The Last Jedi should have been more unique, not less (SPOILERS)
The fan criticism of the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, is generally irritating. I'm not particularly a Star Wars fan now that I'm a grown man - these films tend to bore me - but at least this latest instalment in the neverending series is its own film, its own creative endeavour, and not just a rehash of The Empire Strikes Back, which is what I expected it to be (after its predecessor The Force Awakens was a rehash of A New Hope).
I'm glad that Kylo Ren isn't the new Darth Vader, Snoke isn't the new Emperor Palpatine, Luke Skywalker isn't the new Yoda (sort of), and I'm glad that Rey isn't related to anyone significant (although all these spoilers being revealed at once leaves nothing to look forward to in Episode IX). I'm also happy that this film explores a genuinely new planet - a glamorous 1930s-style gamblers' resort (The Force Awakens had "new" worlds in name only - a desert planet à la Tatooine, a Death Star world, and a briefly-seen Coruscant-like capital planet. Oh, and the easily forgettable generic Earth/Yavin 4-like planet on which Maz Kanata dwelt).
To me, these were pleasant, refreshing surprises, but I suppose they must have scared you brain-dead zombie nerds who just want to see the same film you've been watching for the last thirty years all over again. They must have pushed you right out of your comfort zone. If the Star Wars original trilogy is your definition of goodness in life, then anything that moves a fraction of a way from that ideal, to explore new-ish* ground, will be imperfect.
*Relax, Star Wars is still fundamentally the same. Believe it or not, films exist that are far more different to the original trilogy than The Last Jedi. In fact, I would say this film should have been more adventurous.
The film hinted at a few topics which would have been interesting to explore. Luke Skywalker's belief that the Jedi had to end - what if that had been carried to its natural conclusion? What if the Jedi do have to end, to restore balance to the Force (or something)? Similarly, what if Rey had accepted Kylo Ren's offer to join him, abandon the past (the Jedi, the Sith, the Empire, the Resistance, etc.), and create something new? Perhaps the "light" side and the "dark" side of the Force are both wrong, and there is a Middle Way which could have been explored. Sadly, these topics remained only hinted at; Luke Skywalker's belief that "the Jedi have to end" (promoted in some of the adverts for the film) turned out to be nothing more than predictable bland illogical self-loathing, and despite Kylo Ren's speech about doing away with the past, he seems to be carrying on with the First Order as normal. Rian Johnson tantalised me with these hints, only to disappoint me by not going through with them.
Rich Evans of RedLetterMedia believes that Star Wars is an inherently limited universe, that the sequels can only drift so far from the original trilogy. I disagree. Star Wars is science fantasy - a blend of science fiction and fantasy - and I think it can expand as far as these two genres allow, in either direction, so long as it remains family-friendly. Think of all the variation this theory allows for! Fantasy is massive (The Lord of the Rings, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, A Song of Ice and Fire, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Twilight, etc.), as is science fiction (The War of the Worlds, Doctor Who, Philip K. Dick, I Am Legend, Dune, the Space Trilogy, etc.).
The reason I was pleased to see the casino planet in The Last Jedi is because it demonstrated genuine imagination for once, which the Disney Star Wars films generally lack. It was a new idea, whereas much of the Disney Star Wars franchise is just the original trilogy regurgitated in a spew of fan service.
When the original Star Wars films were created, they took inspiration from a few things made in the past, such as Flash Gordon and Dune, but they were fundamentally genuine explorations of the imagination. When George Lucas first sat down to write what would become "Star Wars", he didn't know that he would be writing about the "Force", a "Death Star", the "Jedi", "X-Wings" or "Tatooine". These were new concepts which came out of his head. When Return of the Jedi was released, nobody expected it to feature a "Rancor" or a "Sarlacc Pit", whatever they were. These were new ideas which were added to the Star Wars universe. Maybe Episode IX should try that. Maybe it should feature a zombie plague, a magic ring, an exploration of the difference between good and evil, or an exploration of artificial intelligence. Save for the casino planet, The Last Jedi just reorganises elements of Star Wars which already exist. Disney is still playing it too safely, unwilling to drift too far from creating soft reboots of the original trilogy. Star Wars fans, stop moaning about how different it was and start moaning about how similar it was. The Last Jedi should have been more unique, not less.
By the way, the story arc of one character in The Last Jedi confused me. I refer to DJ, played entertainingly by Benicio del Toro. I wish we got to see more of him (maybe we will in Episode IX), but what we did see was confusing in the sense that the character was portrayed from his first appearance as a sinister scoundrel. Naturally I expected the film to, by the end, turn this around and portray him as an overall good sort who unexpectedly (for people who don't watch as many films as I do) doesn't betray Finn and Rose. But instead he did the obvious thing, and double-crossed the duo (a betrayal which held no emotional weight as, well, it wasn't a betrayal at all - he was presented as a villain to Finn and Rose from the start). Maybe this was a mistake, or maybe it was just Rian Johnson leading the audience one way and surprising them by going the other, again (perhaps to again avoid being labelled a soft reboot of the original films by not portraying a redeemed "traitor" like Lando Calrissian). Perhaps, if he does appear in Episode IX, J.J. Abrams will redeem DJ and make him a protagonist, at least an anti-hero, but this may be unlikely as he did almost indirectly murder Finn and Rose, and therefore may be irredeemable as a character.
Apart from DJ, I'm starting to appreciate some of Disney's other new Star Wars characters. General Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is a caricature of a stereotypical Star Wars/Hollywood English villain. He's a comic character, and should be enjoyed as such. Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, may not be as intimidating as Darth Vader, but he is an interesting villain. I used to think of Maz Kanata as (to quote Matt Goldberg of Collider.com) a "Yoda stand-in/exposition mouthpiece", which she kind of is, especially in The Force Awakens, but I'm beginning to appreciate her character beyond this function (she's an old hippie who's lived a colourful life. She reminds me of my grandmother). Of course, the problem with Star Wars is that too much of its time is spent on laser battles instead of its characters.
Also, I wonder if the little Force-sensitive boy who appeared in The Last Jedi will be the hero of a later trilogy (either the sequel sequel trilogy to be made thirty years from now, or the new non-Skywalker trilogy Rian Johnson is making). Perhaps nerds will too easily anticipate this as a fan theory so it will never ultimately be so (in the same way that the "Snoke is Darth Plagueis" idea never could have been adopted as canon as it was too anticipated).
I'm writing quite a lot here on films I don't care much for. But a lot of people do religiously adore these pictures, and I think this sort of film analysis/criticism is important to ensure that the quality of cinema has a high standard.
P.s. I can't believe that Kylo Ren is Finn's father!
|Above: is Star Wars racist?|
Speaking of Star Wars, have you noticed before how aliens are represented in the franchise as non-Western? I suppose this is to enhance the "alien" feel to them for Westerners watching the Star Wars films, and I wouldn't regard it as rightfully offensive in most instances.
Examples of this include the non-European-sounding languages and accents of alien life in Star Wars (probably most prominent in Jabba the Hutt, Greedo, Maz Kanata, and the ethnic stereotypes mentioned below), the ethnic minority-style music they listen to (jazz in A New Hope, soul/funk (depending on which version you watch) in Jabba's Palace in Return of the Jedi, and reggae in Maz Kanata's bar in The Force Awakens), and the fact that they rarely appear among the Imperials (who, being composed entirely of white people, are based on Nazis and, unfortunately for a Briton such as myself, British imperialists) (This is also probably the subconscious reason they appear more frequently among the Rebels (the goodies), as multiracialism is rightly considered a good thing in our era).
It arguably starts to get offensive when these non-Western aliens are associated with crime and general wretchedness (e.g. on Tatooine, in Mos Eisley, Jabba's Palace and elsewhere on that dangerous world. Another example: the only time in the original trilogy that they are seen among the law-enforcing Imperials is as scummy bounty hunters in Episode V) and appear as ethnic stereotypes (e.g. the cowardly Machiavellian Asian businessmen the Neimoidians, the big-nosed similarly tricksy Arab slaver/Jewish trader Watto (pictured above, hat, beard, nose and all), the incompetent, uneducated Rasta minstrel Jar Jar Binks (note the similarity of his fellow Gungans to non-Western "primitive" peoples, especially their leader, Boss Nass. The storyline of The Phantom Menace involves the Naboo (human colonists) reconciling with the Gungan natives that they have displaced and wronged. Sound familiar?), the brown-skinned African-American barman Dexter Jettster, the tribal Wookiees and Ewoks, and so on).
Why are there no good YouTube programmes, as there are good television programmes? I don't understand why YouTube hasn't evolved at least partially into a sort of Netflix yet. I'm sure "10 things you didn't know about sharks", "Top 10 unexplored places in the world", "Putting eggs in a hydraulic press", "Best Vines of the year", and "Skateboard trick gone wrong!" are all perfectly entertaining, but I wonder why there hasn't so far been a significant and popular YouTube series like House of Cards (featuring the late Kevin Spacey), especially now that YouTube is easily viewable on televisions via smart TVs. Surely all it would take is a few Film Studies students with reasonably good cameras, audio equipment, and skills, to create a reasonably good YouTube fiction series, for instance?
I also wonder the same thing about podcasts. I listen to my iPod at work, so having things to listen to are a necessity. Unfortunately, I find the world of podcasts lacking, save for a small portion of discussions/lectures on topics that interest me, and old episodes of The Ricky Gervais Show, which grow tiresome over time, especially if you listen to them all day due to said lack of entertaining podcasts. There are a few informative podcasts which don't interest me, generally those about history (history can be interesting but not typically in podcast form, I find, for whatever reason) and a few podcasts which are allegedly comedies but aren't very funny (how did My Dad Wrote A Porno become so popular?!). True crime seems to be popular too, though I have never listened to any of it (as I have not figured out yet whether enjoying real horrible tragedies in this way is morally acceptable). There are a few fictional drama series that take podcast form, but the last one I found was to do with crime, which didn't terribly interest me on first impressions, though perhaps I would have enjoyed it had I started listening. If only there were a podcast or YouTube series like Game of Thrones!
Featured below is a chapter of Harry Potter written by a predictive text bot after being fed the entire Harry Potter series. Quickly narrated by myself. Courtesy of Botnik Studios.