21 December 2019

Star Wars Again

The last time this happened, I felt like writing far too much about my history with this particular franchise. It has been a hell of a two years, folks, because so much of my attitude about Star Wars has morphed and shifted, to the point where I'm really not looking forward to The Rise of Skywalker at all. And that has all to do with how much I loved The Last Jedi (2017), not how much many people hated it. So, let's dive into this a little bit, particularly what has become more and more apparent over the past two years.

They better bang by the end of this

The past four years have been packed with cultural events. Can you believe that The Force Awakens (2015) came out a mere four years ago? From that moment an entire new Star Wars Trilogy launched, and us long-term fans couldn't really understand the long-time ramifications of that launch. First, all of the Expanded Universe was bunk now. That's a nice way to clean up a conflicting sandbox that authors and video game creators have played in for decades so everyone can catch up equally with the new films, but with this franchise and new ownership, it also feels like a way to re-do thirty years of mythos and sell even more literature and video games.

There is more to it than that, though. There are substantial narrative issues with jumping into this without any sort of backstory. I think about this far too much. How did Star Wars (1977) work with much less of a backstory? Why does it matter? Well, the simple answer is that when we're thrown into something fresh we can piece things together in our own heads. We get that Darth Vader is bad, this moisture farmer is good, and okay, there is a story here.

I hate JJ Abrams. That is the biggest thing I've realized in the past four years. He is a fine director, casts well, his films look great, and he chases heart like few directors out there. But he chases it. He's a hack. He's probably the biggest fraud con artist director of all time. His specialty is creating films that emulate the feelings of old films, but actually contain none of the substance - and so he covers this with his infamous mystery box. Those mysteries never have an actual answer. They just distract the viewer from the fact that the film sucks. Looking at his work over and over again it's just so clear that none of his mysteries actually have any satisfying answer. They just exist to be interesting in themselves.

The Force Awakens is full of this. From the first damn scene we get Max Von Sydow who seems like an important character. He's not and it's never explained. I am done with believing that this will ever come. It's just running on a treadmill with no end. This goes on and on and on. Snoke. Rey's parents. The origins of the First Order. The Resistance. It's so obviously an overreaction to the prequels.

To some extent we can't complain about this. The prequels were pretty awful and near universally reviled among fans. The thing is, though, this really wasn't the fault of story or creativity. It was just acting and dialogue, which George Lucas really really can't figure out. This has been examined to death. I've been rewatching the prequel trilogy this past weekend and it's striking just how good Revenge of the Sith (2005) actually is thematically. It strikes me that the Jedi had no business being the main military arm of the Republic and Generals in the Clone Wars. The Order had to be re-started. Palpatine is right. It's close to being downright brilliant.

Now, beyond these big overarching themes it's incredibly clear that Lucas didn't know how to write a love scene or handle basic character motivation. The casting of Hayden Christensen was one of the worst casting decisions in modern cinema. These bog down the prequels. But what's bonkers is that kids who grew up on the prequels and Clone Wars and an Era where they have had nothing but Star Wars media rammed down their throats have started to reevaluate these movies. Nostalgia has shifted. It's not as much old nerds pining for the OT, but rather younger nerds interested in prequel memes.

This brings up all kinds of weird issues. Both the animated and computer animated Clone Wars shows likely went on a little too long for a three-year war and created all kinds of problems when these Clones decide to all kill the Jedi. How did their spider senses not alert them to any of this mischief? Well, it's quite simple - Palpatine was right and the Jedi were blinded by their hubris.

This brings me to Rian Johnson. He's the exact opposite of JJ Abrams. Burn the past. Destroy it. But he also is one of a very few (including, I think Lucas himself) who understood what the Jedi are actually supposed to be - humble peacekeepers of the galaxy, better suited to meditate and contemplate than raise a lightsaber. I never thought The Last Jedi (2017) was about destroying our collective appreciation of Star Wars, but actually righting it.

When this suddenly conflicts with a more commoditized vision of Star Wars that normalized the Jedi as fun soldiers and action heroes, then the conflict becomes a little more apparent. That and also general woman-hate from insecure incel nerds. Basically, all of society is terrible now. Everything great is ruined by Nazis, from Rick and Morty to Joker (2019) to the fucking okay hand gesture. Thanks, Nazi jerks.

So, what's wrong with Rise of Skywalker? In the past weeks one thing has become painfully obvious. This franchise has had absolutely no direction from its outset. How is this possible? First, how can you have literally no overarching idea of where these three movies are going? There was always going to be three. Marvel has done this down the hall with no definitive story and adding Spider-Man halfway through. How can you give one movie to JJ Abrams to set up all this crap and then to Rian Johnson who loves undermining this crap, and then BACK to Abrams to set up all the crap he originally wanted?

It's astounding. It may prove to be one of the biggest blunders in movie history. How can you acquire the most valuable IP of all time and then just wing three of the biggest movies of all time? It's baffling. More than anything it just feels like Disney wants to jerk us around. Will there be another Trilogy? More Disney+ series? Who cares. It just all feels like a waste of time. Nothing is fueled by artistic merit or a desire to tell stories. It's just a big huge way of selling us the same stuff we bought in 1977.

But you may say, isn't this obvious?! We knew all this going in! Yes, that is true. It is obvious to anyone. But there has been an assuredly strong amount of this lately. For a while for all their monopolistic criticism Disney at least actually did feel like the studio that gave a shit. There was reason why they were so mammothly successful. They put the right people in place both behind the camera and behind it, gave films the right resources, and had the confidence to set trends, not follow them. When they gobbled up Fox, it was a sigh of relief that we'd never see another Fant4stic (2015). This is hardcore Devil's Advocate, but when every studio screws up superhero movies far harder than Disney, we might as well cheer for them all to be under a studio that's trying.

That seems to be unraveling now. Modern Star Wars is creatively bankrupt. Like everything else, they're stuck in safe remake mode rather than trying to be something actually new and interesting. I never thought I'd appreciate the prequels this much. It's actually tough to generate races, planets, technology, and costuming for the same universe but different. It's depressing to see so much of the same crap again instead of any evolution. It would have been such a more liberating step to see these characters dealing with an entirely new set of circumstances.

This gets back to our original question. Why does the sequel trilogy have a harder time selling itself? The problem is expectations. We're no longer wide-eyed and awestruck, able to explain away inconsistencies with fanon, but also acknowledging small errors for likely just issues with 70s filmmaking and it was good not to overthink anything. We're just not in that world anymore. Lore is important.

If The Last Jedi lacks anything it is some misunderstanding that people actually cared a lot about characters like Ackbar and Nien Numb, as dumb as they are. Rian Johnson should have treated them like a major death instead of just some random people. I don't really even have an issue with Canto Bight. In fact, that felt like the most Star Wars to me of any scene - it's just so dumb, incoherent, and childish. Yeah, that's this series of movies. Very Lucas. While it doesn't hold up to fridge logic, it aligns with the ideology they are trying to establish, and that's more than most of the other factions in the Sequel Trilogy, which seem to have no goals or ideology.

This is all to say that I'm pretty turned off. There is a part of me that wants to see Rise of Skywalker, but even that freaking title makes me cringe. I was so satisfied that the Skywalkers were passing. Rey is probably Luke's daughter or something stupid, undoing Rian's most brilliant story move. I hate this. I do want to see how it ends but I know it's not going to be satisfying. I'm so upset.

I hear The Mandalorian is good?

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