Review of "Star Wars: the Last Jedi"






You have to feel sorry for the bad guys at the beginning. The deal the universe gave to them is this: the good: you're way more powerful than your opponent; the bad: you have to keep coming across as if you've just met your opponent for the first time, so all your power seems ill-designed for the opponent currently facing you -- and therefore not power at all -- and as if previously someone had on a whim just executed all your teachers so it's perpetually battle 101 for you (why with all our fire-power can we not destroy a single ship? too small sir. okay, why with all our fire-power can we not destroy a fleet of ships? they're too small a fleet of ships, sir. Grrrrr). General Hux falling for the old, if you let your opponent telephone you and you're on broadcast, you'd actually have to have shown him up as a total fool -- and thereby have him in self-recriminating mode -- as Snook and the Emperor before him knew how to do, before letting him speak, to be effective, for otherwise the power to talk is both-ways and he'll Taserface you. General Hux is a punk. Weird in a movie where his eventual superior/co-equal Ren is denatured in sheer intimidation factor as well. (Previously remember, Hux was hysterically but also terrifyingly commanding a nazi army saluting the very effective destruction of planets; had more than a remnant of scary.)

Poe is rendered down to captain for disobeying orders. This for taking down the enemy's most powerful warship, long known to be the greatest terror in the sea of space. We accept this demotion of him because something about going captain after being commander means less conflict in us as we view him behaving in the way we want him to -- as a loose canon. Commander is too office chair, and maybe too old. Brief moments of this, okay, but otherwise--. Leah's response to him seems objectively inappropriate (she doesn't make a strong case as to why she was right and he was wrong... though maybe she's sensing that we're so with her that it's become pointless to even make a case) but narratively appropriate: Po goes reckless and leader hems him in, but in a way which is really more about friendship-cementing and, indeed, allowance -- greater actual range, greater loosity, greater empowerment. Just what we want. What we didn't want is for another leader to step in and take advantage of this ostensibly-opposite-of-a-promotion-but-actually-a-promotion promotion to actually limit him within the constraints of his new rank. To make him so that he's not now more free, but more sealed off... less free, more inclined not to take impudent action confidently, but to do so out of seeming desperate, caught-out in an unfamiliar position, erratic, not-so-well -- out of juvenile/narcissistic testiness. This was interesting. Vice Admiral Holdo plays the part of Dolores Umbridge, making use of a position for all the malignant power always potentially available in an empowered role that had previously been hidden by the consistent sweet-heartedness of its previous holders, and Poe finds reason to raise a mutiny against her. But the movie is not interested in destroying witches, but in drawing our attention to how wrong it is to use narrative to sustain this negative stereotype of powerful women. Or, rather, it sort of does, or it looks like it was meant to. But if we think on it a bit, Holdo, revealing herself as only actually pretending to be a b*itch and her later sacrificing herself so others can live implicitly implies that if she HAD only been limiting Poe to the presumptions available to his specific rank, and had NOT at heart been thinking of depleting herself so that others would benefit... if SHE HAD BEEN a b*tch, but also an effective, level-headed leader, performing very strictly but also always strictly within her delineated limits -- mutiny? Actually, maybe okay. (Also, by declaring that she was only playing being a b*tich gives us permission to have felt righteous in our discomfort with her before -- we weren't wrong there -- and efface from mind that we still find her pretty much the same way: we relax only because she's shown us the specific avenue for her accepting and agreeing with us. Just work with her. Not, that is, because all presence of the b*itch is eclipsed out of her.) But we don't think this because Princess Leia suddenly is back, and has her back, and no one's in mind to start not cooperating in her not seeming an all-absolving saint who shrouds holy glow on anyone she stands by.

We might sense, though, that the power in this film that we would feel least secure in abrading is Vice Admiral Holdo. (The force might not be in her, but sheer force[fulness] certainly is.) Offering us Hux and Ren as squabbling siblings, comically stepping over one another, vulnerably being open to being stepped over or rivalled -- think Hux's, Gandalf-akin, stepping through Ren's mad anger at Luke to more deliberately issue orders at the finish of the film -- by their rival, seem like getting to hang out with a merry band of robin hood democrats in comparison. Loosity, permission, relaxation -- not something one normally associates with foes known to automatically quicken tension for their being known to strangle people in mid thought/expression.

Who steers a ship, who gets to speak, who gets silenced... all of this is very important in the film. (Tension is heightened and relieved when a left-out character initially fails to but eventually finds avenue to be centre-stage in an articulation of a plan to a commander.) Every character who might have been humiliated in being silenced, takes centre-stage, and relief is felt -- YOU count: you're not going to get upstaged again. In this film, it actually means a demotion at times of, former Mary Sue, Rey, who if I remember is not displacing Chewie as Han's second but serving as adjunct in a space battle to Chewie. Furry beasts have rights too. Step aside sister. (Rey of course takes another hit when her using the force is shown up as creating more mess for service personnel to clean up, making her seem temporarily just another highfalutin the masses never liked but always had to put up with.)

Finn seems bound to a relationship he really has no choice in. Rose Tico feels like a character appropriate to a series adjunct to the main line of Star Wars films, not its centre. She seems appropriate to Rogue One. One could feel the I'm-with-the-force-the-force-is-with-me in her relationship to the "Asian" symbol, feel the imposition, the imposter-hood (i.e., alien to and zero to do with the force manifest in the Star Wars universe, and indeed more a fetish, a long-extended transitional object the enfranchised geek gets to take with her), and our disability to raise hackles against it (for then we wouldn't be anti an unwanted artifice -- deep, deep, ostensibly mild and meek in appearance but actually interminably demanding geekhood -- through a welcome inclusion of a prominent Asian character, but only anti-Asian), and also Finn's, "man, I'm down amongst the downstairs crew again." (Poor Finn: introduced to us in two sequential films by being beat on by a woman while haplessly trying to explain his justified case. And also poor Finn: through his being tied up with her, he becomes quintessentially a sanitation worker here -- a demotion hidden by emphasizing the expertise behind the role -- which is actually a reduction of his being just a number in the previous film, for there, one of a number of.... countless Stormtroopers, battle warriors -- knights. And also poor Finn: not only is he tasered by the one of lowest established regard in the film, but his choice to -- Poe-like -- go solo against an armada is taken away by her as well, as she explains how he once again has to fit within the limits of her expressed understanding of things... is Poe this film's #metoo victim?). Is this dignity for working class personal, for who they were (service) rather than whom they "ascended" to (the heroic)? Or is this risking filing an enterprise which had been open to open objective judgment within the ranks of people who need flattering and who'll own your ass if your ever show signs of escaping the range of their fiercely insistent emotional needs? When Rey is told she's all lower class too, quintessentially so, has the movie worked its spell in our actually feeling relieved that she's not actually much beyond any of us -- half-bullsh*t at best, and even villainous for hoisting her grandiose specialness over peers... all that stuff about her counting the days until "royalty" descends to rescue her -- or do we never stop seeing her as grand in spirit, even with this reveal, and thus someone still considerably better than us, that is, as someone to envy? Do we want her to seem someone we could reduce to a puddle if she ever displeased us? Or someone who in her response to us would leave us feeling compromised and guilty for demanding this of her? Where does the movie tilt us? I feel -- both ways, probably. But more to the former.

Being amongst all the ostensibly little people, taking time to attend to them, can feel rank if it means that every little truly penurious thing about them is no longer allowed to be accorded -- it all becomes actually inherently valuable things that got cast as worthy of denigration by mean, belittling people.  A lot rests on their being like the #metoo victims, people of true dignity and worth that previously was effaced. And not like the Eves of "All about Eve," narcissists given licence we can't withdraw, for once let out they range over, take over everything, and indeed to be seen piloting every ship.

I would have liked the first-shown grand code-breaker to have proved the actual code-breaker, the first guy shown wearing the badge. Style and panache. It was disappointing to find it to be someone within our range, slob-man who doesn't make us feel insecure, make implicit demands. Of course -- THIS heep! Well, we can accommodate him without any problem because he fits type... someone from the underworld, not the world of high class -- which makes us nervous -- but the mystery that would have developed if we knew the film maker could have shown himself feeling comfortable sticking with the showboat, with the truly unexpected, with someone who could discriminate, see our flaws, with the high class Bond! (This said, the long looks we garner of so many people of ordinary looks and appearance, not only seems updated, but like we've become more grown-up in our relinquishing even the desire to see wall-to-wall beauties. It's something to be so fascinated at all the many flaws in appearance of the rebel personnel -- bulges of fat here, crooked nose there, aged skin here, skin-and-bones there -- so confidently contested as something perverse to find oneself blinking at).


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