Larry Correia Reviews “The Last Jedi”

Human grizzly bear and pulp author extraordinaire Larry Correia unloads upon The Last Jedi and Rian Johnson. That’s worth a share!

For those who don’t know, Mr. Correia is a very good writer. Granted, some of his earlier stuff is pretty clunky, but he improves with every book, and at this point he’s pretty much a master of the pulp craft (I especially recommend his Grimnoire Chronicles). The man excels at world building, character (he can make a red shirt gangster who exists only to die horribly into a believable human being with a personality suited to his own particular era and place in the world), and above all action. He’s written some of my all-time favorite characters (e.g. Faye) and he’s a major tentpole in my ‘authors to emulate’ file. So the man knows what he’s talking about when it comes to storytelling.

Content warning because it is Correia, and he doesn’t mince words, as you’ll see from this sample:

But f***ing up a new character is one thing… Ruining legends is a crime.

Luke was a travesty. That was just bull**** right there. If I’d had a look at the script beforehand I would have rolled it up tight and smacked Ryan over the head with it while shouting “what the f*** is wrong with you! You’ve been given custody of one of the most beloved characters in history and this is what you do with him?”

And the fact that nobody at Disney did that is the real travesty.

Listen, I’ve written in other people’s universes. And the first damned thing you do is your basic homework of what makes it tick, and what things are sacred. You don’t try to “subvert” what came before. You see why people loved it and then you build on it.

Like holy s*** man, I’ve written stories for Aliens, Predator, V Wars (coming soon to Netflix!), Warmachine, and I’m probably forgetting some other IPs I’ve worked in, that’s basic f***ing IP Writing 101. You do your homework. You respect what came before. AND YOU DON’T PISS OFF THE FANS.

So yeah, Luke, the hero of your childhood is now an asshole. Deal with it.

You’d think they’d learned from Han Solo in the last one. Hey, that beloved character, yeah, he’s basically a loser who lives in a van down by the river. But at least it felt like Harrison Ford was playing Han Solo. Mark was playing some useless grumpy old asshole.

Not that characters can’t change. They can. And they should. But when you as the writer change a character you’ve got to show that. You’ve got to make it organic. You can’t just slap them in the face and go EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT I’M SO EDGY.

Go milk a f***ing walrus, you hack.

Read the rest here. Be sure to catch his dissection of the hyperspace kamikaze and all the reasons it’s a terrible piece of writing (the mere mental image he conjures of a “pissed off suicidal droid pilot” is more entertaining that the whole two-and-a-half hour film).

Picture of the Day

Hat-tip: Church Pop

John Wayne and his son, Patrick, venerate a statue of the Blessed Virgin in Cong, Ireland in 1950 during filming of The Quiet Man.

For those who don’t know, the great John Wayne, though far from perfect (especially regarding marital fidelity), was a devout believer his whole life, and throughout his life was surrounded by Catholic influences. These ranged from his wives (all three of his wives were Mexican, and at least the first and third were enthusiastic Catholics) to his main leading lady and close friend Maureen O’Hara (incidentally, though Wayne had many affairs, by all account he and Miss O’Hara were never more than close friends). This was back before the entertainment industry became the monoculture it is today (in those days you often had things like ultra-conservative John Wayne working side-by-side with super-liberal Henry Fonda) and when religion was still a matter of common experience in the film industry, so during his career Wayne made friends with people from all different backgrounds and faiths. In the end, he was received into the Catholic Church two days before his death. He is said to have expressed regret that he waited so long, blaming a “busy life” for his late conversion.

Thoughts on ‘Justice League’

So, the other day I decided to finally check out Justice League. And…yeah, it’s really bad. Don’t get me wrong; it’s nothing like as bad as Batman v Superman (which is one of the very few films I hate as much as The Last Jedi). That film was painful; this one is entertainingly bad, and it has some definite highlights.

Gal Gadot being one of the key high points. I’m just gonna sprinkle pictures of her throughout to give you something nice to look at.

With Superman dead, Batman and Wonder Woman soon discover that fear-fueled ‘parademons’ are spreading all over the Earth, heralding the return of Steppenwolf, an agent of Apokalypse, who plans to destroy the world with his three all-powerful ‘Mother Boxes’, which in ancient times were captured by the Amazons, Atlateans, and Humans, who each took and guarded one (hilariously, the humans are shown burying theirs…about two feet underground). So, Batman and Wonder Woman set about gathering three other powerful allies: Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash to try to stop him.

So…yeah, the story is pretty standard: villain wants to use ancient superweapon to conquer and/or destroy the world. Essentially it’s the same plot as The Avengers, which really emphasizes how badly done it is in this case.

In the first place, Steppenwolf is a terrible villain. He has no motivation other than a pure desire for power – great characterization there; never seen that before – no unique design, nothing entertaining or interesting to say, no perspective, no discernable personality, no backstory, nothing. He might be the single most generic bad guy I’ve seen in a major comic book film (well, the guy from Thor: The Dark World might have him beat).

Really, with all the fantastic villains in the DC Universe that haven’t shown up yet – Grodd, Sinestro, Brainiac, Mongul, Vandal Savage, and so on – who the heck decided to go with Steppenwolf? I’d never even heard of him, and I’ve got a decent working knowledge of the DCU. He’s one of Darkseid’s warriors, and…that’s about it. He’s not an interesting villain, but he’s related to one. It’s as if, instead of Loki, The Avengers featured Thanos’s cousin, Manos.

…okay, never mind; that would have been awesome.

It doesn’t help that Steppenwolf looks as though he stepped directly out of a God of War game, without getting a graphical upgrade.

Another huge problem is that the Justice League itself is…kind of a failure. You see, as conceived in this film, it only exists to fight Steppenwolf because Superman isn’t around. Then they reach the conclusion that they can’t stop him without Superman, so they revive him and…after that it’s pretty much just marking time until Superman fixes everything.

Now, I love Superman, and pretty much the whole reason I watched this movie was because I heard they actually tried to get him right this time, so I did enjoy seeing him basically take over the film every time he was on screen (the scene where he effortlessly beats the crap out of the entire rest of the League at once is easily my favorite). However, this is supposed to be a Justice League movie: a team up. But apart from maybe Cyborg, no one else even needed to be there for the climax. They went from the whole team at once barely being able to faze Steppenwolf to Superman punting him around the room like a volleyball.

See, this is another reason Steppenwolf doesn’t work as a villain: he’s just a straightforward physical threat, meaning that, to fight him, they just need the strongest fighter they can possibly get. Or to put it another way, there is absolutely nothing the likes of Batman can do against him, while in turn there’s absolutely nothing Steppenwolf can do to counter Superman.

Contrast this with The Avengers, where Loki is able to bring both physical power and deadly cunning as well as his own private army to bear against the heroes, meaning that he can fight each of them – and vice versa – in their own particular way or all of them at once. Likewise, every single one of the team had a crucial role to play in the climax, one that suited their character and abilities, with Captain America strategizing and rescuing civilians, Iron Man running the perimeter, Hawkeye calling out movements and sniping from a distance, Black Widow handling tech and infiltration duties, while Thor and Hulk tore up the battlefield. Everyone had a moment to shine; everyone had a reason to be there.

The problem is balance, and this film has none of it. The Justice League, arguably the single greatest superhero team in comics, is nothing but a holding pattern for Superman.

(For what it’s worth, I actually think a good choice for the villain would have been Brainiac: he has the physical power and resources to challenge the team, but without being simply indestructible, so the less-powerful team members would be able to contribute, and he has the intellect to counteract Superman’s overwhelming physical force and necessitate a coordinated effort to stop him, as well as being a planet-level threat.)

Then, of course, there’s the problem so many people have pointed out; that the whole franchise has so very clearly been rushed and that, going into this team up, we’ve only met Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and only the latter two have had their own films (and only Wonder Woman has had an actually good film). Also, Wonder Woman was introduced in Batman v. Superman and has already fought alongside those two, meaning that when it comes to the characters we actually know, there’s no novelty factor to seeing them team up as they were practically introduced as a team, and when it comes to the others there is no investment since we’re meeting them for the first time. The ‘team up’ aspect of this film is about as botched as it could possibly be.

(That isn’t even considering the fact that this version of Batman tried to straight-up murder the world’s greatest hero in a fit of paranoia the last time we saw him. You decided to do it, franchise; you’ve gotta live with it).

So the film is a conceptual nightmare, but the problems don’t stop there. The film is riddled with plot holes, moments that make no sense, and just bad writing in general. Things like a random street thug somehow guess the monster that attacked him was from space, or Cyborg hacking the Batcomputer by accident (though it doesn’t really matter since Bruce has no problem straight up telling Aquaman that he’s Batman in front about twenty civilians), or the fact that, as far as I recall, we never learn just how Cyborg’s father got hold of the Mother Box (spoilers, I guess, except it’s so poorly established that I’m not even sure if they meant it to be a twist). He just has it, yet Steppenwolf can’t find it, but knows that the people in the lab know where it is? Actually, where was it? Cyborg just flies off and grabs it from…I don’t know, wherever it was being kept.

(Speaking of the Mother Boxes, what a stupid name for the Macguffin. And hey, just think: if Steppenwolf had only called them Martha Boxes he could have gotten Batman on his side).

Don’t tell Captain Marvel she’s smiling!

Aquaman has apparently spent his whole life staying away from Atlantis, yet knows where they keep their ultimate secret that could doom the world and he can just swim in there whenever he wants (also, way to waste such a pivotal moment in his story: his return to Atlantis after growing up on land lasts about five minutes during which he visits the basement vault). Batman and Wonder Woman somehow don’t notice the hulking half-robot listening in on their conversation from about twenty feet away because he’s partly hidden behind a tree. Batman’s contingency plan in case the revived Superman has lost his mind is to show him Lois Lane: why not just have her there the whole time?

And so on and so forth; the film is just shy of incoherent in its writing and it struggles to maintain any kind of structure at all. Cyborg’s subplot with his father goes completely unresolved; Flash’s arc with his father involves two scenes and a lot of running puns. Aquaman has no arc at all to speak of; he’s just kind of along for the ride. And Batman is mostly tasked with trying very hard to make us forget how badly his character was betrayed last time around and not really succeeding.

Wonder Woman’s ‘arc’ is that she hides herself away from the world rather than being a beacon of hope like Superman, and then at the end she goes public. Apparently not one of the hostages or terrorists in her opening action sequence bothered to mention the superhuman Amazon that saved the day, nor did anyone notice the insanely beautiful woman in low-cut armor and a skirt standing on the rooftop or running around town. Seriously, if she regularly spends her time beating up terrorists in broad daylight, how, exactly, has she remained ‘in hiding’ for the past century?

(By the way, the rent-a-villains here identify themselves as ‘Reactionary Terrorists’, which kinda made me laugh: Hollywood is really desperate to avoid reality on that particular subject, isn’t it?)

Then there’s the Flash. My, my, my…

Hold onto those good feelings. Here we go…

See, I like the Flash. On the Justice League cartoon (which is about thousand times smarter and better written than this film, by the way) he was probably my favorite character. I love how they wrote him as an immature goofball on the surface and a truly humble, selfless hero underneath; the guy who doesn’t just save people, but remembers their names afterwards, and all the while he’s second only to Superman in terms of raw power. Flash was awesome, and since then I’ve always had a soft spot for the character.

Now, this Flash, on the other hand, is one of the most obnoxious characters I’ve seen in a superhero film. He’s this wimpy, chatty, smirking little douche who keeps making dumb, unfunny jokes at the worst possible times, when he isn’t tripping over his own feet or chatting nonstop like he thinks the mere sound of his voice is hilarious. If you took your average hipster college student and forced him to watch everything Joss Whedon ever wrote Clockwork Orange style for a few weeks on end, you might end up with something akin to this Flash’s personality. He is that insufferable.

There were only two moments with him that I actually liked; one was when he and Cyborg are digging up Superman’s grave (by the way, why those two? Wouldn’t Wonder Woman and Aquaman have been quicker?) and he comments that he could use superspeed to do the job in an instant, but can’t help feeling it would be disrespectful. That felt at least moderately like how a real human being might behave. The other was the great “Oh, crap!” moment during the fight with Superman when he realizes that Supes can move and react just as fast as he can.

On the subject of the Flash, let’s tackle this film’s attempts at humor. It goes about as well as its attempt at a villain. I think there was only one joke in the film that I actually laughed at (I laughed at quite a few other parts, however). For the record, it was when Batman is laying out their plan for the final battle and Aquaman just says, “I think we’re gonna be dead way before that.” I also kind of like it when one of Steppenwolf’s hostages pleas, “We have families!” he answers, “Why does everyone keep telling me that?” Because it is a good point; he literally just killed someone who made the exact same plea a second ago (it’s pretty much Steppenwolf’s only good moment in the film).

For the rest, we have truly cringe-inducing jokes. For instance, “I’m not the one who brought a pitchfork” (said after seeing said pitchfork turn back oncoming floodwater), “Woah, he is tall!” “I’m a snack-hole,” “what is brunch?” and so on. We also have the old (and God is it tired) Whedonesque gag of self-consciously describing what is happening on screen (“Oh, they just left. That’s rude”). Part of the trouble is that so many of the jokes come from the Flash, who, again, is incredibly obnoxious in his whole persona. Another problem is that they often come at the worst possible moments. There’s a bit where Steppenwolf murders an innocent woman just off screen after we hear her begging and crying for mercy, and then it’s immediately followed by the Flash ‘comically’ panicking. Or after the dramatic fight with Superman we cut to Batman – Batman – lying on the ground ‘comically’ griping about which bones are broken (was there a typo in the script? Who the heck gives that kind of gag to Batman?). Or there’s another moment where Aquaman gives an actually decent line about how he’s fine with dying for an honorable cause, approaching something like character…then it transitions into a joke about him sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso and babbling the truth, which is not just tonally inappropriate, but completely subverts his assertion by having him admit that he isn’t fine with dying. Thanks movie: you have a good character moment and then immediately spoil it for a cheap gag.

Also, they’re really convinced the phrase ‘talk to fish’ is funny. Every time someone says it, there is this awkward-as-hell pause like they’re just waiting for the laughter to die down. I don’t know why they thought this was so funny; it’s a light chuckle line at best, but any humor is utterly ruined by the subsequent “you’re laughing now” performance.

So, this is a very bad film, let’s call it. Is there anything good about it?

Besides the obvious

Again, Superman is easily the best thing about this film. After two movies dedicated to tearing him down, they finally make an attempt to get him right. It’s terrible from a storytelling point of view, but Lord, it is satisfying to see him curb-stomping everyone in this film (Batman absolutely deserved to get pounded into the pavement after BvS). Likewise, when he shows up in the final battle, the first thing he does is note that there are still civilians in the area and head off to make sure they’re safe. That is something Superman would do (though it does point to the problem that the writers are clearly struggling to find a way to keep the battle going once Superman shows up so that we don’t notice that the story is basically over the moment he joins the fight). He gets a little time to be with Lois, to enjoy being home in Kansas, even to submit with good grace to an interview with a bunch of nervous kids for their podcast (this is the opening scene of the film, by the way, and it establishes his character better in two minutes than the previous films managed in over five collective hours…though this is where the infamous reshoots came in. My very first note on this film is “Holy crap! What’s up with his lip?!”)

(Speaking of civilians, at least this film makes a point to show innocent people in danger and being rescued by our heroes, putting the climactic battle into context. Which is more than some films – including one whose title may or may not rhyme with ‘slack anther’ – bother to do).

Gal Gadot is still the perfect Wonder Woman, and she struggles to maintain a level of class throughout the proceedings. I actually kind of like her interactions with Bruce Wayne, though otherwise she really doesn’t have much to do except draw the eye every time she’s onscreen and participate in the action scenes.

Aquaman is actually my favorite of the newcomers: he actually has something of a decent personality, being a laid-back, inwardly bitter badass who saves people with a bad grace then charges drinks to their tabs. His thrill in combat and macho persona were pretty enjoyable and made him stand out from the other characters. I’m actually thinking I might go see his film when if comes out, not because I think it’ll be good, but because I figure this guy is at least entertaining company.

I also did appreciate that Cyborg, despite his utterly bland personality, was allowed to give his catchphrase “boo-yah.” Though the delivery fell flat and only served to remind me of how much better his character was portrayed in the Teen Titans cartoon (again, the show aimed at children was much more human, thoughtful, and better written than this film ostensibly directed at adults).

I will say that parts of the film do work as dumb fun, and there is some undeniably cool imagery. The parademons looked good, and I admit I did like seeing one of the Green Lantern Corps show up in a flashback.

Oh, and the opening credits, done over scenes of the world mourning Superman, is very nice, even if not earned by past films. It’s a somber, respectful piece of work in the midst of all the chaos and nonsense.

Likewise, I liked the mid-credit scene of Superman and the Flash starting a race, even though Flash is still obnoxious as ever. The bit where Superman asks “which coast?” is pretty much perfect.

On the other hand, it’s followed by a post-credits scene featuring the return of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, just to remind us that John Wayne wasn’t that bad a choice to play Genghis Khan. God, I’d forgotten how annoying his voice is: I was chanting for Deathstroke to kill him.

Oh, yeah, Deathstrokes there in the post-credits scene too, and Luthor tries to set up a sequel. Like that’s gonna happen.

Justice League is the film The Avengers could have been had the filmmakers not put the time and effort into building the world and characters and managing the crossover with care. It isn’t anything like one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, but it is probably one of the messiest films I’ve seen, at least in terms of a major franchise. It’s falling apart at the seams, trying to do too much and ultimately achieving very little. Through a combination hubris, greed, pretentiousness, and impatience, Warner Brothers and Zack Snyder tripped over themselves to get to this point as soon as possible with a string of mostly-terrible films, with the result that the long awaited dream of a Justice League film, featuring some of the greatest superheroes of all time, thought impossible for decades, has come true at last and the best that can be said of it is “dumb fun.” What a sad indictment of the entertainment industry.

End on a high note

Thoughts on the Captain Marvel Trailer

Last week the trailer for Captain Marvel, the next entry in the venerable Marvel Cinematic Universe, arrived. For those who don’t know, Captain Marvel is a female superhero with tremendous energy manipulation powers, whose presence was teased in the last scene of Avengers: Infinity War (I will refrain from discussing any details for those who have managed to avoid spoilers thus far). She is being touted as the headliner for the next ‘phase’ of the MCU.

So far, reactions to the trailer have been…rather mixed. My own reaction is that, much as I love the MCU, I’m not getting a good vibe off of this.

In the first place, I really don’t get much of a sense of excitement from this trailer: there are only a handful of very brief scenes actually showing the heroine in action, none of which were especially impressive. Most of the trailer just showed footage of Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel’s real name)’s life; things like her as a girl falling over blended with her falling as an adult, or her in training in the military, or her just wandering about with a glazed expression.

On that subject, a lot of criticism has been leveled at Brie Larson’s performance as seen in this trailer and…yeah, I can’t say it isn’t warranted. She spends just about the whole thing with the most bored, disinterested expression on her face. I think they were trying to make her look serious and competent, but from what we’ve seen, she just looks half asleep most of the time.

Contrast Miss Larson’s expression with Miss Johanson’s in the trailer for The Avengers back in 2012:

 

 

See, Black Widow looks tough, determined, and ready for battle; her eyes are focused, but fully open, her brow is lowered, her jaw clenched. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel just looks vague: her eyes are unfocused, the eyelids appear to be drooping, and her brow and jawlines appear to be relaxed. She looks like she just got out of bed and hasn’t had her morning cup of Joe.

Dishearteningly, this even extends to her Entertainment Weekly cover, which you’d think would try to present the best possible face on the upcoming film.

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Just to drive the point home, some fans subsequently photoshopped still images from the trailer and promotional materials to give her a smile. It’s kind of startling the difference it makes: she immediately appears so much more likable and, well, human. She suddenly has a real sense of personality. For my part, I at once found myself thinking, “yeah, I’d like to go on an adventure with this character.”

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Predictably, certain corners of the internet labeled this ‘sexist’, since apparently asking a woman to smile is sexist and demeaning. This neatly sidesteps the fact that the issue is less that she doesn’t smile than that she doesn’t emote. Also that no one felt the need to give similar treatment to, say, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman or Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp. Or that fans have made similar complaints about male characters ranging from Superman to Freddy Krueger. Also, they apparently haven’t learned from Lucasfilm that insulting your audience for criticizing your product is not a good idea.

Perhaps this is all misleading, and her actual performance will be better. I hope it is, since I don’t like disliking Marvel films (well, Black Panther is kinda fun to take apart, but I’d much rather it had been a good movie), especially one that is, apparently, so vital to the conclusion of Infinity War.

There is also the rather cringe inducing tagline, “Discover what makes a hero,” with a very deliberate emphasis on the ‘her’ part. I don’t know if that was meant to be “what makes her a hero” or “what makes a her-o,” but it’s ill-judged either way. For one thing, could that tagline be any more generic? And for another, emphasizing the femaleness of your heroine is not going to work as a selling point: there is nothing novel about a female-led action movie, and normal audience members don’t care either way. All they want is a good story with likable characters; that’s why Wonder Woman was a smash hit and the Ghostbusters remake wasn’t.

That’s right, I said there was nothing novel about a female-led action film. Salt, Lucy, Ghost in the Shell, The Hunger Games films, Wonder Woman, Colombiana, the Tomb Raider films, the new Star Wars films, the Ghostbusters remake, and on and on, not to mention superhero films Elektra and Catwoman. You might be saying “But most of those films bombed and/or were really, really terrible!” Yes, but we’re not talking about quality, only novelty, and my claim is that there is no novelty in a female-led action film. For goodness sakes, Aliens was headed by Sigourney Weaver and that’s one of the most popular and influential sci-fi action films ever made.

The point is that you cannot use a female superhero as a selling point; it’s been done, and thanks to Wonder Woman it’s even been done very well. You need to give us something more, and thus far I’m not really seeing anything. Heck, I thought the Aquaman trailer had more of fun and novelty in it than this; it looks stupid as hell, but at least it was energetic and showed off major points of interest, like sea monsters, submarines being lifted out of the water, and so on. What we see here is all either extremely generic (firing lasers from her fists: haven’t seen that before) or just ordinary. The trailer doesn’t even establish the Skrulls, the shape-shifting aliens who serve as the film’s antagonists (meaning audience members who don’t know about the plot from other sources will simply have a shot of the supposed heroine punching an old woman with no context. There’s a selling point: wooden-faced heroine beats up old people).

Now, if I were doing this film, I’d make it an action-packed, high-concept space adventure; something akin to Aliens with a super powered Ripley. Maybe they’re doing that, but I just don’t get a sense of it from the trailer, or really of any kind of fun adventure. That would be the way to sell this film; courageous and good-looking astronaut girl fights evil alien monsters with her cosmic superpowers. Lots of people would be happy to pay to see that. Very few people are going to want to see a film marketed as, “It’s a Marvel film, but this time with a female lead! No, it’s not that character you all like. Or that one. Not that one either.”

But even apart from the shortcomings of the trailer itself, there’s another problem lurking in background; it’s the aforementioned fact that Marvel is already saying that Captain Marvel is going to replace Iron Man and Captain America as the new ‘face’ of the MCU. This is a big mistake.

You see, the Marvel films are by now a venerable, established series, headlined by characters who have become fixtures of the popular imagination. Millions of people have accompanied Iron Man and Cap through a decade’s worth of adventures, experiencing their hardships, struggles, joys, and triumphs. So, telling that audience that these characters are now going to be replaced or are going to take a back seat to this other character whom they haven’t had any kind of experience with yet (and, to be frank, one whom most in the audience haven’t even heard of) is not going to inspire much good will. If you told your son that you were going to take away his favorite toy and replace it with another toy, his reaction wouldn’t be excitement; it would be at best deep skepticism and a predisposition to hate the new toy. Not to mention that it sets the bar incredibly high for this new film: it not only has to be good, it has to be on par with the original Iron Man and Captain Marvel has to be as vivid and inspiring a character as Captain America. To put it bluntly, this is not going to happen. The film may be good, and we hope it is, but you are not going to make audiences care about Captain Marvel the same way they care about Captain frickin’ America. So please do not set that as the goal you are trying to achieve; you will only hurt you own film.

I’m fine with replacing the old characters (provided they’re given a respectful and fitting send off), but you need to do that organically; you can’t just present the audience with a completely new character and tell them that they are going to admire and be inspired by her now before the film is even released. That needs to happen organically, by building the new character into the universe and most of all by making her engaging and likable.

All things considered, so far this is the first MCU film that I’m looking forward to with more trepidation than excitement (I wasn’t super excited for Black Panther, but I was looking forward to it). But then again, I wasn’t looking forward to Wonder Woman either and they blew that one out of the water.

On the other hand, the DCEU was already a slow-motion disaster when Wonder Woman came along. There was nothing at stake if that movie had failed because it would only have been another entry in a series of missteps.

The MCU, however, has been a towering success and is coming off of its crowning achievement in Infinity War. Now they have essentially gambled the future of the series on this one film: a film that honestly does not look very promising at this point.

That’s why I’m uneasy about this movie; not just that I fear it will be bad in itself, but that I’m worried it will irretrievably break one of the few healthy film franchises we have left. Time alone will tell, but I’m not optimistic.

 

Star Wars Conclusion

My ranking of the films:

  1. Empire Strikes Back
  2. Star Wars
  3. Return of the Jedi
  4. Revenge of the Sith
  5. Rogue One
  6. Attack of the Clones
  7. The Phantom Menace
  8. Solo
  9. The Force Awakens
  10. The Holiday Special
  11. The Last Jedi

So, we’ve at last reached the end of my retread through the entire ‘Star Wars’ film series. It’s been an interesting ride, to say the least. I imagine someone with the time to do a thorough research project (and access to backstage information) might be able to do a full study of how the film industry and society in general has changed in the intervening years through the lens of this series of films.

What strikes me most of all is just how far above every subsequent entry the original films are in every substantive way: story, plot, dialogue, character, theme, you name it. Comparing the original trilogy to the modern trilogy or the prequels is strange. It isn’t just a difference in quality; it’s a difference in competence. It’s a little like watching young Mark Hamill acting opposite Sir Alec Guinness (or, alternatively, Daisy Ridley trying to act opposite the venerable Mark Hamill): one side knows their craft in a way the other simply does not.

I don’t want to make a generalization, but it really does seem like the quality of film and filmmakers has steeply declined even in the thirty-odd years since Return of the Jedi. Even absent George Lucas’s quixotic attempt to write and direct the entire prequel trilogy himself after decades of comparative idleness, we have a huge, multi-billion dollar company like Disney staking a massive investment in these films and the best they can come up with is the uneven Rogue One. The quality of writing and storytelling in these later films is nothing short of an embarrassment, at times offensively so, and now we don’t even have the excuse of George Lucas trying to make it a personal project. This is a branch of the top entertainment media company in the world throwing enormous amounts of money and promotion at a project with The Last Jedi as the result. Meanwhile, some forty years ago, that same ‘branch’ made The Empire Strikes Back.

Something certainly changed in the meantime, whatever it might have been. Somehow we went from Leigh Brackett to Rian Johnson. It’s not just a matter that there is no comparing them as writers; it’s that someone made the choice to hire one and someone else made the choice to hire the other and thought the script he turned in was acceptable, and that this was done under the auspices of the most powerful film and entertainment company in the world.

What that tells me is that no cared about the quality of these films. They assumed that a Star Wars film would make money, so it didn’t matter what they put out there. It seems like ideology, not quality and not entertainment was the chief motivation. The characters have the consistency and depth of wet cardboard, but we can boast that there is not a single white male among the heroes and that they’re headed by a ‘strong woman’. The story is a nightmare of writing mistakes and plot holes, but the important thing is that shows men to be incompetent failures and women noble saviors who step up to tear down the past and fix the mistakes of the male order, while working in a few anti-capitalism messages as subtle as a sledgehammer. That was what mattered to the writers of these new films: politics and diversity. Not entertainment, not character, not ideas, not wonder, not ethics, not myth; just fuel for wannabe hack sociologists (but I repeat myself) to write about.

Basically, the conclusion I reach is that ‘Star Wars’ has suffered the fate of a wealthy country that turns to socialism following the mis-management of an incompetent regime (that would be the prequels): everything that made it successful or beloved is gutted and replaced with the new ideology under the assumption that it will always continue to make money no matter what. Then, as it dissolves into poverty and chaos, its new masters increasingly turn on the people themselves, blaming everyone and everything except their own insane choices until the country is run into the ground and thoroughly destroyed.

‘Star Wars’ is now the Venezuela of film.

Thoughts on ‘Phineas and Ferb Star Wars’

Past Entries:
-Star Wars
-The Holiday Special
-The Empire Strikes Back
-Return of the Jedi
-The Phantom Menace
-Attack of the Clones
-Revenge of the Sith
-The Force Awakens
-Rogue One
-The Last Jedi
-Solo

I wanted to end this series on a high note, so, despite the fact that it’s explicitly not canon (the opening crawl ends with “None of this is canon; just relax,” a disclaimer I wish all the recent Star Wars films carried), let’s talk about Phineas and Ferb Star Wars.

For those unfamiliar with the show, I’ll give a summary: Phineas and Ferb is a show about two genius step-brothers – cheery, out-going Phineas and taciturn, British Ferb – who, determined not to waste their summer vacation, spend each day doing something fantastic and impossible. They build rollercoasters in their backyard, go into space, become superheroes or pop stars for a day, and so on, in the company of their friends: super-cute girl scout Isabella (who has a not-so-secret crush on the perpetually oblivious Phineas), Bollywood math genius Baljeet, and secretly-cultured bully Buford. Meanwhile, their older sister, Candace, jealously tries to get them into trouble by telling their mom about their antics, except their projects always conveniently disappear at the last second, making Candace look insane. These disappearances are usually caused by side effects from the efforts of the “evil” Dr. Doofenshmirtz to take over the Tri-State Area with an endless series of ‘inators’ (drill-inator, turn-everything-evil-inator, rain-inator, etc.). He’s perpetually foiled by Special Agent Perry the Platypus…who maintains a secret identity as Phineas and Ferb’s beloved pet.

It sounds weird, and it is, but it’s a fantastic show in many, many ways that we don’t have time to get into here. For our purposes, the important thing is that in the show’s fourth and final season they were given the opportunity to do an hour-long crossover special with Star Wars, applying the show’s absurdist-yet-sincere tone to the Star Wars universe.

 I’ve written about this one before, so there will be quite a bit of overlap here, but I wanted to go into more detail about why I think this special is the best piece of Star Wars content to come out of the move to Disney.

Rather than attempting to simply re-create the story of Star Wars with Phineas and Ferb characters (e.g. Phineas as Luke, Ferb as Han, Isabella as Leia, etc.), the special takes a rather more creative and bold approach. It posits that versions of the Phineas and Ferb cast exist in the Star Wars universe and played an unseen, but crucial role during the events of the original film. This allows the original to stand more or less untouched (apart from one or two sight gags, the special doesn’t violate the continuity of the original film at all, which is frankly very impressive in itself) while also letting them tell their own story alongside it.

The plot goes that Perry the Rebelpus was the agent who stole the Death Star plans (from the ‘Empire Administration offices:’ a star destroyer with an office building stuck on top). Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb are moisture farmers who live next door to Luke Skywalker, but unlike him are perfectly content with their lot on Tatooine, making the most of every day in typical Phineas and Ferb fashion. In fact, they’re too content: the special cleverly foreshadows that the boys’ easy-going satisfaction with their lot in life might not be the best thing for them long-term, and that they ought to leave their comfort zone sooner rather than later.

This is precipitated when they run into R2-D2 and accidentally end up with the Death Star plans. Realizing what they have, the boys chase after Luke and the others to try to restore what they lost, taking up with Isabella the smuggler (who is by far the most detached from her canon personality) and repeatedly crossing paths with Candace, an overzealous, underappreciated stormtrooper (who is accompanied by fellow troopers Buford and Baljeet, evidently the dregs of the Imperial military).

Meanwhile, on the “fully operational Death Star,” we meet the evil ‘Darth Enshmirtz,’ the Death Star’s original designer, which, of course, is why it has a self-destruct mechanism (this joke is even funnier in the wake of Rogue One, where it’s revealed that that is the canon explanation for why it was so easy to destroy). In typical Doof fashion, he’s bitter at not being appreciated for his work and so plans to build a new doomsday device to become the top Sith.

So, the first thing to note is that, even though it’s a spoof, the special actually puts in the effort to tell its own story, with its own character arcs, progression of events, and themes. Where The Force Awakens was just an awkward retread of the original, Phineas and Ferb comes up with an original story that works on its own terms…and does so while literally being a retread of the original. Thus, instead of a character discontented with his lot and yearning for something more, this special gives us two characters who are content, but who probably shouldn’t be and end up pushed out of their comfort zone and forced to attend to more important matters.

What’s more (and again, unlike The Force Awakens), this character line continues through to the end of the story and is reflected in the other characters. Phineas and Ferb end the story having given up their peaceful life on Tatooine, but having also found something worth believing in. They’ve expanded their lives beyond the narrow scope that we found them in.

Early on there’s a scene where their parents actually try to get them to go off somewhere and see more of galaxy, expand their horizons. When Phineas shrugs the suggestion off, saying they’ve got everything they need, their father mutters, “Wait until they find out there are no girls on this planet.” This ties into their meeting Isabella, who takes them into space to follow the Millennium Falcon, and has a payoff when she kisses Phineas at the very end. The character thread is established, given a clear ‘tell’ (in the form of girls), and pays off when Phineas, having grown beyond his narrow home world, receives a kiss from Isabella to drive home what he had been missing.

(The kiss is preceded by Isabella double-checking that they’re not related, in a funny reference to Luke and Leia’s relationship, but also motivated by the late-game revelation that Candace is Phineas’s long-lost sister. So, it’s both a nod to the fans and completely motivated in story).

This is the sort of thing The Force Awakens was missing with Rey: she was waiting for her parents, then was told they’re not coming back, then goes off to find Luke and be trained as a Jedi. The final point doesn’t tie into the first one, and none of it ties into the rest of the plot involving the super-Death Star.

Speaking of which, we have Darth Enshmirtz’s new super-weapon, the Sith-Inator, which makes whoever it hits extremely attune to the Dark Side of the Force, driving them evil in the process.

Now, it’s largely played for laughs as a typical Doof ‘inator,’ with him giving a catchy musical number about how he’ll “no longer be the lowest of the Darths” and fantasizing about choking Imperial officers and impressing the Emperor. But the idea itself is actually kind of cool, especially once it hits Ferb and he applies a more serious approach to it (we’ll come back to it, but Darth Ferb is one of the special’s most impressive accomplishments. It can’t have been easy to make Ferb actually intimidating, but man do they pull it off).

Having just come off a re-watch of the films, I think a weapon like this actually could work in canon: it would just multiply or add midichlorines to the bloodstream, but such an unnatural process and sudden surge of power would of course heavily incline one to the Dark Side. In any case, despite the absurdist tone of the special, I could see an entire trilogy being built around that kind of weapon: something that could turn an ordinary person into a powerful Force User inclined to the Dark Side. That’s both a lot more creative and a lot more insidious than just another planet buster, and without the logistical problems of just how the heck they made the darn thing. Can you imagine a trilogy where the new Republic suddenly found itself faced with a whole army of near-Vader level Sith?

Basically, in telling a joke for a cartoon special Dan Provenmire and Jeff Marsh (the creators of Phineas and Ferb) came up with a much better plot for a new Star Wars trilogy than all the highly-paid writers that the Disney studio could muster could come up with over the course of several years for their massively-expensive tent-pole film series. Just think about that.

What’s more, the device sets up an extremely tense and emotionally charged confrontation between Phineas and Ferb (all the more so for fans of the show, since this is something we never would have expected to see). The whole set up, with Ferb’s implacable hostility and Phineas’s desperate attempts to reach him even as they duel with lightsabers works very well. And again, they set it up even in the context of the special by showing us just how close the brothers are, which further lets us feel just how wrong and evil the Dark Side is if it can threaten a friendship like that.

(Meanwhile, they also make a very funny joke about how lightsabers keep getting more complicated and impractical: “Oh, we’re allowing modifications?”).

The fight ends up involving Perry and Candace as well, so now let’s talk about Candace as the stormtrooper. Once again, this goofy cartoon thoroughly embarrasses the multi-million-dollar blockbuster. Candace, like Finn, is a stormtrooper who ends up defecting to the Rebels. However, in her case, it’s an actual character arc: we spend a good deal of time with her, Buford, and Baljeet as stormtroopers, and even though it’s in the midst of a goofy subplot where they’re assigned to get socks for Darth Vader (which leads to some great gags, such as Baljeet saying ‘socks’ to the tune of the Imperial March and a store on Tatooine called ‘Tall, Darth, and Handsome’), we do get to see things from a stormtrooper point of view and get a sense for what working for the Empire was like.

Just the fact that Candace describes Rebels as “cruel, heartless sub-humans who are messing up the galaxy” gives her more depth that Finn ever had (I’m also kind of surprised they got away with the term ‘sub-humans’ in a kids’ show). She has a perspective informed by her training; a reason why she thinks she’s on the right side. She actually believes in the Empire, despite the mistreatment she receives from it.

There’s a very fun song where Candace sings about why she’s proud to serve in the Empire: “Now I’m a bad mama-jama and I rock a mean helmet / if I see a Rebellion then you know I’m gonna quell it / I’m a certified, full-blown, armor-wearing zealot / and it feels so good to know I’m always right!” Again, this gives us a very believable sense of how the rank-and-file Emperor troops view the war, which we never got in the films, even when they actually have a defecting stormtrooper as a main character.

Then, when she turns, it’s not just because she suddenly “makes a choice” for no reason: something happens that blatantly contradicts her beliefs, making her question them for the first time. The scene where she turns is actually quite striking; when she asks Buford and Baljeet, “We’re the good guys, right?” there’s genuine uncertainty in her voice (some nice vocal work by Ashley Tisdale there). And, believably enough, once she starts to question her assumptions, then she starts to realize other things that didn’t fit into her image of the Empire (“Didn’t we just blow up a planet?” “Yes, that is sort of hard to justify, morally”). Again, it’s mostly played for laughs, but it’s still a genuine arc. The characters have clear motivations for what they do that make sense in the context of the story rather than being dictated by the script. Even in the midst of all the absurdist humor, they act like human beings.

Likewise, Isabella goes through much the same story arc as Han Solo, but again, it works. We meet her as a cynical loner who snaps at Phineas that “this isn’t a friendship, it’s a spaceship, so don’t invade mine.” Then, as she sees the loyalty the brothers have for each other, she starts to feel the desire to do likewise.

There’s a scene near the end where she bumps into Han Solo at a bar and they each prod each other into doing the right thing. Goofy as it is to have Han Solo talking smack with a little girl, it kind of works. Certainly I can much easier buy Han having a rivalry with Isabella than I can him abandoning his wife and son and losing the Millennium Falcon. I can almost imagine that it actually did go down like that, with Han trying to distract himself with a drink, but being challenged on abandoning his friends. Dang it, it’s a good scene; for all the absurdity and cartoon logic, it works.

Speaking of humor, it’s classic Phineas and Ferb: very smart, but very silly at the same time. Like when two Rebel technicians discover that R2 doesn’t actually have the plans, their first plan is, “We’ll blame Jar Jar!” Then there’s a bit where two of the Imperial officers are talking and one starts making fun of Vader, then trolls the other by pretending to choke (not only is that funny, but I can actually picture the Imperial officers doing that sort of thing). Another great gag has Darth Enshmirtz gloating about how valuable his timeshare on Alderann has become, while in the background…

Likewise the great Phineas and Ferb dialogue is present in full force: “You see? You paint a big red ‘X’ on the floor, people will stand on it.” “And you thought we were gonna die in space!” “You go see if that kid’s evil yet.” “Not a bad set: one death, one dismemberment. Not bad for a Tuesday.” I want to say there are more quotable lines in this hour-long special than in all the Disney ‘Star Wars’ films put together, with the possible exception of Rogue One.

Yet, as indicated, the show’s trademark sincerity is equally on display, as in the aforementioned battle between Phineas and Ferb, or Phineas’s genuinely shocked reaction when he learns about the Death Star (“I never thought the Empire would go that far!”).

Then, near the end, there’s a moment where the main characters are standing on the Death Star, expecting to die, and they just kind of accept it, with Phineas saying that at least they went out for something they can believe in. Again, genuine human emotion and human reactions, even in the midst of all this absurdity, and a real, coherent plot with actual character arcs.

I also like that, though this is Phineas and Ferb, the writers didn’t try to shoehorn the standard show plot into ‘Star Wars.’ The classic catchphrases – “You guys are so busted!” “Whatchya doin’?” and so on – are present, but in contexts that make sense in the story. They don’t, for instance, have Linda as an Imperial officer that Candace is trying to ‘bust’ the boys to. They have this story to tell, and they tell it, working in references to the show where it makes sense, but not forcing it. Likewise, the Phineas and Ferb characters really do work in their roles: Candace’s misguided zealotry is perfect for a stormtrooper, Doof as a low-level Sith wannabe, Perry as a rebel agent and so on. Again, Isabella is a little jarring just because she’s so different from her usual character, but she works in the role (I especially like how her goggles take the place of her trademark hair bow).

Above all, it’s abundantly clear that the writers loved Star Wars and respected it. Even as they’re using the material for jokes, they still evince a thorough knowledge of the world and appreciation for the story and characters. Luke, Han, and Leia aren’t in it much, but they’re recognizably themselves when they are. When Luke chats with Phineas and Ferb about their modified speeder, it does feel like something Luke might do. And when Phineas says that he and Ferb have ‘Jedi lessons’ with Obi-Wan every Tuesday, it’s a gag, but it also makes sense for Obi-Wan’s character that if there were a couple of Force-sensitive kids nearby he would try to train them. And again, it sets up the duel at the climax (I also like that they made the choice not to have Obi-Wan present outside a silent cameo, apparently recognizing they didn’t have the resources to capture Sir Alec Guinness’s performance).

There are a lot of little jokes showing “the other side” of events in the original film. We see Han’s abortive attempt to bluff the guards over the com-link from the perspective of the officers receiving his message, for instance (“Aw, I was just getting into that conversation!”), and we get to see just what that garbage monster thing was and what it was doing (“That not trash, dummy, that’s a guy!”).

When I first saw this special, I wasn’t expecting to like it that much. I loved Phineas and Ferb, but the idea of crossing over with Star Wars seemed a step too far. But the moment the first notes of the opening song ‘Tatooine’ started playing, with Phineas and Ferb singing about how much they love their home, I knew it was going to work and I enjoyed every minute of it. It works best if you’re already a fan of both Phineas and Ferb and Star Wars, and I don’t know how it would play to someone unfamiliar with the show, but for me it’s easily my favorite ‘Star Wars’ story to come out of the move to Disney.