Catholic Match Post on ‘Bringing Up Baby’

Basing another post off of one of my favorite films.

In case you need a recap, the film features Mr. Grant as a milquetoast scientist too wrapped up in his career to have a life and Miss Hepburn as an insane socialite who becomes fixated on him after a few chance encounters. Then she acquires a pet leopard with a taste for music and dogs (“I don’t know if that means he eats dogs or is fond of them”) and enlists him to help her take it down to her aunt’s farm. In the process, she turns his boring, dead-end life inside out.

Poor Grant just wants to get back to his normal routine, with his frigid fiancée and dry career. But, as time goes on, not only does he slowly start to enjoy himself, but the experience also provides a much needed injection of energy and manliness. He not only has a better time, but becomes better for the time. After all, one almost can’t help but grow more assertive when trying to wrangle a wild, untamable creature that’s out for your blood (not to mention the leopard).

Grant, when we first meet him, is a thoroughly conventional man, bound up in his work, engaged to a modern working woman who is so dedicated to her own career and his that she insists they won’t have any children lest they distract from the job. He seeks to follow the script that life has given him at every turn, reciting the correct polite phrases at the correct time, following the correct path of a distinguished career followed by marriage to the correct woman.

Then Hepburn suddenly comes in and, to his consternation, she doesn’t follow the rules at all. They meet on the 18th fairway, where she helps herself to his ball, cheerfully talking over his attempts to explain, then when she’s finally convinced its his ball shrugs it off with “it’s only a game.” Things do not improve from there.

Read the rest here.

Thoughts on ‘Freddy vs. Jason’

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a habit of referencing Freddy vs. Jason as a go-to example of solid writing. So, for Halloween, I figured I’d delve a bit into why.

2003’s Freddy vs. Jason was the final film for both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, at least before the reboots began (though really, who’s counting those?). It also came after a fairly long hiatus for both of them: Friday had ended in 1993 with Jason Goes to Hell, then went through a failed revival effort with 2001’s Jason X (widely regarded as the single stupidest film of the series, and that’s saying a lot).Meanwhile Nightmare had ended in 1991 with Freddy’s Dead, then had a very strange and unsuccessful (though well-regarded) post-script with the meta-fiction New Nightmare in 1994.

Freddy vs. Jason very cleverly plays off this for its premise: both Freddy and Jason, in this film, are figures out of the past: Freddy’s stuck in Hell (the low-security wing for horror villains) and Jason’s body is rotting away in the woods. You see, Freddy has been forgotten by the children of Springwood (thanks to the quarantine-like efforts of the town elders), which means he can no longer haunt their dreams. No memory, no fear, no dreams, no Freddy.

But Freddy, being Freddy, figures out a weak point in their plan; Springwood is so vigilant against Freddy’s return that they will assume at any strange murders might be his handiwork. And if so, their response might just let him out for real. All he needs is another supernatural serial killer. Someone he can easily manipulate. Someone like Jason Voorhees.

Okay, so what makes me say the writing in this film is so solid?

In the first place, set up is pretty clever; it depends on both Freddy and the Springwood authorities being smart, but both their plans being flawed in a way that is obvious in hindsight, but reasonably overlooked. For Springwood, the problem is that they naturally didn’t consider the possibility of a second killer (and why should they?). And Freddy, of course, is too arrogant to consider the possibility that Jason might be harder to put down than he was to call up (we’ll come back to it, but Freddy’s slow realization that he’s drastically underestimated Jason is one of the film’s most satisfying aspects).

Moreover, this premise allows the film to neatly cover a few potential plot holes: the fact that the town authorities have engaged in a massive conspiracy to cover up Freddy’s existence, to the point of drugging and imprisoning those kids who are aware of his existence, means that when things start getting dangerous, the kids have a reason not to go to the police: they may not quite know what’s going on, but they do know the adults aren’t acting normally and that they can’t trust them.

There’s a scene partway through where the heroine, Lori, learns that her father had been lying to her about how her mother died (she’d been one of Freddy’s last victims), and that he was the one who committed her boyfriend, Will, to an insane asylum (because Will had seen the event and thus potentially knew of Freddy). Thus, when he tries to get her to stay home and take a drug he offers, she understandably refuses and runs away to try to deal with the problem herself. It’s a mistake, but one that makes absolute sense given what she knows.

The drug in question is hypnocil, a dream-suppressor that was introduced back in Nightmare on Elm Street III. The kids sent to the asylum have been getting nightly doses of it to help keep Freddy at bay, despite the fact that the film shows it to be dangerous in high doses (we see a ward full of patients who were overdosed into comas). The kids only figure out what it does after they’ve decided they can’t trust the adults, which leads them to make a deadly run to the asylum to try to get it, thus putting them into both Freddy and Jason’s paths once more.

So, the premise of the film is not only solid in itself (given the somewhat flexible rules of this universe), but also provides a solid reason why the kids can’t go to the authorities for help and a motivation to put themselves into harm’s way.

The use of hypnocil points to just how much respect the writers show to these franchises. The return of Jason’s mother Pamela (actress Paula Shaw gracefully replacing Betsy Palmer) is another example; Mrs. Voorhees hasn’t been seen since way back in Part 2. Moreover, this isn’t just fan service; it all serves the plot. How does Freddy control Jason? By impersonating the one person Jason loves and is obedient to. This not only works to move the story along, but actually helps to develop Jason’s character, from the rapt way he listens to ‘her’ to his wide-eyed fury when he realizes that Freddy’s tricked him (that her trademark blue sweater is now a Freddy-appropriate red is another mark of the filmmakers’ attention to detail).

As this indicates, the writers clearly took the time to sit down and work out just who these characters were before writing the film. This results in some really pretty startling scenes, such as the horrifying prologue where we see a pre-death Freddy slaying one of his child victims (off screen, thankfully), or the unexpected conclusion to their first fight in the dream world. Ultimately, the film is credibly driven by the contrasting personalities of its two stars, and they both consistently act in character throughout.

Again, it kind of amazes me that Jason, of all people, actually gets something like character development in this film. We get to see something of his relationship with his mother, a hint at how he views his murderous actions, and even a glimpse of him as a child (which, if I’m not mistaken, is the only depiction of his actual drowning in the whole series. Granted, it’s obviously a twisted, nightmare version, but still it’s interesting to finally see such a pivotal moment in the Friday the 13th ‘lore’). Actor Ken Kirzinger gives a really quite excellent performance using only his eyes and body language, so much so that I would even rank him above Kane Hodder as the best Jason portrayal. I also really like how, when we visit his shack in a dream, there’s a toy ukulele on his bed, pointing to his childlike nature (attention to detail again).

As others have pointed out, the fact that Jason is a kind of ‘child-man’ whose twisted mind remains as it was when he drowned at the age of eight and Freddy is explicitly a child murderer makes their showdown all the more satisfying. Here is one ‘child’ that Freddy can’t kill, and when he tries to bully him it comes back to bite him hard.

Robert Englund, of course, gets to ham it up one last time in his signature role, though his boisterous personality and bad puns are here leavened by his truly horrific actions. Again, almost the moment the film opens it let’s us know just what Freddy is, and it never lets us forget it for long. After being reduced to a clown in his later films, Freddy is back to being the monster he’s supposed to be. They also thought out the implications of his dream manipulation, allowing him to attack one character who, rather than falling asleep, simply gets thoroughly stoned (the scene has Freddy appear as a hooka smoking caterpillar; a nice touch).

On that subject, though the film aims at being pulpy, almost comic-book style entertainment, it also remembers that it’s supposed to be a horror film and makes a genuine effort to scare the audience. There are some great atmospheric shots here, especially whenever we’re around Crystal Lake, and some nicely constructed scares. Jason’s prologue, which is kind of a compression of the Friday the 13th formula, where a girl strips, skinny dips, then runs through the woods and gets killed, is quite exceptionally well-done and reminds us that yes, that formula can be effective. The nightmare sequences, especially one about the middle of the film, are likewise pretty darn frightening and, like in the olden days, capture the feel of a nightmare pretty well (for instance, there’s one where a girl tries to flee, only to find that the door she just entered through has turned into a solid wall).

Horror is a pretty simple effect to create, but it’s also very easy to spoil. Generally speaking, if you try to go too big with it or too over the top, you kill the effect (something Universal apparently failed to understand with its recent ‘Mummy’ remake, with disastrous effect). Halloween II is not three times as scary as Halloween because three times as many people died; quite the reverse. Freddy vs. Jason ups the ante some, but ultimately keeps itself within a reasonable frame; there’s no world or even city-level threat, it’s all a matter of these people and this community, and its most effective scares are the most focused.

Meanwhile, the human characters range from insufferable to excellent (though fortunately most of the insufferable one’s don’t make it out of the first act), but they are pretty much all decently written and at least believable, and you do root for them. Katherine Isabelle gives a particularly good performance, as does Chris Marquette. I also like how the film takes the time to actually let the characters mourn a little when their friends start dying. And how there’s a scene where the kids simply sit down, pool their information, and try to work out a plan for survival. And again, they never really do anything unbelievably stupid (well, the stoner deciding to get high in the middle of the raid on the asylum was monumentally dumb, but not unbelievably so). Again, the actions of the characters all – or at least almost all – make sense given what they know and who they are. They make mistakes, but understandable ones.

I really could go on and on; the running theme of the Past being dug up and brought to light, which is consistent with both franchises. The innumerable references and small details attesting to a knowledge of the franchise (like the sugar sack that one of the bullies pulls over young Jason’s head in his nightmare). The tonally appropriate humor (my favorite being Freddy referring to Jason as “That hockey puck”). And of course the immensely satisfying fight sequences, the last of which is preceded by the wonderful moment where Freddy realizes he’s been pulled into the real world directly in front of an enraged Jason Voorhees. You will never see a finer rendition of the expression “Oh, crap!”

Also, since I just saw Cabin in the Woods, I have to point out that the black humor here is far superior. Black humor, to my mind, is when the absurdity of life suddenly intrudes upon a grim situation. Like, there’s a bit where a kid ends up holding his father’s severed head. Then Jason appears and swings his machete at him, and the kid instinctively (and ineffectually) tries to block the blow with his dad’s head. It’s quick, it’s ridiculous, and it completely fits the scene.

Now, let me be clear: Freddy vs. Jason is no classic. It’s simple, pulpy entertainment, and it has plenty of flaws (among others: the asylum is ridiculously easy to break out of and into, the CG does not hold up well, and several of the actors among the kids are pretty bad). It’s very vulgar, very crude, and definitely not for everyone. And I’m not even that big a fan of the two franchises (for the record, the original Nightmare is one of my favorite horror films, so much so that I don’t really want to see any of the others, and though I’ve seen several Friday films, I don’t think I’d recommend any of them).

Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite films simply for how solid the writing is. All the more so because this is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect to have a rushed or incompetently done script. This is the kind of movie where you expect the phrase “who cares?” to have been used a lot during production, the kind that would attract the contempt of those who worked on it.

But it didn’t. The filmmakers took these franchises seriously, treated them with remarkable respect (indeed, far more than they deserved), and put genuine effort into making a good film, one that is not only satisfying in itself, but actually manages to restore some dignity to the long-moribund franchises, just in time for them to end and allowing both to go out on a high note.

It is especially useful in contrast to the recent entries in, say, Star Wars, where the most prestigious film franchise of them all is treated with utter contempt by writers who can’t even muster the most basic level of storytelling competence. When we say we want a well-written film, one that respects what has come before while nevertheless building on it, one that holds together under scrutiny and evinces real care for the material, we’re thinking of something like Freddy vs. Jason.

Thoughts on ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

The other day I watched The Cabin in the Woods for the first time. I have to say, for a film with such a high reputation, I was really not impressed.

The set up is that it’s your standard ’80s horror film; a bunch of college students go out to a, yes, cabin in the woods, where they wake up an ancient evil and get slaughtered one by one. Only this time, it turns out the whole scenario is set up and controlled by a techno-corporate organization for reasons of their own. So we both follow the kids in the cabin and the workers who are arranging for all the cliches to come off. For instance, when the kids decide the best thing to do is arm themselves and stick together, the workers turn on a gas to impair their judgment and make them think that the thing to do is split up.

And that’s kind of the problem; the whole story is in service to this joke, but the joke isn’t either very clever or very funny. People have been making fun of ’80s horror cliches for ages, and Cabin in the Woods doesn’t really have anything original to add, except for a few (genuinely funny) gags involving the workers and their blase attitude toward the whole thing. It kind of reminds me of the ‘Godfather’ joke in Zootopia (to draw a somewhat distant example): it’s the sort of thing where, if you’re going to make that joke, you really have to do something original with it. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, for instance, did this very well by making the hillbillies the heroes, while the joke was they kept accidentally acting like the villains. Cabin’s horror-related gags are almost all completely standard and pretty shallow in comparison.

Another problem is that the techno-corporate framing device is all wrong. The aesthetic doesn’t fit the premise. It ought to be either more artistic (akin to a TV studio or theater) or more militaristic. The business-type organization is jarringly at odds with the atmosphere and even the premise of what’s really going on. And like mocking horror films, mocking the business world is nothing new. The satire on both fronts is much too obvious and shallow (the original Robocop was doing these same jokes better thirty years earlier).

On that note (and here we get into spoilers), there’s another issue: it’s revealed near the end that this organization has an entire stable of horror monsters kept locked up in individual vaults and, depending on what the kids did they would have unleashed one or other on them.

There are two major issues with this. One is that, like the corporate America aesthetic, blending all these creatures together, and especially in little technological aquariums, completely ruins any kind of atmosphere. These horrors are completely defanged by being established as essentially ‘props’ kept in a backroom. It’s as effective as seeing costumed characters running around Universal theme park: kind of fun, but completely ruins it as a horror film and destroys any substance it might have had.

The other is that this gets the horror genre all wrong. Good horror is essentially a morality play; there always has to be some ‘transgression’ that brings the horror as consequence. But, according to this film, the corporation essentially seeded the cabin with fake chances to ‘transgress’ while keeping the appropriate monsters in readiness. The game is rigged to produce the intended effect, and that is fatal to the genre.

The way this ought to work would be that the organization would be monitoring people who enter certain areas and providing the retribution if they transgress. That might have allowed them to have their joke without spoiling the horror. As it is, I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’s account of his reluctance to accept that the nature he so loved had a creator: it would, he said, be like discovering that the mouse that ran across your path from under a hedge was a wind-up toy that someone had put their on purpose. It all just feels so fake.

The problem isn’t that this isn’t a ‘standard’ horror film, or even that it’s not really a horror film at all. The problem is that what it is instead isn’t very interesting.

This isn’t helped by the fact that there’s really no mystery or twist going on; we follow both sides the whole time and see all the tricks being used throughout the film. What ought to be a startling twist that causes us to question everything we saw is instead just…there.

All that said, it’s not a bad film; there are some funny jokes (my favorite being the running gag about how one of the workers wants to see a merman), and there is some enjoyment to be had with the crazy monster rampage at the end, where genre fans can have some fun identifying the different franchises and films being referenced. I am glad I saw it, if only because I think it is a film worth observing and forming an opinion about.

(Although frankly, if they really wanted to be clever, the Director should have been played by Amy Steel, Heather Langenkamp, or Jamie Lee Curtis, not Sigourney Weaver. Again, the joke is too obvious and doesn’t require any real knowledge or understanding to pull off).

The protagonist of the film, as it turns out, isn’t the redheaded final girl, but her stoner friend, who turns out to be immune from the chemical manipulation of the watchers due to the massive amounts of pot he’s consumed. That, it strikes me, is pretty much what this film is like and probably who it’s made for; it’s like listening to an intelligent, somewhat stoned college student with absolutely no aesthetic or moral sense trying to deconstruct something. He’s able to identify the superficial absurdities and inconsistencies and make witty jokes about them, all while completely missing the point. There’s no real insight into the subject; just a handful of fairly obvious observations.

 Galaxy Quest deconstructed and made fun of the tropes of ‘Star Trek’ and similar shows while being itself an excellent example of the genre. So too did Hot Fuzz, Megamind, and The Princess Bride, among others. These films didn’t just play with their tropes, but they also understood why they were tropes and how to use them. In other words, they understood their genres. Cabin in the Woods doesn’t understand horror, it only knows the cliches.

Halloween at the Federalist

New post up at the Federalist discussing the original Halloween:

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To understand this film, it is necessary to understand its monster. The thing in “Halloween” is usually referred to as Michael Myers, the name of the young boy in the opening. However, that’s not how Nick Castle is credited. He’s listed as playing “The Shape.” What is a shape? It is form without matter. A circle has the same nature, whether rendered in wood, ink, smoke, or mathematical notation. Thus, the Shape in “Halloween” is some form or reality that can materialize in many different ways, but always with the same nature.

Taken with Dr. Loomis’s pronouncements of the Shape’s inhuman nature, and especially with his final exchange with Strode —“It was the bogeyman!” she says, and he replies, “As a matter of fact, it was”  —  the implication is that the Shape is in fact a supernatural manifestation of evil. It isn’t Myers; he is only the material the Shape uses to give itself substance. This is why it always wears a mask, to the point that when Laurie briefly tears it off, the Shape pauses its assault to re-don the mask.

The Shape needs a disguise to give itself substance. It needs a “mask” of some sort. Even Myers himself is the Shape’s mask. This, of course, explains everything; The Shape cannot be killed because it is not a person but a supernatural entity. This is the same reason it has inhuman strength (enough to effortlessly strangle a German Shepherd with its bare hands) and some power over its environment (it seems able to lock and unlock doors from a distance).

It also explains the Shape’s eerily unnatural behavior. Not just its senseless murders, but the way it simply does strange things at times, such as when it appears in front of Linda wearing a ghost costume and then just stands there. Or when, after dispatching another victim, it pauses and thoughtfully tilts its head back and forth, as though studying its handiwork.

Likewise, there doesn’t seem to be any point to much of its behavior. For example, why the tableau with Annie’s body and Judith Myers’s gravestone? Or, for that matter, why is it targeting Laurie at all? The Shape, whatever its nature, is operating on a clearly alien mentality to anything we the audience can understand. It isn’t human.

Read the rest here.

Thoughts on ‘The Social Network’

The other day I watched The Social Network as part of research for a script I was working on. I thought the film was pretty good overall, and that it presents a depressingly perceptive image of the world we live in.

The film purports to tell the story of how Facebook got started, with Harvard computer science student Mark Zuckerberg turning a drunken tantrum about breaking up with his girlfriend into a viral website for rating girls’ ‘hotness’, which through various influences and turns became the social network we know and endure today. Along the way, Mark alienates or betrays every decent person around him – his girlfriend, Erika, his initial backers, the Winklevoss twins, and finally his best friend and co-founder Eduardo – while building a multimillion-dollar company seemingly overnight. The movie is framed as being flashbacks during testimony related to the lawsuits being brought against him by the latter two parties.

Like I say, the film is very good throughout; the performances are uniformly excellent (I was especially impressed by Arnie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins), and the story, while a little tough to follow at first due to the odd structure – it would have helped to distinguish the main story from the framing device if Zuckerberg post-Facebook was in any way visually or behaviorally distinct from Zuckerberg pre-Facebook – is decently told (To be clear, I have no idea what the true story is and am basing this solely on the film as a film).

For me, there is one glaring problem with the film, and it is Zuckerberg himself. You see, there’s a part near the end where one character tells him, “You’re not an asshole.” My immediate response was, “Yeah, he really is.” And that’s the problem.

Not that you can’t have a film centered around a rotten human being, but the film itself can’t pretend he’s anything else. This one seemed, in its last moments, to be attempting to do that, and it did not work at all. Zuckerberg is simply too much of a prick to remain sympathetic. Pitiable, yes, but not sympathetic.

Let me try to explain: Zuckerberg in this film (and, as far as I know, in real life) is an asocial genius nerd who can create brilliant code and come up with revolutionary ideas, but has no idea how to interact with people. Now, I am an asocial nerd who has trouble interacting with people. So are a lot of my friends. But I had no sympathy for Zuckerberg because he was also incredibly arrogant, self-centered, and, above all, duplicitous. He wasn’t confused or intimidated by normal human behavior; he was contemptuous of it and seemed to think that his achievements meant that he was above such concerns and that he was entitled to the appreciation and respect of others for it (when he’s called before a disciplining committee for crashing the Harvard network with his ‘Facemash’ site, he boldly states that he thinks he deserves praise for showing the weaknesses in the network).

Now, contrast this with, say Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist (speaking only of the film for comparison purposes). He too was an eccentric loner who had no idea how to interact with normal people, and who could often be very unpleasant. But Wiseau remained sympathetic despite his bad behavior because he was fundamentally the underdog. He’s completely untalented, but earnestly determined, and despite how much of an ass he is we still feel for him because we know he’s destined to be humiliated in the end. Zuckerberg effortlessly trounces everyone in his chosen field and seems to think this justifies any and all breaches of etiquette and morality, meaning that we – or at least I – want him to get taken down a peg and be made to see what a jerk he is.

Also, The Disaster Artist showed Wiseau partially recognizing his bad behavior; it showed him faintly desperate and confused when it seemed like he might lose his only friend, and it even ended with him asking Greg why he puts up with him. Tommy showed vulnerability and a modicum of self-awareness.

Now, Zuckerberg does show some vulnerability, mostly revolving around Erica and his inability to get over her, but it comes across less as an actual recognition that there is something wrong with him than frustrated entitlement: as if he doesn’t get why she doesn’t want to be with him and is still blaming her.

Finally, and most importantly, Tommy actually cared about Greg. He was controlling and selfish, but ultimately in his confused way he did appreciate his best friend’s place in his life. Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to care about Eduardo as anything but a source of revenue and stabs him in the back as soon as he doesn’t need him anymore.

Put it this way; as an asocial nerd, I feel that Zuckerberg, as depicted in this film, violated the ‘rules’ of being such a person. He’s not just a jerk from a normal person’s perspective, but from an eccentric loner’s perspective. Between his duplicity and his arrogant sense of entitlement, I simply couldn’t sympathize with him. At best, he’s a pathetic figure whose own warped personality dooms to a deserved unhappiness. At worst, he’s a terrible person who damages every life that comes his way and expects to be rewarded for it.

That’s the problem with the film; the central character is completely unsympathetic and the film doesn’t seem aware of just how unlikable he is. We might feel some pity for him as he gropes helplessly at a world of normal human affection that he has cut himself off from, we can’t really sympathize with him. Or at least I couldn’t.

It might also be in part because the end result of all this backstabbing, dishonesty, and arrogance is…Facebook. This may just be a personal reaction, but I don’t consider Facebook to be an especially noble or impressive contribution to the human race. Like the rest of social media, it’s a shallow and mixed blessing at best. Basically, when Zuckerberg preens himself on having been the genius who invented Facebook and therefore is above reproach, it comes across as slightly pathetic.

On that note, I found The Social Network most interesting as a picture of our times; hedonistic, self-absorbed, and shallow, with the best people on screen either desperately trying to cling to some semblance of a standard in a world that is constantly ignoring them or else groping in the dark sincerely trying to figure out what the right thing is with nothing and no one to guide them. It’s a sad image, and Zuckerberg seems right at home in it, though not as much so as Sean Parker, inventor of Napster and even more pathetically hateful than Zuckerberg.

My favorite moments were either involving the Winklevoss twins, whom I found to be genuinely likable characters in their frustrated decency. I liked when one of them actually appeals to a code of gentlemanly conduct in how they should respond to Zuckerberg’s theft (I also like how Zuckerberg tries to justify his stealing their idea by sneering at their ‘privilege’ as if that were relevant), or the times when Zuckerberg got his comeuppance, like when Eduardo reaches the end of his patience and, finding Zuckerberg is trying to tune him out, grabs his laptop and smashes it on the ground.

(By the way, at the very end, the film tries to pull the ‘unreliable narrator’ card by suggesting that anything or everything we’ve seen might have been lies or exaggeration. Yeah, you don’t get to do that movie. That’s not interesting or thought-provoking; it’s a cheap way of covering your behind. And if I were to take that seriously, the follow-up question would be “then what was the point of the past two hours”? You’re telling the story; have the guts to own what you say).

In the end, I found The Social Network to be a good film, but also kind of depressing. It’s a film that, to my mind, really shows how twisted our world is, in which narcissistic amoral geniuses like Zuckerberg and Parker rule and decent people like Eduardo and the Winklevosses get kicked around at their pleasure, while popular opinion flocks to their side because they offer shallow, hedonistic thrills. Decency, honor, loyalty, and even basic honesty have no place in this world; only money and fashion. Welcome to the Facebook generation.

 

Thoughts on ‘Solo’

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

Well, the good news is that Solo is immensely better than the abomination that was The Last Jedi. The bad news is, that still leaves it plenty of room be be pretty darn bad.

The film purports to be the origin story of Han Solo, showing where he came from, how he met up with Chewbacca, Lando, and of course how he acquired the Millennium Falcon. It posits that he began his days as a young orphan on the planet Corellia, stealing junk under the command of the sinister Lady Proxima – a centipede-like alien who burns in the sun yet has glass windows in her private chamber – alongside his girlfriend Qi’ra. During their escape attempt, Qi’ra is captured and Han hastily joins up with the Imperial military to avoid the same fate. Three years later he deserts to join a small gang of crooks led by a man named Beckett, hoping to earn enough money to buy a ship and go back to rescue his girlfriend. The job goes south, putting the survivors in hock to a crime lord named Dryden Vos, which forces them to take on an even bigger job that brings in Lando, the Falcon, and the Kessel Run. Oh, and Qi’ra is now working for Vos as his ‘top lieutenant.’

The galactic mob boss has a twenty-something girl whom he’s known for less than three years as his most trusted lieutenant. That’s the kind of film we’re dealing with here (needless to say, how this came about is never explained).

Okay, so there are a lot of problems with this movie.

In the first place, the structure of the film is odd. There’s a part early on where Han is settling in with his new crew preparing for a big job, and it felt as though it ought to have come much later. The characters bond, then half of them get wiped out in the very next seen and we have another set of characters for the rest of the film. The whole thing is kind of disjointed and occasionally confusing, without much of a unifying plot. Han is trying to earn money to buy a ship to go back to Correllia to get his girlfriend: how does that translate to serving with the Imperial infantry for three years? Then he meets up with the girlfriend and she’s working for Vos, so…so much for that motivation, we switch to trying to square debts with the crime boss, which he didn’t really incur since it was the guy he was working for who made the deal, but that leads to pulling another heist, which leads to an encounter with the nascent Rebellion (more on that in a bit), then turning on the mob boss, then…

You see what I mean? It’s less a single coherent plot than a series of small plots awkwardly stitched together and revolving around Han Solo trying to escape with his girlfriend until that motivation just kind of drops. There are too many characters who are set up, then drop out of the film entirely or disappear for long periods of time. Lady Proxima is set up and presented in the form an obviously very expensive puppet, then disappears for good after about thirty seconds of screen time. What was the point of that? Beckett’s crew – including his girlfriend – die a couple scenes after they’re introduced, then after a brief funeral are pretty much forgotten for the rest of the film. Again, what was the point? It adds nothing to his character or his relationship with Solo. In fact, the entire train heist could easily have been cut with minimal re-writes and the film probably would have been better for it.

Lando, surprisingly enough, isn’t in the film very much, and most of the time that he is involved he spends sitting on his ship or hanging out in the background, then he dumps the others like a coward as soon as he gets the chance. Why? Maybe if the film were more streamlined he could have been more involved; we might have gotten the chance to see him and Han become the friends they’re supposed to be instead of it just sort of happening because…actually, I don’t know why. They really have no reason to be friends by the end of the film. Maybe they’re saving that for a sequel.

Though, to be fair, I thought Donald Glover was okay as a younger Lando. He doesn’t have half the charisma of Billy Dee Williams, and he gives some very strange readings, but simply as a performance and outside of the nonsense they have him do (or not do) he was acceptable, for the most part.

The origin of the Millennium Falcon, however, falls completely flat. Turns out it’s just a ship Lando happened to own which was already the fastest ship in the galaxy, already called the Millennium Falcon, and which Han really has no reason to be particularly attached to even by the end of the film.

That’s a recurring problem here: though the movie is supposedly about how Han became Han, there’s very little of actual ‘origin’ to this origin story. That is, the things they provide backstory to are mostly glossed over without any kind of effort or weight to them. Where did he get his blaster? Beckett just tossed it to him before a job. His name? A random Imperial officer typed it into his application sheet. His ship? Well, Lando had it, then Han beat him at cards at the very end. Oh, and nothing about it came from Han’s loving care: it was just always like that.

Nor are Hans’ abilities given any explanation: his fantastic piloting skills, his mechanical skills, his shooting skills, improvisational skills, card playing, none of it is earned: he just has it. He drove a speeder and got kicked out flight school, so now he can automatically fly the Millennium Falcon better than anyone through the space storm that is instant death for everyone else. He shows up to a card game that, as far as we’re told, he’s never played before and almost beats Lando (would have if Lando hadn’t cheated, which…ugh, why? Why are you trying to make Lando out to be a completely unlikable person?).

As for Chewie, the film posits he was a prisoner of the Empire that they fed deserting soldiers to. Only Han spoke Wookie and so convinced him to join him in an escape plan. So, a big, important scene in the film and the life of our hero revolves around Han imitating Chewie’s growls. It is exactly as stupid as it sounds. Oh, and the film makes a point to explain that Chewbacca’s nickname is a nickname because Han didn’t want to say his actual name all the time. Glad they took the time for that rather than, say, giving the Millennium Falcon an origin that amounted to more than ‘it was there.’

(Han and Chewie also get a shower scene together. I’ll just throw that out there, because that’s pretty much what the film does).

There is a brief allusion to Han’s father, and that he worked on building freighters like the Falcon, but it’s passed over in a couple lines. That is a nice idea, and I would have much preferred to hear more about it, maybe have a flashback of Han and his dad, than to have yet more scenes of his girlfriend telling him that she’s a bad guy now.

The Qi’ra character is a problem because we in the audience know Han isn’t going to end up with her, and her presence in the story raises several issues, particularly the aforementioned questions of just how the heck this random street rat rose to become a professional assassin and bodyguard to a major gangster in only three years. That, and she’s not very interesting, doesn’t play much of a role in the plot apart from being Solo’s motivation, and her scenes are very repetitive. Again, she keeps reiterating that Han’s a good guy and she isn’t, and he keeps denying it. They don’t talk about anything that matters, like “how did you get off that planet?” or “What happened to you after we got separated?” Just vague references to being good or bad people.

Also, it’s one heck of a coincidence that, after being separated for three years these two just randomly bump into each other on the other side of the galaxy. And that brings us to another problem: that much like The Force Awakens this film seems to simply spawn in things whenever it needs them. There’s literally a moment where Beckett says they need to talk to the bad guy and his ship just appears. There’s a bit at the end where Han chases after Beckett, who has at least five minutes’ head start, but somehow Han ends up standing calmly right across his path.

Then there’s L3-37.

L3 is clearly an attempt to recapture the positive effect of K2 from Rogue One, but it badly misfires. Someone decided to make her an advocate for ‘droid rights’ with all the hostile self-righteousness of a modern college student (“We are sentient!” “Why? Because you’re my organic overlord?” etc.). She has a fantastic navigational computer for no reason at all, which is the only justification for her existence in this film (and it’s a pretty flimsy one at that: why would a droid even have such a computer? Wouldn’t that sort of thing be loaded onto a ship?). And are they really trying to make out that robots really are sentient beings with rights who suffer injustice by being treated like machines? Is Star Wars really poaching ideas from the Astro-Boy movie?

Whether this was meant to be making fun of SJWs or pandering to them, it doesn’t work at all. L3 is not funny and she’s not charming; she’s just obnoxious to the point that I almost cheered when she finally got shot to pieces.

Oh, and there are jokes suggesting she and Lando are sleeping together. Lando has sexual innuendos with a robot. Who thought that was in any way appropriate for a Star Wars film?

That said, it is unintentionally hilarious to see Lando cradling half her body and crying over this droid as she shuts down, as if he couldn’t just fix her and turn her back on.

Only, he can’t because he uploads her into the Falcon. So, the Millennium Falcon canonically now has the mind of a self-righteous sex toy. Thank you for that, movie.

Also, what is the deal with ‘Marauders’ in this movie? First they’re played as bad guys, and have kind of a cool ‘80s action-flick vibe to them. Then they disappear for an hour and it turns out they were the beginnings of the Rebellion and are led by a fourteen-year-old girl.

Uh…I have questions.

First of all, did Disney forget that the Rebellion got started about the same time as the Empire? We saw it beginning in Episode Three; we don’t need this nonsense about the start of the Rebellion. Also, why is their leader a teenage girl? Was she really the most qualified person available? Are we meant to forget that they’re responsible for the deaths of the monkey guy and Beckett’s girlfriend? Because the characters apparently did, as they don’t feel the need to mention it (again pointing to just how pointless that sequence was). It just feels like a twist for the sake of being a twist.

Speaking of twists, this film has a doozy. Are you ready? It turns out the Space mobster who was introduced murdering a man, has threatened to kill our heroes multiple times, and is heavily implied to physically abuse the female lead…is a bad guy.

No, I ‘m not kidding: they play this up like it’s a major revelation, with dramatic music, a slow lead in, and a ‘shock chord’ on the reveal that the criminal organization the main characters are trying to appease is actually evil. It’s ridiculous.

Though, to be fair, it’s less absurd than the other major twist, which is that the secret head of this criminal organization is none other that Darth Maul. Again, I’m not making that up: he survived being cut in half and dropping down a bottomless pit and some, what, twenty years later just shows up with mechanical legs and his double-lightsaber, which he turns on and then turns back off for no reason. I won’t even attempt to go over that one.

All that and I haven’t even touched on the film’s biggest liability: the lead actor.

I do not know why anyone thought casting Alden Ehrenreich in this role was in any way a good idea. He looks nothing like a young Harrison Ford (his face is too broad, his eyes are shaped different, etc), he sounds nothing like Ford (his voice is much higher), and to top it all off he is not a good actor at all. His very first line (“You should see what they look like!”) is awkwardly delivered, and he doesn’t improve as the film goes on. His inflection is off, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with his facial expressions, and his dialogue is almost never convincing. Like, when Beckett punches him in anger at one, point, his “what was that for?” just sounds vaguely confused. Some lines he mumbles, others he over-plays as though he’s in a high school drama performance. It is just a remarkably bad bit of casting, especially for such an iconic role.

(I can only imagine what it must have been like for Ron Howard to direct this guy: (Muttering)“Good God, I was giving better performances than this when I was six.” (aloud) “That’s great, Alden! Let’s try that again…”)

Then there’s the clumsy fan-service, which is much more akin to that in The Force Awakens than Rogue One: we have things like Lando’s Jabba disguise showing up (apparently, he just had it in his closet for a good decade), the monkey guy making random references to ‘minocks’ and the cantina, Chewie losing the same piece in the holo-chess game that he loses in the original film, and so on and so forth. It’s all pretty clumsy and at times patently desperate.

Also, a lot of emphasis is placed on Han’s dice, which were introduced in The Last Jedi, as well as hyperfuel. It’s as if this movie were retroactively trying to make that one a little less moronic. Yeah, that’s not gonna happen, guys; just let it go.

Okay, so let’s call it: this is a bad film. But is there anything to like about it?

Well, what I find I appreciated the most is that Han and Chewie’s relationship is pretty much spot-on. I don’t like the scenario for how they met, but their friendship develops well over the course of the film and they actually have some good back-and-forth. The film at least knows to treat Chewie as an actual character, unlike the sequels.

I kind of appreciate that the film underplays the Empire angle, trying to show a more ground-level perspective, and that we get a bit of a feel for what day-to-day life under the Empire was like (though describing it as a “lawless time” makes no sense whatsoever).

And I will say that at times the film just feels like Star Wars again, with the ships, the fantastic aliens, and the light tone. When they fly through a nebula and run into a giant space monster, it’s awesome. That’s the sort of thing we want from Star Wars. Likewise the idea of the space storm, and some of the imagery inside it is really cool (though they didn’t need to repeat the ‘asteroid field’ theme music).

Some of the humor does work. I like the bit after they escape the space storm where Han and Lando stand looking at the battered Falcon. Han comments on what a great ship it is, while Lando, surveying the damage, answers “I hate you.” I also laughed at the card game scene where Han snaps at an alien with six or seven eyes on stalks to keep all his eyes on his own cards.

Then, near the end, there is one ‘origin’ moment that works: wherein Han indeed shoots first. It isn’t given the set up that it ought to have had, but it was one of the few moments in the film where this felt like Han Solo: where you believed the connection between this character and the one we met in Star Wars.

On the whole, though it is a bad movie, it isn’t a malevolent movie. There were parts that worked and parts that at least entertained. There was some creativity, even if it was swallowed up in stupid choices and desperate fan-service. Except for the weird sexual content (again, why?) it’s pretty harmless, especially compared to the sequels.

But as an origin story for one of the most iconic figures in film? This is an embarrassment.

Thoughts on ‘The Last Jedi’

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

What the heck did I just watch?

‘The Last Jedi’ is not just the worst Star Wars film by a considerable margin, but it’s one of the worst Hollywood films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s amazingly bad: bad to a degree that is hard to believe for such a major film.

How bad is the writing? The first sentence of the title crawl is a plot hole. That shouldn’t even be possible, but they pull it off. The line is “The First Order reigns.” They were a small, localized organization a couple days ago, then they got their superweapon and base of operations blown up after taking out a single star system, and now suddenly they reign supreme? I’m not even talking about the question of where they’re getting all their resources; just how do you go from small and covert to ruling the galaxy over a couple days during which you suffer a massive defeat? That would be like waking up the morning after Gettysburg to the news that the Confederacy now rules the entire East Coast. The world building in Force Awakens was already horrendous, now they’re not even attempting to stick with it; they’re just arbitrarily declaring what the circumstances are whether or not they make sense after the previous film.

Anyway, the set up is that the Resistance – or is it the Rebels? They go back and forth between the two terms as though the writer periodically forgot what the goods were called – is down to a single small fleet and are fleeing the First Order, which has about twenty star destroyers, a giant ‘dreadnaught,’ and ‘The Supremacy:’ a super-massive ship that serves as Supreme Leader Snoke’s base of operations. Yeah, the guy who was seen in shadows in a hologram in the last film? He just appears here. No lead in, no introduction, we just walk into his throne room and he’s there. Believe me, that’s the least of our problems.

The Resistance is fleeing their base from the previous film – yes, just like the opening of Empire Strikes Back – only to find that the Empire has a device that can track ships through hyperspace, meaning they can follow them wherever they go. With the good guys running low on fuel, they engage in a slow-motion chase through space while the heroes try to figure out a way to shut down the tracker so they can escape.

Meanwhile, Rey has gone to ask Luke Skywalker to come back and fight for the Resistance, but Luke wants nothing more than to be left alone to die, having become disillusioned by the Jedi and given up on the galaxy following his failure with Kylo Ren (why didn’t Leia go to talk to Luke? She was supposed to be the one looking for him in the first place and…oh, forget it).

I don’t even know where to begin. I swear I am not exaggerating when I say that every single sequence, almost every scene in this film involves some plot hole, some writing mistake, or something that just doesn’t make sense, and it’s done throughout with a level of incompetence that is staggering to see in a major Hollywood blockbuster. Oh, it’s shot well, in fact there are some very creative camera angles and striking sets, in stark contrast to the dull-looking Force Awakens, but the writing is on a level of a child’s fan fiction, right down to the cloned scenes, lack of consequence, and awkwardly childish words. At one point Luke comments that he came to “the most unfindable place in the galaxy.” How did the word ‘unfindable’ make it into a major movie script? Same for the term ‘Supreme Leader,’ as in “Long live the Supreme Leader!” (actual dialogue). Okay if they didn’t want to reuse ‘Emperor,’ but ‘Supreme Leader’ doesn’t sound like a real position of authority: it sounds like a botched translation after the fashion of “Do not want.”

The chase through space that comprises the majority of the film (and boy does it drag) is itself a plot hole. No, I’m not kidding: the main plot of the movie falls apart on multiple levels. Taken purely as a scenario we have the question of one, why is fuel suddenly an issue when it has never been before? Two, how is it the Resistance fleet and the First Order fleet are moving at the exact same speed so that the good guys can’t escape and the bad guys can’t finish them off? Three, how is it that the First Order can’t come up with a better plan than just follow them and keep shooting for about fifteen straight hours? Again, they have about twenty star destroyers, presumably each one containing dozens of tie fighters: the Resistance has already had their entire fighter squadron knocked out (which is a problem in itself, but we don’t have time), so why aren’t they releasing fighters (the excuse given by the film is that “we can’t cover the fighters from the fleet.” Since when was that an issue)? There are about a dozen ways the First Order could deal with this problem, even assuming the stars aligned properly to create it in the first place. And four, why do they suddenly have a magical tracker that can follow ships through hyperspace? More importantly, why did the writer feel the need to create this patently silly device when we could have just had a tracker onboard the ship, or a mole, or have it be that they’re tapping into the signal from the tracking device that Leia is carrying. Yeah, she’s carrying a tracking device so that Rey can find the fleet again, so why doesn’t anyone even suggest that perhaps that is the problem? They simply guess – correctly – that the First Order has a magic new tracking system.

But on top of that, the Resistance was looking for a new base. We learn later on that the chase has been leading them to a place called Krait, which is a hidden planet with an old Rebel base complete with an impenetrable wall and stored equipment. Why didn’t they just lightspeed there in the first place? That entire scenario, with all its attendant problems, only happens because they didn’t do the logical thing in the very beginning.

Yet it gets worse.

Trying get out of this chase, Poe and Finn (and a new character named Rose, who is a terrible character for reasons we’ll get to) concoct a plan to sneak aboard the Supremacy and shut down the tracker. According to this film, Finn used to mop the room with the tracker in it. Apparently, he was janitor for the whole First Order because he also mopped the super-Death Star (he didn’t feel the need to let any of his friends know about this ultra-dangerous device either. At least he’s consistent). To do that they need to find a certain code breaker on Canto Bite, requiring them to detach from the fleet and go on a long, dangerous side quest.

Why is all this happening? Because the new commander, Vice Admiral Holdo, refuses to tell anyone her plan for saving them all.

Holdo is quickly becoming one of the most loathed characters in Star Wars and for good reason. You see, according to the film, she secretly has a plan to travel to Krait (again, why weren’t they going there in the first place?) and then abandon ship in cloaked transports, hiding on the planet until the First Order passes by. Only, for reasons best known to herself, she not only doesn’t tell anyone, she actively refuses to share this information even when her crew is hours from death, even when her fleet commander is literally begging her to give them some semblance of hope, and even when he finally leads a mutiny against her. She answers every plea for basic information with a snide insult (to the war hero who blew up the super-Death Star and inadvertently saved the fleet by blowing up the dreadnaught in the opening battle and who commands great respect among the crew). That all would have been bad enough, except that, in the end, the film tries to make out that she was the hero all along because she had her plan, and that Poe was in the wrong for not blindly following this hostile idiot into what looked like certain death (and which actually turned out to be certain death for most of the crew, but we’ll get to that).

And this is the entire reason why Poe and Finn come up with this plan that comprises about an hour’s screen time, and which ultimately fails and turns out was unnecessary anyway.

To sum, up, the main plot of the film exists because the Resistance didn’t do the obvious thing to begin with and because Holdo refused to tell anyone her plan for no reason whatsoever. Not to mention that the whole scenario is logistically preposterous and violates several established rules of the franchise.

The Force Awakens was lazy and stupid. This is raving insanity.

To top things off, Holdo’s plan is actually really stupid: it depends on the First Order not looking out the window to see the clearly visible fleet of transports (they’re cloaked, which I guess means they can’t be found on radar, but they’re visible with the naked eye. Then the First Order runs a ‘de-cloaking scan’ when they learn what’s going on, which why weren’t they doing that anyway?). This is another reason not to keep it a secret: Poe might have been able to point out the obvious flaws in the plan (sounds kind of like a certain writer who insisted on doing this whole film himself, come to think of it). On top of that, the film posits that the reason this happens is that the code breaker Finn and Rose hire turns traitor after hearing the plan, but that wouldn’t have happened in the first place if Holdo had just told Poe what was going on when he desperately begged her to.

Then she just sits there watching the ships blow up for about five minutes before doing a kamikaze run into the First Order fleet. Which also violates not only the continuity of the series (if you can use hyperspace as a weapon, why has no one done that before? Why haven’t they made weapons like hyperspace missiles specifically designed for it?) but also makes her look even more of an idiot for letting the rest of the fleet just get destroyed when they could have turned around and shattered the entire pursuing armada.

Are you starting to see what I mean when I say every scene in this film has some writing issue? And that’s just a broad overview of the film’s main plot. I haven’t even mentioned the bit where the bridge is blown up and Leia is thrown into space and then, minutes later, uses the Force to fly back into the ship. It’s one of the stupidest things you’ll ever see and serves absolutely no purpose save to get Leia out of commission for most of the film so that Holdo has to take over (no one ever brings it up again, by the way). This film is a series of idiotic writing choices that exist to set up other idiotic writing choices.

(By the way, Admiral “It’s a trap” Akbar gets killed in that same explosion. They brought back a fan-favorite, gave him one line, and killed him off screen to set up a horrible new character. That right there might encapsulate the mindset of the sequel films).

Ugh, I haven’t even gotten to Luke yet.

Before we dive into that, there’s still Canto Bite: the planet of ultra-rich war profiteers that Finn and Rose go to in order to find a code breaker to get them on the Supremacy etc.

How to describe Canto Bite? If George Lucas grew up on Flash Gordon and adventure serials, Rian Johnson apparently grew up on Communist propaganda cartoons. This is apparently his idea of capitalism: hideous and horrible rich men who beat cute animals, enslave children, and drunkenly gamble all night while secretly funding war. It’s loud, it’s crowded, it’s ugly, and the entire scenario is absurdly childish and heavy-handed.

The idea is that these rich people are profiteering off of the war by selling arms to both sides, and it’s even implied that they keep the war going to maintain their profit. That’s right: The Last Jedi tries to pitch the interwar myth of the evil arms dealers who ‘really’ cause wars. Rose describes these arms dealers as “the worst people in the galaxy,” apparently affording a second place spot to the people who just wiped out about a trillion innocent lives in one shot. Just so that we ‘get’ that they’re bad, the film shows that they use child slave labor and beat cute horse-things for the sake of racing.

This is moronic on any number of levels, and that’s not even considering the sequence of events (all I’ll say is that it involves BB-8 being mistaken for a slot machine and then firing coins like a machine gun. What tone were they aiming for in this film again?). Why are they using slave labor in a world where droids are readily available? It was dubious enough in Phantom Menace, but at least that took place in a lawless backwater full of poverty and run by criminals: this is an ultra-swanky casino planet for the super-rich. How is it even conceivable they wouldn’t be using droids? Also, why are all the slaves we see children?

The reason is that this is an insultingly manipulative and dishonest piece of heavy-handed propaganda. The writer wanted to take a shot against capitalism, so he shoehorned this moronic sequence into the film, making sure that there are children and animals being abused just so that we ‘get’ that these are bad people (because otherwise Finn and Rose recklessly smashing the place might be even more morally dubious than it already is). It’s basically a complete detour from the rest of the film for the sake of a gratuitous ‘message.’ Finn and Rose don’t even find the guy they’re supposed to; they just take up with the random low-life they met in prison who promises he can do the same job, is patently untrustworthy, and ultimately betrays them, which just makes them look like morons and makes the entire sequence feel even more pointless.

As a bonus, the crook then attempts to plant the idea to Finn and the audience that there is no good or bad side: that the same people are supplying the First Order and the Resistance and that it’s all “a machine” for the profit of the few. That’s right: The Last Jedi tries to revive the idiotic inter-war myth that wars are caused by arms dealers looking to get rich. Not only that, but it does so in this one scene and it never comes up again: a gratuitous and nonsensical cheap shot.

What is any of this doing in a Star Wars film?

Even at their worst, the Star Wars films have at least been universal, aiming to be escapist entertainment to be enjoyed by all viewers. Here, in the middle of the film, they’re suddenly attempting to inject real-world politics, and in the most shallow and heavy-handed way.

And to top it off, even if you’re the kind of person who will go for the evil capitalist screed, the sequence is so long, so patently unnecessary, and so childish in its perspective and execution that I can’t imagine anyone enjoying it. It’s just a bloated tumor on an already tedious and poorly structured film (I’m not even attempting to deal with the writing problems in the sequence; it has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever).

Now let’s finally deal with what they do to Luke Skywalker.

Luke Skywalker in this film is a bitter old recluse who, after failing to successfully train his nephew (more on that in a bit), ran away to a secret island to die alone, intending that the Jedi would die with him. When Rey asks him to come back and save the Resistance (which, need I remind you, includes his sister), he tells her to go away and sneers at her for expecting him to “walk out with a laser sword in front of the whole First Order.” He condemns the Jedi for allowing Vader and Palpatine to rise and scoffs at the idea that they’re necessary to keep the galaxy in balance. When he and Rey come to blows, she beats him handily and leaves him impotent and helpless in the mud.

At one point he milks a disgustingly obese seal-like creature and chugs down its juices. The scene lasts about thirty seconds and could easily have been cut, but the director chose to include it.

This is what the film does to the hero of three of the most popular and beloved films of all time. This is their idea of what such a man would look like thirty years on: a disillusioned, cynical coward who has abandoned all his ideals and only wants to die.

If the rest of the film were perfect, this one factor would still be a reason to despise this movie.

Oh, but it gets worse. The reason for his disillusion, the reason why he failed was that he had a vision of Kylo – his own nephew, remember – turning to the Dark Side and in a moment of weakness was prepared to murder him in cold blood. He was too ashamed to go through with it, but Kylo woke up, saw the lightsaber, and assumed he was trying to murder him, so he left him for dead, slaughtered the other students, burned down the Jedi temple, and went off to join the First Order.

Let’s be blunt here.

Luke Skywalker would never do any of this. Luke Skywalker would never abandon the Jedi, the order that gave him his beloved masters Obi-Wan and Yoda and which he was tasked to restore. Luke Skywalker would never turn his back on the galaxy or the Republic he fought to liberate, let alone his beloved sister, Leia and his best friend Han. And most of all, Luke flipping Skywalker would never in million years consider murdering his own nephew and student in cold blood while he slept just because he saw he might fall to the Dark Side. He is the last character in the world who would do that. He himself nearly fell to the Dark Side. He brought his own father, one of the most evil men in the galaxy, back to the light, and he risked everything to do it. He knows from personal experience how unreliable visions of the future can be.

If he saw a vision of Kylo turning to the Dark Side, he would talk to Kylo about it, he would redouble his training, he would talk to Leia and Han. If Kylo did fall to the Dark Side, Luke wouldn’t rest until he’d either saved him or stopped him. He would have acted like a hero!

Luke Skywalker is one of the great heroic icons of modern culture. He has been an inspiration to millions of people from all over the world in all walks of life. Mark Hamill has told stories of hearing from people who faced terminal illnesses or huge personal crises by finding strength and hope from the example of Luke. And this film, this worthless waste of celluloid written by a complete hack who doesn’t even have the talent to make his characters act like human beings, tries to take that away: to destroy it. All so that he can set up Rey, a character who couldn’t carry a teenager’s fan fiction, as his replacement because he doesn’t have the skill or the wit to write a character who can stand on her own.

That is more than bad writing. That is evil. This is an evil movie.

I went into this subject a while back with a piece on Captain America. I don’t use the term ‘evil’ lightly in this context, but when I see a beloved and inspiring piece of pop culture run into the ground and purposefully desecrated like this, I call it evil because the writer is taking something that inspired people to do and be better than they were and twisting it around to poison or at least destroy it, to try to make them see goodness and courage as mean, pathetic, hypocritical things that exist only to be seen through and torn down. That is what this film does, or tries to do. And that is evil.

To come down a little, I’d also like to point out that, even if I accepted the idea that Luke Skywalker would contemplate murdering his own nephew in cold blood, how does that explain Kylo’s subsequent actions? How does that lead to him murdering innocent people, burning down the temple (that same night), joining the First Order, and finally murdering his own father, who was trying to do nothing but help him? What is his goal? What is he trying to accomplish by all this?

Say what you will of Anakin’s fall, he had clear motives: first that he was desperate to save his wife and unborn child, and second that he wanted there to be order in the Galaxy. His actions may not always have made sense, but his overall character at least was consistent. Here we just have some vague talk of “a darkness” that was in Kylo, then Luke tried to kill him and Kylo immediately goes full-blown psychopath, targeting people who had nothing to do with his betrayal. Why would Luke’s betrayal cause Kylo to turn on his parents, on the Republic, and everything else?

Leave off the fact that we still have no idea who or what Snoke is, how he got in touch with Kylo, how he tempted or seduced him, or any of that. Our entire backstory linking this trilogy to the previous one is a thirty-second flashback to a single incident that doesn’t even make sense on its own ground.

On that subject, the film makes something of a big deal of ‘letting the past die.’ Luke, after being humiliated by Rey, tries to burn the tree containing the sacred Jedi texts. He finds he can’t do it, so the Force ghost of Yoda does it for him with a lightning bolt (yes, the ghosts can summon lightning now. And hit people. At least the film lives its own message of destroying the past, as it certainly destroys any sense of continuity that remained in the series). His justification for this is that the books were boring and Rey doesn’t need anything they contain. Because thousands of years of wisdom, study, and tradition all come down to whether or not it benefits her.

Granted, a later scene shows that Rey took the books with her, but that doesn’t really change the wrongness of this scene.

Meanwhile, Rey goes off to try to turn Kylo back to the good side, because two days after he murdered Han Solo in cold blood and was complicit in the massacre of trillions of lives, and personally tried to kill her she’s suddenly decided she’s almost in love with him because they have a Force connection, both hate Luke, and she saw him shirtless. I wish I were kidding. I really do.

This leads to a blatant copy of the throne room scene from Return of the Jedi stuck two-thirds of the way through the second film in a trilogy. Snoke toys with Rey, then orders Kylo to kill her to “complete his training.” Killing his own father in cold blood wasn’t enough, but killing a girl he has no reason to care about should do the trick.

Then, in a very stupid turn of events, Kylo kills Snoke. Let me reiterate: Snoke, a character who came completely out of nowhere, was given no development, no backstory, and no motivation, yet is supposedly the most powerful being in the universe, is killed off part-way through the second film by a silly bit of wordplay. They just stuck a random ultra-powerful bad guy into the story then killed him off: a classic shaggy dog story.

Kylo and Rey have a tag-team fight that has some very funny choreography if you pay attention (one guard’s weapon actually disappears mid-shot just so that he can’t use it on Rey), then Kylo tells Rey that he doesn’t want either the Resistance or the First Order to win, but “wants it all to end.” Then he just takes Snokes place and we resume. Again, swear I’m not making that up.

God, I don’t even know what else I ought to go over: Captain Phasma is back, despite apparently being killed in the last film. She dies again here without evincing the slightest personality or character. There is some very bad continuity during a fight in the Supremacy’s hanger: as in, seriously embarrassing for a major budget film. Phasma just teleports from one end of the hanger to the other and acquires and loses a gun twice in quick succession just that she can have a melee duel with Finn.

Then there’s a fight down on Krait, which is at least visually interesting, but I don’t even care at this point. They copy the Hoth battle from Empire Strikes Back, down to using walkers and speeders. That means the film opens with the beginning of Empire, basically copies the plot structure (one group tries to evade the Empire without lightspeed, the protagonist trains with an old master), then diverges into the end of Return of the Jedi, then goes back to the beginning of Empire. It’s not only a cheap copy, it’s schizophrenic.

This fight contains a contender for the most moronic part of the film (a rarified title). The Resistance is hiding behind an impenetrable wall with no way out. The First Order brings up a cannon with ‘miniaturized Death Star tech’ to breach it (lucky they just happened to have that). Finn and the others fly out to stop the cannon, Finn prepares to sacrifice himself to save the Resistance. Then, at the last minute, Rose flies in and stops him, allowing the cannon to blow open the base while she delivers perhaps the most asinine bit of dialogue in any ‘Star Wars’ film: “I saved you. That’s how we’re going to win: not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”

Again, she says this while the wall blows up behind her, seemingly dooming the entire Resistance because of her actions. How the heck did this moment make it into the film? How could they possibly have filmed it without realizing how shallow, hypocritical, and self-defeating it was?

Anyway, at the last moment Luke seemingly shows up. He has a moment with Leia (actually kind of a nice one, as Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are able to channel a bit of their actual characters one last time, but there’s no saving the film at this point), then goes out to fight Kylo. Only, after a brief confrontation, he reveals that he was never actually there: Luke’s still on the island, force-projecting himself across the galaxy to distract Kylo. They couldn’t even give him the dignity of one last battle. They couldn’t allow him to be at all heroic in this film even once.

Then he dies. Yeah, he pretends to go into battle rather than actually going there himself, then, after it’s over, he just dies of the strain. They butchered his character then killed him off to prevent any chance of redemption.

All that and there’s so much I haven’t mentioned. I haven’t mentioned the Porgs: cute little bird creatures from the island who show up regularly to provide ‘comic’ relief. I didn’t laugh once at these things: they are so patently a marketing ploy and so obviously pointless that they’re just revolting. To make matters worse, interacting with them has become Chewbacca’s whole purpose. He doesn’t interact with Luke, his old friend of decades, except a single moment where Luke yells at him for no reason.

One thing I haven’t seen anyone else commenting on is that the effect of the ships leaving hyperspace looks weird. In the original films, the ships kept moving when they came out of light speed, so that the effect was them speeding up and slowing down very abruptly. Here they just stop. It looks strange and unnatural.

Another thing that rather surprised me about this movie is just how boring it is. It just drags on and on, with nothing being accomplished, nothing meaningful being said or done, no moments of honest humanity, just plot point, action scene, plot point. There’s no tension because everything is so badly constructed, no interest because the characters are so bland and poorly written.

The Last Jedi is an unmitigated disaster. Not only is it by far the worst Star Wars film – no, I’m not excluding the frickin’ Holiday Special, which at least had Bea Arthur to lend it some sense of humanity, at least attempted a bit of world building, and oh yeah, didn’t seek to destroy an iconic hero – but I could see it ending up on a list of the worst films ever made (understanding that such lists are generally limited to major, well-known releases). The incredibly bad writing, the incompetent continuity, horribly conceived characters, tedious pacing, and active hostility towards its source material and its fans puts it beyond the pale. You could write a whole book on what is wrong with this film: I really just scratched the surface. Yes, there are individual good things, such as some of the visuals and a few individual scenes, but they simply don’t matter in the face of all the other terrible choices that destroy this movie.

In any case, Star Wars has now become one of the very few franchises that include both one of the best films ever made (Empire Strikes Back at the very least) and one of the worst (this abomination). The only other series like that I can think of would be Jaws and possibly Halloween. What an indictment of the state of Uncle Walt’s company that they allowed this to happen.

Yoda says that failure is the best teacher. If so, this film is an academy.

P.S. If you want a thorough dissection of this film (that is longer than the movie itself and infinitely more entertaining), I highly recommend YouTube critic MauLer’s series of videos (here’s the first one). He uses both clear logic and a strong understanding of storytelling to objectively demonstrate why and how this is a terrible film in an exemplary fashion. His conclusion is particularly well phrased and on point.