The Last Jedi & The Importance of Satisfying Your Audience

Or:  “Because… Reasons/Script/Girl Rule/Boys Drool/SJW/$$$$”

So…  Spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

 

You have been warned.

 

Over the last week or so, I’ve thought a lot about The Last Jedi and I have to say, my enjoyment of the film has decreased with time.  When I left the theater, I would have given it 2.5 stars.  Not great but entertaining.  As I thought of the implications of the activities of the story, I got more and more grumpy with it.  Now I’d give it 1.5 stars.

Why has my impression of the film dropped like this over time?  Many reasons, but I’ve noticed since I started writing, my standards for writing has gotten higher.  So what were the specific reasons?  Here’s where the spoilers start.

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Mary Sues…. Mary Sues everywhere!

Let’s face it.  We all expected Princess Leia to manifest something of the force sooner or later.  But to survive having the bridge of the ship she was on blown up around here, surviving the blast, being thrown into space, start to freeze, then force pull herself back into the ship and open the door…. ummmm…..  NO.  Just F-ing no.

Then there’s Rey.  Sure she has some skill with her staff, we saw that in the first movie.  We get the impression she knows how to fight.  But to suddenly go full Neo (I know kung fu) with no real training?  Not to mention have such a manifestation of the force so powerful that Luke is just about pooping himself?  She’s force pulling and pushing.  Grabbing for light sabers in a way that took Luke training to pull off, and she’s doing it with nothing, and being equal in power as Darth Emo?  I mean Kylo Ren?  Again… NO.  F-ing no.

Rose (why the hell are you even in this movie) who was a plumber… A PLUMBER suddenly being able to pilot those skimmers and make a death defying save of Finn?  Come on… really.  (Of course, Finn was a Janitor who can suddenly pilot all manner of craft like and expert becauseeee…. reasons?  It’s in the script?  Because Girl-Power!

:Facepalm:

And of course, Vice Admiral Holdo single-handedly, with one jump at lightspeed with a cruiser destroying a superdooper star destroyer and a dozen others in the First Order’s fleet?  Well, hell son!  Why not do this all the time?  They could have just done this to the Death Star and won with the loss of one ship and Alderran would have been saved!  The Rebellion had cruisers then.  Just go full Kamikaze and be done with it.  She goes from incompetent Bee-eye-tee-see-itch wasting ships and lives (blaming Poe in the process for getting them into this mess) to savior with little to no reason as to why.  Again… What the fuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!???!!!!  (And they got the cruiser trim without an auto pilot?  pffft)

Mary Sues destroy stories.  No movie can survive four of them, particularly when one goes full martyr too.  Not to mention when every single boy (for there are no men in this film, only stupid smelly boys) is nothing more than comic relief and a foil for the women.

2. Darth Gollem… I mean Snoke goes down like a chump.

Okay, now this is just a cheap way out of good writing.  I fully admit I larfed in surprise as he gets skewered and then CUT IN HALF by Kylo pulling a fast one on him.  The problem?  Darth Emo would not be capable of pulling a fast one on Snoke like that if he was as truly the puppet Snoke claimed.  This is bad because there is almost no indication in the story that Kylo’s free will and desire to be good is actually growing.  I mean even in Darth Vader’s conversion you got more of a tip off in that even his body posture showed he could not tolerate watching the Emperor kill his son.  Kylo?  Nuthin.

What makes this more egregious is that Snoke was to be this huge badass that seemed more powerful than Darth Sidious ever was.  So here’s movie one.  Big setup… BIG set up… then zortch!  He’s dead.  Now if he’s not dead, they better come up with a fantastic reason as to how, and then pay it off.  I mean this is the equivalent to finding the secret tunnel to the final boss fight on level one that the game developers forgot to remove, typing in the cheat code and killing the boss in 30 seconds.  Not good, and that’s what happened IMNSHO.

You can’t build up a big bad guy and then take him down after only one monologue and a show of relatively superficial force… joke not intended.

3. Bathos killing Pathos at every turn

Every serious moment was undercut by something humorous, or worse, the lack of courage for a new generation character to be killed is given the “just a flesh wound” treatment.  Admittedly, Poe trolling General Hux in the very beginning was quite funny and well done.  There were a few other humorous points too, like Luke brushing gravel off his shoulder when the AT-ATs fail to kill him… a funny Eastwood-esque moment worked well.  But there were so many other times where relief was subverted by humor, or noble sacrifice subverted by G.I. Joe Red/Blue laser writing.  Finn was in a point to go out a real hero and cement his place in lore history, but no.  Rose stole that moment in a Mary Sue level save for the guy she had the hots for so we can get a trendy cute puppy love kiss.  Shucking foot me.

4. Speaking of Lore… Let’s just crap all over it while leaving the audience in the dark.

Now some of this was explained in a video by a Star Wars super-fan that many of the things that left the audience wondering why or how things happened were in the extended media, but left out of the film.  Okay, yeah.  I get that.  Small problem.  I’m not buying the dozens of related materials just to figure out what happened.  If I can’t tell why it is so from the movie, tha’s crap writing, y’all.

But here’s the real travesty.  Big spoiler… REAL big.

Luke dies because…. reasons!  I know I’ve said this three times this blog, but holy crapsnacking porgs on a stick!  So, how does Luke survive the standoff with the AT-ATs?  BTW, you see almost all of their footage in the trailer… weak Disney, very weak for something so cool.  He’s doing galactic range force projection of himself.  So he isn’t even there, and cannot be run through with Kylo’s Lightsaber and die.  Ergo, he died because the plot said so… and Disney obviously wants to shove the original trilogy out of the way so they can go on making a new SW film every friggen year with new characters.  Han was killed because Harrison Ford said he should have died in Return of the Jedi.  Sure, I can see that.  But to have him go down like he did in Force Awakens tarnishing his legacy as hero to one of failed father and a bit of a deadbeat loser badboy a princess fell for and a broken and messed up kid who ultimately kills him because Darth Emo is all angst-ridden. (Your name is Ben, we named the dog Kylo)  Don’t get me wrong on this one point though, I like Adam Driver’s acting.  Guy’s good.  He’s easily the best portrayed character, but that says how good an actor he is for the crap he has been given for lines and characterization.

But to treat Luke as a broken and failed Jedi trainer who tries to murder Kylo as a child out of fear?  Just wow.  Mark Hamill was right to criticize this plot.

5. The biggest reason:  Wasted Potential

When I was watching the film, I saw so many huge potentials for really good twists.  Also, there are ways for Ep. IX to redeem the movie, but honestly, I don’t think they would or the public should let them off the hook so easily.

Potential 1:  The Weapons Dealers being the real source behind the war (Oh and way to piss me off, Disney, for having the word “RESISTANCE” be the only word fully capitalized in the opening crawl.  Way to telegraph for the SJW’s out there in the age of Trump)    That said, it would have been a very interesting direction to go, and make it believable how the First Order and the Resistance kept having access to a seemingly endless ability to wage war across the galaxy.  Seriously a good idea, new villians could be introduced and a war behind the war would have been refreshing.  But alas, I’m certain that will be ignored as a throw away commentary on American Imperialism and proxy wars.

Potential 2: What if we threw a war and nobody came?  If you had it where the destruction of the First Order’s fleet and the death of Emperor Snoke as well as the complete eradication of the Resistance’s fleet was the end of the war?  Called on account of no materiel left to fight with?  They called for help, but nobody came.  Not even Luke did really.  This again, opens the door for a more sneaky covert spy thing, as well as the scramble to fill the power vacuum.  Who’s next in line for controlling the galaxy?  The Hutts?  Any of a dozen factions or races from extended lore?  That’s some of the most interesting stuff there instead of painting ourselves into a corner with only having two small factions (or are they really that small and if so, we should give zero foxes about this entire movie because the losses aren’t that important) slugging it out.  Ben Shapiro said it best that Disney painted themselves in the corner by making the First Order being only a repeat of the empire when all new land could be cultivated and even our old favorite characters would need to find their place in it.  Newp.  We just got lather rinse repeat with a smidgen of new fan service and old fan kiss offs.

Potential 3:  Rey and Kylo rule the universe.  What if both of them joined forces?  They easily could have.  But no, let’s just recreate Luke vs. Vader all over again.  The potential for them to BOTH fall to their own lusts, being that one was on the dark side, and the other having no training…. it was a foregone outcome that they could become the next imperial force.  Or you could have both of them turn on the new Grand Moff Hux.  I still say, despite him giving off the snotty English private school bastard vibe, Hux could become a great villain and they could join the Resistance and fight against him, AND the weapons dealers as the First Order and Resistance fall into ashes creating two new orders to slug it out.

Potential 4: Luke could have redeemed himself.  If given the chance to make right his failures as yoda pointed out, and throw out the Jedi religion as antiquated and failed like Bruce Lee threw out Kung Fu to create Jeet Kun Do, that might have been something truly interesting as well.  They would then have to fight against new enemies as well as the corruptive influence of the Force if given over to their baser lusts personified in the Dark Side.

I do not expect any of these potentials to be addressed or realized.  I think we’re looking at those possibilities in the rear view mirror, n’er to return.

BTW. the Porgs are stupid IMHO, but supposedly there was a reason they’re in the movie that I have not confirmed.  Supposedly they had puffins walking into the shots so often they just CGIed them into Porgs.  If this is true, well played.  If not… another log of WTF on the bonfire.

What has this taught me about my own writing?  Simply put, payoffs and audience expectations.

I expected Snoke to be much more threatening and survive to the next movie and prove the build up we got in The Force Awakens.  Andy Serkis is a motion cap savant and it’s a shame to waste that talent.  So that’s taught me if I build up a villain, even if i just have them lurking in the background I must give them an appropriate conclusion to their own story ark and not throw them out like garbage.

There is only so much subversion of the tropes and mood you can do before the audience gets pissed at you.  You cannot turn every serious moment into a joke like Joss Wheadon on speed.  I remember in an interview about the movie “Iron Monkey” about the tastes of Chinese audiences.  They want a little humor, a little romance, something scary, something to cry about and lots of escapist fun all in the same film.  Because of that, you give them what they want.  You cant jerk them around with pretending to give them a heroic sacrifice of a main character to steal it away in order to preserve the power of the unnecessary sacrifice of a minor unnecessary character (particularly because its a woman).  Don’t manipulate the emotions of the audience with a beloved character’s death, but then to ‘save versus logical outcome because script’!

Do not… repeat DO NOT… violate the rules of your own universe.  mmm mmm… don’t do it.  You cannot go 7 movies without someone doing the obvious, “why don’t I just ram that target as I shift to hyperspace and press the ‘win’ button” only to then do it to create an unnecessary martyr, or any other reason.  This violates a fundamental understanding of the Star Wars universe.  It’s implied collision at lightspeed is bad, but logic dictates that would be the first weapon you’d go to when given the chance.  You just make it into a missile.  So in your own writing, unless you’re willing to spend the time explaining how nobody did it before (too expensive, too unpredictable, too penguiny… whatever)  you don’t do it.

For example in my own setting, the supernatural events (aka the magic system) always has God or Satan behind it.  (or by proxy a demon or angel)  There’s no digging up magic metal or water from the ground.  So that stuff is all physically hard science like we have in the real world.  This can create real pickles for me at times.  It also means that with steam power, you will never see walking machines or steam blimps.  Physics in my setting remain the same as they do in this world, unless a supernatural force from God, Angel, Demon or Satan is involved.  If I violate that, please beat me about the head and shoulders.

There are more reasons why I don’t like the film so much anymore after the fact, but this will do.  As you can see, not thrilled with the new trilogy.  It’s about as bad as the prequels right now and the third movie better pay off YUGE or they ain’t getting my money back any time soon.  Save yourself the cash and see it on some streaming service or rental.

This is not the movie you’re looking for.

Go ahead and comment below if you desire.

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The Expansive Themes, Subtle Complexity and Luscious Spectacle that is Blade Runner 2049 *No Spoilers*

I just went to see “Blade Runner 2049” and could not help but share my reaction since it sort of relates to us here. I saw it on a regular screen in 2d. I would say upgrade to DLX or whatever super screen you can get. IMAX is never worth it though. 3d? Nothing… and I mean nothing is there to make it worth that price premium. But I don’t like 3d so YMMV.
First off, I’m a huge fan of the first movie.  Favorite movie all time bar none.  I’ve done a previous dissection of the film here.  The Breakers: Blade Runner.  It’s worth a read I think.
Visually it is everything you ever wanted and more. If Rodger Deakins does not win the Oscar, no one this year deserves it. He out does the first film in so many respects but always pays homage.  It is luscious like I said.  You can go from the Film Noir high contrast to the subtle grays and smoke of French New Wave to the loud noisy spectacle of 80’s action films.  All integrated and cohesive.  None feel wrong.  Neon, Fluorescent, “natural” light all his servants.  This is cinematographer porn and your eyes will thank you.
Pacing is slow at times, but it doesn’t drag. It’s very dreamlike, which fits with the first film, seamlessly.  There are long slow shots that just fill in the world so well, you are thankful to have the time to breathe and think on what reveals were brought up.  It was also good to see the world in daytime and in the varied environments of the “Greater Los Angeles” area.  It’s not all just arcologies and wasteland.  You have to see it to understand the scope, and boy is it something!
Themes and subtext… brilliant, staggering and poignant. This move is PACKED with so many concepts and that spawns questions.  I can see why they are not giving away spoilers or trying to explain it. It will pigeonhole and distort what it’s all about. Don’t let other people tell you what it’s about. There’s too much there to think about.  They are layered, deep and sometimes very personal.  This film relies on many conventions of film noir as well as what can be found in cutting edge Japanese cyberpunk Anime (think Masamune Shirow though he’s not a visual influence, just spiritual though it all hearkens back to the themes of Fancher’s take on Phillip K. Dick).  It does not just appropriate from others who followed in the genre it created nearly single-handedly (at least for cinema it did), it evolves and brings it forward into the era it once called the future.
The story is excellent in encapsulating all the above, but has one painful flaw: It’s the first movie of an obvious trilogy. But… at this quality that’s like complaining about “The Empire Strikes Back” or “The Two Towers” needing a third movie to wrap up the trilogy. I really look forward to the expansion of the universe beyond this sequel.  The story itself does stand on its own, but at the end, you have more questions than answers, and I don’t want to give away the biggest question of them all, because it will color your own ideas of the film all the way.  And trust me, I’m fighting really hard to not say it.  Oh… and as a HUGE positive:  no SJW influence.  That’s right.  They didn’t dip down into trendy current political fads or preach any of the current dogma, just like we don’t hear dogma preached from a 1980’s perspective it would be out of place, so that works in big big ways.
Acting, superb. There is obvious chemistry and very well played scenes that draw the emotion out of you if you understand the contextual depth of what is going on. They are subtle, poignant scenes, so don’t overlook them.  I should also say that the interplay between Ford and Gosling made me laugh outloud at times.  They do have some great moments together.
The music pays suitable homage to Vangalis. Never outdoing him per sey, but expounding and enlarging what he did. BUT… I had one complaint in this regards. There are a few scenes where you cannot tell if the music is diagetic or not and it’s very loud and distracting. This was done in the first film to great effect:
…but at the same time, here… it’s hit and miss.  The use of the film’s opening and closing music themes are perfect.  To be fair even the original has two solid misses in it’s musical lexicon: the love theme and the credit theme.  This film does not make those mistakes.  The added music, (much like the 1920’s style ballad in the street corner bar after Zorah’s death, “One More Kiss”) is extremely well done, but using real era stuff.
The material taken from the first movie to be incorporated is incredible. I literally gasped at one of the reveals. I’m super happy with how they accomplished it, and the technical achievements in this manner are marvelous and Oscar-worthy. It’s not what you think either.
A little more nudity (none would have been better) and cussing than I’d prefer, but tolerable.
I should also point out how well it follows the first film.  The violence is never glamorous.  It is sudden, gritty and intimate.  I cannot say it is not gratuitous… but it’s always appropriate and actually the “overuse” in one scene makes you realize the scope in which poor Agent K finds himself is far greater than just looking for a rogue replicant.  The final conflict is thrilling and had me on the edge of my seat.  In many ways this movie is a series of intimate portraits between people in the middle of a grand scene.  That helps keep the movie tight and connected with the audience.
As a semi-spoiler, I did have one thing confirmed that should send raves throughout the nerd community: “Soldier” starring Kurt Russell *IS* set in the Blade Runner universe in the off world colonies. If only they had Ridley Scott producing that film, it would have been much better. If you know the film, you’ll get it when you see it. It ranks up there with the Alien skull reveal in Predator 2.

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Ultimately, this is the sequel Blade Runner deserved.  It is like watching “The Godfather Part 2” in some respects where it fills in the world, expands upon it and makes so many more things whole and important.  Although it is not necessary to see the three attached shorts you can find online, they do help elaborate how we came to the world of 2049.  This is a deep thinking film.  You will ask yourself some questions that most people never even consider.  Do not expect shallow fare to kill two hour and forty-some minutes in idle popcorn puffery.  That will turn off many audiences who aren’t attracted by the nostalgia.There will be many reasons of why this film will be labeled a “flop”.  It can only be considered one if using the mega tent-pole blockbuster measuring stick which has to tick all the focus group boxes that make them thundering bland flash for cash grabs.  This is not for what Blade Runner 2049 is.  Nor is it just self indulgent hipster-poseur art-house pseudo-intellectualism.  So don’t let the inner life of this film pass you by.  It raises some interesting points on where our civilization is going and who we are as individuals, not in a preachy way, but in curious introspection and possibly even a distant warning like storm clouds on the horizon.If I had to encapsulate it all, I’d give it a 9.5 out of 10.  Fractions taken off for the nudity, cussing, the fact it is a sequel set up and that little sound issue.  This is a solid R rating too, like the original was (Technically unrated, but that’s quibbling).  Despite these points, he film stands on its own as a wonderful and possibly important piece of art.  It might even aspire to being considered a “great” film some day.  We’ll see.  Not many sequels get a chance to be considered that way.
This one does and is so worth seeing on the big screen.Don’t cheat yourself, go while you can, and bring someone with who can have a long discussion with you afterwords.