Everyone Calm the Hell Down: Here Are Instructions to Having An Opinion About ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Flawed things can be great, and great things can be flawed.

Except ‘Wrath of Khan’. ‘Wrath of Khan’ is perfect and if you try to convince me otherwise, we’ll fall out.

But besides ‘Wrath of Khan’, grandeur and tedium are perfectly capable of existing side-by-side. ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ is a fantastic film, yet there are plenty of issues to be found within it. Rice pudding is well tasty, even if it does have the consistency of stale cum. And Boris Johnson may be politically, socially and morally repulsive, but look at that magnificent barnet.

I mean, look at ‘Return of the Jedi’. Say what you like about Ewoks, or regressive gender representation, or literally any of the male hairstyles, but just try and tell me, honestly, that the final fight between Luke and Vader isn’t one of the emotional high points in the whole damn franchise. Go on, try.

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Jesus fucking Christ, that’s a fringe and a half.

You can probably already tell where this is going.

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ contains some of my favourite moments from any Star Wars film in the franchise. Hell, the final duel itself is possibly the most perfect Star Wars scene ever, and we’ll cover why shortly.

First off: Spoilers. Spoilers from the outset. Don’t proceed if you don’t want Star Wars spoilers.

So, here is a comprehensive guide on how to have an opinion on ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ without sounding like either a sloppy dicksack or an uninformed shitprick.

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Poe and Finn, with Rose accurately positioned as a third wheel.

Step One: Don’t Just Recognise the Great, Understand It

Context is everything.

So, I’m the kind of person who, the first time I saw the final fight between Luke and Kylo Ren, on the salty planet of Krayt, was staring at Luke’s lightsaber thinking:

“But we just saw that exact lightsaber torn apart like, three scenes ago. How the hell does he have it fixed all of a sudden?”

I was also thinking:

“Why the hell didn’t we get to see Luke lifting his X-Wing out of the water to travel to the Rebel base, in what would have been an amazing homage to ‘The Empire Strikes Back’?”

And then, boom. That reveal. We discover that Luke is projecting himself and his lightsaber across lightyears, an illusion made to distract Kylo Ren and the First Order, to buy time for Leia and the rest of the cornered Resistance to escape.

Now, if you’re the sort of person who liked this reveal because “It was a cool twist!”, then please feel free to never open your mouth ever again. This final scene was a great twist, but there’s so much more to it than that, and to understand it, you need to look backwards.

Forty years back, in fact, and a full nine Star Wars films. Back to before we even had “episodes” and “sub-titles”, when all we had was ‘STAR WARS’, and it was a single film that looked like this:

(Incidentally, I’m writing this on the 28th December 2017, literally forty years and a day since ‘Star Wars’ was released in the UK.

… Should’ve written it yesterday. Balls.)

Anyway, that clip above is what shapes Luke’s final fight in ‘The Last Jedi’, and its significance is vital. It’s that line:

“The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.”

Because, after Kylo unleashes all of his hatred and fury against his former master, as he realises the deception for which he’s fallen, those words above echo across four decades. For all of his power and dominion, Kylo Ren is still just a weak-minded fool compared to a true master of the force, who draws their strength not from aggression, but from peace.

And the fact that the Luke’s exertion ultimately consumes him is, to me, even more beautiful. The film is none too subtle about its theme of protection over destruction, and in fact at one point just gives up and has Rose flat-out state:

“We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!”

Indeed, it echoes each emotional high from the films that have come before it – Obi Wan sacrificing himself to force Luke to flee the Death Star. Luke throwing himself into a chasm in Cloud City rather than join Vader. Luke again risking everything to try and save Vader from the Emperor, and Vader’s subsequent sacrifice to save his son. Han’s decision to face death to try and save his own son’s soul aboard Starkiller Base. And all the sacrifices made by the Rogue One crew, just to get a hope of a chance for the Rebellion to survive the Death Star.

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You can even recognise the failures of the Prequel Trilogy by this very theme being absent from any of them. Qui Gonn doesn’t choose to make a sacrifice in ‘The Phantom Menace’, he just gets defeated in a duel. No sacrifice is made in ‘Attack of the Clones’, either, it’s just a lot of bullshit with lightning and a spring-loaded Yoda. Similarly, it seems clear to me that there would have been a lot more emotional punch to ‘Revenge of the Sith’ if Obi Wan had chosen to kill his friend and failed, or if Padmé had died trying to save her children, rather than because she just, like, y’know, totally couldn’t even anymore.

But all of this frothy fanboyism aside, there’s so much more that’s great about this scene. The fact that the final lightsaber duel in this movie wasn’t even really a fight scene frames what’s great about all fight scenes – that they’re about the characters, and the struggles, and the themes. Fancy moves and complex choreography is great and all, but the substance comes from what’s going on around the glowy laser swords and CGI bollocks.


Step 2: Acknowledge the Bad, and Appreciate its Significance

In a weirdly fitting manner, whilst one of the last scenes of the film was one of the best, for me it was one of the first scenes that was one of the worst. It’s not long after we get the opening crawl, in which we’re told the following:

“The FIRST ORDER reigns. Having decimated the peaceful Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy.”

As we find out that the Resistance is evacuating their base and fleeing for safer refuge, the massive ships of the First Order appear in orbit, bearing down on the Resistance fleet. This is a pretty tense moment, a lot of threat and dread. The First Order are big, they’re powerful, and they seem pretty unstoppable.

Then Poe Dameron, he of the gorgeous, glorious locks of hair, appears ahead of the First Order armada in his X-Wing, alone. And suddenly you’re like “Cool, awesome, I can’t wait to see what Poe’s strategy is going to be to win the day. This is exciting.”

So Poe radios General Hux, he of the scenery-demolishing jaws, and the following exchange ensues:

Poe Dameron: This is Commander Poe Dameron of the Republic fleet, I have an urgent communique for General Hugs.

General Hux: This is General Hux of the First Order. The Republic is no more. Your fleet are Rebel scum and war criminals. Tell your precious princess there will be no terms, there will be no surrender…

Poe Dameron: Hi, I’m holding for General Hux.

General Hux: This is Hux. You and your friends are doomed. We will wipe your filth from the galaxy.

Poe Dameron: Okay. I’ll hold.

General Hux: Hello?

Poe Dameron: Hello? Yup, I’m still here.

General Hux: Can he hear me?

Poe Dameron: Hux?

Captain Canady: He can.

Poe Dameron: With an ‘H’? Skinny guy. Kinda pasty.

General Hux: I can hear you. Can you hear me?

Poe Dameron: Look, I can’t hold forever. If you reach him, tell him Leia has an urgent message for him…

Captain Canady: I believe he’s tooling with you, sir.

Poe Dameron: …about his mother.

And you’re like “… Really?”

I mean, all of this is amusing, and it’s delivered perfectly well by the actors, but then you scroll back up to that opening crawl – are these the “merciless legions” currently reigning the galaxy? The ones who just fell for a prank call?

Hey, Poe, that was all a bit elaborate, maybe try for something simpler next time, like this:

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Or maybe this:

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The possibilities are endless.

The main issue with this exchange isn’t so much that it’s humourous, as that it turns General Hux and, by extension, the collective First Order, into a… a goofball. Into both a schlemiel and a schlemazel, right when he’s meant to be at his most threatening.

Now, taking the piss out of Imperial Officers is a long-standing Star Wars tradition, but it’s not usually as pedestrian as this. Even that rando on the end of the comm in the Death Star detention centre eventually got fed up of Han’s bullshit. So why is Hux falling for this, instead of just nuking Poe’s X-Wing as a matter of course?

And it takes away from the heroism. Poe’s daring assault against the First Order dreadnought is much less impressive when the bloke in charge of the fleet is operating at the same level as Moe the Bartender (not helped by the fact his second-in-command is Vyvyan from ‘The Young Ones’).

I mean, there’s a lot to be said about the First Order’s tactics in this exchange in general. As pleased as I was to see more Angry Space Triangles on screen, it was that connection that also left me wondering why the hell the First Order had forgotten about such a thing as a “fighter screen”, especially when they lost their massive, planet-sized super-weapon to a fighter attack literally eight scenes prior.

But then, Imperial arrogance is another fine Star Wars tradition, and seeing them failing to learn from their previous mistakes and being bested by an inventive Rebellion attack is perfectly within scope of the franchise. They can be hubristic, foolish even, but they shouldn’t be clowns – not if we’re to take them seriously for the rest of the film.

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“We need a new vehicle for our war with the Resistance.” “Bigger AT-AT with more guns.” “But what about versatility, speed and-” “BIGGER. MORE GUNS.”

Later on in the film, when Kylo orders Luke to be wiped out with massed artillery fire, there’s a moment where Hux turns to him and starts giving him sass for such crass overkill. And all I can think is “Shut the fuck up, Hux, you are the absolute last person to be commenting on another person’s composure.” If Kylo had mimed a “It’s the Scooby Doo gang calling, they want you to be their next antagonist,” phonecall, I’m confident Hux would’ve tried to take the invisible receiver out of Kylo’s hand before realising what was going on.


Step 3: It’s All About Tone

The previous section could be summed up relatively succinctly as follows:

“The tone of the conversation between Poe and Hux didn’t match the severity of the circumstances.”

There are always opportunities for levity and humour. The DC movies have learned the hard way that humour is an important part of telling a story in a manner that’s engaging and effective, and that allows you to connect with an audience.

Throughout ‘The Last Jedi’, we see that Rey and Kylo are somehow connected through the Force, able to see one another and speak to one another, without anyone else around them being aware. Most of these scenes are heady and serious, but there’s one where we see Kylo topless, and Rey demurely asks him to cover himself. This moment got a lot of laughs from the rest of the audience, which bothered me.

The laughter bothered me partially because all expressions of human joy cause me physical discomfort, but mostly because I thought this was actually a charming bit of humanisation of these otherwise superhuman characters. Rey’s already having a hard time dealing with all of this, and she likely just couldn’t cope with the additional stress of being face-to-face with the sheer acreage Kylo’s pectoral muscles.

It was a lovely moment that was sadly a source of big laughs for the mouth-breathing popcorn-shoveling unwashed masses that make up the cinema-going public these days. I mean, don’t you just hate people?

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I’m sure this room has a purpose. Maybe it’s just Kylo’s personal Broodoir.

There were similar occurrences during Rey and Luke’s conversation inside the Magic Tree, next to the old books. This felt like a fairly pivotal scene, where Rey and Luke confront one another over their respective motivations. Again, a lot of tension and drama.

And yet the lines “I’ve seen your daily routine, you’re not busy,” and “Jakku? Alright, that is pretty much nowhere,” got big, big laughs in the cinema on opening night, and left me feeling like I was on the set of ‘The Big Bang Theory’, because whilst those lines are amusing, they’re hardly the height of comedic writing.

But upon my second viewing, when the audience was a little more muted, those lines fed into the scene nicely – again, they were just charming, in their own way, and let down only by the audience. Which I know is a really elitist thing to say, but you know I’m right. Laughter is a precious resource, to be spared only for true comedy. How dare these people sully both good comedy and good drama with their drooling guffaws and chortles. I hate them. They’re like animals, and I hate them!


Anyway, the topic I actually wanted to cover in this section was a topic that leaves me feeling… unclean. Because it involves me badmouthing the grandfather of Star Wars, John Williams.

John Williams is the man behind all of the Star Wars soundtracks. For reference, the Star Wars soundtracks are arguably the best thing about Star Wars, and certainly the best thing about the Prequel trilogy.

Sadly, in ‘The Last Jedi’, he dropped the ball, somewhat.

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I feel really sorry for the poor CGI artist who spent far too many hours of her life removing the multiple reflections of the camera crew from every frame featuring Captain Phasma.

A common trope among all film soundtracks is for each character to have their own “tune”, their own piece of music that signifies their presence within the film. Most of the Star Wars cast gets one:

Rose is a new character introduced in this film. She’s actually a bit tragic – her sister dies in the costly attack that Poe launches in the film’s opening, a loss that she carries with her as she nonetheless remains dedicated to the cause. Despite her bereavement, she never loses sight of what’s really important, and acts as the film’s moral barometer throughout. Which is neat.

What isn’t neat is her fucking theme tune. First off, it settles into that saccharine, treacly pit of despair reserved for the absolute worst of “feel-good” Christmassy bullshit music such as this:

(Don’t get me wrong, I like the Piano Guys, but this is an atrocity.)

Now, I’m not a fan of Rose’s theme to begin with, but I can get past that if it’s used appropriately. The issue is that even if you do like it, it seems to be used every time Rose opens her mouth, which is not always appropriate.

It’s a cheery, overly-sentimental Hallmark-badge-wearing lowest-common-denominator piece of garbage that just about works when Rose is talking about things like saving animals and “protecting the people we looove” and definitely doesn’t work when Rose is telling Finn about how her sister was killed in a fiery explosion whilst bombing a ship full of thousands of people.

The best musical moments of ‘The Last Jedi’ are in fact the moments where the old tunes are brought back into use, such as “Rey’s Theme” during Rey’s lightsaber practice montage, or the frequent refrains from the Original Trilogy. But these are pieces of music that are versatile, that can be adapted to fit different situations. Rose’s theme is so cloying that it tonally dominates every scene it’s used in, subsequently ruining them.

I’m sure a lot of people really liked that particular piece of music, and that’s fine, but you need to understand why it doesn’t work. And that’s just the problem with people, they’re so easily impressed by crude sentimentality, they can be led astray. People also elected Donald Trump, and voted for Brexit, and watch Fox News and read the Daily Mail. What people really need is wisdom, and strength, someone powerful enough to guide them and tell them what they ought to be thinking. Democracy is too good for the people of this planet, they need a true, strong and secure leader to bring peace to the world.


Step 4: Measure With A Sliding Scale of Granularity

Now that you’ve established your thoughts on the big stuff, like theme and tone, it’s time to fine-tune your opinion using the more detailed parts of the film itself.

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“I know it seems extreme, Artoo, but they just wouldn’t shut up about realistic physics, and this was easier than explaining to them that movies also need to be marketable.”

First up, if you get annoyed by any of the inconsistencies with the technology or the physics on display, then you’ve picked entirely the wrong genre of film to watch, that genre being All Films Ever Made. With the exception of maybe something like ‘The Martian’, which is a story entirely based on the realities of existing in a place that does not want you to exist, Hollywood abandoned long ago any attempt at so much as lip service to realism.

I will happily give a lot of grief to a piece of crap like ‘Into Darkness’ over its technological inconsistencies, because for some reason it decided to base its entire plot around them. When you spend half of your movie talking about a bunch of fucking torpedoes, it’s important to establish what the hell those torpedoes are and what they do, otherwise you’ll end up with the cinematic equivalent of a sad handjob in a bus shelter.

The reason I bring this up is because it’s easy to see X-Wings flying down a trench in ‘The Force Awakens’ and subsequently conclude that it must be the same film as ‘A New Hope’, despite the fact that the journeys taken by the characters and their revelations are completely distinct, and X-Wings in trenches makes up roughly seventeen seconds of screentime in ‘The Force Awakens’ compared to being the entire final act of ‘A New Hope’.

Similarly with ‘The Last Jedi’, it’s easy to get caught up in stuff like arcing laser bolts or arbitrary fuel reserves – but these things are mostly details, aesthetic choices that don’t affect the journeys that the characters are on.

What’s more problematic is the stuff which does affect the journeys our characters take.

When Finn and Rose run into the skeevy hacker played by Benicio Del Toro, they do so by chance, not through any decision that they took or choice that they made. Now, normally I’d clock this up to “The Force brought them together,” which is actually a canonical explanation for any significant coincidence in the Star Wars universe.

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Well, I sure am glad we spent so much screen time with this plot-vital character.

But if they’re just going to stumble into the exact person they need to break through First Order security, why follow such a convoluted path to get there? It removes any requirement for them to travel to the Planet of the One-Percenters, meet the little force-sensitive kid, or ride the sheep-headed horse-bodied fox-eared bastards before getting rescued by Benicio.

This is exacerbated by the ultimate conclusion of their entire endeavour, which is to be spotted by a droid aboard the First Order flagship and captured anyway, at which point Benicio f-f-f-f-f-fucks off without consequence. Pretty much that entire B-plot could be replaced by a five-minute scene of Finn, Rose and BB-8 just sneaking onto Snoke’s ship.

Whilst the Finn-Rose subplot does give us some lovely moments (and a strong animal rights undercurrent to the film) and some great exposition, that could all have been transplanted into other scenes – especially when the film is two-and-a-half hours long. Which is fully half-an-hour too long for any Star Wars film.

It’s details like these that are the real “plot holes” – not minor omissions that could be explained with a single sentence of exposition, but over-indulgent, overly-sentimental distractions that should have been covered in a single sentence of exposition.

But you’ve got to have that Finn-Rose detour, right? Because you’ve got to have a big chase sequence with a load of cuddly horse monsters breaking free of captivity, right? And they’ve got to be adorable so that people feel sorry for them, Right? God, once again, this otherwise-perfect film is getting laid low by a need to satisfy the masses. Bread and circuses, that’s all you people want – excitement and extravagance to keep your tiny little brains entertained. The kind of people who applaud the end credits of a film they liked. Who are you applauding? The projectionist? The cleaners? You know the film-makers aren’t actually there to hear you clapping, don’t you? What I wouldn’t give to bring those kinds of people to order. I’d soon have you fall in line, in line with reason, and common sense. I just need the power to do it. Imagine it, a world without deviance or distraction, an organised world united behind a single ideal, where the strong pull together and those who refuse to fall in line can be destroyed. That’s the problem, I keep holding back, holding this anger in check – if I were to embrace it, give in to my hatred, who knows what I could achieve.


On the subject of minor details, I also want to talk about one short moment that really bothered me, which was Luke milking that weird creature with the four… look, they weren’t udders, they were clearly breasts. If they had been udders, then I’d probably have been less skeeved out by it, but they were clearly breasts that seemed painfully engorged with green milk, given that it seemed he only had to press on them to get them to fire a jet direct into his sippy-cup.

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“So does everyone on this island live in giant stoney tits?” “Well, you can try your luck with the Travelodge but they charge you for wifi, the bastards.”

To be fair, Star Wars has always been a bit gross, but this was… grotesque. It was like something out of ‘The League of Gentlemen’, in a really bad way. It was just so bizarre, and really off-putting.

Like, Chewbacca barbequeing a Porg was weirdly perfect, especially as I like to think of it as the canonical moment that Chewie decided to go vegan – but Luke having a xeno-lactation fetish is just a bit too much.

Similarly with the particularly cartoonish character that breaks out into opera right before getting horribly trampled by sheep-horse-foxes in the casino. There were just a handful of these weird moments, inserted into the movie a bit like the hardcore porn edited into kids’ films by Tyler Durden. They were so quick you might not even notice them, but so weird that they definitely left you feeling like you’d just been violated in some way.


Step 5: Take A Step Back to See the Bigger Picture

I’ve barely covered a single percent of the interesting things there are to talk about in ‘The Last Jedi’, but I’m going to bring this guide to a close with the final step, which is to take a look at the full film, from start to finish. Not just the things in it, but what the film is, its essence, if you will.

Mr Plinkett has done a good summary of the “Ending Multiplication Effect” – the tendency of films that lack narrative focus to split themselves up into smaller chunks as they progress. As he mentions, ‘A New Hope’ does an excellent job of keeping everyone more-or-less together through their film until the very end, giving everyone their role to play in a single climactic final act (even Obi Wan).

‘The Force Awakens’ decides to split itself into two, with Finn and Rey reaching an emotional climax on the surface with Kylo, and Poe and Co. in their X-Wings with their own more physical climactic battle.

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Rusty airspeeders held together with duct tape and prayer. For when your underdogs need to be undier and doggier.

‘The Last Jedi’ is much more interesting, in that it starts off with everyone scattered – Rey and Luke (and Kylo, really) on the Sneeze Planet, with Leia, Rose, Poe and Finn escaping the First Order. Not long into the film, that second group splits up again, with Finn and Rose going on their merrily-pointless Casino vacation.

But by the time we reach the final scene, everybody has reached the final battle, with all of the action focused on that one salt planet with the massive door.

This is a really nice narrative trick, and pretty rare. Pulling all of those plot threads together is no small feat, and it’s really rewarding, as an audience member, to see it done without too much contrivance.

Likewise, the film’s themes are broadly on point and well-demonstrated. Kylo’s repeated mantra of destroying the old to make way for the new is a nice way to bring in the meta-issue of these being new films with new casts and new stories, and a good way to remind everyone to stop clinging on to the old characters, whose stories really ended thirty years ago.

Rey’s struggles with her own identity are reflected in the progression of the film itself, with it starting out not really knowing what it wants to be, and ending so beautifully that I was nearly ready to forgive it all of its missteps along the way. I have no idea if this is intentional – something tells me it might have been, but even if it was accidental, I’m happy to treat it as part of the film’s character.

It’s just a shame that there’s too much gumpf in the middle, with casinos and destruction derbies and Benicio Del Toro st-st-st-st-st-stammering unconvincingly.

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Settling once and for all the great debate: which is more effective? A high-voltage plasma stun-baton, or a large stick?

I’m confident that not long after this film is released on DVD, there will be an amazing fan-edit which will trim it down to a tight one hour and fifty-five minutes and elevates it not only to being a great Star Wars movie, but a great sci-fi movie in general. I think if it had been released to cinemas that way, there wouldn’t be such division amongst fans. But then, what do I know? These cretins still pay to see movies about Transformers and planets of apes and anything with Will Farrell in it, so I’m sure if you took out all the bullshit with sheep-horse-fox things, all you’d see would be requests for more bullshit with sheep-horse-fox things. Y’know, if you were smart, if you were to join me in bringing to light these cinematic mistakes, we could set right all of film media’s woes. No more Prequel trilogies, no more pointless remakes, no more cinematic universes and no more Zach Snyder filming everything in half-slowmo, half-normal speed. We could take all of these shitty film-making devices and the audiences who pay to gobble them up and we could wipe them out – All of Them. We could combine our strength and become unstoppable, bringing an end to the chaos of just putting Chris Pratt or Melissa McCarthy in a film and hoping for the best and instead begin a new, pure cinema industry where meaningless plot twists are struck down and replaced with well-structured narratives that lead sensibly from one scene to another. Give in to your anger over trailers that cover the entire plot of the film, let go of your control and let the hate of comedy sidekick characters flow through you. You don’t yet know the true power of creative elitism.


A Few Sporadic Observations

  • I adored the reveal of the Falcon in the final fight scene. Having the TIE Fighters destroyed, followed by seeing the distinctive shadow on the white salty plain was just so wonderful that I nearly cried. Also seeing it lose yet another communications dish.
  • The little boy at the end using the Force to grab his broom was so quick that I thought I’d imagined it the first time. I normally hate children in movies but this one doesn’t really say anything so I was happy to forgive his presence.
  • Yoda’s voice really bothered me the first time around, then I realised the second time what it was – it was his original voice. It’s easy to forget how squeaky he occasionally was when we first meet him in ‘Empire Strikes Back’, and it caught me off guard this time around.
  • The random cameos by cast members from ‘W1A’, ‘The Thick of It’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ was fairly distracting, but in a good way.
  • I like to think that a planet made entirely of salt is the homeworld of all those tragic manbabies who complained about women taking more prominent roles in Star Wars films.
  • Rose’s blaster shot pinging harmlessly off of Phasma’s armour was beautiful and perfect. It totally makes sense that Phasma would be the only Storm Trooper with armour that actually has a function, and it also made her that much more threatening. If anything, I would have loved to see more of Phasma in firefights just basically invulnerable, but alas, she is once again criminally underused.
  • Poe: “Finn, you must have a thousand questions!” Finn: “Where’s Rey?”

International Paralympic Committee Places Blanket Ban on Galactic Empire, First Order

In a landmark press conference held yesterday, the International Paralympic Committee, or IPC, announced that it will ban all athletes from both the Galactic Empire and the First Order. The press release is in full, below:

Statement issued by Committee President Phil Corvin

Following intense deliberation and discussion, the IPC has decided that no athletes from either the Galactic Empire or the First Order will be allowed to participate in any of the 2016 Rio Paralympic events in a month’s time. Whilst we appreciate that many athletes will be disappointed with this decision, the IPC can not ignore the corrupt practices and totally compromised ethical standards exhibited by either regime.

We are dedicated to enabling Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence, but in some cases the behaviour of Imperial competitors has been completely unsporting and absolutely divergent from the spirit of the Paralympic Games. One Imperial hopeful, Darth Vader, a triple amputee, uses aggressive intimidation techniques, bullies other competitors verbally and physically, and is currently under investigation following a series of choking incidents affecting umpires who have presided over previous competitions, although we should stress that no evidence has yet been found of physical assault.

Meanwhile the First Order has also proven lacking in sporting integrity. For example, we have already been forced to reject the application of one of its highest profile athletes, one Kylo Ren. His unfortunate condition of being “constantly torn to pieces between the weakness of the Light and the Power of the Dark Side” does not count as a physical disability at all and, whilst the IPC believes that mental health issues are an important subject globally, the fact that he is “completely fucking batshit” according to the supporting testimonies of many of his colleagues does not count as an intellectual disability of any kind in the eyes of most modern psychiatrists and neurologists.

It is always a sad day for athleticism when passionate athletes are prevented from competing due to the gross misconduct of others, but we stand by our decision and refuse to respond to or acknowledge any threats leveled against the IPC, or indeed the existence of the planet Earth itself, in light of this announcement.

We are still reviewing the circumstances of the Rebellion’s application, and whilst we would be happy to include a notable amputee such as Luke Skywalker in the gymnastics competitions, it is of paramount importance that applicants carry out their due diligence and supply all of their identification and documentation in full and on time, so that the games can run as smoothly as possible. However, it has just come to our attention that we do not in fact need to see Mr Skywalker’s identification at this time, and he is free to go about his business. Move along. Move along.

Everything Clever in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (2015)

Star Wars is like ice cream. It is the thing to which I turn when I simply want to enjoy myself.

One of the reasons that I find the “Prequel Trilogy” so intolerable is that it opposes my enjoyment on so many levels. It’s like digging into a tub of ice cream to find that it’s not ice cream at all, it’s mashed, frozen chickpeas. And that might be alright, there might be some people out there who like the taste of mashed frozen chickpeas, but this stuff isn’t even mashed very well; it’s lumpy, it’s hard, it’s bitter and has been flavoured with earwax and ebola.

In essence, the Prequels are awful because not only are they a poor substitute for Star Wars, but they’re also objectively poor in their own right. I won’t dive into the details here, as there are many and better reviews already out there.

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If you think that my views are coloured by nostalgia, and that the “Original Trilogy” is just as flawed as the Prequels, then my proof lies in the following anecdote. My friend, we’ll call him “James”, tried to prove precisely that I was affected by “nostalgia glasses” by watching ‘A New Hope’ and noting down of all the problems with it; half an hour in and he’d forgotten to take any notes because he was enjoying the film so much.

Curiously, he managed to keep his concentration all the way through ‘The Phantom Menace’.

The truth is, all I need from any Star Wars experience is a warm and comfortable feeling of fun; almost as though I’m a bright-eyed happy kid again rather than the dour, depressive, bitter and bearded adult I have become. What I specifically don’t need is in-depth character studies, explanations of technology or The Force, political discussions, or pointless bloody child actors.

Six paragraphs in and I still haven’t mentioned the subject of this article, namely the latest Star Wars release, ‘The Force Awakens’, produced by Disney and directed by J. J. Abrams, the man behind another movie which is so stupid that being able to understand its plot is an indicator of brain damage. And I’m glad to say, he got everything right with this one.

Well, almost everything.

Fair warning, what lies ahead is almost entirely positive and, as such, much less entertaining than my usual frothing bile-ridden rants. What I am aiming to do is highlight all the things that this movie got right for me, but there are some rules:

  • Aesthetics – I will avoid talking about appearances, music, acting and other stylistic choices, unless it’s an important feature of the story.
  • No physics/realism discussion, because, y’know, this is fucking Star Wars.
  • I won’t be using this as an excuse to slam the Prequels. I’ll happily compare its triumphs to their failures to make a point, but I’ll avoid devolving into an incoherent admonition of those three turds.
  • I don’t give a shit about any “Expanded Universe” bollocks and I never will. That putrescent cauldron produced such pointless entities as the “Yuuzhan Vong” and the idiotic, ideas-from-the-notebook-of-a-spotty-teenager-who-thinks-cars-with-twelve-exhaust-pipes-are-cool-inspired “Suncrusher”, so no part of this article will address anything from any part of the Expanded Universe except maybe some of the more explicit pieces of slash-fiction, and then only indirectly and unintentionally.
  • Similarly, there are novels and cartoons and other support media released alongside this film which are apparently “canon”. I couldn’t care less. This is a Movie franchise, damn it, and that’s exactly how I’ll treat it. If you’re meant to read a comic book before you can fully appreciate a film then they ought to put that on the bloody poster.
  • These rules will be broken. Blow me.

reystorms

I believe I’m in a strong position to dissect this movie, as I have now seen it a total of four times. I think I’ve reached saturation, in fact, as the last time I watched it I started dozing off a little, but in fairness it was eleven in the morning so I was pretty sleepy.

Finally, these observations are mostly mine, and I’ve avoided other peoples’ reviews of this film specifically so I could write this post. However, there are some points on here that were raised by other internet commentators, and for which I have failed to keep references. I’ll highlight this where I can, but I won’t be able to offer links so do your own bloody research and blow me.

And, obviously, spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.


A New Cast For A New Age

reyfinnbb8

This film does not mess around with establishing its own setting and characters, and it definitely feels like the beginning of a trilogy of new stories. Indeed, it doesn’t really feel like a “continuation” from the end of ‘Return of the Jedi’ at all, and that’s incredibly important for the purpose of crafting an engaging story.

In essence, the new trilogy has to leave the old characters behind. Luke defying the Emperor and redeeming his own father was the perfect climax to his character arc; actually showing him trying to rebuild the Jedi order would have felt stale. He’s already done the most exciting thing he’ll ever do, and everything that comes after will feel inferior by comparison.

This is best exemplified by the final chapters of ‘The Return of the King’ – Tolkien’s original ending saw the four Hobbits return to the Shire and wage a minor campaign to take their homes back from Saruman. It was sensibly dropped in the films because they had already won. Sam carried Frodo up the mountain, Frodo destroyed the ring. Prancing around Hobbiton on ponies and calling Grima Wormtongue a cunt is just a huge anti-climax.

‘The Force Awakens’ grabs this principal and runs with it. Han and Leia are almost casual in their approach to destroying Starkiller Base; they’ve done this twice already for crying out loud, and Admiral Ackbar is the only familiar face to seem excited about the new mission, probably because he was so surprised to be invited back at all.

By hanging the plot entirely off of new characters like Rey and Finn, we get to go through their story sharing in their excitement, their fears and their uncertainties. We can see characters that grow and develop as they enter a whole new world of possibilities.


Speaking of A Whole New World…

stormtroopers

A lot of people have expressed frustration with the ambiguity of the origins of the “First Order”, as well as other status quos such as the role of the Republic and its relationship to the Resistance. These are frustrations with which I sympathise, but the absence of details about background and setting are important to the integrity of the film itself.

For one thing, ‘A New Hope’ didn’t waste any time on any of its background at all, to its strength. It was entirely focused on the action at hand. We don’t see the Senate, we don’t even see Alderaan beyond a pale image on a view screen. The audience is thrown into the action and left to fill in the blanks with our own imagination.

You may think you want more details about the politics and the history, but that’s exactly what you got with the Senate sequences in ‘The Phantom Menace’, and do you recall how exciting and enjoyable those incredibly memorable scenes were? If we’re being honest with each other, we both want a lot more of BB-8 giving the thumbs-up with a cigarette lighter, and a lot less of Senators deferring their motions to allow committees to explore the validity of their accusations.

The truth is, the First Order firing their new super weapon is a lot more exciting than the story of how they built it. And whilst a bit of background explanation doesn’t hurt the story, these films have to come in at around the two-hour mark, and when you’re trying to arrange scenes like you’re playing the world’s most expensive game of ‘Tetris’, what exactly do you leave on the cutting room floor in order to make space for a two-minute piece of dry exposition on the logistics of space station construction?

Going back to characters for a moment, the same economy has to apply to the people as well as the setting. For instance, all of the conversations between Han and Leia in ‘The Force Awakens’ are not about each other, but instead focus on Kylo Ren, their son and the third main character. Knowing the intricacies of their relationship following ‘Return of the Jedi’ is so much less important than understanding their son and his story.

Last point on this subject, but exploring the intervening thirty years between this film and the last is a fast track to failure. Would the tale of an aging Luke Skywalker and how he grew his beard ever really live up to your expectations?

I think not.


‘The Force Awakens’ Nails Relationships Like Rhonda Rousey Taking On A Bus-Load Of School Children

maz

With four words, “I like that Wookiee,” the diminutive orange Yoda-Lite Maz Canata immediately secures the trust of the audience. This was originally pointed out by a redditor on the Star Wars subreddit, and whilst I’m unable to relocate the post in question, This Is How Character Development Should Be Done.

By exploiting her friendship with a loved character like Chewie, the film-makers let us know that Maz is one of the good guys, in exactly the same way that we can identify a baddie by their mistreatment of the most sympathetic character.

Were this a prequel movie, we would doubtless have had two minutes of back-and-forth dialogue about “that time when Maz saved Han from that corridor of feeblecocks” or whatever, and the audience would be left baffled and wondering why they weren’t watching a better film.

What’s more impressive is that this is just about the only time in this movie that a friendship between two characters is established only with dialogue. The trust and fellowship between Rey and Finn is developed through their actions, and likewise between Finn and Poe. We see them work together, suffer together, triumph together, and every step of the way we understand why these people care for one another.

Compare the fury and uncertainty and anger that exists between Rey and Kylo, protagonist and antagonist, to the interactions between any of the villains in any of the prequels and their counterparts. I guess Nute Gunray kind of hates Padme, but she doesn’t seem to even acknowledge him, despite his attempt to INVADE HER FUCKING PLANET AND SUBJUGATE HER PEOPLE. Don’t even get me started on Darth Maul, or the emotional vacuum of Yoda fighting Palpatine.

The point is that by properly establishing relationships between characters through actions and choices, the audience is drawn into those relationships and made a part of them – we’re rooting for Poe and Finn to escape the Star Destroyer as much as they’re rooting for each other, and we feel just as excited as they do when they’re reunited.

Also, it’s my solemn hope that a beautiful relationship blossoms between Finn and Poe in the next installment. I want, nay, have to see Poe being dragged away to his doom, as Finn cries out “I love you!” and Poe smiles and says “I know.” And then later they bone.


Keeping It On The Screen

finnpoe

Just as relationships are shown to us clearly, so are the qualities of individual characters. We’re told at the beginning of the film that Poe Dameron is a top pilot, but that is never sealed until we see him in action, pulling head-spinning manoeuvres and downing TIE Fighters faster than a combine harvester can chew through a line of nuns.

We don’t actually get told how powerful Kylo Ren is; we get to see it for ourselves as he stops time, rips secrets out of our heroes’ minds and destroys innocent consoles. Kylo is a symbol of fear and threat not because of the film telling us how dangerous he is but by showing us what he’s capable of. And he doesn’t even have any tattoos or head spikes.

In ‘Return of the Jedi’, we see Lando spot the Imperial trap, co-ordinate his squadrons to avoid destruction, and in general render poor Admiral Ackbar completely redundant. Any question over his suitability as a General is completely wiped clean as we see him naturally settle into the role.

Anakin Skywalker is apparently a great pilot because he tried spinning. That was a neat trick. He could also fly a skycar around pretty well I guess, but it seemed like Obi Wan did a better job.

Having qualities that are visible to the audience is just about the most important part of creating a character for a film. When characters lack defining qualities, or when their traits are talked about but never displayed, you end up with bland characters who fail to compel the audience.


Motivation Is Important

snoke

“Why?” is just as important as “How?” when it comes to storytelling. Sometimes more so. Vader’s revelation to Luke at the end of ‘Empire Strikes Back’ is so powerful a moment because it expands his motivations – he has doggedly pursued Luke and his friends throughout the whole film, but the fact that it was so personal adds a new dimension to the conflict.

Fortunately, ‘The Force Awakens’ gets its motivations right, too. Rey is characterised as the ‘noble survivor’, someone determined to make it through to the next day whilst doing the right thing. Finn’s dialogue-free breakdown during the opening battle tells us everything we need to know about why he decides to escape, and why he later refuses to get involved with the Resistance’s cause except to rescue Rey.

In ‘A New Hope’ we see Luke dreaming of adventures and excitement. We understand Tarkin’s objectives of crushing the Rebellion once and for all. We’re never faced with some silent enemy who turns up randomly at a hangar with the intention of… killing two specific Jedi, apparently. Hell, Boba Fett gets about ninety nanoseconds of screen-time, but we still understand his simple and clear motivations as a bounty hunter ten-million-times better than we do the intentions of Count Lampshade Dooku.


It’s The Little Touches

poefinn

One of the things that everyone can enjoy in any Star Wars movie is the detail; the menagerie of aliens, a myriad of vehicles and technologies, the costumes, and so on. And in the best tradition, ‘The Force Awakens’ is replete with clever little flourishes, the significance of which could be easily missed.

  • My good friend Simon pointed out that Han, being chased by the tentacled Vagina Dentatas, punches and then throws a mercenary into one of the gaping maws as he and Chewie flee the carnage. This is classic, ruthless Han Solo, and detaches us from the weird alternate universe presented in the Special Editions where for some reason, only the baddies shoot first.
  • Another is in Rey’s interrogation scene, as Kylo talks about the ocean in Rey’s dreams, and the island she sees. She’s dreaming of Luke Skywalker, already linking to him through the Force, but until you see the closing scene this just seems like fairly standard dream imagery.
  • All of Rey’s skills and abilities are carefully built up early in the movie; she spends her life scavenging Imperial ships, and so is already a capable mechanic, and is well-prepared to stealthily navigate a First Order base when she later needs to escape, used to Imperial designs and layouts.
  • Snoke’s towering introduction immediately asserts him as a powerful, terrifying figure, and the revelation that it’s a hologram adds a brilliant ‘Wizard of Oz’, “man behind the curtain” feel to his character.
  • Another one from Reddit, the use of lighting during the confrontation between Kylo and Han, the fading of the bright light to bloody red as Kylo resolves to carry out his terrible deed. The fact it echoes Poe’s earlier statement of “As long as there’s light, we’ve got a chance” is just lovely.
  • Rey and Finn can barely move the grating that they hide underneath aboard the Falcon, so when Chewbacca casually hoists it without trouble, newcomers to the franchise are immediately informed of his colossal strength.
  • Love or hate the cross-guard, the instability of Kylo’s lightsaber, and the brutal crackle of it as it twitches, barely contained, is a fantastic alternative to the “Vader Rebreather” as a menacing indicator of the villain’s presence. And is several steps above and beyond the wheezing coughs of General Grievous.
  • My friend James pointed out that Poe’s X-Wing, black and orange, is the exact colour inversion of the rest of the squadron in blue and white. Just try and pretend that’s not neat.

Filling In The Plot Holes

phasma

No story is watertight, and sometimes the necessity for excitement and drama requires a certain suspension of disbelief. If things are exciting and dramatic enough, then the audience won’t even notice – nobody really cares about gaps in the plot of ‘The Matrix’ because we’re all too busy being entertained.

There are some elements of story of ‘The Force Awakens’ which sadly do rely upon a bit of coincidence, or which don’t stand up to detailed scrutiny. But unlike J. J. Abrams previous directorial endeavour, most of them are too small to be noticed compared to all of the amazing sights and sounds, and most of them get ironed out upon further scrutiny.

There are better articles for filling this movie’s plot holes, but the real core of the matter is that most of the plot holes don’t matter in the first place. The story itself, like in ‘A New Hope’ (we’ll get to that soon) is straightforward – it doesn’t hang off space politics, trade taxes and territory disputes, but instead keeps matters focused on the characters at the heart of everything.

It is a bit of a coincidence that Finn happens to stumble into the same town as Rey and BB-8, but how he ended up there doesn’t really matter. And, if you really need an explanation, then this is one of the perfect candidates for that otherwise eye-rolling excuse “The Force Did It”. Influencing the random direction chosen by a person wandering aimlessly through the desert is exactly the kind of thing that an omnipresent mystical energy field might do – and in fact, I kind of like the idea that maybe the Force guided Finn towards Rey – it adds to the mystery and the power of the whole concept.

But that aside, I’ve watched this film four times now, and I’m yet to notice any flaws which ruin my enjoyment of it. I don’t care how Maz got hold of Luke’s lightsaber – her little den of smugglers and space-farers seems like exactly the kind of place where strange relics and artefacts would end up anyway. Finn’s ability with a lightsaber might seem perplexing, until you realise that he got completely demolished by a bloody Stormtrooper, and that as soon as he lands a lucky hit on Kylo, the Emo Wonder stops fucking around and spends about thirty milliseconds disarming the hapless hero and giving his spine a brand new look on life.

None of it matters, though, because the story itself holds together, our characters do things that you might expect them to do in each situation, and none of it gets in the way of a good romp. This isn’t ‘Prometheus’, where the motivations of each character are so opaque that their actions seem random; nor is it the Prequels, where a bad dream can cause you to lose control for a moment and attack your colleagues, murder children, travel several thousand lightyears, murder a whole bunch more people, and then try to murder your friend and mentor shortly after trying to choke to death the person about whom you were having the bad dream, then go on to help found an Empire of corruption and oppression and torture whilst systematically hunting down a whole cadre of war heroes alongside whom you used to fight, eventually culminating in you actually murdering your mentor and friend, trying to murder your own son and all of his friends, and choking to death anyone who in any way fails to live up to expectations.

Hey, we all have nightmares.


There’s Something Familiar About This Place…

hanleia

As just about everybody has already pointed out, there are several “parallels” between the overall plot of ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘A New Hope’. This is fairly obvious, but that’s just it: it’s obvious. It’s surface features. Yes, it involves a band of freedom fighters taking down the planet-destroying space station of a tyrannical force of evil, but once you start looking at things in a little more detail, it becomes a bit more clear that the similarities are mostly skin-deep.

I’ve made this point a few times now, but Star Wars is, really, all about the characters and their journeys. ‘A New Hope’ is the tale of a restless farmboy, bored of his uneventful circumstances, desperate for adventure. Tragic circumstances end his old life suddenly and he embarks on the adventure he always wanted, discovering magic, rescuing a princess from a wicked tyrant and then destroying the evil fortress and saving the day.

‘The Force Awakens’ is about a girl abandoned by her family, struggling to get by day-to-day, until she gets dragged, literally and reluctantly, into a fight between good and evil. She gets captured by a masked villain, only to discover something completely new about herself, and eventually confronts and defeats the monster who captured her, before taking her first steps (literally) on a strange and mysterious path to the force.

The themes in both films are completely different, and the actual similarities are structural; the fact is, elements like a humble beginning for our hero (Tatooine and Jakku), an aged mentor who gives their life for the cause (Obi Wan and Han Solo) and and a terrifying weapon (the Death Star and Starkiller Base) are fantastic features around which to hang a story that’s meant to be exciting and thrilling and engaging and enjoyable and I just love Star Wars so much it huuuurts.

Other differences between the two films include the focus on a villain as a primary character; Obi Wan’s death in ‘A New Hope’ is all part of Luke’s story, but Han’s death is very much more a part of Kylo’s story than it is Rey’s. Similarly, ‘The Force Awakens’ shows us the journey of Finn, a Stormtrooper gone rogue – someone going through some serious revelations and who defects not so much to the side of Good but rather tries to escape the whole affair altogether.

It’s for those reasons that I never felt like I was watching the same film. All of the same features are used to tell two very different stories, and although the structure might be similar, the actual meaty content of it all is very distinct.


But Nothing Is Perfect

xwing

Despite all of my dribbling adoration, there are still flaws with ‘The Force Awakens’ which cannot escape scrutiny. Given what they had to achieve, what expectations were laid upon them and what consequences there were for failure, I feel the film-makers achieved something incredible. I also feel they had more-or-less unlimited resources provided by the second-largest entertainment company in the world, so I have to call them out on their failures.

  • I would really have liked to seen more from Captain Phasma. This might be more a result of my crippling infatuation with Gwendoline Christie, but Phasma’s promise as a ruthless , terrifying military badass was dissolved by her lack of relevance in the film. In truth, Finn and friends could have taken any First Officer prisoner to lower the shields, and I feel that she lacked any particular qualities that actually stood out. Hopefully the next film will rectify this, as Phasma relentlessly pursues the despicable traitor who deserted her division and humiliated her after forcing her to betray her duties. Hopefully.
  • The first time I watched through the film, I felt it was over-paced. It moved so quickly that I could hardly catch my breath. In subsequent viewings this was less of an issue since I knew what was going on. However, ‘A New Hope’ managed a few lovely, slow scenes, such as Luke training aboard the Falcon, or the gradual build-up towards the final battle, which really helped let everything I’d seen sink in without loading me with yet more information.
  • None of the music was quite iconic enough compared to my expectations. John Williams is one of my favourite musicians full stop, and I was sad we didn’t get anything on par with ‘Duel of the Fates’ or ‘The Imperial March’ out of this. ‘Rey’s Theme’ has become a favourite, and Williams’ use of the old melody when Rey ignites the lightsaber for the first time brought a tear to my eye, but none of the new music is quite as timeless and encapsulating as some of the previous scores.
  • I was going to include the “Thermal Oscillator” in this bit, but apparently thermal oscillation is actually a thing and would make sense in the context it’s described, so I’m forced to give it a pass, even if it does sound stupid.
  • Speaking of stupid-sounding things, “Supreme Leader Snoke” is just ridiculous enough to be distracting. “Snoke” is a fine name for some dumb, clumsy alien with a long trunk for a nose and bright blue skin, but not for a super-secretive uber-villain.
  • Ventral cannons. Ventral cannons should act like cannons, not missile launchers. I don’t care if a cannon can actually fire missiles, it still annoys me.
  • The scene in which Kylo attempts to use the Force to interrogate Rey is just silly enough to remind me of that episode of South Park where Cartman develops psychic powers and has “mind battles” with other mystics.
  • And as for that scene, Kylo almost comes across as a bit… rapey with some of his dialogue. However, I have chosen to give this a pass since I’m pretty sure that if Rey was a man rather than a woman I would never have thought that.
  • This is super-minor, but I would really have enjoyed seeing some more varied ship designs. With the final assault on Starkiller Base, they could have had all sorts of Resistance ships getting involved, with some real visual variety in the designs. As is, the dogfights were still exciting and engrossing, so it’s mostly fine, but I feel like they missed a trick here.

And… that’s it. That’s the sum of things that stand out as being negative about this movie for me.


Some Final Thoughts

ties

Maybe I’m just a wide-eyed fanboy, but I really think they nailed this one. We have characters that we care about; characters with clear motivations; characters who come to life on the screen. We have gorgeous settings, amazing shots, and in general this film manages to improve my state of being from “obnoxious arsehole” to “smiling fool”.

It wasn’t quite on a par with the originals, but it was never going to be, not in my eyes. The first three Star Wars films hold a special enough place in my heart that nothing could ever match them. But I reckon that for less die-hard fans, or for people new to the franchise, ‘The Force Awakens’ will become the new standard for Star Wars films.

Everyone who I’ve spoken to who has seen it has said that they can’t wait to see the next one, and that’s the sign of a quality movie. It doesn’t answer every single question, and it doesn’t have to; this is as much the beginning of a story as ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, and I have a feeling the whole series is going to be just as epic.

… Actually, one final thought; I don’t know what his character was actually called, but “Max von Sydow” is a perfect Star Wars name.