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The Return of the Return

It’s part of postmodern theory that nothing ‘original’ can ever be made; it says that we can’t make anything original because everything’s already done. After 10,000+ years, we’re still selling the same couple of sleds, but with different bells and whistles. What’s a car if not 4 wheels and an engine, yet I’m corrected every time I say ‘car’ when pointing at a ‘truck’. But I’ve been itching to put postmodern thought out of its mystery since my first year of University.

Instead of taking delight in the cyclical nature of art, embracing creating in honor of those who inspire us, we’ve generally decided to give up on doing anything with a fresh perspective. And I should rephrase, this isn’t a postmodern thing. Every generation is always of the mindset that ‘we can’t go any further’ in some way or another. For instance, before 1830, it was widely believed that nobody should ever write any more symphonies.

Nope. That was it. Beethoven and Mozart took it as far as you can possibly go. "Don't even try", said critics. "No, their contributions are held sacred to us," said composers.

Then Hector Berlioz (the hipster artist of the Romance era — you’ve probably never heard of him) decided he’s going to use a symphony format to tell a narrative story entirely through orchestra. and his Symphonie Fantastique wasn’t strictly new, per se, but it was a new use of an old thing, and nobody had really heard anything like it before.

Get cultured about a dance-show about a virgin sacrifice. FFS.

But there’s a point where something is too new… For instance, in 1914, Le Sacre Du Printemps premiered and was so avant-garde, by some accounts there were riots in Paris because of it. Well, perhaps not new either, but definitely removed from a zone of expectations that many find comforting. Shall we say, a zone of comfort?

See, in that case, an Art is made to stand on its own merits. Because it stands in spite of expectations, we have to forgo our typical framework of qualification by comparison. We struggle to find a way to make sense of what we’re looking at, rather than compare it against a prior installation — or worse — a prior version. When the merits of art are its judgment based on what the viewership expects to see, then art is truly dead. For even in commercial art, there is an artist’s role to play — the lines and boundaries are there, but the choice of crayons can make a spectacular piece.

I’d rather juvenile, color-blind scribbles — I would take greyscale or sepia tones rather than paint by numbers.

Yes. I’m talking about Star Wars. And no, I didn’t like the new trailer. Those who know me and my opinions can no doubt expect that. I’m hesitant to write this mostly because I really like the cast — Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, Oscar Isaac, and his on-screen power-couple boyfriend Finn.

But... really? ! don’t want to add to the massive traction that the trailer is going to get. Not only that, but my voice really won’t rise above the screams and cheers of fanboys who are thrilled that we get a 1080p remake of Return of the Jedi; viewers who want nothing more than to ‘turn their brain off’ for an hour or two. (Sorry, but mindlessness is not my Star Wars.)

But I’ll do like I always do, and waste my breath. Because what else do I have to lose?

You know what? Not even. I knew this was going to happen. I knew they were going to pull this shit. J.J. Abrams is a hack, who resorts to lying on press tours when people unravel his ‘mystery box’ — his only creative card trick. Because his movies have so little other punch behind them that he can’t possibly have people figuring out his movies going into them. Everything he does is about a giant question mark that he wants to act all smug about dangling over your head. It’s not even a carrot on a stick dangling in front of you luring you onward. It’s a box that has ‘carrot’ written on it.

And the outcome is usually ends up being as unsatisfying, so it makes you want to buy more.

That’s the problem with The Usual Suspects (not J.J. Abrams, but relevant). When you know the twist ending… there’s not really a reason to watch it. When it comes to The Force Awakens — it’s a good movie. I like it. It’s got a solid structure, it’s a lot of fun. But every time I watch it there’s a diminishing return. I don’t like it more the second time I watch it, because I’ll never be in that theatre stuffed with fans again.

It’s not like movies that I like more, the more I watch them. Mad Max: Fury Road, Thor: Ragnarok, Kill Bill, the original Blade Runner (director’s cut) — and The Last Jedi. There are things stuffed into these movies that I pick up on after I watch them. They keep me thinking about meaning, authorial intent, theme, and possibilities.

A Cactus. Cute. Easy to take care of. Trick your friends into thinking you've a green thumb, but too many and they'll catch on.

Really? There’s nothing in The Force Awakens, or J.J.’s Star Trek, to sink your teeth into after you know all the twists and turns. Having a story whose entire structure is built around a twist reveal is a story whose only value is in the destination. It makes for a great experience the first time you watch it, especially among fans. It makes for thrill and excitement and anticipation and leaves you with a positive feeling as a whole.

But that’s what J.J. Abrams does well. And that’s why he keeps getting handed creative control. He gives you a comforting feeling. A positive warm feeling. It just so happens that these days, the only surefire way to give people a positive feeling is to break out the nostalgia press, and squeeze out some childhood fondness.

It’s… gotten a little stale. But you tell yourself it always tasted like this. And really, isn’t that what’s important?

And ho boy, was this trailer ever stale. Desert planet? BLOOP. Temperate forest planet? BLOOP. Floating skiff battle on said desert planet? BLOOP. A… Death Star reprisal? This is… This is The Return of the Jedi! (Where are my Ewoks, tho???)

(J.J. Abrams has allegedly confirmed that The Emperor is to make a reprisal. So not only is he completely invalidating The Last Jedi, but he’s completely invalidating The Original Trilogy.)


Did someone.... miss the memo?

I only watched the trailer twice. And I had to force myself to watch it again. What? Was I spoiled after getting some fresh visuals and interesting new locations in The Last Jedi?

No. Of course not. It’s a creator’s job to goddamn create. Imagination, for frig’s sake. Getting new material shouldn’t be like giving me a cup full of water in the middle of a dessert and telling me to be grateful. The entire PURPOSE of space-faring science fiction is to expose people to NEW ideas.

If science fiction is to find wonder in the future, and fantasy is to find wonder in the past, then I think this trailer safely concludes that Star Wars is fantasy. Because the only thing of value that the creators think that Star Wars has is in the past.

You want to know something? Even though Le Sacre Du Printemps sparked a very divisive debate about the future of music, you can hear that John Williams leaned very heavily on it for his score of A New Hope. Give it a listen — you can’t not hear it. No future art will ever be influenced by anything that’s the par-for-the-course today.

The only real depth to The Force Awakens was a reprisal of Star Wars as a whole. You had your regular stops. Bad Guys are obsessed with black. Good Guys like fabrics. Bad Guys are Nazis. Good guys are a bunch of degenerate, rag-tag, swashbuckling rejects who gotta make do with the bare minimum. The hero is an orphan with special powers. You got your giant planet-killing sphere that shoots lasers (even though eating a star is WAY more Lovecraftian).

There wasn’t ANYTHING in there that challenged you to think a bit deeper. There wasn’t anything that was particularly groundbreaking if you’ve watched enough action movies. Even… if you were a #TrueFan, you’d know that Harrison Ford wanted Han Solo to die in The Empire Strikes Back, so that wasn’t even a twist. (Good tension though, to Abrams’s credit.)

And early reports of casting calls, plot direction, and J.J.’s reputation are turning my stomach against the film. J.J. is very much the kind of storyteller who just… tells a story. What’s the story about? The story. There’s no allegory, there’s no applicability, there’s no device except the most rudimentary of film language.

That said, what Abrams does do in his limited scope, he does quite well. But in this day and age, nobody wants nuanced opinions where you can respect someone for what they do and yet have negative opinions about what they do poorly. J.K. Rowling is either a saint or an idiot. J.J. Abrams does his job well — his job shouldn’t include creative control. Because he’s being a little bitch about other people playing with his toys.

Ryan Johnson didn’t have access to the script, and didn’t even get to see The Force Awakens while he was making the sequel. Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams is going out of his way to make sure that people who liked The Last Jedi don’t matter.

Yes, a lot of #TrueNords — sorry, been replaying Skyrim — a lot of #TrueFans were upset that they didn’t get their live-action fan-fiction adaptation out of 8 because according to them, they were the reason the franchise had been kept alive. They felt that they were being treated like they didn’t matter. But there were a lot of lifelong fans who DID like The Last Jedi.

The conversation about 'True' identity versus a 'False' one is always a desperate diversionary tactic for salty people who can't really justify their opinions.

I’m sorry… Star Wars is the first movie I ever remember watching — am I not a true fan just because I took a creative writing class? I didn’t read into the Extended Universe — not because I wasn’t interested — but because I didn’t want to invest my time in ideas that were much, much worse than an off-hand mention to ‘midi-chlorians’.

You can ignore a two-minute scene in The Phantom Menace. You can’t ignore a moon getting hurled at Chewbacca, who has to hold it up against the surface of a planet while everyone else escapes before his strength gives out and it crashes.

You know what? #TrueFans who nearly bullied Ahmed Best to suicide? I like the Prequels. Yep! I think they’re wonderful. I like them not just for the same reason I like Troll 2 and Showgirls; also because there are really good ideas in there. Lucas… just isn’t great at expressing his good ideas. Also doesn’t know how human beings work. (Which, if you’re going to fault him for anything…) A lot of the problems with the Prequels were fixed in Revenge of the Sith, when he had Carrie Fisher come in and doctor the script.

Gone are the days....

But one thing he did in the prequel was CONSTANTLY THROW NEW THINGS AT YOU. Was it to sell mech or because he had ideas? That’s a question I don’t want to answer. I don’t really want him directing Star Wars again, before you accuse me. But something that George Lucas had, that The Last Jedi had, that Rogue One had, and that The Force Awakens didn’t have, was a culturally relevant commentary. These creators cared about Star Wars, not for the possibility for action and fantasy, but because this world was so rich as a vessel for thought.

Come on, Star Wars has always about something (toy sales, mostly, but they're toys with ideals). Fighting Fascism, hope, Taoist philosophy, temperance and patience, and a rocking meta-criticism on adventure stories in a way where we don’t realize how very basic adventure stories were before A New Hope.

Buff Bod? Space hoes? Explicitly racist villain?

And The Last Jedi had so much thought in so many different layers. There were discussions about generational politics, war profiteering, toxic nostalgia, and personality cults. Even the Star Wars fandom itself was a feature of theme in the movie. This movie was about Star Wars itself, the reality, the myth, how it failed, and why it doesn’t fail.

And you want the cold hard truth? The Last Jedi wasn’t for you. It wasn’t made for you, and you’re right — it’s not your Star Wars. You already HAD your Star Wars and what you decided to do with it ended up being the creative clown-car that was the extended universe. Full of all the toxic masculinity, soap opera drama, heroic conformity, and the thoughtless action that Lucas worked so hard to avoid.

It’s not even my Star Wars either — the difference is I appreciate that. We got Star Wars when we were kids, and by this nostalgia fixation we have, this current generation of kids who are watching Star Wars in theatre for the first time… they don’t get a complete Star Wars trilogy for themselves. They have to watch a re-hashed version of our Star Wars, whose themes don’t even apply to them.

No context — who gets it?

I don’t want a Star Wars where Luke tries to redeem his Nazi father because “there’s good in him”. I want a Star Wars where Rey decapitates her ex in cold blood because he’s fascist scum. Because that’s the messaging our society needs right now.

We’re living… in an awful time for humankind. Maybe it’s never been great, but now we have the internet, we’re in a global village where to see the abhorrent way our society is treating us, all we have to do it look away from our window to our computer screen. Some have better blinders than others; our fixation on the past, and venerating an idea of the past that never existed, is just a distraction.

The Last Jedi was grim. It wasn’t happy. It wasn’t heroic. It was a reflection of a darkness in us that we need to confront. Instead, we make an anthem out of 80s culture in spite of the deregulation of banks, shadow wars, private contracting, AIDS, increasing censorship, monetization of the news, the death of the New Deal, and increasing tensions that resulted in the LA riots.

But we don’t want confrontation. We don’t want control. And for all we sing art to high praises when we get it in a way that we want, art is the cherry on top, and wish fulfillment is the main course. We don’t really want art. And whether we asked for it or not, we’re getting The Rise of Skywalker. Focus groups and fan service have won. The idea is dead, and we have killed them.

At the very least we're keeping up with fabulous space jewelry.


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