#CloneWarsSaved, or, A Poe Boy Hot Take

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I’m not crying, you’re crying. Ah, look at that, now you’ve got me going. I guess we’re both crying now. So silly.

Have you heard the good news!? No, not that, the OTHER good news! I have a brand new Star Wars podcast, Poe Boys! Check it out on Podbean and Apple Podcasts!

It was a confluence of events that threatened to sour Star Wars, my great pop culture love, for me.

Solo: A Star Wars Story had performed poorly at the box office and thus any and all discourse to the film was relegated to everyone and their mother’s hot takes on what went wrong, rather than any sort of discussion regarding the contents of the actual film.

Unfounded rumors began to swirl that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy would be resigning and that Disney was entirely scrapping any and all planned Star Wars anthology films.

It became impossible to forget that Solo and Star Wars were products, to the point that it began to feel as though that’s all they were.

Around the same time, Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, essentially expunged her social media presence in response to the toxic little pigs that have coopted Star Wars fandom for their own racist, sexist agendas.

And of course who can forget the rogue band of fans offering/threatening to fund a remake of Episode VIII, a pursuit for which they claim to have raised… $400 million.

All this left me feeling like Star Wars fandom was something best left unengaged with, like politics at Thanksgiving. I felt like I’d been looking at Star Wars through rose-colored glasses and now my third eye had opened to reveal a dollar sign.

Look gang, I’m just trying to talk about the progression of heroism from Episode III to Solo and how that progression serves as a thematic bridge between the prequel and sequel trilogies, but it feels impossible to pry Solo out of its hardened fiscal resin!

And then San Diego Comic Con rolled around, and it was announced there would be a panel celebrating the tenth anniversary of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and they showed concept art and talked about the development of the show and OH YEAH THE CLONE WARS IS COMING BACK BABY THIS IS NOT A DRILL THIS IS HAPPENING THANK THE MAKER OH BOY OH BOY!!!

I don’t know that I’ve been as excited for a Star Wars announcement since I learned there would be an Episode VII.

The Clone Wars was what took me from a casual Star Wars fan most moviegoers could identify with to waking up at four in the morning in Orlando, Florida to wait in line for the Star Wars: Rebels panel at the last Star Wars Celebration. It is the beating heart of my fandom, and shortly after Disney acquired Lucasfilm Mickey buried a rusty axe in it, leaving untold stories in various stages of development and production dangling before fans’ imaginations, pesky what-ifs and what-could-have-beens just out of reach.

I’ve talked about it here one or five times.

I don’t remember if I wound up officially forgiving Disney for their flagrant transgression, but if I did I take it back, even in the face of the show’s eminent return.

#CloneWarsSaved rekindled my excitement for a franchise that seemed to be moving further and further from the contents of its actual stories and characters, not only because of the prospect of seeing more of my favorite show, but because of the fandom I saw on display during the panel at which it was announced.

Not every Star Wars fan is a Star Wars animation fan. We’re certainly a smaller subset of the sprawling audiences that flock to theaters for the live-action films. And if the panel in question is any indication, we’re also a subset that won’t immediately harass and berate creators and performers into digital oblivion because we don’t like the cut of their jib.

Perhaps because of that there exists a transparency, an openness between the creative forces that be and the fans of Lucasfilm animation that is not mirrored elsewhere in the Star Wars machine. Reading through The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story, for instance, I found no mention of the directorial transition behind the scenes and how that may or may not have affected the art direction of the film. I’m not looking for juicy gossip mind you, I genuinely am curious about the creative mindsets at play and how the film’s art direction grew. But that’s unseemly and secret and even though anyone who’s buying The Art of Solo knows exactly what happened behind the scenes, we just don’t talk about it. Inversely, on the Clone Wars panel, Star Wars animation guru Dave Filoni openly jokes about episodes fans have deemed “filler” and story arcs that viewers were ultimately less than enthusiastic about. There’s an openness to the conversation in which fans are just as ready to dislike something as they are to like it and creators are ready to acknowledge those feelings playfully because it never devolves into the Thunderdome. It’s the kind of back-and-forth you get when a fan base isn’t littered with ointment-sullying maggots.

The return of Clone Wars doesn’t make me excited just for a dozen more episodes tying up loose ends, it makes me excited for a discourse that, for a brief moment, felt in danger of being beaten to death by bigots and bullies. For me, and my relationship with the multi-billion dollar juggernaut of a franchise, it isn’t just The Clone Wars that was saved.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story, or, Don’t Join

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You will believe a Star Wars marketing campaign can be heavily orange.

Even before its release last week it seemed pretty clear that for better or worse Solo: A Star War Story was poised to be something of an antidote to the divisive execution and reception of The Last Jedi. Where that film ran around the party pulling any rug it could get its hands on out from under whatever unsuspecting feet it could find, the marketing for Solo seemed to suggest a film  that intended to deliver on exactly the product it was selling – a swashbuckling, hot-rod adventure in space. And deliver it did.

Whatever my feelings on the film have evolved (or devolved) into now after a holiday worth of hot takes, when I left The Last Jedi I felt conflicted and disappointed. While Solo didn’t blow my mind with a reinvention of every facet of the Star Wars universe it could get its hands on, it in no way left me feeling conflicted. To describe Solo as a film that delivers on expectations rather than defying them might give the impression that it is a lesser Star Wars film, or at least a less inspired one. On the contrary, in my own personal Star Wars canon the film has already begun to solidify its place amongst the grand narrative painting that is the Star Wars universe.

As oppositional as The Last Jedi and Solo’s filmmaking sensibilities might be, Solo actually delivers an excellent continuation and elaboration on the themes presented in its five-months-older sibling. The Last Jedi is the first Star Wars films to really lean into the idea that the seemingly ceaseless, titular star war is utterly futile and that as exciting as watching heroes and villains duke it out in space is, a majority of us aren’t heroes or villains and given the choice, there are probably a lot of space people for whom the sight of a red lightsaber or finger-lightening simply isn’t enough justification to enter into a war.

Solo is the first Star Wars movie in which there really is no war. There are no grand causes or hallowed establishments. The heroes of this film are thinking of themselves and their individual everyday survival and, crucially, the film doesn’t condemn them for that. As a movie, Solo can be seen as an extension of DJ and Finn’s exchange in The Last Jedi – “don’t join.” Moreover it also offers a glimpse into some far more pragmatic, far less glorious motivations for joining: desperation, escape, poverty.

Just as Rogue One’s Saw Gerrera showed us that not every rebel is a moral paragon, Solo shows us that not every Imperial Stormtrooper is a patriot.

Solo is equally fascinating in comparison to what is now, at least for the time being, its immediate canonical predecessor, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. That film sees its protagonist, Anakin Skywalker, all-power war hero and force-wielding super-warrior, crushed into oblivion by the establishment, by the military-industrial complex, by the cause, by the man. Anakin, for all his power, joins. And he is utterly annihilated for drinking the Kool-Aid. Han Solo, on the other hand, has no such mystical power, he is not a war hero or Chosen One, he’s just a scrappy orphan boy armed with a modicum of cynicism. He’s not yet the sarcastic, callous smuggler we meet in the original Star Wars, but even as a youth, Alden Ehrenreich’s Han is wary of “delusions of grandeur.” Episode III gave us a protagonist doomed to fail, and in the aftermath of that sprawling failure, Solo gives us a new protagonist, the type of unaligned protagonist needed to succeed where the likes of the heralded Jedi order failed.

With that in mind, Solo serves as the most impressive fulcrum yet between not just the original trilogy and prequel trilogy, but also the two Star Wars animated series and the sequel trilogy. It is the most profound step yet towards an utterly unified, grand Star Wars canvas in which the sometimes-disjointed worlds of Kylo Ren, Jar Jar Binks, Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano feel more unified than they ever have before.

Key to that is the believability of the likes of Ehrenreich’s Solo, Donald Glover’s Lando and Joonas Suotamo’s criminally under-recognized Chewbacca. Their performances are instantly believable in spite of the iconic shoes each is tasked with filling. This is Han Solo. This is Lando. This is Chewbacca. There is never any doubt and thus their placement and actions here reverberate into and connect with characters and events from across the Star Wars galaxy in ways that manage to feel unifying, rather than stifling, alive, rather than overly-coincidental.

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t going to force you to reexamine everything you’ve ever expected from a Star Wars movie. “This is going to go the way you think.” I’m not going to have to sling out hot take after hot take on this bad boy just so I can sleep at night. It didn’t leave me feeling conflicted and defensive. It left me feeling excited, it left me with story beats and background characters that still have my imagination flying like a kite (I think about Lady Proxima a lot…), and most importantly it left me wanting more.

Whatever skepticism I had going into Solo has been replaced with an impatient hope that we’ll get Solo II.

Star Wars: Rebels, or, Something Like an Ending in a Franchise That Will Never End

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Fixing to get jumped by some cats.

For the first time since, arguably, Return of the Jedi, there’s been a proper ending in a galaxy far, far away. After four seasons, Lucasfilm Animation’s Star Wars: Rebels has come to a close, or at least a premeditated line of demarcation between it and the future of the animated Star Wars saga.

The Star Wars that Rebels leaves behind is vastly different than the Star Wars it entered into in 2014, more than a year before the premiere of The Force Awakens. Looking at what Star Wars was then and is now, and considering the now completed story of the Ghost crew in its entirety, we can already gleam some sense of the legacy the (admittedly fantastic) Band-Aid Disney slapped on their unjust, premature cancellation of The Clone Wars will leave behind.

Star Wars: Rebels was the debut of a new era of Star Wars, the post-Lucas, Disney era, and it proved to be a smart, capable and worthy successor, but also a very appropriate one. The end of the Lucas era, the end of Star Wars made by the maker, was The Clone Wars, so it’s fitting that that ending would dovetail into the beginnings of the Star Wars we have today. In many ways, notably the oversite of Lucas’ heir-apparent Supervising Director/Executive Producer Dave Filoni, Rebels was the strain of current-day Star Wars that best carried on Lucas’ adventurous, if divisive, storytelling sensibilities. The show doesn’t skimp on TIE Fighters, which are starting to feel like an incessant nostalgia bell Disney rings throughout its every Star Wars entry, but Rebels was never content to rest on the past glories of the Star Wars franchise. It continually blazed forward, broadening the canvas of what Star Wars can be right through to its finale. The show often engaged with and introduced ideas and concepts that felt jarring, or goofy, or even heretical, challenging the notions of what the Star Wars universe encompassed. Not the controversial character decisions or shocking identity revelations that haunt the theories and vitriol of fans, but big, grand ideas of cosmic and mythological scope. Ideas about what a Jedi is, about what the Force is. It went weird, real weird, and profound, and Star Wars as a whole is more nuanced because of it.

But Rebels was also distinctly effective because of its smaller scale. Where Clone Wars was something of an anthology series bouncing across a sprawling cast spread around the entire galaxy, Rebels stuck like glue to a regular cast of characters, largely on one planet.

While I personally got a little sick of Lothal and relished any chance to see more exotic locales, the show’s focus on one planet lends a viewpoint of the Empire and the Rebellion that Star Wars viewers previously haven’t been exposed to. We’ve always known the Empire were bad guys because they blew up a planet and because the good guys fought them. But Rebels showed us what the Empire looks like on a Monday. It showed us what the Empire looks like to a fruit vendor, to a neighborhood, to a local government. In Rebels we got the day-to-day Empire.

Similarly, we got a better understanding of the Rebel Alliance and its severe limitations. What does the existence of some rumored band of radicals mean to one person on one subjugated planet amongst many? What does that one person mean to the Rebel Alliance? Rebels provides thoughtful insight into the conflict the world was first introduced to in 1977. It isn’t information you need to know to understand the Star Wars films, but if you’re curious, the information is there and it’s been presented with the same amount of thought and care that goes into the films.

Rebels won’t hold the same place in my heart as The Clone Wars, which is very likely more a matter of timing than of either show’s inherent qualities, but as with its predecessor, Rebels has given me some of my favorite moments and characters in all of Star Wars. Where Clone Wars had the daunting task of carrying the torch for the entire Star Wars franchise in its day, Rebels carried the torch for something more fleeting, more specific, that adventurous, beyond-the-establishment spirit that ran through all of George Lucas’ Star Wars, that urge to move the conventions and mechanisms of storytelling forward.

Rebels has now also given viewers something Disney’s Star Wars has yet to confront: something like an ending. And what an ending it was. The finale of Rebels was so exciting and well executed that it heightened the show as a whole, highlighting just how complete a story the series had been all along. Much as you don’t need to see Rebels to enjoy Rogue One, you don’t need Revenge of the Sith or A New Hope to enjoy Rebels. It’s a story with its own beginning and ending, its own heroes, its own challenges, mysteries and revelations. Whatever Lucasfilm Animation does next, if the folks behind Rebels are involved it’ll be well worth watching.

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…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, or, Oh Don’t You Worry I’ve Got a Hot Take Right Here

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Has anyone mentioned Luke Skywalker saying “This is not going to go the way you think” in their hot take yet? Asking for a friend.

“I don’t know” and “conflicted.”

Those were the bells tolling through conversations, phone calls and text messages amongst my fellow Star Wars acolytes and I in the hours following the release of The Last Jedi.

Real talk: I’ve never walked out of a Star Wars movie without a smile on my face before. I was twelve when Attack of the Clones came out and damnit I loved it. But The Last Jedi had me at odds with myself. Over the course of the movie I began to feel as though something was amiss, but gradually I fell in love with it and was all in at the conclusion of the film’s first massive climax. However, in a final act filled with bold decisions The Last Jedi lost me and I left the theater in a cloud of uncertainty. The kind of uncertainty that makes you stop and think to yourself “oh shit, these are just movies, aren’t they?”

And then, somewhere in the twelve hours between my initial and second viewings, the film hooked me. Hard. And I fell in love.

The Force Awakens was a film that went straight to my heart. Though it certainly rewarded later consideration, it resonated in me with an emotional immediacy that required no thought.

The Last Jedi is not The Force Awakens. It made its way to my heart through my brain. In the wake of The Force Awakens I found myself immediately reminiscing about moment after moment, reliving the emotional highs and lows while I daydreamed between viewings. Days after The Last Jedi, and three viewings in, I don’t find myself reminiscing about moments from the film so much as I find myself actively engaged with it, sifting through every scrap I can recall, configuring and reconfiguring them to examine the proceedings from every angle.

The Force Awakens had to usher in a new era of a beloved franchise. It was no easy task to be sure, but it was a matter of emotional authenticity. The Last Jedi finds itself in the more tactically nuanced position of needing to pivot from resuscitating the heart of Star Wars to ushering that heart forward into a future in which there is no longer an end in sight, in which Star Wars is expanded and extrapolated on annually. The Last Jedi is the Star Wars movie that has to grapple with what it means to be a Star Wars movie in the oncoming endless deluge of Star Wars movies. It does so by examining some important facets of the franchise that haven’t necessarily gotten to linger in the spotlight previously, but were otherwise poised to weigh heavier and heavier on the franchise with each installment.

By the time the events of The Last Jedi roll around the galaxy has basically been fighting the same damn war for, like, half a century. It’s a conflict that is exciting movie to movie, but the prospect of war without end gets fatiguing and begins to feel futile when you look at the saga as a whole. What does any one victory on either side matter when this is where our heroes and villains find themselves again and again? While The Last Jedi certainly never promises anything resembling an end to the titular Star War, it grapples with the prospect of warfare without end in ways no previous entry in the franchise has. How does a war like this keep going? How is it fueled emotionally? Mentally? Economically? What does it mean to you if you don’t have a lightsaber or an X-Wing or a TIE Fighter?

Most grandly, however, The Last Jedi also takes on the power of myth and its limits in reality. It juxtaposes the Original Trilogy’s Jedi of legend with the Prequel Trilogy’s Jedi of flesh. Indeed when we meet Luke Skywalker and spend real time with him for the first time since Return of the Jedi, he too has essentially seen and had to contend with the Star Wars prequels. Just as the Jedi of yore fall short of both his expectations and ours, Luke now finds himself in a position in which he is being held up to that same legendary, and therefore impossible, standard.

At the end of The Force Awakens Rey looks to Luke with an uncertain hope for the future, she looks at a grizzled old man whose name is larger than life in much the same way myself and countless other fans look at the renewed future of this film franchise that has somehow become “more than just movies,” yearning for something at once unexpected and yet highly specific. Luke’s reaction to Rey’s extended lightsaber is a brusque reality check for all concerned.

Luke, like the franchise he embodies and more specifically the movie he embodies (this one!), finds himself tasked with being all things to all people. He sees Rey looking at him with those Original Trilogy nostalgia goggles and knows that, like the Prequel Trilogy he’s now internalized, he is bound to let her down because just as The Last Jedi is ultimately just a movie he is just a man. The Luke Skywalker Rey is looking for does not exist. He never did. He is a legend. The legend Luke Skywalker destroyed the Empire singlehandedly. The man Luke Skywalker refused to kill his dad then got tortured until said dad bailed him out.

Luke Skywalker’s narrative in The Last Jedi is what initially broke the film for me. It’s bold and at first came off brash and out of left field. But upon a second viewing Luke’s storyline is choreographed with great care, the variables are all put into place so that the grandiose mathematics of it all ultimately add up. This isn’t the Luke Skywalker story I wanted and, for me, that ultimately makes the Luke Skywalker story I got all the more affecting.

If The Last Jedi is the film you expected it to be then I guess you’re a filthy liar.

The Last Jedi isn’t the Star Wars film I expected. It’s not the film that anyone I know expected. It is a film that realizes that filmmaking toward expectations is at its worst an exercise in utter futility and at its best a complete waste of time for all involved. But it doesn’t defy expectations heedlessly.

Writer-director Rian Johnson has given Star Wars fans a gift in The Last Jedi. Love it or hate it, more than any other Star Wars film it is a film made to be discussed. In fact, it’s in discussing it with my friends that I really began to fall in love with it. Whether it is or isn’t your idea of Star Wars, I won’t hear the argument that this is a bad movie (postscript, December 20th: yeah, okay that’s a bit brash). The decisions Johnson makes are done with thought and care, there effects are not haphazard accident, they are not flimsy means to flashy ends. Whether those decisions were cool or god awful will fuel some excellent discussion among fans for the entirety of the franchise and its fandom’s future.

For my money, they were, after some deliberation, dope AF.

Ugh. Postscript, December 22: Hot take #2

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.

Battlefront II, or, Star Wars Holiday Special II: This Time It’s Pretty Much Malicious

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You would think it’d be hard to put everything cool about an entire video game into one not so cluttered image. You would think that.

Were developer EA’s game Star Wars: Battlefront II not a licensed Star Wars game the sum total of its offerings would be unacceptable to the casual gaming public. More acceptable than its predecessor, if we’re splitting hairs, but unacceptable nonetheless. It represents the worst in licensed games: a mediocre product using its license not as a crutch, but as a straight up couch, knowing full well that it doesn’t even need to stand up for some dumb fanboy like me to traipse over.

EA’s handling out Battlefront II isn’t just a lazy “screw you” to consumers and fans, it flies in the face of the entire spirit of the Star Wars sequel era.

Disney is a business and it knows the goose it has in the Star Wars franchise. The embarrassingly obnoxious terms it’s set for theaters to play The Last Jedi make that abundantly clear. But despite Disney’s cold, calculating business mindset, the hands that are actually crafting Star Wars in this new era are passionate ones. Whether in the two newest films, the Star Wars: Rebels television show or the various Marvel comic books, there is continually a sense that the people who are given the chance to directly interact with and build upon the Star Wars universe have a respect for that opportunity. That sense of respect, of appreciation, is sorely lacking from EA who has twice now used the Star Wars license to drag down what can reasonably be considered the bare minimum.

While EA’s second Battlefront is more than just four maps (fan outrage dragging that bare minimum upward kicking and screaming) it still limits the amount of maps available offline to the generous total of six. And why wouldn’t it? EA can’t get any of your money through it’s infamous micro transactions offline.

Needless limitations are the name of the game here.

During gameplay you’re limited to one weapon in your loadout. Why? And the selection of blasters, while movie accurate in site and sound, feel consistently unwieldy, each efficient only in specific circumstances. To tout my own credentials, I managed to platinum Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but I never managed to feel particularly lethal, or even vaguely dangerous with Battlefront’s flailing controls and decorative weaponry, no matter how much I tinkered with the controller sensitivity. And those frustrations are only amplified when playing as any of the game’s hero characters from the Star Wars films. Though the cumbersome gameplay certainly extends the life of what would otherwise be a movie-length campaign mode.

A single player campaign mode is the biggest addition to Battlefront II, and though it’s existence is a win for fans, EA still manages to get away with putting in as little material as possible. There are no jaw-dropping moments in this campaign, no sense of excitement. It is point and shoot to the extreme, particularly during any of the admittedly gorgeous dogfights which have players flying X-Wings and Tie Fighters around in circles blowing up wave after wave of opposition just long enough to realize how little they’re actually doing.

The campaign follows the story of Iden Verzio, played by Janina Gavankar, leader of Inferno Squadron, an imperial special ops team. Starting at the end of Return of the Jedi, the campaign exists in a period in the Star Wars mythos that, despite a few novels and a comic book miniseries, still feels a little vague, as if being left open for films or a TV show. Battlefront II’s story similarly only manages to penetrate the primary Star Wars narrative in the loosest ways. Sold as a look at the fall of the Empire from the perspective of the Empire, the story it sells isn’t the one it tells. Without divulging too much, Battlefront II’s plot throws it’s characters down the most convenient, most obvious narrative escape hatch pretty much as soon as possible.

But now that I’ve gotten that mid-sized aquarium full of hatorade out of the way…

Despite its disappointing brevity and predictable narrative, the focal point of the game’s campaign, Gavankar’s Iden Versio, is nevertheless compelling. Gavankar’s enthusiasm for the project shines through in her performance, making the game’s cutscenes substantially more enthralling than the game around them. It’s a shame her story isn’t given the same sort of nuance or thoughtfulness other expanded universe characters have received, but Versio feels like a character destined to be cosplayed in conventions for years to come and with any hope her story will be placed in more passionate hands in the future (her origins have already been detailed by author Christie Golden in the book Battlefront: Inferno Squad, currently sitting at a cool 3.8/5 on Goodreads).

Like Boba Fett’s debut in the Star Wars Holiday Special, Versio is a bright spot that manages to shine despite the nonsense going on around her. But also like the Star Wars Holiday Special, Battlefront II as a whole is a woefully counterintuitive misstep that entirely misses the spirit of the popular culture around it. Add to that the sense that the proceedings all too often feel like a granted wish wrapped in technicalities and loopholes by a swindling genie and you’ve got a frustrating game on your hands.

But what do I know? I bought the damn thing.