STAR WARS: Justice For L3-37

Now that the Skywalker Saga is over, what is the future of Star Wars? Where does the story and the universe go from here? There’s one avenue I’d love to see explored, and it’s one that The Rise of Skywalker totally whiffed: L3-37.

You may very well be asking yourself that eternal question, “What the fuck is L3-37?” Yes, it’s a way that teenaged hackers used to say ‘elite’ on the internet. But it’s also the name of a character from Solo: A Star Wars Story, a character who has incredible and disturbing implications for the entirety of the Star Wars universe.

In that film L3-37 was Young Lando Calrissian’s droid buddy. Voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, L3-37 was a saucy droid who, seemingly, really wanted to bone down with Lando. But more than that, she really wanted droid liberation – for the first time in any of the Star Wars films we got a sense of a droid that understood the political meaning of its servitude. C3P0 had an existential understanding – “We were made to suffer,” he once whined – but he never addressed the immediate inequality that defines human/droid relations. Droids in the Star Wars universe are slaves.

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Healing the Dark Side in RISE OF SKYWALKER

“Wars not make one great.”

– Yoda

That a movie series called Star Wars should lean so heavily on violence as a problem-solving tool shouldn’t, on the surface, be that surprising. But ever since George Lucas established the black and white morality of his galaxy far away, he’s been trying to subvert it. He didn’t always succeed (or when he succeeded the movies weren’t all that good), but right from the first sequel, using the quote above, Lucas was pushing against the martial universe he had created. 

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The Missed Rey Opportunity In RISE OF SKYWALKER

This contains full spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

As the ending of the “Skywalker Saga” part of Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker had a lot of lifting to do at the end. Sadly, for me, it didn’t quite get where I wanted it to go and I walked out of the movie feeling like JJ Abrams had just missed a dozen opportunities. The possibilities open to him were incredible, but he kept himself boxed in with a strange adherence to just a small part of George Lucas’ vision. 

There’s a lot of talk about how The Last Jedi subverts Star Wars, but I think that talk comes from folks who simply are not familiar with the Prequels. Half the Star Wars movies George Lucas made subverted Star Wars; the reality is that many of us simply didn’t understand it at the time. It wasn’t clear to us that Lucas knew what he was doing when he made the Jedi chumps, when he made the Jedi Council full of shit and when he revealed that the shortsighted pride of characters like Yoda was what led to the rise of the Empire. 

This is important because I think many of the missed opportunities in Rise of Skywalker come from Abrams simply not vibing with the Prequels; for him Star Wars is the OT. His films are rehashes of/homages to those initial three films and they largely ignore business and themes from the Prequels. The idea that Star Wars is a story about family is sort of true – that’s what the OT is – but when we bring the PT into it we see that Star Wars is a story with family but that is actually about power and how that power is wielded and by whom. That’s the holistic theme of the six films. 

The biggest missed opportunity is about Rey, but before I address that, I want to talk about a couple of other missed opportunities that could have improved TROS, or at least firmly established it as part of a nine film story. 

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STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER Taught Me To Love The Prequels

This review is fairly spoiler-free.

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was Starkiller. From this humble start came dozens of iterations, concepts, ideas and drafts until what finally emerged, like a triumphant amphibian climbing from the primordial ooze, was Star Wars, later known as A New Hope

All beginnings have ends, of course, and 42 years later the ending of that new hope – or one particular aspect of it, anyway – has arrived. I’m tempted to continue the Biblical allusions here and talk about how at the end, as in the end of the Bible, there is a Beast, “having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.” Maybe once upon a time I could get have gotten worked up into that John the Revelator mode, but that time is past. I’ve lived through the Prequels and the wars over The Last Jedi; I’ve seen the eradication of swaths of the Extended Universe and I’ve witnessed the birth of a really coherent and exciting transmedia canon. I’ve seen worse, and I’ve seen better, and in the end The Rise of Skywalker is more a disappointment than a blasphemy. And who can worry about blasphemies in Star Wars post-midichlorians anyway?

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The STAR WARS We Lost

I’ve been living in Star Wars the past few weeks. The Mandalorian on Disney+. Jedi: Fallen Order on the Xbox. A full franchise rewatch gearing up for the release of The Rise of Skywalker, including dipping into relevant episodes of Clone Wars and Rebels. My brain has been living in a galaxy far, far away, and perhaps the most amazing thing about returning there is realizing how much of the inane trivia is still in that old grey matter of mine. Side characters from the Prequels who were only named on toys or in books – I know their names. Aliens that pass through the frame for a second – I can tell you their species. I can point out how the events of Rebels sets up this moment or how Clone Wars established this piece of lore. I know less than some, but much more than others. I am full of Star Wars mythology. 

We were watching Rogue One the other night and I had a realization. Jyn and Cassian were making their way through Jedha City when they bumped into two aggressive jerks. “That’s Ponda Baba!” I said to my girlfriend. “Obi-Wan Kenobi is going to cut off his arm in Star Wars!”

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THE MANDALORIAN Review

Never forget that George Lucas was ripping off a lot of stuff when he made Star Wars. This is vital, and it’s a part of Star Wars’ DNA. It is also, I believe, why the first episode of The Mandalorian works so damn well. 

See, modern Star Wars seems to be interested in aping old Star Wars as opposed to taking a page from the Lucas playbook and ripping off other movies. Star Wars, to borrow a phrase, is a place, and that means you can take other films and genres and easily drop them into a Star Wars milieu, which is exactly what The Mandalorian does. In this case it’s a Spaghetti/revisionist era Western plopped right into a world of blasters and Gonk droids, and it’s the chemical reaction between Star Wars and the genre that creates the beautiful fizz that makes the episode so damned enjoyable. 

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Kylo Ren vs Cancel Culture

Ben Solo is going to get redeemed. You can count on it, at least if JJ Abrams understands even the smallest thing about the moral universe that George Lucas created in the first six Star Wars films. Redemption is as baked into the DNA of Star Wars as lightsabers and space battles, and to swerve away from that in the supposed final chapter of the Skywalker saga would be far more shocking than killing off all the characters at the end of Rogue One. Whether that redemption involves a love scene with Rey remains to be seen (don’t count on it), but by the end of the film Kylo Ren will have returned to being Ben Solo, and he will have found redemption. 

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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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