2017/12/15

The Last Jedi Is a Con

I Am a Jedi

Film critic Steven Greydanus reviews The Last Jedi for The National Catholic Register.

Before we dig in, a reminder: You were warned.

Greydanus begins conventionally enough with the sorts of bland compliments you'd expect from any film reviewer who wants to keep his job under the ever-expanding Mouse Monopoly.
In the Disney age of Star Wars, J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens tried, too derivatively, to recapitulate the flavor of the original trilogy. By contrast, Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One jettisoned the mythopoeic and even partially deconstructed the traditional heroism of prior films.
The Last Jedi, from writer-director Rian Johnson, continues that trajectory, though in a more entertaining and crowd-pleasing vein than Rogue One.
The Last Jedi offers humor, excitement and spectacle, with space battles and lightsaber duels. The Force Awakens had all those things, but The Last Jedi also has fresh story beats and new ideas.
What, pray tell, are these "new ideas"?
...an increasingly diverse portrait of the Resistance, from an ingenuous maintenance worker named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran, of Vietnamese descent), who’s briefly starstruck by John Boyega’s runaway stormtrooper Finn, to the pink-haired Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), a character reminiscent of Mon Mothma, but with a more pivotal role.
More diversity! Which isn't a new idea; just more of the same idea that's been present in the Star Wars franchise since the introduction of Mace Windu, and it could be argued, Lando Calrissian.

I suppose that The Last Jedi takes a new approach to diversity by pushing it to the forefront of the narrative. Bold move. Time will tell if cramming diversity down the audience's throat works as well for Star Wars as it has for Disney's other once-iconic acquisition Marvel Comics.

After burning his pinch of incense to the diversity gods, Greydanus spends the rest of his review attempting an even-handed critique of the movie's flaws while fighting a losing battle to hide his thinly veiled disappointment and contempt.
Daisy Ridley’s Rey is back, of course, and it turns out that her key relationship in this film is with neither Finn nor Luke, but Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren — a dynamic that gives both their characters what interest they have. Oscar Isaac’s hotshot pilot Poe Dameron would be the film’s swashbuckling hero, if there were one.
Is this enough? I’m sure it will be for many fans. Yet as the complicated, messy plot unfolds, the lack of a larger vision in this new trilogy becomes more glaring. The Force Awakens wasn’t a great film, but The Last Jedi makes it worse in its failure to pay off or follow up on the first film’s mysteries and promises. (I’ll try to avoid overt spoilers, but if you care deeply about remaining totally unspoiled, stop reading now.)
I'll second Greydanus' SPOILER ALERT, but honestly, if you skim over this warning, and I end up spoiling The Last Jedi for you, at least I'll have saved you ten bucks and three hours of your life.
Start with Supreme Leader Snoke, the mysterious computer-generated leader of the First Order played by Andy Serkis. Introduced in The Force Awakens as a giant hologram, he returns to this film as a sort of amalgam of the Emperor and Darth Vader — except he’s ultimately a zero. To the extent that The Last Jedi has a villain, and to the extent that Snoke is that villain, it’s a close call whether The Last Jedi or Justice League has the year’s dullest, least consequential villain.
Then there’s the question of Rey’s origins, her extraordinary raw capacity for the Force, and her apparent connection to Luke, whose lightsaber called to her from Maz Kanata’s cellar and showed her troubling visions of Luke and Kylo Ren.
“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” Luke tells Rey in this film, referring to Ren. “It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” Indeed, Rey’s power may be greater than Ren’s; she’s a match for him, despite her lack of training and his training by Snoke.
Ren, aka Ben Solo, is the grandson of Anakin Skywalker himself, the chosen one apparently conceived by the Force. Force sensitivity runs in families, which is why Vader’s offspring Luke and Leia have it and why Ren has it. What, then, of Rey’s missing family, for whom she waited so tenaciously on Jakku in The Force Awakens? What is her connection to Luke? Suffice to say, The Last Jedi dispatches these questions in something like the least satisfying way possible.
Analysis: Disney has turned the Star Wars franchise over to cargo cultists who haven't the faintest clue how storytelling works. They're dimly aware that A New Hope is the franchise's most iconic movie and that it presents a series of compelling mysteries. They know that The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series and that it has a notorious plot twist.

That's as deep as their understanding goes. Empire manged to consummate the first film's mysteries in spectacular and eminently satisfying style because Leigh Brackett and Irvin Kershner were geniuses who understood the fundamentals of Western storytelling and the visual language of film.

By contrast, Abrams and his ilk lack even basic competence in either field. Their approach to the current trilogy amounted to: "Let's throw a bunch of incoherent shit onto the screen and dangle the promise of nonexistent answers in front of the audience's face." Anybody who's suffered through  Lost should've seen this coming.

One of my main beefs with The Force Awakens was that I knew none of those tantalizing mysteries could have internally consistent resolutions. The underlying story structure they'd set up just didn't hang together. Hand-waving was their only way out. Now here we are.
While playing like a rousing continuation and extension of the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi is also a deconstruction and even a critique. When Luke bitterly remarks that the legacy of the Jedi is failure, hypocrisy and hubris, it’s hard to argue the point.
Rather than maturing into Kenobi-like venerable authority, Luke has all too plausibly aged from a sometimes petulant young novice into a morose, disillusioned failed teacher. Like Obi-Wan before him, he trained a promising student — in this case Ben Solo — who went to the Dark Side, destroying the next generation of Jedi.
Hey, remember when Mark Hamill said he disagreed with every choice Rian Johnson made for his character in The Last Jedi script?
The Last Jedi could even be called a critique of heroism itself, at least in the swashbuckling mode of past movies.
The dramatic action in Star Wars has generally been structured around various heroic challenges calling for bold action and derring-do: rescuing the princess, confronting the villain and blowing up or shutting down the bad guys’ stuff (Death Stars, tractor beams, shield generators, droid control ships, etc.).
Hence the Wars part, which can be boiled down to "killing the enemy and breaking his stuff".
The Last Jedi subverts this by repeatedly making such heroic gambits the wrong move — especially when male characters are in favor of bold action and female characters aren’t.
Poe Dameron’s heroics in any other Star Wars film would win accolades and promotion, but here he’s demoted for disobeying Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s orders. Poe is always looking for chinks in the enemy’s armor; Amilyn’s priority is strategic retreat. She considers Poe a reckless risk-taker; he considers her timid and passive. It’s a provocative complication that Poe is in the wrong.
"Provocative complication" might be the most overwrought synonym I've ever seen for "bullshit".
It’s not just defying Amilyn’s rank that makes Poe wrong. At one point Finn sets himself a desperate task, but is thwarted by a female character who is not his superior.
“I saved your life,” she tells him. Yet we’ve already seen just this kind of self-sacrificial gambit successfully realized — by a woman. Why is Finn’s effort unworthy? I’m glad not to see him die, but it’s a problem that Johnson can’t find anything else significant for Finn to do either. Of all the major characters, he’s the most useless here.
Greydanus is playing coy, but he clearly discerns the total feminization of Star Wars begun in The Force Awakens that The Last Jedi  makes explicit. If you don't see a problem there, ask yourself : a) What is Star Wars' core demographic? and b) Which is more fun--seeing daredevil fighting men take big risks and succeeding; sometimes against orders (there was a whole genre of cop movies based on that premise alone), or seeing the nail that stands up get hammered down so everyone meekly goes along with the planned strategic retreat?
Finally comes an apparent exception: a showdown perhaps more dramatic than anything since Luke first crossed lightsabers with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. This is by far the most effective and consequential sequence of any of the Disney Star Wars films. Yet there’s a twist that is both brilliant and at the same time undercuts the apparent celebration of derring-do.
Doubtless the Resistance will not always be retreating, and traditional swashbuckling will probably return to the Star Wars universe. There’s certainly a case for one movie in which bold gambits to blow up the bad guys’ stuff aren’t the way to go. In the long run I’m less concerned about Poe’s heroic cred than I am the still-underdeveloped characters of Rey and especially poor Finn.
This review reads disturbingly like a letter from a POW that's been edited by enemy censors. The body of the message is all about how nice conditions in the camp are. They even have volleyball!

But you look under the stamp, and there's a crudely scrawled message that says THEY CUT OFF MY THUMBS
Oh, and what about the “first Jedi temple” we heard about? We see it, and the original Jedi texts. The movie puts even less stock in them than in Snoke. A voice wiser than Luke’s declares that the Jedi texts contain nothing that Rey doesn’t already have. Really? Then the Jedi religion is a con.
Who needs the accumulated wisdom of a thousand generations-long tradition when you've got ovaries and an epic case of fish lip?

In case cognitive dissonance still blinds you to the blatant feminist agitprop that infests The Last Jedi, we have it from Luke Skywalker himself that Rey and Ben have equal raw potential. Yet despite being trained by a Jedi Master and a Sith Lord, Ben loses to a total neophyte with zero training for the suspension of disbelief-shattering reason that she's a girl and the writers want her to win.

Greydanus is wrong. The Jedi religion isn't a con. The Last Jedi is.

If you're interested in getting a solid fix of mil-SF/space opera action while retaining a shred of dignity, check out Galaxy's Edge by best selling authors Nick Cole and Jason Anspach.

Because the galaxy is a dumpster fire, and sometimes the best way to put out a fire is with gasoline.

Galaxy's Edge Legionnaire - Anspach & Cole

UPDATE: Disney has deployed its review shills, but normal people aren't fooled.

The Last Jedi 57%

42 comments:

  1. Steven Greydanus is fascinating because you can consistently see him fighting himself ad modernism to see what he knows is true.

    The ending that destroys the Jedi religion? That's straight out of the the Korra playbook. Destroy the already existing lore and rules simply so we can have special snowflake special woman character be the best person to ever live.

    Oh, and you want a great review? WCB has you covered.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Edwftx8h7iY

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "Steven Greydanus is fascinating because you can consistently see him fighting himself ad modernism to see what he knows is true."

      He's trying to be fair because he hasn't yet accepted that the people whose work he's reviewing want him and his family dead.

      Delete
    2. The Legend of Korra is the sequel to the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. The series is infamous for taking the established lore and canon of the original property and breaking it in order to force fit the universe around the horrible new main character to make her The Most Important Person.

      Everything that happened in the original series is devalued, characters are degraded, and the entire canon is warped and subverted by the end.

      These people can't create, and it's becoming more and more obvious that their end goal is to destroy.

      Delete
  2. So in the 70s Star Wars was successful because it stood out against all the dreary, gray, post-Watergate dramas about how much everything sucks.

    Star Wars today is all about being gray and telling us that everything sucks. The morlocks won and have succeeded in dragging Star Wars down to their level.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Sadly, yes. The prequels killed Star Wars. Now Disney has turned its mummified corpse into a puppet that dances for coppers in the town square.

      Delete
    2. That the pop-eyed, fish-lipped XX-chromosomed cypher-on-film is the "hero" of any film, much less Star Wars, says volumes regarding how twisted and converged the House of Mouse is today.

      Can revelations of pedophilia be far behind?

      Pray for the millstone carvers, that the lack of such weights may soon be satisfied, and the seas taste their due.

      Some assembly required.

      Delete
    3. "Pray for the millstone carvers, that the lack of such weights may soon be satisfied, and the seas taste their due."

      Amen.

      Delete
  3. Thank you for the public service announcement! My family absolutely refuses to believe that the new Star Wars movies are anything less than wonderful. Perhaps this review will change their minds... Or at least make them stop pestering me to go see it with them!

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  4. I am sure this has been said before but Disney is the EA of film/television.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've stuck with your
    >Don't give money to people who hate you
    strategy since the first SJW Wars bru-ha-ha and it's served me well so far. I'll probably be dragged into watching it on a buddy's netflix account like I was with Rogue-1, but I get the feeling I wont be missing much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good for you! That's how we win.

      Delete
    2. I just finished listening to the latest geekgab. Holy cow. I knew things were bad, I expected the worst, but I had no idea things were that bad.

      I'm going to have to set my planned star wars fork higher on my to do list. Disney is creating one hell of a market for it.

      Delete
  6. This is the best advertisment for Galaxy's Edge you could imagine, and if the viewer's score on rotten tomatoes is any indicator (Currently sitting at 56), there are masses of dissapointed fans who want something else. Something that is far truer to the original, but also far better than the original episodes, let alone these sequels.

    Galaxy's Edge delivers in that respect.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "This is the best advertisment for Galaxy's Edge you could imagine..."

      I can imagine a lot ;)

      Anyway, point well taken.

      GE is a smash hit.

      TLJ is panned by fans.

      IDW fires that socialist G.I. Joe writer.

      We winning culturally, and that's be best kind of winning.

      Delete
    2. Lying, Doubling Down, and DARVO/Projection are the only paths known to the Cargo Cultists of Western Culture.

      No way in heckfire that Current Year Disney can create what the fans want. Disney can't comprehend what made Star Wars popular.

      It's like retarded chimps playing with a fusion torch, trying to make fire. There will be nothing but tears for the results.

      Delete
  7. Brian,

    Thanks for the review qnd your assessment.
    Esthetics is downstream from ethics.JJ Abrams has replaced the rich legacy of Western storytelling.... for nothing.
    This nothingness explains the explosion of sexual misconduct by the cultural producers and the vapidness of their works. Worse they're robber wjo've stolen ourheitage and squandered it like the prodigal son but with out the remose.
    It's becoming both urgent and clear that we need to fork and replace immediately
    xavier


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  8. Question for all.
    How do we recover pride in the craft of cartoon making? I don't have a preference for the creation: i.e handpainted cells or 3d max/blender.
    I'm just wondering how to do it.

    One observation: esthetics is downstream from ethics. JJ and his buds have stolen our storytelling heritage squandered it like the prodigal son and aren't sorry. The replaced it with.... nothingness and explains why their cultural products are wildfires in a forest. There's nothing because they believe in nothing; hold nothing dear and only hold dear animus.
    Well build stuff in dust, smoke snd sans it disappears without a trace and nobody cares.

    Fork and replace

    xavier

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    1. >ow do we recover pride in the craft of cartoon making?
      Sadly the easiest answer is also the hardest one. Build our own. Unfortunately it's the same problem facing superversive, Pulprev, and other movements. Writing can be done well, and done cheaply by a single individual. Other mediums are much harder to get into due to needing more man power, more money and more talent. That's why I agree with Bradford walker, and others that we need to try to inspire more artists into working with us. I'm glad to see some are tackling comics. More need to (and for crying out loud someone needs to get off their butt and make a practical distribution channel for the digital age. Part of the many reason manga is bigger than comics is it's much easier to get a hold of in my opinion.) Live action and animation are other fields that need to be tackled, but again, lots of money makes an issue.

      Eventually someone is going to have to put together an animation studio, which traditionally is a costly and risky venture. Going back to what Brian has said many times, the problem is that right now conservatives are pikers, won't spend money on culture and are happy to cede it, and refuse to support like minded creators. The first pulprev or superversive guy to make millions is going to have to be generous.

      For a more practical answer, I suggest that anyone interested in pursuing animation of any kind get them a copy of Animator's survival kit. Easily the best resource for animation, 2d or 3d. For starting out I'd suggest learning blender, it's free and you can do amazing things with it once you get past the UI (and that's gotten better.) Just be aware that animation is a very time consuming process.

      Delete
    2. "conservatives are pikers"

      They're sexually attracted to losing.

      Delete
    3. Anonome
      Many thanks for your thoughtful reply. Yup find and coopt likeminded artists is perhaps one important facet to recapture our culture
      Brian.
      Over at Vox day he had a post where Rod Dreher basically wants to quit the culture wars and cede the culture to our enemies. It reminds me of Grand Moff Tankin's neat speech of not quitting at the hour of their total victory.
      I'm disappointed with Rod because he knows better so i don't know if he's just burnt out or in despair
      xavier

      Delete
    4. Dreher came of age in the last days of cultural Christianity. Back then you could take for granted that most people shared a basically Christian worldview or at least tolerated it.

      The Church's cultural influence collapsed right around the time Dreher was coming into his own professionally and socially. It happened gradually, though not slowly, like a frog in a pressure cooker. But one day, Rod found that all quarters of the government, media, and academia were openly hostile to Christians.

      It's not just Dreher. Many, perhaps most, Christians who came out of cultural Christianity never had to develop the fortitude to hold firm against external challenges to their faith.

      Now, publicly professing Christianity will cost you socially, academically, and even professionally again. Dreher and other fair weather Christians want the Christ-haters to like them more than they want to know, live, and preach the truth.

      Delete
    5. I find Dreher's defeatism insufferable. That's a good explanation of it though; there really does seem to be a major generational difference.

      Delete
    6. Brian,
      Interesting because Vox concluded similarly: he wants his enemies to like him and to leave what's left of the culture to their 'niceness'. Which is imprudently stupid.
      The way to go forward is to for, replace and ignore the slagging.

      xavier

      Delete
    7. Christians like Dreher don't realize that being "nice" and "better" is not going to change anything, because Christianity has been written off by these people. You're not going to win them over be showing them "proper" Christian behavior. You're already an idiot. You're already wrong. You're already an enemy.

      This is what the Christian Boomers and certain types of Gen X Conservatives don't get. You're already lost, and you're not going to change their mind.

      It's over.

      Act accordingly.

      Delete
    8. Some of them have martyrdom fetishes wherein they anticipate the noble sacrifice of their honorable defeat bringing their enemies to conversion.

      Note to the Benedict Option crowd: We're not dealing with rational, honor-bound pagans like the ancient Romans were. We're up against hordes of debased sub-pagans who've thrown the Greco-Roman tradition under the bus alongside Christian Tradition.

      Neither your silent, patient suffering nor your bloody death in the public square will move them. They won't have a change of heart, and they won't leave you alone. They'll just crow and do victory laps.

      Our enemies will never turn to each other and say, "See how they love one another!" To paraphrase Sam Hyde, they'll rape and kill you and your family and laugh about it.

      Delete
    9. Dreher will never believe this. Never.

      His smug, self-satisfied cowardice will be forever evident on his face, even as his head is stuck on the enemy's gates.

      Delete
  9. Thanks for the review. The promises implicit in storytelling (if I mention something, there will be some sort of payoff) are broken. Not only that, but prior promises that had been fulfilled in other movies appear to be broken.

    Seeing this would have sunk me from seeing more in the franchise. Now I don't have to spend the money and time to make that decision.

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    1. "Seeing this would have sunk me from seeing more in the franchise. Now I don't have to spend the money and time to make that decision."

      Seeing my readers make wise decisions like this is why I consider writing this blog a public service.

      Delete
  10. I'm going to post this for posterity.

    This movie is going to cause Rotten Tomatoes to turn off the audience score citing abuse from trolls.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If the audience rating drops below 50%, yes, they will.

      Delete
  11. I checked out your Twitter page and laughed my ass off at a spoiler scene from the movie.

    I don't think it's possible to post a pic directly here but I'll post the url:
    http://cdn.smosh.com/sites/default/files/legacy.images/smosh-pit/112010/professsor-milk.gif

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    1. The best take I've seen on the movie: "Imagine the most disappointing thing you can think of. Then add Luke Skywalker milking a dude's tits."

      Delete
  12. MegaBusterShepard here.

    Dave Fioloni and the writers for Star Wars Rebels are the only ones with talent left in this franchise. Though I'm not surprised since they are heavily imfluenced by the old expanded universe and have Timothy Zahn on hand.

    Unless they produce another series after Rebels ends I'm done with Star Wars. They cut my heart out when they decanonized the EU, they murdered any goodwill with The Last Jedi.

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    1. That's it. One step at a time toward an unalloyed "I'm done with Star Wars."

      Delete
    2. MegaBusterShepard here....

      Oh don't worry Brian I'm not giving Disney money to see Rebels. If I buy the series it will be through a the d party, preferably used. I'm just enjoying the last of it before we cut our cable.

      It's also Rebels final season so I'm not on the train for long. Truth be told I want to write my own sci fi stories rather than hope for a miracle cure for our current Cultural pickings.

      Delete