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.

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#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.

The Hot Takes Don’t Stop, or, Whoops I Gotta Talk About The Last Jedi Again

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Look what you made my heroes do.

I try, I really try, but I gotta give a spoiler alert for this post. I don’t go into specifics, but there’s spoilers here for The Last Jedi. I wouldn’t read it if you haven’t seen the movie yet…

Boy oh boy, the fun never stops with this one.

When I walked out of my first viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I found myself grappling with, and eventually intellectually subduing the Force-centric storyline of the film. I assumed my issues with the movie had been the same as everyone’s issues with the movie, only to find that the loudest complaints seemed to hang around Finn, Rose and their excursion to the casino planet Canto Bight.

I love Canto Bight. I love that we see the highest and lowest of galactic society both seemingly unphased by the destruction we’ve witnessed. I love DJ and the new wrinkles he introduces to the titular Star War. I love the opportunity to use the term “titular Star War.” But four viewings in, I’m finally catching up to problems with Finn and Rose’s detour. I don’t agree that it is extraneous or without character development, and I certainly don’t agree with the sentiment that it could have been cut entirely from the film without consequence because the consequences of Finn, Rose and Poe’s scheming are utterly disastrous. Which is what’s caught in my craw at the moment.

When Finn, Rose and Poe fail in The Last Jedi, they fail hard. Disproportionately hard. And I hate it.

This isn’t a Raiders of the Lost Ark situation in which removing the protagonist from the narrative is a zero-sum game. The entire non-Force-centric plot of The Last Jedi involves Finn, Poe and Rose executing a hasty and desperate plan that, despite its best intentions, pretty much ruins everything for everyone and ultimately necessitates the film’s climactic confrontation and it’s shocking consequences. If Finn, Rose and Poe had done nothing over the course of the film, save Poe’s display of lucky recklessness in the film’s opening, our heroes would have been exponentially, staggeringly better off.

I’m hip. I get it. Poe’s brashness ultimately failing him at a dear cost is a story choice that begets important character growth. The same sort of irresponsible tactics that allow him to eek out an arguable win against the Dreadnought in the beginning of the film ultimately fail him abysmally, causing him to finally, as Leia would say, “get his head out of his cockpit.”

There’s perhaps also something to be said for Finn’s narrative, in which he begins as a true hero of the Resistance who is ready to run away, but once he fails the Resistance he is ready to stand for it until the bitter end. Whatever failures he is ultimately responsible for in this movie, his character is accountable, with Spider-Man’s sense of responsibility.

Then there’s Rose, who makes the horrendous mistake of acting on impulse to try and save the very thing her sister died protecting, only to inadvertently all but destroy it. I’ll concede that perhaps we’re to gleam that through failure her grief is transformed into renewed and specified purpose, but good lord at what cost?

These threads are in line with the film’s running themes of failure and atonement, but it’s hard not to juxtapose those who’s failures have consequences and those who’s failures do not.

I’ll try my best not to wear my woke-college-freshman-back-for-the-holidays-to-learn-you-something-big hat here, but sometimes you’re stumbling around in the dark, you hit a hat rack and what happens happens…

It’s clear from the confounding logistics of the Forceless portion of the film that the Force is the priority in the Last Jedi. The measures taken to legitimize the developments of the Rey/Luke/Kylo storyline dwarf the suspension-of-disbelief-fueled Resistance plot. Which really starts to become problematic when the Force, the all encompassing energy binding the universe together, is exclusively white. Every Force-user. Every. Last. One. Ride or die honkies, the lot of ’em. Not that that’s a change from The Force Awakens, but in that film Rey, Finn and Poe share success, in this film, they do not share failure. When Rey and Kylo Ren fail they fail upward, winding up in a stronger position then they otherwise would have been. When Finn, Rose and Poe fail, people die. What’s more, Finn, Rose and Poe’s failure comes in the face of undermining a white authority figure, while on the Force side of things, undermining white authority sows the seeds of success, setting a precedent for the film in which only Force-wielders (all white) are capable enough to effectively question authority figures (again, all white). Thus we end up with a film in which people of color inadvertently shoot themselves and others in the foot while fancy white folks navel-gaze and wax poetic until it’s time for them to save the day from the mistakes of The Forceless.

I don’t know dear reader, I don’t know. The mantra of “this is not going to go the way you think” continues to ring true. This movie has got issues. Just not the issues I’d initially thought.

I don’t think there’s an active intention on the part of Rian Johnson or Lucasfilm to draw these kinds of lines through their stories, but in 2017, in a film in which the antagonists are essentially the space alt-right, that I’m able draw those lines with a minimum of effort is disappointing to say the least.

Walking out of my fourth viewing, the entirety of these heroes’ failures really setting in, part of me wondered if it was even intentional. After all, the Forceless plot in The Last Jedi is unfortunately marred by persistently perplexing logistics. But the intention seems clear as we are expressly told failure is a great teacher, and through Finn, Rose and Poe we really watch it go to town giving an education. That being said, for all the explanations Rian Johnson has provided in interviews for moments throughout the film I’ve yet to come across a discussion of the consequences the trip to Canto Bight ultimately reap and I still can’t help but wonder if there was some narrative oversight. Again, arguably the biggest moment in this film, the momentous, saga-shaking happening, is only necessary because things, albeit accidentally, get screwed up so bad by Finn, Poe and Rose.

In my last post on The Last Jedi I made the grand statement that the creative decisions made in this movie were made with forethought, and that the debate is not so much over the quality of the film but your own personal taste for the story choices made within it. Well boy oh boy am I reckoning with that.

I can’t speak to the intention behind the brutal humbling of characters I love in this movie, and I don’t feel subjective enough to state whether or not it’s good or bad storytelling, but I know there are things in The Last Jedi I can’t unsee and damnit I know I don’t like it!

Tell me I’m wrong! Convince me their failure is awesome! Tell me why it’s okay! What am I missing?

Inevitable third revelatory hot take to follow…

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.