sábado, fevereiro 17, 2018

The Endless Loops of Space Opera: "The Last Jedi" by Rian Johnson

I'm a Star Wars fan and I hate this movie: "Star Wars - The Last Jedi" by Rian Johnson.

What follows are the ramblings of a deranged mind after having watched this…

My feelings before the movie:

Yeeeeeeeehhhhaaaaaaaa! Tickets booked!!!!
Groaners can groan, moaners can moan,
Carpers can carp, and stay bloody home!
Jeeves! To the pictures! And don't spare the horses!!!

For some reason I continue to follow the endless loops of this space opera, despite having to endure long passages of painful boredom watching interminable fight sequences and passages of cheesy dialogue and chases down spaceship corridors pursued by ineffectual stooge soldiers wearing white plastic armour. People speak of episodes one to three as a low point in the series, but in a curious way they are representative of the many low points in much better received episodes. So why continue to watch it, even to the point of paying 10 euros for an IMAX cinema seat? Perhaps because it functions in its clumsy way as a ring cycle for our times, reverberating in some strange way with the sinister zeitgeist of the period between the fall of the Russian empire and the ascent of Trump. Or maybe it is because I like science fiction, even when it seems determined to bore me to tears.

I liked Palpatine in the prequels. The whole manipulating the entire galaxy into beating the shit out of itself was a good concept...Unfortunately they let Lucas write dialogue so we got... complaints about sand, and Ewan McGregor desperately trying to salvage something from Hayden Christiansen (who I blame less and less as the years go on - he did okay given the dialogue he had to work with). So yeah, what could've been an excellent piece of villainy over 3 films, manufacturing a galactic civil war whilst also successfully turning force-Jesus into force-Satan by playing off the inherent flaws of an ancient religious order (which was unable to look inward and understand why their centuries old dogma needed to change or they would inevitably face destruction) against the expectations of a young lad who's literally been told he was the chosen one by his mentor. A lot...So yeah, I like Palpatine in the prequels. I also fix the prequels a lot in my head. Part of the problem for me is that the villains since Darth Vader have not been scary in the slightest. I mean Anakin Skywalker going over to the dark side because he had nightmares or some such bollocks was really pretty unimaginative and drab fare. When I have loads of money, I'm going to buy a really big window, just so I can stare out of it and look all moody and vaguely sinister. Even the original one is pretty goofy (and Mark Hamill is incredibly whiny). The series probably peaked with Empire Strikes Back. So, while overhype is all-but-certain for this one, it looks pretty good for Star Wars Move #8. You'll forget about global warming, North Korean nukes, and Trump tweets for two hours. About all you should expect, really.

My main issue with it was the confusing sides. Why are the good guys always referred to as the 'resistance' here when the rebels won? Shouldn't they be like... the army? The naming conventions of the sides in this conflict are not well set out, and “The Force Awakens” does an absolutely terrible job of setting the broader political scene.

My understanding: the First Order is effectively a splinter group that's risen up from surviving elements of the Galactic Empire, hence the Stormtroopers, tie fighters, and I suppose, the liking for ridiculous giant battle stations. The New Republic, which I assume was established in the aftermath of the Empire's fall, for some reason, doesn't seem to want to combat the First Order. Perhaps hoping to simply co-exist and reduce their sphere of influence. The Resistance is then formed from parts of the New Republic out of those who believe the First Order is a threat and should thus be dealt with directly. I think there was some insinuation that they were funded in parts by the New Republic but covertly to prevent 'outright war' or whatnot. To be honest it makes no sense why the New Republic wouldn't want to combat the First Order, but I imagine it was a decision made to make the good guys appear to still be 'plucky underdogs'. Yeah, that doesn't work for me. The "Rebels" won in Jedi, they are the establishment now, yet they are skulking around like some sort of guerrilla army. Surely they have access to the entire Empire's military power and could/should be able to obliterate Kylo Ren's mob with ease. If they are so incompetent in power that they couldn't prevent the rise of the First Order then perhaps they have no business being in power.

That's one thing the Prequels have over the new Sequels, is it at least they fleshed out the situation of the galaxy/universe better. Given the Empire was an evolution of the Old Republic, most of it should sort of fallen back into the New Republic after the Civil War, so how do the First Order still have access to high volume ship fabrication and defense manufactures, that the NR would now have oversight of. Too much overthinking obviously. It doesn’t matter that the rebels ‘won’ in ROTJ. Why would that mean that 30 years later everything is fine on the galaxy? Didn’t the Americans ‘win’ the Iraq war? Didn’t they overthrow Saddam Hussein? Did the Iraqis live happily ever after? Or did a bunch of crazy Jihadists take over a large chunk of the country and blow lots of things up? Surely the Americans could have easily crushed them!! This is the equivalent of the French resistance being in operation again with Hitler still enjoy a “creme brulee” for brunch with his Nazi buddies. The problem with this theory is that the film implies that we're supposed to side with the Rebels/Rebellion, that somehow they're going to make the galaxy a better place. However, as we know, they defeated the Empire and now they've either a) fucked it up and lost their power - in which case, why should we want them to win again when they were not good enough to maintain control the first time? - or b) they're still in power but facing a rebellion from the shell of the Empire that they defeated - in which case, aren't the First Order now the underdogs and the side we should empathise with? It's the Socialists vs Social Democrats (two political forces in Portugal; in England it be something like New Labour vs the Tories at the end of Blair's period in office - there are no good guys left and nobody really wants either to win given their track record).

One of the things I liked about Rogue One was that it showed that the Rebels were not all good guys - shit had to get real in order to progress their cause and innocents died in the process. With that in mind, the Rebels of the original trilogy are no different to the First Order of this trilogy. There is an actual Muppet in all of this. Star Wars was good because Lucas cobbled it together from the Hidden Fortress and Dambusters. Then the Muppet show. Then the one with the gold bikini, which was half good (gold bikini) and half rubbish (Ewoks). Three prequels, with the comedy gay Jamaican, Jewish slave trader and slitty eyed aliens threatening the Burmese queen in Japanese accents. Then a film with the utter cheek to have yet another death star and yet another unsuspecting teenager on another desert planet... although the crashed star destroyer and At-At gave it a nice sense of history at the start. Rogue One was pretty good because it mostly avoided the mystical nonsense and did Vietnam in space.

I make that two and a half good films out of eight so far. Yeah, as a franchise, it started eating itself almost immediately. Star Wars is like a black hole: created by sucking so many other things into itself, then sustaining itself that way across huge spans of time/space. Still, even a black hole shrinks over time, eventually fizzling out. In that extremely broad sense, sure, all pop culture is a long retread. But most of that stuff is not expected to keep animating a movie franchise (not sure I want one based on poetry), never mind keep animating it for ever and ever. Do they still sell those felt pillows? That may be why. (Milton squeezed 10-12 (depending on which version) 'episodes' (some better than others) out of “Paradise Lost”, then 4 more from “Paradise Regained”. And he had far less characters to play with than Star Wars. As if “Paradise Lost” wasn't a slog enough...)

Having said this, I am in the camp that says Star Wars ended with George Lucas leaving the series, so I see these new movies as fan fiction, which it is. It can be entertaining but for me Star Wars was Lucas' vision, and even if people didn't like the prequels, they were part of his world, and the Disney movies are just a step backwards. The Force Awakens reset the whole rebels Vs Empire thing, meaning the previous trilogy was inconsequential. They brought back the same iconography (Stormtroopers, Millennium Falcon, X-Wings, Death Star, a desert planet, the same freakin' story) from the very first film. That was to keep the brand familiar to audiences marketing purposes. They made Rogue One for the same reason, to evoke feelings of classic Star Wars and even brought Peter “Gushing” back from the dead for that purpose. I wish Disney had gone with the Lucas story treatments because this time he wouldn't have written the scripts and his versions may have been interesting, and would have aligned with what he started with the other films. He did polarise the fans, but at least the films would have gone in some weird direction.

Also, audiences are getting J. J. back for the next film - that is good as confirming the next films will be crap. The original Star Wars was wonderfully ingenuous, it had a great pace and an optimism that was infectious. Empire strikes back was just a wonderful movie, due mostly to Harrison ford. Return of the Jedi was the weakest of the 3; the ewoks didn't work and they relegated Harrison ford to comic relief.  The next 3 had great potential with Neeson and McGregor, who were both really good. But the kid playing Annakin, the crappy robots and daft comedy aliens badly compromised the movies. The last 2 have been formulaic and with little depth - but they've been really successful (like the makers have got a hold of the marvel universe playbook). I think we can expect more of the same.

Coming back to the “Last Jedi”, I wouldn't have thought any Star Wars fan would have been satisfied with plot. Every strand of story was just a pointless diversion to create an action set piece. And most of the characters were just there to pull a plot lever when required (Del Toro the worst offender - and how did he even know the information he betrayed? Finn & Rose didn't). Finn's storyline - pointless. Poe's story-line - pointless. Disappointed as both a Star Wars fan and a human being with half a brain cell.

My feelings after the movie:

Next flick in December 2018, if it's not by the Coen brothers (it won’t be; see above) I'm not going to bother. Mind you there's a great idea for a pitch - Coen Brothers "The Hudsucker Force Empire Lebowski Awakens Fargo" starring Clooney, Turturro, Hamill and Goodman as Chewbacca. It's a musical space opera based on Homer’s Iliad, but based in small town 1960's America and the hero is a lawyer specialising in divorce, who has a string of mistresses, but is also married to Princess Leia, who happens to be a serial killer.

I received the following leaflet as I was leaving the theatre after having watched the movie:

"After the failure of Lucas' prequels, we here at Disney Corp. decided to 'give back' to fans and provide them with exactly what they wanted: old faces in new costumes, lightsabres, big-dogs driving spaceships and all that Sci-Fi crap they love. After the roaring financial success of “The Force Awakens”, we knew we were onto a winner by following well-researched business models and marketing strategies, which would tick all the boxes for Star Wars fans old and new. The fans ate it up, and myself and all the other shareholders here at Disney Corp. had a wonderful Christmas. The enormous financial rewards from ticket sales and merchandising has allowed us to acquire more assets and rival studios, so as to reduce the competition from other distributors and film-makers, which could in anyway harm our product. In fact, our enormous power and wealth has allowed us to hire maverick, independent, American film-makers, such as Rian Johnson, with the lure of a vast salary and a side-order of blackmail, in order to make sure the latest product (TLJ) is directed to specification of our glorious leader Kathleen Kennedy. Fans will want to see this 10/10 masterpiece again and again, so we here at Disney Corp. have made sure that cinema chains will pay a large part of their revenue stream in order to screen The Last Jedi, so that other films don't get in our (your) way. Merry Christmas and do make sure to visit the gift shop after your fourth viewing!"

NB: I watched the movie in January.

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