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Jay Allen @a_man_in_black
, 74 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
Are we at the point where we're talking about Star Wars spoilers? Because that is what I'm going to do, spoil The Last Jedi.
Seriously, mute or unfollow or whatever. Fair warning.
Last chance.
No Knights, No Lords, No Masters
The Last Jedi is a fascinating repudiation of the Star Wars that fans have constructed, and made me reevaluate all the preceding films.
My wife has always seen Luke Skywalker as a whiny shithead and I didn't really understand that before, but I do now.
Star Wars is heavy on pseudo-theology, but unaddressed is the fact that vanity is a quality of both Jedi and Sith, its heroes and villains.
The Last Jedi places itself in opposition to that vanity. Its returning characters are all undone by their own self-obsession.
But this places The Last Jedi in opposition to the previous films, which were obsessed with these characters as they were with themselves
And, thus encouraged viewers to identify with that self-importance. The Last Jedi does this, but tactically.
We are meant to feel Poe's frustration and distrust with Vice Admiral Holdo.
She won't tell him what's going on. She won't even tell him why she won't tell him, beyond emphasizing that he's not in charge.
But the film already told us why. Poe got a lot of people killed and was demoted for it. Why should Holdo trust him in the first place?
We aren't made to consider her reasons, but see that she has them as suspicious, to identify with Poe's own vain need to be the hero.
The problem I have with The Last Jedi is: themes aren't self-evidently effective.
"We" isn't one person. A lot of people came away thinking Poe was right to be suspicious of her, even though his own plan fails.
Playing into our biases and making us feel for one character isn't something easily undone, and trying to do so will for some viewers.
Case in point:
The Last Jedi has some trouble with this conscious dissonance as a trick, because it has some other, less-intended dissonance.
One lesson from Poe and Holdo is to get over yourself.

Another lesson is to obey authority unquestioningly or it will lead to disaster.
Holdo sacrifices herself heroically in the most striking scene in the film.

Yet elsewhere in Last Jedi, heroic sacrifice is seen as foolish
Contrast this with another climactic - if less cinematographically accomplished - moment where Finn is damned as a fool for doing the same.
Holdo's sacrifice is necessary but Finn's isn't, but neither character nor the viewer in that moment has any way of knowing that.
Holdo is Right and Finn is Wrong but the moment is used to try to make Holdo into the same sort of hero to the viewer that Finn and Poe are.
Finn's arc has a lot of problems with themes not being self-evidently effective, even when you put them in the mouths of the characters.
Let's talk about Rose. I like Rose. She's endearing and Kelly Marie Tran does a stand up job. Last Jedi really wants us to like her.
She spends a lot of time straight up telling us how to feel about what's happening, though.
The conversations between Finn, TFA's viewer surrogate, and Rose, TLJ's viewer surrogate, come off as Rian Johnson speaking directly to us.
I like the themes, I like what she's saying.

But it sets a standard The Last Jedi doesn't necessarily live up to sometimes.
One time is Finn's self-sacrifice. Another is Casino Planet.
I love what Rian Johnson is trying to do with Casino Planet.

I could look up the name on Wookieepedia but I refuse to.
The "hive of scum and villainy" is rich and glamorous, not poor and shabby and just trying to get by.
The bad guys are cops. BB-8 literally uses money as a weapon. The heroes are in trouble because they're a disturbance.
But the Casino Planet plot loses its way, in its mix of formalist homage and just plain badly conceived CG antics.
Finn and Rose and BB-8 are made to look like foolish bumpkins, and the glamour is never pierced.
While Rose - and later Benicio del Toro's character DJ - tell us these are bad people, the people we see doing bad things are something else
The slavemaster is an ugly alien brute. DJ is shabby and shiftless and and has an offputting stutter - and is a bad person to boot.
Combine this with an overlong, not especially thrilling chase and...
I really do want to like this. I like what it's trying to do. I like its criticism of Lucas's classism and I like pieces of it.
But the people comparing Finn's arc, for all its fascinating ideas, to the prequels are Not Wrong, and it goes on forever.
Poe and Finn's film is interesting but flawed. It's conscious dissonance runs into failures of its own overtly stated themes.
Rey is in an entirely different, superior film, which is almost entirely separate beyond its thematic links.
Time apparently passes differently for these characters, and they never really intersect with the other film until briefly at the end.
If TFA was siloed, TLJ is almost a double feature.
Luke's vanity has led him into fearful despair. He tried and failed and cannot look at himself. Even in the end, he doesn't overcome this.
At one point, Rey has a vision of something under the temple, something so terrifying that Luke refuses to confront it.

A mirror.
Luke knows he is undone by his own vanity, and still clings to the lies he tells himself to support it, even in the end.
Luke's solutions to his problems are to destroy his obsessions - and even when he gets past that, to inflict his own hated presence on Kylo.
Luke - the hero, the POV character - is a bitter old man consumed by self-hatred, and he is never redeemed. Victory is accepting his failure
That is an incredibly audacious characterization on Johnson's part and Hamill sells the hell out of it.
Kylo's and Rey's vanities mirror our own reasons for accepting Luke's vanities.
Kylo vainly believes that with enough strength, you can tear down what's old and terrible and build something new and better.
Rey clings to the hope that she is special and chosen and superior and above her own shabby origins.
When they connect, both times, it is in seeing straight through liars and cowards who share their flaws - and would use those flaws.
The emotional climax of the film is when Kylo seizes the opportunity to become one of those manipulators - and Rey sees through him in turn.
Johnson hammers this home by turning the sweeping climax of TFA into a joke, and crushing Snoke's self-importance like a paper cup.
Luke says outright that the most famous line from A New Hope is emotionally manipulative bullshit.
Rey and Luke and Kylo's film is ruthlessly iconoclastic.

Plus they literally set a shrine on fire.
Johnson presents the other Star Wars films as the ruthless manipulators who must be torn down. That's also an incredibly audacious move.
"Star Wars is bullshit and here's why" is definitely a fascinating choice for a Star Wars film.

Some people were always going to reject it.
The Last Jedi rejects the comfortable rapport of The Force Awakens' cast, and rejects the comfortable feudal authoritarianism of Star Wars.
That decision - which I do enjoy - throws all of its other flaws into sharp relief.
Upset people will retreat into their biases, and seek to justify them.
That's not JUST the litany of crypto-misogyny from upset fanboys - although there's a lot of that!
TLJ has a lot to criticize.
The overt film homage. Leia floating in space. The weird timeline. Talking straight to the viewer. The horse chase. del Toro hamming it up.
It's really long and oddly paced. Why didn't they make suicide charges like that from the start? Not all of the jokes land.
Not all of these are problems for everyone, but when The Last Jedi is already taking so many risks, they can stick to a big problem.
The Last Jedi cannot help but undercut some of the impact of its most audacious decision by being so full of Stuff
The Last Jedi is a film that uses fans' obsession with Star Wars as a text to say that obsession with the past is self-destructive vanity.

It's also a film with a sideplot where Chewbacca is annoyed by cute CG penguins, who inevitably grow on him.
Pewdiepie deleted his tweet for some reason but here's another example
Two follow-ups to this:
Two years ago, before Force Awakens and Last Jedi, I wrote about how the fandom process of canonization reinforces latent authoritarian themes in Star Wars:…
A while back, @talen_lee wrote a fascinating thread on here about the difference between Ranma 1/2 as a text and Ranma 1/2 when filtered through its fandom.
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