In deep space, the small Resistance of ragtag ships exits hyperspace after escaping the First Order fleet led by General Hux.
Poe Dameron, roguish, handsome and dashing, strides with a cocky swagger onto the bridge of the Raddus, the Resistance flagship. His vibrant orange flight suit clashes with the cold sterility of the bridge’s clean, pale surfaces and technical displays.
General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance and all-round stone-cold badass, turns to her arrogant lead pilot as he approaches. “Thank you for listening to me, Commander,” she says. “By abandoning your mission to destroy the Dreadnought, you saved lives and allowed us to escape with our full bomber wing intact.”
“You’re welcome, General,” Poe says. “Even though the Dreadnought was an incredibly powerful mobile weapons platform with which the First Order could wipe out our small fleet, it seems sensible to leave it intact despite the opportunity we had to destroy it.”
Leia nods. “The important thing, the most important thing, is to preserve life, and to save the people we love,” she says. “That’s an important lesson which I now have the chance to teach you verbally.”
Poe seems confused. “Well, I mean, you allowed me to launch our full bomber wing, despite how slowly they move and despite the fact that they lack independent hyperdrives, which is a feature on all of our other attack craft. So it seems contradictory for you to then abort that mission as I was literally dodging enemy fire barely ten metres above the surface of the Dreadnought. Honestly, it’s a miracle I managed to escape at all.”
Leia sits down at the command console. “Poe, I know you’re the leader of the Resistance Fighter Wing, and my direct subordinate, but I prefer to explain my general strategy to you after we engage with the enemy, rather than before. That way, if you defy me, I can demean and demote you in front of your friends and colleagues.”
Poe stares hopelessly at BB-8, but the droid offers no assistance. “So, to be clear, General, we knew the First Order was coming, and that they were bringing a Dreadnought, so we concocted a complex plan involving prank-calling Hux, and fitting a high-speed disposable booster engine to my X-Wing ahead of time, followed by me attacking the Dreadnought single-handed and banking on the fact that they wouldn’t launch fighter cover?”
“Yes, Commander, that’s right.” Leia nods.
“Okay, so you signed off on this attack plan to destroy the Dreadnought ahead of time? And we launched all of our bombers and fighters to carry it out?”
“Yes, Commander. Go on.”
Poe massages the sides of his head with his fingers, ruffling his gorgeous, thick, wavy, dark hair. “But as soon as the planet was evacuated, we were going to call off the attack anyway?”
Leia nods again. “Yes.”
“So,” Poe continues, “if destroying the Dreadnought was never a priority to begin with, why wouldn’t we instead hold all of our fighters and bombers back in defensive positions so that we could escape the very moment we needed to? Because it seems like you committed all of our pilots and attack craft to my plan to destroy a Dreadnought, but then acted like that was not even a secondary or tertiary objective.”
“Poe, get your head out of your penis ditch,” Leia retorts. “You can’t solve every problem by jumping in an X-Wing and blowing something up!”
Poe is shocked. “But that’s how we’ve solved every problem! That’s how you have solved every problem! The first Death Star – X-Wing blew it up. Second Death star – X-Wing blew it up with an assist from the Falcon. STARKILLER BASE, that massive thing which wiped out the New Republic yesterday? I literally just blew it up twelve hours ago! In an X-Wing! TWELVE HOURS AGO. I mean, the AT-ATs on Hoth, sure, your brother was technically in a Snowspeeder, but that’s basically the X-Wing of ground battles. Except on Scarif, where it was literal X-Wings blowing things up during the ground battle and the space battle. Every historic victory won by the Rebels or the Resistance has been down to pilots in X-Wings blowing things up.”
“It’s not about killing the people you hate!” Leia shouts.
“It’s always been about killing the people who hate us!” Poe retorts.
“It’s about saving the people you love!” Leia retorts back.
“By killing the people who are trying to kill the people you love!” Poe retorts thricewise.
An angry silence follows.
Poe eventually relents. “Okay, you were right to call off the attack. The Dreadnought’s still out there, sure, but hey, we hyper-jumped away, and to the best of our knowledge it’s impossible for the First Order to track us through Hyperspace, so we’re probably fine.”
“Agreed,” Leia says. “We’re definitely fine. We have enough fuel for one more Hyperspace jump, so everything is fine.”
Poe pauses in thought, then begins to doubt himself. “…Unless they somehow track us the same way they tracked our scouts in the last film. Remember? How we had scouts reporting on Starkiller base? Who then returned to OUR base, and the First Order tracked them, and then targeted our base with their super weapon? And we know that it was a Hyperspace journey because both my X-Wing squadron and the Falcon had to approach and depart Starkiller Base via Hyperspace?”
Leia doesn’t respond.
“Come to think of it,” Poe continues, “how do we know they don’t have homing beacons on any of our ships? Like how the Empire had one on the Millennium Falcon when you and Luke and Han escaped the first Death Star?”
Leia remains silent.
“Wait, hang on,” Poe says, “didn’t Boba Fett track you, Han and Chewie to Bespin, alerting the Empire and allowing them to arrive there first?”
“I remember that event!” C-3PO calls out. “That was when I was disassembled by Storm Troopers.”
“I can arrange for that to happen again if you don’t shut up, 3PO,” Leia snaps.
Poe’s mind is still racing. “And, hang on, didn’t your Force connection with Luke allow you to pinpoint his exact location when he was hanging from an aerial on the bottom of Bespin? Kind of exactly like the Force connection you have with your son, Kylo Ren?”
“That was different!” Leia shouts. “Luke wanted me to know where he was. I’m intentionally not revealing our position to Kylo Ren. Besides, most of your other examples are from thirty years ago, and take no account of the technological changes made in that time. For all you know, our hyperdrives are better masked, and counter-espionage techniques in general have improved since then.”
“Okay, fine,” Poe answers, “but that doesn’t account for the First Order’s ability to track our scouts back from Starkiller base. So it’s clearly possible to track through Hyperspace, is my point, even just limiting our frame of reference to the last twenty-four hours.”
“That’s… that’s not… What’s your point, Poe?”
“I don’t have a point, really, I just wanted to make sure…” His thoughts overtake him again. “Hang on, General, did you say we only had enough fuel for one more jump to Hyperspace?”
“Yes,” Leia says.
“So, you abandoned our base of operations with exactly enough fuel for two Hyperspace jumps?”
“I did, yes,” Leia says.
“And with the first jump, you took us to the absolute middle of nowhere, into deep space?”
“So?” Leia asks.
“Well,” Poe says, “doesn’t that mean that we would then have to find a fuel source with our next, last, and only jump? This is exactly how the humans lose the Battlestar Galactica board game.”
“There’s a planet nearby.” Leia says.
“A planet?” Poe asks.
“A planet, yeah.”
“About twelve hours away at sublight speed.” Leia explains.
Poe is puzzled. “That doesn’t sound so close. And that sounds like it uses up two thirds of our sublight fuel in the process. Why wouldn’t you just plot our jump to emerge much closer to that planet?”
“Well, we might not have wanted to go there.” Leia says.
“But even if we didn’t, wouldn’t it be better to just be there, rather than half a day away in the middle of empty space?”
“Don’t question my orders, Poe.”
“I’m not questioning your orders, General! But if we only have enough fuel for two Hyperspace jumps and about 18 hours of sublight travel, I don’t understand why you’d put us in the middle of nowhere rather than at a known, previously-abandoned Resistance base. I mean, what if it had been discovered by pirates or smugglers, and they’d taken whatever fuel is there?”
“Then we’d just have to jump somewhere else to get more!” Leia exclaims.
“But,” says Poe, “doesn’t that put an awful lot of pressure on us finding fuel with our very next jump? Given that the one defense you seem to be relying on at the moment is the First Order’s dubious inability to track us through Hyperspace, would you really want to waste one of only two Hyperspace jumps we have left getting us to the middle of nowhere, hours away from a planet which may or may not have fuel reserves? Aren’t you thereby squandering our defensive options against a vastly superior enemy, and in turn hugely endangering the ‘people that we love’ as you put it? The people that we love all being aboard these three ships?”
“Don’t be stupid, Poe,” Leia says. “Get your head out of your dick trench. I obviously know of a location we can go where we can guarantee finding more fuel.”
“Oh,” Poe says, dumbfounded. “So why didn’t we go there to begin with?”
“What?” Leia asks.
“Why, General, didn’t we go to the source of the fuel straightaway, rather than making this pointless stop in empty space first? Because it just seems like if anything about our situation changes that might require us to jump to Hyperspace unexpectedly, well, we’ll be completely screwed, and will have needlessly halved our ability to execute our only safe defense mechanism.”
Leia grinds her teeth in Poe’s general direction.
Poe is unrelenting. “Y’know, it’s just, you were chewing me out before for reckless plans which put our people at risk, and, y’know, I kinda feel like you’re a bit of a hypocrite right now.”
Leia clears her throat and shifts uncomfortably in her seat. “Look, Poe, all of this is academic. We just escaped the First Order. We are safe, we’re in the middle of nowhere with virtually no fuel, but we’re safe. That might not be true if you had carried out your plan, which I authorised, to destroy the Dreadnought.”
“I guess,” Poe admits. “I suppose you were right after all, and I was wrong. I’m sorry for arguing with you. By following your orders, we saved a few pilots who might otherwise have died, and I should be grateful to you for that, and for having the wisdom and foresight to lead this-”
He’s interrupted by alarm klaxons. A bridge officer shouts above the noise “Proximity alert! General, it’s the First Order! They’ve somehow tracked us through Hyperspace! Possibly the same way they did at Starkiller Base, but this is an urgent situation and it would be irresponsible for me to start guessing at the exact methods they used at this point in time!”
Poe strides about the bridge like a true action hero. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“Wait,” Leia says, holding up her hand, “they’ve tracked us through Hyperspace.”
Finn, who I guess was there the whole time or whatever, he wasn’t particularly relevant to the drama, exclaims “But that’s impossible! It’s impossible to track ships through Hyperspace, except for that one time at Starkiller Base! And several other times before, probably”
Leia gets to her feet. “Yes, impossible, except for that one time and several other times before, probably. But they’ve done it.”
“So if we jump to lightspeed, they’ll just track us again, and we’ll be out of fuel,” Finn explains.
“In fairness,” Poe says, “we were basically sitting ducks to begin with.”
“It’s alright,” Leia says, “we can just run. We can put full power to our sublight engines and outrun them for at least eighteen hours. And, indeed, at most. They don’t have any guns capable of damaging us at this range.”
“Except the Dreadnought,” Poe says, “which you asked me not to blow up, and reprimanded me for trying to blow up in the first place.”
Another alarm sounds. A bridge officer shouts over it, “Another contact, General, it’s… yep, it’s the Dreadnought, General, and it looks like it’s pointing it’s ‘fleet-killing’ cannons as Poe put it… yep, it’s pointing them right at us, General. We’ll be in weapons range in a few moments.”
Silence pervades across the bridge. Various officers wordlessly make peace with their imminent doom.
Poe clears his throat. “I never wanted my last words to be ‘I told you so,’ so instead, Finn: I love you. At least until I meet some cute tomboy with A-game shoulder structure and an affinity with the Force, in which case I may come down with the Not-Gays.”
“I’ve always wanted my last words to be ‘I love you too, Poe,'” Finn says. “At least until some cute tomboy with cute bangs rams her busted speeder sled into mine, risking both our lives in a fiery explosion so that a ground-based super-weapon can annihilate our friends and I don’t have to live with the destruction of First Order property on my conscience. In that case, I, too, will get a solid diagnosis of the Not-Gays.”
Leia rolls her eyes, and commits fully to her own last words. “Oh, get your heads out of your wang holes.”
These days, many women walk around scavenging parts or fixing droids, and they are often carrying big sticks and beating up aggressive thugs at the same time.
Yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them.
Even Captain Phasma who tells you that she would punch a guy for stepping out of formation, will pretty much instantly melt and be nice when a confident guy walks up and compliments her on the glimmering shine of her electrothermic armour.
So, don’t believe the insane rants from Captain Phasma during daily training drills.
Women are way nicer in real life than they are on Starkiller Base or in the indoctrinal hypnovids in basic training.
Here’s the truth…
If a woman with a big stick is a scavenger and hoping to meet a cool Resistance agent, she will usually be happy to help you escape pursuit by TIE Fighters and Storm Troopers so you can get off planet and escape the First Order.
Even if a woman isn’t a scavenger, she will almost always be nice and say hello if a confident, normal guy comes up and says he is a Resistance agent on a secret mission.
She’s not going to react in a crazy, insane way like Captain Phasma would during PT, or some stuck-up power systems technician who accuses you of splashing mop bucket water on her diagnostic tools.
She will be nice and friendly, or at least not hit you too hard if she thinks you stole a jacket.
If the guy is a cool Resistance agent, she will naturally feel some attraction for him and open up further to see where the interaction goes – potentially even helping him to steal a ship get out of the system before being slaughtered by Storm Troopers.
If the guys is a weirdo or a sleaze or a First Order defector, she won’t feel attracted and will naturally close up and want to leave the interaction.
Yet, here’s the thing…
Pretty much every guy out there is not a weirdo or a sleaze or a First Order defector.
Most guys are normal, good Resistance agents and most women are normal, good scavengers with big sticks.
So, when a guy walks up to talk to a woman with a big stick, it’s usually a positive and friendly interaction that can lead to a new romance (e.g. they exchange stories, talk about Luke Skywalker or steal an old freighter and and take it into orbit) or a, “Nice to meet you” as he signs up with an outer rim smuggling ship to escape persecution by his former oppressive masters.
Approaching and Talking to a Woman Who is Carrying a Big Stick
Stand in front of her from quite a distance and watch as she fends off three or four thugs trying to steal her droid.
Have a concerned, worried look, as well as an expression of confusion as you recognise the droid she’s protecting, and start running immediately as she shouts at you and starts chasing you. If you can, head for cover in a large tent.
Most women are polite and friendly but if she does knock you to the ground with her stick, just respond to her interrogation as honestly as you can (but not too honestly, of course).
If she hasn’t smiled at you yet, tell her you’re a Resistance agent and pretend you’re on a secret mission to find Luke Skywalker.
Around this point, you might find that First Order Storm Troopers start looking for you. If they see you, grab the woman by the hand and start running away from the Storm Troopers.
She most likely won’t like it when you grab her hand, but it’s just a way of showing her that you’re trying to save her from Storm Troopers.
She will most likely be grateful for saving her life, but if she isn’t, and she blames you for getting her involved in a deadly pursuit by Storm Troopers, just blame her back for hitting you with a stick in the first place.
Try to get to more cover, to catch your breath. If the Storm Troopers keep chasing you, grab her hand again and start running. If she protests, you should let go, as its important to respect her space.
Then, go ahead and flee towards the nearest spacecraft.
There’s nothing wrong with a man and a woman meeting, having an interrogation, feeling a spark of desperation to survive, exchanging escape plans, fleeing for their lives and getting into a spaceship.
It’s completely normal and happens every day, all over the galaxy.
For example, in a backwater scavenging station, or on a desert planet:
Man: [Smile and say in a friendly, easy-going manner manner] Hey – how you doing? I was walking along and saw you with your droid and thought – wow, that’s the droid I’m looking for, I have to return it to the Resistance as part of the secret mission that I’m definitely on. I’m FN-21-uhhh, I mean, I’m Finn, what’s your name?
Man: [Add in some light humor to get her smiling and create a spark between you] Rey…let me guess. You were going to sell the droid to the First Order, right?
Woman: [Most likely laughing and saying] No, I just refused to sell it to [most likely the nearest junk dealer] 🙂
Man: Oh, that’s cool. You had me worried there. I thought you were like a First Order girl who likes banging heads in villages.
Woman: [Possibly smiling or laughing].
Man: [If you’re in a junk outpost or desert planet, you might let her know that you has something else to do besides talk to her, so she understands that you’re not going to stand there talking to her for 30 minutes] Anyway, I’m just out escaping pursuit by the First Order at the moment. How about you?
If it’s clear that a woman is interested in escaping the First Order with you, keep the conversation going and if she’s not busy at that moment, grab her by the hand before exchanging escape plans and stealing the nearest spaceworthy vessel.
Man: Anyway, so it’s been good chatting to you, but we’re now being pursued by First Order soldiers. Would you like to flee the scene and avoid capture and probable execution?
Woman: Sure, that would be nice.
Man: Okay, cool. [Start running]. Which is the nearest ship we could use to escape? We should steal it before being killed.
Common Mistakes That Guys Make When Approaching Women Who Are Carrying Big Sticks
1. Approaching in a suspicious manner
If you want the interaction to go smoothly and not feel awkward for either of you, make sure that you approach and talk to her in a relaxed, confident, Resistance-agenty manner.
Women are attracted to the moral fortitude of men (e.g. fighting the First Order, secret missions) and turned off by the evil (e.g. being a Storm Trooper, oppressing villagers), so if you are a Storm Trooper or oppressing locals, she probably won’t be interested in talking to you.
For example: If a guy asks a girl to help him escape the First Order and the first words out of his mouth are, “Hi, ummm… I was, ummm… wondering, ummm… sorry to interrupt…how, ummm… are you?” you can guess what will happen next.
Big stick in hand and she’ll likely hit him a few times to get her droid’s owner’s jacket back.
So, be confident for the following reasons:
Understand that it’s perfectly normal for people to escape the First Order together.
Understand that if a woman is a scavenger, she will usually be flattered and excited that a cool, confident Resistance agent like you is approaching her.
Understand that most women are friendly and are not the nasty, crazy psychos that halved your rations for failing to properly clean your weapon like Captain Phasma.
Understand that if you are on a secret mission, she will automatically feel some attraction for you, which will make her start to like you.
Understand that if things go well, you might have yourself a new pilot and if it doesn’t end up that way, you will have been killed by the First Order anyway, which will give you fewer things to worry about in general.
Understand that most women are way easier to escape with than they make themselves out to be. All it usually takes is confidence, a bit of humor a bit of conversation to get an escape plan and get yourself off-planet in a ship.
2. Giving up too easily
Some women carry big sticks because they don’t want anyone (not just the First Order) to kill them.
So, if you try to talk to a woman and she clearly shows that she’s not interested in escaping with you, don’t take it personally.
Sometimes, a woman suffers from abandonment issues, isn’t feeling confident, is waiting for her family and would rather be on Jakku waiting for them to return and so on.
It’s not always your fault.
That said, most women, regardless of what mood they were in before the First Order begain chasing you, will almost always listen and help you find a ship if you are being confident and friendly while running for your lives.
Most of humans are not bad people.
We are inherently good natured, loving, caring people.
There are a few nasty eggs out there, like Captain Phasma, but they are minuscule (metaphorically) in comparison to the good eggs.
Most of the women you will meet in life will be nice, friendly and open to escaping the First Order.
However, here’s what you need to keep in mind to avoid being killed…
Sometimes a woman will be interested in escaping with a guy, but she won’t immediately not hit him with a stick and start running.
Some women like to test to see how much of a Resistance agent a guy is by hitting him with a stick and then seeing what he does next.
Does he become nervous and awkward? Does he run away in desperation, or does he remain calm and grab her by the hand in a confident, man-on-a-secret-mission manner?
If a guy gives up at the first sign of being hit with a stick, a woman like her will begin to lose interest because he seems to lack the type of secret mission that she looks for in a guy.
So, if you are going to talk to a woman with a big stick, just keep in mind that some women will immediately take off with you to escape the First Order, some will make it obvious that they don’t want to be bothered and others might want to talk to you, but first hit you to see if you will remain confident if she doesn’t immediately begin running away with you.
It’s up to you as the man to remain confident and relaxed, regardless of how many Storm Troopers are trying to kill you.
Remember: Sometimes a woman will react in an awkward way because she is social anxious, sometimes she’s not in a good mood and sometimes, she just wants to not get dragged into your desperate life-or-death flight from the First Order.
If you can handle her confidence test and she has been finding it difficult to not get shot in the face by Storm Troopers, then she is going to open up to you and hope that the next ship you encounter isn’t filled to the brim with enemy soldiers forming a boarding party.
3. Not leading the conversation
You have approached her, so you can’t expect her to be the one making all the decisions when she takes off in the nearest freighter.
You’ve got to lead the way and create a simple, easy-to-execute plan to evade the pursuing TIE Fighters and make it to orbit.
4. Sticking to polite or reserved conversation
If a guy gets a woman to take off in a stolen freighter with him and then engages her in a very polite, reserved conversation, she’s probably not going to be confident about her chances of survival.
So, make sure that you have the confidence to man the defense turret, rather than putting on an act of being Mr. Polite or Mr. Nice Guy.
Just let your natural marksmanship and knowledge of TIE Fighter attack patterns come through as you take out the enemy fighters, rather than trying to be too polite or reserved.
5. Not including any flirting
Flirting is the most discreet way for a man and a woman to communicate sexual interest in each other, without actually having to say, “Hey, I’m interested in you in a sexual way and also the defence turret is jammed in position, I need you to give me a clear shot on that last TIE Fighter.”
If a guy doesn’t include any flirting after getting a woman to take off in a stolen freighter with him, she will most likely begin to wonder why he is talking to her if he isn’t interested in her in that way and there are still TIE Fighters in pursuit.
She might then say, “Nice talking to you. Now please shoot the TIE Fighters”, activate the rear shields and zone him out.
So, if your intention is to get off-world so you can possibly unite with the Resistance and escape death, make sure that you attempt to flirt with her and see if she flirts back. Or just shoot the TIE Fighters that are trying to destroy your ship.
If she flirts back, it usually means that she is interested and is open to getting to know you further, once you have escaped the pursuing vessels and can plot a hyperspace jump to safety.
As you may have noticed, women usually don’t go around actively evading Storm Troopers in scavenger outposts or even in bars or cantinas.
Women know that is the man’s role to escape the First Order, and also the woman’s if she, too, is being chased by Storm Troopers.
If a man doesn’t escape execution by the First Order, a woman will rarely escape either if they are captured together.
Of course, some women do escape (e.g. when they have access to a ship, or when suddenly developing an affinity with the Force), but most women are killed as easily as a guy who has the misfortune to be hunted by the First Order.
So, don’t ever think that you’re doing a bad thing by helping a woman escape the First Order, especially if she has skills that will help you escape too, such as innate piloting ability.
Most scavenger women are open to being escaping death, so that they can have a chance to not die.
The key to talking to a woman who is carrying a big stick (or who has her face buried into her job endlessly cleaning scavenged ship parts) is to be confident, relaxed and a Resistance agent as you talk to her.
She might be your Force-sensitive and you and her might together help to destroy an enormous First Order Superweapon, fight a Sith apprentice and complete the map to Luke Skywalker.
If she’s carrying a big stick, the only way to find out is to grab her by the hand and drag her behind you as you flee strafing runs by First Order TIE Fighters.
If you don’t, you might not ever see her again or, she might be blasted into a smoking carcass, along with yourself, as the inexorable First Order lays waste to the entire outpost.
So, don’t worry about the insane commanding officers who think that men and women should not be allowed to reject the First Order’s indoctrination.
Walk over, say hi and get something going between you and her.
But one thing that stood out was the scene where two Storm Troopers talk about Chewbacca eating people. Sure, technically it’s not cannibalism, but we don’t have a word for one sentient being eating another sentient being from a different species, so to satisfy all you bloody pedants out there, and for the sake of brevity, I’m going to call it “Shmannibalism”.
There’s also a scene where Chewie literally dismembers a person. He physically, actually pulls their arms from their body.
Chewbacca is a violent sociopath.
So, you watch ‘Solo’, and then you go and watch ‘A New Hope’ and you’re like… Oh. Han Solo kept the shmannibal as his co-pilot. His co-pilot eats people. And that comment he makes to C-3PO, about Chewie pulling people’s arms out of their sockets when he loses… that wasn’t a joke. Han was talking literally.
Wait, Han Solo’s ship’s computer is a former civil rights activist, who was literally stripped of her bodily autonomy and forced into servitude as the Millennium Falcon‘s satnav?
And suddenly, that lighthearted space adventure with laser swords and magic and starfighters duelling over an enormous space station – it all has a bit of a different tone. Because one of our heroes – our heroes – eats people, and violently dismembers them. He’s as violent and gruesome as Hannibal Lecter.
And also the most famous ship in the franchise is run on slave labour.
And this is the problem with prequels. Prequels change the way we see existing characters, such as:
Turning lovable Wookiees into deranged shmannibals in ‘Solo’.
Turning badass space tyrants into whiny, annoying teenagers played by Hayden Christensen.
A lot of the time, a known (and often popular) character from a franchise will appear in that franchise’s prequel, and a lot of the time it kinda works, either because the character is kept consistent with their original appearance, or because the prequel is divorced enough from the original that it doesn’t quite feel like “canon”. For example:
Obi Wan Kenobi feels like a consistent-enough character from ‘The Phantom Menace’ all the way through to ‘Return of the Jedi’.
Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Hobbit’ is completely compatible with, even complimentary to, Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
‘Prometheus’, as much as I like to whinge, doesn’t really affect your experience of ‘Alien’, because the films are so radically different in tone and structure.
The 2009 remake of ‘Star Trek’ was drastic enough of a reboot, stylistically and otherwise, that it very effectively walls itself off from the rest of the franchise in its own little continuity.
For me, the Ur-Example of recent times is that of Sarek in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ (because of course it is, it wouldn’t be a Crude Review if I didn’t whinge about DISCO).
Sarek, a famously logical, ethical Vulcan renowned for having spent his life as a diplomat and advocate of peace, is revealed, in the finale of DISCO’s first season, to have been an active participant in a plot to destroy a planet with billions of people on it, before being publicly revealed as a conspirator.
Which makes it weeeeeeiiiird when we then see him in ‘The Original Series’, the movies and ‘The Next Generation’ being revered as a diplomat, even sat next to the president during fraught negotiations with the Klingons, the same race he tried to commit genocide against. It puts a bizarre spin on everything, with this weird, horrible genocide plot now hanging over every scene that Sarek is in.
(By the way, destroying a planet in a surprise attack to “bring peace to the Galaxy” was exactly the plot of the original Star Wars, and, SPOILER ALERT, it wasn’t the good guys.
…It was Space-Fascists.)
Now, you may be thinking “But what about sequels? Don’t they have the same issues?” And to an extent, they may, when a familiar character is diminished or warped to fit the narrative of a commercially-driven sequel (*cough* Gimili *cough*). But the difference with sequels is that they, by definition, follow after what has come before.
When we see Luke choke Gamorrean Guards in Jabba’s Palace, that doesn’t overwrite the innocent farmboy we first saw on Tatooine – it just shows a different path for the character. If they ever made an origin story for Luke Skywalker, and we found out that a couple of days before ‘A New Hope’ he ethnically cleansed a village of Jawas in the Dune Sea, then we’d have a situation where all of his boyish enthusiasm takes on a different tone.
Similarly, Darth Vader’s redemption in ‘Return of the Jedi’ doesn’t change the nature of his terrifying authoritarianism in ‘Hope’ and ‘Empire’. However, finding out that Vader’s initial fall to the Dark Side was because he was pretty lamely duped into it by the Emperor does diminish a lot of his power and agency in the Original Trilogy, and the drama between him and Obi Wan.
It doesn’t, though. None of these prequels actually ruined anyone’s childhood. Any rational adult can divorce their mental association between a crappy cash-in prequel and an old classic. When I watch the Original Star Wars Trilogy now, I broadly don’t even think about the Prequel Trilogy. When I watch ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, the trash of the Hobbit trilogy doesn’t even enter my mind.
But, that brings us around to the self-defeating nature of these prequels. What do I mean by that?
Well, most media intended for mass consumption these days is motivated almost entirely by commercial concerns. Sure, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ genuinely feels like a passion project for just about everybody involved, but that’s a rare exception, and for every furious road there are five tired Melissa McCarthy vehicles rehashing a bunch of ideas that have already gone before. (I love Melissa McCarthy, by the way, I just wish we could see her doing something a little different for a change. Don’t even get me started on Will bloody Ferrell.)
Besides the bottom line, though, there’s always going to be a glimmer of artistry in almost any production. There will always be, you would hope, some desire by the cast and crew to entertain and intrigue their audience – to tell a story. At its very worst, you get the likes of ‘Transformers’ and ‘Into Darkness’, where commercialism completely dominates any creative imperative, but there would hopefully be a balance in most productions. The Marvel Universe films are all strong examples of commercially-driven movies that retain some artistic essence, if for no other reason than the fact they’re genuinely quite entertaining.
Let’s take another look at the Star Wars Prequels, this time focusing in on ‘The Phantom Menace’. As great a misstep as the plot contrivances may have been, Lucas was clearly intent on spinning some kind of politically intriguing tale set in the Star Wars universe. He failed. Badly. But there’s that little spark of the storyteller still shining through. You can at least see what Lucas was going for, no matter how wide he fell from the mark. He gets points for at least kind-of giving a shit, even if only for ‘The Phantom Menace’.
Part of that artistic intent, with a prequel or a sequel, is to make this instalment a part of the larger series, or franchise or whatever. Put simply, most of the time the creators of these sorts of films want to add their creation to the existing canon, to contribute to a greater whole. The Prequel Trilogy was genuinely intended to be a canonical part of the Star Wars saga. ‘Enterprise’ really wanted to show us life before Starfleet. The Hobbit trilogy was designed to fit snugly into the Lord of the Rings movie-canon.
So then you create your new addition to the canon, where Darth Vader is a stupid whiny teenager or where Chewbacca actually eats people and then… it gets discounted. Because to maintain the image of Chewie as the lovable walking carpet, you have to keep the events of ‘Solo’ out of your head when you watch ‘A New Hope’. So now, ‘Solo’, which was meant to inform on the origins of the iconic Han Solo and Chewbacca duo… doesn’t. Because nobody* wants to think about it. Nobody* wants to see Darth Vader as a miserable Hayden Christensen, so they just… won’t.
And so, you hit the Prequel Paradox. You’ve pushed your own artistic creation out of the canon to which it was meant to contribute. It makes itself irrelevant in the minds of the fans*.
* By “nobody” and “fans” I am, of course, assuming that all audiences are identical to myself: angry fat men on the internet. In truth the majority of the audience likely don’t give a shit, and rightly so.
But how relevant do you even want it to be? How loyal do you need your new creation to be to the existing source material? Which leads into the ULTIMATE problem with prequels.
‘Rogue One’ was unique. For all of its flaws, at the very least it subverted our expectations. As we progress through the final act, we gradually come to realise that everybody is going to die. And it’s a great subversion. It’s the depressing, brutal ending that nobody really expected from a Star Wars movie.
‘Solo’ gives us the opposite. We see Han and Chewie and Lando and the Falcon in all of these dangerous situations that we already know they will survive. The filmmakers do their best to use the supporting cast creatively, with double-crosses and casualties throughout. And tension doesn’t rely on not knowing what’s going to happen – you can still feel tense when re-watching a scene you’ve seen thirty times before. But from a story perspective, we already know that Han ends up with Chewie, and they both end up with the Falcon, and Lando lives through it all, and so we know that every scene in the movie will contrive to allow them to live.
The existing canon acts as a restraint on the narrative.
Now, let’s address the real reason I wanted to write this article.
So, as I’ve previously covered, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ has a new Spock in town. We knew it was coming. From the first time we saw Sarek in the show, we knew Spock would be dragged into this mess.
And I want to make clear, right out of the gate, that I don’t give a shit about Klingon creature designs or the revamp of the Enterprise or the uniforms or any of that crap. Klingons have changed their appearance and culture so many times that there is no consistent version of the Klingon Empire anymore. Hell, the Klingons in ‘Deep Space Nine’ aren’t even the same Klingons we see in ‘The Next Generation’. The “Refit” Enterprise made no logical sense except as a way to make a nicer model for the big screen. And we’ve seen so many bloody uniform variations that I really don’t give a shit anymore (and besides, shouldn’t Pike’s uniform feature a polar neck? Jus’ sayin’).
But I do give a crap about Spock. Specifically, I give a crap about what will be at stake in the adventure to save him. Because ‘Discovery’ is part of the canon, right? And we know, canonically, that he’s going to be back with Captain Pike before long, and not long after that he’s going to team up with Kirk and McCoy, and then he’s going to try and re-unify Romulus and Vulcan, and THEN he’s going to fly a jellyfish-ship into a black hole and then travel back to an alternate reality where his younger self will beat up Benedict Cumberbatch with a lump of metal.
So we already know that Spock will probably be fine. But that’s okay, because we knew that all the way through the Original Series, too.
But we also know that Pike’s going to be fine, and that they will end up back on the Enterprise, which will also be fine, so the story’s going to have to contrive that particular conclusion, too.
We also know that we’re probably not going to get too many huge shake-ups to the wider world of Star Trek, because we know everything will still be there in a few years’ time once we get to ‘The Original Series’.
So it already seems as though this huge universal theory of bullshit that Burnham’s really, really cringey voice-over alludes to in the awful trailer is probably not going to amount to much, long-term.
And despite all of that, they could probably still make a decent-ish story with enough tension about Captain Pike commandeering the Discovery to save Spock and unravel the mystery of the Red Bursts.
And that is the main issue I have. Because isn’t this show meant to be about the crew of Discovery?
Lets talk about Burnham.
Burnham has two main problems as a character:
She has no motivations throughout the first season. She refuses Lorca’s offer of redemption, only to be forced into it, and then just wanders around, bored. There’s even a scene where she tells Tilly directly just how unengaged she is. And that never changes. Burnham never makes any decision to engage with events and drive her life forwards – things just happen, and she responds to them.
She is introduced as Spock’s foster-sister.
So, the first one is just a general complaint that I wanted to get off my chest, but the second is what I want to talk about.
And no, it doesn’t matter that Spock never mentioned her. There was literally an entire film about Spock suddenly having a brother that he’d never spoken about before and that he has never mentioned since. Hell, Kirk had a brother that he mentions in a single episode, who again never features outside of that episode. Data had Lore, and then B4. Burnham can still be canonically Spock’s sister and it really doesn’t change much.
But, what does matter is that it becomes part of Burnham’s identity. Burnham is now Spock’s sister. She’s Sarek’s daughter. Everything that happens is now connected to those two existing characters inextricably, and it also means Burnham’s pretty much stuck in their respective shadows. She’s not her own character – she’s just a relative of these other (male) characters that the fans will recognise.
And it’s also pointless. Burnham is an interesting character in her own right. An orphaned human raised by Vulcans – cool. A traitor to Starfleet who “starts a war” (but doesn’t really) – also cool. She doesn’t need to be connected to Sarek and Spock, and arguably she shouldn’t be, because it ties her fate into that of those other two characters whose futures are already set in stone by previous installments.
Particularly when the plot of the second season (or at least part of it) is going to be Burnham searching for Spock. Specifically, Burnham’s investment in the plot, based on the trailer, seems to be to find her foster brother, and it was Spock who took a leave of absence to investigate the mysterious phenomena across the Galaxy. If this turns out to be true, then notice that Burnham won’t be motivated by her own curiousity or desire for discovery – the actual drive and ambition is all Spock’s.
Not to mention that there was already a Star Trek story about searching for Spock, called ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.’ Hell, TNG had it’s own Spock-hunt, called ‘Reunification’ (parts 1 & 2). In fact, this isn’t even ‘Discovery’s first search for Spock – they did one in the first season, called ‘Lethe’, where Spock was played by Sarek, his father.
And let’s take a look at ‘Lethe’ for a second, because it’s exactly what I’m talking about – Burnham tries to track down the dying Sarek, and she learns about his inner conflicts through the medium of dream-karate (the most Vulcan metaphor I can possibly think of, I mean, of course the rational, highly cultured and scientific Vulcans would characterise everything in the form of physical combat). But what you’ll notice is that all of the revelation and self-discovery is Sarek’s, not Burnham’s. Sure, her relationship with her foster father develops, but it develops through Sarek’s character growth, rather than Burnham’s.
And the main reason this happens is because Sarek is the already-established character that the fans will recognise. If we imagine that James Frain was playing, I dunno, Sarevok (in this continuity Faerûn is in the Alpha Quadrant), some hitherto unknown Vulcan who fostered Burnham, then there might be less perceived need to make the story about him, and instead it might be Burnham who learns new things about herself as she struggles to save him.
This change would also have absolutely allowed the writers to have Sarevok participate in any kind of awful, genocidal atrocity, and therefore have him face more severe consequences for it, without violating the canon. Hell, they would have all the freedom they needed to flesh him out beyond the constraints set by Sarek in previous Treks.
All of this stems from the decision to make ‘Discovery’ a prequel, rather than a sequel. I should refer to this tweet, by on of the show’s writers, Ted Sullivan:
Writing for a franchise with as long and twisted a continuity as Star Trek is understandably daunting. Disney binned all of the Star Wars Expanded Universe stuff when they bought that franchise specifically for this reason (and also because a lot of it is garbage and they probably didn’t want to pay out royalties every time they mentioned Mara Jade). Continuing a series without breaking continuity is really fucking difficult, and most of the old Trek writers didn’t even bother to do it themselves a lot of the time.
But that is multiplied tenfold when you do a prequel. With a sequel, you’re creating new canon, and you can move away from established universe norms through the actions of your characters. Want to ditch the Prime Directive? Have a scene where two crew members discuss it being abandoned for political reasons. Want to make the Klingons a race of peaceful scientists? Explain the cultural shift, using a montage, or flashbacks, or even just basic exposition.
You can’t do that with a prequel, because every change has to be carefully explained and later on corrected to remain within canon. How is it that a war with the Klingons took the Federation to the brink of collapse, but that war is never mentioned in all of the dealings with the Klingons just ten years later? How is it that the Federation handed the means to destroy the Klingon homeworld to a renegade and yet the Klingons don’t constantly bring that up every time Kirk starts preaching about peace and co-operation?
And these things can be explained, there is no doubt about that, but you’re then forced to dedicate screen time to explaining them, rather than telling the story you actually want to tell. Sullivan accurately describes Trek canon as a set of “handcuffs,” but by writing a prequel, he’s really put himself in a straitjacket.
And all of this is at the expense of the show itself. This isn’t just me complaining about DISCO again*. As mentioned, I want the show to succeed – but I want it to succeed on its own merits, by telling original stories with interesting characters that bring something new to Trek, rather than just revisiting the same icons and cultural references like ‘Funkopops: The Series’.
* I mean, it’s mostly just me complaining about DISCO again.
Prequels can be fantastic. They can be a great way to learn more about a character or event in an established universe. ‘Rogue One’ succeeded because it took something we knew nothing about, the “daring raid” to seize the Death Star plans, and made a fun, clunky character piece out of it, with big spaceship battles and pointless cameos by R2-D2 and C-3PO. ‘Rogue One’ worked because of how little we knew about the subject at hand – a passing reference in the opening crawl of the first ever Star Wars film. And consequently, it could be its own entity, and tell the story it wanted to tell.
‘Solo’ failed because of how much we knew about the subject at hand – specifically, two of the most famous sci-fi characters in modern times. And because we knew so much about where Han and Chewie were going, there was very little room to explore where they had come from. The film struggled to tell its own story, and where it deviated from what the fans knew, it ended up making itself obsolete (unless you’re a diehard Chewie-is-a-cannibal theorist).
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ failed for… well, for lots of reasons, but I think the main one was that it handcuffed itself to pre-ordained fates not just of its characters, but of its various nations and species and factions and technologies. They get a cool new mode of transportation, that we know won’t exist in the future. They go to war – a war whose consequences we know will be forgotten within a decade. Like with ‘Solo’, this isn’t just about narrative tension, it’s about having room to develop a story beyond rigid confines established by different writers half a century ago.
It’s about being able to tell the story that you want to tell, rather than the story that you are forced to tell.
If I were a writer stuck with the commercial decision to create a prequel to a much-loved, long-running franchised, I’d just get on with it and try to do my best, and I can only assume that’s exactly what all the writers of all the terrible prequels that have ever been made have done. Ultimately, when you have a job to do, you just do it.
‘Solo’ was a solidly enjoyable adventure film. In fact, ‘Solo’ is basically what the original ‘Star Wars’ would have been if it was made today. There are some issues, though, most of which come from my nerdy background. There’s also a lot of great moments. Let’s dig through. Spoilers from here on out.
Han is Good, and that’s bad. This story starts with Han being a relatively reckless young man devoted to a young woman, and ends with him being a relatively altruistic and sentimental hero. Which is fine from a “making a movie” perspective, but problematic because it’s very difficult to go from Han Solo at the end of ‘Solo’ to Han Solo at the beginning of ‘A New Hope’.
But admittedly, that doesn’t harm this film in its own right – it just makes it sit awkwardly in the franchise.
The final scene should have ended with Han sitting down at the card table. We already know he’s going to win the game and hence the Falcon, we don’t need to see it happen at that point, especially when it’s as exciting as watching two people play a card game that we don’t understand.
The film also didn’t sell me on the connection between Han and the Falcon. Specifically, I couldn’t understand why Han would chase down Lando at the very end just to gamble for the Falcon, when he could instead just buy a ship that he knows isn’t ripped to shreds. Put simply, it doesn’t feel like an organic character motivation, and if this wasn’t an origin story for Han Solo, captain of the Millennium Falcon, that scene wouldn’t even exist.
The constant heel-face-turns of almost every character at the end was dizzying. Everybody was up to something, leaving it all feeling a bit ‘Where Eagles Dare’. Qi’Ra’s seeming betrayal of Han, then her actual betrayal of Paul Bettany, then her betrayal of Han again all seemed a bit ropey, and didn’t make much sense except to wind the finale out a bit more and force in a little extra tension.
Specifically, her knocking the gun out of Han’s hand as he’s about to shoot Paul, then getting into a fight with Paul and killing him, just to then turn on Han for real – it was all a bit weird. If she needs to kill Paul, do it whilst he’s fighting with Han, right?
Darth Maul’s presence bugged me, mostly because it further validates the Prequels. Admittedly, he was one of the few memorable parts of the Prequels that isn’t painful to think about, but still.
I really, really, really wish we could put this whole Parsec thing behind us as a species. It’s become the low-hanging fruit of wannabe cosmic intellectuals to point out that, yes, a parsec is a distance not a time, despite the fact that not only is Han’s intentional attempt at misinformationpointed out in the original script, it’s even made clear by the sceptical “Cut the Crap” expression that Obi Wan pulls when Han tries it on. We did not need to devote a significant part of the plot of this film just to try and paper over the imagined narrative cracks caused by a single throwaway line of dialogue from forty years ago that was intended as bullshit in the first place. Jesus.
I had originally written in the first draft of this review:
‘Solo’ teases passing Bechdel, but falls short. However, it has got some decent representation, with a moralistic masked mercenary, a self-sufficient and suave gang lieutenant, a radical civil rights activist droid and a seasoned, ruthless scoundrel who sadly dies too early in the film – all played by women. Also a weird water-centipede thing who’s a crime boss, if that counts.
HOWEVER, this article was shared to me by a friend and it provides a pretty key insight that I had missed, which is that two of those cool female characters get fridged, i.e. brutally killed off just to further the character development of the men in the story. This is uncool (and, admittedly, a sign that my privileged perspective meant I didn’t even notice at first, which is shitty of me.)
Names have always been a bit weird and inconsistent in Star Wars, and I think ‘Solo’ amplifies that to a new level. Alongside Qi’ra, Dryden Vos and Enfys Nest, we have Val and Toby Beckett. That’s his actual name. Tobias Beckett. And it’s fairly distracting in the context of a fantastical space opera. Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi – they work as names because they’re a mix of generic and outlandish. “Ben Kenobi” could be a space wizard – “Toby Beckett” is never doing anything except selling used cars on the outskirts of Coventry. Or maybe playing Rugby for Macclesfield or something.
Chewbacca now canonically eats people. That is a thing that is true. He also literally pulls people’s arms from their bodies. He is very literally a people-eating murderer. Remember when Han jokes in ‘A New Hope’ about Chewie dismembering people for losing a game? That’s not a joke anymore, that’s true. Do you love re-watching the old movies? Every time you do, you will now do so knowing that our heroes are wandering around with Chewbacca, WHO EATS PEOPLE. Fun times. Fun Times.
All the performances were solid. I had read that the two directors (who were later fired) claimed that Alden Ehrenreich was terrible as Han, but he seemed pretty good to me. Emilia Clarke was great, and Donald Glover was fucking on-point as Lando, as I’m sure we all knew he would be.
The action was exciting, and mostly not overdone. There was a fight on top of a speeding train and it felt like a fight on top of a speeding train, rather than some massively choreographed flip-and-spin fest. Getting shot seemed to matter. Chewie literally pulls a man’s arms out of his sockets. People get brutally tased. Droids revolt. Spaceships fly.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that it all got a bit martial-artsy towards the end with a the dagger fighting.
It’s shallow, I know, but seeing the Falcon in its fancy, clean state was nice. Also nice was Lando’s cape closet. Literally a room dedicated to holding capes. So absolutely Lando.
L3 was brilliant, and it’s a great shame that she was killed off half-way through the film. Her characterisation and her motivations were excellent, as was her animation. However, the context around her motivations – that of civil rights – brings us onto the next section.
Speaking of L3, her response “Good luck finding it,” to Clint Howard’s “I’m going to flip your switch,” easily constitutes the first clitoris joke in Star Wars. What an age we live in.
Star Wars has always, always had issues with race. And Gender. And sexuality. Let’s just be frank, here, in a Galaxy full of different species, planets and cultures, it took:
Two films to get an on-screen black actor (Billy Dee Williams as Lando).
Four films to get a total of four named female characters (Beru, Leia, Shmi and Padme, not counting the unnamed Mon Mothma).
Four films to get a second and third on-screen black actor (Hugh Quarshie and Samuel L. Jackson as Panaka and Mace Windu, respectively, not counting Jar Jar Binks).
Seven films to get a fourth on-screen black actor (John Boyega as Finn), and still no on-screen black women (Lupita Nyong’o played the CGI Maz Kanata).
Seven films to get the total named female characters up to eight (Maz, Rey and Phasma, plus the assassin Zam Wessel in ‘Attack of the Clones’) – I think I missed a couple of Padme’s handmaidens but they got about six lines between them so whatever.
EIGHT FILMS to get the second, third and fourth on-screen named Asian characters (Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang, both Chinese, as Chirrut and Baze, plus Riz Ahmed as Bodhi, in ‘Rogue One’). The first named Asian character is “Tasu Leech” in ‘The Force Awakens’, who, as this article points out, hardly plays a major role and is definitely not an example of positive representation.
‘Solo’, the TENTH film, is the first time we meet an on-screen, named black woman.
In a Galaxy full of all sorts of weird aliens and strange creatures, we have roughly nineteen hours of screentime before we meet a black woman with a name.
Star Wars has still not passed the Bechdel Test.
Star Wars has still not featured any LGBT+ characters.
The finale of ‘Solo’ features the heroes travelling to a desert planet to refine their magical space fuel. This planet is inhabited solely by humans. We learn that these humans all had their tongues cut out by a bunch of off-world gangsters working with the Empire. They were brutally punished for attempting to resist colonialist oppression and exploitation.
And they’re all black.
Specifically, we see more black people on screen in this scene than we have in every other Star Wars movie combined.
And none of them can talk.
And they live in a desert.
And they’re all dressed in stereotypes of African clothing.
And they get saved by the handsome white dude.
Meanwhile, the one named black character who’s still alive, Lando, leaves as soon as the situation gets dicey. Lando, played by Childish Gambino, flies off to leave Han Solo and his white girlfriend to save the desert planet of mute black people from his white former mentor and a white gang boss.
And I’m not saying that all of this is inherently bad. But the context of it all makes it feel like a film that would be made in the ’60s. It couldn’t be more socially troubling if Sean Connery appeared in a wig and fake eyebrows pretending to be Japanese.
‘Solo’ tries to raise the issue of droids in Star Wars being sentient but being essentially treated like slaves. Which I’m fine with. Except that this charge is led by L3, a droid voiced by a white woman, who at one point in the film demands equal rites from her owner – a black man, played by Childish Gambino. And that’s just weird.
It’s weird because, as we all know, Star Wars has a near-infinite number of weird and wonderful aliens to draw from when populating scenes. In ‘A New Hope’, when we first enter the Mos Eisley cantina, humans make up about 3% of the clientele. And yet on the desert planet at the end of ‘Solo’, they’re all human, and they’re all black.
And the point is, that had to have been a decision. At some point when making this movie, somebody decided that that was how they were going to cast this scene. Somebody put together the list of extras, and somebody, somewhere, made sure they were almost all black. And that is so weird.
I’m not trying to make the argument that ‘Solo’ is an inherently racist movie. I don’t think it is. But it does feel bizarrely tone-deaf for a movie released in 2018. Starring Childish Gambino. Especially given that it actively chooses to address issues of slavery and civil liberties.
Ultimately, ‘Solo’ is a movie that will probably be broadly forgotten years from now. Where ‘Rogue One’ is beautifully tragic, ‘Solo’ is adequately middle-of-the-road. There’s nothing to inherently dislike about it, but neither is there anything particularly exciting either.
With the upcoming release of ‘Solo’, the eleventh live-action theatrical Star Wars film, you might think the Disney-owned franchise is in a really healthy place. But there’s a worrying trend emerging: when you rank the Star Wars films in order of their release date, they just keep getting worse and worse.
Let’s look at the full list:
‘Star Wars’ – May 25, 1977
‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – May 21, 1980
‘Return of the Jedi’ – May 25 1983
‘The Phantom Menace’ – May 19, 1999
‘Attack of the Clones’ – May 16, 2002
‘Revenge of the Sith’ – May 19, 2005
‘The Force Awakens’ – December 18, 2015
‘Rogue One’ – December 16, 2016
‘The Last Jedi’ – December 15, 2017
‘Solo’ – May 25, 2018
Straight off the bat, we can see that in terms of release date, ‘Solo’ only barely makes it into the top ten. Which isn’t surprising, given the fact that it was so lazily put together that it wasn’t even in cinemas until 2018. There’s no way it can compete with the classics, like ‘The Phantom Menace’, which was released nearly twenty years earlier.
In fact, ‘Solo’ is just the latest in a worrying trend of Star Wars films. Whilst there has been a general pattern of decline since the very first film back in 1977, it’s shocking that since the Disney acquisition each film has been worse than the last when ranked by release date.
And sorry to all you Star Wars Social Justice Warriors out there, but it can’t be a coincidence that of the bottom four films of the franchise by release date, three of them have featured women as the main characters. Disney can keep trying to push progressive storylines on us if they want to, but if they carry on releasing them one after the other they’re just going to end up even further down the ranking.
But getting back to ‘Solo’, let’s just look at the facts. It’s been five-and-a-half months since ‘The Last Jedi’ was released. That’s over twenty weeks! How did the studio think it could even get close to making a better film when the studio isn’t willing to put the work in? It’s difficult to tell if releasing ‘Solo’ after all the other films before it was a creative decision by the director or the result of executive meddling, but either way that decision sealed the film’s fate of loitering at the bottom of the list, at least until the next movie is released.
We need to be realistic, we’re never going to recapture the heights of the original ‘Star Wars’, all the way back in 1977. Audiences have changed, technology has evolved, and it isn’t physically possible to release a film then because of the passage of time. But ‘Solo’ can’t even match any of the Prequels from the turn of the century – hell, ‘Solo’ isn’t even on the same level as ‘The Force Awakens’, which was released nearly three-and-a-half years earlier.
It’s a tragedy to see the franchise plummet like this, but Star Wars isn’t alone. It’s a sad fact of the movie industry that all film franchises get worse when you measure them by their order of release. Even Marvel’s ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, which was anticipated so eagerly by the fans, was a crushing disappointment for those of us still holding out hope that it might come out on top of, and before, all the other Marvel movies.
This all goes to show that you just can’t beat the classics, no matter how many big names you bring aboard, or how much gimmicky CGI you cram into each scene. We’re just never going to see new films that were released as early as all the old movies we love so much. We’ll just have to make do with what we can get.
Although ‘The Avengers’ is not High Art, it is a very well crafted story. It’s not some revolutionary tale of the ages that perfectly captures the zeitgeist, but it does manage to be fun, exciting, and it manages to subdue all of the worst excesses of Joss Whedon’s particular brand of writing.
(Oh, really, Joss? Everybody is a wise cracker with a one-liner for every occasion? Good to know, glad none of these characters have their own voices or anything. Yeah, just leave the task of characterisation entirely to your actors, great stuff.)
So anyway, the other day I put ‘The Avengers’ (AKA ‘Avengers Assemble’ in the UK) on in the background whilst I went to do some washing up and some tidying. Two hours later, I was still sat on the sofa, watching the Avengers varyingly assemble. It’s a really captivating film. And it’s a perfect example of positive repetition in a story.
Here’s the basic premise: if you want your story to land, you need to set it up at least three times over in the first half of the film (or book, if that’s how you choose to live your life). A lot of my own criticisms in the past, and probably a lot of other peoples’, probably hinge around this concept more than you realise. More than I have realised.
We’ll use ‘The Avengers’ to explore this further.
As the title of the film no doubt gives away, the story, the heart of the story, is about a group of weirdos overcoming their differences to work together. That is the backbone of what the film’s about.
It would be easy to think that it’s about Loki, or the weird skeletal motherfuckers on the big snakey sky whales, but the core of the narrative is about cooperation despite contradiction.
Here’s how that’s demonstrated to us:
In the first instance, Hawkeye is brainwashed by Loki, making him a literal enemy of the Avengers.
Black Widow meets Bruce Banner and points a gun at him as soon as she gets worried.
Later, Captain America and Iron Man meet for the first time, and are immediately at odds.
Soon after, they both come to literal blows with Thor over who gets to take Tom Hiddleston home with them.
Later, they spend a lot of time on the Helicarrier arguing. Like, a lot of time arguing, with Bruce Banner now thrown into the mix.
Captain America even goes a little rogue, and breaks into SHIELD’s secret room of illegal stuff.
Then we get to see the Hulk tearing his way through the Helicarrier, attacking everyone in his path.
Each of these moments demonstrates to the audience that this is a group of people who Do Not Get On. The Not Getting On-ness of this assembly of Avengers can not be stressed enough. It forms the undercurrent of almost every scene and piece of dialogue in the first half of the film.
Why, though? Why hammer the message home so repetitively?
Well, the answer’s simple:
You don’t want anybody to miss it.
There’s a scene, during the final fight in New York, and it’s that scene, you know the one, where all six Avengers are stood in a circle, mid-fight, all working together, and the camera pans around them and the music plays and reaches its highest point and you actually feel inspired. Like, they feel like Heroes.
That’s the moment that the film is working up to, and it’s the moment that crystallises the essence of the story. And it’s beautiful. And it only works if the audience is absolutely convinced that these people didn’t like each other at the beginning, but they do now.
It’s the repetition of the setup that allows the finale to deliver emotionally. Imagine if you had that same ensemble scene, but the only sign of disagreement between any of them had been Tony Stark using the last of Steve Rogers’ favourite cereal or something. Or Thor leaving his hammer on top of Bruce Banner’s tax returns and then going on holiday.
Imagine if you tried to do the finale ensemble moment, but the only scene you kept in the first half of the film was the fight between Thor, Iron Man and Captain Amercia in the forest at night. Then, they got back to the Helicarrier and spent the rest of the time agreeing with each other. And also Hawkeye was never brainwashed, but was just kind of there the whole time nodding sagely and complimenting everybody’s haircut.
There’s no way you’d feel the same emotional response at the end, when you finally see everyone pulling together.
Compare ‘The Avengers’ with ‘Age of Ultron’, which suffers because it simply lacks the same narrative focus as ‘The Avengers’. At the beginning, we start off with everyone working together as a team. Then we get a bit of argument over the nascent Ultron program and its use. Then we have a party, where everyone’s working together still.
Then everyone falls out for a bit. Iron Man and Hulk fight. There’s some drama with The Vision. Then, by the time we get to the final arc, everybody’s back to being friends again and… it’s really hard to care. Because they started off as friends. They made some new friends with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, sure, but what’s the core narrative here? What’s the essence of the conflict?
Another great example is ‘Star Wars’.
‘Star Wars’ (the first one, ‘A New Hope’), is a tale about a bored farm boy becoming a hero who saves the day. That is, again, the essence of what the story is about. There’s a lot of other stuff going on, but that’s the narrative that the audience is buying into. Luke is who we spend the most time with, and it’s his life that we see the most of.
Getting the audience to buy into Luke’s story means selling it, and that’s exactly what the film does, through thematic repetition:
Luke complains to Threepio about never leaving Tatooine.
Luke stares longingly at the Binary Sunset.
Luke asks to join the Academy, but is told to stay on Tatooine.
Luke gets told to do his chores, when he really wants to go see his friends at Toshi Station.
Luke complains to Ben about having to get back home because it’s late.
All of this points to a young man frustrated with his mundane life, so when Luke becomes the hero of the day, we’re all right there with him, thrilled that he’s found the excitement he’s been looking for.
The same approach is applied with the Rebellion’s fight against the Empire. The very first scene of the movie is the Empire capturing Leia’s ship and taking the Princess prisoner. We see them wipe out an entire planet. Every single encounter with Storm Troopers results in our heroes running away from them – in the Cantina, in the Mos Eisley docking bay, during the Death Star escape.
Again, this pays off when Luke finally launches that torpedo down the thermal vent. The Rebel squadron fighters have nearly been wiped out, but the Rebels pull through anyway.
(As an aside, this is also why ‘Rogue One’ compliments ‘A New Hope’ so effectively – the Rebels do not win in ‘Rogue One’ – in fact, they barely escape with a handful of ships left. If ‘Rogue One’ had finished with a victory against the Empire, the unlikely victory in ‘A New Hope’, chronologically just a few days later, would be vastly devalued.)
‘The Last Jedi’ is a more interesting example, because it gets this concept both right and wrong.
First off, where it gets it right, which is again in Luke Skywalker’s arc. Here, we are repeatedly exposed to Luke’s uninterest in the outside world: he throws the lightsaber away, he continues his daily routine of spearing fish and indulging his xeno-lactation fetish, he repeatedly tells Rey to fuck off. It’s hammered home enough that when he does turn up on the Salt Planet to face off against Kylo, it’s a big, emotionally satisfying moment, because he’s finally returned to being the hero.
But, when it comes to Poe Dameron’s arc, and that of Finn and Rose, we get the opposite. The emotional beat that we finish on is the endearing message that we need to “save the things we love, not destroy the things we hate,” but that’s a an emotional note that hasn’t been earned earlier in the film.
Admittedly, the opening scene is of Poe sacrificing ships and pilots to take out the Dreadnought, but it isn’t explored enough afterwards. With just a single example of Poe’s recklessness (not including his attempted mutiny, which had no consequences), the repeated “pay off” at the end, where we see multiple examples of Poe realising the moral of his story, doesn’t end up feeling like a journey for Poe. It doesn’t feel like he’s changed as a character, so much as he learned one new thing today.
Likewise with Finn and Rose. Finn’s journey from recklessly attacking his enemies to trying to preserve his loved ones occurs in a single scene, in fact just one portion of a single scene, during the speeder attack at the very end.
If Finn’s adventures on the Rich White People planet or on the Mega Star Destroyer had included him repeatedly trying to attack First Order soldiers, jeapordising his mission for the sake of revenge, or abandoning Rose because he saw an opportunity to attack, then his finale with rose during the speederbike scene would feel more thematic for the character. As it is, it feels “tacked on” – the work hasn’t been done beforehand to earn the emotional weight it thinks it deserves at the end.
A further bad example of this style of narrative being executed is ‘Pacific Rim’. Like the other examples, ‘Pacific Rim’ has a lot going on narrative-wise, so pinning down the central story is tricky, but best I can tell it’s about the under-funded, unsupported Jaeger program proving that the only way to fight giant monsters is with giant robots.
We start off the film with Gypsy Danger getting defeated by Knifehead, which is the low point. But after that, the Jaegers win every fight against the Kaiju. Admittedly we see Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha get fucked up, but ultimately there’s no battle after the opening scene that isn’t won by the giant robots.
Which means that when we get to the big climactic underwater battle at the end, the Jaegers win, and the audience reaction is “Well, yup, that fits the pattern, that matches everything we’ve seen previously, the robots defeat the monsters, I had no reason to expect anything else.”
Compare that to ‘Independence Day’, where we literally spend the first two acts of the film watching humanity get its arse kicked across the face of the planet. We see cities leveled, fighter squadrons wiped out – we watch humanity lose a thousand times. Enough that, come the final victory against the aliens, it feels a thousand times more satisfying.
The same applies in literary storytelling, indeed basically anything that is structured around The Hero’s Journey. Look at ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, which starts off with all of the hobbits happily enjoying parties and pubs and not being chased by orcs. We explore the idyllic life of the Shire, and the safety and comfort that it represents, and in many different ways, which means that when Frodo decides to head off on his own with the Ring from Amon Hen, and Sam with him, we, the audience, fully appreciate of what it is that they’re letting go.
But if you walk away from a film or show with a slightly dissatisfied feeling, as though something didn’t quite hit home, try to identify one of the key emotional moments and see if it was satisfactorily set up.
Not every story has to follow this pattern, obviously, and there’s plenty of room for subtlety and nuance in a more unusual narrative. But when a movie is trying to hit big emotional notes, as most movies do these days, whilst following a pretty standard plot, it has to earn its laurels.
The essence of this whole thing is “get your setup right.” But the specific objective is to get your setup unequivocal. There shouldn’t be any confusion, in your audience’s mind, about what your story is about. If you can achieve that, then there won’t be any confusion in your audience’s mind about how they should feel.
Which may sound manipulative, but we’re not talking about great art here, we’re talking about emotional storytelling – about taking your audience on a journey from intrigued, to invested, to sad, to joyous. It’s not complicated, it just requires a little focus.
The latest episode of ‘Star Trek Discovery’ is called “The War Without, The War Within”. I can only presume that title is missing the words “Consequences” and “All Expectations”, because nothing that happens seems to affect any of our characters, and nothing that happens seems in any way surprising.
Take the beautiful way the show handles the fate of two interesting, unseen characters: Mirror Tilly, and Non-Mirror Lorca.
Expecting that the Mirror Universe I.S.S. Discovery presumably arrived in the Prime Universe and started wrecking face, we instead find out that she got immediately annihilated by Klingons, along with Cadet Tilly’s more successful counterpart, Captain Killy. That was fun! A load of buildup for a character who lives and dies off screen.
We establish the status of Prime Lorca, the presumably non-evil version of the Lorca with which we’re familiar, with Admiral Cornwell stating of her former friend and lover: “There’s no way he survived over there, so I guess he’s dead.” And that’s it. That is literally all she spoke. It’s like a line out of ‘Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place’, I’m not even kidding:
Dagless: I just can’t believe the Temp is dead. Reed: It’s alright Rick, we’ll get another one.
(Except that the Temp in the ‘Dark Place’ actually got more character progression and a more emotional death scene than anyone in ‘Discovery’. I even learned the difference between a principality and a dependent territory.)
Before I dig in, here are a few other stray observations:
Lots more women talk to other women this episode, which is good. I haven’t had chance to catalogue it yet, but I know we get Owosekun-Georgiou, Burnham-Georgiou, Burnham-Tilly, Burnham-Cornwell, Cornwell-Georgiou and Cornwell-L’Rell. Just in general women are talking and doing more this episode, and the men take much more of a backseat.
I love that the first priority on returning to the Prime Universe, now overrun with Klingons, is to change the “I” back to a “U” on the ship’s nameplate. Wouldn’t want anyone getting confused, would we?
Yet another Federation ship approaches Discovery without being seen. Does anyone else remember the days of neat little establishing shots of Excelsior-class ships cruising alongside the Enterprise-D? Now it all just happens off-screen. Which makes me wonder what happened to that massive budget the writers keep talking about.
Saru’s Ganglia shoot off when the ship is about to arrive at a ruined Starbase and not be attacked, but don’t even twitch when a bunch of armed aliens beam aboard the ship right in front of him and shove phasers in his face. Making them actually pointless. They really are good for nothing but eating.
Saru decides not to throw Tyler in the brig. Because Tyler might be capable of redemption. Which I really like. Except, he’s also definitely still not right, and also definitely admitted to killing Doctor Culber whilst not in control of his actions. So, I dunno, Saru, do you maybe want to keep the potentially murderous enemy sleeper agent locked up for a bit until after you’ve saved the Federation? I mean, I’m not saying he deserves punishment, but if he does go all Smeagol again there’s a good chance that billions of Federation citizens might die, so you might want to take that into consideration.
On the subject of Ash’Voq the Hugon, it turns out that he’s a next-level dickhead. He insists that Burnham forgive him and accept him back so that he can “heal”, making no allowances for how she might feel about having unknowingly had sex with a Klingon agent, and then being strangled by that same agent. I was actually really, really glad when she decided to walk away – if she’d taken him back, I would have shat myself with rage.
What’s worse is Tilly, Burnham’s “best friend”, pressuring Burnham to talk to Ash’Voq in the first place. Yeah, Tilly, I’m sure he’s hurting too, but Burnham also just came back from a week-long stint of murdering people, being betrayed repeatedly and eating Kelpien, so maybe give her more than an hour to pull herself together, yeah? Or just fuck off?
Ash gets a big bunch of people standing around him and validating his existence. I guess nobody but Stamets had any kind of connection with Culber, whom Tyler murdered just over a week ago. I mean, Christ, if this was regular Trek I might buy into it, but this is the same crew that ostracised Burnham for a war that she didn’t start – and that, by all counts, is still ostracising her.
Jesus Fucking Christ, I’m actually feeling sorry for Burnham.
Burnham once again confirms that She Started The War. Like, that seems to be canon within the show. Except that SHE GOT ARRESTED BEFORE SHE COULD FUCKING DO ANYTHING. Why does everyone keep banging on about her starting this war? Even people who were there keep blaming her for it, even SHE keeps blaming herself for it, and yet she ultimately DID NOTHING. Did the writers not watch their own fucking show? Are they just those assholes who drop a nauseating fart at the exact moment they step off a crowded lift, spewing noxious filth that they know they won’t have to endure themselves? JESUS, GET YOUR FUCKING STORIES STRAIGHT.
Burnham observes of the Klingon war efforts, “There’s no pattern to these attacks, no logical progression to their targets.” Oh, sorry, Ms. Xeno-Anthropologist whose parents were killed in a “Terror Raid”, did you expect that a culture of warriors who steal all their clothes from Lordi and cover their ships in coffins would prosecute a logical, well-thought-out military campaign? Did you think the Klingons had, like, a Group Strategy Meeting at the beginning of the war, where they put a Powerpoint together highlighting the various pros and cons of igniting a planet’s atmosphere?
“Well, on the downside we’d lose the ability to use the planet as a base of our own, but on the plus-side, that’s a lot of pre-cooked meat, which is really going to reduce our charcoal costs for this quarter.”
Okay, here’s the doozy. Distances. Actually, no, fuck it, this gets its own fucking section:
HOW NOT TO WRITE TECHNICAL DIALOGUE
I’m confident that ‘Discovery’s writers are now trying to troll me. Genuinely. There’s no other way to explain this next bit beyond them hating me personally, figuring out the one thing that would flip all of my nerd-rage switches, and then intentionally getting all the cast back together and re-shooting the briefing room scene just so I’d spend the entire rest of the week angry.
Okay, listen up, here’s the thing. If you don’t understand what you’re talking about, YOU SHOULDN’T FUCKING TALK ABOUT IT.
Rich coming from me, I know, but it should be obvious to anyone with a fraction of a cerebral cortex left in their skull that as soon as you start making shit up, you massively amplify the exposure of your own incompetence. For reference, see literally anything I’ve ever written.
What this means is that when Stamets starts talking about the distance between objects in space, it is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE for him to say:
“Starbase I is a long way from Earth, and it is an even longer way from our current position.”
That’s your first level of detail. Literally nobody has a map of Starfleet installations relative to Earth, so you can say whatever the fuck you like and nobody will give a shit.
The next level of charlatanism is to make shit up in a very non-specific way. So, if Stamets had said:
“Starbase I is dozens of light-years from Earth, and hundreds of light-years away from our current position.”
NOBODY can pick their way through that to find a fault. It’s still so generalised that it tells you nothing, but it adds a bit of space-flavour to this space-based show.
The next level is to add some actual numbers. This is tricky, but you can get around that by making the numbers BIG:
“Starbase I is forty-seven light-years from Earth, and six-hundred-and-twelve light-years away from our current position.”
Now, I’m a bit of a space nerd, but I have no idea of how I would start picking holes in that. Except, none of those versions of the line are used. Instead we get this:
“Well, [Starbase I] is, uh, 100 AUs from Earth, and over a light-year from our current position.”
D’you see that lush, terrestrial planet in the background? The one with clouds, and oceans, and continents? And see how it’s brightly illuminated by a nearby star?
Well, 100 AUs from Earth? That’s roughly three times the orbit of Pluto (or twice Pluto’s greatest distance from the Sun). On Pluto, the Sun is a dim star that nearly blends in with all the other stars in the sky. The next nearest star, Alpha Centauri? That’s more than 4 light-years away, or nearly 270,000 AUs.
All of which means that the writers of ‘Discovery’ created a new star with a new planet literally within the outer reaches of our solar system, just because they couldn’t be bothered spending one minute of their lives using Google.
Literally, one minute. Sixty seconds.
And I know that Trek is hardly ever scientifically accurate, but this is a rare example of Trek writers being MORE specific than they need to be just so’s they can shoot themselves in the foot.
It’s a bizarre display of dedicated self-destruction for absolutely no creative gain. Nothing, nothing, is added to the story of this episode by making up random numbers, and I’m baffled by their decision to do so. Just how little do you have to care about your work to not even put in a pedestrian level of research?
Han Solo. I’m captain of the Millennium Falcon. Chewie here tells me you’re looking for passage to the Alderaan system.
Yes, indeed. If it’s a fast ship.
Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?
Should I have?
It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs!
Ben reacts to Solo’s stupid attempt to impress them with obvious misinformation.
And if you think that’s been retconned in after the fact, here’s Obi Wan’s expression as he remains singularly unimpressed by Solo’s rampant bullshit:
So here’s the thing: everyone harps on about ‘Star Wars’ getting something this basic so wrong, when it’s actually one character lying to another.
Which means that unless Stamets was, for some reason, lying to everyone (which we know he wasn’t because they make the journey), Star Trek is now worse at doing sci-fi than Star Wars.
Especially when you take into account Saru’s magic Ganglia, Stamets’ magic spore drive, a Mirror Universe which makes no fucking sense, and an enemy sleeper agent plotline that relies on every single doctor on a futuristic space ship being drunk or incompetent.
So essentially, the next time you try to claim that Trek is somehow “more sci-fi” than Wars, just remember the moment that Trek writers cared so little for their craft that they couldn’t be bothered googling what a “light-year” was.
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.
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.
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 ‘STARWARS’, 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.
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:
Or maybe this:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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?”
Happy New Year! In an effort to contribute, in some small way, to a more positive year for 2017, I’m going to be updating my little blog here on a daily basis with a short article about a piece of music and a picture that I really like. This is a mostly-selfish attempt to get myself back into the habit of writing and to farm for more clicks, because I’m pretty vain in that regard.
A brief warning: I know very little about art, and even less about music. As such, my contributions will mostly be “I like this because I think it’s good.” That is the standard of critique you’ll mostly be seeing.
Picture of the Day – Ralph McQuarrie’s B-Wing Concept Art
Sticking to type for my first contribution of the year, this piece is some Star Wars concept art by Ralph McQuarrie, who’s pretty much a legend in the niche category of Concept Artists. He defined the look and feel of the entire Star Wars series, and is probably about as responsible for its success as John Williams, the series’ soundtrack composer.
My reason for choosing this picture, though, out of the many possible options, is that it’s just beautiful. McQuarrie’s ship and vehicle designs will be his legacy, but as an artist I loved how he used light in each of his pieces, which is about the most generic art-critic-y phrase I could have used, but just look at that painting! The glow from the explosion, the deep, oceanic reflections on the planet behind, the faint outlines of the Imperial fleet, and the pale crescent of the Death Star, lurking in the background with deadly menace.
McQuarrie uses the light to define the shape of the new B-Wing fighter – the light from the explosion catches the all the edges of the ship, accentuates the curved surfaces, and makes the ship look powerful, and dangerous. He isn’t just designing a space fighter, he’s giving it a role, a character of its own, by telling a story in a beautiful way.
I imagine I’ll be posting more McQuarrie pictures throughout the year, and I’ll definitely be sharing more artwork where light plays a dominant part, since it’s about the only thing a philistine like myself can appreciate. For now, though, I think this is a good starting place.
Music of the Day – ‘No Reptiles’ by Everything Everything
‘No Reptiles’ is a weird song by a band I’d never heard of and know nothing about. I really can’t overstate how little I know about music in general, it’s frankly awful. I would make the worst radio DJ in the world, partially because I’d have nothing to contribute in terms of discussion and mostly because the bulk of what I’d end up playing would be soundtracks and shapeless ambient stuff.
Anyway, I picked ‘No Reptiles’ for today because the lyrics are mostly absurd and the music is full of variety and “energy”. The pace and the acoustics of the song change throughout its run, but always seem to be set to “slightly strange”, along with the singing. I’m not really sure what else I can say about it, because I really do know very little about music – it cropped up on my ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist on on Spotify, which is actually my main vehicle for broadening my musical horizons. Yup.
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.