STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE Is Still A Miss 20 Years Later

This piece is two years old; I wrote it in February 2017 and posted it on Facebook. Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and I wanted to commemorate it but didn’t have the forethought to sit down and watch the movie again. But this piece, which represents my latest revisit of the film, feels pretty spot-on to me still two years later. I’ve gone back to the Prequels again and again, hoping each time the changes in me have changed the way I see the movies. This has not been the case. In fact, this post came after I bought the Prequels on Blu as an attempt to revisit them in full in a spiritual/Buddhist light. I never made it past Attack of the Clones.

Note: I have made minor edits to this for clarity and grammar, but not for content. This piece is maybe more jargon-y than I would write today, but maybe that’s a problem with me today. I reference a thing I wrote about Yoda’s fear/anger/hate/suffering bit that I have not published on this site; maybe I will at some point. Finally, this was written before The Last Jedi, which I think has a top tier John Williams score.

I just finished the book The Dharma of Star Wars, which finds parallels and examples of Buddhist teachings in the Force and the Jedi, and it really impressed me. Much of the book’s content related to events from the Prequel Trilogy, and it made me wonder if these films – which I had maligned for so long – were actually brilliant Trojan horses smuggling dharma into the minds of impressionable Western children. The book’s pretty good in general – out of all the Buddhist stuff I’ve read/listened to in the last few months it’s the work that moved my understanding of ‘no self’ furthest. So I decided to give the Prequels another shot, with a Buddhist perspective. 

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“Do. Or Do Not. There Is No Try.”

For years Yoda’s famous advice to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah vexed me. “Do or do not, there is no try” always struck me as fatally reductive, and too results-oriented. It felt less like spiritual wisdom and more like corporate motivational drivel.

In fact, the phrase calls to mind Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan, center of one of the most famous ad campaigns of the 20th century*. But as is so often the case with stuff that gets printed on motivational posters or superimposed on images of ladies doing yoga on the beach and then shared on Facebook, there’s true wisdom in there. You just gotta get past the bullshit to see the beauty.

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[Reprint] Saving What We Love: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out one year ago today. It quickly became one of the most controversial films in a famously controversial franchise, even as it is the absolute best since the 1980s. A reader recommended I celebrate the anniversary of this great film by reprinting my review, and I liked that idea (thanks, Scott!).

I wrote other things about The Last Jedi – a piece about how Rose Tico’s widely derided quote is the greatest wisdom yet found in Star Wars, a piece about Vice-Admiral Holdo’s smarts and a piece examining the connection between the Jedi and Taoism – but this initial review contains a lot of my thinking on the film, thinking I still hold a year later. 

For Star Wars to live, Star Wars must die. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrilling, layered and goddamned fun meditation on the tension between our need for legends and myths and the ways those legends and myth constrain and reduce us. Star Wars is the film series that popularized the monomyth in the modern era, and Johnson walks right up to old Joe Campbell, kicks him in the nuts… and then gives him a hearty bear hug. The Last Jedi struggles with and embraces the paradoxical duality at the center of the meaning of legends and heroes, leaving thoughtful audiences with more to chew on than any other blockbuster in recent memory.

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Why THE MANDALORIAN Will Probably Be Awesome

You may have seen the announcement about Jon Favreau’s live action Star Wars show, The MandalorianSet after the events of Return of the Jedi but before The Force AwakensThe Mandalorian will follow a gunfighter in a familiar armor as he travels the Outer Rim of the galaxy. You might look at the first image released and mutter, “What a bullshit attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Boba Fett,” and I get where you’re coming from. You’re coming from the POV of someone who hasn’t watched Clone Wars or Rebels.

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I Love Kelly Marie Tran And Rose Tico

Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and, I’m assuming, upcoming Star Wars movies as well) deleted her Instagram this week. There’s a lot of speculation that she did it because of unrelenting abuse from toxic (male) Star Wars fans who hate her character in a seriously obsessive, unhealthy and unpleasant way. As far as I know she hasn’t confirmed this; some people say Daisy Ridley deleted her Insta because she was getting harassed, but she has said she did it because she was addicted and needed to take her life back.

But let’s assume that Tran deleted because of the abuse. I spent the last couple of days wanting to write at length about how broken fandom is (something I’ve written about in the past) but a friend rightfully called me out on sinking into despair the last few days, and focusing on what’s wrong only leads to more despair. So I want to focus on what’s right: Rose Tico.

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The Tragedy Of Han Solo

This contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Fans complain that The Last Jedi did Luke Skywalker dirty, but I think that the end of Luke’s story tracks really nicely. Luke was never one for the hard work – he was always imagining some other life for himself. When he was on Tatooine he wanted to join the academy, when he was on Dagobah he wanted to go be in the fight. These were the times in his life when he needed to hunker down and do the hard work, the unglamorous work, and his instinct was to take off and find something more romantic and exciting. What’s more romantic and exciting for a holy man than fucking off and becoming a mystical hermit? When his new academy failed, Luke didn’t decide to put in the hard work of trying again (or tracking down Kylo Ren), but rather disappeared to a small island to live out his monastic fantasies. And for Luke to feel like a failure is perfectly in character – look at how quickly he quits on Dagobah. Luke’s first instinct is to give up.

Now Han Solo on the other hand… that’s a character who got done dirty, and I think Solo: A Star Wars Story makes his end even sadder and his final days even more pathetic. I never liked what JJ Abrams did to Han in The Force Awakens, but now it feels downright disrespectful.

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a trifle. Solo is a puff pastry of a movie. Solo is a lark. But none of those things are inherently bad, and in fact they’re kind of refreshing. In the main Star Wars saga we get movies about the big, dramatic moments in galactic history. In Rogue One we got a movie about a small but vital moment in galactic history. In Solo we get a fun heist with some enjoyable double crossing and reversals that has plenty of connections to the larger Star Wars universe but that is more interested in exploring small parts of relationships rather than big pieces of canon.

It definitely feels like a prequel, but not to Star WarsSolo ends in a way that seems to be setting up a major storyline for some future media (a sequel? A cartoon? A series of comics? Masters of Teras Kasi 2?), and it expands out the criminal underworld of Star Wars enough to offer space for all sorts of other spin-offs. There is always a small universe problem plaguing the Star Wars films – everybody talks about the same six planets, after all – but I actually think Solo carves out enough new space (and illuminates existing space in enough interesting ways) to give the Star Wars universe a little extra breathing room.

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A Likely Ill-Advised Ranking Of All STAR WARS On-Screen Canon Works

With the absolutely awesome conclusion of Star Wars Rebels I think it’s time to go back and do that most destructive and pointless of all possible tasks: ranking! Chatting with a friend about where Rebels falls in the screen canon of Star Wars has gotten me itching to revisit a ranking of the entire Saga to date; I should wait until Solo comes out, but I’m concerned that the movie is going to be a bit of a bummer. So why not do it now, while I’m on a Rebels-induced Star Wars high?

This is a ranking of screen canon only – ie, Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars is not, from what I know, actual canon in the post-Disney purchase world. The new novels and comics are technically canon, but a) I haven’t read most of them and b) they can potentially be overwritten by future movies and TV shows, so I tend to not think of them as hard canon.

Yes, this is nit-picky nerd shit. Anyway, on with the ranking:
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The Weirder Side Of The Force

The most interesting expansion of the Star Wars universe is happening on TV, on the cartoon Rebels. And I say that as someone who absolutely loved The Last Jedi (I’ve published a whole ton of Last Jedi-related stuff on this site, like my review, my look at the Taoism of the Jedi, a piece on Rose Tico’s wisdom, and an admiration of Admiral Holdo). The new movies have brought an exciting life into the franchise on a mainstream level, but Dave Filoni and his team have been steadfastly keeping Star Wars humming – and exploring its nooks and crannies – for years on TV.

The latest two-parter of Rebels is a bad place to jump on; the show is hurtling towards its finale, and this two-parter is not just wrapping up story elements from the last four seasons but is also touching on stuff that was introduced in the old Clone Wars cartoon. Still, this is a good opportunity to talk about how deeply exciting this sort of tie-in show can be when handled by someone with a true vision, and how an expanded universe can work in absolutely stunning and involving ways.

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The Tao of the Jedi

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

Among the exciting things that Star Wars: The Last Jedi does for the larger Star Wars universe is that it expands and deepens the mythology of The Force in a way that we haven’t seen since The Empire Strikes Back. And it does so in a way that has learned a lesson from the fiasco of Midichlorians – The Last Jedi returns The Force to its status as a mysterious and truly powerful concept that is far beyond silly tricks like picking up rocks. In fact, it returns it to a concept that is far beyond such silly tricks like violence and physical force in general.

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