Contributor Post Created with Sketch. ACF Middlebrow #10: The Last Jedi

 

New podcast, new ideas, new controversies! This week, Pete Spiliakos and I talk Star Wars. We pick apart The Last Jedi to show you what is expected of competent mediocrity; how hard it is to get plots, characters, their conflicts, and relationships right; and how important it is to do so. We talk about how the audience is supposed to react to various characters and developments, thus connecting emotions to ideas to develop themes about the education of a new generation of leaders. Properly done, TLJ would have been a good story reflecting the innocence and incompetence of Millennials and their confrontation with Boomers who are both mythical and catastrophic. This is what middlebrow art is like — if only we aspire to it…

Pete and I talk about a lot of parallels to previous Star Wars stories and some ways in which the stories are getting better and worse:

  • The chaos of the plot and the failure to connect the A (Luke-Rey-Kylo), B (Poe-Leia), C (Finn) plots plausibly, not to say insightfully.
  • The misery of the new Luke Skywalker.
  • Ben Solo, a worthy, new Anakin.
  • The prequel trilogy! The Liam Neeson problem and the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker. The riddle of Kenobi’s name.
  • The Last Jedi rehearses The Phantom Menace: A character (Admiral PurpleHair, Pete calls her, not sure if that’s her title / Qui-gon) gets in the way of plot development (separating Poe from Leia / Anakin from Obi-wan). Thus, the B-plot is screwed up (Poe Dameron’s transformation from fighter to political leader) and Leia is wasted.
  • Finn’s innocence-competence problems: Whereas Han shot first, now even child-soldiers are innocent of any wrongdoing, which also makes them comically incompetent and so unworthy of the other characters.
  • Peter Cushing and the grandeur of Grand Moff Tarkin — the story badly needs characters like him, who showed the ruthless competence of the imperial military bureaucracy

There are 23 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera: Ben Solo, a worthy, new Anakin.

    Disagree. I think one of the major problems in this new trilogy, along with the Mary Sue-ness of Rey, is the fact that Kylo Ren is not a credible villain. The fact that Rey beat him like a rented mule the first time she ever touched a light saber seriously undercuts his level of badassery. Then she had to save him in the second movie. 

    Contrast that with the Vader of the original trilogy. Unstoppable. Outright contemptuous of attempts to kill him, such as the first time you see him, walking right through point blank blaster fire. Luke had to grow through three movies before he had a prayer facing him, and even then he lost.

    A third movie that becomes a showdown between Rey and Ren is likely to turn into a snoozefest. But I don’t know where else they go with the story.

    • #1
    • May 8, 2018, at 1:13 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    I agree about the Mary Sue problem & what it does to the plot. But the boy’s got horror in his life!

    I dunno about the showdown–maybe it’ll be ok. It cannot be as bad as Episodes VII & VIII!

    • #2
    • May 8, 2018, at 1:24 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    I agree about the Mary Sue problem & what it does to the plot. But the boy’s got horror in his life!

    I dunno about the showdown–maybe it’ll be ok. It cannot be as bad as Episodes VII & VIII!

    Disney: Hold my beer.

    • #3
    • May 8, 2018, at 1:31 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    What can I say, Bog Iger as Disney CEO knows more about how to suck the soul out of the movies through a cheap nostalgia machine than anyone in American history…

    • #4
    • May 8, 2018, at 2:16 PM PDT
    • Like
  5. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    I agree about the Mary Sue problem & what it does to the plot. But the boy’s got horror in his life!

    I dunno about the showdown–maybe it’ll be ok. It cannot be as bad as Episodes VII & VIII!

    Disney: Hold my beer.

    Hey Disney also does Marvel and those guys maybe have the most consistent batting average for entertaining quality big budget flicks out there. I will have to listen to this podcast and give my impressions. But putting my marker down now. I will say what I said when I first saw Force Awakens which is that I like Rey and frankly having never heard the term Mary Sue until it was brought up with respect to her I had no problems with her skill as compared to Kylo. I did not think that it was established that he was a master of the force. Just the only force user around. Plus the Force is a fickle thing, and since it is not rational why should its endowments be? 

    To remind you Yoda makes a point that there is no difference between lifting one stone and a whole X-Wing the limit to it was clearly Luke’s own self awareness of the difference between the two objects. Maybe the more ignorant one is the more skill with the Force one has. While rigid training actually limits one by creating expectations and self imposed limits. But this is nerd retrofitting. Still I was not bothered, because I liked Rey and in the moment it felt appropriate for her to win or at least beat Kylo back. 

    • #5
    • May 8, 2018, at 4:06 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    So Rey doesn’t seem to belong in a dramatic movie. Something more like a religious text, maybe? Belief, that is, doesn’t seem to have any relationship to dramatic plausibility…

    As for Marvel–yeah, Disney seems to own dramatic plausibility in this other sense–how people imagine impressive, dramatic stories happening.

    & then there are all the live-action movies that hit a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, or get close…

    It’s a strange new success for Hollywood. Disney seems alone in understanding that what Americans want to see–& offer the world–may have little to nothing to do with novelty or depth.

    • #6
    • May 8, 2018, at 5:02 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Unsk Member

    Da-Judge:

    “I think one of the major problems in this new trilogy, along with the Mary Sue-ness of Rey, is the fact that Kylo Ren is not a credible villain. “

    Hit the nail on the head. Walt Disney knew how to create great villains which then were used to create an engrossing and entertaining struggle and plot between good and evil. But the spirit of Walt has long been snuffed out at the oh-so politically correct Disney, and our new Disney villains are self questioning, conflicted and only relatively bad guys like Ren. They can’t really be evil because you know we have to understand how our new villains became that way because it’s not really their fault; it’s the fault of some childhood trauma and product probably of some bad childrearing from a nuclear religious family or something. 

    What is intriguing is that Disney has literally billions riding on the Stars Wars franchise, so it is kind of amazing that they are willing to risk it all for political correctness. 

    • #7
    • May 8, 2018, at 9:21 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    You’re wrong about the PC stuff. Really, it’s something trickier & stickier than PC. Philip Rieff called it the therapeutic. That’s the ethos. 

    But SW is not beholden to that, really. What you’re getting is a Boomer v. Millennial conflict. That’s why even Luke has to end up looking miserable, a wretch. Millennials feel the country has shafted them. That the mythical Boomers who so dominate culture–the 60s forever!–are actually bestowing a legacy that’s at best fraught with danger or at worst an unfolding catastrophe.

    Of course, they’re right. The America the Millennials are inheriting is undergoing all sorts of crisis they’re just growing up with & they have no idea where they’re coming from.

    • #8
    • May 8, 2018, at 11:47 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. Judge Mental Member

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Hey Disney also does Marvel and those guys maybe have the most consistent batting average for entertaining quality big budget flicks out there.

    Marvel is a separate operation.

    • #9
    • May 9, 2018, at 12:07 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Hey Disney also does Marvel and those guys maybe have the most consistent batting average for entertaining quality big budget flicks out there.

    Marvel is a separate operation.

    Run by the nefarious Kevin Feige, who went from can’t win to can’t lose in 2008, no doubt by selling his soul to the devil.

    • #10
    • May 9, 2018, at 4:23 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Hey Disney also does Marvel and those guys maybe have the most consistent batting average for entertaining quality big budget flicks out there.

    Marvel is a separate operation.

    Run by the nefarious Kevin Feige, who went from can’t win to can’t lose in 2008, no doubt by selling his soul to the devil.

    It’s worked for him.

    I listened to the podcast in full and I think I am in complete agreement with your guest. Last Jedi made good choices for its besst story, and many bad choices for its other two stories. I hope they build on the good and just memory hole the bad decisions, for the third movie. 

    What I think has worked well for Marvel and let’s be honest here. We have the New Star Wars because the MCU has been such a hit, has been building up the Universe slowly introducing new characters places and concepts, which allowed them to the make the last Avengers movie that by all rights should have been a hot mess of too many characters and places, but because everything was familiar already they could give them movie focus and not have to reexplain who these characters are. I don’t see the building up the Star Wars Universe and that is a shame I think because it would help them out down the road.

    • #11
    • May 9, 2018, at 5:16 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Hey Disney also does Marvel and those guys maybe have the most consistent batting average for entertaining quality big budget flicks out there.

    Marvel is a separate operation.

    Run by the nefarious Kevin Feige, who went from can’t win to can’t lose in 2008, no doubt by selling his soul to the devil.

    It’s worked for him.

    I listened to the podcast in full and I think I am in complete agreement with your guest. Last Jedi made good choices for its besst story, and many bad choices for its other two stories. I hope they build on the good and just memory hole the bad decisions, for the third movie. 

    What I think has worked well for Marvel and let’s be honest here. We have the New Star Wars because the MCU has been such a hit, has been building up the Universe slowly introducing new characters places and concepts, which allowed them to the make the last Avengers movie that by all rights should have been a hot mess of too many characters and places, but because everything was familiar already they could give them movie focus and not have to reexplain who these characters are. I don’t see the building up the Star Wars Universe and that is a shame I think because it would help them out down the road.

    • #12
    • May 9, 2018, at 5:30 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    I disagree about Marvel. It’s not like once you see this Avengers, you’ve learned anything. Except that the gloom is way more real than the sarcastic quips. The movies are all profitable & made with rare competence for mediocre fare. But they don’t add up to anything.

    Nor did the mini-Avengers Iron man movie called Captain America: Civil War. There were no compelling reasons why the heroes should fight. Or do it in the combinations they did. It’s just fun for people & the drama compels them partly because it’s exempt from examination–it nags at the crises in the culture, but without ever making anything of them.

    I’m not sure I could explain why they succeeded–my best guess turns on the Iron man/Robert Downey, Jr. hero–but I don’t see any effects of the MCU on America. I don’t see something like a cultural impact.

    Except in a business sense. You may be right about the Star Wars thing. So also one might argue that the success of the MCU caused the execs at Warner to destroy the DC team Nolan-Goyer-Snyder, although they had been wildly successful as well…

    • #13
    • May 9, 2018, at 7:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I see your points, @titustechera but allow me to say this. It is no small feat to provide fun and entertaining movies with consistency. I don’t think a piece of art needs to examine the crisis in the culture to be good or even influential. Some forms of art can not even do this. After all consider classical music. Nothing about it can convey any kind of cultural message innately. It is just (to be reductively blunt) noise. But what noise! Though it speaks to no issues of the day music still moves the soul, and it moves all men differently. It makes us feel joy, sadness, warmth, fear, excitement and every other emotion. It offers a refuge from the world and whatever cultural crises we may be facing, and seeking that refuge we can become renewed again to face reality rather than endlessly being ground down by it. 

    Now are the Marvel Movies all that? I think to some extent they are. They are refuge of fun, excitement, and catharsis. We feel good to see the heroes win, and to imagine that heroes who are heroic exist. If the last Avengers movies is dark or darker it is because it is also good to know the villains exist, and that ultimate triumph must always follow bitter defeat. The story of the Infinity War is only half told. You can’t have the resurrection without the crucifixion first. This is not original story telling, but I think it is some of the best kind of story telling.

    But putting all the touchy feely stuff aside the structure of the creation the movies as a whole, the Cinematic Universe is itself a novel and new idea in cinema. And that I think should be appreciated as an innovation. Not to be dismissed any more than one would dismiss the pyramids of Giza as a simple pile of stones. They show that you can build up an audience from scratch piece by piece to the point were you can expect them to follow a movie that has no explanation or introduction of the characters. Think about that. If you went into see this movie without having ever seen one MCU movie you would be lost utterly. But who is the person who saw this movie without ever having seen an MCU movie? Clearly given its financial success the audience of MCU viewers was big enough to make this movie work. It isn’t adding sound to movies, but it certainly is a more worthy innovation than 3D. I hope other can build upon this idea to slowly craft up a world of stories maybe even ones that will deal more seriously with the cultural crisis we face. 

    As for DC, we can see that they have put all their carts before any horse. starting from the team without laying any foundation for the characters and world. Such fools, and such a shame. 

     

    • #14
    • May 9, 2018, at 10:45 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    I remind you, at DC they had a great Dark Knight trilogy, then a remarkable Man of steel. I dunno what you’re so contemptuous about. But after four big successes that work as art, too, the studio destroyed the talent.

    I’m glad people like Marvel movies & have fun. But they don’t compare with the DC movies.

    I will disregard your comment about classical music, with your permission.

    I take your point about the UNIVERSE, but it doesn’t serve any purpose. If it did, we could discuss whether it works.

    As for 3d, I dunno any 3d movie that made that much impression on me. Besson’s Valerian, at least, is an amazing vision–& it’s remarkably coherent. If any part of the MCU, much less the whole, had anything to teach that compares, I’d take it more seriously.

    Entertainment, like everything else, comes at a price. In the case of the MCU, it means a generations of kids will have no idea what heroes might be–or stories that have something serious to say. Or even that movies have an ending that’s supposed to achieve a certain emotion dramatically, not to be undercut by distracting previews of coming attractions…

    • #15
    • May 9, 2018, at 11:32 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I think the remarkablenes of Man of Steel is debatable, in no small part thanks to it’s betrayl of the essence of Superman as a character. Who at no point in the movie shows any concern or care for truth, justice, or the American way. But let’s leave that aside.

    Do the children of today not have other movies to watch? Watching the Marvel movies does not limit anyone from watching other movies, the children of today can have their cake and eat it too in this case. Not everything has to be a statement, meaning can be applied retroactively to the things we love and enjoy even when their inception is firvolous. 

    • #16
    • May 9, 2018, at 1:57 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    I’m not talking about ‘can’. I’m talking about what’s actually happening.

    American children can all learn French & read Montaigne; they can learn American history & find out who Lincoln was. But is it happening?

    As for Man of steel, obviously we think about the story differently. Superman is as American as the Boy Scouts (until recently, at any rate…) His care for justice is his preference for America over his own people–because he cannot justify the slaughter of rational animals by politicizing justice in the way Zod does. As for his care for truth, I dunno how you don’t see it–that doesn’t even require this sort of interpretations about the Zod-Superman conflict…

    • #17
    • May 9, 2018, at 2:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Equality of opportunity is the thing, you can’t control the outcome, without being tyrannical. I think probably more children than we think manage to get the right exposure, though probably fewer than should. Still, I don’t think the children of the past were actually any better. Old people just have trouble remembering how stupid they were when they were younger. Poor memory does afflict the aged…

    As to the Superman of Man of Steel, while you can generously interpret his actions as you do the real Superman who isn’t some conflicted emo guy with an identity crisis, would not have had a brawl leveling half of Metropolis. The Superman people actually like would have taken Zod and his goons out of the city, and fought them there. That is the thing Superman isn’t a conflicted character about his identity. He knows who he is, which wasn’t the Superman of of Man of Steel. Superman is a positive character who has internalized the American ethos of justice and personal responsibility and because of his nigh limitless power actively works to thwart evil. He doesn’t do it to teach humanity, or as a burden of greatness, he does it because that is what any good man with power would do. If you can stop the bank robbers you do stop the bank robbers. If a crazy general from your distant home world comes to kill of the population of the planet you just say no and punch him into the Phantom zone.

    Superman isn’t complicated, he doesn’t have to be, and he works best when he isn’t. The people around him can be all complicated and conflicted. This is why he pairs up so well with Batman. Who is all conflicted all the time. Superman has had a good life, and is the product of a good life. He has no tragedy in his past. The death of Krypton is not something that effects him because he did not experience it. You can write tragedy into his world after he dons the cape but setting him up as tragic to begin with is untrue to his origins, and rings falls. 

    And the reason they did that was because DC studios saw Batman trilogy succeed and Batman is all tragedy. So they concluded people like guys with tragic pasts. I guess if you were writing Superman from scratch you could come up with Man of Steel. But they aren’t writing him from scratch. This is something that Marvel does well. They respect their characters at least in their origins, and then move on from there. After all they didn’t start off Captain America as some jaded special commando that he becomes, but as his optimistic patriotic self who punches Nazis. 

    • #18
    • May 9, 2018, at 5:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    So Superman is Jesus Christ with a taste for the sweet science. For a long time, writers who have a taste for drama & who are capable of thinking about myths were not interested in comic books, so you could just have the Superman you had, even up to the 2006 movie; how was that ever going to last? Too many kids who grew up to learn about Greek tragedy loved comics when they were kids. The Nolans, for example… As they worked their way through the entertainment business, a seriousness about the moral drama of human nature was inevitable. Writers like Alan Moore & Frank Miller already were doing this. Bendis, too, at least with Daredevil, the Catholic Batman. 

    The presence of a god among 21st c. Americans would of course cause massive political, social, & moral change. Whether there’s anything left of freedom would really be a concern… That excites the imagination for the same reason any other superhero does–it brings out possibilities of human nature that are concealed or ignored almost everywhere else & it especially speaks to the revolutionary flights of fancy of the young–it’s just that in DC movies, there were intelligent people thinking through that excited imagination. Gee, what would happen? What would things be like?

    You’re wrong about one thing, though. The Nolan-Goyer script for Man of steel is not to do with Greek tragedy/Batman–it’s all about Plato’s Republic. The whole first act is taken from that somewhat famous book. Then when you see Clark Kent the kid–he has that book. The question is from political philosophy, how would it be possible for a man with such powers to be good!

    • #19
    • May 9, 2018, at 10:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  20. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My point is having the question “can some one with Superman’s power” be good, is like asking can you be Superman if you can’t fly and aren’t supper strong. Being good is part of his character, you remove or question that and you no longer have Superman as your main character. Which seems like a problem for me in a Superman movie.

     

    • #20
    • May 10, 2018, at 6:20 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Valiuth (View Comment):

    My point is having the question “can some one with Superman’s power” be good, is like asking can you be Superman if you can’t fly and aren’t supper strong. Being good is part of his character, you remove or question that and you no longer have Superman as your main character. Which seems like a problem for me in a Superman movie.

    Even if you started from your formulation, you’d end up with the same question by a different route. Now, Americans have some sense of what it means to be a good man. Mostly, it’s what’s called a Boy Scout. Now, in reality we all know that if you play the Boy Scout, you’re gonna screw up & maybe screw others up, too, in various ways. Life doesn’t work that way. So our awareness of goodness comes tied up with our awareness of the problematic character of goodness. Superman is supposed to solve that because he’s powerful, so he’s not gonna end up with the short end of the stick. So far so good–this, I take it, is what you have in mind. 

    But! If you think that’s it for goodness & power, there’s no drama! No story! The point is, Superman, simply because of being good + powerful must destroy people’s freedom in various ways. Ruining the legitimacy of authorized powers, for example. Inviting people to be irresponsible (because they’ll be protected). &c. That’s one part of the Nolan-Goyer-Snyder project (before the execs ruined it…)

    There is another problem, however, that you should already see in there: What if a Boy Scout who doesn’t have anything to lose, because he’s a god, is necessarily a tyrant?–People think tyrants are

    Editor's Note:

    Automatically redacted for Code of Conduct violation: Obscenities and vulgarities.

    If you are the author, you can edit this and remove the offending word. This is an automatic filter and does not reflect editorial judgment.

    who want to exploit others–but what if that’s an error, & the true tyrant is someone who wants to solve all the problems, to fix what’s broken, including in people, & to help the needy whenever they’re needy!

    This is the conflict prepared by the conclusion of Man of steel–sure, Superman has just saved mankind from his race: But! How can America live with him?

    • #21
    • May 10, 2018, at 1:56 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    What did you say to draw down the auto CoC? Must have been good.

    Well, I think the other thing about superman is that the power creep on him has been detrimental. You need a toned down Superman too. Just in general for comics and movies. But, what you propose can be done I think, it just can’t be Superman asking these questions because that’s not in character. And if you wanted to have that discussion it would be better to have a different villain than Zod. Maybe a human villian that does not neccesitates super powers to stop. Like Lex Luthor? You would also need to show Superman actually saving people in a consistent and credible manner. Does Superman actually save one person before snapping Zod’s neck? None of the ground work for the questions you raise are laid out in the movie. 

    This is where a cinematic universe can work, because it offers the creative team a chance to set things up not just plots, but the kind of philosophical analysis you want. You dont have one movie to explore a question but many movies, and you have to think of it that way. DC isn’t thinking this way and so it is stumbling around desperate for a quick buck. Marvel could use more of this thinking too, and Star Wars needs it the most. 

     

    • #22
    • May 10, 2018, at 2:26 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    So I’m against cinematic universes precisely for this reason. If you can’t do a tragic trilogy–or a comic one–you shouldn’t be doing a cash machine franchise that has more chaos than any ideas…

    So Superman saves people starting as a teenager–bus load of kids. He starts by saving people on a massive oilrig fire at sea.

    But it’s all anonymous.

    Zod forces him to go public. Without another god, there’s no need to…

    & to the public he looks like the force of nature chaos that he had previously been fighting off…

    There’s more to say about his Boy Scout education & the chaos-order relationship.

    But that’s something else. I do agree with you that Superman is not the guy asking the questions. The story is–hence the need for a very serious Chrstian-infused drama of conscience.

    • #23
    • May 11, 2018, at 5:11 AM PDT
    • 2 likes

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.