Thursday, December 26, 2019

What's RIGHT with Star Wars, Part 1

Let me say from the beginning that I am a Star Wars fan.

Let me also say from the start—no burying the lead here—that I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. I went in not expecting much and was happy—nay, excited—to have my expectations blown away by a fun movie, an enjoyable movie, a stunning movie, maybe even a great movie.
I write this now after reading a review this morning by a “critic” that I would love to link to but I was reading the thing on my phone and then someone texted me and when I got through with that I had somehow lost the article and couldn’t get it back. This particular critic did not like Rise of Skywalker and the ostensible purpose of the article was to express that ROS was a let-down of all the promise of The Last Jedi. Ostensibly, I say, because the main thrust of the article was really that anyone who didn’t prefer TLJ to ROS (and all other movies) was some sort of Luddite who probably shouldn’t be allowed into the movie theater anymore or be issued a driver’s license.

I’m not sure, but I wonder if this were the same reviewer who two years ago wrote an article about how The Last Jedi was not the Star Wars movie we wanted but was probably the Star Wars movie we deserved. The theme to both of these reviews was that they (the reviewer, who may be singular) know better than we peasants what sort of movies are not only better, but should be enjoyed.
Let me state here, before we go further, that I regard The Last Jedi as the worst/least of the Star Wars movies—coming in behind even the Ewok movies, the Clone Wars movie (remember: that series started with a 90 minute movie that premiered in theaters), but ahead of the Star Wars Holiday Special but only because SWHS had Bea Arthur.

There are myriad articles and comments about what’s wrong with TLJ, some of which make points I disagree with. I don’t dislike the movie because of how it treated Luke. I do not object to the so-called Holdo Maneuver. In fact, that was probably my favorite moment from that film and it seemed, to me, in keeping with the first thing Han Solo ever told us about hyperspace: “Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova and that'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?” In other words, hyperspace travel required calculations to take one around obstacles. It was why Han couldn’t just take off into hyperspace immediately.

What turned me off about TLJ (keeping in mind that I’ve never said I hate it, just that it was the worst Star Wars movie—just as there are many episodes of other shows that I don’t like, while still calling myself a huge fan of the show/series) was when Holdo took over. Yes, I had read the novel where she was introduced as one of Leia’s oldest friends. Yes, I know that another novel speaks of her being a hero of the rebellion and, presumably, the Resistance. But in TLJ Poe Dameron, who we have been shown as a hero of the Resistance, has never seen this woman before even though she has the rank of Admiral. I found it reasonable that he would rebel against her leadership. So Holdo, buoyed by nothing more than her own sense of self-importance, kicks this known hero to the curb and while we may be allowed to sympathize with Poe, it still seemed like we were supposed to think she was doing the right thing. Her Holdo Maneuver being withheld until she’s gotten the maximum number of those in her command killed makes me think otherwise. “But, chain of command!” someone objects, which I could go along with if she—like the rest of the people on that ship—were in uniform. She just looked like someone on her way to a ball.

You may be thinking that’s a pretty tiny reason to bump an entire movie to 14th position in a field some say only has 11 entrants, but it’s not. Poe, a hero of the Resistance, was given a commander he had no reason to respect and told to respect her just as we were given a middlin’ movie and told by our movie-going betters to respect it even though we were pretty sure this particular emperor was underdressed.

Some of those who defend/champion TLJ want us to think its director “challenged” us by making us think about old things in new ways. Granted, he did make me think about Empire Strikes Back through all the things he borrowed from that great movie (like, oh, I don’t know, the plot?). But his changes didn’t come across to me as profound, just as a guy who looks at a story he wants to tell, based on an older story, and makes fairly random changes just for the sake of making changes. (For another record, I do not look down on or want to argue with people who really enjoyed TLJ. I just a] haven’t met any and 2] I just don’t want them or anyone looking down on me over my opinion about a movie where space wizards fight each other with glow rods.)

TLJ seemed like that old game we used to play in school where one person would write a paragraph, then the next person would have to pick up where that paragraph left off. When most of us got to be anyone other than the first writer, we would write outlandish paragraphs in an attempt to sabotage whoever had to follow us. At the end of the row would be some poor sap who had one paragraph to try to wrap up this literary monstrosity.

In steps JJ Abrams. He wrote the first paragraph, The Force Awakens, and while it was kind of a replay of A New Hope, it was fairly entertaining and fun (and, at the time, the 7th-best movie out of the 7 numbered movies). Apparently a glutton for punishment, he agreed to come back and direct the ninth episode. Contrary to what you might have read, he didn’t ditch or negate TLJ, but he didn’t give it any more stature than was absolutely necessary. As someone who has probably read 80-90% of the Star Wars novels to date, in my mind I regard TLJ as one of the better novels that came out between the movies: it informs my view of the Star Wars Universe, but it’s not something I need to return to.
Personally, I think JJ did a great job! And I say this with a long history (depicted in other blogs and even my comic strip) of not being a fan of JJ Abrams’ work. (I hated what he did with Trek, got bored with Lost, was appalled by the one episode of Felicity I tried to watch [which, granted, is probably not a sufficient sample size]) and still rank TFA as 13th out of the 14.

But The Rise of Skywalker was just what I wanted. And maybe that’s the real rub for this whole argument: Star Wars became (a long time ago, in a galaxy right, right here) the kind of movie/phenomena that leads all of us fans to take ownership of it. I know how Luke should act! I am sure the New Republic wouldn’t have done that! Abrams acknowledged this in a recent interview when—though some probably object that he was pandering—he stated that those who hate his new movie aren’t wrong and neither are those who love it. The reality is that we fans all have such strong feelings about these movies that any movie made (or book written) will not please everyone.
In broad themes, The Rise of Skywalker provided what I wanted: heroic battles, humor, humor sometimes oddly placed, pathos, death, triumph, new and old characters, call-backs that didn’t feel like rehashes, and a spectacular John Williams score.

[More to Come … ]

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