Sunday Morning! “Wanda” and “The Last Jedi”

Rufus F.

Rufus is a likeable curmudgeon. He has a PhD in History, sang for a decade in a punk band, and recently moved to NYC after nearly two decades in Canada. He wrote the book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (2021).

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23 Responses

  1. Aaron David says:

    Design by committee. That is how I feel much of our mass entertainment is going, what with all the superhero franchise movies, YA books, and Art as Advertising. We often talk about the auteur period of American film, Kubrick and Ashby and others, but we do forget all the shlock that has come out over the years; the formula westerns, skinemax romances, noir pastiches. Those artier films were often in direct response to the realization of how commercialized the genre always was. “I really hate slick pictures,” says it all.

    I am on a business trip (for my small and slowly dying business) and one of my favorite things is to find used book stores while on the trip. And I struck gold this time! A couple nice early Steinbecks in hardcover (my weakness), Cannery Row and In Dubious Battle. Also, Freya Starks Valley of the Assassins, a fascinating travel memoir of a woman traveling in the Persian wilderness, circa 1932.

    And while reading in these various books, wouldn’t you know it but the first two Star Wars movies were on TNT.

    I am also slowly working my way through the Murakami, and enjoying every bit of it.Report

  2. Doctor Jay says:

    I really liked The Last Jedi while I understand that it isn’t Moonrise Kingdom or Swiss Army Man, both of which are small, indy films, which focus on a far more personal level of human experience.

    The collapse of the art theater has made it really hard to find films like these, and get a look at them. Perhaps some video streaming service will find a niche in bringing them to us some day, and that will be fantastic.

    It does surprise me that we are so far apart on The Last Jedi. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent many many hours doing tabletop roleplaying in the SW universe that I am not particularly put off by reuse of some of the trappings of it. And as for the core theme of TLJ in particular, I was quite ready for it, as we had explored the same themes – “the Jedi must end” – in our own sessions.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Well, understand that I’m not really immersed in the lore of it anymore. My old roommate kept up with the books and spin off series and a *lot* of backstory that I think you might need to have in order to fully appreciate TLJ. For instance, I have a feeling that the Snoke character is way more resonant if you’re immersed in all of the auxiliary material. I just kept thinking “Serkis could’ve played this in makeup”.

      You’re absolutely right about the collapse of the art theatre. I think Saul said something recently about how few people go to art theatres, but a lot of us don’t live near any. Hamilton just got really lucky because a Hollywood producer who moved here led the effort to revitalize an old movie theatre in order to show those movies at the same time as a family with cinema experience revitalized a *second* one. So, in the same month, we got two art house/revival theatres! I was struck though that one of the programmers said it was great news because we had been a “movie desert” before. It’s a great term that I plan to use!Report

  3. Mike Schilling says:

    Or, perhaps, my expectations as a viewer have changed. Like most people my age, I adored the first two Star Wars movies when I was a child and have been disappointed by everything that has come since.

    This puzzles me. Everyone knows the next one is going to be somewhere between disappointing and awful (six times in a row now), yet it’s still eagerly anticipated.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      This is my thought on the SW franchise. I remember when the first of the ‘quils came out, and my best friend was managing a movie theater at the time. So, he had an employee/friend screening the night before it was released, and I wondered off halfway through to talk to one of his workers.

      And Rufus is right, as we age and grow, those expectations rise. We cannot be Giants fans forever and must delve into the thoughtful fanhood of the A’s.Report

    • Well, I don’t know if I eagerly anticipated it. I’ve missed this one and the two spinoff movies and decided “Well, it is on Netflix and maybe it’ll be okay…”

      But I remember people complaining to me about the prequels “George Lucas turned them into children’s movies!” and thinking maybe they are children’s movies that we happened to see when we were children. I think they still hold up, but it’s possible that today’s children will look back and think these movies have never been as great as Rogue One and The Last Jedi.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Well, Blade Runner would never have been made without the success of Star Wars. And neither would Black Hole. SW isn’t great, but much like reading one of Burroughs’ Mars novels, it was smart pulp.

        But still pulp.Report

  4. Doctor Jay says:

    Rufus, I just want you to know that I love your pieces here, and the fact that you have a different take on things than me is a wonderful good thing, not a bad thing.

    I say this because I’m deeply surprised that you understood TLJ to be boring and predictable. As best I can tell, most of the fandom don’t like it precisely because it breaks all of their expectations.

    For instance, right at the start we have Po playing the plucky field commander, who defies the wisdom of his elders and presses on rather than withdrawing, only to win a great victory. Except no, that victory lands him (rightly) in the doghouse, and eventually in detention. That may be how life goes, but it isn’t how Star Wars goes. Its a shock, I think. So much so that I’ve had friend say things like “the bombs were stupid”. Well, yeah, they were, but no more so than any other weapon in Star Wars is.

    The problem for them is that scene didn’t land the way they thought or expected it to.

    The list of expectations that TLJ breaks like this goes on, and on, and on. It is breathtaking.

    And yet, I suppose we could take a scene where the young hotshot defies orders and gets thrown in the brig for it in spite of downing the big enemy warship as banal and predictable, since that’s the normal thing that happens.

    Context is everything, I guess.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Yeah, I think context makes a big difference. I enjoy the Star Wars movies, but I’m more of a horror movie “geek” if anything. Which might explain why I hated the last Halloween iteration, while the critics seemed to love it. I did like that “it’s good to have retreat well in war” was a theme, which was a nice twist. And I really liked Laura Dern’s character and Po and their interactions. I think the whole film might have been improved if they just lost the entire searching for a codebreaker subplot that felt like it went nowhere. I think that was the longest film in the series.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      The thing that bugged me about the Space Bombers was–okay, two things bugged me, the first being that it was an incredibly silly idea that obviously started with the end and worked backwards (“okay, we need a scene where a character dramatically sacrifices themself to throw a switch and kill the bad guys, let’s invent something that makes that happen”). But the second was that the whole theme of the movie was “the old way of doing things is broken, like, genuinely broken, requiring sacrifice and death and the ruin of hope in the service of another day, what if we literally burned that all to the ground and started again with something new?” And what better way to do that than to have all the old Rebel stuff ratlling around getting blown up? Like, instead of bombers, they’re those B-wing things from RotJ. Which makes sense in the canon and doesn’t require inventing something new.

      And that is sort of what I felt about the whole movie–that they had an idea but they just didn’t want to *commit* to it.Report

  5. George Turner says:

    You watched The Last Jedi. Sympathies and hugs.

    I think The Last Jedi really united the audience in ways that the much earlier films could not. Almost every viewer of TLJ had to think, after at least after a couple of days, “Even I could write a better script than that.” The director mocked the fans who said that, but that just illustrates the problem – condescension rooted in incompetence.

    Pick almost any element. The director said he wasn’t interested in who Snoke was (the dark lord with the scars and ugly face). That’s pretty obvious because the writing team didn’t let any of us know who he was, either.

    To a writer, the villain may not be particular interesting during the rough sketch because the writer just needs an enemy for the hero. But it’s incredibly lazy not to flesh out the villain, and often that’s the most interesting and revealing character. The prequels and half the original trilogy were all about “Who is this Darth Vader guy in the black suit?” Without that, the villain is just some random two-dimensional guy in a costume. In that regard, TLJ makes the Knights of the Old Republic video game seem like War and Peace. For all we know, Snoke became the Supreme Leader six months earlier by winning a reality show called “Am I Evil?”

    But he’s there as someone for Kylo to overcome in his own quest to one day fulfill the role of Dark Vader. You’d think that would require something of the hero’s journey, full of epic struggles, training, transformative epiphanies, achievement, and the passing of the mantle. Nah, Kylo just used a quick light-saber trick while Snoke is distracted. Kylo could’ve poisoned Snoke’s corn flakes, but that would’ve required a breakfast scene.

    I’d hate to see how the modern team would’ve written the epic confrontation on the second death star in The Return of the Jedi where Vader finally turns on and kills Emperor Palpatine, but it would probably go like this:

    Scene: Vader brings Luke before the Emperor.
    Emperor: “So this is young Skywalker! Welcome. Come join us.”
    The Emperor walks down from his throne and approaches the Skywalkers
    Darth Vader sticks his foot out and the Emperor trips and falls over the railing to his death.
    Vader: “Oopsie. He tripped. Hey Luke, you want a job?”
    Luke: “Nah. I have to get back and check on my folks down on the Endor. I sense a bunch of teddy bears are getting killed.”
    Vader. “Okie dokie.”

    It just wouldn’t have the same resonance.

    Then you’ve got Rey’s character, who’s obviously got the cheat codes for the new trilogy. Rey: ‘addlevel(22) ‘setstrength(16) ‘setdexterity(18) ‘addlightside(20) ‘invulnerability

    And they burned an incredible amount of screen time on the world’s most boring fleet chase, one that can’t actually happen in any space universe because of F=ma and the mechanics of space flight. Three-masted sailing fleets in the Horatio Hornblower era can have a stern chase lasting days, and yes, that was the basis for this chase.

    They threw all the earlier real space and Star Wars physics out the window (you could outrun a ship or it could outrun you), and then they threw out some more established movie physics to have a ship make a light speed jump into another warship. The previous episode already established with the Millennium Falcon that a ship can make a hyperspace jump past any shield, which means none of the series’ prior space battles make sense because shields can’t stop that tactic. Everybody would just use droid operated freighters to jump into each other’s major warships.

    The writing since Disney took over is so bad that I think it’s responsible for a lot of the right-wing populist revolution going on in the US and Europe, and in large part may be responsible for Trump’s election and Brexit. Even in red states, people have always at least recognized that the Hollywood elites do had enormous artistic talent, subtlety, and skill, thus the “elite” moniker.

    These new Disney films showed that the modern elites are a sham. These elites, those at the highest levels of the film industry, are obviously far less competent at writing than any car mechanic sitting in the theater, and everybody got that truth hammered all the way to the back of their eyeballs like Kubrick’s protagonist in A Clockwork Orange.

    The genie can’t be put back in the box. What destroyed the British Empire was that their colonial subjects had seen them get embarrassingly thrashed by the Japanese, struggling just to survive. The Empire lost its branding as the exemplary of status, class, taste, virtue, refinement, and education. Their subjects realized that the British are just a bunch of wankers like everyone else, and the Empire’s carefully crafted image of being several cuts better than the locals simply collapsed around their ears. Their aristocrats and bureaucrats slogged on for a while, but their status was finally destroyed by the mockery of Monty Python. Now they watch dancing dogs on Britain’s Got Talent. It’s all that’s left of what was once the most carefully honed and respected upper crust image on the planet.

    Star Wars is doing that for Hollywood, and for America’s elite classes in general. It was one thing when Hollywood was throwing American culture in the trash with skill, but now they don’t even have that. They’re the least competent people we have and they shouldn’t be in charge of anything, not even a fantasy/scifi franchise that sells toys. It’s made large swaths of middle America, the deplorables, realize that we had a kakistocracy: a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.

    Western Europe has been reaching the same conclusion, with much of France in open rebellion, that’s because they watched the new Star Wars films too. We’re determined not to die like Luke Skywalker, lonely and bitter and bitching about a library, or like Han Solo with a deer-in-headlights expression on his face. We’re going to die on our feet in a scene that doesn’t feel like it was written by a spoiled, no-talent, 12-year old hack, and to do that we’re going to cast down the old, corrupt, incompetent order.

    Future historians will look back at the collapse of the Western neo-liberal power structure, and then at these Disney Star Wars movies and… Okay, no, they’re never going to rewatch these either. They just stink too much. They’ll just note that “Movies got really bad, Oscar picks stopped making sense, and then a wave of populist uprisings swept Western Civilization into the dustbin of history.” But that won’t be accurate. It wasn’t movies in general, or the Oscar picks, it was Rogue One and Episode VIII.

    But no pressure on Episode IX, Disney. Just because you hired the writer of Justice League and Batman v Superman, the movie that had the biggest Friday to Sunday drop of any superhero movie in box office history, is no cause for concern. None at all.

    Or perhaps I’m reading too much into the movie.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to George Turner says:

      I shouldn’t be reading this comment in the library because I’m laughing too much. This should have been the post!Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to George Turner says:

      This was great. The best part was how, as tempting as it must have been to exaggerate for comic effect, you stuck to the facts.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to George Turner says:

      “The director said he wasn’t interested in who Snoke was (the dark lord with the scars and ugly face). That’s pretty obvious because the writing team didn’t let any of us know who he was, either.”

      That’s because *THEY* didn’t know *EITHER*. Abrams said straight out that he just made a bunch of stuff up for TFA, figuring that the other movies’ writers would do something with all of it.

      You’re talking about this being a Metaphor For The Modern Age (which, in some ways, Star Wars always has been; a reflection of the culture that created it) but maybe it’s not the one you think. Maybe it’s more like “we’re just gonna do stuff in a real half-assed way and push it out before it’s really ready and before we’ve really thought it through, and somehow it’s still gonna make a jillion dollars and everyone will tell us how smart we are”. The app-developer, software-slob-billionaire paradigm.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Famous story:

        While making The Big Sleep, director Howard Hawks realized he didn’t know who committed the first murder (of the chauffeur), so he called up Raymond Chandler, who’d written the book.

        Chandler had no idea.Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    There were only two works of art that were successfully designed by committee, the King James Bible and the Talmud. Everything else not so much.Report

  7. Maribou says:

    Huh. I really loved the Last Jedi, and continue to love it. I know women who’ve seen it 4 or 5 times in theaters.

    More and more I’m realizing I watch films (and other audiovisual media) primarily for an emotional connection with the characters, and if whatever alchemy the creators use achieves that, I could give a flying flip about any of the rest of it… I mean, I notice and I appreciate other qualities, but I don’t evaluate whether or not I like things overall based on them. And if that connection is there I’ll forgive any number of missteps along the way.

    It makes for a very eclectic list of faves when considered in terms of genre, style, or any given standard of purported quality *other* than the one I’m oriented on.Report

  8. LeeEsq says:

    I’ve always defined kitsch as art of questionable taste that isn’t pornographic. Think of a picture depicting a bridge and groom as anthropomorphic cats or dogs playing poker or better yet Thomas Kincaid. The Last Jedi and other Star Wars movies are not kitsch because they aren’t of questionable taste. It’s a well-made production that provides good value.

    I think what more intellectual and artistic people would say is that a lot of science fiction and superhero movies are doing is trying to be more than they are or really can be. Black Panther was a meditation on the proper way for Black people to deal with racism and the Last Jedi is about how men or even white men more specifically mess up by trying to be cocky hot shots or brooding bad asses. However, the critics would argue that the genre really limits how deeply these themes could be explored. The rating does as well, because you need to have it safe for a mass market audience. True art can really challenge though because you aren’t concerned with pleasing the audience or the requirements of genre like T’Chilla and Killmonger duking it out.Report