Monthly Archives: May 2018
After the Thunderstorm
The Last Jedi (2017)
The Last Jedi is not so much a film as it is an act of cultural necrophilia. The Star Wars franchise was played out while I was still in high school. Return of the Jedi was not only a bad movie. It was essentially a reboot of A New Hope, which, back then, wasn’t even called “A New Hope,” just “Star Wars.” Perhaps we can date our cultural decline from the moment when George Lucas, and now Disney, decided they could keep rebranding the same movie and still make money. In any event, as bad as it was, at the very least Return of the Jedi had a coherent plot. It wrapped up the family drama between Luke Skywalker and his dad in a logical, if not terribly entertaining way. The rebels destroyed a second Death Star and set Kevin Smith up for a good joke or two in Clerks. We got to see Carrie Fisher in a slave girl’s outfight being sexually menaced by an intergalactic Chris Christie. The Last Jedi, on the other hand, is a bloated mess, overly long, badly edited, and, in the end, not even as “woke” as it wants to be. I’m probably going to make a lot of mistakes in this review, mostly because I kept falling asleep, but I’m sure as hell not going to watch it again. How long is Hollywood going to keep fucking this corpse?
This is not to say that some people, mainly Millennials hoping to relieve the childhoods of their Gen X and Boomer parents won’t enjoy it, or that it doesn’t have a few engaging moments. Two-hundred million dollars buys a lot of talent. But come on Millennials. You can do better. You’re all still fuckable. You all still have you hair. Your tits haven’t begun to sag let. You have lives to live and stories to tell. Tell them. Create something new. Stop paying money for shit like this. Stop enabling these Boomer corporate Hollywood cunts, or at least read some history. As entertaining as it was, Star Wars – I refuse to call it “A New Hope” – wasn’t a particularly uplifting moment in American culture. Its entire raison d‘être was to cast the Americans as “the rebels,” forget about the reality that the United States had just destroyed Vietnam, and, in the wake of the Bicentennial Celebration, give us all a chance to watch a Midwestern farm boy, a feisty Jewish chick, and a charming space rogue save the universe from intergalactic space Nazis.
It was great back in 1977 when I saw it at age 12. I got so exited I think I had to go to the bathroom five or six times while it played at the old Fox Theater on Route 22 in Union New Jersey. That’s the problem. It was too good. It was a cultural hydrogen bomb. It exploded over a public that had lost its faith. The 1960s had played themselves out. The Civil Rights Movement was done. The Church Commission alerted us to the idea that the FBI and CIA weren’t quite so different from the KGB and the Gestapo as we thought they were. There was some damn good films in the late 1970s. Saturday Night Fever was a masterpiece, but the brief golden age between the end of the Hollywood Production Code and the Reagan Era was ready to give way to a new era, the age of the blockbuster. The first blockbuster, as is well known, was Jaws, but how many times can you remake a film about a giant shark? Star Wars, on the other hand, carried everything before it. We could live in our stupid illusions forever. Blasted out into space, Americans would always be the plucky underdogs fighting the Nazis, forever. The epic cum marketing vehicle was born. We have yet to escape from its noxious influence.
Perhaps some people who collected Disney’s paychecks back in 2017 know this. At its best, The Last Jedi is a Star Wars movie struggling not to be a Star Wars movie. Daisy Ridley, a charming British actress with perfect cheekbones, makeup that never seems to smear, and a posh accent gets to play Rey, the female Luke Skywalker. The problem is the original Luke Skywalker doesn’t want to be Luke Skywalker anymore. Mark Hamill is no longer the fresh faced 19-year old farm boy who finds a father, and his destiny, in the form of Obi Wan Kenobi. He’s a cranky old man still bitter that he got typecast as a cultural icon, wealthy and set up for life, but looking back on his acting career and wondering why it all came to so little. Putting aside for a moment the question of whether or not Luke Skywalker ever got laid or if he died a virgin, he has no use for attractive young millennials knocking on his door on whatever island he lives on off the coast of Ireland and demanding to be mentored. Get the fuck out of here. Of course, like the current hordes of millennials spending their hard-earned money to see yet another Star Wars film hoping to relieve the moment I did at age 13 when Darth Vader portentously intoned “no. I am your father” – trust me it wasn’t that good – she can’t quite take the hint. She brings her own personal goon squad – Chewbacca, who, unlike Han Solo, can live on as long as Hollywood has a supply of 6’5” men willing to collect a fat paycheck for wearing an ape suit – breaks his door down and insists that “you have no choice old man. You will teach me how to be a Jedi.”
After she follows him around the island for a few days – Luke is kind of living the incel’s dream, isn’t he? – he finally agrees to give her some basic instruction in the use of “The Force,” all of which can be summed up in three short words. “Don’t use it.” The force doesn’t belong to the Jedi. It wasn’t Darth Vader or Governor Tarkin or the Death Star or The Sith that was the problem. It was the idea that anybody could master the energy that flows through the universe and united us all. Yeah. Yeah. Blah. Blah. My Lutheran Pastor in Cranford, New Jersey gave better sermons than that, and half the time he was drunk, but Luke is right, and young Ms. Daisey Ridley should heed his advice. Get out while you can. Of course, she doesn’t. In fact, she goes right over to the “dark side of the force,” which in the Last Jedi, seems to amount to one of two things, a giant black butthole somewhere off the coast of Ireland, and the eternal appeal that the “bad boy” has for young women, even “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” I am of course talking about Kylo Ren, the millennial Darth Vader played by the very tall, seemingly omnipresent, and to micro-aggress him for a moment, ethnically ambiguous Adam Driver. He’s actually a WASP who looks Jewish.
Spoiler alert. Ren and Kylo have lots of hot passionate wet dreams about each other. She wants to “save” him. Wank Wank. He fucks with her head. Wank. Wank. They arrange a date. They don’t have sex, but the do get together and kill the Millennial Darth Sidious – yeah, they rebooted him too – played by that actor who played Gollum back during the Bush Years. The Precious. The Force. My Precious. Everybody I talked to loves the whole scene, and to be fair, it’s a pretty good light saber duel as far as Star Wars goes. She thinks she’s saved her hunky 6’5” bad boy but, alas, she hasn’t. Not only is he still evil, he wants her to be evil too, for both of them to rule the universe together as bad boy king and queen.
She should listen to him. Like Killmonger from Black Panther, the villain in this movie is actually the hero. Everything Kylo Ren says is right. Rey should stop looking for her “destiny.” In spite of the posh British accent, she’s nobody. She doesn’t have a destiny. Her parents were junk traders who sold her for whiskey money. She’s an inter-galactic Rosetta and thank the Force, she doesn’t have to snitch out her best friend to get a shitty job at a waffle cart in Brussels. She can not only rule the world. She can not only rule the whole fucking universe. She can date Lena Dunham’s boyfriend from Girls. What’s more, Rey and Kylo as the villains not only makes dramatic sense. It makes logical and cultural sense. This latest round of the Star Wars franchise has been marketed as the “woke” alternative not only to the original, but to the openly racist prequels. This time Luke Skywalker will be a woman. We’ll have a black hero. While we had one in The Empire Strikes Back — Lando Calrissian, any remember him? — but this time the Star Wars saga will center women and people of color. Indeed, the Force Awakens beings with the friendship of Rey and Finn, a black stormtrooper who rebels against the evil empire – uh I mean the First Order — played by John Boyega.
The problem is the script doesn’t quite know what to do with Finn. It’s not that Finn is a bad character. It’s that The Last Jedi seems to have been written by a series of focus groups, all of whom produced ethnically different, yet overlapping heroes and villains. The original Star Wars had on overpowering villain. Forget Governor Tarkin. Yeah, he was a slimy little mass murderer, but he paled next to the dark Lord Vader, who even manages to save Rogue One. The Last Jedi has three, the above mentioned Supreme Leader Snoke, the above mentioned sexy bad boy Kylo Ren, and last but not last the Millennial Grand Moff Tarkin, the posh, British “General Hux,” who provides us with probably the best scene in the whole movie when he snarls his threats at the rebel pilot Po only to be told he’s been “on hold.” Once again, The Last Jedi is at its best when it’s either trying not to be a Star Wars movie or is trying to make us laugh at the whole Star Wars universe. In any event, Hux, an icy WASP played by the Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson would make a great villain in a “woke” Star Wars. The man is whiter than white and colder than cold. All he needs is the sexy bad boy Kylo Ren as his Vader like sidekick and Ren’s sexy British girlfriend, Rey turned evil, as another sidekick and you have a perfect representation of the global north, the American Empire, the EU, northwestern Europe, the rich white imperialist world waiting for its downfall.
So, if Rey turned evil, who would the heroes be? Well, quite obviously the above-mentioned Finn, a black stormtrooper who decided not to serve the Empire – I mean the First Order – and the woman who should be his girlfriend, Rose, a young Asian woman, also, like Rey, from the working class, but unlike Rey, played by an actress who actually looks and sounds like she could be a rebellious member of the proletariat. Indeed, unlike Daisey Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose, looks like someone I could imagine knowing in real life. She has a similar narrative arc to Rey. They’re both young women disillusioned by male heroes, Rey by Luke, and Rose by Finn, who she initially believes to be a deserter. They both come from nowhere. Neither has a particularly special “destiny.” But Rose is the better character. What motivates Rey? Who knows. Rose, on the other hand, is still in mourning for her older sister, who sacrificed her life to take out the “Dreadnought” in the film’s opening sequence. She also knows what child labor and exploitation looks like, has the vaguely Marxist realization that most of the evil in the universe is based on greed and profit. When she and Finn travel to an intergalactic Monte Carlo they actually provide the one moment of genuine “rebellion.” They stampede a herd of animals through the playground of the rich scumbags profiting off the empire, uh, I mean the First Order. Rose also looks and sounds like someone I could know in real life. She’s a bit on the chubby side. She’s a bit too angry and assertive. She doesn’t have a posh accent. She’s the kind of character the ongoing Star Wars saga should feature if it wants to follow Luke Skywalker’s advice and leave the Jedi, and The Force, behind for a real-life tale of exploitation and class struggle. But, alas, Hollywood won’t. Black Panther notwithstanding, Hollywood’s idea of a “romantic lead” looks like Rey, not Rose. In the end, the Last Jedi simply isn’t as “woke” as it wants us to think.
Note: So, what happens to Leia? Carrie Fisher, still alive, is a major character. The problem is she doesn’t have much to do. She’s wasted. There’s also a subplot there the cocky young pilot Po leads a mutiny against the icy old authoritarian bitch Admiral Holdo. Holdo as Hillary and Po as a Bernie Bro? That might work but the less said about the whole superfluous narrative arc (and really the whole movie is a superfluous narrative arc) the better.