Tuesday, January 30, 2018

From the Writer’s Studio: The Star Wars Mythos, The Last Jedi, and the Destruction of the Nuclear Family

Increasingly, I've noticed a mounting phenomena or mood shift within my consciousness each time I see a new Star Wars film. On the surface, it’s not so much disappointment as it is a sense of puzzlement that is coupled with deflation, and well, the suspicion that I’m being subtly messaged. Now I know that the deflation claim may not be a surprise to many, as I have read that the most recent outing, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, has received a very mixed bag of effusive praise as well as strong criticism. This has for the most part pivoted on very different sides of the coin, coming from the professional media critic front and the fan base assessment of the film. Largely, critical reviews from the obvious media sources, such as Rotten Tomatoes, etc., have ranked the movie fairly high, from a B+ to an A+, if we use grade equivalents, while the fans have weighed in on The Last Jedi with as low as a 35% approval rating, which as you know, is far below a failing grade.

In light of their great unhappiness with the film and franchise, or at the perceived direction of the franchise, many of the more disgruntled fans have taken to social media, and in hopes of trying to pin what it is that is structurally wrong with the film, they have sighted the Social Justice Warrior promoting aspects as the deterrent to them embracing the film and enjoying it as much as the previous outings. In response, perhaps not surprisingly, the virtue signalers on the far left have countered and declared that the only conceivably possible reason someone would not like this film is, you guessed it, because they're racist!

In my opinion, aside from the oh, so widespread delusional psychopathology that has pervaded our popular and social culture recently, this of course ignores the multi-cultural and egalitarian history of the Star Wars franchise from the very start. All the way back to Episode IV: A New Hope, where Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune was George Lukas’ first choice to play a then conceived of as unmasked Darth Vader, and his voice ended up being dubbed by African-American actor James Earl Jones, casting decisions seemed like they were never made uniformly or in a biased manner. 

Regardless, I’m sure that those who feel strongly to the contrary will bitterly disagree with my contention, but I must point out that this is by no means a localized phenomenon. For example, in China, a non-western nation that came to the Star Wars universe a little later than most, The Last Jedi took a dramatic 95% plunge in ticket sales from Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which by the way, essentially presented the same “ethnically diverse” cast. The general consensus of Chinese fans, at least those who are active on the internet, is that they perceive The Last Jedi as “Baizuo propaganda”. For those of you who don’t know what the Chinese term Baizuo (BY-ZOO-WAH) means, it roughly translates to “White Left”, which is a pejorative reference to histrionically triggered activists of the west’s far left, which the Chinese view as, well, weak and pathetic.      

I will get to why both the Chinese audience and a good chunk of Western fans are having a problem with this most recent Disney outing, but perhaps I should first explain how the Star Wars franchise has affected my life overall and my creativity as a screenwriter.

When I was twelve years old the first film, Episode IV: "A New Hope" was released, and like millions of other kids and adults, globally, I was smitten at first glance. In fact, I often like to say that 1977 was "THE year that taught me all I needed to know creatively”. As a young little artist taking my first few fumbling steps toward art school and developing my own creative vision, there were two media sensations that emerged in that pivotal year which essentially said, to me, that if you wanted to do art in any form, be it graphic, film, music, what have you, then all you needed to do was to pick up the tools of the craft and learn how to execute your vision, and of course, to doggedly stick with it.

Star Wars was the first of these sensations, and the second was "Never Mind the Bullocks..." - the first Sex Pistols album. Both suggested a "just do it" ethos, and at least to me, these anarchy-fueled Punk rascals had little that substantively varied from their filmic counterparts on any core artistic level.

You see, in case you don’t recall, directors like George Lukas and Steven Spielberg were at that time the young upstarts of their generation. They broke rules, took chances, and quickly crept their way from the art house to sitting on the boards of some of largest corporations in media history.

As an adult, when I became more serious about my writing, I observed that the appeal of Star Wars was the epic story-telling that transcended the melodrama and action. I’d wager that George Lukas felt this way as well, and if he did not, it certainly was pointed out in his relationship with the late mythologist Joseph Campbell. Star Wars was Gilgamesh, it was King Arthur, and it was the Bible, and it had keyed into an archetypal heroic narrative that we, as humans can all relate to, and thus, its massive popularity was easily justified.

As a father, I have been fortunate to see my children bond with the films as I did, and overwhelmingly, they ranked the first six films similarly as I did, by descending fault; from A New Hope, to Empire Strikes Back (actually the best but you need the first one for it to make sense), to Return of the Jedi, to Attack of the Clones, to Revenge of the Sith, to the midiclorion-powered let down known as The Phantom Menace.

My son in particular requested the toys and games as presents, and grew a great affection for the extended universe as presented in the animated series, The Clone Wars, and the currently running, and amazingly scripted, Star Wars Rebels, which has incidentally explored the middle path of the force (the “Jith” if you will) quite nicely.

Interestingly, my kids liked The Force Awakens, and they ranked it as about as good as Attack of the Clones, but recently, when I asked my son, who has seen all of the Star Wars films dozens, if not a hundred times, if he would like to see Rogue One for just the second time, he said “No thanks, Dad.”, and I understood immediately why. Rogue One just didn’t “feel” like a Star Wars film. In fact I routinely describe it as “the most expensive fan fiction film ever made”. While it’s not half bad, I feel compelled to mention that my biggest problem with the writing is easily seen in Saw Gerrera’s disastrous character arc.

Want to know why you didn't like it either? 'Cause it's really simple.

Saw is effectively Jyn Erso's surrogate father figure, yet he is not treated as such, and the writer/s play the paradigm incompetently. Her natural father persists, seemingly for the sole point of telling her where the Death Star plans are hidden, which could have been accomplished in any other number of ways. While Galen Erso's death does provide some emotional resonance in the second act, Saw Gerrera SHOULD have died at the point in the film where the blind Jedi-monk Chirrut passes away, but instead, he dies an almost arbitrary death at the wrong point within the narrative structure. I guess this bad ass rebel, who terrifies the rest of the alliance, and has fought the good fight for decades just waited for Jyn to show up so he could allow himself to be killed whilst everyone else got on ships and flew away. Sure.

As an aside I should point out a really good use of this sort of substitute parent-damaged child paradigm, and so, I encourage you to see, or re-watch, The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 if you have not. In it, (spoilers ahead) Peter Quill, or Star-Lord and his erstwhile father-figure Yandu Udonta, experience and acknowledge the actual depth of their relationship literally just moments before Yandu passes away. Best scene in the film, and it almost chokes me up even as I write this.

But back to The Last Jedi.

While I admit that it was a necessary device to have Kylo Ren kill his father, Han Solo, in The Force Awakens, it has become obvious to everyone that this new trilogy is simply about replacing the original characters with young, new heroes for a new generation of toy consuming fans.

Sounds great, huh? Well, then what is it that the makers of these films are missing?

I would argue that the Star Wars mythology is essentially a generational saga of a family, a specific family; the Skywalker family. It is no different from the Corleones in The Godfather, almost any Shakespeare play, and a boat-load of ancient Greek tragedies.

From Shmi to Anakin to Leia to Kylo we have a direct line, but the character tree stops there. Rey, Poe and Finn are all isolated individuals in this otherwise dualistic universe, and I believe this reflects a political shift to promoting the dismantling of the western nuclear family from a Marxist deconstructionist perspective.

Generally speaking, the sort of ideologues who ascribe to these sort of radical principles often seek to disparage the traditional family, and if they are holding to doctrine, this is because they hypothetically wish to coalesce, or manifest, a society populated by individuals that serve a collective community that is increasingly dependent on the state for all of their physical, social and spiritual needs.

Whether this is being done consciously or not, this is part of Hollywood, and thus, part of Star Wars. 

Do not let them, (the leftist elite critical media) fool you that this is reflecting "changing sensibilities", modernization, or that it's about some vague notions of women’s empowerment either, because Star Wars has been empowering for women since Leia grabbed a blaster and started barking orders at Luke and Han like five seconds after she met them. By the way, boys loved that about Leia, and fell in love with her character, so there goes the third-wave misogyny theories as well.

In fact, at this point the conversation should be about the symbolic man-bashing, or mishominy or misandry, or what have you, that has increased in the Star Wars universe, particularly in the arena of the toys, where pitting heroic “good guys” in the form of beautiful women (i.e. Rey, Jyn, Leia, Sabine, etc.), against robotic appearing evil men (i.e. Vader, Kylo, Storm-troopers, Inquisitors) is a no-brainer. Even Poe Dameron, is presented as unruly and unpredictable and needs to be “tamed” by Admiral Holdo.

Marxist class war elements are also promoted in The Last Jedi, perhaps secondarily, but specifically on the gambling planet of Canto Bight, where the rich are presented as callous and abusive, not just in general, but to children and animals (gasp) specifically, because you know those rich people just suck, and need to have their wealth forcibly redistributed in order to fix the world!

I must say, that it’s amazing what a guiltily rich Hollywood Socialist screenwriter can come up with while typing on his three thousand dollar Mac and sipping a non-fat pumpkin spice latte.

Regardless, I personally believe that the main culprit of the questionable nature of The Last Jedi is due to this deconstruction of the family that is central to the saga Star Wars was based around, and by extension our nuclear families. It is the chasm that has undermined the solidity of the universe, and whether consciously realizing it or not, this is why the backlash has been so severe.

Now, what might have been some nice solves for this problem?

Obviously, to have Rey be Luke’s daughter would have been a good start, or for me, and I don’t know if any fan fiction has suggested this tact, but I though that it could have been revealed that she is an illegitimate child of Emperor Palpatine, mirroring the light side versus dark side generational flip seen in the Vader versus Luke paradigm.

Having known that Carrie Fisher passed away just prior to the release of Last Jedi, I think it would have made sense if the producers suggested re-editing the ending, and have it be Leia who rams her ship into the First Order’s Cruiser rather than Admiral Holdo. Nothing would have made more sense for her character to sacrifice her life in order to save the remnants of the rebellion. She had sacrificed everything to the rebellion and gone on. I can’t imagine she be up for seeing it die. Had this been the thinking, then this would have allowed Luke to continue for the span of the current trilogy. Unfortunately, now we’ll have to suffer Carrie Fisher’s otherwise talented daughter, Billie Lourd, being CG morphed to play her mother as well as her other character through the next film.

What might have made for a nice “C” story-line could have been a quest to contact former allies to come to the rescue of the cornered rebels, rather than just saying: “no one’s responding”. I mean how great would it have been if when Luke faced Kylo and the latter says “You’re the last Jedi”, and Luke responds with something like, “No, I’m not”, and real-life versions of Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels and Asokha Tano from Clone Wars step out of the cloud of dust and draw their light sabers in front of a force comprised of Wookies and Mandalorians. Bam! Every hardcore fan passes out!  

One thing that I did like very much about The Last Jedi were the Kylo-Rey force connection and live action scenes. The dialog, as well as the screen chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver was very nice.

As per those scenes I think one potential end point for the film could have been an unanswered cliff-hanger with Kylo offering his hand to Rey in his offer to rule the galaxy together. Cut To Black. We would have been forced to wait for the answer for a couple of years, and just imagine what kind of aggravating speculation that would have caused among the fan boys.

Ah, we can only dream.

Till next time.

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