Star Wars: An Unsolicted Screed

Today’s thoughts are on Star Wars. Full disclosure: I have seen a total of two Star Wars movies, this year’s The Last Jedi and last year’s Rogue One, so I’m coming into this with as a novice who is not nostalgic about the series. I am not qualified to comment on the Star Wars universe or the sprawling generations of characters it entails. This is also a randomized collection of thoughts and impressions about the movie; I’m not trying to make a definitive statement about its artistic value, narrative quality, or any other aspect. This is just me talking about the stand-alone movie I saw last night.

THIS WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Rey: This is an unmoored character. We never really nail down where she comes from or what she’s doing. There’s some dialogue chatter about her parents selling her off, but there’s a big gap between that statement and how she ended up a Jedi trainee in the Resistance. What makes her so passionate about this? Why doesn’t she align her loyalty with the Empire? They’re the ones with power, which is what an unempowered kid from nowhere wants. She seems pretty evenly split between Dark and Force anyway, so why not break for the more advantageous choice? Luke had a good line of questioning when persisted with the question, “Why are *you* here?” It’s probably the most interesting question of the whole movie, but it never gets answered.

Speaking of Dark and Force…what’s up with the psychic connection between her and Kylo? I at first assumed they were supposed to be separated siblings, a la Luke and Leia, then maybe potential lovers, but I guess they just share a vibe or something? Have they ever even met in person? Do they know who the other is? Snoke was playing them off each other in order to do…something?

Mediation is so easy for Rey! She plops down into the lotus pose and “reaches out with her feelings” and—bazinga!—she starts seeing the Force and all that it entails. As someone who has tried meditating at great length…I call bullshit. Even a talented Jedi novitiate is going to struggle to learn this skill.

Cliffs: There are so many cliffs in this movie! People are constantly plunging off them, scaling up them, spearfishing from them, staging great battles in front of them…Wowzers, that’s a lot of cliffs. Vertical space is a huge visual theme. The bomber ships are vertically elongated, the cliffs are everywhere, the cameras shoot the spaceships framed against the planets to emphasize the long fall down, the sense of dropping off into space (which on earth is a falling/gravity experience)…vertigo must be a real problem for these folks. Am I seeing too deeply into this to wonder if the sharp drop-offs represent the light/dark, good/evil binary of the whole series?

Alien creatures: I will grant that this is a fantasy universe where earth laws do not apply. But I want to know more about some of these animals. Luke milks a sea monster. Aren’t sea monsters reptiles? Also, why does it come to shore to be milked? Is this a tame/domesticated livestock species? The crystal critters are glass-furred foxes. Cool!!!

The Fatheirs are cool-looking, somewhere between a rabbit and okapi. I mostly wanted to see their feet. The filmmakers didn’t show us if they have paws or hoofs, which I want to know. The Fatheirs are also a nice example of the filmmakers dropping stories after the bare minimum of resolution. The Fatheirs are released from the stable and turned loose on the wild grasslands (near a cliff!!!). In reality, these valuable racing creatures are not going to just “go free” as Rose tells them to. They’ll be rounded up ASAP and returned to their stalls in time for the next race. Just as Rey doesn’t get a fleshed-out backstory (yet, anyway), these creatures don’t get a plausible ending. Also, the scientist/total jerk in me has to say that any racing animal will not have such a brachiocephalic/foreshortened face. Pugs don’t run because they can’t breathe. Greyhounds run because they can. The difference is in respiratory anatomy like roomy sinuses.

The porgs are cute. They remind me a lot of the chickens in the Muppet series. They don’t talk or really do anything other than occupy space. The bid for merchandising is a little too heavy-handed for my taste, but if they can spur action to protect habitat for actual earth species like puffins…I’m all for it! Bring on the porgs!

There are many anthropomorphic beings that interact with humans as rivals and equals. They come in hugely diverse morphologies. The scientist/total jerk in me demands to know what’s up with this! Form follows function. If each of these entities looks the way they do because of the functions they need to perform…their functions would be dramatically different than those of the garden-variety humans that they’re interacting with. For instance…large ears are for gathering sound or dispersing heat. Absent those demands, a species will not invest energy in developing large ears. Unless they’re for a mating display, in which case all bets are off.

Puppets: (!) I love puppets! And this movie has them! There’s a cameo by Yoda (the incomparable Frank Oz!) and several other of the alien creatures are rendered in old-fashioned, hand-operated puppets, or at least, CGI renderings that look real to my eyes. In the constant onslaught of CGI workmanship, it’s refreshing to have a bit of manual magic to cleanse the palate and brighten the mind. (Aside: puppets and drag queens have a lot in common. Both are known to not be what they present as, but we all want and choose to believe in them anyway. The spirit of that belief brings them to life.)

Cinematography: There is some truly lovely cinematography in this movie. The heroine bombardier’s face framed against the grid of metal flooring, the salt flats battle unfolding in a lacework of scarlet lines, the repetition and motif of the iconic storm troopers abstract white shapes…it’s easy on the eyes. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of CGI; as a live-theater geek, I prefer to see magic conjured out of thin air rather than pixels. But the CGI work in this movie is its own art and the results are often breathtaking.

Kylo: This is another character that I might have more investment in if I were passionate about the series. He seems kind of whiny. If he’s got so much Force and is so deeply into the Dark, I’d think he’d exhibit more blunt-force (no pun intended) cruelty. Instead, he seems cowed by Snoke. I’d also like to see him do some combat with Snoke, not just mind-trick the light saber to “on” and slice Snoke in half. This is about as satisfying as prompting your Amazon Echo to evict an intruder. It’s cool, but it’s not viscerally satisfying. Where’s Spartacus when you need him?! However, this is also Adam Driver. I could watch him stand center stage and eat an apple for 60 minutes and find it riveting. So there’s that.

Snarky dialogue: I loved this part! I loved watching Mark Hamill eat a huge bowl of fun while making this movie. His character was once the crown prince of the universe and now he’s a washed-up old man whose dreams have died. Is it any wonder that he’s snarky and skeptical and little inclined to help? If these movies could use anything, it’s more levity. I’d love to see come some comic scenarios drawn from human awkwardness and *realness*, you know, character interactions. But maybe snarky dialogue is a good start. I especially enjoyed Oscar Isaac’s flyboy character needling the Empire general. Great character sketching in how the general responds and the fragility of technology playing into his understanding of what is happening. Also, I kept hearing his name as “Hugs” instead of “Hux” or whatever it was. Which made everything funnier. General Hugs.

The best line of the movie came from Kylo commanding that his men shoot down the Resistance ship. “Shoot that piece of junk out of the sky!” Because I’m sure he uses the four-letter word “junk” a lot.

Weird kiss: Finn and Rose have a weirdo kiss at the end—is a theme for Star Wars?

Hairstyles: Leia’s hair looks badass!!! Rey’s hair is an homage to previous Star Wars heroines. I’d love to see some weird dude hair going on. Oscar Isaac has plenty of it, so let’s start there. (Speaking of Oscar Isaac…I’ll take a slice of that for breakfast.) Also, Laura Dern, as the vice-admiral, has purple hair. She’s the only human who has non-natural hair coloring. Wat?? Why did they choose this, other than maybe to just have fun, in which case I’m all about it.

Diversity: This movie contains lots of characters who look different from each other. Yay! I particularly like seeing Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern being badass old ladies together. Their friendship is clearly long and dear. May their kind prosper and command many armies! The vice-admiral hyperspacing the ship into the Empire’s to destroy it was a totally awesome move, too. For further discussion: was there or was there not sexual tension between Larua Dern and Oscar Isacc’s characters? If I were a betting woman, I’d say that he totally wanted to bang her. I’d say she wouldn’t be entirely opposed to the idea. And I say go for it! It would have added an interesting human dimension to an otherwise power-dominated relationship.

Apropos of nothing, Laura Dern also played in Jurassic Park, another movie full of huge animatronic creatures.

Benicio Del Toro: He did a fine job in his role as an apolitical mercenary. This is the one character that made the most sense to me; after decades of conflict, he recognizes that there’s no longer a clear-cut good guy or bad guy, so he’s committed to every man for himself. Going back to diversity, I’d love to see his character be female. We see lots of female villains as *domestic* villains such as evil stepmothers, shrewish wives, sexual temptresses, etc. We rarely see a big, bold, complicated female character who makes mercenary choices for her own benefit, not that of any noble cause or personal love. Let’s make the next Captain Mal from Firefly or Del Toro’s DJ a woman!

Final Thoughts: After at least 40 years of fighting, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. It’s never been explained to me why the Empire is so awful. The rulers have bad skin and wear a lot of black, but otherwise I don’t see any concrete evidence that their rule is any worse than that of whatever alternative the Republic is offering. There’s a good exploration of this here https://www.theringer.com/…/star-wars-the-last-jedi-militar…Again, why doesn’t Rey join the winning team, since the Dark and the Force all balance each other out in the end? Why doesn’t Kylo do what he’s good at and thrive in the Dark? What’s the ultimate policy difference between the two for the laymen on small planets?

I also want lots more relationships in this movie. The human relationships are sparse. Surely, Leia knows that her son is the new villain…where’s the scene where we see her wrestle with that fact and her role in it coming to pass? Does she not have a qualm about destroying the Empire’s ships when it’s likely that this will kill her son? Since I don’t really understand why the two armies are fighting, I’d love to see how people are able to function and live out their lives and interactions under the constant state of war, a relatable scenario for Millennials around the world.

As a comedy writer, I would love to see a movie where Kylo and Leia are not estranged, yet neither understand what the other is up to, much like my text messages with my parents. Kylo sends a message update to his mom, who knows only that he’s away at college. She responds with news that she’s busy at work, but he doesn’t fully understand what her work is.

And finally, as an ever-and-always-serialized franchise member, this movie leaves me unsatisfied because it’s just another chunk of the middle (see the Ringer article). The Resistance/Republic can never win because then the series would have to end. Conquest is sexier than governance. Nobody is going to make a film about the Republic establishing the rule of law and a criminal justice system. #boring #noexplosions I want the narrative to make some ground and change. The end of the movie should have a new normal established and this fails to do that.

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