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Tag Archives: Star Wars
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Is About Making Mistakes, But the Trip to the Casino Planet Isn’t One of Them
Even viewers who loved The Last Jedi tend to point to its trip to Canto Bight — the luxurious planet full of well-heeled gamblers and wealthy libertines — as a misstep. It’s been decried as pointless, indulgent, and ultimately inessential to the other major events of Episode VIII.
But while not the strongest element of The Last Jedi, that sojourn to the casino planet is vital to Finn’s arc, to the animating ideas at the center of the film, and to the movie’s parting shot, in a way that fully justifies its inclusion in the movie, even one already pushing a 2 ½ hour runtime.
Throw away the past. The rap on 2015’s The Force Awakens, the film that revived Star Wars for a new generation, was that it was too derivative, too indebted to A New Hope, too bound to the blueprint that had launched the series. There was a sense that in its second outing, this new incarnation of Star Wars needed to break new ground, that having established this new setting, these new characters, and its new conflicts and mysteries, it was time to break from what had come before.
Star Wars has always drawn a connection between the Empire and the Nazis. From the very beginning, the franchise presented images of Grand Moff Tarkin and his officers, replete with enforcers dubbed “stormtroopers,” wearing uniforms that likened them to the men who served Hitler. It’s a visual choice that’s meant to tell the audience who the Empire is at a single glance, without needing to unpack the details that the franchise would explore in the ensuing decades.
This December can boast the release of a pair of films from two very different franchises. The first is Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the inescapable cinematic behemoth set to capitalize on the new, Disney-fueled era of Star Wars. It’s primed to tell the next chapter of the new trilogy that began with 2015’s The Force Awakens. The second is The Disaster Artist, a movie, based on a book, based on the making of another movie. That other movie is The Room, a transcendently bad, gloriously inept film that is the modern challenger for the title of “The Worst Movie of All Time.”
And on the surface, Star Wars and The Room have nothing in common. One is set in a distant galaxy, and the other is set in San Francisco (and not even the futuristic sci-fi version of the city from Star Trek). One features magical warrior monks doing battle with laser swords, and the other features (comparatively) average people, mostly tossing footballs at one another. Star Wars shows off imaginative new technologies on a cinematic scale, and The Room includes someone secretly recording their fiancée with a Nixon-era tape recorder.
But look past those surface-level differences, draw down to the core elements of each franchise’s installments, and you’ll discover something shocking — Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is just The Room in space. Search your feelings; you know it to be true.
Caution: This article contains major spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
One of the best things about storytelling is that it offers a chance to walk in another person’s shoes, to step outside of oneself and have experiences that are not possible in most people’s day-to-day lives. But films, television shows, and novels also offer fantasy; they offer escapism and the chance to live out an existence, in two-hour chunks, that is wilder and more fantastical than our own. Some of our culture’s most prominent stories present a particular, alluring version of that idea — the fantasy of the ordinary person discovering that they are, in fact, more special than they ever could have known.
When Luke Skywalker gazes out at the twin suns of Tatooine, the sight evokes his longing for adventure, the unshakable feeling that the universe has more in store for him than just the inner workings of a moisture farm. When we meet Harry Potter living under the thumb of the Dursleys, it’s to establish the lowliness of his position, the improbability that the boy who lives under the stairs could, in reality, be the chosen one. And Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 presents its own orphan protagonist in Peter Quill who, after a lifetime of hoping and wondering, discovers that he too is more powerful and unique than he had ever imagined.
The natural inclination in an episode like this one is to go big, to make the proceedings grand and explosive and exciting. It’s the Original Trilogy meeting the Prequel Trilogy meeting Star Wars Rebels, and so the powers that be could be forgiven for turning the whole thing into an epic confrontation, full of piss and vinegar and force-aided fireworks.
Instead, “Twin Suns” is a quieter, deliberate, almost melancholy episode. That’s a bold choice and one that pays off. Instead of a tribute to the pulpy thrills of the old serials that inspired George Lucas, the episode feels like an homage to the more languid tragedies in the Akira Kurosawa Samurai movies that also influenced him. The result is one of Rebels’s most meditative, understated episodes, that uses that ruminative tone to do justice to the major figures it invokes.
A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are the sacred texts of the Star Wars universe. Every bit of Star Wars that has emerged in the wake of those first three films – sequels, prequels, midquels, comics, T.V. shows, holiday specials, video games, trading cards, action figures, and commemorative plates – is indebted to the franchise’s holy trinity. And each of them no matter what their claim to originality or expansion, echoes, references, and yes, even rhymes with those instigating incidents. For as wide and wooly as the famed galaxy far far away has become over the years, the creators and collaborators who work in Star Wars are forever filling in the gaps left by those all-important lodestones of the franchise.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the peak of this gap-filling mentality brought to bear. The film is inextricably tied to Episode IV, taking great pains to connect the events depicted in this movie with those of its hallowed predecessor, even when it gets in the way of telling Rogue One’s own story. Because of that, Rogue One comes off more like pandering than as a novel extension of the Star Wars universe. It’s a film desperate to remind you of what comes next in the timeline, without regard for whether any of the harbingers it presents genuinely add anything to the story being told here and now or the story we already know.
Adam Gopnik recently wrote about “Lessons for the Supreme Court from the Jedi Council.” In that article, he puts forward the idea that just as the denizens of the Star Wars universe “seem to have an undue cultural investment in the wisdom of the Jedi Council, even in the face of its ineptitude,” so to do Americans unduly venerate a Supreme Court whose inner workings appear “more like the manufacture of after-the-fact rationales designed to give the appearance of footnoted legalism to what are, in truth, the same ideological passions that have the rest of the country in their grip.” Gopnik disclaims the concept of textual interpretation, maintaining that our nation’s highest judicial body resembles its intergalactic counterpart in how it “seems to be functioning on guesswork and mutual hypnosis more than actual expertise.” Accordingly, he concludes that neither the Jedi Council nor the Supreme Court should be afforded nearly so much deference or respect.
The question becomes whether these two august bodies are enough alike to justify such a comparison or conclusion. There are certainly similarities between the two. In The Phantom Menace, the Jedi Council decides, after much deliberation, that Anakin Skywalker should not be trained in the ways of The Force. But Qui Gon Jin (and later Obi Wan Kenobi in his stead) defy that order and decide to teach the boy anyway. In the real world, after the Supreme Court held that same-sex marriage was a right under the Constitution, Texas’s Attorney General soon thereafter announced that despite that decision, under his interpretation Texas officials did not have to abide by the ruling. In both the Star Wars universe and our own, prominent officials have taken Gopnik’s advice to heart and feel free to ignore the high court’s decisions.
I had a phase as a teenager where my musical tastes veered toward covers: punk rock versions of old standards, acoustic covers of hard rock classics, and even orchestral arrangements of Top 40 hits. The blend of the foreign and familiar appealed to me at a time when my taste in music was just beginning to expand. When an artist takes another’s work and puts their own spin on it, transforming what a song means or how it works at an emotional level by filtering it through a different lens, the end result can be both compelling and approachable.
The Force Awakens is, essentially, J.J. Abrams’s cover of A New Hope. That’s not a knock. It’s a superb cover, that hits the right notes while still creating something new, and it stands as a genuine achievement that’s all the more notable in light of the franchise’s prior missteps.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Is a Cold, Empty Film in a Series Known for its Richness, Excitement, and Warmth
The internet is the land of hyperbole. Everything is either the greatest event in the history of the world or the worst thing to ever happen. So when it came time to watch The Phantom Menace–arguably the most maligned of the already ill-regarded Star Wars prequels–I approached it with optimism. I didn’t love the film when I saw it at twelve, but I didn’t hate it either. Surely the case against it was overstated. Surely there was a charitable interpretation to be made. Surely it couldn’t be that bad.
And then it was.
Make no mistake — The Phantom Menace is an awful film. It’s not the blight on the soul of cinema that its most ardent detractors would have you believe, but it’s not a good movie. In truth, somewhere past the halfway mark, Episode I manages to settle into a groove of mere okayness. There’s a good portion of the film that, separated from the ardor and expectations that come with the Star Wars appellation, would fall into the voluminous “fine but forgettable sci-fi adventure” category, never to be spoken or thought of again.
Unfortunately, The Phantom Menace does labor under those expectations, and the worst elements of the film are front-loaded. The racial stereotypes, the parliamentary procedure, and the bad child acting are all at the forefront in the early going of Episode I. At some point, the movie stumbles its way into a decent-if-unremarkable story about bucking authority and making peace with longstanding rivals to face a common enemy. But it’s a long slog to get there without nearly enough of a payoff.