The Hot Take is Dead/Long Live the Hot Take, or, The Last Jedi III: Okay I Think I’m Done Now

Spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

It is a time of reckoning. HOT TAKES blot out the sky like locusts. After leaving my initial viewing of THE LAST JEDI I found myself troubled with LUKE SKYWALKER’S direction in the film, but after sleeping on it, I began to warm up to the character’s trajectory through Episode VIII.

A second viewing revealed just how much work went into executing the narrative maneuvers behind SKYWALKER’S journey in the film and a third viewing was blissful. Afterwards I drafted my first HOT TAKE. Then, on a fourth viewing my mind wandered to the portions of the story I’d initially had no major issues with, Finn, Rose and Poe’s attempts at saving THE RESISTANCE from the pursuing FIRST ORDER.

It finally clicked just how complete their failure was. It dawned on me that these heroes didn’t just fall short of saving THE RESISTANCE, they inadvertently doomed it. I hated it and I hate it. With a few days to cool off and a second HOT TAKE shot across the bow of the internet I prepared myself for a fifth viewing and, hopefully, one final HOT TAKE….

I’m just going to jump right in, but feel free to check out my first two posts on the film in the links above for more context.

lastjedi3

#BetterThanEzra

While Finn and Rose’s failure to shut down the hyperspace tracking on Snoke’s Star Destroyer ensures the Resistance’s last flag ship won’t escape the weaponry of The First Order, it isn’t that failure that dooms their friends. DJ, played by a Benicio Del Toro who is really making some choices, sells out the defenseless, fleeing Resistance shuttles, and while Finn and Rose couldn’t have known that would be the outcome of their excursion with the code breaker, their misplaced trust in him is what seals the fate of The Resistance on Crait and necessitates Luke Skywalker’s climactic actions and their consequences.

That trust is its own failure, one that is shared by Leia and her fellow Resistance leadership from go, as they plan in the film’s opening minutes to jump to hyperspace and send word to their allies in the Outer Rim. It’s a failure to take the temperature of the room, a failure to understand what is and is not inherent. DJ tells Finn point blank that he equates The Resistance and The First Order, but Finn presumably holds on to the assumption that despite what DJ says, the stranger he met in casino jail understands The Resistance is inherently better, possessing an obvious moral superiority to the First Order, an obvious righteousness. A similar assumption is made by Leia, expecting that The Resistance’s call to arms will be answered because they are the side of the angles, because they carry with them an inherent, universal righteousness.

Finn, Leia and even Rey exhibit the sort of binary thinking required to sustain decades-long warfare: I am good, they are bad and these truths are not only obvious but intrinsic. What we can extrapolate from the apathetic galaxy we garner hints of in both The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens, however, is that the vast, non-combatant majority is perhaps less concerned with good and evil than they are with war and peace.

The assumptions our heroes make and their consequences in The Last Jedi feel like a metafictional extrapolation of a possible Star Wars future on the part of writer-director Rian Johnson.

How quick our protagonists are to deem themselves “rebels” and talk of “rebellion,” how eager they are to revert to the status quo of days gone by, to slip into those tried-and-true roles. Finn and Leia are making assumptions based on the Star Wars of yore, manipulating pieces as best they can to set up the familiar dynamics of the Original Trilogy where a ragtag band of freedom fighters takes on a monolith of evil in the name of freedom. But the galaxy ain’t having it, and while fans may bemoan anything that strays too far from X-Wings and Death Stars and TIE Fighters right now, Johnson’s script addresses the eventuality that, should this same conflict continue to play out as it has over the course of nine movies, the galaxy and the audience will both lose interest. While The Last Jedi certainly feels like a reaction to the accusations of repetition lobbed against The Force Awakens, it also feels like a preemptive strike against criticisms that could be lobbed against Episode X or Episode XX.

There are only so many variations of Stormtroopers, so many variations of TIE fighters, of robes and lightsabers. The unanswering galaxy at the end of The Last Jedi that so deftly subverts Finn and Leia’s assumptions is the audience of Star Wars future, the audience in a world where trilogy after trilogy sees the rise of red totalitarianism, the spark of rebellion and the eventual triumph of blue and green democracy again and again and again. That’s the cyclical thinking that breeds the failure of our heroes in The Last Jedi, the perception that that is how Star Wars worked and so it is how Star Wars will continue to work.

Finn and Rose’s failure and Leia’s disappointment are cautionary tales not only for those ready to make war (for better or worse) in the Star Wars galaxy, but for those in charge of Star Wars’ future. And yet, for all its condemnation of repetition, The Last Jedi leaves the creative forces that be behind Episode IX with an easy opportunity to slip right back into that familiar status quo of A New Hope. Will the galaxy beyond the ceaseless, titular Star War allow that sort of regression? Will audiences? Have Finn and the gang taken the lessons of The Last Jedi to heart? Has J.J. Abrams taken the lessons of The Last Jedi to heart? I guess we’ll know in two years.

There was a moment over my heated and passionate courtship with The Last Jedi in which I found myself wondering if this was the film that would separate me from future generations of Star Wars fandom, if my reception to it was indicative of the hardening of some sort of previously fluid fandom concrete that now immovably dictates what I will and won’t tolerate in relation to things I enjoy and limits my ability and desire to appreciate the new or different. You know, am I old now?

Star Wars is making a big transition as it is now, arguably for the first time, a story truly without end. That means heroes don’t get to just win and be happy anymore. That means villainy doesn’t just disappear. That means there doesn’t get to be balance. Since I was born Luke Skywalker and his friends had won. But that retaining that victory and getting more Star Wars are kind of mutually exclusive without that filthy “P” word all you punks seem to hate so much.

For some fans, The Last Jedi may very likely prove to be a line of demarcation between something they hold dear and something else.

That being said, I have had more fun dissecting and debating this movie with friends than any other piece of entertainment in recent memory. I wasn’t having these kinds of discourses about The Force Awakens, I wasn’t stumbling onto these kinds of dorky epiphanies with Rogue One. That doesn’t make it a superior film, but for that alone, and for the ingredients it gave me to cook up three fingerprint-erasing hot takes, I do love The Last Jedi.

Also, seriously, you get that she was pulling herself, not flying, right? Good lord.

In Line for Last Jedi, or, The Force Awakens Revisited

Forgive any formatting sins. I’m uploading from my phone in the theater.

Two years after its release, as its successor The Last Jedi prepares to debut, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has had enough time to begin the transition from the pop culture phenomenon of 2015, to, ya know, just another chapter in the ongoing Star Wars saga. It’s had time to cool off from its meteoric arrival and settle into its place as an entry in the decades old film series, slowly melding into the whole.

But at two years old, where does it fit in amongst its numerous siblings?

If you were to stitch Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens and make one 5 hour mega film, the pivot point would be a freeze frame at the very end of Jedi, followed by a ripping record scratch. While the events of VII don’t upend 100% of what the Rebellion achieves in the original trilogy, it does appear to even the playing field between good and bad in the galaxy, in spite of the desolation of evil Return of the Jedi had presumably depicted.

In the context of the larger Star Wars narrative, the function of VII becomes twofold: to reveal how truly daunting a prospect the goals of the rebellion actually are, and to insist that those goals are still achievable.

The Force Awakens gives us a far more complicated, arguably indiscernible status quo for the galaxy that the original Star Wars. We know who the good guys and bad guys are, but wherein Star Wars it was pretty clear the bad guys were in charge, the exact dynamics of the sequel-era galaxy are a little murkier. While we don’t get an abundance of information as to how the good, bad and indifferent relate to each other, we do get a pretty simple new way to tell them apart.

The good guys are nice to each other. The bad guys? Not so much.

The world would be a better place if there were a lengthy and readily available compilation of John Boyega reuniting with people. Finn, Rey and Poe treat one another with a relentless kindness, free of cynicism or sarcasm. These near strangers exhibit care for one another that still brings a smile to my face, a dozen plus viewings later, the sort of unshackled, earnest concern and empathy that even the likes of Han, Luke and Leia never exactly overflowed with.

If The Force Awakens is the film that signals just how difficult ending conflict and instilling peace in a franchise called Star Wars actually is, then it is also a chapter that reiterates no matter where the seemingly ceaseless swinging of the pendulum is between good and bad, subjugation and freedom, CGI and matte paintings, there will always be a well of everyday bravery and small kindnesses to draw from.

Until The Last Jedi retcons everything. I’ll let you know in two and a half hours.

Connective Tissue, or, Star Wars: Rebels Season One

As always I will preface this Star Wars piece with the declaration that I have still not forgiven, nor will I ever forgive, Disney for their unwarranted, unjust cancellation of my favorite television show Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I don’t care how cool Age of Ultron looks and I don’t care how Episode VII turns out! You can take my money Disney! You can even take my time, those precious seconds of which the symphony of my very life is composed! But you will never, ever have my respect! So good luck sleeping at night in your bed of ill-gotten billion dollar bills you sick sons of bitches!

So Star Wars: Rebels is pretty awesome.

BAWLIN

BAWLIN

The new animated series on Disney XD (here I spit on the ground in disdain) is something of a spiritual successor to Star Wars: Clone Wars (here I kiss my index finger and point to the sky) taking place at the tail end of the nineteen year period between Episodes III and IV. Where Clone Wars (here I send a canoe of DVDs and action figures down a suburban creek and shoot at it with flaming arrows) could take place anywhere in the galaxy and tell stories with any number of protagonists spanning the gambit from Jedis to clones to bounty hunters to assassins, Rebels is a far more insular show focusing squarely on the rebellious exploits of the crew of The Ghost, the youth in revolt against the monolithic, imperial occupation of the planet Lothal. But despite its relatively narrow scope, Rebels accomplishes a pretty daunting task, successfully serving as connective tissue between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy.

Sure Episode III and Episode IV both have lightsabers and Tatooine and a guy named Obi Wan Kenobi, but in a lot of ways the two movies feel entirely disjointed. But by the end of Star Wars Rebels’ first season on Disney XD (here I bury a decimated stuffed Mikey Mouse in an unmarked grave and use a bowl full of old Surge to coax a stray dog into peeing on it) I finally felt like the two movies definitively took place in the same universe.

Kanan Jarrus, the primary Jedi presence on the show, is more a nomadic, mysterious Ronin then one in a rave of thousands of Jedi raving about with their lethal glow sticks and getting clowned by battle droids in the arena on Geonosis. And yet when Kanan lights his saber he brings with it the acrobatics and excitement of the prequel trilogy’s over the top battles.

LA FAMILIA

LA FAMILIA

The crew of The Ghost almost feel like the cast of a sitcom. Much like Luke and the gang they gel together like family. But like the whacky Jedi council they’re far more diverse then the largely white male human rebel alliance of the original trilogy.

Rebels also showcases an important switch between the heroes and villains of the Star Wars universe. The bad guys are no longer operating in the shadows. They’ve won. Their propaganda liters the streets and the airwaves. They no longer feel like the knife sneaking between ribs in the dark. They’re an empire. A mountain-sized fist seen coming from a mile away, but too big to dodge. Like that aforementioned lightsaber rave. In Rebels the heroes are forced to operate more discretely, to plot and scheme in the shadows as the sith once did. It feels like the logical missing step between Order 66 and blowing up the Death Star (spoilers!).

By the season one finale of Rebels the prequels, the original trilogy and even Clone Wars (here I pour out a majority of a 40) had never felt more connected and singular. It helps Star Wars feel as if it is finally under one umbrella. One huge umbrella, but a single umbrella nonetheless. And that’s super exciting because I have well-attuned priorities as a human being.

Rebels feels like the inexplicable missing piece that finally solves the puzzle I always suspected wasn’t quite finished. At least until Episode VII comes out.