Star Wars: The Last Jedi

With Halloween season upon us, I have been trying to see more horror films and dedicate most of my blog and @moviegrapevine Instagram account to horror related material. However, I have to make an exception for some of the new trailers we received recently. There was a false alarm concerning the Infinity War trailer but we still got new footage for Pacific Rim: Uprising and Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

I will give Pacific Rim its due, but this blog post will be devoted to The Last Jedi. You can check out some of my other posts for my expanded thoughts on Episode VII. As a quick recap, I will say that I enjoyed the film but was bothered by the fact that it was a rehash of Episode IV. Finn was marketed as the next Jedi character and instead he ends up mostly being comic relief. I liked Rey and actually didn’t heed the complaints about her being a Mary Sue as much as most people did. If people actually compared this film to the original trilogy, they would realize that Luke had similar skills at the beginning of his arch. He was a pilot, mechanic and was also a protégé when it came to his use of the force. Then again, this is the age where the inclusion of minority and/or female characters is always criticized because it’s part of a liberal “agenda”, while the disproportionate dominance of white males on screen is perfectly natural.

Let’s start the discussion of this trailer with another one of the most divisive elements from Episode VII. Kylo Ren was a character that many people either loved or hated. To some he was a conflicted character with an inner battle between dark and light, to others he was just a lame, geeky-looking, emo, Darth Vader wannabe. I was one of the former, so I am excited to see how his character grows.

The previous trailer showed us a shattered Kylo Ren mask and this trailer shows Ren smashing it, seemingly leaving that persona behind. However, Ben isn’t done with the dark side yet. He started his quest to kill his past when he killed Han Solo and it looks like he decided to go full circle and take out Princess Leia as well. Like before, Ben appears conflicted, but we know that inner turmoil won’t be enough to stop him from doing what he deems necessary to join the dark side. In many ways, he is a wannabe. Someone who isn’t truly as menacing or evil as he wants to be, but I think it actually makes his character more interesting. Vader was a tragic character as well, someone whose emotional pain led him down a path of darkness, before he redeemed himself and rejoined the light.

After Carrie Fisher’s passing it was made clear that Leia would not be present in Episode IX. We know her character is coming to an end in this film but she may not die by Kylo Ren’s hands. Seeing Princess Leia on screen for the last time will be a bittersweet moment but let’s hope her end is just as momentous as her beginning.

Moving on from one of the franchise’s most famous characters, let’s talk about Finn. John Boyega has previously stated that Finn will have a more substantive role in the The Last Jedi, basically saying that a character who starts off as a consummate badass is a boring one. I guess Rey haters will agree. We’re definitely seeing more badass this time around, starting with the suit. Then there’s the fight with Phasma, the woman who controlled him when he was just FN-2187.

Apparently Boyega has stated that Finn isn’t 100% on the side of the resistance, which brings up some questions about his role in this film. In one shot of the trailer we see other people with his suit among the Stormtroopers, maybe he is undercover? In The Force Awakens Finn was close to abandoning the resistance, maybe he decides to do so again and something pulls him back.

Rey played a part in bringing Finn back last time, and maybe she’ll do so now. What I loved most about this trailer is that it brings up one of the biggest issues that many fans had with A Force Awakens. Rey’s raw power in the first film bothered plenty of people and here we see that her power links her to Kylo Ren. It’s implied Luke abandons her as a teacher due to his fear of her power, which was only mirrored by one other student, likely Kylo Ren.

People will still hate Rey for her power but I think this presents an interesting dynamic that gives a more logical reason for her to reach out to Ben. The revered figure who was supposed to guide her (apparently) abandoned her and one of her few friends appears to be separated from her. Will Rey bring Ben closer to the light or will he lead her closer to darkness? In the immediate aftermath of The Force Awakens fan theories were replete with dark side Rey and Jedi Kylo Ren, maybe the fans were actually onto something.

Although we get more of Luke in this trailer, his character is still hidden compared to the others. The two trailers make it clear he’s attacked at one point. He’s kneeling in front of a burning building in one shot in the first trailer, and climbing out of wreckage from a burning building in this trailer. Maybe this attack is what forces him out of isolation, since someone apparently finds out where he is. Could it be that Rey either betrays him or ends up leading someone else to him? Or these shots could be backstory showing the destruction of the Jedi Temple, which was alluded to in previous films.

In short, this was one of my favourite trailers of 2017 and I am hoping the film lives up to the hype. I am worried that the trailer possibly spoiled too much but that is my only gripe. We got more of the action, more of the characters and AT-M6s (different from the AT-AT’s in Empire). Or you can just call them Robot Camels.

Star Wars: Episode VII-Not Life Changing, and a little disappointing (SPOILERS)

I took a while to start writing this post, mostly because I honestly didn’t know where to start.

Firstly, I would consider myself a pretty big star wars fan. I love the lore, the universe, the characters and I have seen all six movies. Like most, I do agree the acting and writing of the prequels is generally inferior, thanks to Hayden Christen and Jake Lloyd, but I still liked the world they created.

The Force Awakens is on track to potentially be the highest grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation) and it is easy to see why. Hype was unavoidable for Episode VII. Not only was it another Star Wars movie, but we were getting some of the most iconic characters back, along with their original actors. How could we not be excited?

I find that having high expectations for a movie can result in two extremes:

1) mindless praise since subjectivity becomes overshadowed by excitement

2) severe nitpicking because the movie couldn’t live up to very high expectations

This is why I always wait at least a day before truly sharing my thoughts on a film as hyped as Star Wars. After taking a day to collect my own thoughts and scour through news and comments online, I think I am finally ready to add my voice to thousands of others. Some might think, what is the point? I do this for my sanity and to quiet the debate raging in my head over the film’s merits.

1) General Thoughts

I didn’t get to see the film until Wednesday, by which time some of my friends shared their thoughts on how amazing the film was. Maybe that got my hopes up further.

Overall, I believe the film is a solid start to a new trilogy, a 7/10. In true nerd fashion I felt chills seeing the star wars logo on the big screen again, complete with the iconic music and text filling us in on what has happened since Episode VII.

Adam Driver was a standout as Kylo Ren, a character with emotional conflict and rage that truly resonated on screen. This was my first time seeing Driver and I look forward to checking out more of his work.

After Ex-Machina I was looking forward to seeing more of Oscar Isaac’s work but this role is a much smaller one in comparison. Although Isaac does well with what he has, his character does not have that much screen time and doesn’t get that much development. Here hoping that the sequels can better flesh out the ancillary and main characters.

Another Ex-Machina star, Domnhall Gleeson also appears and makes a speech at one point that truly stood out.

My biggest issues and the main reason I felt the need to write this post, were due to the two new central characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega).

I was happy to see that Abrams opted to use lesser known actors, which mimicked the casting practices of the original. Ridley’s first acting credit was in 2013, with a few episodes in different tv shows. Yet I couldn’t tell from her performance in this film. She is amazing in her role. Women will like seeing a strong female lead, while Ridley probably has a lot of new fans just due to her looks.

Next, is Finn. I loved Boyega in Attack The Block and I was very happy to hear that he got this role. When it was announced, I immediately saw this role as one that could help catapult his career. However, it looks like Ridley will benefit from it more. Her character has a bigger part in the film and her skin colour doesn’t bother some fans of the trilogy. It is a fact that Boyega was subject to hundreds of racist tweets when he was cast, and I think it is highly unlikely that every racist tweet came from online trolls who simply wanted attention. Racism is widespread online when discussing Boyega and his character. Hollywood has brainwashed audiences into seeing an all-white or mostly-white cast as a natural one. Hollywood has done this so well since its inception that inserting a black character into an intergalactic story comes across as forced. I would hate to know what the disgruntled racists think of blacks being cast in other movies.

As this movie confirms, Boyega is not meant to be a clone of Jango Fett. By this point in the story, a lot of troopers are no longer clones. So with worries of a black stormtrooper satiated, people still complain simply because they don’t like seeing a black character on screen. These are probably the same people that defend whitewashing since they are “colour-blind”. When a black actor is cast, there is no assumption that he got the role because he was the “best actor for the part”. People assume that the actor has no merit and was selected as some form of “reverse-racism” or “political correctness”.

Some people are arguing there was no need to change the race of characters, but nothing is being changed here, something is being added. If aliens don’t bother you, then black skin shouldn’t. I was discussing the film with a friend on thursday and although I know he is not a racist, he still said something that made it clear he was brainwashed by the whiteness of the mid-century originals. In his own mind, he thought all Jedi were supposed to be white. Although the originals never said or implied this, the on-screen presence of only white Jedis crafted this image. By the time A New Hope begins Jedi are nearly all dead, with Obi-Wan and Luke being the few ones left. We see a more diverse group of Jedi in the prequels, encompassing many human and alien races. Meanwhile, the only black character we get in the original films was Lando Calrissian.

I am not disappointed or angered at seeing a black character. I am disappointed that the black character is reduced to comic-relief and sidekick for the white protagonist (Rey). Boyega is a great actor and was best in the films during his character’s serious scenes. However, those scenes feel relatively scarce. Tie-in material reveals that he is a skilled soldier and marksman, but this is downplayed (emphasis on the word downplayed, we do see some of this) in order to provide a foil for Rey and her skills with the force and mechanics. While Rey is the capable, white heroine, Finn often comes across as the bumbling black sidekick. This comes after a marketing campaign that featured Boyega holding a lightsaber and facing off against Kylo Ren, almost making it look like he would be a Jedi. He is not and I think it was the marketing’s bait and switch that leaves me more disappointed with Finn’s role. While his character is brave, he ultimately is wounded and rendered unconscious by Kylo Ren. At the end of the film, after being saved by Rey numerous times, he is unconscious and in intensive care with the rebels while Rey flies off to meet Luke and presumably train with him.

Some people may not see what the issue is, but that is probably because they lack the proper perspective. There is nothing wrong with comic relief in itself, Han Solo was beloved comic relief in the original films, but black people have a record of disproportionately being used as comic relief in films. They are also routinely used as a supporting actor for a white lead. I was hoping to get something different from Finn, the first black lead in a Star Wars film. I have no doubt that racism plays a part in some of the criticism of Finn and Boyega, but I do believe some criticism of the role he was given is warranted. Yet I still have to ask: Would Boyega’s casting and his character get as much vitriol (i.e. comparisons to Jar Jar Binks) if he was only another white male lead in star wars? Or does his skin colour already indicate to some people that he does not belong?

I also have no doubt that sexism and the manosphere mentality that “sexism is dead and feminism is the enemy” contributes heavily to the criticisms of Rey. Hollywood brainwashing is at work again. Men rarely question the merits of the male hero who is good at whatever the plot requires him to be, and who is irresistible to the opposite sex. Why would they question this hero? It is the ultimate form of wish fulfillment. In contrast, seeing a strong female character, and one who does not hook up with anyone at the end of the story, renders their fantasies null and void. While a strong male character is pretty much taken for granted these days, a strong female one is often regarded as a Mary Sue, a female character who is “usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling.” The term comes from a 1973 article by fanzine writer, Paula Smith, and is now used to refer generally to lazily-written female characters who are loved by all men and are special due to or in spite of their skills (I’m looking at you Bella Swan).

While I have to admit that Rey’s proficiency with the force seemed way advanced for a beginner, I think it is important to ask whether her character’s skill would get picked apart as much if she was a man. After all it is the fact that a woman is doing so well that leads people to criticize the character with terms like Mary Sue or “pc”. We don’t hear people venting over how much of a Marty Stu James Bond is and it seems that people are content to either justify or ignore these double standards.

Another part of this post that I initially struggled with, was how to end it. The paragraph above seemed like too abrupt an end, and I was tempted to continue with a deeper analysis of racism and sexism as it relates to film. Yet I couldn’t bother with that. I wrote my Master’s thesis on racism in film, I have written numerous blog posts and poetry pieces on racism, and have explored racism numerous times in my YouTube videos. I do not discuss the topic only for views or hits, but I still get tired of repeating the same arguments and repeatedly seeing them fall on deaf ears. For every comment that I get applauding my work, there are usually five from people whose defensiveness and anger causes them to resort to straw-man arguments and various other terrible arguments that ignore facts and help people feel more comfortable with the way they see the world. I have yet to experience someone commenting on any of my writing or videos, saying that I changed their mind and helped them see an issue in a different light. I have even had a (formerly) respected family friend accuse me of racism for using the term “my fellow blacks”, in the context of saying that it is a shame films like Joyride 2 and Barbershop 3 are expected to do well at the box office while ones like Selma face relative struggle.

If my point failed to get through to a lot of people with all the other pieces I have done I do not know if it is worth it to preach yet again. Hopefully people can understand where I am coming from.