Avengers: Infinity War is a Reminder that Pop Culture Won’t Save Us

Many people have been name-checking Empire Strikes Back in their comments on Avengers: Infinity War. But as I left the theater this weekend, I found myself thinking about The Last Jedi, and… Frodo? I will talk about Infinity War a lot but I have to work through a couple of points about pop culture heroism in general first, so come along with me on a journey through multiple franchises, won’t you?

(SPOILERS for Avengers: Infinity War and The Last Jedi.)

The heart of the anti-Last Jedi backlash was the treatment of Luke Skywalker. Sure people complained about the (great, imo) decision to make Rey a Nobody from Nowhere, and yes, people were annoyed by the sidequest to free the Chocobos of Canto Bight. But the beating heart of people’s frustration with Last Jedi is the fact that everybody’s hero, good-hearted Luke Skywalker, orphaned son of a cursed ...

Poignant Star Wars Documentary The Director and the Jedi Guaranteed to Wreck Us

Carrie Fisher The Director and the Jedi documentary Star Wars: The Last Jedi Rian Johnson SXSW

Among Variety’s writeup of the 12 movie and TV premieres garnering the most buzz at South by Southwest is The Director and the Jedi, a behind-the-scenes documentary from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While the doc is centered on Rian Johnson’s experience writing and directing the film, there’s an extremely personal dimension that we already know is going to give us all the feels: the cast and the crew grappling with Carrie Fisher’s passing in late 2016.

The documentary was initially announced in late February, as one of many bonus features on the Last Jedi home release. The official summary makes it seem as if director Anthony Wonke and the others behind the feature were aware of the polarizing response to The Last Jedi:

An intimate documentary delving into Rian Johnson’s process as he comes in as a director new to the Star Wars universe. A fan ...

When No One Else Will Stand Up and Fight the Obvious Evil: The “Unchosen Ones” of Fantasy

Rey The Last Jedi

It is a truth long acknowledged that an epic quest needs a Chosen One. The One Character, Chosen by Fate, Long-Prophesied, riddled with Marks of Great Portent, whose Birth Was Foretold, and Who Will Bring Balance/Right Wrongs/Overthrow Injustice.

But what about those heroes who aren’t chosen? Who see all of their friends, all of their world, go quiet in the face of an obvious evil? What about those who take up the lightsaber, the armor, the Ring, knowing all the while that, at any moment, they could be revealed as frauds? Or die without making anything better?

Today, we’re celebrating the “Unchosen Ones”.

 

Vin and Kelsier (Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson)

Vin Kelsier Mistborn Marc Simonetti art

Art by Marc Simonetti

Vin and Kelsier live in a world of extreme injustice, swarming with monsters and mist, curated by the all-powerful Lord Ruler. There is no resistance. Resistance always fails. As thieves, Vin and Kelsier know ...

6 Theories About Star Wars: Episode IX

Star Wars Episode IX logo

Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Pfffff. Old news. Solo: A Star Wars Story? Maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t. Let’s focus on what we really want to know: What will happen in Star Wars Episode IX?

[Note: Spoilers for The Last Jedi ahead]

Without getting into too much detail early on, Star Wars: The Last Jedi leaves our heroes and their associated porgs at a very decisive point, echoing The Empire Strikes Back in how it brings the galaxy-wide struggle and long-standing character arcs to a purposeful, potential close. However, where Empire left Han’s fate as a cliffhanger, TLJ leaves no such unfinished business. In fact, you could consider the Star Wars saga done if you walked away right after The Last Jedi.

Which of course we (and Disney) aren’t going to do.

Star Wars Episode IX is almost as much of a blank slate as The Force Awakens ...

Rey, Force Awakens, lightsaber
Finn, Last Jedi

What Star Wars Learned From Literary Fiction

The original 1977 Star Wars film is often credited with creating the modern blockbuster: a popcorn-fueled thrill ride that is a feast for all the senses. Before it became known as Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars set the template for popular film, from the tight three-act structure to the bombastic film score to the broad strokes of heroes and villains against a visually spectacular backdrop. The commercially driven films that it spawned became densely packed with groundbreaking effects and audience-thrilling action.

This is precisely what makes The Last Jedi, the most recent film and source of the most recent controversy in the franchise, such a wild departure. It’s true that the movie is, like the preceding entries in its canon, very much a Star Wars film: there are space battles and aliens and shootouts, along with lightsaber battles and a John Williams score. But in many ...

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Rebellion Won Because They Treated Their Droids Like People

R2, 3PO, Attack of the Clones

It’s no great secret that R2-D2 is the real hero of Star Wars. In fact, that might be the fandom’s favorite joke of the past four decades—everyone would be dead, multiple times over, without that rolling trash can’s help. Same goes for C-3PO, if we take into account how Artoo relies on him to redirect the bad guys with his babbling and multitude of diplomatic excuses.

But the truth of the matter is a bit uglier than that. Because the only reason that R2-D2 is capable of helping in the first place is because he’s treated like a person… instead of an expensive piece of hardware.

It’s pretty clear, even on a first viewing, that the Star Wars universe doesn’t treat droids well. They are bought and sold like computers rather than beings with clear personalities, preferences, and desires. They are ordered en masse as aids, weapons, and soldiers in ...

The Force Awakens, R2, Luke
The Clone Wars, Anakin, R2
Rebels, Chopper, Hera
R2, socket
Chopper, Imperial paint job
Cassian, K-2SO, Rogue One

Moving Forward with The Last Jedi

There’s a saying, attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, that says “you cannot step in the same river twice.” It’s a quote I’ve been thinking about a lot about since watching (and re-watching, and re-watching) The Last Jedi.

A lot has been said about the latest Star Wars film and its relationship to the past. Some people are firmly of the mindset that The Last Jedi ruined what’s come before, in terms of key elements like our understanding of the Force to the treatment of Luke Skywalker. Others say that the film marks an important pivot for the franchise as it respectfully moves away from its long, detailed history and charts a new future. Still others contend that nostalgia is a dangerous thing, and the purpose of The Last Jedi was to gleefully destroy everything that’s come before it.

While I certainly believe that two of these interpretations are ...

Wow, People Are Really Mad at Poe Dameron

Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Leia, Poe

I mean, I’m not. But other people are.

At first glance, there’s an interesting theme at work in The Last Jedi. That theme seems to turn on practically every female character in the film looking to their male cohort and saying “Don’t do that!” and the men turning around and saying “I’m definitely going to do that!” And then things go generally wrong and we all plant our faces in our hands and sigh.

Here’s a brief (not comprehensive) list to that end:

  • Leia tells Poe not to continue his attack on the Dreadnought, but he does;
  • Rose tells Finn how disappointed she is to see Resistance fighters trying to cut and run, then realizes he’s doing that exactly that;
  • Amilyn Holdo repeatedly tells Poe to stop bothering her about her plans for the fleet, he commits mutiny after barging in on said plans;
  • Rey tells Kylo Ren ...
The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron
The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron
Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Poe
Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Leia
Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Poe

Wow, People Are Really Mad at Poe Dameron

Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Leia, Poe

I mean, I’m not. But other people are.

At first glance, there’s an interesting theme at work in The Last Jedi. That theme seems to turn on practically every female character in the film looking to their male cohort and saying “Don’t do that!” and the men turning around and saying “I’m definitely going to do that!” And then things go generally wrong and we all plant our faces in our hands and sigh.

Here’s a brief (not comprehensive) list to that end:

  • Leia tells Poe not to continue his attack on the Dreadnought, but he does;
  • Rose tells Finn how disappointed she is to see Resistance fighters trying to cut and run, then realizes he’s doing that exactly that;
  • Amilyn Holdo repeatedly tells Poe to stop bothering her about her plans for the fleet, he commits mutiny after barging in on said plans;
  • Rey tells Kylo Ren ...
The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron
The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron
Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Poe
Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Leia
Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Poe

The Evolution of Religious Iconography in Star Wars

While Star Wars is many things to many people, it is, at its heart, a story about a religious revival. If you look at the films chronologically, the stodgy Jedi Order collapses in spectacular fashion over the course of the Prequel Trilogy, leaving a few scattered Force believers looking for purpose in Rogue One, before a trio of Jedi Knights help restore balance in the Original Trilogy. But the Jedi Order Reboot also collapses spectacularly, and, in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, we’re back down to a couple of Force users who might be about to bring the religion back a second time.

I’m fascinated by the way the series uses parallels to real-life religious iconography to tell its story, especially how, in Rogue One and The Last Jedi, the filmmakers used some very specific references to create a richer and more inclusive galaxy far, far ...

Luke Skywalker Isn’t Supposed to Be “Nice”

Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi

It’s that time again. Time for me to talk about Luke Skywalker—Jedi Master, colorful milk enthusiast, champion spear fisherman, galactic treasure—and the multitude of ways that he continues to be generally fabulous while no one notices. Even now, when it should have become pretty darned obvious. When there is an entire film dedicated to the obviousness of this.

And yes, I am talking about The Last Jedi.

Spoilers ahead.

Look, I’ve said it all before. Luke Skywalker is not a bland Wonder Bread hero, despite his humble farmboy beginnings and seeming obsession with power converters. He spends the entirety of Return of the Jedi kicking ass in a very personal, understated way. He has his own goals and he sticks to them. This helpfully speeds up the demise of the worst overlord the galaxy has ever known, but also robs him of a father. Such is the nature of the ...

Luke Skywalker over the ages
The Last Jedi, Jedi books
Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi
Rey and Luke, The Force Awakens
Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker
Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi

Star Wars’ Vice-Admiral Holdo and Our Expectations for Female Military Power

A vast and detailed selection of spoilers follow—if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi, go see it and come back to this one afterward.

The first time we see Vice-Admiral Holdo in The Last Jedi, we see her through the eyes of Poe Dameron: hotshot flyboy, recently slapped down twice in the Resistance’s scramble to evacuate their compromised base. The first blow to Poe’s ego and stability is his demotion from Commander to Captain by General Leia Organa herself, a suitable reprimand for spearheading the devastatingly costly bombing run which provides the film with its opening set-piece. No sooner has Poe processed this—if indeed he has processed it—than he’s knocked further off balance by the loss of all of the Resistance high command save Leia, who is comatose and out of commission. In this state—stripped of his expected personal authority, with the usual structures of command which he ...

Why Canto Bight is Vital to The Last Jedi

Plenty of things about Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi have been divisive, but few have been as derided as the Canto Bight sequence.

The whole thing is just a disgracefully bad bit of storytelling.”

“…feels pointless and tacked on…”

But the Canto Bight stuff is a bit of a drag…”

“…an unnecessary sequence at the casino city of Canto Bight that goes straight from a political sermon into a plot hole…”

Was it put there as a merchandising tool, a way to sell space pony plushies and several dozen more figurines? Does it fail to advance the story at all? Does it matter?

No, and no, and yes. Canto Bight is neither a fluffy diversion nor a tacked-on way to find something to do with Rose and Finn. It’s absolutely vital to the themes of The Last Jedi, and if you ...

Thanks to The Last Jedi, We Finally Know What “The Force Awakens” Means

Rey, The Last Jedi

It’s a long limb I’m about to go out on, but this branch is gigantic and definitely supports my weight. So let’s talk about Rey and about Kylo Ren. Let’s talk about Skywalkers and midi-chlorians. Let’s talk about how the Force “awakened” and what that means for the galaxy.

[Spoilers for The Last Jedi, of course.]

The Last Jedi’s final frames are not concerned with anyone “of note” in their galaxy. He’s a poor, enslaved child on Canto Bight who is now sporting Rose’s resistance ring. He reaches for a broom to sweep up, and the broom flies to his hand from a distance—he has the Force. He stares off into the night sky, much like Luke Skywalker stared into a Tatooine sunset decades before. He sees a shooting star. In effect, the end of Episode VIII wants its audience to acknowledge a shift in the galaxy: ...

Jedi, Attack of the Clones
Anakin Skywalker, Revenge of the Sith
Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine, Revenge of the Sith
Luke and Leia. Return of the Jedi
Ben Solo, Kylo Ren, The Last Jedi
Rey, The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Confronts the Temptation to Run Away

Star Wars The Last Jedi temptation to run away Kylo Ren join me Rey

The Star Wars franchise is built on running, from that first iconic shot of Tantive IV fleeing the Star Destroyer, to Artoo and Threepio climbing into an escape pod, to Luke tracking down Yoda on Dagobah. But when Finn goes for an escape pod in The Last Jedi, it’s not because he has Death Star plans and a hologram to pass into the right hands, not to search out a hidden Rebel base or a lost Jedi master—but because anywhere is better than where he’s currently standing.

For the first time in Star Wars, running is not a heroic act.

Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

When you’re playing Star Wars on the playground, or in your backyard, or in an MMORPG, it’s easy to be swept along toward your destiny. To board the Death Star and rescue a princess. To follow hidden maps and inspire Jedi masters ...

Star Wars The Last Jedi Finn coma
Star Wars The Last Jedi Rose Tico Kelly Marie Tran
Star Wars The Last Jedi Amilyn Holdo running away Poe Dameron Laura Dern
Kylo Ren "join me" Rey Star Wars The Last Jedi

12 Moments in Star Wars: The Last Jedi that Positively Wrecked Me

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker

The Last Jedi was a film designed cup your heart in its hands and then crush it repeatedly at intermittent intervals. I counted no less than twelve moments that destroyed me. There are probably more. But let’s start with those. (How about you?)

Note: If it’s not obvious, this article and its comments will be full of spoilers for The Last Jedi. Last chance to turn back!

 

Paige Tico’s Death

Paige Tico, Last Jedi

The Last Jedi hits us straight out of the gate with a ton of losses. A good portion of the Resistance dies trying to get rid of a First Order dreadnought in an ill-considered attack by Poe Dameron. While the vessel is destroyed, it takes the majority of the Resistance’s fighters and bombers with it. The only reason that they win that minor battle itself is because of Paige Tico, Rose’s sister. Piloting one of the Resistance bombers, ...

Leia, Last Jedi
Amilyn Holdo, Last Jedi
Finn, Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is Here to Wring All the Emotions It Possibly Can Out of You

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has finally hit theaters. But who is the Last Jedi, really? And what to make of the longest running Star Wars film in the franchise’s history?

[This is a spoiler-free review.]

One thing is certain: regardless of how much you enjoy the film as a whole, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is designed to wring out every possible emotion from its audience that it can. There is much at stake and director Rian Johnson knows this, knows that the film’s emotional core is going to be the primary takeaway no matter what happens on screen. He does everything possible to make certain that there is always something to feel, even if there isn’t always something to track logically.

The biggest problem with The Last Jedi is that there is far too much packed into it. The longest Star Wars film before Episode VIII was ...

Star Wars and the Long Arc of the Rebellion

Poe Dameron, Resistance, Force Awakens

Whatever happens in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, things look to be tough for the Resistance against the First Order. By the end of Episode VIII, we’ll likely find ourselves at something of a cliffhanger for our heroes because, well… that’s how suspense and trilogies tend to work. But what does the arc of the rebellion look like? How does the Resistance differ from its earlier counterpart, and what will their trials be going forward? Taking a closer look at other Star Wars media (including books and television) can clue us in….

In The Force Awakens, the Resistance had a unique challenge; they were working on the periphery to bring down an enemy that the central government refused to take seriously. While the film itself was vague on the details, the novel Star Wars: Bloodline was there to fill in the gaps. It turns out that the New ...

Echo base, the Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Rebels, Mon Mothma
Rogue One, Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor

The “True Nature of the Force” is More Complicated Than You Think

Rey, Force Awakens, lightsaber

This is an updated version of an article that ran in 2012.

It started off pretty simple—there was a young man who wanted to become an agent of good, like his father before him. He would use a mystical energy known as “the Force” to become powerful enough to defeat darkness. Once he did, the universe would be restored to its balanced state, freedom would spread throughout the galaxy, and all would be well.

But you know what? Balance is not good triumphing over evil. Balance is balance. The seesaw doesn’t tip in either direction here, so… what does that mean for Star Wars? Well for one, it may be time to reevaluate everything that we know—or think we know—about the nature of that galaxy far, far away. And the given the questions raised by the final words in The Last Jedi’s trailer, those questions are more pressing ...

Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Jedi Council
Anaking SKywalker, Yoda, Star Wats, Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars, Attack of the Clones, Jedi younglings
Anaking Skywalker, Clone Wars, Season 3, Ghosts of the Mortis
Luke Skywalker, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Clone Wars, Barriss Offee, Anakin Skywalker
Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer

Anakin Skywalker Was a Gray Jedi

“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Since Luke Skywalker dropped that bomb in the middle of the Star Wars universe in the first trailer for The Last Jedi, questions have been swirling:

Has Luke turned to the Dark Side?

Has he discovered something about the Jedi Order that will redefine what the term “Jedi” means?

Will Rey evolve past the binary Dark/Light Side and become the first (canonical) Gray Jedi?

GIVE US MORE PORGS.

Okay, the last one isn’t a question. It’s a demand. From all of us—and we’re serious, Lucasfilm.

Ahem…Anyway.

The central nugget here is that all signs are pointing to a new era for the Jedi. One that’s more ambiguous in its understanding of good and evil; one that’s more complex, perhaps darker, and less—again—binary.

If only we had Star Wars stories that explored the uneasy complexities of the Jedi Order. If only, ...

ambiguity The Last Jedi Star Wars prequels
ambiguity The Last Jedi Star Wars prequels