Some thoughts on Star Wars

Gosh there’s been a lot of Star Wars lately. If I hadn’t had kids just before all this Star Wars, I’d probably have written about it profligately. But I’ve been time-poor, so I’ve just watched. And built Lego.

Anyway, here are some thoughts, in no particular order, unedited, written in between making breakfast and washing up and fixing Duplo spaceships…

There will be spoilers here, obviously.

  • The Mandalorian is the single Star Wars thing I’ve cared most about since Return of the Jedi. And maybe ever. More on why later. First, those big films…
  • The Force Awakens was a great fun theme park ride of a film, that seemed very intentionally to set out to hit the same kind of big dramatic and thematic beats as A New Hope, thus rekindling a love affair for grown-ups like me, and winning a whole new audience of youngsters. That’s absolutely fair enough, and probably the correct thing to do. After winning those audiences, surely the next step – for anyone with creative and narrative ambition – is to take the story somewhere new?
  • The Last Jedi appeared to do just that. If I was crazy I’d say it was a Marxist and feminist spin on Star Wars, that showed strong women making difficult but wise strategic decisions and exercising leadership, that put significant hope for the future in the hands of the ordinary, the downtrodden, and the young people of the galaxy (hope lies with the proles), which gave an honest and sensible portrayal of where Luke Skywalker would likely end up (from his first screen moment he’s been a whiny, self-interested, adolescent dreamer, and never really shown much evidence that he grew beyond that), and which raised a metaphorical curtain on the means of production (base and superstructure, if you like) that enables the Empire / First Order to exist, which was explored boringly in the prequel trilogy and touched on in Clone Wars. It set up several different and intriguing avenues that the final film of the new big tentpole trilogy could go down.
  • The Rise of Skywalker then took all those interesting potential leads and threw them in the bin, giving us only the character design of Babu Frik and Zori Bliss in their place, plus a bazillion sub-aquatic Star Destroyers. (Where do the raw materials to make these things come from? Never mind the labour? Or is it all just Sheev’s enormous Sith willpower?) It is a massive, nonsensical turd, that panders to an audience that it thinks is far dumber than it actually is. For this I blame JJ Abrams, who absolutely embodies Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle.
  • Yes, I know I’m writing about Star Wars and citing style-over-substance and Debord, but actually you can have both. Having both is what makes things rewarding. Having narratives that make sense is rewarding, too.
  • JJ’s attempt at subversive, nuanced narrative involved having a Storm Trooper clean toilets, literally a joke stolen from Clerks. He had some subversive imagery in the first film, to be fair, but that’s all it was – imagery. As evidenced by the fact that potentially interesting characters were created in the first two films, and then basically ignored in the third film, instead of having any kind of character arc. Finn was chucked in the bin. Rose was chucked in the bin. Poe was chucked in the bin. The two Caucasian characters got made into quasi-gods, scions of the most powerful families in the galaxy, hereditary Force peers, while all the working class people of colour and diverse heritage got ignored, or else arbitrarily paired-off with people just like themselves. Plus that same-sex kiss. Tokenistic. Spectacle. ‘Show not tell’ is absolutely a good maxim for filmmaking, but sometimes you need to earn the ‘show’ bit too. JJ didn’t a lot of the time.
  • He also seems, repeatedly throughout his career, to come up with interesting propositions for things that he then absolutely cannot see through satisfyingly, tying himself up in increasingly implausible Godrian knots that he can’t get out of. I’ve been GMing an RPG campaign for some friends in recent months, so I understand that prescriptive, obvious, linear plots planned out fastidiously in advance are not narratively as rewarding as ones which take surprising but understandable turns, but JJ didn’t even seem to have a set of themes or goals mapped out in advance. He just had a bunch of ideas for things that would look cool on screen, and he chucked them on screen, and then he had to try and figure out what they meant later. And he fucked it up.
  • For context, I’m running WFRP, not D&D. The miserable, filthy, European, low-fantasy version where you get taxed unfairly and die of infected wounds and no one ever has a magic sword.
  • It would have been far more interesting if The First Order had arisen not because of Sheev’s enormous dead Sith willpower, but rather out of a very human psychological need for control, order, and limitation-disguised-as-freedom, ideas explored tangentially in The Mandalorian.
  • It would have been far more interesting – and a much more worthwhile philosophical message – if Rey had been a nobody as hinted, just a desert planet scavenger with no heritage who happened to be Force sensitive. Hope lies with the proles, etc.
  • Oh look, Din Djarin is a nobody, an orphan, a foundling. Not even a real Mandalorian. And is far more human, and interesting, as a result.
  • “Everything the Empire touches, it improves” says Werner Herzog, reeling off a list of things the Romans have done for us. In the final episode of The Mandalorian the imperial shuttle pilot refers to Din Djarin and his motley crew as “terrorists”. These attempts to add nuance to the political landscape of the Star Wars galaxy worked massively for me. Like our own world it is complex, multi-faceted: bad people do good things, good people do bad things, and bad and good don’t actually exist – just differing opinions.
  • This obviously runs counter to that whole Light Side / Dark Side thing.
  • I feel like there are a few things that make Star Wars Star Wars, and these are:
    • A battered spaceship that somebody lives in
    • Storm Troopers, or variations thereof
    • Droids
    • A struggle that’s bigger than the people undertaking it
  • Note that I have not included Jedi in this list.
  • Or lightsabers.
  • I really, really hoped that The Mandalorian would steer clear of Jedi. I was OK with Ahsoka – she’s technically left the order by this point, which makes her more interesting than most other Jedi for a start – but I really hoped that it would explore different bits of the Star Wars galaxy, and leave all that Jedi stuff for the cinemas.
  • Yes I know Baby Yoda was obviously massively Force sensitive. But, like Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One, the fact that he wasn’t actually a Jedi made him more interesting. We’ve seen a LOT of Jedi. Seeing how people who aren’t part of that (slightly sinister) church can use the power of the Force too is not something we’ve seen much of.
  • Which is why I was disappointed when the X-Wing showed up in the finale, and the dude in the black cloak with one glove and a green sabre deus-ex-machina’d his way through a whole platoon of Dark Troopers without breaking a sweat.
  • CGI faces on real people, whether they’re de-aging or resurrecting, always lift me immediately out of my suspension of disbelief. I didn’t like it with Moff Tarkin or Leia, and I didn’t like it with Luke either.
  • I am aware I’m likely in a minority in not getting a massive Force boner when the Luke reveal happened though.
  • The fact that the travails of this entire galaxy keeps coming back to this same family is just faintly ridiculous.
  • Rogue One – no Jedi, telling the story of ordinary people getting caught up in a struggle that’s larger than them, no miraculous last-minute saves, diverse cast of interesting characters – is great, probably my other favourite Star Wars thing. Also some really awesome visuals – the Star Destroyer over Jedha is all-time – and some fabulous characters, who I’d love to see more of. I mean you, Forrest Whittaker.
  • I’m sure the Han Solo movie had some good points, and superficially it does the diverse cast and no Jedi thing, ordinary people, etc etc, but I just can’t get past the ochre digital filter and Alden Ehrenreich’s bad impression, which is somehow worse than digital de-aging would have been.
  • I haven’t watched much of Clone Wars: there’s just too much of it, to be honest. I’ve enjoyed what I have watched though. The explorations of what it means to be a clone are interesting and worthwhile. I wish the films had even considered this.
  • Rebels I watched all of: it starts very much as a kids’ cartoon, but slowly morphs into something much deeper. And the ingredients are there: people living on a battered spaceship, Storm Troopers, droids, a struggle that’s bigger than they are. Yes there are Jedi, but they’re in hiding, so subtle and vulnerable.
  • The Mandalorian seemed a little light at first, like little more than Saturday morning adventure fluff TV, albeit really good and fun and fabulous-looking fluff. But it got richer and deeper quickly, and repaid repeat viewings massively – the more I watched it, the more I got from it. And I must’ve watched the first season three or four times, thanks to lockdown. An unscrewed gear-knob. A barely-perceptible movement of the head. A detail in the background.
  • As well as referring back to previous bits of the lore, each episode also added something new, some character or planet or nuance or perspective that made the galaxy seem richer, deeper, better. Bill Burr’s pain when confronted with the horror of what he witnessed while an Imperial soldier. Werner Herzog’s sincere belief in the Empire’s ability to improve everything it touches. The fact that Moff Gideon doesn’t really want to kill or enslave Baby Yoda, but actually does seem to just want to study his blood. Din Djarin’s realisation that the need to keep his helmet on is just mythology and not reality (and ergo a form of control over him). Cara Dune’s troubled relationship with her past. Greef Karga’s changing loyalties.
  • It was great to see a gang of four women kicking ass through an Imperial spaceship in the finale, blitzing Storm Troopers and officers left, right, and centre, while the masculine ‘hero’ went after his baby. I was furloughed for a while during lockdown as Em’s workload went up and mine went down (we work at the same place), and I frankly wasn’t dealing with Casper’s health issues and a global pandemic very well. I can identify with the need to protect my son ahead of nailing the baddies. Way more satisfying than the X-Wing arriving.
  • It did action, it did tension, it did drama, it did levity, it did sensitivity, and it did them all pretty well. It also made it clear that the characters could die and be badly hurt, which ups the emotional investment and ergo tension.
  • I’ve barely mentioned Baby Yoda. I even quite like his real name. The adorable, egg-eating little ragamuffin.
  • But Boba Fett, though. I’ve never read any Star Wars books or comics, so as far as I’m concerned he was dead, eaten by the big desert mouth thing, no escape. The eponymous Mandalorian is Din Djarin, he’s the one whose arc we’re following, who’s got this wonderful, transformational relationship with Baby Yoda; I don’t want another Mandalorian to come in and steal the glory. And to be fair he didn’t quite, but I wasn’t whooping for Slave 1 like I was rooting for the Razorcrest.
  • “If you’re born on Mandalore you believe one thing; if you’re born on Alderan you believe another. And guess what? Neither of them exist anymore.”
  • Oh the Razorcrest. It had a toilet! I bought it in Lego and spent hours making it more screen-accurate (I even built said toilet). X-Wings and Tie Fighters are iconic but they’re just fighter planes. The Millennium Falcon and the Razorcrest, and the Ghost from Rebels, are homes. Refuges. Safe places. As well as fighter planes. They have character and personality. They’ll always be my favourite type of spaceship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s