Monday, April 30, 2018

My REAL Review of The Last Jedi

I am, by nature, a very talkative person. Most of my friends and family have learned what hot-button words get me into an hours(!!) long rant. Some avoid pushing these buttons and others love hitting said buttons with wild abandon and glee. My wife sometimes reminds me if she's heard a rant that I've given before and, with no small amount of sheepishness, I curtail the rant and try to get my brain onto another track... which usually leads to me talking a lot again. I've also talked a lot about Star Wars, given that I'm in the middle of a long-winded and yet curiously curt series on The Skywalker Saga.

It took me a half hour after seeing the movie to say more than a word or two. A lot of my friends were asking me what my thoughts were and I couldn't give them. There are very few movies that reduce me to that level of silence for even half that amount of time; the rest of those movies comprise my top ten list. The Last Jedi immediately joined the ranks of those movies. But I couldn't say anything, for months. Even now I find myself struggling to say more than a few words about the movie itself and what it was about and what it means to me. I should back up and start at the beginning. There's a pretty good reason why it took me that long to say anything, beyond a small and cursory review that I bumbled out in the days after watching it the first time.

I've always been a fan of Rian Johnson. From my first viewing of "The Brother's Bloom" I've found myself entranced by a number of things that Johnson does really well: punny visuals that reward multiple viewings (on time five I was still catching things in Bloom), compelling characters, and a good sense of humor that left me with some dark chuckles are among some of my favorite things about Johnson's movies. But the one thing that made me immediately love all of Johnson's movies was his refusal to wrap things up with a tidy little bow. When the central plot thread was resolved there was never an effort to answer lingering questions, but instead you were left to wonder about a great many things in the movie. It wasn't that there were plot holes, it was that the movie flat out refused to answer what you would have otherwise have thought important questions. These questions would dog me for sometimes months at a time and I'd find myself a better person for having to ask these questions that less considerate film-makers would have just answered. This is especially true of Johnson's first film, "Brick", which remains one of the most powerful films I've ever had the pleasure of viewing.

So, unlike most people, I walked in with a very clear idea of who the director was and what sort of stuff  he liked to make. I expected an eminently uncomfortable film where truths were dropped without any regard for my ability to receive them and that no attempt would be made to make me comfortable while all this was happening. I expected a movie of uncommon brutality. I was spot on. Those who are complaining that The Last Jedi completely dropped all expectations from The Force Awakens are mistaking the feature of Rian Johnson for a bug; Johnson was not picked for his ability to make you happy.

But even then I was surprised. Johnson used the movie to talk about something he doesn't talk about a whole lot: hope and mythology. His characters, who are usually running around trying to accomplish something of great meaning to them even while it's made clear that it very well may not, are instead trying to deal with a myth  that has personal importance to each and every one of them: the legend of Luke Skywalker. All of the characters live in the shadow of the world's greatest hero, including Luke.  And it's this fact that drives the movie. Every last thing that happens without Luke fails, horrifically. The Resistance is reduced to a handful, Ben is not turned, and the galaxy just doesn't give a damn without Luke.

But Luke is a broken man. A lot of people seemed to have issue with this, but I saw someone afflicted with PTSD on an instinctual level. Over the months this series of images kept flashing, over and over again, in my mind. It took me a long time to process it.

PTSD is, first and foremost, a conditioned response. You experience trauma and find that you've learned a trigger. The problem is that this trigger is not a mental thing, but a physical by product of the trauma.  It can take decades to get over this trigger, assuming you're working on it at all... which Luke was not. He had decided to revel in his accomplishments instead of seeing them for the trauma-inducing incidents they were and, when the reality of what had happened to him reared his ugly head, Luke freaked out and left. It's hard to communicate how many times I've contemplated that since PTSD has become something I live with. So, instead of going "Luke would never do that!" I found myself transfixed in horror and sympathy for what Luke was going through. The fact that Luke didn't strike down his nephew at this point is a moment of complete and total heroism. I'm not sure if, given those triggers, if I could have done much better than Luke.

And that's really the theme of the movie: heroism is not born of spunk, or deeds, or anything like that. All the actions that Poe, Finn, Rose, and Rey undertake fail. For those who complain about how The Last Jedi is a SJW love fest, I feel I have to ask: what does anyone beside Luke do that works? Nothing. The entire movie hinges upon Luke Skywalker being Luke Skywalker. Heroism is something you are born into, it's when you find yourself in a situation that only you can solve  because you are you. And no one but Luke in this movie is the hero.  Johnson makes no bones about this, at any point. The entirety of the narrative rests upon Luke coming back one last time, to give himself the one win that the Original Trilogy never gave him.

When Luke finally does come back to himself it's easily the most powerful series of moments in the entirety of The Skywalker Saga. It's on point, at every available moment. Luke has finally become the hero he always wanted to be. Even though his mistakes have backed him into a corner Luke does what he must, without an ounce of hesitation or regret. I knew from the second Luke said "I came here to die" that Luke would die. There was no question of that in my mind. Heck, walking into the movie it was a foregone conclusion to me that Luke would die. The only way for the narrative for the new characters in IX to have any weight was to have Luke die here. But the way it all goes down is nothing short of masterful and it elevates this movie as the most inventive Johnson has been since his first outing, Brick.

Star Wars has always been about the interior war against one's self. There's never been a point in time where the greatest opponent of any of the main characters wasn't their own Shadows. But never, in the history of Star Wars, have we seen such an clear victory over self. Johnson has outdone himself. Whereas his other protagonists walk away confused, hurting, or don't walk away at all, Luke actually finds peace. Outside of the considerations of the Skywalker Saga this movie has shown that Johnson has evolved as a filmmaker in a way most artists only dream of.

Friday, April 27, 2018

A New Hope: The Opener

Welcome to A New Hope, the beginning of the Subverter Trilogy of Star Wars. This is where we introduce "the twist" of the series, which will be brought into the last part to finally resolve this grand epic. Each successive trilogy will advance the plot and themes from its previous "place" in the trilogy. So this movie advances the themes of Episode I by, in this case, subverting them. And, as Peter Lee pointed out to me, the prequel trilogy is about the two Sith taking over the galaxy with the Skywalkers caught in the middle and the original trilogy is about the two Jedi taking the galaxy back from the Sith with the Skywalkers caught in the middle.

Episode I starts with the bad guys stopping a negotiation that two Jedi, master and apprentice, are trying to start on behalf of a princess. Episode IV starts with the bad guy interrupting a negotiation between a princess and a Jedi master and his soon-to-be apprentice. Episode I makes the good guys look invincible, whereas Episode IV flips this on its head and makes the good guys the pushovers and the bad guys scary and menacing.  The plans escape with two droids and they rocket to the surface, surviving by a miracle, only to run into the same weird aliens, whereas in TPM two Jedi split up in an attempt to give the Force the greatest opportunity to act, only to run into a bunch of aliens.

Is Luke coming from the left
or are the suns coming from the right?
This brings us to Luke Skywalker, arguably THE hero of Star Wars (who I've written about before). He's a pretty typical 19 year old... who's being sheltered aggressively by his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, who clearly know that they need to keep Luke out of the limelight for as long as possible and ignorant of his true heritage. The new comics really bring this out, and I recommend them, but it's obvious from just the movie alone that nothing has gone according to plan. Luke did not get to train with Kenobi, he's just a normal teenager who wants to go and be with his friends who are understandably eager to get off this dustball. And watching Luke gaze at the same suns that we saw at the end of Episode III we can see someone whose potential is being wasted. What's more, he's aware of it. So, to his eternal excitement, Luke finds out that he is indeed getting swept up into an epic plot... and then turns down the chance for adventure. When it comes down to it, Luke is just a farmer. He wants to get on with his life and, while he resents his oversheltering Aunt and Uncle, he clearly doesn't resent them enough to change his fate. They're his family and he's going to stick with them.

This is the definition of quick escalation.

It's here that we get the true measure of Luke Skywalker. Anakin snapped and went on a homicidal rampage when Shmi died, indulging in his rage and the power that came from it. Luke stares, forcing himself to look at what The Empire and Darth Vader (c'mon, he's gotta know who Darth Vader is) have done to his family and what the price of his inaction has been. He makes his resolution: to become a Jedi like his father. It's a really emotional and amazing scene as we compound the failure of Anakin with... WAIT, IT COMES FROM THE RIGHT?? WHY??? Just WHY?

I keep wanting to give this guy a pass, I really do. I know a lot of people like this guy but for the life of me I just don't see it. Obi-Wan, throughout the series so far has been exactly the sort of person that we do not want to be: the suck up, the person without much deep thought, the person who doesn't seem have developed anything interior. And it's right here, in this scene, where I just find myself having enough. There had better be more to this guy than repackaging canned phrases from Yoda and something that he actually holds, for himself, that no one else has.

Yes, we meet Han Solo, it's fun, move along.

Okay, I kid, but only kind of. Greedo shows up again (yeah, apparently that's him in Episode I with Anakin as a kid) for us to realize that pretty much everyone has gone downhill. HAN SHOT FIRST I DON'T CARE WHAT THE FOOTAGE TELLS ME... oh, that's right, I'm writing a blog post. Anyway. Jabba the Hutt is shown here for the first time since Episode I. Before he was just this random guy that showed up but now we get a little bit more about him, specifically in his connection to Han Solo. It's interesting, because Anakin had said he dreamed about freeing the slaves of Tatooine, and Jabba's the head of that whole slave ecosystem on Tatooine. It's an interesting little tidbit.

Knock knock.
We end this first post with the destruction of Alderaan. Plot-wise this is a really smart move, because it's here that we find out that Episode IV is not going to be a retread of Episode I. There's no Alderaan to go to because it's gone, flat. That's it. No more Alderaan, no going to bring the Jedi to help, none of that will happen this movie. While we started in a similar place we're definitely not going to wind up on a green planet with a space attack on a large spherical object, right?


Good! It's only the Sequel Trilogy that beats plot points to death, after all.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Sum Up of the Prequel Trilogy

Yeah, so I finished my long review on the prequels last week... and was promptly asked for a TLDR version. At first I kinda fumed at the idea. I put in the work, you should put in the work to read, dangit! But as soon as I stopped yelling at the young kids to get off my lawn I realized it was a good idea. A TLDR version allows for ease of access and honestly there were things I had realized after finishing my longer form that I hadn't noticed. For anyone who tells you that Star Wars is a simplistic children's series please remind them that this reviewer is still finding new things after nine viewings. Simplistic indeed.


All Star Wars works off of a ring format: it shows an opening scenario, subverts that scenario, and then repeats the scenario with the subversion included as additional information.The individual episodes use this structure and the trilogies use each episode in them as one part on its own.

The Phantom Menace

The Opener
The peaceful planet of Naboo has been having issue with taxes so the Trade Federation puts a blockade around their planet until they pay their bills. Hoping to bypass the clunky Republic Chancellor Valorum sends Jedi Master Qui Gon Jin and his sarcastic apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi to mediate the dispute secretly, out of the eyes of the corrupt Republic. It does not end well; the Trade Federation is planning an invasion, spurred on by a mysterious man in a black hood! After escaping the Federation Qui Gon and Obi-Wan land on the surface of Naboo, where they come across the secretive Gungans thanks to a hapless (and annoying) outcast named Jar Jar Binks. After hoodwinking the Gungans into giving them a transport Qui Gon, Obi-Wan, and Jar Jar get to the Naboo and beg the naive pacifist Queen Amidala to go to the Senate to make this war public.
Amidala resists at first, but relents and the group escape the planet after their ship's hyperdrive is irrevocably damaged. Short on fuel they land on Tatooine. Amidala disguises herself as the servant girl Padme and goes onto the planet with Qui-Gon Jin (who immediately sees through her disguise) with Jar Jar. After finding out that they don't have the correct currency to buy a new hyperdrive the group meets Anakin Skywalker, a young slave who was conceived by the Force itself.

Impressed by Anakin's Force sensitivity, who has dreams about freeing the slaves (his mother), Qui-Gon bets everything on him and it works: Anakin wins in a race that he's never won before, in a vehicle he never should have been able to build, in a type of race he had no business attempting. At nine. Qui-Gon was able to get Anakin's freedom, but not that of his mother, leaving Anakin with a terrible choice: to leave his mother to become a Jedi or to stay a slave with his mother. He leaves his mother. On the way back to the ship they are attacked by a mysterious man in black with a red lightsaber, who is relentlessly talented. Everyone flies back to Naboo and Anakin begins to miss his mother, although everyone is hopeful that the Senate will be able to sort everything out. Encouraged by Anakin's bravery Padme develops an attachment to the boy five years her senior and he gives her a charm he had made, for luck. An unlikely friendship has been formed.

The Subverter
Turns out there's a good reason why Valorum wanted the dispute settled secretly: the Republic is hopelessly corrupt, bought out by the Trade Federation. Senator Palpatine, whose jawline looks suspiciously like that dude in the black robe from before (Lord Sidious, as he calls himself), convinces Queen Amidala to request a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum as the Senate becomes inevitably bogged down. Senator Palpatine is one of the people nominated to replace Valorum, coincidentally enough. Anakin is presented to the Jedi Council, who, after taking a good hard look at him, tell Qui Gon he will not be trained. Qui Gon, angry at the Council for their lack of respect for the Force, offers to take up Anakin as an apprentice, putting him at odds with Obi-Wan. Queen Amidala, emboldened by Anakin's courage in the race, decides she's going to go fix the war herself because, even with the election of Senator Palpatine, the Republic will not move fast enough for her people.

The Closer
Despite everyone's protests Queen Amidala travels back to Naboo. Using Jar Jar Binks she finds the Gungans and reveals herself as Padme, the servant girl, in a last ditch effort to forge an alliance between her and the Gungans. Flattered by her humility the Gungans agree. But this time the negotiation works, it's not forestalled like it is in the beginning. A plan is made but a wrench is thrown into everything when Darth Maul shows up and pulls away Qui Gon and Obi-Wan into an epic duel (finally getting what he was looking for in the Opener) and Anakin gets pulled into the space battle that's trying to knock out the Trade Federation ship that controls the droid infantryman on the planet.  Qui-Gon Jin is killed by Darth Maul after Obi-Wan is separated from his master. But through superior tactics and trickery Padme manages to capture the Viceroy and Anakin manages to accidentally blow up the Trade Federation ship, completely dismantling the Trade Federation's offensive. This creates a ripple in the Force that stuns Darth Maul, allowing Obi-Wan to achieve an impossible leap and cut his foe in half.

The Council decides that Anakin is to be trained, Nute Gunray is taken away to pay for his crimes, and Naboo is restored.  But Anakin has lost his Qui-Gon and is instead placed under the care of Obi-Wan, who thinks Anakin dangerous. So Anakin has lost his mother, Padme is going back to being a queen, Qui-Gon is dead, and the dude who's his master severely dislikes him and will only take him on as an apprentice because his old master said so.

What could go wrong??

Attack of the Clones 

The Opener
Time has been kind to no one but Obi-Wan Kenobi and Chancellor Palpatine. The Republic is on the verge of falling apart. The Trade Federation escaped all repercussions. Padme, after being the elected monarch of a planet for two terms, overstretched herself by becoming a Senator. Anakin's mother was never freed, which would have been crushing enough, but now he's having dreams of said mother in horrific pain, and Padme never talked to him during those ten years, leaving him in isolation, Palpatine inflating his ego, and if that wasn't enough, Kenobi is jealous of him and insecure because of Anakin's obvious power! So when Anakin finally sees Padme again it goes about as well as can be expected. She's trying to figure out how to stop the Republic from building and army so that way a full on galactic war doesn't break out, and she sees the little boy that inspired her so much in her.... all grown up. And really attractive. And looking at her as only a nineteen year old emotionally beaten down horndog can (yes, guys, we really can look that creepy). Padme is unsurprisingly not comfortable with any of those feelings, so she attempts to shut out Anakin... which leads to an assassination attempt. Kenobi follows the trail from this attempt to the Outer Rim, to a group of aliens called the Kaminoans, who are cloners. Meanwhile Padme and Anakin escape to Naboo, where the intensity of Padme's sudden attraction and Anakin's ten long years of fantasizing about Padme come to a head. Padme, wisely, tells Anakin they can't go any farther. Anakin, heartbroken, agrees with her.

The Subverter
What Kenobi discovers is beyond shocking: someone from the Jedi Order had commissioned a clone army right under the Order's nose and nobody noticed.  Y'know, ten years ago when everyone was looking at the Naboo incident? The clone army was in its beginning stages then. This understandably upsets Yoda and Mace Windu, who are trying to figure out how something so epically large could have escaped their notice. Anakin's dreams about his mother have become so bad that Padme volunteers to go to Tatooine with Anakin to see what's going on. What they find shocks Anakin: not only did his mother move on, becoming freed from slavery, but she got married too! Oh, and she's been missing for a month, right around the time Anakin started having his dreams. Anakin tries to save her, but he's too late; Shmi Skywalker dies in his arms. Enraged, Anakin wipes out every last Tusken raider connected with his mother's death, causing such a strong ripple in the Force that Qui-Gon tries to stop him from beyond the grave, an event so unique that Yoda can feel it across an entire galaxy. 

Anakin returns to Padme, disconsolate and lost in his anger and confusion, expecting to be alone. But Padme, who had an entire planet on her shoulders for years and almost lost it to the Trade Federation, is able to sympathize. She too, had felt that level of anger before, and instead of trying to judge her hurt as worse, she shows compassion. This shared moment of darkness connects them and they walk out far stronger for it, subverting their vow to not fall in love. They then receive Obi-Wan's message: he had tracked the bounty hunter who was provided the source DNA for the clones to a planet called Kamino, where he found that his "grand-master", Count Dooku, was planning an attack on the Republic with the Separatist armies. Obi-Wan had been captured and forced to face the Count, who revealed the master plan: Darth Sidious was behind the whole thing. Dooku then offers Obi-Wan a chance to destroy the Sith, once for all. Obi-Wan, in his usual wisdom and grace, refuses.

For whatever reason Anakin and Padme decide to save the goody-two shoes Obi-Wan, much to this writer's eternal consternation. It doesn't work of course and they get captured right alongside him.

The Closer
Padme, seeing that she's about to die with the Trade Federation watching, decides she doesn't want to die alone; she reveals her feelings for Anakin. Shared darkness is a powerful thing and the darkness these two have shared is unlike any other. She and Anakin share a passionate snogging before fighting three creatures with Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Jedi show up but are overwhelmed, but Yoda appears with the clone army that no one in their right mind would accept at any other point in time and the battle turns around. The clones are creative, obedient, and much better fighters than the droid army. It's a foregone conclusion who's going to win. So when Anakin and Obi-Wan see Dooku escaping, they try to capture him. Ten years of hypocrisy and bullying finally come to a head as Anakin refuses to work with Obi-Wan, losing not just the fight, but his arm, Dooku, and starting the Clone Wars. As everyone congratulates each other on the greatest ethical outrage ever Yoda mourns that the battle for the soul of the Republic is already lost. At the same time Anakin and Padme get married secretly, turning them both into liars and betraying whatever dignity and integrity they had left. Instead of doing something for herself, Padme has done what she has always done: try to do something she finds significant without rocking the boat, by lying about how she is. Only now she isn't lying to herself, just to the whole world. She shifts the problem without solving it.

Revenge of the Sith

The Opener
It's three years into The Clone Wars and Count Dooku, along with the cyborg General Grievous, have made a surprise attack on Coruscant, the center of the Republic, and kidnapped the chancellor! While a pitched battle rages over Coruscant Obi-Wan and Anakin sneak aboard the Droid Federation ship Palpatine's been hidden on and try to get him back, in a similar move to the beginning scenario of The Phantom Menace. The duo run into Count Dooku again, and this time they take him together. Obi-Wan is knocked out by Dooku and Anakin is left to fight him alone, again. But this time Anakin is ready and actually able to hold his own. Dooku taunts him, able to pick up on the fear that Anakin has picked up over the last few years. He has a secret wife now, there's much to be afraid for! Anakin's fear snaps into anger and he removes both of Dooku's hands. Palpatine, sitting right in front of the duelists, starts to use the emotional credit he has with Anakin to make him kill Dooku, who loses his head.

After a crash-landing and the return of Palpatine to the politicians Padme tells Anakin the news: she's pregnant, messing things up in a similar way to Jar Jar in  She's scared, but Anakin is excited: they're parents! He promises Padme that their troubled marriage can be fixed. All will be well again. But the drawing close of the war only seems to introduce more complications. Palpatine wants Anakin to sit on the Council. The Council accepts, but only to have Anakin spy on Palpatine for them. Anakin is enraged by this after denying him the rank of  Master.

Anakin begins having nightmares of Padme dying in childbirth. His dreams have completely turned from hope in The Phantom Menace to despair and loss. So Anakin goes to Yoda for help. Yoda, knowing that there is life after death, screens Anakin, trying to figure out if he'll tell him the truth; Anakin declines. So Yoda simply tells Anakin to let go of what he's afraid to lose. It's too little, too late. Anakin couldn't pass the test when he was nine and he can't pass it here, either.

The Subverter
Palpatine lays his trap. He calls Anakin to his side: General Grievous has been found in the Utapau system and he wants Anakin to lead the assault! He then reveals the Tragedy of Darth Plageuis the Wise, a Sith who was supposedly able to create life by directly influencing the midi-cholorians, thus insinuating that Anakin is a creation of evil. He then reveals to Anakin that Plagueis could stop those he loved from dying, and that this knowledge could not be learned from a Jedi. Padme, during her alone time with Anakin, asks him to talk to Palpatine to stop the war. Anakin, feeling cornered, lashes out, causing Padme to ask to help him, somehow. Anakin refuses to let her in, however; he's got too much to think about and won't let Padme know what it is. Palpatine's emotional manipulations are almost complete.

Anakin relays the news that Palpatine had given him: General Grievous has been spotted and the Chancellor requests that Anakin lead the charge. The Council disagrees and decides to send Obi-Wan instead. Anakin sees Obi-Wan off, bidding his only friend in the Council good-bye. He then goes to Palpatine to tell him how disappointed he is that he wasn't even sent with Obi-Wan. Palpatine reveals that he's the Sith Lord the council's been looking for. He tells Anakin that he knows about the danger Padme's in and begs to help. Anakin runs off to tell the Council that Palpatine's the Sith Lord.

The Closer
Anakin reveals to Mace Windu that Palpatine is the Sith Lord. Windu runs off to arrest the chancellor, telling Anakin to stay put, to "stay in your cockpit". Anakin, unsure of whether they're going to kill Palpatine or not, rushes off to make sure Palpatine lives. And, sure enough, he finds Windu standing over a defeated Palpatine, saying that Palpatine is too dangerous to be left alive. Backed into a corner, Anakin pleads with Windu, begging to at least let him go to trial, that he needs Palpatine to save Padme's life. In the end Anakin disarms Windu and Palpatine blasts him out into the skies. Lord Sidious stands up, revealed in all his horrific glory. Anakin is given a new name: Darth Vader. Vader is dispatched to the Jedi Temple to kill every single Jedi, regardless of age, while Palpatine executes Order 66, doing a perverted version of the destruction of the Trade Federation ship from before.

The children are slaughtered by Anakin as part of the butchering of his own soul and the Jedi out and abroad are killed by the Clone troopers they had grown to trust. Obi-Wan, triumphant from his battle with Grievous, barely escapes. Yoda, meanwhile, feels this shift in the Force, as so many people connected to him die violent deaths. Like Darth Maul, Yoda is temporarily incapacitated by the sudden shift. Unlike Maul, however, Yoda brings himself back in time to kill the clone troopers who were about to do him in. Yoda flees back to Coruscant, picking up Obi-Wan along the way. They go to the Jedi Temple to undo a signal that's pulling any surviving Jedi back to Coruscant to their deaths. While there Yoda and Obi-Wan discover the awful truth: Anakin has become Darth Vader. Yoda fills Obi-Wan's head with a bunch of nonsense about how Anakin is gone now and Obi-Wan buys it, flying off to Mustafar after tricking Padme into going to him.

What follows is the single most heartbreaking conversation in Star Wars: the falling out of Anakin and Padme. Padme is finally willing to tell the truth like she has in every third act of every prequel movie but Anakin is so drunk off of power that he won't listen to her. He's unbalanced and irrational, driven wild by his slaughter of the Trade Federation and the innocents. But Obi-Wan shows up, completely shutting down the conversation and derailing Padme, only being slightly less helpful to her as he was to Qui-Gon. This causes Anakin to freak out and Force Choke Padme into unconsciousness. Obi-Wan, blissfully unaware of how he just ruined everything again, fights and defeats Anakin by manipulating him into making an impossible jump and cuts off all Anakin's remaining limbs, causing Anakin to slide down near a river of lava. Watching Anakin burning and suffocating on toxic fumes Obi-Wan does the clearly rational thing: to yell at Anakin as he burns to death, telling him how he loved him and feeding a line of garbage so clearly irrelevant that Anakin refuses to even pretend to accept it. So Obi-Wan, possessing his usual moral clarity, leaves Anakin to die a horrible death, taking his former pupil's lightsaber as a memento of his failures.

Palpatine, who had narrowly escaped his fight with Yoda, comes and gets Anakin, who somehow survived. Meanwhile, Padme's dying. As Anakin is fitting into a walking iron lung to do deal with the permanent skin and lung damage, at death's door. Padme gives birth to their twins: Luke and Leia. She then gives up her life to Anakin, allowing him to live in the hope that he can be saved. The twins are passed onto their respective guardians as Yoda reveals that, thanks to Qui-Gon, he has learned that there is indeed life after death. There is hope.

For anyone here wanting me to explain the meaning of the prequels,  I tell you to look within yourself. Mythology is only the blueprint. You are the building.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Revenge of the Sith: The Closer

The ending of the Revenge of the Sith is the one of the most surprising of all Star Wars; only The Last Jedi beats it for its twists and turns. Anakin doesn't just go to the Jedi, but to Mace Windu. This is a dude who has always disliked Anakin and thought very little of him, yet Anakin still respects him. (Notice that he still doesn't even think to contact Obi-Wan?? 10 years of  bullying really did something, didn't it?) And Mace, despite all the flak he gives Anakin, actually cares enough about Anakin to try and keep him away from this situation. But it's not good enough, not anymore. As Anakin had told Palpatine, he knows he's not getting the whole truth from the Jedi; Yoda's conversation was the tipping point.

This is a scene you have to actually see played out to catch it all. There's a theory that Palpatine threw the fight with Mace Windu on purpose, that he could have taken him in the fight. The people that say this are not paying attention to this scene, where we have Anakin take a pulse check of Padme. What's amazing is that she feels it and accepts it, an act which drives Anakin to tears. Sometimes something in our lives is so beautiful we find ourselves willing to do anything to keep it around, even at the cost of betraying it. And if Anakin thought Sidious wasn't in danger, he wouldn't go. Why go and risk being tied up in something that could hurt Padme in some way, shape or form? But Anakin knows Windu's strength and he's afraid of it, enough to go help Sidious.

To Anakin's credit he does try every possible way to save Windu, even going so far as to try to appeal to the rule of law, something that we know Anakin doesn't actually believe in. But it's not enough; Windu is blasted out into the skies of Coruscant. And that's when we finally see Palpatine for what he truly is. Is he actually scarred by his encounter with Windu? He says he is and we see something happening, but who knows?. That's a lot of Force power to be doing while blocking out the sight of every Jedi in the galaxy so Palpatine can get his stuff done. But this voice... there's nothing else like it in the entirety of Star Wars. In the voice I think Palpatine revealed his true self. Anakin, looking at him directly in the face and realizing exactly who he's gotten himself involved with, still decides that the power that Palpatine is even at that point revealing he doesn't have is worth getting at the cost of his soul. Anakin, our Shadow incarnate, commits a form of suicide that is very common: he gives into the dark influences for the power it doesn't have. We believe a lie because we get tired and need something to attach ourselves to and the darkness has spent such a long time sympathizing with us that we just naturally go towards it, even though we know its horrific. We betray ourselves.

This is how evil men and deeds are born: in despair and agony; innocence is butchered.

The next bit is autobiographical to all of us. Lucas is taking how we all go bad and putting it on the screen. We murder the innocence inside us, lie to those we care about, and then destroy the parts of ourselves that foolishly thought we were going to have peace. It's all... well, this is how it happens, what more is there to say? It's the truth on how evil actually is born. Most of us idolize Vader's strength, but the sad truth is that Vader is not strong, not in the way that matters. Evil is not strength, it's weakness. It's the inability to accept that the material world is secondary to our experiences of it. It's a lack of courage in the face of what we think of as emptiness, but is in fact just the passage to the other world. And Anakin, not seeing this, is more than ready to whatever it takes to make sure that Padme doesn't go there.

It all comes to a head, with Padme finally putting it all out there, finally being honest, finally doing something that may actually hurt her! But Anakin says the one line that we've all said in some way, shape or form, even if we don't know we've said it. Love won't save you Padme, only my new powers can. How many of us have said some variation of that when someone asks for love? How many of us ignore relationships because we think we have the ability to change things on our own? Cause that's what's happening here.

This leads to the most controversial line in the whole prequel trilogy: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." Anyone who's confused really needs to go back to Episode I: "One cannot exist without the other, you must understand this." As hypocritical as Obi-Wan can be about his treatment of Anakin he still does know the truth, on some level, even if he doesn't always understand what that truth means.  If all you can see when you look at people is another object, without subjectivity, you've relegated them to something to be dealt with in an unbending (absolute) way. Can I use someone to my ends or not?That's where Anakin has wound up and Obi-Wan, as dumb as he about it, recognizes that Anakin has crossed the threshold. But Obi-Wan engages in absolutes as well, doesn't he? When Anakin tries to actually tries to express why he turned on the Jedi Order, Obi-Wan still doesn't understand that he should probably take what Anakin is saying seriously, even if he disagrees. Instead of looking at Anakin as a subject, who has thoughts that can be dealt with and reasoned with, he instead sees Anakin simply as a threat. Loved you indeed. Did you ever, truly, Obi-Wan?

Yes, we're going to cover this scene. First off, it's a clear reference to Episode I. As we had covered before, the Force had saved Obi-Wan. And, if you actually watch the fight, Obi-Wan vaults over Darth Maul a number of times, who just watches it, previous to his miraculous feat. Like it or not, the film had established multiple times that Darth Maul had no tactical answer for Obi-Wan's athletics. Why on earth would Darth Maul change that later? What you think someone should be capable of is irrelevant, the question should be "What is the film showing me?" Maul had no answers for that flip, he just didn't. And, until you're able to actually to cut someone who's flipping over you in midair with a blade, there's very little actual ground to stand on.

Yes, I did that on purpose. I'm clever.

Second, the two situations could not be more different. Obi-Wan is the master of defense, he works on openings that are given to him. Obi-Wan was the only one capable of taking on Grievous, who literally mows his people down with four lightsabers, because he knows how to wait and bait. Throughout his entire fight with Anakin Obi-Wan plays it for time, clearly not able to match Anakin's power. Could Anakin jump down further and run up? Not really. Obi-Wan finally has the ability to physically match Anakin by being higher up. Coupled with his superior intellect and defense and Anakin doesn't stand a chance, his physical superiority has been nullified. And Anakin knows it. All Anakin has is to jump over Obi-Wan... but that's already a bad idea. The high ground is Obi-Wan's bait and source of victory. But Anakin, knowing this, decides he's capable of making the jump. And that makes sense! Anakin is incredibly arrogant normally, and this is not Anakin on normal, this is Anakin on crazy. All it takes is to state your superiority and wait for Anakin to attempt the impossible... oh and beg him not to try it.  Yeah, it's in the bag the instant Obi-Wan gets an inclined plane to fight on.

Three, the Force was with Obi-Wan in Episode I. I went through great detail to show that, as does the movie. This is not the case here with Anakin. The Dark Approach to the Force is about forcing your will upon the Force, which always finds a way to rebel (I'M CLEVER!) against you, as the rising of Rey to counter Kylo Ren later proves. And Anakin has clearly abandoned what makes the Force work and is putting his own will upon the world. So what happens when you try to master the universe?

You burn.

But of course, Obi-Wan can't finish the job. He can't kill Anakin and he can't save him, so he just lets the lava finish him off. I've ragged on Obi-Wan throughout this entire series and this ending scene is exactly why. He has no internal reference point, he can't make up his own mind, and so Anakin just... suffers. Obi-Wan (who Anakin went out of his way to save at the beginning of this Episode) doesn't have the guts to decide one way or another what he should do with his "friend. It's a level of cowardice that is so unhealthily common, but I still find myself appalled by the utter lack of moral fiber in Obi-Wan Kenobi. Anakin has gone to evil, yes, but Obi-Wan, when faced with a choice that falls outside his comfort zone, is just spineless.

I... cannot find an uncut version of Vader being born with Padme dying on Youtube. This makes my life a lot harder. Go find the movie and skip to this part and watch the scene.

Notice how they're "opposing"? If you line up these shots they flow into each other. Anakin is the one with life-threatening wounds and yet, somehow, it's Padme that's dying, for no apparent reason. In a world where everything is connected is it really a question as to what happened here? Padme is giving her life up to Anakin. The woman who couldn't be honest the entirety of this series, who was victimized as a child monarch, who couldn't say no for all the wrong reasons, for once gets it right. Recognizing that, even though Anakin is evil, there is still something in him worth saving. Unlike Obi-Wan, she actually has the courage to follow up on her convictions.

Yup, I was wrong, there is a hero in this story, and it's Padme. I stand corrected. Padme was the only one who realize that she could do nothing for Anakin except give him the one chance that he wouldn't give himself. It's astoundingly beautiful and I'm so glad that I was wrong. And readers, take note: a woman is the hero of the prequel trilogy. What do you think will happen once the subversion is over? The dudes were not the ones that got anything done in this trilogy. Padme may be flawed but at least she did something right. And, if we were to be honest, it's Luke's similarities to Padme that make him the hero of the Subversion Trilogy. Is she an effective hero? Heck no, it's a tragedy. But it's Padme's choice here, at the end, that tells us who the actual "good guy" of this trilogy was.

We end the trilogy with the answer to Anakin's question: yes, there is a way to live beyond death. Yoda knew before the movie started, as stated in The Opener. Anakin was right. The Jedi were withholding knowledge from him, knowledge that he could have used. There is a way beyond death. There is more than just this life. And that's symbolized quite nicely in the existence of the twins, who are the start of something new.

With all the darkness and despair in the prequels, it ends with hope. Padme gave her life for something she knows is real and the twins will... well... that's the next trilogy, isn't it? The answer to this tragedy is coming. Sit tight.

And so begins Luke's journey with twin suns.
Who knew? Johnson may actually know Star Wars!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Passage to Life

"The Resurrection", by myself. 2013,
Acrylic and silver leaf on wood
O Son of God, risen from the dead
Save us who sing to You

Sunday after Sunday I'd go to to the liturgy and sing these lines and hang on to them. Week in and week out I'd go and soak the Liturgy in. I sure didn't understand why I loved the liturgy as much as I did, but there's this passage from the Hymn of Praise to Chrysanthus and Daria from the Prologue of Ohrid that brings it into clear focus for me:

The One Triune God
Who created the celestial armies
Of angels and the heavenly powers;
Who created the whole universe,
With man as its crown
God does not look at the vessel of the  flesh,
But at the flower that grows in it
O virgin, clothed in death,
Today, tomorrow consumed by death:
Adorn your soul with the flower of the virtues,
Sow the flower with faith in the Lord
Enclose it with hope and love

So many times it's easy to forget this: We are the crown of creation, God's greatest accomplishment. God was never going to let us be. We're not just anyone or anything we, by nature, are the most important part of His creation! And death mars this crown that God had made for the world. So what happens when these people that God had made choose death, thus plunging all of creation into darkness? It's not like we, humans, can fix it. We wrecked ourselves, and thus made a larger problem than we could ever hope to fix. But to fix creation would violate our free will. Creation is ours, and we're the stewards of it. God doesn't want to visit the vineyard yet to require our fruits, He would far prefer to keep loving us and to accept the gift we could make to Him of the earth. He wants to stay in relationship with us, not rule over us. So God became one of us, so that way our makeup could be divine, if we wished. And that meant making sure all of our humanity would have contact with the Godhead. Christ died, fully assuming our human nature. "While man can scarcely keep what belongs to him by nature, Christ gives the grace of Sonship through the Cross." (St. Mark the Ascetic, No Righteousness by Works) With the Resurrection and Ascension Christ has given us the option to transcend all the things that have brought us down as a race, to become more than we ever thought possible.

With Christ's resurrection we become more than we were before. The myths of the world tell us to not go too high without the gods' permission, that Phaeton shouldn't fly the chariot of the sun because it's definitely too much for him. Ascent to the gods cannot be done because "Thy lot is mortal, but thy wishes fly" as Phoebus says. Any attempts at control or understanding of the world will inevitably end in the heavens catching fire and seeing horrors that we were never meant to. Trying to become more than what we are on our own is doomed to failure; Phoebus will mourn his son.

But what if the God were to descend unto us? This is the Resurrection's beauty. We do not have to ascend upon a chariot or a pair of constructed wings, we are lifted, like a child into his parent's arms.
In our haste to fix things we forget that we don't have to do anything but reach up our arms and be lifted. We may have to hack a bloody path to get to our God's arms but even that is done with weapons that no one can scarcely comprehend, thanks be to God! The Resurrection is this lifting up out of our darkness into God's loving embrace. It is to be held by our Brother as the horrors dissolve, leaving us in a bright embrace that we can barely comprehend, so faint of being are we. The gulls cry and white shores come upon us, along with a swift sunrise. We find that we are home with the One Who always  loved us.

The wars will be over on that day. No more will we need the sword, no more will the grave be necessary. We will return to the Tree of Life and realize that all our longings were for this homeland that was bought by our gravestone and a cross. No more will we cry, for all the wounds we had taken will be turned into something beyond comprehension. We will no longer have to fight. We will be at rest, and all will be well. And so, on this day, we commemorate the day  that God reaches down and waits for us to look up from our schemes to fix everything and realize that He's right here, waiting to take us home. Hooray for Karamazov! May this day be revealed in its full glory soon!


Friday, April 6, 2018

God Suffers

The Crucifixion, by myself. 2015, acrylic on wood.
In the Depths, Where I Had Cried
by myself, 2016
O Lord, as I stare at you upon the tree 
I remember that you undertook blasphemy for my sake
For who in their right mind would kill God?
But here you hang, loving me until the end.
No one else would, could, do this for me.
I damaged the Imago Dei in my soul.
Rather than demanding I be eradicated You performed the unthinkable.
Instead of making me come to YouYou came to me first
Now, when I see You I see myself:
In horrific pain, suffocating to death, but God and man.
Your Crucifixion made God a mockery
That I, a mockery, may be saved.
Glory to Your condescension!
Glory to Your love for men, who were dust but can be so much more!

Despair is the single most difficult thing to deal with in the world. I don't care who you are, if your psychological legs are taken out from under you nothing else is going to work or matter. And it's not something that you can say you do: despair happens. It's the spiritual equivalent of a tsunami, without the string of relief workers and posts on Facebook, Twitter, or what-have-you, with people showing their support. Despair is a massive sea-change in the soul that seemingly nobody else notices. They walk on past the wreckage and you stand there, alone and confused. The world ended for you and not only are you still here but nobody seemed to notice.

And as time goes on you realize that not only did nobody notice but nobody seems to want to. You wander, from place to place in the death and destruction in your own mind, hoping that maybe, just maybe, somebody will look at you and realize that your universe is shrivelling of its own accord. Maybe your loved ones will notice, maybe you're not alone! Maybe they'll see it.

Disillusionment walks in as your loved ones unwittingly walk out.

Loneliness sets in as you descend down, down down. At some point you realize that you can no longer pray, because prayer is based in fear and wonder and love and you don't have any of that anymore. Somehow you've come to a spot where God is not reachable. You're alone. God is, for all intents and purposes not there.

That's when the rage kicks in.

Why on earth would God leave you here? What did you do to be abandoned thus, alone and disillusioned. Even if you haven't tried that hard to be a good person there's an innate outrage at this turn of events. I didn't have this coming, I didn't deserve this becomes the matnra. Anger seeps in and your inner sight turns red and that's it, you've been had. Most people stay in this state for the rest of their lives to varying degree, bitter and alone in their heart in places that are so deep they've no idea they're even doing it. Perfectly reasonable and pleasant people can have years of resentment and hatred buried, making them whitewashed tombs. At least for me I've found that most of my repentance has centered around finding these whitewashed tombs.

But more likely than not we fall into one of these tombs unawares and we're right back to where we started: alone, angry, and afraid. Most of the time we try to claw our way out of this place, regretting whatever we did that brought up this pocket of death in our personalities, pleading for God to get us out of it. The silence is deafening and that can make the rage intensify.

It's at moments like these we should pray to the saints: Holy N. pray to God for me. This is literal, not figurative. You are not in a Norman Rockwell painting asking a buddy for the salt at the dinner table. You are in a do or die situation, where you're already weighed down and unable to do anything for yourself. Even your ability to ask God for help has been taken and the only alternative is to swallow your pride and ask someone else to pray for you. And at this point something remarkable happens: if you'll let it, you will be held and the death spot will die. As it dies and shrivels you might find something remarkable: the pain itself has God in it. He's so in it that He is your anger, He is your rage, He is your pain. He supports your blasphemy against Him, He allows it to exist because you asked Him to let it. God allows the blasphemy right up until the second you ask Him to take it away. And the Saints, particularly the Theotokos, hold you as this incredibly painful process begins. You die and God dies with you, sharing in the pain as the Saints pray for you. It is an exercise in receptivity, of complete and utter poverty. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

But sometimes that isn't enough. Sometimes you can't even reach out to the saints; the parts of yourself that must die are kept alive by the demons in a horrific state of undeath, unable to pass on, unable to live, left in crippling psychological and spiritual pain. This is a different type of bereavement. When the Scriptures say "poor in spirit" that means destitute, devoid, empty. All that's left to you is your anger. But God is here too. Jesus transformed your anger and so you can use it against depression. At the end of the day if there's nothing but you and your ills get up, grab that sword that you can never use at any other time, and fight. You're not in a position to be polite and nice, Christianity isn't about being nice and sweet, it's about being good, and sometimes to be good you must roll up your sleeves and get ready to get bloody. Weaponize yourself against your own sin. Fight, curse the demons that are causing your despair with Psalms and prayers and anything that comes from God, GET ANGRY BECAUSE ANGER IS THE ONLY WAY OUT. Call upon God like a child throwing a tantrum, because now is not the time for dignity, now is the time to live! Despondency kills and it's the one time in the spiritual life where kill or be killed is the law of the land. Draw the sword that God has forged of Himself and, with God's help, drive off the things that are after you, whom God supports with His very existence. Then allow those parts of you that are diseased to die, keeping watch over it with the help of God and the saints.

That's what the Cross is: God has become your ills, He has become your sins, your anger, your everything. He has become all the things you hate, so that way when you're willing to let those things go it's possible to do so! The Crucifixion is much more than God-man suffocating to death: it is Him allowing us to let go because, as He dies, all the things we give to Him die with Him. In so doing we add what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ. We die together, the Saints holding us and helping us walk the path they walked before, over and over and over again. We die a little repeatedly over the course of our life, fighting for the right to die and not be left as spiritually undead abberations of creation, until finally our form gives out in a crash of horror and doom. But it's only the horror that dies. We cruised all the way down, and Christ will come to our defense, fighting the last fight that no one but Him can fight, and  bring us back up, leaning on His shoulder. The Crucifixion is the beginning of the invasion against an undeath most unholy, most immoral.

On this holy and terrible day remember that Christ is there, at the bottom of every bad decision you ever made, waiting for you to die with Him. Dying and pain have become a loving embrace of love, as has the mad scramble to get there. Death is the door. Enter and gain hope.

Revenge of the Sith: The Subverter

This is, without a doubt, one of the best scenes in Star Wars, period, and the left to right and right to left rule plays out in a really creepy way here; characters facing right turn left and vice versa, throwing the whole scene into a game of shadows. And it's here I have to start talking about Palpatine, a character that I've avoided talking about like the plague. I'll have to admit it's due to my own personal experiences that I've had to avoid this talk, because this is where the prequels reveal all the evil lurking right under their surface.

For ten years Palpatine has been doing what is called "grooming", a process that involves building an emotional connection in a spot where a child is hurting and cultivating it so that you can leverage that person for your own ends. It's subtle, awful, and usually ends with explosive results as the child realizes too late that he's caught in a web that he can't get out of, isolating him further and, even if he should survive whatever trap is laid for him by the groomer, will possibly be crippled by the guilt of being won over by a monster in human clothes. Campbell called this type of person the Shapeshifter, the one who appears to be the hero's friend but changes on him in an instant. This being preys on our Shadows, getting them to create disassociation within ourselves, getting Shadow/Underworld to hate Ego/Overworld. Once he's wreaked enough havoc on our Shadow this being engineers situations where this poor and wretched part of ourselves can get out, wrecking all before it in a bid to make its imagined oppressors stop the torment. But it never ends well. The people around us are not the source of our torment, no matter how many times they may do us wrong. This being is the one who engineers the whole thing.We know him as Satan, The Devil. Palpatine is a demonic figure par excellance.

For most of Anakin's life he has been hurting for his mother and the type of love only a mother (not a wife!) can give. The Jedi Order, the blockheads that they are, have completely missed this need and, assuming that Anakin mostly adapted to their system, feel that they can treat him as any other child they took from its own home at an early age. Unfortunately Palpatine sees what they don't: not freeing his mother had created a huge rift within Anakin's soul, a need for affection that could have been filled by Qui-Gon but never by Obi-Wan, who never understood Anakin. Being a Jedi was enough for him, brainwashed as he was by the Order. Unfortunately for Anakin, however, Palpatine could see this weakness and slowly exploited it over ten years while he played the rest of his games for control of the Senate and Republic alike, taking every opportunity to poison Anakin against those who were never really going to help him anyway. So long as the Jedi failed to notice Anakin's problems Palpatine had an in. And the Jedi were trained not to see the problems that Anakin had, so Palpatine had free reign. Eventually an abuser will "cash in" all the loyalty and angst he's built up in his mark, creating a huge change in personality that would be a surprise to anyone around him, but only because they hadn't seen the slow and subtle progression over time.

Palpatine is a master abuser. Anakin never stood a chance, not alone.

But he has no support.  Even to the woman that he fears to lose Anakin can't relate because of Palpatine's meddling, which has been going on for longer than Anakin's and Padme's actual relationship. Anakin's reasons for being good have rested upon fantasies of his mother and Padme, but Palpatine has had an entire decade of "real" friendship with Anakin, giving him far more emotional credit with Anakin than anything Padme can pull. Which is why Padme's plea to Anakin doesn't work. Even though she sees the evil of what Palpatine has become she can't break through the very real and long-gestating issues that Palpatine has made inside of Anakin. Heck, she uses almost the exact same words that he said to her in Episode II (yeah, she took him seriously as it turns out) and it still doesn't get through. That's how far gone Anakin is.

Which is why this scene is included in as part of the subverter: Anakin still has enough self-control to turn against Palpatine. He's still altruistic enough to realize that, despite whatever this man may mean to him, he must resist him. Palpatine, for his part, tells him nothing but the truth, but lets it slip that he knows about Anakin's visions. No male in Star Wars who has a vision has it on camera, so that begs the question: did Palpatine put the visions in Anakin's head? I'd say yes, yes he did. Palpatine has been controlling Anakin by using the best of his qualities against him, and he's closing his trap right here. He lets Anakin go because he knows that it's best to let Anakin hang himself with the rope that's been in the making for ten long years.

And the creepiest thing about this? It's completely and utterly true to reality. This is how the evil work, through and through. Hiding in plain sight, even from some of the wisest, they turn us against those who could have been our friends (had they not been idiots about it), using our inherent tendency to good against us. Regardless of whether you believe in the devil or not, this scene is exactly how evil has always worked. It's not a force in and of itself, but a twist of the mind, doubling us back in on ourselves and causing us to look at that great big void that we all have within, forcing us to ask ourselves "What would I do if it was nothing but me and that void, which I try to fill at every last opportunity with electronics, sex, alcohol, or whatever else lets me forget for two seconds that I'm desperately alone?"

Most of us don't ask that question outside of 3 AM when we wake up, wondering if life is really what we think it is. We usually ignore it as a passing fancy. It wasn't however, and anyone who's an abuser knows it. It's not even a fight at that point, but merely one person finding the weak spot and wondering aloud what would happen if someone were to hit that spot with a hammer. They keep asking that question in various ways until we, convinced that someone is actually coming after us, get up and destroy the threats that we perceive, only to find out far, far, far too late that our abuser knew a really awful truth:

The only person who can destroy you is you; the abuser can't. They get you to do it instead.