Tag Archives: Movies

The Speech of The Colonizer

Around the lead up to Captain America: Civil War and again when Black Panther came out, there was some discussion online about T’Challa’s accent. The big question was how would the king speak? Popular thought posits that regality sounds ‘proper,’ and that ‘proper’ would be an English-tinged accent. When we, in pop-culture, think of kings and royals it’s the English monarch we often consider as the modern epitome of it.

In Black Panther, there was a conscious decision for T’Challa to not have a British (or American) accent. Rather, his diction has a distinct African flair (specifically, that of the Xhosa in South Africa and Zimbabwe). Wakanda exists as an epic utopia, and it does so without the undercurrent of western — that is to say white — supremacy.

There exists a notion in the popular consciousness, borne out of generations of white-washed history, that it’s been ‘Western Civilization’ that has gifted the world its arts and culture. The Greeks and the Romans, the English and the French, and now the Americans; they have been the ones who wrote the classics that form the foundation of any cultured education. To say nothing of the Chinese development of printing, the Hindu-Arabic numeral system in use today, or even the complex coding that was the Andean quipu; anything of relevance comes from the (often white, and mostly male) west.

Wakanda has none of that. Within the Marvel mythos, the country was never colonized and so never affected by western influences thus they wouldn’t have British accents, nor even American. Thus Black Panther pushes back on the idea that non-British/American accents are ‘lesser’ or backwards.

That’s a big deal.

Accents are tied in many ways to presumed intelligence. The better you speak, the more educated you are. The fancier your accent, particularly if it’s English, the better (a trope Arrested Development had a great deal of fun in its Mr. F arc). Black Panther didn’t just rebuke this idea, it flipped the script, taking an accent oft relegated to the newly immigrated or the uncivilized and positioning it a position of regal dignity. It seems such a small thing, but it’s a blatant statement that you don’t need to speak with some variant of Received Pronunciation of the Transatlantic Accent to sound dignified.

This is something I’ve been thinking about in the wake of Chadwick Boseman’s death. I talk a lot on this blog about representation and all that. For me, a kid who grew up in a former colony and later learnt in the US that the way people from there spoke was ‘funny’ and ‘wrong,’ it so much to have been told in a major movie that, hey, it’s okay. And it’s pretty cool. To say nothing of what else Boseman did, that little impact on accents and the perception of speakers, that’s a legacy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Discussing Invasions in Committees

When you think Star Wars you don’t really think about the nitty-gritty of politics. Sure, you’ve got the admirals aboard the Death Star in A New Hope talking about dissolving the Senate and all that, but honestly, that’s about it. This is a space Western, we’re not dealing with boring politics here.

Unless, of course, you’re thinking of the prequels. The Phantom Menace’s second act has a lot of it, as does Attack of The Clones and Revenge of The Sith. It’s… a bit of a sharp departure from the saga that’s got a lot of laser fights and space ships (although, I’d argue the story’s far deeper than that). In any case, it’s a bit of a bummer.

It’s disappointing, though, because the political arc of the prequels is actually really cool. We start with the Republic, a Galactic coalition with no standing army. The Phantom Menace sees an upstart politician use a trading blockade to wrest power from the established authority, predicating it on a vote of no-power rather than a standard end-of-term election, effectively staging a political coup. Ten years later, in Attack of The Clones, that same politician uses the threat of division to raise an army and start a war, the process of which sees him granted emergency powers and a much stronger political hold. This all culminates in Revenge of The Sith where the Republic becomes an Empire, and the Chancellor an Emperor. And so, famously, liberty dies.

It all makes for compelling political fiction, just presented in a really lousy fashion. Though the political plotline is integral to the story of the Fall of The Republic, it feels tangential to the far more interesting story of the Jedi, the Clone Wars, and Anakin’s fall. Sure, Palpatine’s rise is interesting and all, but what we really care about is the story of Obi-Wan and Anakin, and, yeah, Padmé too. Unfortunately, these characters are affected by the political plots rather than affecting it (save Padmé in Phantom Menace). Taking the focus away from the heroes to focus on senatorial politicking would be like, well, taking the focus away from Jedi adventures to talk lackluster politics.

The problem is that Palpatine’s plot, though empirically interesting, doesn’t really have much to do with the main story involving the Jedi, which is emotionally interesting. Our attention, as an audience, is divided between two divergent plotlines. We’ve gotta pick one to put our interest in, and our interest goes with the people with laser swords.

Here’s the thing, though: As a kid, I didn’t mind the senate scenes too much. Sure, there was a notable lack of lightsabers, but there was a measure of voyeuristic intrigue to be privy to these machinations. Politicking isn’t usually a thing in kids’ media, so it’s pretty neat to get to see it in a movie like Star Wars. Granted, I am also that kid who got into The West Wing with his parents before Revenge of The Sith came out in theaters, so maybe I’m weird like that. In addition, the narrative of a politician using a (manufactured) crisis to seize power is a compelling one that, in better hands, could have really worked into the Star Wars that envisioned the original Empire as an America that had fallen to its baser desires.

Every now and then, I hear people decry the politicking of the Prequels as being the movies’ biggest failure. They’re not a highlight, but the idea is there, though the execution is certainly lacking. Perhaps it would be better served were it more closely intertwined with the characters’ stories, allowing them to take an active role in it all. But then, that would have the mostly-apolitical Jedi getting even more involved in the Senate, which would really only make Palpatine’s accusation of a Jedi coup even more plausible, and really, that’s the last thing he needs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Anti-Climatic

I’m still thinking about Pacific Rim, because, man, what a movie.

The obvious awesome moment of it all comes during the Hong Kong battle. Two Kaiju attack the city, an unprecedented event. They take out two of the Jaegers defending the city and incapacitate Striker Eureka, the strongest of the lot. The task of saving the city falls to pilots Raleigh and Mako, an untested team that failed their trial run.

This time, though, they ace it. Piloting Gipsy Danger, they defeat the Kaiu Leatherback in a decisive battle in the harbor, then move through Hong Kong in pursuit of Otachi. The ensuing battle is nothing short of epic, involving crashing through buildings and using an oil tanker as a bludgeoning weapon. It culminates with Otachi flying into the upper atmosphere with Gipsy in tow. To free themselves, Raleigh and Mako break out Gipsy Danger’s sword and slay Otachi, then land in an empty stadium.

It’d be hard to top that sequence. It’s a wonderful culmination of Raleigh and Mako’s character arcs thus far, and an excellent action sequence that really utilizes the scales of these giant robots and monsters in a great way (see: oil tanker as an improvised weapon). This is the movie’s midpoint, the climax is yet to come. How then does Pacific Rim go bigger?


It doesn’t.

Pacific Rim finds a different route for its climax. There’s already been an epic Robot vs Monster fight and it doesn’t feel the need to try and outdo itself. The final battle: Striker Eureka and Gipsy Danger versus three Kaiju, is a straightforward affair that takes place underwater without too much pomp and circumstance. This is fine because killing the Kaiju isn’t the goal of this mission — the objective is to get into the breach and blow it up. The Kaiju aren’t so much an opposing force as they are obstacles for the heroes to get past. In this movie supposedly about robots fighting monsters, the big climax isn’t a fight between robot and monster.

This frees the movie to go really big at its midpoint, without having to hold anything back nor fear of tiring out the audience. Any action movie runs the risk of numbing its audience to spectacle by the time the climax hits; Transformers is just so many giant robots fighting each other that the final Big Fight just feels like one of many (conversely: it’s remarkable how John Wick keeps its fights feeling fresh and interesting without tiring you out). When Pacific Rim puts all its energy into one fight sequence, it allows for all the Awesome to be present — and be as a direct result of Raleigh and Mako being able to work as a team.

Much of the movie is themed around connection and teamwork — remember, it’s how the Jaegers are controlled! Not long before the Hong Kong fight, Raleigh and Mako pilot Gipsy Danger together for the first time and it does not go well. They’re effectively grounded from operations and ostracized by the other pilots and crews. Hong Kong is their chance to prove themselves. And they do.

But what about the actual climax? By digging into the other part of the movie — teaming up together to save the world — Pacific Rim recenters around teamwork. The final fight isn’t a fight, it’s a relay race with everyone buying time so someone can get to the breach and blow it up. Remember, Pacific Rim is not a war movie, these are Rangers, not soldiers; they aren’t fighting to kill but fighting to save everyone else. A final fight with the goal of defeating the Kaiju would be derivative of the midpoint; by making the big climatic choice Raleigh and Mako’s to take Gipsy into the breach, Pacific Rim goes all-in on its themes of unity and love. The biggest, most important thing in the story isn’t slicing a Kaiju in half with a sword, it’s doing everything you can (together!) to save the world. The fight isn’t the point. Saving people is the point.

This choice to have the final climax be a smaller spectacle than the midpoint can be used to spectacular effect. Captain America: Civil War’s Airport Battle is the big thing in the middle of the film, with the final fight between Captain America and Winter Soldier against Iron Man being a more intimate, smaller fight that’s equally as intense because it’s all about the movie’s theme of divisions. The Lord of The Rings books don’t climax with a big fight against the forces of Mordor (that’s the ending of Book Five), but with Frodo and Gollum grappling for the ring at the Cracks of Doom in Book Six, because this is a story about the smallest doing the most. The Battle of Crait doesn’t hold a candle to the duel in Snoke’s Throne Room, but The Last Jedi’s climax is about self-sacrifice and fighting for a cause. Luke doesn’t defeat Kylo Ren by besting him in combat, he wins by being the most selfless, the most devoted.

Going smaller for a climax runs the risk of being anti-climatic, especially because we, as an audience, are trained to expect the Big Thing at the end to be the biggest. When done well, though, a good climax brings the movie together, usually as a fusion of character arcs, story, and theme. For Pacific Rim, it’s all about saving the world. Together.

Ugh, I just really really love Pacific Rim.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Pacific Rim (During an Apocalypse)

Today is a good day to rewatch Pacific Rim. But then, honestly, aren’t most days?

For the past few months, I’ve been ruminating on the apocalypse in the back of my mind, owing to the whole, y’know, everything going on around us. While replaying The Last of Us, part of the game rung hollow, as the pandemic around me saw people banding together, rather than turning against each other. Though, then again, maybe that’s the difference between an airborne virus and a fungal parasite that takes over your brain.

Death Stranding was an eerie delight. Wandering around a post-apocalyptic America (that looked like Iceland) and making deliveries from isolated hubs of humanity while helping them form connections felt like a very apt thing to do in the time of COVID-19. It’s notable that, for as bleak as the imagined world is, Hideo Kojima’s game is quite optimistic, envisioning a world where connection between people is still possible, no matter how isolated they might be. Again, oddly prescient given that it came out last November, and very apt (that this is without getting into the whole meditation on the line between life and death that gives the game its name).

Pacific Rim is another movie about an apocalypse or at least an impending one. Giant kaiju have invaded the planet and are wreaking destruction along coastal cities. Given that conventional weapons don’t do great against Kaiju and that they have toxic blood, the natural solution is to build giant mecha and beat the crap outta them. The Jaegers offer a way for humanity to stand against the Kaiju invasion.

Now, Pacific Rim checks all my boxes. Ragtag multinational teams. Badass women. A story that unironically wears its heart on its sleeve. Giant robots. I’m not saying this movie’s perfect, but if there’s a Maslowian hierarchy for what makes for a perfect comfort movie, this one comes pretty darn close to actualization.

As we find ourselves in the throes of mild societal collapse (within the US, anyway), it’s really easy to wanna revisit post-apocalyptic fiction for glimpses of alternatives or an eerie comfort (see ruminating on the apocalypse, above). Death Stranding is about the importance of connection; The Day of The Triffids sees survivors making do despite the failings of humanity that led to the end of the world.

And Pacific Rim? The heroes of the movie are those who choose to stand against impending doom; they don’t hide behind walls but instead do whatever they can to stop the Kaiju from destroying the world. Pentecost, the leader of them all, outright says that “we are cancelling the apocalypse,” because in the world of Pacific Rim, apocalypses can be canceled. The world ending doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world

I think part of the beauty of Pacific Rim is that it’s not just about giant robots fighting giant monsters, although, sure, that’s part of the appeal. In this world these giant robots can’t be piloted by one person alone, the technobabble explanation being that the neural load is too much for one person. What this means is that to pilot a Jaeger, you need to do so alongside someone else, the process of which requires emotional openness and trust. You can’t cancel the apocalypse by yourself in Pacific Rim, you need someone else. It’s not one man saving the world, it’s about a team doing it together.

Quarantine has us isolated. It’s been months since I’ve seen many of my friends in person. There’s a comforting fantasy in Pacific Rim, where connections are what matters in the end, and by doing what we’re doing together — even if it’s isolating at home and not piloting a Jaeger — we’ll be able to make things better. Or maybe there’s just never a wrong time to watch Pacific Rim.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lightsabers

Hi. I’m twenty-nine years old, and when my mind wanders, it starts to think about lightsabers.

One of the many many things that make Star Wars so cool is the lightsaber: in a world with laser guns and space ships, there are a select group of people who forego all of that in favor of laser swords. When we first see it in A New Hope, Obi-Wan introduces it as the “weapon of a Jedi Knight, not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.” Cool bit of world-building that sets up the Jedi Knights and the importance of the weapon.

But that’s not the part of lightsabers I’m thinking about.

Each Jedi has their own saber, one that’s theirs, and this weapon, as Obi-Wan admonishes Anakin in Attack of The Clones, “is your life.” Lightsabers are made by the individual Jedi and so is specific to them. Even the Sith lightsabers require an artificial (in the old Expanded Universe) or a tainted (as in the new canon) crystal. These weapons are almost an extension of their owner. Far more than Han’s DL-44 blaster, the lightsabers are far more personal and representative of those who wield them.

And Rey doesn’t get her own lightsaber in the Sequel Trilogy. I mean, yeah, she does, sure: In literally the final minute of The Rise of Skywalker, she stands in Tatooine and turns on her brand new yellow-bladed saber and then watches the sunset.

Which.

Okay.

Fine.

But when the mythos of the world puts so much import on a saber, it feels like a very weak culmination of a character arc for that to be it.

Consider Luke Skywalker. He is given Anakin’s saber in A New Hope, which he then uses throughout Empire Strikes Back. It’s his father’s weapon, by using it he is inheriting a legacy. It’s the Skywalker lightsaber, and it’s his, as it was his father’s before him.

Then in Empire’s climax, he loses it (along with his hand) and finds out that Darth Vader is his father. The villain is Luke’s father, that lightsaber he had been using belonged to the man who became Darth Vader. Turns out Luke’s inheritance is that one tainted by the Dark Side.

That’s rough.

Come Return of The Jedi, Luke has built his own lightsaber. He’s still gonna be a Jedi, but this time he’s creating his own legacy. While Anakin’s lightsaber bears a strong resemblance to Vader’s, Luke’s lightsaber takes more after Obi-Wan’s than Anakin’s. It’s a declaration of sorts that Luke’s following the path of Obi-Wan, rather than the failings of Anakin. Later on, during the final duel on the Death Star II, he tosses that lightsaber aside — that new definition of himself — to state that he is a Jedi, like his father before him. Obi-Wan didn’t think that Vader could be saved, but Luke did and he was proven right. Looking at a lightsaber as an extension of its wielder’s psyche, this is the culmination of Luke wrestling with his inheritance. He’s a Skywalker.

In The Force Awakens the Skywalker Lightsaber reemerges as an icon of legacy once again, this time to be taken up by Rey — who initially rejects it but in the climax claims it in one of my favorite Star Wars moments.

Fittingly, The Last Jedi is all about legacies and what to do with them. Luke rejects the lightsaber and the importance it has to being a Jedi. At the onset of the story, he is done with that past. Rey wields it in the duel aboard the Supremacy (since she’s gonna be a Jedi) and later vies against Kylo Ren for it. Both want control of it, but for different reasons. Kylo sees it as his birthright, his chance to wield Darth Vader’s legacy for his own. Rey sees it as the other part of Anakin’s legacy; that of a fallen hero redeemed — as she hopes to enact towards Kylo. In the end, the lightsaber is sundered and Rey collects the broken fragments. The past is broken.

But the lightsaber shows up one last time in The Last Jedi, in the hand of Luke’s Force Projection when he duels Kylo. Its purpose here is twofold: he taunts Kylo Ren with what he wants, yes, but Luke is also taking back up that legacy he had thrown away in the beginning. This is a Force Projection, Luke could have shown himself holding any lightsaber, and even from a cinematic standpoint, we’d just seen that lightsaber broken, how could Luke have it? The incongruity not only hints at the Projection’s nature but shows us that this is a Luke Skywalker who has agreed to his symbolism, who will be the hero the Resistance needs.

Such a wonderful culmination.

So now Rey is set up to craft her own lightsaber for The Rise of Skywalker. It’s part of the Jedi path and all that, plus she has all the books from Ahch-To to teach her. The lightsaber we see her is an extension of her — its design bears a similarity to the staff she wielded in The Force Awakens and the yellow blade suggests a new path. Except this comes at the end. It’s a coda to the story rather than a final act. Rey spends the movie still with the Skywalker saber, except rather than being willing to throw away the past and start fresh, she’s put it back together so it could still be in use. Which, fine, but by the end of The Last Jedi, Rey has the chance to start something new… and instead, she retreads a path.

As a fan, I’m someone who’s wanted Rey to kick ass with a double-sided lightsaber since the credits rolled on The Force Awakens. That The Last Jedi featured no such instance was an initial disappointment, but the missed chance in Rise is frustrating. Here was a chance for the new hero to make a statement, but instead, well, we got what we got. Rey’s yellow lightsaber is super cool, not just aesthetically but as a statement of identity. That it gets relegated to the very end is nothing less than a missed opportunity.

Remember: Black Lives Matter. Please take a minute and help.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Defeat

I’ve had Star Wars on my mind as of late, partially because I just binged the entire final season of Clone Wars, and partially because thinking about Star Wars is more or less my default state. Anyway, I’d like to point out that Empire Strikes Back is a movie about failure and defeat.

It’s an oddly dark/dour take on what’s usually considered the best Star Wars movie; you don’t really wanna watch your heroes get beat up and lose and yet, that’s what Empire is.

And I seriously mean in every encounter and obstacle they face, Luke, Han, and Leia lost. The best-case scenario is escape.

The Wampa cave in the beginning sees Luke captured. The dude who blew up the Death Star got beat up by the abominable snowman. When he comes to and grabs his lightsaber, he doesn’t kill the Wampa and return victorious; nope, Luke runs away and almost freezes to death outside. Cool.

The Battle of Hoth. Sure, the Rebels bring down an AT-AT or two, but they’re ultimately unable to repel the Empire and end up escaping. Which is the point, yeah, but it’s still a crushing defeat.

Han and Leia get stuck inside a Space Slug and barely escape. Sure, they make it out, but it’s hardly a win. Then they get betrayed at Cloud City and Han gets frozen. Not good. What happens next? They escape Cloud City, but Leia is unable to rescue Han from Boba Feet and has to leave without him.

But it’s Luke who really, really suffers in Empire. Remember, in the original Star Wars, this is the guy who left Tatooine, inherited his father’s legacy (Jedi, excellent pilot), and defeated the Empire. After the Wampa and Battle of Hoth, he goes to find Yoda on Dagobah to learn to be a better Jedi. So far, so good, we break him down in the first act so he can get better in the second.

Dagobah does not go well for him, and Luke fails every task. Initially, he fails to recognize Yoda, instead dismissing the green alien as a nuisance. Later, in the cave, he ignores Yoda’s advice and brings his weapons with him. He fights a ghost of Vader and attacks, revealing his own face staring back at him. Then the X-wing. It sinks into the swamp and Yoda tells Luke to raise it, but he can’t. So Yoda does. It’s awesome, and Luke can’t believe it. To which Yoda says: “That is why you fail.” Verbatim from the Master’s mouth: Luke failed.

And then the duel with Darth Vader.  Luke does not win. He gets his hand lopped off and finds out his father was a Jedi and excellent pilot… but is now Darth Vader. That legacy he wanted? Yeah, not good. Luke escapes with his life, but soundly defeated in both spirit and body.

Okay, everyone loses. So what?

Character, that’s what.

By bringing the characters to their absolute nadir, Empire clears Return of The Jedi for the triumphant, uh, return. In it, we’re able to see how much the characters have grown, due in no part to the tribulations of Empire. Han and Leia have put aside their bickering and work as a team to take down the shield generator. Han’s gotten over his self-centeredness and Leia, well, Leia’s as great as ever. Of course, it’s Luke, as the main character, who benefits the most.

In Jedi he’s no longer the wide-eyed kid from Tatooine, the one we see infiltrating Jabba’s Palace is relatively calm and collected. When he meets the Ewoks he doesn’t underestimate them as he did Yoda, rather seeing them as potential allies. And in the final fight against Vader? This time he throws away his lightsaber rather than killing his father. It’s a journey of growth that wouldn’t have been possible without Luke losing over and over again in Empire. What’s important is that the payoff happens, and that the payoff builds on what came before.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Parasite Won

Like many people who claim to not care about award shows, I do begrudgingly give a crap about the Oscars. There’s a reason; it’s effectively a barometer for what is considered a Good Movie for a given year, and even if it’s a horribly skewed system that prefers a certain type of film, it remains a cultural touchstone. ‘Oscar-Winning’ means something, whether we like it or not. No other award comes near as close for the glitz, glamor, and prestige. I like to say I don’t care about it because the things I like and value are seldom acknowledged by it (I maintain that Jackie Chan’s Police Story is a masterwork and that is a hill I will die on).

All that said, my heart skipped a beat when I got the notification that Parasite won Best Picture on Sunday. There’s a lot to why that is.

For starters, Parasite is a plain bonkers movie — in the best possible way. It’s hard to describe it too much without giving away what a roller-coaster ride it is. Suffice to say, it dances between genres with unmatched grace while never losing sight of the sort of story it’s telling.

It’s also in Korean, with a Korean cast, and subtitled in English.

Subtitles, are apparently, a big deal. I grew up watching movies with subtitles (since sometimes the movies I watched weren’t in English, and sometimes I just wanted to be able to read everything that was said). Plus, I remember being told that when watching stuff like Anime, the fan-subs are usually better than the official dubs. Point is, the idea of watching something with subtitles wasn’t unusual, especially if it wasn’t in English.

Thus I was more than a little surprised when I heard the disdain people had for subtitles in the States. The idea of not liking subtitles, or refusing to watch something because of subtitles, made no sense whatsoever. I eventually conceded that I guess it could be distracting, but still, lousy excuse. In the lead-up to last Sunday, there was buzz around Parasite, but a lot of it was about how there’s no way the Academy would vote for a movie that wasn’t in English and, gasp, had a lot of subtitles.


It’s discouraging. Implicit in the commentary is the message that the Establishment doesn’t want a movie done by Outsiders in its space. That if your movie isn’t in English there’s no space for it here. Good luck if it’s Korean-made, or really anywhere non-Western. It’s just not ‘good’ art.

There’s a stratification to art. Pulpy stuff, like science-fiction, superheroes, and other ‘fun’ genres, is at the bottom. Drama’s a big deal, and there’s room aplenty for dramatic French movies because, hey, they’re French, they damn near invented cinema. Stuff from other places just doesn’t pass muster. I firmly believe that the reason Jackie Chan is not held as an auteur like Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino for his work in the 80s is because it’s all in Chinese. And it’s pulpy.

All this to say, finding out that Parasite won blew my mind. Seeing clips of Bong Joon-ho on stage with the awards, speaking in Korean at the Oscars, was delightful. No, I’m not that kind of Asian, but to see someone familiar means a lot.

I still think there’s a diversity problem when it comes to awards (that none of the cast got any acting nominations is ludicrous, and that the Directing candidates were, Bong aside, very white and very male is disappointing). We gotta give the time of day to stories told by people who aren’t white guys because there’s a lot to be told, and, whaddya know, it’s actually good.

So yes. Here’s to more of that, please and thank you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Background Diversity

I really liked The Last Jedi, more that I did The Rise of Skywalker, and there are many reasons for that, and really it’s a lot of personal preference. One of my very favorite things in Last Jedi — and, admittedly, this is a very small thing — is the diversity of the Resistance members. Pay attention to the background of the movie, and you’ll notice that many of the Resistance offers and fighters are played by women and people of color.

Like I said, it’s a small detail. But there’s something profoundly affecting at seeing so much of the Resistance being ran by woman, there’s something super cool to me to see a random officer on the bridge walking around being portrayed by an Asian actor. It’s a detail in the movie that’s not only prevalent, it’s consistent: they’re everywhere. The random pilot we cutaway to is as likely to be a woman as it is a white guy, the person giving an update on the fleet too. It’s a thing that once you notice it, it’s delightfully consistent, and, really, quite wonderful.

401-a.png

Why, then, you ask?

Because in no small way this Resistance feels like one that I could be a part of — without feeling like a token character. Not unlike the Rebellion in Rogue One, this is a group of people composed of all stripes. The Resistance of The Last Jedi demonstrably has space for everyone in their ranks, anyone can be a part of it.

401-b.png

There’s another aspect to this too. By nature of it being a movie, the camera and the plot follows important people (Rose, for example, a no-name engineer, is deemed important by virtue of being a main character). It’s the principle of showing and not just telling, we’re not being told that there are brave men and women from all over the galaxy fighting the good fight; we get to see them Doing Things. Sure, the books and comics have retroactively added a lot more diversity and representation to the ranks of the Rebellion and Jedi Order in recent years, getting to actually see such on a big screen is profoundly affecting. These people are the heroes of the story, and a few of them look like me.

401-cd.png

Not only that, but many of them are in positions of power or responsibility. They’re members of the bridge crew, cooks; they’re pilots, not ground crew. They do stuff and so are implied to be important members of the team. By the end of the film, with the Resistance reduced to a small core, they aren’t all white guys. And these are the Important Survivors — again, film is a visual medium, what we see is as important, perhaps more so, than what we’re told; so seeing these people alive and as the proverbial spark that will bring about the First Order’s defeat.

401-e

This is something the Prequels did really well too, throwing roles at women and people-of-color because, why not? The Phantom Menace had Captain Panaka and Mace Windu, Attack of The Clones had Queen Jamillia, and Revenge of The Sith revealed that Senator Bail Organa looked a lot like Jimmy Smits. It’s a small thing, but it’s something that tells viewers that, hey, there’s space at this table for people who don’t look like Luke and Han, that Leia isn’t the only woman in the Rebellion.

401-f

The Rise of Skywalker makes a gallant effort at capturing a similar ethos. There is still diversity in the ranks of the Resistance, but it just feels far less prominent than how it was presented in Last Jedi. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cameo from an actor from LOST, but I can’t help but to mourn the loss of something The Last Jedi did so well. Embracing casual, background diversity is a small thing, especially in conjunction with bigger, more prominent representation, (which is super important and done decently in these movies), but it’s still something that I like to see and means a lot to me. It’s a bummer to see it go.

Note: Also, while scrubbing through The Last Jedi for these screencaps, I’m reminded of how damn beautiful of a movie it is.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Celebration

In less than a week, I will have seen The Rise of Skywalker, the culmination of the newest Star Wars trilogy. It’s thrilling because the idea of a new Star Wars movie never stops being exciting to my tired, late-twenties brain. ‘cuz, dude, it’s a new Star Wars movie!

The newest trailer (which, admittedly, is no longer quite as new as it once was) feels to be very much of the same sentiment. It’s triumphant, the music is brash and eschews tension in favor of sweeping excitement. Ultimately, it doubles down on a feeling of celebratory joy.

And why shouldn’t it? It’s movie number nine of a trilogy, it oughta have with it the cathartic joy of culmination. If this trailer is indicative of Skywalker’s tone, then I’m so ready for the ride.

Star Wars has always been a romantic series; innate to the main movies is this idea of hopeful adventure. When Lando and Wedge make their run on the Death Star II in Return of The Jedi the music is rousing and lively, not dour and dramatic. It eschews tension for thrills; there’s no doubt that the good guys will win — the question instead is how.

This is something the Sequel Trilogy has done real well in capturing. The battle over Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens is full of derring-do as Poe pilots his X-Wing. Rey grabbing the lightsaber is a beat that screams cool, underscored by the music and the camera. We knew this was going to happen, ever since Maz held it out to her, but watching it is so exciting, and you’d be forgiven for cheering wildly in the theater (I did).

If Rise of Skywalker is, in fact, a joyous celebration, then what The Last Jedi did is all the more key. Consider the relationship between deconstruction and reconstruction.

Deconstruction, in a literary sense, is where a story or trope is taken apart. The LEGO Movie merrily takes the piss out of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, making the Chosen Everyman into an utter nobody. Shrek exposes fairytales for the lie they are by positioning the ogre as the main character who saves the princess. Batman is offered a dosage of reality in The Dark Knight; Bruce Wayne is a bruised shell of a man who has little existence outside of his role as the caped crusader.

On the flip side is reconstruction, which is one of my favorite things. This is where the flaws and cracks highlighted by a deconstruction are acknowledged and built upon. Emmet may be the most boring minifig in the world, but that doesn’t mean he can’t go on a Hero’s Journey. Sure, the prince saving the princess is a tired trope, so Shrek builds its narrative on a genuine relationship between people — and so creates a new fairytale ending. The Dark Knight knows that the idea of someone fighting crime outside the law is ridiculous and so uses Joker as the ultimate deconstructor, forcing Batman and Harvey Dent to the edge. Ultimately, the movie decides that it is Batman’s extralegal nature that allows him to take the fall for Dent’s rampage, because Gotham needs a symbol, and an uncorrupt DA is much more potent than a masked vigilante.

The Last Jedi deconstructs Star Wars hard; what with one of its themes being about letting the past die. So much of the movie is about taking apart myths and our own obsessions with them. Rey and Luke are both consumed by the myth of Luke Skywalker with different takeaways: Rey wants that legend to save the galaxy, Luke is haunted by his failure to live up to it. The synthesis of these viewpoints is a systematic deconstruction of Star Wars. During one of Luke’s lessons, for example, he refutes the idea that the Jedi Knights kept the galaxy safe for generations by pointing out that their hubris allowed Darth Sidious to rise right under their noses. Maybe Luke has a point, maybe it is time for the Jedi to end.

Of course, deconstruction by itself makes for a grim outlook, and there are enough sad stories already. The Last Jedi accepts the power of a myth, while also acknowledging that we can’t always live up to it. Luke does face down the First Order, but he does so to save everyone and inspire the Resistance. Rey finds out that the Force does sometimes mean lifting rocks, but, again, it’s an act done to save her friends. By the end of The Last Jedi, the myth is being put back together in a new way, creating a new legend for a new rebellion.

So now comes The Rise of Skywalker, which has the opportunity to build on the foundation of The Last Jedi. The movie has explored a nadir, and now comes the chance for the heroes to chart their own course through the narrative and to, uh, rise. So the tone of the trailers for Skywalker is plenty apt, with their sweeping music and feelings of heroic fantasy. This is the grand finale! It’s not just about bringing a story to a close, it’s also about celebrating the world that so captured our imaginations.

My hope for the movie is that it draws me into its flight of fantasy; that it, like the trailer, makes my heart sing. I can’t wait for The Rise of Skywalker; I’m ready for the adventure. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What Is It Good For?

I’ve logged a really unholy number of hours in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s a fun game, and there’s just so much to do. Plus, I’m easily distracted and so merrily go off assassinating nation leaders and taking part in conquest battles. It was during one of those conquest battles where I was fighting alongside the Spartans/Athenians to wrest control of some nation-state or another from Athens/Sparta that I finally got ahold of what Odyssey’s stance is on war.

Before I go any further, yes, the game has a stance on war. Any story that deals with the topic absolutely does. The Call of Duty games fall pretty firmly into the camp of wars must be fought to stop the bad guys. Star Wars sees all-out war as a tragedy (note that the start of the Clone Wars was a downbeat) and sees scrappy insurgencies as the recourse of good guys when others idle around to let evil men run rampant. The ultimate goal of the heroes is peace, not to fight more wars. Tolkien presents war as a place for honor and glory in The Lord of The Rings, but he is not blind to the horrors of warfare. The veteran of World War I spares thought for the horrors of warfare. The first time he sees a battle between Men – not Men and Elves against Orcs, but Men fighting Men – Sam is decidedly unsettled, wondering of a fallen foe “what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace.” Tolkien appears to believe that peace would be preferred.

But can a war story be anti-war? There’s a quip by François Truffaut saying that no war film can be anti-war. There’s a nugget of truth there, no matter how terrible what is presented onscreen, ultimately there will be some pleasure on behalf of the audience for it to work narratively; warfare will be glorified to some extent. I’m not sure if I’m entirely onboard with that.  Dr. Strangelove is a bitter satire of nuclear politics that makes no glory of soldiering, but it’s also not a movie about a war so much as it is about the idea of war. Comparatively, The Hurt Locker does have soldiers doing badass stuff, but we’re also privy to the personal toll it takes on them; epic guitar riffs are meant to be discordant with the reality. It’s hard for a movie to be anti-war.

And video games? Spec-Ops: The Line is fiercely anti-war, and all your badass glory is The Hurt Locker’s discordance ramped up several notches. You’re mowing down fellow American soldiers and burning civilians with white phosphorus. You are not a good person. The Metal Gear Solid games praise the honor of soldiers, but director Hideo Kojima has little good to say of the countries who send them to die. Naked Snake grows disillusioned with the United States in Snake Eater after the Americans order his mentor to betray the country to embed herself with the Soviets to weaken them then ordering Snake to assassinate her — to his commendation and her degradation. Perhaps the absolute that there can be no anti-war films (or games) is too stark a statement, perhaps it’s often a lot more nuanced than that.

So back to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. You are awesome. Kassandra (who you play as lest you’d rather pick Dude McBlandman) kicks all the ass. Spears are stabbed into enemies, opposing soldiers sent running in awe of your might. Conquest Battles — big fights between the warring factions — are another chance for you to prove your martial prowess (and get some sweet loot). Now, Kassandra is a misthios, a mercenary, and so she can fight for whichever side she wants. But here’s some ludonarrative dissonance. As part of the story I’ll be helping Sparta take over a country, then hop across the border and fight for Athens, slaughtering Spartans. Which, okay, I’m a mercenary. Makes sense. But, due to the way the game works, I can roll up into a war camp, kill everyone except for the unkillable NPC who gives me the Conquest quest, and when I talk to said NPC he’ll be happy to see me despite the ground being littered with his dead compatriots. Ah, video games.

And war.

As far as Odyssey is concerned, war is pointless and random. Today’s allies are tomorrow’s enemies; the allegiance of any nation-state is up for grabs at a moment’s notice. Ultimately, it’s all meaningless, small pieces being moved around on a bigger chessboard whose players have no concern for the pawns. If Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is to be ascribed a position on war, and it ought to be since it is a game that takes place during one, it is one of nihilism. No matter how much the narrative may account for a just war or honor, ultimately, it’s just the same dance over and over again with different partners.

But it’s really fun, though.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized