by Steve Wetherell
Look, America. I understand that your president is embarrassing and you feel humiliated, and you’re looking for easy wins on battlefields of your own choosing. I get it. It’s more fun than voting, less time consuming than volunteering and much easier than becoming a lawyer or something. But can we keep your real life battles away from fantasy space battles, please?
Some of you are already screaming that all art is political. Yes. In the same way that all conversations are political. Which is about as useful as saying everything is science. Or all art is valid.
I am suspicious of those stances. The last guy who told me everything is subjective was trying to defend the Ghostbusters reboot. So you can fuck off with that. There has to be practicality. There has to be perspective. Otherwise you can deconstruct whatever you want until it lines up with how you’re feeling. If we truly all believed everything was subjective, there would be no art.
So, here is my stance. Ahem. Any attempt to bring political significance to Star Wars makes the movies a lesser experience.
I want to talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and how it is a great example of why political perspective can spoil something that was just fine, like taking a shit into a piping bag and writing a racial slur on a perfectly good sponge cake.
There are, of course, MANY MANY SPOILERS.
On Watching The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi was great, I thought. It has some great moments, some good lines, a charming cast, a wonderful score, brilliant special effects, tense battles. It had weak parts, but I thought they were overshadowed by the good parts. I even liked the Porgs, and god help me I did not expect to.
I was surprised by the amount of polarized opinion on what was a well-crafted instalment in a beloved, if tarnished, franchise. Who were these people saying that Rose was fire and they were going to get her face tattooed over their own face? Who were these people who were acting like they had just seen Luke Skywalker laying in a gutter begging for change so he can buy blue crack? When did fucking Porgs transform from a briefly amusing special effect into an icon for the ideologically pure to worship and the cave trolls to desecrate?
It was clear to me that politics had happened, and we were getting into that tiresome territory where artificial importance had bloated something so much that one could not sit comfortably on top of it anymore, and had to slide hard left or right. I had to pick a side- was I a neckbeard virgin fanboy who was probably a secret nazi? Or was I a soy boy tumbler SJW cry-bully cuck?
I am neither of those things. I’m just a Star Wars fan, and have been since…oh… since before you were born.
So let’s talk about some of the reactions I’ve been seeing:
They Done Luke Wrong!
I have an emotional attachment to Luke Skywalker. When I was a four year old boy I basically played A New Hope (or Just Star Wars, as it was known at the time) on repeat until the VHS melted. Han was cooler, of course, but I liked Luke. There’s something about his naivety that speaks to a little kid. And even in Return of the Jedi- scarred, hurt and transformed by the weight of his battles- he never lost that endearing child-like spark. It was what saved him in the end, and Vader too. That message, that everyone was good, deep down, was… inaccurate, probably, but important to my developing world view.
How would I feel about seeing him thirty years on? That spark was gone, certainly. Gruff, sarcastic, a little mean. But then, here is a man who has saved the universe twice, but cannot save the soul of his only nephew. Here is a man who knows firsthand the destructive cycle of the force, and the folly of trying to control or weaponize it.
Did I think his brief moment of considering ending Ben’s life was out of character? Yes. It was a momentary slip for which he paid dearly. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t had that, and I related. Was I sad to see him like that? Yes. But I got it.
I understood his reluctance, I understood his isolation. His redemption was… satisfying. I felt like I said goodbye to Star Wars a little when he went, in a way I didn’t with Han Solo. And that’s fine.
You can point to the burning of the Jedi texts and make comparisons to historical vandalism all you want, but the fact is the Force always worked better when it was a vague and enigmatic allusion. Start giving it too much context and you get midichlorians, or as I like the call them ‘The Part Where I Realized The Phantom Menace Wasn’t Going to Get Any Better.’
Is the dismantling of the Force as mystical somehow necessary to appeal to today’s less religiously inclined audience? Well, only if you can’t tell fantasy from reality, I suppose. Anybody who sees either victory or defeat in the casting off of ancient Jedi lore so the protagonist can be a hero on their own terms is forgetting that’s exactly what Luke did (although, he did it with more subtlety and over three movies, which, let’s be fair, ain’t nobody got time for that.)
If we start looking at the sidelining of Skywalker as politically significant, on either side, it falls apart rather quickly. If he’s a good riddance to the supremacist ideals of the classic White Straight Male patriarchal values, necessary for Rey to succeed by presumably different ideals- then why do we see him bring the entire First Order to a standstill with his very presence? Establishing him as a living legend and making every other protagonist in the movie thus far look like a pretender? Like Obi Wan before him, he is far more powerful in death than he was in life. And that same interpretation applies if you somehow think Luke was cucked out of his true destiny. I do not think he was shoved aside to make some progressive point about the patriarchy, and if he was, it didn’t make sense. See that kid playing with the action figure at the end? Is that a princess Leah action figure? No. No it isn’t.
Rose is Fire!
No, she isn’t, she’s a wasted opportunity to give Finn a cool alien sidekick. Maybe one of those guys with three eyes that look a bit like a goat. Remember those guys? They were cool.
I understood that Poe’s plan blowing up in his face was supposed to have narrative purpose (and even some will argue a moral purpose, but we’ll get to that.) I still don’t know why they spent half an hour on planet One Percent to get there though. Its only purpose was for Rose to keep it real and ‘Show us the human cost of the Empire.’
Yeah…already saw them blow up six planets as an opening gambit, mate, think I know what the stakes are.
Finn and Rose ruminating that the true evil is the force of capitalism behind the Empire is about useful to the plot as rescuing a space horse form a space horse coliseum. Oh, what’s that Rose, the real victory was rescuing the space horse? Yeah, those kids really remembered that. That’s why they were playing with the Rose Rescues a Fucking Space Horse action set at the end there.
And knocking Finn out of sacrificing himself for the good of the Rebellion with your presumptuous “That’s not how we’ll win this” line, even though thanks to Luke and Admiral What’s her Face that’s exactly how the Rebellion survives? If I want someone to tell me that the true magic of the Force is friendship, I will re-watch My Little Pony: Equestrian Girls. Frankly those magic horses pretending to be magic horse-teenage girls are written more convincingly.
The worst part about Finn’s arc isn’t his seemingly air-dropped in sidekick and for-some-reason love interest though. It’s the wasted potential. As soon as it was revealed the Empire were tracking the Rebellion through Hyperspace, I knew, I just KNEW, they had some sort of implant in Finn that would turn out to be standard to all new Storm Troopers. It would’ve made perfect sense (as much as anything does in a story about space wizards.) It would have also made sense because Finn’s primary motivator, other than failing to be Rey’s love interest, is being fucking terrified of the First Order, his childhood abusers. Setting Finn up to have no choice but to confront the Order he only recently escaped from head on, else doom his new friends, would have been emotionally engaging.
Also, why did Finn and the unproven Rose go to planet Perrier? Why not Finn and Poe? Why not pay off on that bro moment they had in TFA? Why not Poe teach Finn about the realities of being in the Rebellion? He is, after all, perfectly equipped to do so, having sent people to their deaths in the name of war. But no, a mechanic will be fine. She lost her sister, I guess, so she has some skin in the fight.
…what was her sister’s name again? …
Oh, and DJ was a waste of time. Having him shrug like a Frenchman and suggest there is no such thing as good and evil does not make one lick of sense in an established universe where there clearly is. You get fucking lightning powers, DJ, we’ve seen it. He doesn’t even make sense as a utility character, as I’m sure BB-8 could have done everything he did and sold more action figures doing it.
My beef with Finns’ arc is not just that all the adventures on planet Country Club were made to make a brief real-world political statement that anyone in the real world knows is eye-rollingly reductive, but that the time could have been given over to hyping up the Finn and Captain Phasma grudge match.
How cool would that have been?
But no, we got Rose. I kind of side with the child murdering Nazis on this one, because it does seem like the only purpose of writing in this character was to appeal to progressives who will be excited about the inclusion of a woman POC character in a leading role, which is fair enough. I sort of hope this is the reason, because it would explain the rather forced introduction or an otherwise entirely unnecessary character.
But, again, this is another example of how, if you watch this with political axe to grind, it somehow becomes more cynical. On both sides.
Take THAT hothead!
Ha! Poe sure learned his lesson when his desperate one in a million gambit failed, right? He should have listened to his space mom and done what he was told! Or she could have taken five minute to explain the plan to him when he desperately begged her on behalf of the crew to explain what the fucking plan was, but whatever. The important thing is that he learned to always follow orders and never, ever defy authority.
This is exactly why we loved Han Solo so much, I believe. Because of the way he blindly followed orders to the letter and never took risks.
You can say this turn of events was interesting and unexpected, but do we tune into space fantasy to see blandly practical solutions? No. Not really.
And that’s not the point, is it? Because if I watch Poe’s arc through a current politics lens, what’s significant isn’t that he defied authority and it blew up in his face- it’s that he defied female authority. His toxic masculinity caused unnecessary death, while toeing the line and running and hiding was the thing to do.
See, I’ll accept that in real life, no problem. If this movie was Schindler’s List; absolutely. Run, hide, don’t be a hero. It’s not, though. It’s Star Wars. A movie about laser battles. Treating this as a necessary subversion that points out problematic male behavior is like pausing a Rocky montage to point out that true excellence can only be achieved over a life time of physical discipline, emotional commitment and proper nutrition. That’s true, yes, but also get the fuck out of my montage.
It also ignores the fact that Poe’s specific brand of heroism is the only reason any of them survived the previous movie. See? If you come into this movie intent on pulling on a political thread, don’t be surprised when the whole thing starts to unravel.
I also want to go back to Finn and Poe spending more time together, because if it had been Poe that had rammed Finn away from making the ultimate sacrifice rather than Rose, it would have actually made sense. The daredevil hotshot who can’t walk away from a fight learns that some things are more sacred than the battle by saving the thing he loves- Finn. Also, Poe kissing Finn would have made a million times more sense than Rose doing so. Not because it would be wonderfully progressive to have a confirmed gay man in a leading Star Wars role (I think it would be,) but because it would have paid off on the duo’s unexpected chemistry in TFA.
Poe falling for Finn, and choosing to save the things he loves over fighting the things he hates, would have given his character depth and meaning. And Finn realizing he might have feelings for another man would have been interesting- his emotional uncertainty would have made sense, and he would have been given fresh new perspective with which to analyze his unreciprocated romantic infatuation with Rey. Instead he just looks confused that Rose kissed him, and well he should, because who the fuck is Rose again?
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m certain this is what was supposed to have happened and it got derailed by a studio executive with an eye to Poe action figure sales.
Speaking of who the fuck…
Who the fuck is Vice Admiral Blue Hair?
And why isn’t she a cool alien? Honestly, if you’re going to give Admiral Akbar an off-screen death, you best be bringing in a character that’s actually memorable, rather than a slightly tranquillized HR manager at a corporate dinner party. See, if her purpose in Poe’s arc was about deconstructing toxic masculinity, then this is another great example of why trying to be political can go so terribly wrong. This character was pointless. I was glad when her boring plan failed. When she sacrificed her life for the good of the escape plan, I did not give a shit.
Who is she that we should care? Where was she in at the beginning? Not the beginning of the franchise, I mean the beginning of this movie?
It should have been Leah in that chair, or Mon Mothma, even, then we would have cared. Or why not Akbar himself? He can’t be patriarchy, he’s a fucking fish!
That Bit With Leah Flying Was a Bit Shit
Not really political, but I have to get this off my chest. Not only was taking Leah out of the picture not really necessary for the plot (unless you really, really want the Vice Admiral You’ve Already Forgotten Her Name.) But her using the force powers to fly through space seemed a bit ridiculous. Maybe if we knew Leah had at any point gave a fuck about her latent force powers, it would have been a triumphant moment. She didn’t, though. She didn’t mention them once. So why do we care? It saved her life, yes, but you know what else would have? Getting off the bridge before it exploded. She can sense disturbances in the force, right? ‘Course she can, we’ve seen her do it. Sensing her imminent death shouldn’t be too hard. “Everyone off the bridge, now!” She says. Boom, problem solved. You could have still had her be the last out and taken some debris as she escaped, if you really needed her in a coma.
Wow, she sure can Jedi!
I like Rey. I like the fact that she’s ridiculously OP. Because I firmly believe it’s going somewhere. I have faith that it won’t turn out she’s the best at Jedi-ing because little girls need role models. That would be a laughably stupid way to write a movie. I am still holding on to my theory that she’s the next Anakin, and that her potential shift to the dark side will be the hub of movie three. All those little snaps against her well-meaning allies that we give her a pass on will start to get a little meaner, a little more explosive. Soon she won’t be pulling a light saber on a defenseless Luke, but maybe on anyone who gets in her way. Then the too-perfect attitude and optimism all makes sense. She will be defined by her final struggle. Maybe Kylo Ren will have some part in her redemption. That fits.
Because if not… she’s a bit dull. Seriously, Luke taking the piss out of her a bit and Snoke smacking her upside the head with her own lightsaber were thus far the only challenges Rey has actually faced and not instantly overcome by the power of her own moxie. And here’s where political awareness once again fucks up a perfectly good movie. Luke had to work for shit. He was talented, sure, but he was trained. He made mistakes, was punished for his impatience, got his hand cut off, lost people he loved, and he still didn’t become half the Jedi that any single robe wearer in the prequels became. Remember when it was such a big deal the first time he summoned his Light Saber? That was movie two. It took him a whole movie to get there. Rey just… does it. Kind of like she just get things handed to her…because she’s got an English accent? No that can’t be it. Let me see… what else is definitive about Rey to the point that everyone makes a massive fucking deal about it? Oh yeah! Tits!
See, that’s the problem with deconstructing shit- either side can do it. And most of the time it’s like cutting up a tapestry so you can see the thread work. You lose the truth of the whole for something that, really, you weren’t supposed to be looking at.
Where Are All These Subverted Tropes I Keep Hearing About?
The problem with tropes is you may as well call them ‘story components’ and they’re there for a reason. You put furniture together, you use screws and glue. Start getting clever and using, say, lime jelly, all you get is a mess. That’s why Star Wars: Return of the Jedi sensibly refused to turn well-worn tropes upside down.
You know, like a last minute betrayal of the Emperor. Fighting a rear guard mission on Not Hoth. Having an eccentric old hermit first refuse to train, then train an eager pupil. Having a double agent betray the heroes (Even if we don’t give a shit about that character.) Having a naive hopeful stand up to his former bully. You know, all that good stuff.
Unless you’re talking about the bits with the bad writing? Are they the ones you mean? You know, how Rey faces the darkness, but it doesn’t actually show her anything or have any consequences? Or how Finn’s martyrdom was subverted, while other martyrdoms were just fine, apparently? Or how the hothead’s reckless last-minute plan just failed, like it would in shitty old real life? Or how Rey came from nowhere and has god like powers with no training or guidance just because? Or how Snoke also had god like powers, but we never found out anything about where he came from?
Are we calling that smashing expectations? Because if I go to see a comedian and she sets up a joke and then doesn’t deliver a punchline, she’s smashes my expectations, sure, but she’s also completely failed to tell a joke.
See, I liked the fact that Rey came from nowhere. It was a nice touch. But it doesn’t explain why she’s more powerful than Kylo Ren. If we believe the force is genetic, Kylo wins, hands down. If we believe the force has to be mastered, Kylo wins, hands down. If we believe neither of those things, then what’s the fucking point? You may as well say Chewie is a Jedi Master and be done with it.
Patting this movie on the back for subverting expectations is like applauding a ballerina who dances one half of a familiar routine and then falls off the stage. The parts where it attempts to subvert expectations are the weakest parts of the movie. And if you’re lording any change as good, because of some conceit about tearing down the old white patriarchal straight guy ways to make room for your glorious new age- your new age best fucking deliver. But it doesn’t. Not in this movie. We’re so enamored with what certain characters represent in our current political climate, we forgot to give them any special significance in the actual fucking movie.
Just stop it…
But you see, I only really noticed the politics in this movie when a load of internet posts from over-excited bloggers told me I should (except for all that bullshit on planet Live-In Nanny, but we can all agree that’s political Duplo, right? And if it didn’t happen nothing would have changed, right?) Because the movie was a lot of fun. But that’s all it was. It wasn’t significant. Neither was the Force Awakens. Neither was Rogue One, really, though it desperately tried to be.
Star Wars was significant. For its time. Those movies will always be important. Even The Return of the Jedi, which, with its ambitious art direction and swash-buckling sense of fun, provided stand out iconic moments yet to be topped by any recent instalment. It was never, ever significant for its political context. It was in fact, almost anti-politics, delivering a feel good shot of fantasy at a time when post-Vietnam America was massively disillusioned with itself.
We should have learned from The Phantom Menace that there can be no significant expansion of the original trilogy in the movie universe. They did not need the political context ham-fistedly provided by the prequels. The story of how the Death Star plans were retrieved is entirely unimportant though entertaining enough. We cannot replace the sincerity and innocence of those three original films with ironic allusion or political flag waving.
Sure, we can never go back, and must move forward. But I do not like you scrabbling in the mud for the Star Wars banner, and holding it above your head as your own. I do not like being told I must like a character because she is a woman. I do not believe a fantasy character is made significant simply because of her ethnicity. I do not think that relevance to American socio-political attitudes excuses flawed film making. Likewise I do not believe that the inclusion of strong female characters or more ethnically diverse characters are automatically a threat to the traditional values of a movie. Why should they be? That’s ridiculous.
And you know what? I wouldn’t have given a shit about any of these things if people didn’t keep screaming about them. Because the context you are all arguing about is the weakest, most inconsequential part of an otherwise solid and enjoyable movie. It feels like an attempt to pad out a Media student’s dissertation- and this is coming from a guy who padded the shit out his Media student dissertation. Your grand political narrative is meaningless in the face of what Star Wars does best- which is lightsabers, space battles, cool robots, magic powers and hokey but satisfying dialogue. I’d no more expect Star Wars to confirm to current political ideals than I would Super Mario.
Star Wars is not a statue to be torn down, or a Wikipedia article to be corrected, or a history book to be revised. Don’t try and weaponize it.