This weekend I watched The Last Jedi for only the second time – and the first since I originally saw it opening weekend in theaters. I’d stayed away from it because, well let’s face it, Star Wars discourse has gotten heavy over the last two years. I’d enjoyed the movie and for a bit was a hell-or-high water defender against the trolls. But eventually it wears you down and my enthusiasm for everything Star Wars diminished. I wrote posts on my initial feelings on The Last Jedi and about some of the harassment that Kelly Marie Tran faced last year.
But between The Mandalorian and Jedi: Fallen Order this year I’ve gotten the Star Wars bug again. So going into episode 9 I thought I’d refresh myself and rewatch The Last Jedi to see how I felt about it two years later. And I’m pleased to report that it’s still a good movie. In fact, it’s a great movie.
Let’s dig in, shall we? (Spoilers for The Last Jedi, obviously.)
A few weeks after The Force Awakens released in 2015, I wrote a blog post summarizing my thoughts on it for a different blog. As The Rise of Skywalker is about to hit theaters on Friday, I thought it would be pertinent to look back at my feelings on it. I’m reposting it in its entirety, unedited, here to start what will hopefully be a week of Star Wars blogging leading up to the movie’s release on Friday.
So here’s a look back at what I wrote in January 2016. Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my thoughts on The Last Jedi after I rewatched it this weekend, then on Wednesday and Thursday I will be talking about The Mandalorian and Jedi: Fallen Order. I’ll probably have thoughts on Episode 9 as well, but likely not until the new year as I’ve waited a bit after each movie before posting my thoughts. Anyway, enjoy this blast from my writing past:
So last year I wrote up the 2017 T-Man Movie Awards and talked about some of my favorite movies of the year in a wide variety of categories. This year I ended up naming my gaming superlatives the Manatees (see here and here, with special thanks to my good friend HarveyZ) and it seemed a shame to not also do awards for 2018 movies as well. Since I was struggling with a name for them last year, I might as well adopt my gaming name for movies as well. I will mostly be using the same categories as last year, with a few changes here and there. Some categories will have runners-up if I felt like there were multiple movies that were worth mentioning – others will only have one if they were particular standouts or if nothing else really impressed me enough to be mentioned.
Without further ado, I present to you TMan’s Movie Manatees for 2018!
I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books and seen a few of the movies, mostly through the influence of multiple women throughout my life. I like the universe in general but I’ve never been super obsessed with which house I belong to or wishing I got an owl mail sending me to the American equivalent of Hogwarts. (Ilvermorny, right?)
As such, I didn’t come into the Fantastic Beasts movie franchise with too much excitement or baggage. I was interested but not enthusiastic. When I saw the first one in theaters I liked it but came out of the movie theater feeling like something was off. It bothered me because I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong or express what was bothering me about the movie. When I watched it again this weekend before seeing Crimes of Grindelwald, I still enjoyed it but also still felt the same sense of “something isn’t quite right.”
I saw Crimes of Grindelwald and actually didn’t like it. But on top of not liking it, I felt the same unexplainable nagging in the back of my head and it began to frustrate me because I wanted to be able to vocalize what was bugging me. So I thought about both movies together to try and figure out what it was – and I finally got my Eureka moment.
It was the narrative structure that was bothering me.
I’m not going to talk about canon or retcons or universe-related problems in this critique- instead I’m going to focus on the narrative and overall plotlines of both movies. There will be major spoilers of both Crimes of Grindelwald and Fantastic Beasts, so if you haven’t seen them both and want to remain unspoiled, read no further.
I saw Ant-Man and The Wasp this weekend and while I thoroughly enjoyed the movie there was something that bugged me about it. Both of Ant-Man’s movies have been devoid of a particular trait. The first Ant-Man was an origin story combined with a heist movie, and this one was a comedy wrapped in an “on-the-run” scenario. Both stories were great for the character but because of the set-up Ant-Man (and Wasp as well) didn’t ever interact with the general public. As such neither of the main superheroes in these movies ever got a “hero moment.”
So what do I mean by hero moment? Well, one of the reasons that people love superheroes is that they are people who can do what normal people can’t: they use their superpowers to do good and save people that need to be saved. Unfortunately, as superhero blockbusters have gotten more and more commonplace the focus has been on impressive CGI battles with supervillains and a certain amount of power creep (aka the next threat always has to be stronger than the last) ends up affecting all the new heroes and their sequels.
Because of the visual nature of movies and the blockbuster frenzy of Hollywood, directors and writers have tended to drift away from part of what draws me (and others) to superheroes in the first place. They rely on spectacle over substance. When the heroes are “saving” people it’s often en masse from a world-ending threat instead of a smaller, more intimate display of heroics. In both the first Avengers and Age of Ultron, we get to see all the heroes team up and save a city (New York and Sokovia respectively) and we see them rescuing civilians, but it’s a part of a larger climax that dulls our perception of the heroism in favor of flashy battles and witty one-liners. We’re even briefly given a death toll in Captain America: Civil War for both battles to try and add more gravitas to the situations, but a number as a statistic on the screen does little to evoke any sort of emotional impact on the viewer.
I’m going to go over a few of my favorite hero moments from some recent superhero movies and try to explain why I consider them emotionally impactful (and usually my favorite scene from the movie they’re from) as compared to their respective climaxes. Minor spoilers will follow, obviously. All scenes will be linked to on YouTube for your viewing pleasure in case you haven’t seen them or forgotten them.
So if you hadn’t heard in the news today, Kelly Marie Tran deleted her Instagram account because of months of targeted harassment due to her playing Rose in The Last Jedi. The main rage impetus behind her harassment was the fact that Rose as a character was viewed as awful and in general many people didn’t like her plotline or her existence in the movie. Of course, rabid jerks continued the harassment well after all The Last Jedi hot takes were over for a multitude of reasons – she was Asian, she wasn’t the usual Hollywood conventionally attractive female, she was in a movie they disliked. You know, all very normal things to harass somebody for months on end about.
This isn’t the first time that Star Wars fans have made a person’s life miserable after the movie came out. Jake Lloyd was harassed after he played a ten-year old Anakin Skywalker and shattered high brow nerd’s views on Darth Vader. Hayden Christensen has been mocked eternally for his role as Anakin as well. The actor who played Jar Jar received a ton of backlash from fans despite the character intending to appeal to children. In 2016 Daisy Ridley also deleted her Instagram account – while this wasn’t specifically about Star Wars, but rather her anti-gun violence stance, she was still harassed online for it. Rian Johnson, the director of The Last Jedi, has gotten tons of vitriol over Twitter. I’ve seen tweets of people threatening to kill Kathleen Kennedy – the current president of Lucasfilm. Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t even have a social media presence so we don’t really know how people would have directly treated him for being cast as Han Solo, but considering the lead-up to the release of the movie there’s a good chance he might have been targeted as well.
While a lot of people get very animated about things that they love, fans of Star Wars sometimes feel like they are on another level. The reactions to all of the recent Star Wars movies have been divisive at best and outright lunacy at worst. The Last Jedi, months after release, still gets people angry if it’s mentioned as a good movie. Discussion about Kelly Marie Tran’s harassment today was often prefaced by “Well, I hated her character, but-” as if disliking her character was an important point to add to the discussion of her targeted online abuse.
So what is it about Star Wars in particular that drives fans to total insanity when new stuff comes out for it? Why is it that nobody appreciates new Star Wars and the original trilogy has to be preserved as some holy relic of cinema?