victor in a lightsaber fight with Kylo Ren comes off as unearned. Luke spends three movies becoming strong enough to hold his own against Darth Vader. The Force is supposed to be something you can access on your own, but must slowly learn to master against someone more experienced than you. This is what the story had told us.

And yes, Kylo Ren isn’t as powerful as Darth Vader. Yes, he was wounded by Chewbacca’s crossbow.  Yes, there’s something to the reveal that Rey is mega-Force-powerful, a Diamond in the Rough. I get all that. But to a disgruntled fandom, it looks like Big Corporation throwing the Rules of the Universe out the window, because It’s Our Story Now.

Which brings us to The Last Jedi, which compounded all of that. I suspect the idea behind this episode was to open up the possibilities of what could happen in a Star Wars movie, by teaching people not to expect what they had expected. And in this respect, it was a hard turn away from the criticism leveled at TFA for being a carbon copy of A New Hope. But to a lot of fans it felt like the universe they knew being wrecked for no other reason than Because We Can. Which, after The Special Edition and the Prequels, carries a whiff of Because Screw You, Nerds.

Now, I liked what the movie does with Luke Skywalker, and the movie in general, for reasons I’ve gone into before. The Disillusioned Old Hero is as much a trope of the heroic cycle as any other. But the combination of subversion, and subversion, and subversion started making people feel like they weren’t watching Star Wars so much as a Star Wars parody made by people who don’t like Star Wars.

And it doesn’t really matter if you think they’re right or not. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re just spoiled nerds who need to get over themselves. It doesn’t matter how goofy and obnoxious it is to get this torqued over a space fantasy adventure.  I’m not here to do anything other than tell you what the problem is and how deep it goes.

The problem is the makers of Star Wars have not respected the story well enough, have not even understood it well enough, to satisfy a large swath of fans. The really spiteful ones, who send death threats to news commentators and chase actors off of social media platforms, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is the ones who’ve quietly decided that they’re done, the ones who didn’t bother seeing Solo and may well not bother seeing Episode IX. No amount of internet shaming is going to stop that Irish Democracy (if anything, it will accelerate it). Because you cannot shame people into liking something they do not like. You can only make them withdraw from the conversation, and inevitably, withdraw from you.