Monday, May 25, 2020

A Star War A Day Episode II: Attack of the Sequels

A pot by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here, and I'm back with more Star Wars. You may remember that the other week, fellow ATB blogger Karissa posted about our #AStarWarADay marathon, which involved her, me, and fellow author and Star Wars fan Victor Catano watching one Star Wars movie a day from May 4 (aka Star Wars Day) onward until we got through all 11 live-action feature films (we took a few breaks for weekends). Lots of awesome people jumped in to comment on one movie or another, and a special shout-out goes to writer and podcaster Christian Angeles for joining in almost every episode.

Let me tell you, though, that was A LOT of Star Wars. It was wonderful, though, to get to hang out with my fellow fans and geeks online, especially since we've all been stuck at home with little chance to hang out for so long.

In fact, it was so much Star Wars, that when Karissa last posted, we hadn't even finished our marathon yet. We still had the last two Skywalker Saga movies to go: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (TLJ) and Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (TROS). You know it's funny, but you can see the tug-of-war between JJ Abrams, director of Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA) and TROS and Rian Johnson, director of TLJ, right there in the titles. The Force Awakens... new Jedi. The Last Jedi... never mind they're ending. The Rise of Skywalker... never mind, not only are they back, but they're Skywalkers.

Karissa and Victor graciously agreed to gather again to unpack the ending of this mega saga, and we chatted about it over Facebook Messenger. The below is a transcript of our conversation (lightly edited for clarity in some places... okay, mostly my bits).

MARY: The last time we all gathered, we were almost done with #AStarWarADay and only had the last two movies, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker left to watch. Both of these movies, of course, were super controversial when they came out, and are arguably the most controversial films in the series. How has this rewatch reinforced or changed your perceptions of TLJ and TROS, and has that colored your views of any of the other 9 films that came before them?

KARISSA: I was dreading watching TLJ and maybe I should have tried to go in more open minded but... I was just as disappointed as I was expecting to be. Maybe more so because the parts I knew I didn't like hadn't been softened by time or by watching the other movies first.

I dreaded being angry again at seeing so many threads from TFA purposefully changed or ignored. I didn't feel like Johnson was cleverly subverting tropes. I felt like he was giving a giant F You! To not just JJ but to over 40 years of story telling.

I dreaded the budding "romance" between Rey and Kylo. I dreaded seeing Finn's potential get side-lines. I dreaded Poe going from a strong-willed rebel to tantrum throwing brat. And don't get me started on the totally pointless casino side-mission. About the only nice thing I could say is that there were some visually stunning scenes. And even though I don't ship Kylo and Rey and I think Johnson utterly wasted Snoke's character, I really liked Rey and Kylo's fight scene together.

I was kind of dreading TROS too because while I disliked so many of the choices made in TLJ, I disliked how much of TROS was spent trying to "fix" those changes. It made for a totally non-cohesive, incoherent trilogy.

VICTOR: Well, as the token “The Last Jedi is good, actually” member of the group...

I hadn’t seen TLJ since it came out in theatres, but I liked it quite a lot. I was a little trepidatious, since I thought Rian’s last SF movie, Looper, was overrated. But I thought TLJ was absolutely gorgeous- the rich reds, the salt planet Crait, the throne room battle - all stunning.

And I liked cranky Luke! I loved the light saber being tossed away. I adored the revelation that Rey’s parents were nobodies who traded her for drink money.

I didn’t care about side quest: Canto Bight. Even then, it felt like it was there only to give Finn something to do.

Now, seeing it again, immediately after Force Awakens... I see the flaws. Canto Bight really does not make sense at all. The slow speed chase that makes up a lot of the movie is... eh. The dark side cave on Acht-To doesn’t add anything (even though it looks cool)

I still like it! Just less than I remembered. Also, it’s great to discuss it with people who aren’t toxic fanboys, since so much of the TLJ SUCKS crowd were salty at there being too many gurls in their Star Wars. (Like the asshats who made an edit that took out all the women. Like for real?)

But your complaints are rooted entirely in plot and character. I think most of that worked, you obviously did not!

I applaud the ambition, but a good chunk of it doesn’t quite land. I am ok with the Rey-Ren stuff. I read it entirely as them trying to lure the other to the dark/light side.

MARY: I thought I'd like TLJ more this time around since I knew what was coming and couldn't be disappointed, but instead it just became more transparent how preach-y it really was, lecturing the audience about believing too much in their Star Wars heroes. Luke is a jerk. Rey is a fool. Finn is sidelined. Leia is put on ice. Poe turns into an entitled brat. The bright spot is the new character Rose, but it's annoying how in some places she seems to exist not to be her own character, but to be a vehicle for the filmmaker to lecture the audience even more.

TROS I actually liked more this time around because at least it was fun to watch, and I got over my hang-ups with the makes-no-sense plot.

It was really frustrating to see the disagreements between Rian and JJ as filmmakers play out in the films themselves, which TLJ trying to undo TFA, and TROS trying to undo TLJ. One aspect of Star Wars that I always found interesting was its views on redemption. In the originals, we had Vader going from Dark Lord to the guy who brings balance to the Force. The prequels introduced us to Vader as the kid Anakin and portrayed the good guy he was before. Even Rogue One depicted a scrappy bunch of not-so-good guys, some of whom had done terrible things in the name of the Rebellion, sacrificing themselves for the greater good. And then there's Kylo Ren's redemption in TROS after turning down his chances in TLJ and TFA. Now, I have a lot of thoughts on this, but I'm curious about what you have to say about redemption arcs in Star Wars. What do you think?

VICTOR: I agree with you about the great JJ-Rian battles! It’s very frustrating!!! Anyone can be a Jedi! NOPE! It’s all about bloodlines! Rose Tico is a great new character! PSYCH! She gets 2 min of screen time now! Your parents were nobodies! LOLOLOL YOUR GRANDAD WAS PALPATINE!!!

As for redemption arcs, it’s interesting to see them play out in the proper order. We see Anakin as a child, become a Jedi, and then get warped and corrupted by Palpatine, to the point where he unquestioningly murders children. Then you see Vader in his full power in Rogue One, where he’s effectively a horror movie villain - an unstoppable killing machine that the rebel soldiers are powerless against.

Then you see him in the original trilogy - as an evil figure who tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side. But Luke convinces him to embrace the good inside him. Vader redeems decades of foul deeds by killing the emperor.

Now, there’s Kylo Ren. He is introduced in TFA by capturing Poe and then slaughtering a village. He kills his father, Han Solo (which made my mom EXTREMELY upset, thanks JJ). So there’s a lot he needs to redeem!!!

(Oh yeah - and helping the First Order blow up a planet with hyperspace lasers. Hyperspace lasers are still a bridge too far for me.)

He kills Snoke in TLJ BUT! Not to redeem himself! It’s to gain power and become supreme leader!

So all the redemption comes in TROS. It comes down to Ren being contacted by Leia during his duel with Rey on Endor. This pause gives Rey the opening she needs to stab him. Rey then force heals him to save his life. Then Ren has a vision of his father. This convinces him to change sides and he flies off to Exegol to help Rey fight Zombie Palpatine.

Now maybe if Carrie Fischer hadn’t died unexpectedly after TLJ, this might have played out differently. But as it is, it doesn’t really seem like Ren earns the redemption. Maybe if there was a scene where Leia tells Ren that she knows the good inside him, or asks Rey to save him... but right now, they hang a lot on Han having a heart to heart. And Ren is never shown wavering in his resolve. He’s whole goal is to triumph over the Jedi and attain power.

So it’s not really earned, even at the end when he saved Rey, drained of energy from channeling the Jedi.

I will leave discussion of ReyLo to you guys. I’m not a fan, but y’all have VERY strong feelings about it!

KARISSA: Well, since watching the final trilogy the first time and especially since watching them the second time, it's like I've had a heightened awareness of Kylo Ren sympathizers and apologists. There are a lot of them. And I just don't get it.

One thing that was funny about watching the movies again was Mary and I remembering that it was our mutual thirsting for Adam Driver that really cinched our friendship in the early days. In TFA, the first time when Kylo takes off his mask, Mary and I both gushed over how striking he is in that moment. The hair, the eyes, that wide sensual mouth! Then we had to explain to Victor, who was quite distressed to witness us gushing over this character that we both claimed to loathe as a romantic interest, that our admiration was for Adam Driver alone.

Not for Kylo!

And that we could maintain that separation, appreciating Adam while refusing to find Kylo romantic in any shape or form.

But it seems a lot of people are willing to give Kylo a pass despite his manipulative, murderous, hateful ways. And I'm not quite sure why. I would say it's because of his sex appeal and good looks. If Kylo had taken off that mask to reveal something mundane or less attractive, or downright ugly, would people have been so quick to forgive him (he destroyed entire planets full of people, y'all! Never mind kidnapping, torturing, gaslighting, and manipulating Rey)? I would say no, but...Hayden Christiansen, the actor who played Anakin, was arguably as pretty as Adam Driver. Maybe prettier, even! And people aren't rushing to romanticize Darth Vader neƩ Anakin Skywalker. But why?

VICTOR: Adam Driver is a better actor? Who didn’t have dialogue about sand?

KARISSA: Shhh Victor, I'm not done. In the end, Vader chose his son over the Emperor. Not because he wanted Luke's power or because he hoped to gain anything from it.

In fact, he was risking everything to save Luke.

Even if he could have survived Palpatine's lighting, Vader was choosing an action that brought an immediate and swift end to the Empire, without which, he could hope to be nothing more than a war criminal

Even wearing a mask, you could see Vader weighing those choices and consequences, and then making the decision to save Luke at Vader's own peril.

But as far as I can really remember, that was the only time Vader was offered a chance at redemption.

And he took it.

Kylo however... He was offered redemption over and over, by Han, by Leia, by Luke even (kinda) and by Rey. He never took those many opportunities. He pursued his own agenda. He only defeated evil because doing so brought him more power.

He never took steps to end the First Order himself. It was only after the rebel army had soundly defeated the First Order and Palpatine's armada that Kylo was like: Well, nothing's left now, so I guess I'll die to save Rey.

And that is enough to redeem every horror he's committed for the past 3 movies? Hell no

His death might slightly make up for bringing Rey to face her death in the first place (but he doesn't deserve her kiss for that. Ugh!) but it doesn't begin to make up for the horrible stuff he did to an entire universe.

And the difference between Kylo and Vader is that Vader did the right thing in the end but he has gone down in cinematic history as a villain, and rightly so. No one romanticizes him (other than Kylo, LOL).

Kylo, however, puts on a boyfriend sweater and takes off his mask before he dies, and we're supposed to call him a hero?

No thanks.

MARY: YES THANK YOU!! I've been thinking a lot about redemption arcs lately (I also just started Avatar: The Last Airbender, which arguably has the best redemption arc depicted in genre TV). One key to it seems to be that there has to be a true effort to atone. Vader only gets one move, but it's a helluva move. He kills the all-power Emperor, destabilizing the Empire and giving the New Republic a chance to rise and destroying the Sith (shh all you "I believe in a more Eastern approach where good and evil must be equal" folks... George Lucas himself said that Anakin brought balance to the Force by destroying the Sith, and there's a difference between balance between opposing forces and the existence of true evil, which is what the Sith are depicted as). He can't undo ALL the damage he's done, of course, but that's a pretty good start! And of course he saves his son, enabling a new generation of Jedi to rise (at least for 5 minutes before Kylo Ren kills them or turns them).

Kylo Ren, on the other hand... okay, let's say Leia just magically turned on the "light side" in him with her Force death. He does very little with the new chance he gets. He's still the Supreme Leader! He could have at least tried to call off the First Order forces. Instead, he goes running after Rey and turns on his Knights of Ren... who'd he converted to the Dark Side in the first place? What? Not even a "hey, guys, maybe take a second chance" too? And ultimately, he's totally useless in the battle against Palpatine. The one actually useful thing he does is revive Rey (though that kiss, EW), which I guess will allow a new generation of Jedi to rise, but he could have done so much more.

Well I could go on about Star Wars all night, especially since we're talking the two most controversial films in the movie canon here, but I think we've all had our fill of Star Wars for the time being. Any closing thoughts you have, about TLJ/TROS or the #AStarWarADay experience as a whole?


Just a couple things. I think I enjoyed the sequels more than you guys, but I know we agree that Finn was ill used. He starts off as a trooper who rebels, and doesn’t take part in a massacre. He then became a hero of the resistance, helping to destroy Starkiller Base.

And then in the next two... nothing. He runs around yelling REY! a lot. We were just talking about redemption arcs... well he is a much more compelling one than Kylo Ren’s

KARISSA: Absolutely agree. Finn is an example of a redemption arc done right. But he's shoved to the back burner way too often.

All this talk out there in the fandom of how much Rian Johnson subverted (or ruined, depending on who you ask) things by trying to make Rey a nobody, but meanwhile...

he had this force -sensitive character who was a nobody, right there all along, and he utterly wasted Finn!

MARY: YES FINN! Y’all know I’m a major Finn fan. I felt cheated because all those early TFA ads showed him with the lightsaber, and then he was such a great character, and I was really hoping he’d get to be a Jedi too, but... NOTHING!! At least not onscreen (offscreen, apparently Finn was trying to tell Rey he’s a force adept in TROS). It also annoys me how people never talk about how TFA is his redemption story. He was a friggin' Stormtrooper, and no one had to make a special effort to turn him good. He realized it all on his own and took action on it by leaving the First Order, which is part of what really makes for a satisfying redemption arc: when the former baddie has a true change of heart from within. And yes, he backslides a bit when he decides he's out to save his own skin and tries to abandon Rey and Han, but when push comes to shove, he shows up for what's right.

VICTOR: Also, speaking of Rian... It’s pretty clear that there wasn’t a singular vision for the sequels, no matter what Kathleen Kennedy and JJ et al say.

KARISSA: Yes. That's very obvious

VICTOR: No matter what you thought of the prequels, it was clearly Lucas’ vision

MARY: Yes, exactly! Whatever the issues with the prequels, at least they, as a trilogy, were trying to say something. The new movies weren’t, other than “give us money.”

KARISSA: I'm just saying...if [Rian] wanted to make a statement about who could be a Jedi (anyone regardless of lineage) he had Finn RIGHT THERE

VICTOR: There needs to be a Kevin Feige like figure one charge of the franchise. The MCU isn’t retconning Captain America every film

MARY: Exactly

VICTOR: And hopefully they have it in Dave Feloni. If you watch the Mandalorian Gallery Show, you can see how much he loves and respects Star Wars.

KARISSA: And what a dynamic that would have been! Have Rey as a Skywalker with Finn-the-nobody both learning the ways of the force. Sigh.

VICTOR: That sounds great!

KARISSA: I agree with y'all about inconsistency

VICTOR: Watch that Gallery show, though. Dave gives literally the best explanation of the prequels I’ve ever heard.

KARISSA: The final trilogy was frustratingly unorganized

VICTOR: Indeed. And I can only imagine what would’ve happened if Colin trevorrow got to direct part IX

MARY: I’d be morbidly curious to see what that script looked like.

VICTOR: I think there was a description of it on a podcast, maybe? Hey if the terrible Justice League is getting the Snyder Cut maybe we can get an animated storyboard of the treverrow script

MARY: Hah that would be something. Anyway, I’d say the Force is strong with us since we’re still fans after this mess!

VICTOR: Nothing can turn me against Star Wars. Not Emo Anakin in the sand. Not Maury Povich level paternity reveals. Nothing.

KARISSA: I agree. Despite recent disappointments, I'm still a fan. If they announced an episode 10 tomorrow, I'd be there for it. I'm very much looking forward to new Mandalorian (especially if Timothy Olyphant is in it, squeee!!!!!) and I'm very curious about new stories in the Star Wars universe.

MARY: Thank you both so much!! This was awesome! May the Force be with us.

1 comment:

Karissa Laurel said...

It's great to have this post to wrap up our massive project. Thanks Mary. I learned a lot about story telling by listening to the two of y'all. Plus it was fun hanging out with y'all, especially during such isolating times.

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