Friday, January 26, 2018

The Silly Nate Film Club - The Last Jedi

     Is it too late for me to talk about Star Wars? Is everyone pretty much over it by now? That’s ridiculous. The answer to both of those questions will always be a hard, “NO.”

     So here’s the thing… I’m not usually one for firm absolutes. I’ll often say something like, “I don’t like collard greens” and then I’ll later reconsider my whole outlook and be like, “Have you tried the collard greens? They’re totes yum, yo!” Some may call it being wishy-washy. I like to think that I’m just really good at embracing change… I like to think that, at least. After all, only a Sith deals in absolutes! Of course when you say, “ONLY a Sith” that statement, itself, becomes an absolute, so…….. wow…. That was a bad movie. Where was I going with all of this?! Oh yeah.

     One thing that I’ve been changing my mind about quite regularly, as of late, is the latest installment in the saga from that galaxy far, far away. I’m speaking, of course, of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Like collard greens, sometimes I like it… sometimes I don’t. UNLIKE collard greens, I’m willing to type a long blog post over it going into extensive detail on my exact feelings.

     I went into this movie with A TON of expectations. Everyone did! The Force Awakens was a barrage of setups, and we spent two years speculating over how all of our questions were going to be answered! We’re talking millions on top of MILLIONS of people each forming their own individual expectations for what they thought/wanted The Last Jedi to be! It isn’t hard to see how “dangerous” this is… is it?

     The movie begins and in no time, we’re back there on that mountain top watching Rey hand Luke Skywalker his father’s lightsaber. What’s he going to say? What could he say to satisfy the said millions? I feel like it would be similar to watching a sequel to Christopher Nolan’s Inception and having a filmmaker tell us whether or not Leo’s top keeps spinning. We each have our own ideas on if it does or doesn’t and ANY answer, one way or the other, would ruin the original ending. The same is the case here. The Force Awakens ends on such a magnificent beat that following up with any one specific answer would only deflate the moment. So what happens? Luke chucks the thing over his shoulder. THROW AWAY your expectations, kids! As he says much later on in the film, “This is not going to go the way you think!”

     And why should it? Why do we have to know what happens BEFORE it happens? Isn’t it considered a good thing for a movie plot to be unpredictable? While I would answer “yes,” I’ll admit that, on opening night, I was one of those people who was disappointed that things DIDN’T go the way I thought. What has Luke been doing? Moping. Who is this Snoke guy? It doesn’t matter. Who are Rey’s parents? They’re nobody. These are not the answers I originally wanted and coping with the devastating fact that I am a fan who was flat out WRONG has been quite the rollercoaster! In the film’s behind-the-scenes featurette, Daisy Ridley says that what director Rian Johnson has done with The Last Jedi is “unexpected, but right.” And after getting over myself a little bit, I see that that’s exactly the case.

     Let’s start with Snoke. I could, and have, spent hours coming up with my own head-canon on what this guy’s story is. Was he a maybe friend of Luke’s? What happened to his face? He seems old, so he was probably around during the time of the Empire. Where was he? What happened to his face?!? I was a little frustrated with not having any of these questions answered, but then I thought about C-3PO and the red arm he had in The Force Awakens. There could have been 15 seconds or so where Threepio explains what happened to his old arm, but it would’ve been a waste of time! Who cares?! It had nothing to do with the actual plot of the movie and wouldn’t have affected the characters in any way whatsoever! The same is the case with Snoke. Like Threepio’s arm, I’m sure Snoke’s backstory will make a mildly entertaining graphic novel or something, but for the sake of The Last Jedi, it doesn’t matter. The characters that may already know it, don’t need to hear it again and the characters that don’t know it… don’t care.

Oooh! What if the story of Threepio’s arm and Snoke’s backstory are one in the same?!

     When you get down to it, the only thing The Last Jedi needs Snoke to be is a catalyst for Kylo Ren. Here’s a guy who doesn’t just want to be the next Darth Vader. He wants to be even “better” than Darth Vader and to do that, he more or less needs an Emperor Palpatine. He needs an evil master to guide him down that particular path. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf gets the characters to a certain point in the story and is then removed to allow them to develop even more on their own. It’s the same with Snoke and Kylo. Masters are what their pupils grow beyond? Well Kylo Ren, albeit violently, does just that.

     Now on to a more sensitive topic. Let’s talk about Luke Skywalker! After my initial viewing, I would have summed up Luke’s “arc” like this: He drinks the breastmilk of a giant Zoidberg thing, whines a lot, projects a fake image of himself that looks like Billy Mays, then dies. Needless to say, I was somewhat hurt. It’s been more than 30 years since we’ve seen this guy, and when we finally get to see him back in action, what’s he doing? That!! Milking a Zoidberg!!

Two words: Pee. Yousa. 
     I had this guy built up into another John McClane! I wanted him to look at that lightsaber Rey was handing him and be like, “Keep it! I’ve already got one!” Then he lights up his green one and the two take off to save the day! I wanted a Luke that not only gets to fly the Millennium Falcon, but is awesome at it! I wanted a Luke that could use the Force to crush a whole squadron of AT-AT’s! I wanted a Luke that would go lightsaber-to-lightsaber with Kylo Ren and give that little punk the metaphorical spanking he deserved! I EXPECTED these things to happen, and I basically got the opposite.

     Aaaaaaand then I came around to another way of thinking. The Force Awakens faced the daunting task of creating a Star Wars villain that would trump Darth Vader. Rather than attempt this impossible feat, they instead worked the difficulty into the story and gave us a villain who’s jaded by the fact that he can’t trump Darth Vader! I would argue that The Last Jedi does a similar thing with this whole Luke business. There was someone else, besides myself and millions of others, who expected ridiculously great things from the legendary Jedi… and that’s the character Rey.

     When the film starts, Rey is in our same shoes. She’s heard the stories of this hero and, even though she’s probably never seen Die Hard, also wants him to be this John McClane type character that swoops in and basically does all the things I listed above, thus saving the galaxy from evil. What we’ve done, Rey included, is place Luke up on this pedestal and when you place someone on a pedestal, even if they’re a fictional character, you’re only setting them up to disappoint you.

     Luke Skywalker was never this Superman that we, for whatever reason, wanted him to be. He helps redeem his father in Return of the Jedi, yes, but when it comes to stopping the bad guys and saving the galaxy, he receives more credit than he deserves. Its Anakin Skywalker who ultimately saves the day and Luke is the one who’s left behind to get all of the glory. It stands to reason with this glory would also come a heavy burden. It’s up to him to maintain this peace that exists, and when he senses this new evil growing in his nephew, he does what he’s always done whether right or wrong. He acts on instinct.

     The Last Jedi shows us Luke finally reevaluating this whole problem solving approach. He charged in without thinking, and in doing so, lost the son of the two people who mattered to him most. Now he’s going to do the opposite of what he did on Dagobah when he rushed off to save his friends, he’s staying put. He's removing himself from the equation. All great characters have depth and Luke is no exception. The Last Jedi adds to that depth, but with depth, comes some pretty serious flaws. UNEXPECTED… but RIGHT!

     Now back to Rey! After all, this isn’t Luke’s story anymore. It’s hers. For Rey to continue to be the active protagonist that she is, she needs to be able to stand on her own two feet. If Luke turned out to be the legend she believed he was, there wouldn’t have been anything left for her to do. She would’ve just been there in the background! What happened with Luke wasn’t what she wanted, nor was it what we wanted, but it’s what needed to happen to make Rey step up to the foreground and take charge of the situation as the new hero of Star Wars! It’s the same with Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. If these are going to continue to be great characters, they can’t just be along for the ride. They have to make mistakes, learn their lesson, then grow the heck up! Luke’s not going to hold Rey’s hand and solve all of her problems. Neither are her parents. She can cry about this, or she can straight up jack those dirty old books and do like she’s always done – figure things out for herself!

     So yeah… I’ve flip-flopped quite a bit on Episode 8. If I had to pick a favorite scene, it would probably be the one where the sage master Yoda returns to pass on a few more words of wisdom to his former pupil. He tells Luke that failure is the best teacher. This is a lesson that pretty much every character in the film has to learn, and it’s a hard one, both for them as well as for myself as a fan. Now I don’t mean to be saying that if you didn’t like The Last Jedi, then you fail as a fan. When it’s all said and done, this is just a movie, and it’s perfectly fine to not like a movie. I think it’s important, however, to base one’s opinion of a film on what said film actually is, and not on how it compares to one’s specific expectations. This is the lesson that I learned from The Last Jedi and having learned it, I’m prepared to enjoy Episode 9 for everything it offers.

…Just so long as it has Lando.

They put Poe on the same side as the bad guys because he basically kills most of his friends.

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