Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Last Jedi Meets Captain Continuity

Due to reviews, complaints and general fanboy screaming from a small but loud gang about the Last Jedi, 
And with it becoming the top US box office earner in only a couple of weeks and passing a billion dollars world wide in the same time it must be both relatively very small, and extremely loud group.

I believe it’s time to unleash my old alter ego again.  Spoilers in this post.

I think the first time a friend called me Captain Continuity was the day a group of us brought the dorm VCR into the lounge for viewing the entire Original Star Wars trilogy.  A guy we didn’t know came in and started tearing into the films about things that were nonsensical or unexplained.  I provided a rapid fire barrage of short answers to clarify the in story and/or myth arc explanation behind each, mostly to shut him up so the rest of us could enjoy an afternoon of space fantasy.

Yes, it is Space Fantasy, not Science Fiction. The original was the story of a Farm Boy who got his father’s Magic Sword from an Old Wizard, then teamed up with a Pirate to rescue a Princess from the Black Knight’s fortress.

The scientific method does not always apply.

Another note before leaping into the details.  The old Expanded Universe is gone. Accept it.

Lucasfilm ignored whatever it wanted to from those stories well before Disney anyway. How many really cool early Boba Fett stories got wiped out by Attack of the Clones and its “Adventures of Fett-Ladd the Boba Boy!”?

If we want new Star Wars stories, which most of us do, the clean slate approach is the way to go. They can guide the franchise and keep all the elements connected together now.

Most importantly they can bring mystery back to the films.  Folks have grown up with, or gotten used to, the Prequel and Expanded Universe affected world of Star Wars where every minor character and location has a overly detailed story with excessively unneeded cross references.

It didn’t use to be like that.

The Original Trilogy had surprises at every turn.  Sure they followed the conventions of the Hero’s Journey, but there were constant elements of mystery, dramatic reveals, and unknowns all over the place.

Leaving the development for the principals and giving us only hints about minor characters is what allowed the richly developed Expanded Universe in the first place, and will allow the new, more canonical one, to grow now. 

I can’t stress enough that if you watch the Star Wars saga in the numbered order, rather than the released order, it completely destroys, “No, I am your father,” one of the most iconic and effective plot twists in the history of movies.  

It screws up a bunch of smaller ones too, such as Yoda’s reveal, where we get to learn, with Luke, about judging outward appearances.

The more extra details that are given to characters that the story isn’t about, the less chance there are for those kinds of moments. 

Or in the words of Master Skywalker- “This is not going to go the way you think."

On to the specifics with spoilers all over the place, and starting with the silly one:

"I can’t believe they’re showing bombers in space, that’s ridiculous there’s no gravity!"

Really?  After forty years of Star Wars space combat being based on World War II airplane battles, you’re gonna bring this up now?  There have been TIE bombers since 1980 for poodoos sake!

The real reason they can drop bombs in space is the same as the reason we can hear all those giant space explosions- Because it’s freakin’ cool! 

But since I did promise Captain Continuity mode, how about this?  
Every ship we’ve seen in this universe…
Every stinking one…
From monstrosities the size of Rhode Island, to small freighters and fighters,..
Have their own atmosphere and gravity.

So the bombs clearly lock onto whatever generates the gravity in the ship below, and fall toward it.
They probably use magnets too, because why not?

"If Holdo just told Poe the escape plan he wouldn’t have mutinied trying to save everyone!"

Let’s start with Star Wars follows Myth arcs and the main characters on the good side here are Finn, Rey and Poe.  We’ll get to the other two in a bit.  Poe’s arc involves growing from a hotshot pilot into a leader.  In the aforementioned bombing run he demonstrated an extreme recklessness and lack of ability to see the big picture and Leia physically and professionally slapped him down. 

Yes, he’s the greatest pilot in the galaxy, and his plan did get one of the First Order’s largest ships destroyed.  It also lost the entire bomber group and most of their escorts.  Leia and Holdo (and the film itself) show admiration for his abilities and personality, but he’s supposed to already be in a position to understand that tradeoffs and attrition with a vastly superior force are not acceptable for  long term success.

So here’s a demoted officer with a track record of being impulsive, shooting his mouth off and missing the long range goals. Of course they didn’t tell him about the plan to escape to a secret base. There were people deserting left and right and the only way the plan could work is if it was kept a giant secret. This was a massive “Need to Know “situation well below his clearance level.  His job was to stay at his post and be ready to “jump in an x-wing and blow something up” at a moment’s notice when the plan needed coverage.

Note that it was his learning of the plan and broadcasting it to others that almost got the entire Resistance killed. 

Aside 1- the funniest part in the whole film was nothing on screen. When the sound cut out completely after Holdo’s heroic suicide hyperspace ramming attack that saved the remnants of the fleet, a kid three rows behind us yelled, “Silent but deadly!”

Aside 2- For those complaining about the "agenda" of having women in charge correcting the men's behavior: Did you watch the original trilogy?  Leia and Mon Mothma were the key leaders, and the voices of reason in most situations.  Female Jedi have been prominent in story lines since the Clone Wars cartoon.

More importantly, "Captain Continuity" aside, I don't give a womp rat's patootie.  My daughter has been a fan of Star Wars, Superheroes and Doctor Who since she was born. After a lifetime of no female action figures, and those franchises belonging to "boy's happy meal toys" where girls got the same crappy small scale barbies every time she's thrilled to have Rey, Wonder Woman and the Thirteenth Doctor leading the franchises.  Considering she had to put up with stuff like Saturn Girl (a founder and part of the big three) being left out of the Legion toy line, her happy dance makes these changes far more important that your insecure manhood.

"They set up plot threads for Rey and Snoke’s origins that didn't pay off!"

In Rey’s case- no they didn’t.  Just because a plot doesn't go the way you hoped or expected, doesn't mean it didn’t pay off.  Rey’s parents were no one special.  One of the main themes of the new films is it not mattering where you came from, but what you do and where you end up that defines who you are.  Having Rey be exceptionally strong with the force, and coming from nowhere demonstrates this.  It also avoids being a repeat.   We get a new direction instead of having the entire series end up with references like, “I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.”

She was pretty cool to begin with, and has become even more so as she grows and establishes herself on her own based on her new connections and training.

Oh, and even though she grew up on a desert planet she could swim when she fell into the Dark Side geyser hole/ cave thing because she constantly dreamed about the island, and most of the Dark Side cave stuff takes place in  the Jedi trainee's head anyway.

As for Snoke, no we didn’t learn his origins. Why?  Because we’re not following his story. He’s the manipulative bad guy who helped turn Ben Solo to the Dark Side.  His manipulations continued, forming a bond that wasn’t really there in order to lure Rey to the Dark Side as well.  That's all we need to know for this adventure.

Out of story, it served to bait the audience with the believed, “Kylo Ren will turn good,” plot thread.  Like many parts of this tale, it’s banking on expectations of what happened before right in the face of what’s being presented.  He killed his own father in the last movie and is way too far down the Dark Path.  It's the "rule of two" from the old Expanded Universe, with a different outcome.  When Kylo seizes power after turning on his master, we share in Rey’s shock, and through him the movie tells us directly to, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That's the only way to become what you are meant to be.” 

In other words, you wanted new Star Wars; we’re giving it to you…not a rehash of the older films and Expanded Universe.

My daughter used to hate Kylo Ren, but now that he's moved past tantrum throwing Vader wannabe into his own "I'm taking over" type man, with a fair amount of instability left over,  she likes him.  The fact that he personally invited her to the Dark Side probably helped.

Set the way back machine for my childhood watching the Original Trilogy.  We knew Jack Squat about the Emperor.  He was referenced in Star Wars, we saw his face (sorta) in Empire, and he was met in Jedi, attended by his crimson robed Emperor’s Royal Guards armed with force pikes.

Note- it was only trading cards and action figure backs that let me use that description of the Emperor's entourage back then and pretend it had meaningful words in it.  Without reading the novelizations of the films, we didn't even know his name, and it didn’t matter, because it wasn’t his story. It was Luke on the Hero’s Journey, with Vader as the primary antagonist.  The Emperor’s manipulations were an element of both of their character’s arcs.

Exactly like Snoke with Kylo and Rey.  Someday, I'm sure someone will have a great back story for him that will yield an excellent novel, comic book or sock puppet show. Until then, needless details about him in the film would only restrict any future story telling.

"Force powers were used that we never saw before that came out of nowhere!"

Yes, they were. That’s the force. 

Luke used telekinesis in the Wampa cave in Empire with no training and no warning.  Then we saw him train in that discipline with Yoda, along with some accidental prognostication.  Neither of those prepared us for the sudden telepathic communication between him and Leia.

Incidentally, that established both that Leia can use the force, and that telekinesis can be used without training.  Therefore in a great moment of duress, when fueled by adrenaline, like…say after being sucked out the exploding bulkhead of a spaceship, Leia suddenly gaining the focus to “telekinese” herself back into the ship isn’t much of a stretch.  If people here on earth can lift up cars in moments of stress due to adrenaline, enhanced force powers fit the bill in that universe.

I know the car lifting thing is true, I saw it on The Incredible Hulk.

Sure we never saw force ghosts interact with reality before, we only saw them chat and rest on logs, because being dead is tiring.  But there’s no reason to doubt that, once again, not everything about the force is revealed. Maybe Yoda smacking Luke in the face- in an awesome return to his original, smart aleck, puppety form- was the inspiration Young Skywalker needed to figure out how to send his image across the galaxy to help the Resistance.

More on that later, but one last bit.

Most modern viewers have used all the force powers in video games and such before seeing them on screen.  But back in 1983, when we all saw Luke hauled before Emperor Jack and his red robed Squats, things were different.

My thoughts were basically-

“Well he’s a creepy old guy, but he’s talks a good game. Those red guys must be really tough because Vader acts terrified of this feeble, old, hooded… 


It was much more awesome as a surprise.

"That’s not MY Luke Skywalker, he’d never go hide…and why didn’t he just come kick the First Order’s butt at the end?"

Luke did exactly what Obi-Wan and Yoda did after a defeat.  His was a more personal loss and he shut himself off, but that’s what Jedi have been shown to do.  And he’s right about the Jedi track record being horrendous.  Almost half of his own training line (Yoda, Dooku, Qui Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Luke and Ben) turned to the Dark Side.  It’s not just going and hiding however. The reason for it was stressed often in the Clone Wars cartoon, whenever they showed Jedi uncomfortable with assuming the role of General.

It’s also the reason why Luke used a delaying tactic and a message of hope instead of a full out Jedi assault on the First Order:
To quote Master Yoda, “a Jedi only uses the force for knowledge and defense never for attack.”

The realization of that is what sent all three Jedi into hiding. Knowing they needed to figure out a way above and beyond a direct violent attack on their foes, and why Luke was able to succeed in Return of the Jedi, not by bludgeoning his father, but by saving him.  The Star Wars bad guys have always been shown to be better at the “long game” and the heroes are finally wising up.

This is a fantasy story, remember. These are myths where bringing a sense of hope and legend to the Resistance is far more important, and has far longer lasting effects, than taking out even a large part of the First Order.

Which leads into my last one (for today anyway):

"Finn and Rose’s mission was a complete waste of time and should have been cut from the movie!"

One)  No, because a big part of Star Wars is showing us cool adventures on nifty looking planets, which it did in spades.

Two) No because it illustrates two important things.  The first ties to Poe’s story and highlights complaints against the clich√© that Star Wars and other heroic fiction tends to follow- A group of impulsive heroes save the day by overcoming impossible odds, including criminals acting against type, and sustaining major losses to non-named characters to take out one big enemy goal that somehow makes the future brighter.

Like I said, they’re telling new stories, and the expected isn’t always going to work. Sometimes the odds are too high, and sometimes the self-interested criminals stay self-interested.  

Finn and Rose’s specified mission failed in a giant stinky ball of mega failure, and we got to see the failure in all its failureness. A big message in the film is that failure is a spectacular teacher.  If they cut this sub-plot out of the movie, we wouldn't be able to see Finn’s arc and his learning from failure.

Kinda like how we watched Luke learn from his "I'm going to quit training and go rescue my friends...oopsie, I'm hanging upside down a gazillion miles over a planet with a missing hand and they have to rescue me" epic fail in Empire.

Poe’s journey to leader and Rey’s to Jedi are pretty clear. I’m still fuzzy on where Finn’s goes.  The obvious one got shot down in  The Last Jedi along with the rest of obviousness. He left the First Order, and defeated his former leader...

Yeah, that was kind of quick with everything else going on,
I’m guessing either she’ll be back again, or, more likely Finn’s arc isn’t following a standard path.

Anyhoo- After defeating Phasma he went back to the Resistance, and looked to be having the standard ending of a bad guy turned good of sacrificing himself for the greater cause.

Rose rescued him at the last minute to relay another important moral of the film-
“We're going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!” 

Choosing the positive instead of choosing against the negative is a huge difference, and something I wish American voters would embrace.  That's really the key to their whole mission. It’s what they do on Canto Bright, it’s why Rose saves Finn, and it’s why their overall failed mission was really a success.

They brought news and hope of the Resistance to the downtrodden of a planet that would have been isolated from it.

That’s what made the ending shot of the film perfect in story, and for the audience.  Star Wars films have always been connected to “the Power of Myth” to get all Joseph Campbell again.  The goal is to infuse the same lessons, inspirations and sense of wonder that old myths and legends did. 

(And also to make truckloads of money and sell toys.  That's always been a goal too, every generation that grows up needs to stop forgetting this when they're no longer the kid target audience.)

The kid at the end not only represents the ultimate victory of Finn and Rose bringing news of the Resistance and Luke Skywalker’s inspiring an entire new generation to stand up against tyranny, but the little boy holding the broom up like a lightsaber represents every kid who was captivated by the stories, characters and reveals and learned of these mythic themes though Star Wars from 1977 to now.

As well as the ones in the future that will be drawn in not by a statistically specified and defined universe, but by exciting adventures with surprises along the way.


Kim Luer said...

Loved the movie, Loved your synopsis of it. The only thing I really wanted to know about Snoke, is why his head looked like a butt. I'm glad it did though, veronica was quite frightened of him until I pointed it out to her.... then when he dies, she was quietly chanting, "Mr. Butt Head is de-ead...." over and over again.

one question about the final scene with the little boy and his light-sabery broom. I could he didn't actually pick it up, that is really just "moved to him" in a telekinetic sort of way. Aurora thought so too, did it or did we both imagine that?

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx. I think you answered your own question about Snoke's head.

Yes, the boy did "Force" the broom into his hand. Because in the Star Wars universe, there's always "A New Hope" waiting somewhere...

And Rey is an strong example that you don't need to be a member of a particularly whiny family to have that connection.