Electric Ladies, or, Blade Runner 2049 Again

The Blu-ray came out, so I’m allowed to write about this one again. For some more Blade Runner 2049 jaw-jacking, check out my initial piece on the film.

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Ry-Guy taking in the finest of art.

The force of antagonism in Blade Runner 2049, embodied by Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace, is one of spiteful masculinity viciously perusing control of the means of reproduction, that inherently female power that is in many ways the film’s MacGuffin.

Wallace is the figurehead of the Wallace Corporation, which has taken over production of seemingly everything, to include the franchise’s infamous Replicants – an IP Wallace has inherited from the remains of the original 1982 film’s Tyrell Corporation.

Wallace the man is one of impossible ambitions. An opening crawl informs us that his aptitude for synthetic farming essentially saved the populous from certain doom. Before we ever meet the character we are informed that he has mastered the means to sustain life. When we are introduced to the character he immediately likens himself to God and takes to waxing poetic about his desires for expansion and it’s hindrance due to his lack of that ever-so elusive ability to create life that creates life. He has created Replicants. He has created female Replicants. But he has not replicated the ability to procreate. And boy oh boy is he upset about that.

Wallace presents a sort of masculinity that defines womanhood by, and reduces it to, what it can do that he cannot. It’s a masculinity that punishes femininity for its power, the sort of masculinity that sees a power it does not and cannot possess and seemingly out of spite reduces it to sex, to material, to an object. It’s an aggressively antagonistic masculinity that the film reminds us is far from science fiction.

Late in the film Ryan Gosling’s Agent K finds himself exploring a dilapidated metropolis adorned with the crumbling statues of smooth, sensual women, their forms contorted and controlled by hands of creators whose mindsets are not exactly difficult to ascertain. The statues are but a forerunner to the Replicant, that artificial reproduction of humanity that, as we are reminded by Wallace’s go-to Replicant Femme-Fatale, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), most definitely comes in a pleasure model. But Blade Runner 2049 also takes the pursuit of the replication of femininity further than its predecessor with another of Wallace Corporation’s products, Joi (Ana de Armas), a holographic, artificially intelligent girlfriend that can be bought like an iPhone and customized down to the ethnicity, hair style and lip color as easily as changing a ringtone.

Joi’s relationship with K is far more than that of an ol’ horn dog and a sex robot, which makes it all the more sinister. With Joi we see Wallace’s desire not just to usurp the means of reproduction from womanhood, but to replace it entirely. For K, Joi is a source of emotional intelligence, of empathy, of sympathy. Joi, the product, is advertised as “Everything You Want.” It’s a product that insists that women are defined by the masculine need they fulfill and that those needs can instead be fulfilled through artificial means.

It’s no coincidence than that we have a Replicant named Luv and an A.I. named Joi. They exist to freely provide the rewards a man might otherwise find from actually interacting with and appreciating a human female. And yet they aren’t quite “love” or “joy” are they?

Niander Wallace isn’t exactly Anton Chigurh or the shark from Jaws when it comes to cinematic villainy, but he is an effective display of a particularly potent toxic masculinity that begins with the spite for and jealousy of the inherent power of the most reductive idea of womanhood and crescendos forever in a limitless echo-chamber, ever fueled by failed attempts to replicate and usurp that power.

Much has been made of Blade Runner 2049’s representation of women. Similar to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film in which race is presented as a crucial component despite it’s disinterest in folks that aren’t white, Blade Runner 2049 takes a pretty deep dive into femininity without taking a deep dive into any female characters.

While by no means a Bechdel award-winner, Blade Runner 2049 is an interesting examination, and arguable condemnation, of the worst of masculinity.

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…and an Amphibian Man Too, or, The Shape of Water

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There’s so much going on in Shape of Water you might forget that there’s also an actual Amphibian Man wandering around.

Every frame of director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, The Shape of Water, is packed with the density of a neutron star. The sets, the aesthetic, the lighting, the music, the props, the dialogue, the wardrobe, Sally Hawkins’ astounding performance: there is hardly a facet of the film I can observe and reflect upon without spiraling down an analytical rabbit hole.

For all its fantastical elements, the world of Shape of Water isn’t exactly a stretch. It’s a world in which economics have perverted art and humanity alike with the notion that a human being has no inherent worth. To exist, to breathe, to live, to love, these do not make one worthy. Worth is quantified, worth is earned, worth proven by purchase. The world of Shape of Water is one in which two ideas prevail; that a human being does not possess inherent worth and that a human being can, through the pursuit of worth, possess everything.

The detrimental effects of those concepts are personified here by Michael Shannon’s (perhaps a little competition for del Toro’s muse, Ron Perlman?) Strickland, who wholly accepts the idea that there is a nobility to the pursuit of having it all, perhaps because it is a pursuit with no guarantee of success, a pursuit that requires faith. He accepts the idea that those who have not chugged commerce’s Kool-Aid, those who are not in pursuit of everything, are unworthy, or have surrendered any worthiness they might have and consented to being trodden upon to prop up those undertaking the noble pursuit.

Strickland’s corruption is mirrored by the film’s presentation of a spectrum of art. We see it presented as a voice to the voiceless, a beautiful, ethereal representation of feelings and thoughts otherwise incommunicable, but we also see it slowly corrupted. We see it dictated and nitpicked in the service of commerce, in the service of fanning the flames of that noble pursuit.

It is a singular pursuit, an isolating pursuit. Not just anyone can have it all. Only you. And if you do not get it all then someone else will. Thus, you are in it alone. But in Shape of Water there are two forces of unity – love and science. One would perhaps think them diametrically opposed. Science requires the utmost rationale, love can require the utter abandonment of it. But in Shape of Water the two are bridged with senses of wonder and empathy. The defiance of scientific knowledge brings with it a sense of awe, the confirmation of scientific knowledge brings with it a sense of relatability and that awe and that relatability blossom into a true affection.

The world of Shape of Water is a world in which everyone runs along on treadmills of varying scale, chasing carrots of various sizes that only one in a million people will actually grab. It’s a world in which those treadmills seem to have been running for a long time and don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

Enter: Amphibian Man!

Doug Jones’ Amphibian Man is the impetus of disruption to the economic tyranny of Shape of Water, not because he is a fantastical monster but because he possesses an inherent worth that is recognized by that system of economic tyranny. The Amphibian Man isn’t on a treadmill chasing a carrot, he’s just always had a carrot, and damnit, Strickland and his ilk want it because maybe, just maybe, stealing the Amphibian Man’s carrot and offering it up to the poisonous machine all those treadmills power will earn them their very own carrot.

The Shape of Water had me enraptured from the opening shot. It is an engaging and easily-digestible narrative that is absolutely crammed with nutrients, like some sort of delicious, cinematic fiber pill. This is a movie about economics and commerce and capitalism and the military industrial complex and sexuality and race and art and womanhood and the pursuit of knowledge and nationalism and an Amphibian Man and so, so much more. It is perhaps an acquired taste, but should it be a taste you’ve acquired it will give you a lot to look at, a lot to hear, a lot to feel and a lot to think about. With Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor have crafted a masterpiece that I’ll be watching over and over again in hopes of unlocking all of its myriad secrets and sentiments.

 

Home for the Holidays, or, The Court of Owls

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BAM! BIFF! POW! OWL!

The recent Batman: Noir release (a format presenting seminal Batman stories in black and white inks without any color) of writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo and inker Jonathan Glapion’s The Court of  Owls has proven an excellent opportunity to revisit a story that has cemented its place as a Batman classic despite being less than a decade old.

The new Noir formatting of the story is not exactly the second format I’ve encountered this story in. I read it first as individual comic books, then as a nicer pair of hardcover trades. There’s an excellent version that is just Capullo’s original pencils and, of course, the academic, oversized Absolute Edition. Anytime the opportunity arises I find myself eager to reencounter Snyder and Capullo’s first Batman collaboration in a different light, as I consistently find myself drifting back to the tale once or twice a year. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, which I saw a dozen times in the theater because I was a high schooler on summer vacation and the world was my oyster and time had no meaning, Court of Owls is the Batman story I interact with the most.

But why?

There are plenty of Batman stories I love, but none that I inevitably meander back to with such frequency.

DC Comics already regularly markets The Court of Owls as a Batman essential alongside the likes of Frank Miller’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween, but more than perhaps any other Batman story, Court of Owls has the mythological backbone of a near-universal rite of passage.

For those unfamiliar with The Court of Owls, the story concerns a Batman at the height of his prowess discovering an illuminati-like organization that has haunted Gotham’s past and is pulling the strings to manipulate the city’s future. Readers are introduced to a Bruce Wayne who can and does readily wax philosophic about Gotham. It is his city. He knows it to the marrow. He informs the reader of Gotham’s history, of Gotham’s architecture, of its heights and depths, and he does it with the sort of offhanded virtuosity one would provide an oral history of their closest friends and family.

And then he discovers that that knowledge is at best incomplete, and at worst an elaborate façade.

In The Court of Owls, Batman undergoes a rite of passage most, if not all, of us will confront at some point in our lives: the subversion of his perception of home.

Court of Owls challenge Batman by calling into question the structural integrity of what he believe Gotham to be. The worst part? Nothing about Gotham City has actually changed. The threat Bruce Wayne stumbles upon is one that dates back centuries. The adversary he faces is ingrained in Gotham and has been for longer than he ever can be. In grand, mythological fashion, Batman’s undertaking in Court of Owls mirrors the sort of realization that comes with hearing the unabridged, adult version of the history of the town you grew up in, or with returning home after that first semester away from college to find everything so different and so eerily similar. It’s a story about our relationships with home, about how home can define us, betray us and strengthen us, about how even when everything  we think we know about our home suddenly feels false the inherent truths we hold about our home can still ring true.

In Court of Owls, Batman, like each of us, has to contend with those aspects of his relationship with Gotham that are concrete and those that are fluid and the fact that what makes those aspects concrete or fluid may be entirely out of his control. It’s a struggle that is gorgeously rendered by Capullo in the story’s unforgettable middle chapters (originally published as Batman #5 and #6) in which Batman is stalked through his new nemesis’ stalking grounds.

I find myself returning to the Court of Owls time and time again because it so beautifully articulates and examines our relationships with home. It is Batman punching and kicking his way through the internal monologues we have when we return home for the holidays and wander through neighborhoods that suddenly seem so much smaller. It’s a batarang to that weird sensation of finding out some grown-up you knew as a kid is actually an utter jackass, or some mean old lady you rolled your eyes at was a saint. More than an excellent Batman story, the Court of Owls is an excellent human story, one that deals with the horrifying sensation of tectonic plates beneath our parents’ house shifting that we all find ourselves experiencing at one point or another.

How to Keep it Real in a Fictional Universe, or, Doomsday Clock #2

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Ah yes, my favorite Watchmen character: Box of Assorted Clothing and Cosmetics

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Spoilers ahead for Doomsday Clock #2…

The second issue of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank’s Watchmen/DC Comics crossover event Doomsday Clock spends very little time exploiting the sense of dread and impending doom so masterfully curated in the debut issue, instead seeing those nuclear fears realized and moving on to an examination of a  spectrum of perceived reality amongst superheroes.

In the opening panels we’re introduced to the concept of a sort of identity vendor within the Watchmen Universe who sells costumes and monikers, which, Doctor Manhattan aside, is all a superhero really is in the Watchmen Universe. Rorschach, the Comedian, Ozymandias, names and costumes the lot of them. And yet, even within the world of Watchmen there is a spectrum of realness and legitimacy which those characters have and so many others who buy monikers and costumes do not.

The new villain introduced last issue, the Mine, is a personification of this sort of nebulous discrepancy between real and fake superheroics in a world that only actually has one real superhero. Last issue we saw the Mime retrieve his pantomimed “guns” from a storage locker and this issue we see them in action, so to speak. Watching security camera footage of a bank robbery carried out by the Mime and the Marionette, we see him successfully coercing information from a bank teller by miming pointing a gun at her. We never see him fire psychic bullets or whack anyone with an invisible pistol, but the gun is perceived by the bank teller nonetheless. There or not, in effect the gun is real.

Perhaps then, in the Watchmen Universe, the reality of a superhero or supervillain is a matter of imposition of will, a scale of how deftly one can wield their own imagery and mythos within the world around them, their true power being influence. We see this influence reflected in the same bank robbery in a picture of the bank teller’s son, who we see cradling an Ozymandias action figure. Ozymandias is not only a moniker and a costume, it is a moniker and a costume that penetrates the surrounding culture, that means something to the world around it.

In crossing over to the proper DC Universe, Ozymandias, Rorschach, the Marionette and the Mime enter a world in which that influence and legitimacy might just translate to something more, something palpable. In the DC Universe, the Mime’s pantomimed lock pick works.

DC’s universe has always carried with it the weight of myth, their characters less a reflection of the world outside our door than monuments to ideals and beliefs. It’s fitting then that Doomsday Clock seems interested in exploring the potency of myth as its narrative moves across universes more and less like our own.

In its inaugural issue Doomsday Clock concerned itself with very real world fears. Its second issue sets up an exploration of what effect, if any, very unreal world stories have on those fears. When Batman saves Gotham, what effect does that have on the DC Universe? What effect does that have on a separate fictional universe in which Batman is a fiction? What effect does that have on our world, here and now, and how real is the effect of that fictional salvation, particularly in the face of very real dread?

And to think at this point Doctor Manhattan hasn’t even gotten involved in the proceedings. Two issues in Doomsday Clock promises to be one wild ride.

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…

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