REBLOG: SOLO: A Poverty Story, by James Wylder

I know I already reviewed Solo, but I just read my friend James Wylder’s take on the film and I thought it was interesting enough that I asked him if I could reblog it.  I’m packing for Indy Pop Con tonight, so this is actually pretty perfect timing.  Enjoy the piece, and check out James’ other work!

Spoilers throughout, btw.


solo-a-star-wars-storyI remember when my family went bankrupt during the Great Recession. This isn’t an uncommon story, it’s practically the story of America. I’d already known we had less money than other families. Reduced lunch at school told that story enough. There was an element of shame involved, when I lied about not being able to join friends on outings I couldn’t pay for. Eventually, shame grew into a facade of bravado, and I started to take risks I hadn’t considered.

After all, if you’re going to lose even if you work yourself to the bone everyday and do everything right like my father did, all because of higher powers outside your control, then why not shoot for something you truly want? A goal, a dream. To be a pilot, perhaps, or even a writer.

* * * *

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t the movie I thought it would be. I went in expecting a fun romp, but came out of with a strong pull on my heart that wouldn’t let go. This is my movie, and by golly am I glad it exists, but it’s also one that is already being unfairly looked over for reasons completely outside the bright light shone onto the walls of theaters everywhere. It’s not going to find it’s audience at the moment, but it’s going to find its audience in time, because counter to my expectations, Solo a Star Wars Story is about something.

It’s about being poor and downtrodden.

But it’s in space.

Which makes it a lot more fun.

The signals are clear from the get go: the opening title cards of Solo aren’t in the traditional scrolling format of the main Star Wars movies, the non-existent blink-and-gone of Rogue One, or the Newsreel of Clone Wars. Rather, these title cards come straight out of Cyberpunk. The easiest comparison is to Blade runner, with its flash card information to electronic tones. When these end, we don’t get the traditional shot of space, we get a shot of a dark engine and wires, as Han tries to make a spark strong enough to hotwire it.

Han lives on Corellia, a poor industrial world, rather like the rust belt I grew up in (but in SPACE). The sky is coated over with smog. We’re in Star Wars, but this is a different side of Star Wars. We’re not even allowed to see the Stars yet. With him is Qi’ra, his teenage sweetheart and childhood friend. Together, they’re begging for someone to make a fanvid set to “Livin’ on a Prayer”. They’ve formed a little impromptu family of the two of them, and they plan to escape and survive. They won’t live in this hellhole forever. They’ll get out.

Their life together is one we’ll see repeated throughout the movie: Han and Qi’ra live under a selfish leader (in this case named Proxima) who exploits the downtrodden for their own gain. They have little power, and their only power comes from understanding the rules around which their masters have built their powerhold, and exploiting them. Han and Qi’ra escape, but the plan goes wrong and they are separated on two sides of an Imperial checkpoint. Han may be bold, and he might be able to escape some thugs sent by a crimelord, but he can’t defeat a government. He and Qi’ra are helpless against this immigration border, no amount of clever tricks or violence will stop an army with a wall when it’s government has decided the lives of the people on one side of that wall aren’t good ones. The pain of separating this family is a terrible one, totally morally bankrupt, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could approve of such things in our own world. And yet, some people thought the Berlin Wall was a good idea.

So now we’re left with Han alone. Unable to survive from here on out, and now alone, he does the thing plenty of poor folks do who need to escape their situation: he joins the military. The cut from Han joining to him fighting in a dark muddy hellscape is one of my favorite things in the movie, and the whole sequence set within the Imperial Military adds more to the Star Wars saga than a lot of things that look more impressive: here we get to see how awful and hollow being in the Empire really is. Officers shout trite propaganda slogans about serving the Empire that they even sound tired of yelling. Soldiers take off time by watching other soldiers get eaten by slaves. Han doesn’t care about the Empire, it’s just another big powerful force that’s trying to press him down. But he’s seen tons of those. It’s nothing special. The difference is its big enough he can get lost in it, and so can other criminals. We’re introduced to Beckett and his crew, impersonating Imperial officers, who exploit the unquestioning nature of the Empire to blend in, and get Han thrown under the bus to survive.

Here is the first turn of the movie, and it’s a nice one. Han has no desire to kill anyone, or to be involved in a war. What the empire is fighting over is invisible to the audience, and Han. But as Han is thrown into a pit to get eaten by a monster, we get the movie’s first real acknowledgement of it’s overarching message. In the pit is a wookie slave, forced to kill and eat imperials who don’t follow the rules. Fighting won’t work, and Han recognizes something here: both he and the wookie are victims of the same shit universe. Even as the wookie beats him up, he convinces the wookie they can escape together, and they do, achieving something neither could have alone. They reach Becket, who is impressed at their moxie, and Han and his new wookie friend Chewbacca escape the empire.

Which brings us into the main plot. We’re thrown into an adventure, where we see Han is very good at piloting, and not as good at everything else that isn’t piloting as he thinks he is. We’re also introduced to Enfys Nest and the Cloud Riders, a group of marauders constantly trying to steal the takes that Becket’s crew is after. It seems to be a standard space western, and good fun.

And we also meet Qi’ra again. This is the second turn of the film.

Qi’ra has gone from Han’s childhood friend to a more weathered femme fatale since we last saw her. Han dreamed of coming back to rescue her, a masculine dream where he could rescue the princess and save her, but the world didn’t work out that way. Saying she “saved herself!” sounds too nice, neither Han nor Qi’ra have actually gotten anywhere good, they’ve just managed to survive by the skin of their teeth. They’re poor, and the world has been shit to them, and they’ve both had to do what they’ve needed to. We’re not allowed to see what Qi’ra had to do alone, but we can see she’s ashamed of it. It’s heavily implied she’s murdered people, tortured people, and engaged in survival sex. These haven’t been choices Qi’ra made because she wanted to: she made them because she needed to live. Qi’ra is a strong woman, but like Han she is no better than a commodity to the people who lord over her.

People’s bodies being commodities is a constant theme throughout the film: this is a film about the physical reality of being oppressed, not about a spiritual battle between light and dark. Barriers block bodies from other bodies who love them. Bodies sell themselves into the military to escape destitution. Bodies sign up to be used by crimelords to escape destitution. We see bodies sold into slavery, checked in the teeth like cattle. Bodies with the top of the head, and hence the brain, cut off and replaced by computers serve drinks to crimelords. Bodies everywhere, and each one of them is a person who lives and feels and hurts. And the broader universe keeps turning because they are small, and not Jedi or Sith or Generals or Royalty. These bodies have to survive somehow. And by god, does it leave a mark.

Later in the film is one of the most poignant moments, of the film, where Qi’ra throws a bomb, and screams in solace and rage as she kills slavers on Kessel. Without making this movie unwelcoming for children, we can see all Qi’ra has suffered in this moment. Her righteous fury at the kind of people who hurt her her whole life boils over, and we have to confront it. We have to see that pain as she cries out. No masculine fantasy could save her. She had to survive, and survive among men who hated her. And she did. And her body is here, and breathing, and screaming, and by the force does she scream.

The characters in this film are all broken people in different ways, each covering over their cracks with facades. When those facades crack, the movie truly shines. As a surviver of some traumatic experiences, Han reassuring Qi’ra that he doesn’t care what she had to do to survive, he still wants her, was a great moment, and one of my favorite in the film. The cracks start getting wider still, and by the finale we’ll see something from each of them.

Kessel features the next turn in the film. We’ve picked up Lando and L3, since they have a ship and the crew needs that. Lando is similar to Han in a lot of ways, but he’s made it. He’s still living on the fringe of society, and he’s had to make dreams with Crimson Dawn like the rest of the crew did, but he isn’t in anyone’s debt anymore. Lando’s flaw is now that he’s reached that point, he’s forgotten what it took to get there. L3, the droid co-pilot to his ship, is frustrated by the servitude of Droids. It’s been a running theme throughout all of Star Wars: the audience can see clearly that droids are people, but the characters treat them as less than people. We’re told Lando has feelings for L3, and he cries when her body gets wrecked on Kessel, but he still talks about how he’d wipe her memory if she wasn’t so useful, leaning in to tell Han that in aside, like a man trying to get another man to join in with him on a sexist joke.

That we can see that this is hypocrisy, and the characters can’t, is the point. It’s been the point for decades, but here it’s shoved in our face. On Kessel, we see droids and organic beings all being used as slaves, and get two parallel stories showing their plights are the same. Chewie breaks off from the mission to save his fellow wookies, and L3 breaks off to save her fellow droids. A revolution begins, and the people who oppressed both of them get some comeuppance. L3, as noted, is nearly destroyed in their escape though, and only her memory is saved by placing it inside the Millenium Falcon itself.

There is a certain horror to the way the characters put L3 into the ship, she had no control over it after all, but L3’s desire for revolution and change perfectly fits the symbol the ship becomes. She is the Falcon, and she will become the savior of freedom in the Galaxy. But even she is a commodity, like any other character in the film.

The finale of the movie see’s nearly every character Han trusted aside from Chewbacca betray him. Becket betrays Han, and Han is forced to kill him before Becket can kill Han. Lando abandons him mid-showdown with Enfys Nest. Qi’ra, despite hating the world she’s lived in, cannot imagine leaving it. She takes her superior’s place in Crimson Dawn upon killing him, and takes on the role of helping run the very people who hurt her. Her parting words to Han are telling, “When I imagined you out there, it made me smile.”
Han’s life is a fantasy to Qi’ra. It’s beyond her own reality, and seeing that Han had survived without compromising as much as she did hurts. “You’re the good guy,” she says, and Han replies, “No I’m not, I’m a terrible person!”
But she’s right, in the end. And in letting Han go, she avoids letting him see the scars.

A lot has been made of a big twist towards the end of the movie about who was running Crimson Dawn, but that’s tertiary to our point. It’s not the twist I’m concerned with, at least. Really, the big twist of the movie is the reveal of Enfys Nest: a teenage girl of color who took over the role of freedom fighter from her mother. One could guess she might be as young as Han was when we met him back on Corellia. This is the point the movie truly turns. Everything we thought was going on was wrong—this isn’t a story of a group of rag-tag heroes trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, this is a rejection of it. The gang Han is a part of are the same kind of people who pushed him down his whole life. Crimson Dawn and Becket are no different than Proxima in her lightless pool on Corellia. They’re all content to use downtrodden people to make some sort of gain. Caught up in the adventure narrative, we’ve missed the real struggle of the movie.

This is the true brilliance of Solo: it’s not just that Han is poor, and Qi’ra is poor, it’s that the moral of the film isn’t “You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you work hard enough!”, but rather, “If you’ve suffered, do what you can to help others not suffer like you did.”

Han doesn’t reject Enfys Nest, nor does he give up on his dream. He doesn’t want to be a rebel (at least not yet) he gives away the money that could secure a life of peace for him because he has known suffering, and can’t abide to let other people suffer just like he did, even though they’re different from him. Neither different upbringing, nor skin color hold him back. He doesn’t let his own suffering be an excuse to be selfish, and not be good. He helps. It’s an important message, and one worth remembering.

Often times, in circles of people who want to improve the world, there is a sense that everyone should be fully devoting themselves to it at all times. This is impossible, of course, but it also sidelines the little sacrifices people make who don’t have the luxury to devote every moment to that. Solo is a movie about the unity of the downtrodden in the face of oppression, but one where the freedom fighters continue their battle against evil while the protagonists go off to try to make some more money to eat at the end.

We can all do something, and you don’t even have to be a hero or special or particularly clever. You can just be a decent person, and be unselfish when the people who have devoted themselves to heroism need you to be. You can go to work, and struggle, and hurt, and just be a normal guy, but a good guy.

And maybe your life won’t be a fairy tale, it’ll be filled with mud and pain, but maybe in ten years you’ll trip onto an old wizard and the chosen one and accidentally win the heart of the princess anyways, who knows.

#REVIEW: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (non-spoiler) and DEADPOOL 2 (spoiler)

My reviews of the last couple of Star Wars movies have been a million words long, but I don’t think Solo is going to need that treatment.  I’ve done spoiler reviews and non-spoiler reviews for them, and I think this is probably the only review Solo is going to get. Since it’s going to be shortish, I’m gonna go ahead and review Deadpool 2 here as well, but I can’t review that one without spoiling something big.  So we’ll do Solo first.  solo-a-star-wars-story-tall-A.png

And the tl;dr review is this:  it’s good enough.

It was going to be hard under any circumstances for Solo to blow me away.  I never really felt the film was necessary, and unlike Rogue One, which I also didn’t think was necessary, the trailers and such never really grabbed me and forced me to be excited about it.  It is better than any of the prequels and it is better than The Force Awakens, a movie that I was jazzed about initially and has done nothing but sink in my estimation since then.  Is that damning with faint praise?  Possibly.

The million-dollar question about this movie was always this:  is Alden Ehrenreich good enough to fill Harrison Ford’s shoes?  Can he convincingly play this character?  And the answer, to me, is an unqualified yes.  I had no problems with Ehrenreich’s performance at all– in fact, I think his portrayal of Han in this movie was leaps and bounds ahead of Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Han in Force Awakens.  

In general, the acting in this film is quite solid across the board, and if anything (okay, minor spoiler incoming) the only gripe I have about the film is that I wanted to know more about just about every character who they decided to kill off.  I thought basically every character that had more than a couple of lines was really interesting, but some of them unfortunately we aren’t going to see again.  There’s one major surprise and one “subverting expectations” sort of surprise toward the end of the film, and in a movie where you basically know everything that’s going to happen going in, actual surprises have more impact than they might otherwise.

Yes, Donald Glover is spectacular as Lando Calrissian.  Scary good, honestly– his first few lines are delivered with him offscreen, and I seriously thought they’d brought in Billy Dee Williams to overdub him.  He’s doing a voice thing, and it’s perfect.  I didn’t think he ran away with the movie the way a lot of people seem to, but he does a very very good job.

Obligatory Turk/Scrubs video break:

 

So.  Yeah.  Not an essential addition to the canon, but a solid effort, especially given what a trainwreck the movie was expected to be before it came out.  I will allow them to do a second one if they must.  Especially if it delays the newly-rumored Boba Fett movie.  Please, please don’t make a Boba Fett movie.

I’m so tired of Boba Fett.

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And now, on to Deadpool 2.  This one will spoil a major event that none of the pre-movie stuff even hinted at, and although it happens damn near immediately once the movie starts, you probably don’t want to know about it.  Last chance to bow out!

I’ll start off with the good stuff, actually: you are probably going to have more or less exactly the same reaction to Deadpool 2 that you had to Deadpool, and if you haven’t seen Deadpool you may as well go see that instead because it’s a better movie.  It is, in most ways, exactly the same film, only with a slightly expanded cast and budget and much more entertaining cameos and the one thing that really pissed me off that I’ll get to in a minute.  Josh Brolin is pretty good as Cable, a character I’ve never really had much interest in, and the Juggernaut is my favorite X-Men villain so it was great to see him, especially after the godawful portrayal Vinnie Jones did in X-Men 3.

I want Domino to get her own movie.  Now, please.  And if we could get a movie with Negasonic and her girlfriend, maybe with Colossus around, that’d be just peachy.  Because I love all of them.

That said, killing off Vanessa right away pissed me off, and even though they undo it at the end of the movie I can’t unwatch the two hours I spent being pissed off that they killed her for no fucking reason at all.  Think about it: imagine the movie without Vanessa dying right away.  Damn near nothing changes.  You lose a few scenes of Deadpool kvetching about it and maybe they have to do a little bit of a rewrite of his motivations for wanting to save the kid?  But that’s it.  Her death is pointless, and undoing it at the end doesn’t help.  I’m tired of movies and books and whatevers that motivate the main character by killing off their girlfriends and/or wives right away, and it threw a pall over the entire rest of the movie for me.

So, yeah: it’s a Deadpool movie, and that’s a good thing, and the cast and the couple of new characters they added are fun and interesting, but fuck you for killing off the female lead ten minutes into the movie.  I can’t forgive that, as it turns out.


I’m up to four patrons!  Which is better than I thought I’d do, honestly!  But more would be super awesome.  Join the club of the coolest people in the world.  You’ll get a new Jayashree story right off the bat, and I’ll be adding at least one more microfiction by the end of the weekend!  Plus all of my Patrons get thanked by name in any forthcoming books.  You want your name in books, right?

It’s Star Wars day!

And, in accordance with tradition, the Benevolence Archives books are free today at Amazon.  Go grab ’em!

(And, for the love of God, if you’ve read the latter two, please leave a review.)

May the Fourth be with you!

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Oh God He’s Still Talking: Part 2 of the Spoiler #review of STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

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PART EIGHT: FILIBUSTERING FOR THE FACEBOOK FOLKS

So, yeah, I’m going to try and finish this before I go to bed tonight, probably to pop tomorrow morning since I’ll be at work all day and why not.  In case it’s not obvious, there are probably going to be places where my memory of the film isn’t quite perfect (I saw it a week ago, after all) and chances are I’ll mix the order of some shit up every now and again.  If there’s anything especially egregious, let me know, or maybe I’ll fix it myself once I see the movie again, which is basically inevitable.

Okay.  Is that long enough to avoid accidentally spoiling something for the Facebook people, who get a little blurb from the first part of the post every time something gets shared?  Cool.  Onward!

PART NINE: THE OTHER PLAN

Item #2 in the I Know More than You About This Because I Read Books series is Amilyn Holdo.  This lady right here:

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The remnants of the Resistance are meeting, with Leia incapacitated and Ackbar dead, and it turns out that now-Admiral Holdo is the new at-least-interim leader of the Resistance.  And she, it seems, is not Poe Dameron’s biggest fan.  Now, I know all about Holdo, because I read Claudia Grey’s excellent Leia: Princess of Alderaan, where she’s a major character.  You may not know anything about her.  That’s okay!  Just be aware that she and Poe ain’t gonna get along… which she basically makes clear immediately by reminding him that one of Leia’s last acts as a non-blown-up person was to demote his ass and that arrogant, order-ignoring flyboys are not going to be any part of her chain of command.

(Did you hear that?  It’s important.)

So Poe pisses off and this is one of the parts where I told this out of order, because it’s after he meets with Holdo that he and Finn and Rose come up with Plan #2.  Plan #1, as it turns out after a while, is to get everybody on the flagship (which, the internet tells me, is called the Raddus) before the other ships die and then use the remaining fuel on the Raddus to get everyone off of it and headed somewhere else, basically in escape pods, before the First Order blows the Raddus out of the sky.

Er.  Space.  Can you blow something out of space?  Before they blow it up, at any rate.  Escape pods are tiny, see, and hopefully the First Order won’t notice them since they’re focused on the Raddus.

Poe does not like this plan.  Poe does not like this plan one bit!  Not that he told anybody about his plan, mind you, because he’s the Arrogant Flyboy and his ideas are better.  But he gets super pissed about the idea that everyone’s abandoning the ship to fly off who-knows-where and he fights back by staging a goddamned mutiny while everybody else is trying to load the ships up.  He and a few others literally hold Holdo and her never-named, beak-nosed lieutenant at gunpoint and try to take over the ship to give Finn and Rose and Slicer Dude some more time to sabotage Snoke’s ship.

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This is a bad decision, as Holdo manages to break free of her captors pretty quickly and starts taking her damn ship back.

Oh, and Finn and Rose done got their asses captured and Benicio del Toro is busy pissing off with a couple of giant crates full of, presumably, First Order cash, with not a drop of regret upon his countenance, so pretty much everything Poe Dameron has done in this movie has turned out to be bad decisions..  Turns out dressing like a First Order officer and infiltrating the ship isn’t clever enough to get past BB-H8, BB-8’s no-I’m-not-kidding evil counterpart.  More on them later, but needless to say Dameron is practically trying to hotwire the ship when Leia, of all people, bandaged head and all, breaks into the command deck and shoots his simple ass with a stun blaster.

Yeah, turns out the plan isn’t to just, y’know, flee.  There’s an old Rebel base nearby on a planet called Crait.  That’s where everybody’s going.  Oh, we didn’t tell you that specifically, Poe?  Why the fuck would we have told you specifically?  Maybe your recently-demoted, face-slapped, stungun-stunned ass could, I dunno, follow fucking orders?

Nah.

But before I go any farther there, let’s go back to Rey.  And that Kylo Ren dude I’ve barely mentioned at all so far.

PART TEN: THE BIT WITH REY AND KYLO, OR: DANCE, FUCKER, DANCE

I happen to be listening to The Offspring at the moment, so please don’t assume that secondary subtitle has anything do do with the actual movie.

So, yeah.  This chick.  She’s been busy:

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What with Luke refusing to train her in any sort of proper fashion, Rey’s basically decided to pick up his lightsaber and train herdamnself.

I love this character, guys.  I love Rey.  She’s the best thing Star Wars ever did.  Luke doesn’t wanna train her?  Fine.  Fuck ‘im.  She’s off lightsabering and jumping directly into the Pit of Evil that Luke has warned her away from and shocking the hell out of him with the visions she’s having during the rare occasions when he deigns to show her something.

Oh, and occasionally she finds that she and Kylo Ren are sharing a mental link that neither of them can explain, and they can talk to each other and see each other as if they’re in the same room.  The movie even goes so far as to give us a shirtless Kylo scene just so that they can demonstrate that Rey can actually see him.  That scar?  Goes all the way down, if you know what I mean and I sure as hell don’t.

Anyway, Rey kinda hates him, and it’s unbelievable how good of a job these two actors do of “acting” in a “scene” “together” when they are in fact not even in the same solar system.  Over time, though, Rey’s frustration with Luke sort of boils through, and Kylo sort of gets into her head a little bit– at least to the point where she’s not trying to blow his spectral head off anymore, as she does the first time she “sees” him.  The frog-nuns who protect the island are super pissed about the hole she blows in the wall of her hovel.

This happens several times, and eventually– and I’ll admit I’m losing the chronology a bit here– the question of What Happened With Luke comes up.  Rey gets three versions of the story.  First, Luke tells her that he was worried about how Ben was clearly being tempted by the dark side, went to talk with him, and Ben attacked him and burned down his Jedi school and fled.  Rey confronts Kylo Ren with this information.

And Kylo tells her point-blank that Luke had his lightsaber ignited when he went to see him, and when Kylo woke up, his master was standing over him preparing to kill him.

And then Luke’s version of the story changes when Rey confronts him about it, and it’s another one of those moments where Mark Hamill being an outstanding actor all the sudden is critical, because Luke describes igniting his lightsaber as a brief, terrible personal failure: that he’d had a vision of Ben Solo’s future as galactic supervillain Kylo Ren and, just for a moment, contemplated killing his apprentice, his own nephew, to prevent that terrible future from coming to pass– and, in doing so, destroyed everything he had ever worked for and guaranteed that future.

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PART ELEVEN:  SOME BITS I FORGOT TO MENTION

There are a couple of good Luke moments that I haven’t mentioned yet, and we’re chronologically past them in the movie now, so lemme just throw them in real quick: Luke initially basically hides from Rey, who goes and gets Chewbacca to literally knock in the wall of Luke’s hut.  Luke takes one look at Chewbacca and immediately asks him where Han is.  It’s the first hint we get of how he’s isolated himself from the Force; I don’t believe for a second that Jedi Master Luke wouldn’t have felt Han die.  They cut away after the question and we don’t see his reaction to the answer.

Also, the brief, involuntary smile on his face when he sees R2-D2 for the first time– one of only maybe aa couple of times he smiles in the movie– is wonderful.

PART TWELVE: THERE IS GOOD IN HIM, I CAN FEEL IT, OR MAYBE THOSE ARE HIS ABS

So, speaking of Kylo Ren:  he’s not wearing his mask anymore.  He only gets one really good Get Mad and Wreck Shit scene in this movie after several in FORCE AWAKENS, and it’s after being summoned up to Supreme Leader Snoke’s very, very red throne room and basically mocked roundly for not being the evilest evil dude who ever eviled evilly enough.  Snoke, who I briefly thought might be a reincarnated Darth Vader because of the scar on his head but it turns out is actually a gold-bathrobed Undead Hugh Hefner, makes fun of him for wearing the mask and he smashes the shit out of the thing in the lift on the way down from the throne room and we never see it again.

As he and Rey are Force-talking back and forth, she eventually gets the idea that she can win him back to the light side of the Force– that, much like his grandfather, there is good in him as well.  And eventually she decides that if Luke isn’t going to help her, or the Resistance, she’s going to take shit into her own hands.  In fact, she and Luke have a brief fight scene that starts off with her going after him with her staff and ends up with her using his blue lightsaber again.  He throws her off the island (“You can’t fire me, I quit!”) and she steals the Jedi books that I haven’t mentioned yet– there are Jedi books– and splits, planning on going to Kylo Ren and confronting him, either killing him or turning him in the process.

(Oh, and in a Moment!  Of!  Foreshadowing!, Kylo comments that projecting himself across the galaxy in the manner that either he or Rey appear to be doing really ought to require enough power to kill one of them.)

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That is a very red throne room.

PART THIRTEEN: I WAS NOT READY FOR THIS

Luke is alone and abandoned and furious, and he storms off to the Jedi Tree, which never really got explained but was where he kept the Jedi books, intending to destroy the entire thing.  And then… Yoda.

Force Ghost Yoda.

I didn’t know Yoda was gonna be in this movie.  I kinda had some feelings, seeing Yoda in this movie.  And Yoda stops Luke from destroying the Tree, by hitting it with Force lightning and doing it himself.  He’s very much the impish Yoda from ESB here, taunting Luke with the idea that old Jedi books and old Jedi trees are really something important that needs to be preserved.  I really wanted a callback to the line Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter, and didn’t get it.  And it is entirely possible that I wiped a tear or two away during their conversation.  I ain’t saying.  But Yoda kinda gets Luke’s head back on straight, and they sit and watch the Tree burn together.

PART FOURTEEN: HAVE I MENTIONED THIS IS THE LONGEST STAR WARS MOVIE EVER?  BECAUSE MY WRISTS ARE STARTING TO HURT, GUYS.

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Rey isn’t subtle about landing on Snoke’s ship, and Kylo Ren grabs her almost immediately, taking her up to the Red Room to meet the boss.  Snoke is insanely powerful in the Force, slapping her around whenever he likes, including one fun part where he lets her snatch her lightsaber from him, then Force-pushes it past her boomerang-style and clocks her on the back of the head on the way back to him.  She not only can’t hurt him, she can’t get close to him, and he’s pretty clear that killing her is how Kylo completes his training.  He lets her try and grab her lightsaber from him a couple more times, and then sets it next to him on his throne while he sits back and emotes evilly at Kylo Ren to kill her.

At which point Kylo ignites Rey’s lightsaber, still sitting on the throne next to Snoke, and cuts him the fuck in half.

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No, seriously.  Cuts him the fuck in half.  Darth Maul-style.  And his top half slides off the lower half, and he is dead as hell, guys, they aren’t screwing around with this at all, and it’s at least the third time this movie has blown my fucking mind.

And then Snoke’s eight guards, the dudes in red armor who, as it turns out, probably should have been standing closer to their boss if they wanted to be useful, all attack Kylo and Rey, and the fight is amazing, and it ends with one of them getting sucked into some sort of… mechanical thing?  Which isn’t really very good for the ship?  And everything’s on fire, and blowing up, at least partially because of stuff going on in the A and B plots, and then there’s a brief and very intense fight and conversation between Kylo and Rey, which includes him forcing her to admit that her parents were nobodies, that they were poor scavenger trash who probably sold her for beer money, and she says it out loud, which clearly kinda kills her soul.  The fight ends with an amazing Force battle over Luke’s lightsaber, which gets stuck in between them and then explodes, knocking Ren unconscious.  Rey gets away, stealing Snoke’s personal shuttle and meeting back up with Chewie on the Falcon.

A lot of people are taking this revelation more seriously than I would think they should.  I mean, okay, my Rey is Luke’s Daughter theory is pretty much shot out of the water, but there’s no reason to believe that Ren actually knows anything here or that he’s doing anything other than screwing with her head here.  Dude has not exactly shown himself to be trustworthy, right?

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PART FIFTEEN: WHY’S THE SHIP ON FIRE, ANYWAY?

Because Amilyn Holdo, in a last-ditch attempt to save the Resistance, has turned the Raddus around and rammed Snoke’s ship while entering lightspeed.  Let’s back up: Finn and Rose are captured, and Benicio del Toro has not only betrayed them but has dropped a dime on Poe’s stupid plan, and the First Order is picking escape pods out of the sky.  The Resistance, by this point, is down to just a few dozen people at most, and they’re on their way down to Crait.  Finn and Rose were seconds away from being executed– oh, Phasma’s alive, by the way– when all the ‘sploding happened, and Finn and Phasma fight, and for a brief second they let us think that Phasma’s dropped him into some sort of pit, because Star Wars still doesn’t have OSHA, but then he clocks her upside the face with the butt of a rifle or something and actually breaks her mask open, and then the ground opens up beneath her and she falls to her death.

OR DOES SHE???

I don’t care, she’s Boba Fett II.  Anyway, Rose and Finn get away and head for Crait.  Rey gets away and heads for Crait.  And Commander Hux finds Kylo Ren unconscious right next to Snoke’s bisected body, surrounded by some very messily lightsabered dead guard bodies.  Hux’s hand, very slowly, drifts to his blaster, but before he can make the decision to kill Ren, Ren wakes up.  I don’t remember Hux’s exact line– it might just be “What HAPPENED here?”, but oh God it’s totally this .gif:

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Hux doesn’t believe Ren’s story about how Rey killed everybody and overpowered him for a single second, but there’s more important shit to do and the ship’s busy blowing up around him, so it’s time for the endgame.  To Crait!

PART SIXTEEN: ENDGAME

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Crystal foxes are awesome.

And now, the last stand of Leia Organa and her immortals: holed up in an abandoned Rebel base on the salt-encrusted planet of Crait, with thirteen rickety speeders and some heavy weaponry against this bullshit:

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If you look carefully, you can see some regular AT-ATs mixed in with these new school gorilla-knuckle-walkin’ heavy bastards.  Point is, they’re huge.  And they’ve detached the cannon from some big ship bastard and are planning on using it to melt the giant metal door that is the only think in between the Resistance and certain death.

Leia sends out a distress signal.  No one responds.

Finn tries to sacrifice himself to take the gun out, and Rose stops him.  There’s a brief declaration of love on her part, but she’s damn near unconscious when she says it and I’m going to choose to pretend it’s not real, because… nah.  I like Rose too much to believe she fell in love with Finn’s dumb ass over the course of their trip to Canto Bight.  Call it headcanon if you have to.

Point is, the Resistance is screwed.

(I’m passing over some stuff.  There’s shooting, guys, this is at 3000 words again.)

And then Luke is there.  And he’s apparently had time to have a haircut.  And I swear to God he’s deliberately dressed like Anakin:

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He meets Leia, and kisses her on the forehead, and gives her Han’s dice from the Falcon.  And then he goes out to meet his destiny, buying the Resistance soldiers time to follow the crystal foxes (roll with it) out of the hidden back entrance to the base.

Kylo and Hux are in the cockpit of his shuttle, commanding the battle.  And Kylo loses his mind when he sees Luke, standing alone in front of the base, his feet leaving no footprints in the salt, bare-handed.  He orders every First Order vehicle to open fire on him, and lets the shooting go on for probably a full minute.  Hux tries to stop him and is unceremoniously Force-slammed into a bulkhead for his trouble, not to be seen in the film again.

When the shooting stops, Luke is unscathed, waiting.  It’s an outstanding moment.

Kylo Ren meets him on the ground, alone.  Luke ignites his lightsaber– his blue lightsaber.  And there is a brief exchange of lightsaber blows, and I can’t honestly say I remember for sure but I’m pretty certain the blades clash at at least a couple of points.

And then Kylo Ren charges Luke, and whips his blade through his midsection… with no effect at all.  Because Luke is still on Ach-To, which he’s sworn to never leave, and where he’s sworn to die, and Ren is fighting a Force projection.  And Rey, who Luke proclaims as the last of the Jedi, is freeing the remnants of the Resistance through the back exit of the base, moving tons of rock aside to do so.

They are the spark that will ignite the hope of the galaxy, Luke’s specter tells Kylo Ren.  And then, on Ach-To, he disappears, joining the Force, his robes fluttering to the ground around him.

Elsewhere, at Canto Bight, a young slave boy is entertaining several other children, telling the story of a battle between good and evil, using straw dolls as toys.  His master comes in angry, and the boy flees.  In the faithier stables, he looks at the ring on his finger, a ring that bears the symbol of the New Republic.

And then he calls his broom to his hand and begins to sweep the stable.

Roll credits.

I loved this fucking movie, guys.  I almost don’t want Episode Nine now, because it’s JJ again, and JJ’s going to fuck everything up.  Rian Johnson gets his own Star Wars trilogy all to himself that he can do whatever he wants with.  I am so, so, so in.

And now I’m going to go ice my wrists for a while.

What the Hell Am I Doing Right Now: a spoiler #review of STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

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Luke, reading idiot fanboy responses to LAST JEDI

Okay. I have no idea how long this post is going to be. My review of THE FORCE AWAKENS was like a hojillion words long and dissected every second of the movie that I could remember. I don’t think I have the energy to do that right now; it took serious loin-girding to just get this first paragraph written. So I might run out of steam a few paragraphs in and I might still be sitting here in front of my computer typing away in two hours. We’ll see.

One thing for sure:  I’m going to be spoiling the shit out of everything I talk about.  You should have seen the damn movie by now, and if you read this you’re going to find out a whole lot of shit you didn’t know.  And, seriously?  There hasn’t been a Star Wars movie you more wanted to go into blind since EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  Don’t read this unless you’ve either seen the movie or you’ve decided you’re not going to see the movie and want to know what all the fooferol is about.

One more picture, and then spoilers ho…

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PART ONE: SO LET’S TALK ABOUT LUKE

So here’s the thing: you can’t really discuss this movie properly without going directly at its most controversial element: Luke Skywalker.  When I walked out of FORCE AWAKENS, I was already annoyed with the way the film treated the big three from the original trilogy.  Most of that, honestly, was Harrison Ford’s fault; the only part of him that has done any acting in the last two decades is his left index finger and his “Han Solo as doddering old man” act absolutely did not work for me.  I wasn’t happy with him and Leia being separated, and the general sense that the last few minutes of ROTJ were the last happy moment of these people’s lives didn’t wear well with me.

So: Luke Skywalker has spent decades rotting away on an island on Ach-To, mingling with Porgs and milking space walruses and being cared for by leftover puppets from THE DARK CRYSTAL, cut off from the Force and planning to die.  When Rey meets him and hands him his lightsaber, he snorts and tosses it over his shoulder, and if he’s built himself another one (or if he even still has his green one) at no point in the movie do we ever see it.  He initially utterly refuses to train Rey or help the Resistance at all, and while he eventually backs off a bit on those promises it’s only halfhearted.  There’s a scene where he has her sit on a rock and closes her eyes and tells her to reach out with her feelings and tell him if she feels anything.  She literally reaches out; he tickles her hand with a blade of grass and then smacks her with it when she mistakes that for the Force.

Luke has a couple of very interesting lines.  One, from the trailers, is to tell Rey “This is not going to go how you think,” and fuck me dead if he isn’t talking to the audience with that line.  The line about the Jedi needing to die from the trailer is not out of context; Luke is done with the order, done with the concept of Jedi and their “laser swords” (his words!) and their moving rocks.  He’s a broken old man, and he wants to be left alone to die.

His other most interesting line is when he asks Rey if she’s foolish enough to believe that the Jedi own a Force that binds the universe and all living things together.

There are (and it’s at this point where I realize that there’s no chance that this thing isn’t a million words long, or that it tells the story of the film in anything resembling a coherent manner) people who will tell you that their Luke would never have made the decisions that this character has.  Mark Hamill himself, famously, told Rian Johnson that he disagreed with every single character choice that Johnson made about Luke, and he played the hell out of the character anyway.  I never thought I’d say these words, but I want Hamill nominated for an Academy Award.  He is astounding.  Look at his goddamn face in that picture up there.  And this is not a movie that lacks for good acting!  Johnson gets spectacular performances out of damn near everyone, but Hamill is head and shoulders above everyone else in the film.

Now, if you’re one of those people, I’m not going to be able to talk you out of that feeling.  If you didn’t like the choices the filmmakers made with Luke, you’re gonna have a bad time with this movie.  There’s no two ways about it, and we haven’t discussed his mistakes with Ben Solo yet.  All I can say is that Hamill sells this character so hard and so well that I couldn’t help but buy it.  He’s so good, guys.

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PART TWO: A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT PORGS

Shut up.  The scene where Chewbacca is trying to eat a porg is hilarious– any time Chewbacca is sharing screen time with a porg is hilarious, in fact– and you shut your stupid fanboy mouth about them.  If you aren’t used to the occasional cute comic relief beast on the screen by now you aren’t actually a Star Wars fan, because they’re in damn near every movie, and I don’t want to hear the noises your mouth makes.

PART THREE: A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT THE ALIEN WALRUS MILK-BEAST

Shut up.

No, seriously, shut up.  For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s a scene on Ach-To early in the film, perhaps five seconds long, where Luke, studiously avoiding talking to Rey, walks up to a beast that looks like a combination of a walrus and Watto from PHANTOM MENACE and literally milks a space Thermos of green milk out of it.  And then he drinks some, and gets milk on his beard.  Fanboys are so angry about the milk-beast!

It’s ten seconds.  Shut up.

PART FOUR: WHAT’S THE MOVIE ACTUALLY ABOUT?

Right, the plot.

The movie’s about hope.  Dassit.  It’s about clinging to hope during the worst of imaginable times, and this movie very much is the lowest point a lot of these people have been brought to.  It’s the final word of ROGUE ONE spread out to an entire movie.  It’s about, in new character Rose Tico’s words, saving what you love instead of destroying what you hate.

Oh, specifically?

It’s a nightmare two-and-a-half-hour chase scene, where an implacable, indestructible enemy is right behind you, and if he catches you he will kill you, and you cannot get away no matter what you do.

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Okay, that’s not specific enough.  The film begins right as the previous one ended, with the First Order forces trying to mop up the last of the Resistance on… hell, whatever planet they were on, I don’t remember.  All the Resistance is trying to do is escape, and Poe Dameron leads an attack on the largest of the First Order ships that ends up going disastrously wrong, destroying the enemy ship but costing the Resistance their entire bombing fleet and a whole shitton of smaller fighters in the process.  There is a great scene where Snoke, unhappy with General Hux’s inability to wipe the Resistance out, slams him to the floor using the Force and then drags him to face his oversized hologram the way you might drag a recalcitrant puppy on a leash.  Snoke is not shy about slapping people around with the Force in this movie, and he’s an order of magnitude more powerful than anyone we’ve seen onscreen before.

At any rate: Dameron disobeys direct orders from Leia to keep up the attack on the Dreadnought, and despite his technical success when they meet on the Resistance flagship she slaps him in the face and demotes him on the spot.  Yes, technically he won, but he broke the chain of command to do it, and he cost the Resistance a ton of lives– something they can’t spare right now.

This will, uh, prove to be a theme.

And then they emerge from lightspeed, and… moments later, so does the First Order, having followed them through lightspeed, something previously not possible.  Somewhere in here Finn wakes up, in his bacta suit, and his first words to Poe, leaking fluid everywhere and clearly not having learned that No One Saves Rey, are “Where’s Rey?”

On Ach-To, of course, but we’ve already talked about that.

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At this point the movie becomes a slow-motion chase scene, and this is another point where people are upset and I just don’t get it.  The Resistance ships are able to stay just out of fighter range, just far enough away from the First Order that laser bombardment isn’t going to get through their shields but not far enough to actually get away, and without enough fuel to survive a second lightspeed jump– especially since the First Order can follow them now anyway.  So the First Order ships, now including Snoke’s massive capital ship, just continue to follow them until they run out of fuel, picking off ships as the ships lose the ability to continue running away.

If you’re all “Why didn’t they just call in reinforcements in front of them?” here, I’d like to submit that you’re missing the point.  They’ve got the entire Resistance effectively under siege, here.  All they have to do is keep chasing them and wait for them to die.  There’s no need to do anything else, and you have the advantage of crushing their spirits along the way.  Anyone who has ever had a nightmare about being hunted should recognize this feeling; it’s Star Wars as slasher movie.  The enemy is implacable and cannot be defeated; they’re just going to wait until you’re too tired to fight anymore before they finally kill you off, because it’s more fun that way.

(Oh, I forgot: Somewhere in here– before they jump, I think?  Leia is badly injured and Ackbar is killed.  Leia’s actually ejected into deep space and appears to use the Force to pull herself back onto the ship, where Dameron rescues her and tosses her into a hospital bed.  You are forgiven if, as I did, you think oh, this is how they’re coping with the fact that Carrie Fisher died.  It’s kinda bad CGI; I feel like they should have come up with a better way to get her back on the ship, and a rare misstep in the movie.)

Oh, eventually there’s a plan, because of course there is.  And let’s talk about the plan.

PART FIVE: OKAY, CANTO BIGHT’S NOT GREATcanto-bight-998681-1280x0.jpg

Specifically, there are two plans, but we’ll talk about the second one in a bit.  Finn is an idiot, have I mentioned that?  He’s a well-meaning idiot, but the clear no one saves Rey lesson from the first movie hasn’t really sunk in with him yet, and not long after he’s out of his bacta suit we see him trying to steal an escape pod to go find Rey.

Enter Rose Tico!  Rose is one of the film’s two new major characters, and she’s generally pretty awesome.  Important detail: her sister was one of the people who Poe Dameron got killed in the bombing run on the Dreadnought, and processing the loss of her sister turns out to be one of her bigger motivations as a character.  Anyway, she’s… what, a mechanic, I think?  And she catches Finn trying to escape the ship, and she hits him with a Tazer, and the next thing we know she’s hauling his barely-conscious ass through the ship on a cargo skid trying to find someone to report him to for desertion.  She finds Poe, and somehow Poe ends up in a hilarious little conversation with hologram-form Maz Kanata, and Maz suggests that they find themselves a slicer (she’s in the middle of a firefight, a “union dispute” through the whole thing, and I want that movie too) and maybe a good place to look might be the casino resort on Canto Bight, which isn’t too far away.  The slicer will get them onto Snoke’s ship and disable the tracker– sound familiar?– and the Resistance can jump away before the First Order realizes they can’t follow.

So, Canto Bight is supposed to be this film’s answer to Mos Eisley, I suppose, except fantastically wealthy, and it’s probably the flabbiest part of the film.  Poe stays behind to run interference and Rose and Finn head off to Canto Bight.  Long story short: I enjoyed this sequence more than most people probably did because I read Canto Bight, the Star Wars novella collection that came out right before the film did, and so I had some context that movie viewers lacked.  It’s bad form to say “read this unrelated book before seeing the movie,” but I also can’t personally unread the book before I do, so it didn’t bug me as much.

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So, again, long story short in a big way: they end up getting arrested just after locating Kanata’s slicer but before making contact with him, and they meet Benicio del Toro in jail (his character is never once named, which is kinda annoying) and well it turns out he’s a hacker too so that’s cool.  There’s an interesting subtheme going on here about income inequality and arms dealers and the mass concentration of wealth that Canto Bight represents, but that’s probably something for another post.  And there is a giant chase scene on faithier-back, and if you don’t know what a faithier is imagine a racing moose with smaller horns and you’re close enough.  There’s also a cool bit where Rose points out that the Resistance is about extending hope to the downtrodden even when the First Order isn’t doing the downtrodding, and she ends up giving a Republic-seal ring to a little kid who mucks faithier stalls for a living, a scene that may be important later.

So, yeah.  They leave Canto Bight with Benicio del Toro and head back to the chase scene.

PART SIX: HAVE I MENTIONED THAT GREG GRUNBERG ISN’T IN THIS MOVIE?

He’s not.  Not one second of Greg Grunberg or his stupid Greg Grunberg face.  He still throws me out of FORCE AWAKENS every time I see it and I’m so glad Johnson didn’t give him even a background part in this one.

PART SEVEN: DUDE YOU’RE AT 2500 WORDS AND HAVEN’T TALKED ABOUT KYLO REN YET

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Oh god.

This is the part where it hits me that this needs to be two posts.  Still to be discussed:

  • Everything involving Snoke
  • Everything involving Kylo Ren
  • Most of Rey’s arc
  • Yoda is in this movie
  • All of Crait
  • I have not mentioned Amilyn Holdo yet
  • Finn and Rose’s attack on Snoke’s ship

And I’ve written 2500 words and okay the TFA review ended up being over six thousand but I have stuff to do today.  I haven’t even showered yet and it’s two PM.

Ugh.

I’m rolling now, though.  I’ll get the rest up soon.  Yell at me in the comments, for now.