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.

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Rogue One Take Two, or, Modern Star Warfare

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If you’re a 90s kid you’ll remember this level from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2!

Among other firsts for a Star Wars film, Rogue One is notable for dragging the warfare of the franchise into the modern age. Where battles in Revenge of the Sith hearken back to D-Day and Vietnam and The Force Awakens boasts the massive WWII-inspired dog fights that where a staple of the original trilogy, Rogue One looks to more recent combat for its conflicts.

The most immediately recognizable example is Jedha, the desert planet of pilgrims being ransacked for its natural resource, kyber crystals, that stands in for an occupied Middle East. The imagery of an Imperial Hovertank creeping through the city while its armed chaperones survey a crowd that is just as likely to be disinterested as it is to be volatile evokes the likes of Hurt Locker, or Call Duty: Modern Warfare. It’s arguably the most directly analogous battlefield we’ve seen in the Star Wars franchise and it’s one that demands thoughtful, nuanced consideration of the parties involved and what they represent.

The planet Eadu sees a similarly contemporary depiction of warfare. As a fleet of X-Wings sweeps down onto the planet I initially found myself disappointed that there were no interior shots of cockpits housing goofy aliens and mustaches. We never see the faces of the pilots flying on Eadu. Instead, we see the equivalent of a drone strike in a galaxy far, far away. The X-Wings here are more sinister, more distinctly weapons, than ever before, as they are faceless and voiceless. There’s no Red Five of Gold Leader on Eadu, just machines descending from the sky, lasers blazing down on anything in the kill box.

Finally, Rogue One is centered on a data leak. Plans and blueprints have always been a part of Star Wars’ third acts, from the original film to Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens, but here more than ever before there is a focus on the pursuit and distribution of classified information. If anything, the prospect of a data leak has only become more timely since the film was released less than six months ago. Espionage and the accusation of enemy information if hardly a child of the new millennium, but what is ultimately achieved in Rogue One is a data leak that, coupled with the other more modernized combat operations in the film, feels utterly of the moment.

Waging a war that looks more like the headlines of the day, Rogue One presents a certain analogical fluidity. The Empire is violently occupying a resource-rich desert. The Rebellion is conducting scorched earth air strikes, complete with collateral damage and questionable casualties. Its easy to look back on the original 1977 Star Wars and correlate the Empire to Nazis, or a colonial regime, but seeing the questionable military tactics of the day represented on both sides of the conflict in Rogue One begs the question, in 2017 who are the Rebels and who is the Empire?

Star Wars Rebels Season Three, or, Oooooo Oooooo Growin’ Up

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*laugh track*

Coming off of one of the GOAT achievements in Star Wars storytelling with its second season finale, Star Wars: Rebels’ third season launched the interquel animated series into adolescence in more ways than one.

Rebels has always been something of a Star Wars sitcom in that it revolves around a core family with parents and kids and a grandpa and family pet. This season the family dynamics began to shift as the kids, Sabine and Ezra, started to come into their own as young adults, leaving the rest of the family (and the audience) uncertain, annoyed and surprised by their developments. But beyond its characters, Star Wars: Rebels as show exhibited signs of maturation in its third season.

The more Rebels defines itself as an entity the more comfortable it has become in interacting with other clearly defined Star Wars entities. In a sense it’s like the show has gotten old enough to have play dates with other corners of the Star Wars mythos. Part of the excitement of season three was watching week to week as Rebels reached out and interacted with the Prequels, the Clone Wars, the Original Trilogy, the old expanded universe and now it’s closest sibling, Rogue One. With two years of fairly insular soul-searching under its belt, Rebels is now sure-footed enough to interact with other Star Wars stories without being utterly overpowered by them. By the time the season finale rolled around Rebels was actively, seamlessly consorting with elements from The Clone Wars, the expanded universe, Rogue One and the Original Trilogy.

Rebels may not be entirely out from under the shadow of its predecessors, The Clone Wars (never forget, never forgive, Disney), but Star Wars has never felt like more of a single, cohesive narrative than it does on this show.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or, Gererra/Two Tubes 2016

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PEOPLE. DOING. STUFF.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the direct predecessor of the original 1977 Star Wars. It’s a premise first conceded by LucasFilm visual effects supervisor John Knoll some ten years ago. It started filming in August 2015 and was initially slated for a May 2016 release date. But Rogue One didn’t come out in 1977, or 2005, or 2015, or May 2016.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out in December 2016, and it can be hard to pry it free of that context.

Rogue One offers the first cinematic look at a galaxy under the rule of the Empire and explores what that rule inspires, costs and means to those without Skywalker blood in their veins. It’s a film that winds up being startlingly timely, as its backbone is an examination of how we respond to political discontent.

When the status quo twists your guys in a knot, how do you respond and with what level of passion?

In the words of Saw Gerrera, that somewhere between trailer and final film ended up on the cutting room floor, when subjected to intense pressure “what will you become?”

Saw Gerrera himself violently lashes out against the status quo while frothing at the mouth. On the opposite side of the conflict are those like Orson Krenick who look to defend the status quo and prop themselves up with it. Between the two we see a myriad of effects and responses.

Some allow themselves otherwise unjustifiable moral and ethical luxuries in the name of fighting for what they believe in. Some enshroud themselves in their beliefs while others abandon them entirely. Some abandon their posts. Some sacrifice their souls.
As the events of Rogue One are set into motion, Jyn Erso has decided to react by looking away. Her days of fighting the status quo are over, her days surviving in its shadow sprawl endlessly ahead of her. Jyn is not only our window into the conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, she’s a surrogate for our own views on an imperfect world. She’s the shackled potential of the first steps toward change – an understanding that things are not as they could or should be that is never acted upon.

In the face of Imperial subjugation understanding is not enough. Belief is not enough. The rebels of Rogue One aren’t heroes because they believe the Empire is evil. They’re heroes because they believe the Empire is evil and they do something about it.

Rogue One is a film that compels the viewer not to let their beliefs become accessories, to use them as fuel for honest, actual, boots-on-the-ground action. Retweeting Wikileaks post on the Emperor’s baller new laser iMoon isn’t enough. Change requires you to stand up, go outside and steal those Death Star plans!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story lucked into being the halftime locker room speech that’s come smack in the middle of a divisive and grueling 2016 and an uncertain and daunting 2017. It finds itself burdened with not only the immense fan expectations of being the first Star Wars spin-off film, not to mention one that is meant to serve as a prelude for the original Star Wars, but also by being a film about political rebellion released in period of particular political resentment.

Despite the weight of its preceding films and whatever intentional or unintentional political readings punk ass bloggers might saddle it with, Rogue One is a thrilling blockbuster in its own right, one that may serve as a pop culture touchstone for a particularly heated period it couldn’t have predicted.

The Phantom Menace, or, It’s the Economy Stupid

With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story heading into theaters this Thursday evening I may never have a better excuse to write about one the Star Wars prequel films. Not one to let such an enthralling opportunity pass me by, I’m going for it! I’m not a hater. I’m not an apologist. I’m just a chill AF bro chatting about some stuff I found interesting in Episodes I-III. Does that make me a hero? I’ll leave that to history to blog about.

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YOU KNOW YOU’RE A 90s KID WHEN…

From a macro-view of the entire Star Wars saga, The Phantom Menace (chronologically) introduces viewers to a galaxy far, far away by looking in its wallet.

Almost immediately we see what money is worth in the Galactic Republic and it’s startling. This isn’t the utopia of Star Trek. This is a galaxy in which planets are blockaded and invaded over taxes. It’s a galaxy so secular that economic entities have legislative representation and Jedi, warrior monks whose ethos is supposedly one of enlightenment and a heightened sense of the connections between all living things, find themselves involved in monetary squabbles.This is a galaxy in which cultural pillars (economics, politics, spirituality) that had perhaps once, even longer ago, been developed in the interest of advancing civilization have been allowed to stagnate unquestioned into a collection of hollow gestures and half-held truths with the power to disrupt and destroy lives on a massive scale.

But the entire galaxy isn’t weighed down by the rusted machinations of the Republic. From the bloated bureaucracy of the film’s first act we’re whisked away to the Outer Rim and an economy outside of the Republic that operates on the other end of the spectrum with a sort of brutal practicality, but still manages to crush the masses beneath its weight. On Tatooine might is right and wealth is controlled by powers that have a very real ability to immediately impact the day to day lives of those below them on the economic totem pole.

Whether under Republic rule or not, the economic status quo of the galaxy is a sentiment best expressed through one of the film’s signature set pieces – the Podrace.

Anakin Skywalker, the Podracer, is a slave. He’s the lowest of the lower class. For him, for his mother, the Boonta Eve Podrace is literally a matter of life and death. His very existence is on the line.

Qui-Gon Jinn and Padme function as a sort of middle class, at once by no means powerless and by no means in power. The Podrace to them carries strictly economic stakes – the outcome of the race dictates whether or not they will be able to fix their ship, but ultimately doesn’t threaten to directly harm them in any way. They’re shielded and propped up by the lower class, while still being subjected to the rules and regulations of the truly powerful.

Jabba the Hutt is the king of the mountain. The top one percent of the top once percent. For him, it all amounts to entertainment he can’t even manage to stay awake for.

The Phantom Menace introduces us to a galaxy of lives dictated by economic forces beyond their control. In the throes of economic bloat even our heroes, the Jedi, are growing arrogant and cumbersome. What should be the voice of reason and unification grounding the economic flights of fancy of those in power is instead a corrupted institution perpetuating the same kind of economic distinctions that are rotting the Republic from the inside out, for what are our beloved Midichlorians if not spiritual, biological currency?

By the end of The Phantom Menace Anakin Skywalker’s fate is sealed. Qui-Gon Jinn, the Jedi knight least swayed by the tides of bureaucracy and economics in the Republic, is dead. Had he lived Anakin may have had a more worldly, understanding guide through the tumult of his future. Obi-Wan Kenobi has promised to train the boy. Had he not perhaps Anakin would have been denied entrance into the Jedi order and gone on to lead an unremarkable life amongst the systems of the Republic. Darth Maul is dead (sp?) and a new Sith apprentice must be found. Had Maul remained in the picture the sights of the Sith may never have fallen on Anakin.

The Phantom Menace plays like a sort of Shakespearean prologue to the story of Anakin Skywalker, but for better or worse, tasked with exploring how a Jedi knight becomes Darth Vader, The Phantom Menace and the other prequel films don’t rely on plot points alone. The prequel trilogy isn’t exclusively the story of Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side. Anakin is one man, but the eventual triumph of the Sith requires the failure of good on a galactic level. The Phantom Menace shows us the kind of galaxy capable of that failure, and it isn’t a horrifying lawless hellscape. In fact, it’s horrifyingly boring in the most sinister way.

The Phantom Menace rummages through the garbage of the Star Wars galaxy, poring over old bills and credit card statements to show us that the writing is on the wall, and it’s written in numbers.