Friday, July 20, 2018

Last Jedi: The Opener

I've been waiting for this for over 8 months now. Even though I've written about The Last Jedi before, each time I found myself having a lot of difficulty doing so. This is because The Last Jedi is the best movie of the whole saga. Nope, didn't stutter, and no, I'm not crazy. Pound for pound, The Last Jedi understands what Star Wars is better than any of the original six and does a better job at executing Lucas's vision than any other movie in the series. It is the climax of the series, where everything comes to a head. When I think of The Last Jedi I think of the entire movie series. This movie is the climax of the Skywalker Saga. I doubt that I'm wrong, not at this point. If I am I will be more than happy to eat crow. But I think what I'm writing here is accurate, more or less. Like I say to my three year old son (who seems to have more maturity than a lot of The Last Jedi haters): ONWARD! TO THE REVIEW!

After the charm of Oscar Isaac had convinced Abrams to keep Poe on, we add him to the main characters in The Last Jedi. Let's be honest: Poe is a tool. I mean, what did you think was going to happen when the guy who was hopelessly outnumbered and captured by Kylo Ren was going to do when facing down a dreadnought, be serious? But let's not kid ourselves, Poe is a man-child with massive talent, which is perfect considering that he's military. Part of what makes the military so spiritually deadening is not caring about how something is done, so long as it gets accomplished. Those of you who would splutter at my seemingly flippant take on the military and ask about military honor have either never served in the U.S. military or are the type of vet that remained naive throughout their career. Hotshots like Poe can (and do) thrive in a military setting, where their character defects are ignored because of the results they generate... until someone needs them to be a leader. If the groomer has integrity they call out the soldier on the defects of character which, up until that time, were irrelevant. But if the groomer does not... well... that's how we get the vast majority of the U.S. Air Defense Artillery leadership, isn't it? Thank God Leia isn't ADA, cause Poe would have fit in quite nicely in that ancient and venerable branch of the U.S. Army.

(And for those of you who say that Leia couldn't have survived in the vacuum of space, please do some research and leave space fantasy, which you shouldn't be nitpicking at this level anyway, alone. Thanks.)

But Poe is in for a nasty surprise. Vice Admiral Holdo has no time for someone who lost her an entire bombing squad. So she lays it on him, giving him a speech that's incredibly common to hear in the military: shut up and do your job. Hell, as a vet I found her incredibly restrained, not once giving him the tongue-lashing that anyone with five second's time in bootcamp would have been expecting. I mean, I get it's PG-13, but the fact that there wasn't a single F-Bomb dropped along with a hardcore rant about Poe's clear ineptitude actually shows Holdo's charity to someone who just lost his rank for being a shitbag officer. But Poe is egotistical and when he gets the chance to help Finn go off on a half-assed horrific idea of a mission... he does. I'm going to say it again: the movie makes no effort to say that what they're doing is a good idea. No Star Wars plan is, by and large.

For his part, Finn is confronted by his own doppelganger: Rose. Like him, she was someone who worked behind the scenes. Unlike him, however, she's actually got a set of principles and is, contrary to first appearances, not naive. Rose genuinely believes in the cause of the Resistance, something that Finn has never had the luxury of having. The death of her sister Paige unlocked heroism within Rose, in direct contrast to Finn, who just became a runner. It's through her that we find out that The First Order has been preparing for this assault for at least twenty years. But their idiocy and haste gets them jailed, away from the master code breaker and they find themselves trusting DJ, who initially comes in from the right.... and of course they trust him! Because they're far more concerned about results than doing it right Finn and Rose show the callow of youth, begining a chain reaction that no one could have seen coming. Well, except for Maz. She probably would have. Too bad she's too busy being shot at right now.

Ben, for his part, finally encounters the truth that Han tried to tell him first hand: Snoke doesn't give one solitary crap about him and is only using him for his power.  Snoke belittles Ben and refuses to help him achieve any peace at all. Ben, enraged, finally sees that he's been living a lie the last few years. The manipulation that Snoke has been doing to Ben becomes obvious and he wants out of the trap that is his life. But does that mean killing his own mother? No, Ben can't, and that moment of self-questioning will hopefully grow in time. But, for the moment, he thinks that killing the past is a literal thing, as shown by his destruction of his own helmet. For those of you who think that Ben's killing of Snoke is out of left field I present the destruction of that helmet, which was his way of identifying with The First Order. It's not out of left field. Ben is looking for a way out, starting right then and there.

Rey's encounters with Luke are even worse off than I'd anticipated in my prediction of who Luke was. Luke is past despondent, he's ready to die....right? We'll get to Luke's motivations in a minute.With Rey and R2 Luke finds his old self coming back, bit by bit. He teaches Rey while belittling her idealism and shows, once and for all, that Yoda was right: he is afraid and he did succumb. This is where Luke has always been headed, to the point where he lost faith and needed someone's help to get back to the fight. The film does tell us in typical right to left fashion that Luke did fail Ben, and that Rey will also let Luke down, but that's coming up in the subversion, isn't it?

The Force Bond between Rey and Ben is not a new concept. Anakin and Padme had one, as did Anakin and Luke. So no, Force Bond is not a new thing. What's new is the suddenness and strength that it sets on here. Ben is taken aback by it because he knows enough to know this is beyond unusual; this is a one in a million occurrence. Rey, for her part, is too naive to get that she's walked into a situation that she doesn't have all the information for, and Ben is too bitter to do anything other than pretend he's still a monster. He even lies to her face about where he's at. Monsters don't experience doubt. And Ben definitely has more than a little doubt bouncing around in his heart.

Luke Skywalker is the key to The Last Jedi's narrative. The story of Star Wars has always been about how the real enemy is not the Trade Federation, or the Empire, or the Sith, or anyone else; the protagonist must discover that they are their own worst enemy. No one can stop you but you. It doesn't matter what is going on outside of you, if you are your own enemy you will never win at anything.  But sometimes you wonder if you can actually defeat yourself. Sometimes, looking at the interior battle that lies before you, you start to think that the best way to win (and thus help everyone) is not to battle yourself at all. Sometimes, when you face an aspect of yourself that's much darker than expected, you hang up your sword and call it quits, convinced you can't win. Cowed by your own darkness you sequester yourself away emotionally, trying to count down the days until you draw your last breath. You can't kill yourself, because there's still something good in you and you can't kill that. In fact, it's the good in you that comes to the conclusion that only by suffering alone can you help anyone else. In a really screwed up way this is a courageous move.

That is exactly what Luke has done. No, he didn't do the right thing. But he did the next best thing he could think of.

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