Tag Archives: Film

My Star Wars Essay

I’ve been thinking about Star Wars a lot lately. Last weekend my brother and I booked our tickets to see The Last Jedi, and between my tepid enthusiasm for that and the debacle that was Battlefront 2 last month, I’ve been reexamining my relationship with the franchise as a whole. When I was six years old and the little apple-cheeked incarnation of Satan, my mom took my best friend Tristan and I to see The Phantom Menace. I fell in love straight away and Tristan lent me the original trilogy on VHS. The universe of Star Wars has felt like a second home to me ever since, manifesting itself whenever I needed it in the form of movies, video games, toys, comics, board games, novels, and so on. It seemed to provide an almost limitless amount of entertainment. When my brother and I were little we would go for walks in the woods and the countryside and use sticks as lightsabers to fight against imaginary droids. When my teenage years came around, I would spend hours in my room devising self-insert fan fiction; I would write stories of my adventures that fitted in with the accepted canonical timeline and draw pictures of myself as a Sith Lord with my very own Star Destroyer-esque capital ship. I subscribed to the Official Star Wars Magazine and to date it’s the only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to. And then, when I was 20 I realized that the franchise still had me by the bollocks because no sooner had I read on Facebook that all of my teenage wishes were coming true and they were making a sequel to Return of the Jedi than I found myself sprinting out my dorm room and into Aaron’s to gush about the news.

But this post isn’t just about my relationship with Star Wars. I’m interested in what it means to all of you. It’s trendy to hate on the Prequel movies, but I feel like a little perspective is needed when doing so. The Phantom Menace, as a children’s movie, is absolutely perfect. The soundtrack is excellent and it has the best choreography of any lightsaber fight in the franchise. If you’re going into the film with the expectation of Citizen Kane in Space, then you are bound to be let down. Characters like Boss Nass and Sebulba are whacky and over-the-top, but in the context of a kids’ film they are right at home. As much as I try to forget that Jar Jar Binks exists as a part of Star Wars, I can’t deny that when I was a kid I was laughing along with every other little nose-picker in the movie theater. And in terms of pacing, the movie is great and entertaining. Attack of the Clones is often regarded with disdain for its romantic focus, but at least it’s original- which is more than I can say for The Force Awakens. I remember seeing it twice in the cinema when I was nine years old, and I remember appreciating the slightly more mature tone it had compared to its predecessor. Despite its flaws, it’s always been my favorite of the Prequel movies because it’s the only Star Wars movie that’s a thriller. It starts out like a noir full of intrigue and mystery, and builds nicely towards the best battle in the trilogy. I consider Revenge of the Sith to be the worst film of the franchise, or at least the most poorly-executed. The dialogue was at its absolute worst, the plot was a mess utterly without the structure or pace of the first two movies, and the genuinely sinister space warlock that was the Palpatine of Return of the Jedi was reduced to a shrieking Saturday morning cartoon villain.

I can be both apologetically soft and unreasonably hard on the Prequels, depending on what day of the week it is. But I cherish that my relationship to each of the movies is my own and that it belongs to me- and I accept that it means something different to me now than it did to me as a child. And that’s the message I want to get across in this post- firstly that whatever your opinions on Star Wars are, they are valid, and secondly that it’s always good to have a little perspective. The Phantom Menace resonated with me as a kid, so to disparage it so wholly at this point feels like a betrayal of my younger self. It’s telling that I liked Rogue One so much, because it’s probably the darkest Star Wars movie yet- and in the context of being an adult at the time of watching it, its more nuanced approach appealed to my changed tastes. We got to see Rebel extremists, willing to commit immoral acts in order to bring down the Empire.

My favorite Star Wars stories are ones that don’t take place in the movies at all. The Expanded Universe is full of books and video games that resonate with me on a much deeper level than the movies ever have. To me, Star Wars is a balancing act- something that serves as both a strength and a weakness to the franchise. There’s something for everyone- the movies for families, the cartoons for kids, and the novels for angsty teenagers with a vitamin D deficiency. The problem is that the movies- forever the centerpiece of the franchise- will never fully satisfy each subset. Nothing else in the franchise has come anywhere near as close to the darkness and philosophical complexity that is Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords– which tackles the very nature of the force and turns its status as a magical all-purpose problem-solver into an interesting debate on individualism and free will. But as much as I love it, it’s not for everyone. Many people won’t enjoy it because it pushes the limits of what Star Wars can be, which, if pushed any further, would simply be better suited as its own IP. But it’s important because it’s proof that there is room in the Star Wars universe for more nuanced and original narratives. The worrying tone that Disney set with the Sequel trilogy highlighted the company’s lack of faith in the Star Wars universe to go somewhere new. Don’t get me wrong, as a movie I think The Force Awakens is much better written and acted than the Prequels, but it’s let down by the fact that it’s a reimagining of A New Hope. I like Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, but the folks over at Disney are wasting their potential on storylines with no ambition.

Of course, I’d love for some of the future Star Wars movies and the planned live-action TV series to go somewhere really different. The Expanded Universe has some of the most nuanced characters in Star Wars history; the likes of Thrawn, Ulic Qel-Droma, and Kyle Katarn are crying out for a gritty, Game of Thrones-style HBO drama series- but I’m not so convinced we’ll get it. If you’re like me and you will always see the books of the EU as the true Star Wars timeline, then that’s OK. Like I said before, Star Wars belongs to each of us and no one should be judged for whatever version of it they choose to enjoy. It doesn’t bother me that the Sequel movies are the officially licensed canon. I can still enjoy them as well as all the books that depict a post-Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker reinventing the millennia-old Jedi Code in order to have hot sweaty sex with a curvaceous, red-headed Imperial assassin. Ahem. Sorry, lost my train of thought for a second. Ultimately, my point is that arguing about “canon” is as sterile a debate as it is embarrassing. You can’t say “Oh, but the events of the EU never happened”, because none of it actually happened. You’re arguing over events that aren’t real and never will be. All one has to do is look upon the many contradictory timelines of super hero comics and movies, or the way the new Star Trek movies take place in an alternate universe. Neither the events of The Force Awakens or the EU are real because none of it is real. Star Wars was created for us to enjoy, so it’s only as real as you want it to be, and only relevant for as long as you enjoy it. Don’t waste your time getting in a pathetic debate with nerds on the internet when you could be sat on a beach somewhere reading RA Salvatore’s Vector Prime…or at least sat in a dark room eating Funyans and playing through user-created mods for Knights of the Old Republic on Steam…

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10 Takeaways From The Last Jedi Trailer!

The Star Wars franchise is nothing if not formulaic. I’m pretty sure there’s a guy at Disney with a clipboard that reviews the scripts and ticks off the necessary items. “Lightsaber duel- check. Bad guy says “It’s your destiny” at some point- check. Cute things make whacky noises- check. Spicy undercurrent of incest- check…”

And so on. I thought the Force Awakens was well-made and all that, but it was too much of a retread of A New Hope for me to really enjoy it the way I later enjoyed Rogue One. But what does this have to do with The Last Jedi trailer? Well if we assume the Sequel Trilogy will continue to follow the pattern of the original films, then we can get a good idea of how things are going to go. I just hope Disney have enough self-awareness not to end the film with Rey getting amputated.

 

  1. It looks like we can look forward to more impressive battle scenes, perhaps on the scale of Hoth or Geonosis. The trailer hints at this with a shot of the First Order launching an assault on Crait with a row of walkers. It looks beautiful and I’m excited, but this is what I meant in my opening paragraph about the Sequel Trilogy mirroring the Original. They are very clearly evoking the Battle of Hoth, which of course is a key feature of the second film in the Original Trilogy. The prospect of such a battle in and of itself excites me, but it also makes me cautious about the narrative as a whole. Hopefully the order of things is different and there are a few surprises in store.
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  2. Notice something different about the walkers? This is the equivalent of the Nazis invading Russia again but outfitting all their soldiers with woolly turtleneck sweaters and thermal earmuffs. They’ve learned from their mistakes and reinforced the armor of the new walker models. I don’t see any air speeders giving these behemoths any trouble.
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  3. If the echoes of Hoth didn’t already make you suspicious, then perhaps the shots reminiscent of Dagobah will. We already knew that a large part of the movie would be about Rey coming to terms with her destiny, her force powers, and learning to control them. So the parallel to Empire was already there. But the curious shot below made me instantly think of Luke’s test in the Dark Side Cave on Dagobah, and I’m not the only one. Most fans seem to agree that this is somewhere on Ahch-To (that planet named after a Scottish person sneezing apparently); my bet is it’s underneath the island in some kind of cavern system.
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  4. But maybe the retreading of the past is intentional, forming some part of a complex meta-narrative? After all, Luke in the trailer looks traumatized by the past, saying “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” and I think it’s safe to assume he is talking about Rey. He’s worried about history repeating itself, and Star Wars has always been interested in the cyclical nature of things and returning to the equilibrium of the status quo by “restoring balance to the force”.
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  5. The trailer as a whole is deliberately trolling us. We see a very distinct dichotomy between the training of Rey and Ren (who I am seriously tempted to put money on as being related). The trailer hints at both of them struggling with the teachings of Luke and Snoke respectively and has fans questioning whether Rey will fall to the dark side or if Ren will fall to the light. Personally I don’t see that happening, because I’m not yet convinced that the Star Wars franchise wants to be anything other than safe. It would be an awesome way to subvert the formula if they really did switch sides and Ben Solo emerged in Episode 9 as the true hero of the narrative.
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  6. One of the things I really did like about the Force Awakens was the characters, and I love the way the trailer for The Last Jedi Yes, the filmmakers are trolling us by making it look like Rey is considering joining the dark side, but what’s really nice here is the impression we get that both Rey and Ren are struggling with their sense of identity and purpose. Their questions and anxieties are largely the same, and there’s definitely a kinship in that that feels fresh and interesting.
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  7. This trailer just can’t get enough of teasing us, can it? It’s been cleverly edited in a way to make it seem like certain characters are talking to certain others, and nowhere is this more evident than in the glimpses of the movie’s space battle. We are to assume that Kylo Ren is targeting his mother’s capital ship, and maybe he is. But the shot stops short of revealing whether he pulls the trigger or not. What is interesting to me is how things will end for Leia in this film. A year ago I would have felt certain that they wouldn’t have Kylo Ren kill his mom, as it would lack the necessary shock and impact given that he just murdered his dad in the previous film. But with Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing last December, I don’t see how they can avoid killing her off. She’s just too big a character to be left conspicuously absent in Episode 9. I’d love to hear your theories on this one, so let me know in the comments what you think will happen.
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  8. One character we can be a little more sure of is Finn. It looks like his storyline will see him go undercover in the First Order, as he is pictured in one of their uniforms. We then see him fighting Captain Phasma, a scene that Gwendolyn Christie absolutely deserves after her talents were so underused in The Force Awakens. I think it’s important to have deadly villains that aren’t force-users- kind of like Boba Fett. Hopefully they do her justice this time around.
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  9. We’ll definitely be seeing more of Snoke. I find it interesting that he’s wearing gold robes and as opposed to the more Gothic fashion sense that’s usually so popular with Sith Lords. It makes him look more ostentatious and maybe a little androgynous too. There’s been a lot of speculation about who and what he is exactly, with some fans suggesting he might not be a Sith in the traditional sense. He might simply be very knowledgeable of the dark side, or a wielder of a similar but different kind of sorcery. We can see in the below shot that he gets a hold of Rey at some point, and we can also see what appear to be Imperial guards in the background, clad in red.
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  10. What doesn’t the trailer show us? It’s worth remembering that if something’s not in the trailer, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Clearly the focus of the film is Rey’s journey, so we don’t get much of Finn and Poe. Will their romance be further explored in this movie? It’s been repeatedly suggested by the producers and the actors themselves that Star Wars’ first gay relationship is on its way, but no indication of that is given here. It’s been confirmed that Finn will visit a planet with a casino city modeled after Monte Carlo, but we didn’t see any of that here either. I definitely think Episode 8 will draw upon Empire for inspiration, and given that the First Order took such a thorough whooping last time around, I think this entry will conclude on a much darker and ambiguous note. Overall, I’m excited to see this film when it comes out on December 15th!

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What did you folks think of the trailer? Let me know in the comments! I want to see your predictions and reactions.