Porg Wars: The Last Porg

Dispatch from the Star War

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, please turn around. There were some genuine surprises in this movie and I really don’t want to be the one to ruin them for you.

Wow.

WOW.

It’s been about two weeks now since The Last Jedi sucker-punched down the door of theaters everywhere. That’s long enough for anyone who’s been anywhere near the Internet to tell that lines have been drawn. People feel passionately about this movie. There are a lot of strong opinions flying around.

These are mine.

So, in a word, what did I think of The Last Jedi?

PORG SCREAM

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

I mean, okay, I relate to this screaming porg on a spiritual level on any given day — in fact, I can’t be the first person to suggest that this little guy’s squall of unadulterated panic captures the spirit of 2017 — but, wow, this movie changed everything.

And I love it for that.

Let me back up a bit. I hadn’t been born yet when A New Hope came out in theaters. This means that I had the joy of being raised on the original trilogy. The way that some kids grow up on stories of Arthur and Merlin, or Joan of Arc, or Sun Wukong the Monkey King, I grew up on Star Wars. Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader aren’t just characters from some movie, not to me. They’re mythic figures.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Luke Skywalker’s father was.

The Last Jedi was the first Star Wars film that truly surprised me. Even shocked me. It gave me the kind of experience that I imagine older fans must have had when they saw The Empire Strikes Back in the theaters for the first time — one that I had missed out on, until last weekend.

Sure, other Star Wars films have been released in my living memory. It wasn’t quite the same with any of those. Not with the prequel trilogy, whose outcome was pretermined. Not with The Force Awakens, either, which was fun but essentially echoed A New Hope with different characters. Not with Rogue One, a prequel of sorts which quickly established a predictable pattern.

So my response to complaints of the kind that this is too different or even this isn’t Star Wars?

Good!

This is the ninth Star Wars movie. The franchise should grow and change. I’m not saying The Last Jedi is a perfect film. It has its issues, just like every other Star Wars movie. (Ever other movie, period.) I mean, come on. I love me some Star Wars, but not one of them is a perfect film.

I still love them, though. And I loved The Last Jedi, and I think I’m going to be busy unpacking all of the great new curveballs it’s thrown at us for a while.

Okay, enough about My Star Wars Experience™. Let’s get to the good part.

I’m not even going to pretend to put my film critic hat on for this. This is pure screaming-porg nerd babble, and I invite you to …. (I’m going to regret this, aren’t I.) … I invite you to drop into the comments to nerd babble back. CIVILLY, people. This isn’t Mos Eisley.

THE GOOD

The Last Jedi was fun.

It had twists and real drama, but it didn’t take itself too seriously. It had those moments of poking fun at itself that felt so true to the original trilogy. BB8 was delightful as a slot machine, Luke had some great curmudgeonly lines, and that moment with Chewie and the porgs was comedy gold.

It also fit a good amount of character development in between the action sequences (and within them — there weren’t too many moments where I felt like we were running around or blowing something up just because the director decided it was time for an adrenaline shot). We saw these characters at their best and worst. Some character arcs were clearer than others, but I got a much better sense of who they are from episode 8 than I did from episode 7.

Which brings me to Rose.

ROSE.

Ugh, you guys, Rose is so great. I love her. Rose Tico is the resistance hero we all need. She’s one of the only heroic characters in any Star Wars movie who is just a person, you know, not a princess or lightsaber-wielding space wizard or a hotshot pilot. She’s a maintenance worker! She’s anybody! And she doesn’t need to be anything more than that because her strength is in the heart she brings to everything she does. And I’m not talking ~HEART!~ like Captain Planet’s forgotten fifth element. She has real fire, real love, and the persistence to keep fighting for something good, not just against something evil. We need to remember that right now. Not just on her side of the silver screen, but on ours. You don’t need to be Somebody to stand up for what you believe in.

Rose also shows us that sometimes heroes cry, too, and that’s okay. The stoic anti-hero is so passé. Rose cares. It’s cool to care. It’s brave to care. Rose’s superpower is heart, and she is a badass.

“I wish I could put my fist right through this lousy, beautiful town.”

YES. So good. Go Rose!

I will brook no argument on this one. Take your Rose Tico hate and stuff it up a Wampa’s ass (if you dare).

Speaking of badass ladies in space — and one of the best things about this movie is that you don’t even know which of them I’m going to get to next — 

SPACE WITCH LEIA.

I don’t give a single light-speed-flying fuck if you thought this was Too Much. It was a lot. That made it powerful. It made it beautiful! I LOVED IT.

We’ve been told that Leia is strong with the force for well over thirty years now, and yet, until this moment, correct me if I’m wrong, we have never actually seen her use it on-screen to do anything other than feel feelings (in space!!1). To finally, finally see our space princess wield the power of the Force was deeply cathartic. I’m not going to lie, I almost teared up in the goddamn theater.

Look. If you’re cool with Luke throwing space ships around with his mind and astral-projecting himself halfway across the galaxy, and you’re cool with Obi-Wan coming back from the dead as a literal space ghost, but you lost your mind because Leia held her breath and floated around in space for a few minutes? I don’t know what to tell you. That’s just straight-up sexist.

The Last Jedi was visually beautiful, too.

We got some spectacular and evocative settings, from the lonely beauty of Ahch-To to the excessive splendor of Canto Bight to Crait’s bleeding red soil.

And while I’m on the topic of Canto Bight, I loved that sequence. Yeah, I can see why some people feel it smacks of the prequels’ over-the-top slapstick. But, listen. If you know anything about the tax bill that just got crammed through the US legislature, you might be able to hazard a guess at how I feel about watching the morbidly wealthy running in terror while space Mar-A-Lago gets smashed to bits.

Phew. I might need a cigarette after that.

Back to the visuals — there’s always been a samurai movie influence in the Star Wars films, but I felt it really strongly in The Last Jedi. I saw it in the armor and weapon choices for Snoke’s elite guard, and it worked spectacularly for that final lightsaber duel. That cinematography! The moment after Kylo’s lightsaber slices where the camera cuts to his foot scuff a red streak in the salt! Also, THAT MOMENT WHERE HOLDO RAMS THE DESTROYER AT LIGHT SPEED. HOLY SHIT. That was incredible.

Finally: REBEL SCUM.

*punches the sky*

You tell ’em, Finn.

THE BAD

I don’t have a lot of gripes with this movie, to be honest. It did try to cram a whole hell of a lot into one movie. I’m not sure what I’d say should be cut, though.

That said, some parts suffered for that. As much as I loved the showdown between Finn and Phasma, I wish we’d gotten more of her. I felt she had more potential than what we got, even if it was a great fight. BB-8’s evil alter-ego felt a bit shoe-horned in, too.

The rebellion was in worse shape here than any time we’ve seen it on screen. While that was bad for the rebels, it was great for the movie. It really upped the stakes to the point where I wasn’t sure what would happen to them next. The threat of the rebel alliance getting wiped out was real.

ACKBAR! NO! It was a trap. It… it was a trap. *wipes away a single tear*

Overall, I loved Luke’s character arc, but honestly I was a little disappointed that he didn’t have a more compelling critique of the Jedi Order than “we fucked up.” Really, Luke? There was nothing more specific or ideological, there? What about the ban on romantic relationships that led Anakin to the dark side in the first place? What he did say worked perfectly fine for the movie, and maybe there just wasn’t time to get into more detail than that. I think it’s good for the Jedi to be remade and changed and move on. Maybe as we watch Rey do that, we’ll get a better idea of how it will be reshaped and how that will break from the past.

I have to be honest — I didn’t love the Yoda cameo. I didn’t hate it either, though. It played better for me on the second viewing, mostly because I felt that it worked well for Luke’s character arc.

THE PORGLY

PORGS.

I know, I know. Porgs are a cheap marketing gimmick designed* to emotionally manipulate you into buying more Disney brand products. But, you know what, I enjoyed it. Mark me down for Team Porg. I’ll take twenty.

*not exactly

I also have a lot of feelings about Poe’s mutiny plotline.

Wow, that was rough. Not rough like poorly put-together — rough like you’ve already slapped one side of my face, you may as well hit me in the other now, too. I was very conscious of, and frustrated by, the gender politics of this plotline on my first viewing, even to the point of distraction. Oh sure, we’re gonna have our Cautious Establishment Lady who is determined to stay the course and run the ship into the ground. Thank goodness our Hot-headed Young Hero will come in and do the Bold, Decisive Thing she is not willing to do to save the day!

So I was mostly glad when they subverted that story and showed us she had a workable plan all along.

At the same time, I felt very frustrated that THIS WHOLE THING COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED if she’d just have told him the plan in the first place. There are plenty of logical reasons why she shouldn’t — fear of an intelligence leak, Poe is too low-ranking, etc. I have to scrutinize my own reaction, here, because “she should have shared the plan” is a much smaller transgression than “hey, maybe he shouldn’t have launched a mutiny.”

However, the movie seemed to go out of its way to prime the audience to sympathize with Poe over Holdo. Sharing Poe’s reactions and then stepping back to reassess our misconceptions seems to be part of the journey by design. So even if Holdo did nothing wrong (and I don’t believe she did), I think that frustration could’ve been avoided if they gave an explicit reason why she made the choice she did. Something like this:

POE: Why didn’t she just tell us the plan?
LEIA: It was need-to-know.

I accept Paypal, Disney. (I kid.) (Mostly.)

But overall, that was a minor irritation with what I ultimately felt was a really solid and unexpected plotline. Holdo was great. I’m so glad that the screenwriters rose above my cynical expectations and bucked the trend here.

This plotline was part of a pattern in The Last Jedi that I’ve been mulling over for the last two weeks, which is that this is truly a movie of our current political moment. Though far, far away from being a direct parallel, the mutiny storyline was uncomfortably reminiscent of 2016’s Democratic primary. I’m not going to go into my opinions on that here, but two common threads really resonated for me: youthful frustration with established leaders who will not act, and sexism undermining women leaders. Above all, the disastrous consequences when two factions spend more time fighting each other than their common enemy.

On the flip side, there was in-fighting within the First Order, as well. One line really stuck with me, when Snoke acknowledges that Hux is a “rabid cur” and explains that he keeps him in power because “weakness manipulated correctly can be a sharp weapon.” Looking at, ah, certain positions of power, ahem, let’s just say that one struck a chord.

Seriously, though, I enjoyed watching Snoke so obviously playing Ren and Hux off of each other so that he could maintain a control on both — which is to say, forget Snoke, I enjoyed watching Ren and Hux jockeying for power. Kylo Ren shows his own weakness immediately after that Snoke quote with his elevator temper tantrum. We see how Snoke is controlling him as well, and watching his growing awareness of it set up his later turning point really well.

Let’s talk Kylo Ren.

That turning point was so good. I almost yelled in the theater and punched the air! Yes! There is good in him after all!

And then him and Rey fighting on the same side! But that whole time I kept wanting to yell you’re not fighting TOGETHER. If they had only coordinated, they could have won so much more easily — but that worked so well for

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT. Ugh, wow. His turning point wasn’t really a turning point after all. This was a great scene on all counts. When Rey sees him looking at the throne, we feel her disappointment because we own it, too. The way she said, “Don’t do this.” I could feel her exhaustion. The way that she had already said everything she could say, had seen the good and struggle in him, and knew that it was past the point where he was the only one who could save himself — that it was not something she could do for him — all of that, just in that one line.

Kylo Ren was great in that scene, too. We can see and feel his uncertainty, his loneliness. It’s truly amazing the way he can do terrible thing after terrible thing, but any time he stepped back from the edge of complete evil was like a little dose of emotionally manipulative crack. And I have to tell you, man, I ate that right up. There’s a very good argument to be made that Kylo Ren does not deserve redemption. He’s used up so many chances. But I can’t stop wanting him to turn back, anyway. I just want to believe in the good in people. This movie did a very good job of targeting that impulse and stretching it like laffy taffy to the very edge of its breaking point.

That’s why the traitorous codebreaker is such an important character, I think. He’s our cautionary tale, heralding the danger of cynicism in the face of an uncaring and exploitative system. It’s so tempting to stop believing that it is worthwhile to try to be good. What can one person do, anyway? Better off to just look out for number one, right? Moral perfection may not be possible, but he shows us why it’s important to try anyway. The world may be made of shades of grey, but some of them are better than others. Those gradations trade in life and death. It matters.

On a completely different topic, here’s another quote that snagged in my mind:

“Something inside me has always been there. Now it’s awake, and I’m afraid.”

Rey is talking about the Force, here, but to me, this line was queer as hell. I’m not necessarily saying that makes Rey queer. I’m not even talking about romantic attraction. Just the knowledge that something about you is different, something that you don’t understand, that no one has ever explained to you… it resonates. I probably have a lot more to explore, here, and maybe I’ll blog about it at some point. For now, I’m just throwing it out there to see if it sticks.

Now, speaking of romantic attractions: let’s end with the love triangle. Square. Pentagon. … I’ve lost track.

The writers’ awareness of fans shipping Finn and Poe was painfully obvious. I stand ready to be betrayed, like every other instance of a major blockbuster teasing a queer relationship, and I hate it.

I’m not sure how I want the pairings to end up, but I know how I’m afraid they will. I just hope they don’t take the lazy route with a Rey/Finn/Rose love triangle and kill off the third wheel.

NOTE: I swear to god if they kill Rose for any reason I will HUNT THEM DOWN and WRITE A STERNLY WORDED LETTER.

Okay, I’ll cut my ramblings here. My final verdict on The Last Jedi, in a word, is yes.

What’s yours?

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