Star Wars

Thoughts on that Mandalorian Finale

Everybody’s been gushing about the second season finale for The Mandalorian.  After all, it’s got CGI! Behold, a tick to make Hollywood actors more attractive than they are in real life! What more could one want as a going-away present to get us through the long, dark offseason that before it is filled with WandaVision and seven other temporary fulfillments of the vacant holes in our souls. Character agency? Pshaw.

So, y’know, spoiler warnings and whatnot. But you clicked through on something that clearly referenced what I was reviewing. If you didn’t want to know about the menage-a-trois between Mando and Captain Kirk and Harry Potter, it’s kinda your own fault now.

And honestly, I’m at least a year behind the times on this, but Mando the Mandalorian? Really? Maybe it’s a good thing they waited a year and a half to name Baby Yoda. It gave us time to name it Baby Yoda instead of, I don’t know, Bob, which is probably the name they would’ve given it if they’d been forced to come up with one. Fighting alongside Humo the Human.

And yeah, I know Baby Yoda has a real name now. But sorry, producers, ya done waited too long and he’s forever gonna be Baby Yoda now.

I’m probably not the best person to review the second season finale of The Mandalorian, considering I’ve been a whole lotta meh on the series as a whole. One of the reasons this is coming a month after the series ended is because I wasn’t planning to watch season two at all, until I heard about the ending. 

Some of my friends incessantly gush about the show. They’ll note that the red hat in the background of one scene was an homage to an outtake from Episode II wherein Jar Jar Binks shoved a red hat up his hoo-ha only to find out that he was color blind. Meanwhile I fixated on asinine things like there’s no way the little kid Boba Fett in Episode II could grow up to be the old dude Bob Fett in this show. I feel like he switched ethnicities. Maybe being pooped out by the Sarlacc changes your accent. Or maybe he’s a character that never shoulda taken the helmet off. Or, you know, returned at all. 

Cue Poe Dameron. Somehow, Boba Fett returned. If the answers disappoint you, perhaps you should stop asking questions. About anything.

“It’s like a Western,” my friends say. “Like Kung Fu.”

People called the Han Solo movie a western, too. Amazing how many westerns take place in space. Ironically, I really liked the Han Solo movie. I don’t know if it was because of any Outlaw Josie Wales motifs. The best part of the movie was Donald Glover doing a spot-on impression of Billy Dee Williams, circa 1979.

I’m not a huge Western fan, but I’ve seen my fair share of Bonanza episodes. I even visited the Ponderosa up at Lake Tahoe when it was a kinda, sorta amusement park/homage to the show. You could get there early and have a pancake – sorry “flapjack” – breakfast, complete with whiskey in your coffee and I was only 22 and shit, howdy, while I loved me some Baileys and coffee, I don’t know that I was quite ready for whatever rotgut they were throwing in there.

Regardless, I never once say the Mandalorian call for Hop Sing, nor ride his horse into Carson City, so I don’t quite think it’s a western.

But fine, let’s pretend that both Solo and The Mandalorian are westerns. Let’s pretend they’re both Kung Fu. You know what was great about Kung Fu? You didn’t have to watch every episode.

Back in the 1970s, we didn’t have every Disney movie and show, except for Song of the South, available whenever we wanted. Your options for “children’s programming” were Saturday mornings or afternoon syndications or PBS mid-mornings. 

And if you wanted Star Wars content on TV, good fucking luck. Far too valuable of a commodity to sell TV rights for. Your only option was the now infamous Holiday Special with Bea Arthur, who played a hideous tentacled alien species who reside with their Sicilian mothers in Miami retirement communities.

What’s that? Bea Arthur’s character was a human bartender? If you say so. 

But we can all agree that Golden Girls was thinly-veiled tentacle porn, right?

We also didn’t have Netflix dropping an entire season of a new tv show all at once in the 1970s. “Binge Watching” meant not getting our asses off the couch to change to one of the other five channels. Because we had no remote control, so might as well keep the TV tuned to this station and see what’s on next. The Jeffersons? Sold!

Heck, most homes didn’t even have VCRs until well into the 1980s. So if you weren’t going to be home for your favorite show, you were more or less fucked. There was a chance said episode might rerun during the summer, but not every episode did. A typical season might have 20-some episodes, but only about ten weeks of reruns. And really, who wants to be inside during summer evenings? Nobody. That’s why TV networks ran reruns.

The first serials, like Dynasty and Dallas, didn’t hit the market until after VCRs were around. So if, say, wife was going into labor, they didn’t have to decide between calling in a midwife or never finding out who shot J.R.

Then again, waiting till your wife is in labor to figure out how to set the clock on the VCR was a really bad idea.

Obviously, TV has come a long way since then. Most shows are designed to be watched back-to-back. Season-long storylines are now the norm. There’s no reason to ever “miss” an episode. Even more so with subscription services. 

So I was a little disappointed with the utter lack of continuity in the first season of The Mandalorian. I spent the first few episodes trying to follow every little plot thread, keeping track of all of the hints at what had happened in the five years between Return of the Jedi and the start of this show. But I was hard pressed to find any through-lines. 

After a few episodes, I saw someone refer to The Mandalorian as a video game. Each episode was a different level, with a boss fight at the end, after which he leveled up with a fancy new weapon. That explanation crystalized my nagging, unfulfilled feeling while watching it. 

During season two, I saw a much funnier explanation of the same thing.

Again, it wasn’t that I thought The Mandalorian was bad. It was fine. It just didn’t give me a reason to want to tune in. It’s Kung Fu and I’ve got a whole slew of Falcon Crests on my plate. I’m talking The Boys  and Witcher. WandaVision was on the horizon and I still hadn’t finished Daredevil. Hell, even sitcoms like The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek have continuing plotlines now. How can a Star Wars property be so episodic?

I resolved not to watch season two. Maybe “resolved” is a bad word. It wasn’t a boycott. It was asking myself if I cared enough to tune in. and answering with a resounding. “meh.”

I heard about Boba Fett. I shrugged. Never cared too much for a character with a whopping ten minutes of screen time in the first trilogy. The Mos Eisley saxophone player showing up wouldn’t have me running either.

Then came the announcement about the finale.

God damn it. 

Fine.

So again, if you haven’t heard about the ending now, approach with caution.

A de-aged Mark Hamill shows up.

Which ruined everything.

Let me back up.

I’m not opposed to the idea. We were all hoodwinked into thinking there was no way any of the original characters would show up, other than those in masks, although we probably shoulda seen it coming. After all, they had already done that with Carrie Fisher in Rogue One. Then, to one up themselves, they put her in Rise of Skywalker after she was dead. 

My problem with the Luke Skywalker cameo wasn’t the obvious “gotcha” quality of it, nor that I was duped into watching the entire second season for it. And yeah, it was dramatic as hell. Impressive. Even knowing what to expect, my heart raced when that lone X-Wing came out of hyperspace to board the ship.

But from a storytelling motif, it’s totally bullshit. Deus ex machina, anyone?

The second half of season two was actually fixing a lot of the problems I had with season one. There was a cohesive plot, a through-line of getting Baby Yoda to “the jedi.” And after Baby Yoda got kidnapped by Gus the Los Pollos Hermanos dude, there was actually momentum building toward the finale. Even a wee bit of character development, if I dare say.

Seriously though, Giancarlo Esposito has been sorely underused in this show. Anybody who can steal scenes in a show like Breaking Bad should be running circles around an MMA fighter and a dude in a mask. Dude can play cold-blooded sociopath, and y’all got him playing Dr. Evil.

Unfortunately, Gus the Chicke Dude and the MMA fighter and the dude in a mask who the fucking show is named after, those characters I finally got to know over the episodes leading up to the finale, were thrown to the sideline  in the culminating scenes, so Luke could come in with his fancy lightsaber. Like whoever the old Tampa Bay quarterback was when Tom Brady decided he wanted to move south for the winter. Maybe they need to change the title of The Mandalorian to include the character we’re actually supposed to care about. Season three’s working title: Hey maybe they can get a Han Solo cameo, too.

Okay, so they set the scene in the finale by showing us the Terminator. They called them Dark Troopers or Storm Shadows or something, but they were basically the Terminator. Or Ultron. Basically, half storm trooper, half robot, so we shouldn’t worry about the moral qualms about murdering them. Not that we’ve ever had any issue of mass slaughter of bad guys before. Weren’t the stormtroopers understood to be clones, anyway? Although, let’s be honest, that wasn’t established until the fifth movie. We went at least the entire original trilogy assuming those were real people.

Speaking of which, why did they clone a guy that was such a shitty shot with a blaster?

In typical superhero stuff, they show us that one fight with one of these fuckers was almost too much for the hero. Mando the Madalorian used up all of his weapons to no avail. He was finally able to defeat dude using a one-time weapon that he wouldn’t be able to use again. And now they’re showing Mando and his friemds, trapped in the bridge of an imperial cruiser, about to face twenty of them. How ever shall our hero make it out of this quandary?

It’s a standard motif in the fantasy/sci-fi/superhero genres. Our hero is shown being totally outmatched by his opponent only to finally discover the way to beat them later. Sometimes said hero discovers a weakness and exploits it. The James Bond route. Other times, a la Rocky III, the hero realizes he wasn’t taking the fight seriously the first time. More often, it’s done lazily. I guess all Superman had to do to beat Zod was level half of Metropolis. Too bad he didn’t try that the first time.

Even when it’s done poorly, though, there’s still some payoff. Some conclusion. Ultron could beat all of the Avengers with barely a thought, but once you’ve got a city flying in the air and the Avengers are simultaneously saving civilians AND fighting Ultron, well then, that’s how they win. Divided attention always makes us stronger. 

So how did Mando and his pals finally overcome this threat? One took everything he had, and now he’s facing an army! Perhaps the three episodes they’ve been together will culminate into working together as a team, each member intuiting the others movements. Perhaps the imminent threat on his only father figure will finally push Baby Yoda beyond the threshold, resulting in a focused blast of force power he’s never manifested before. Perhaps Mando goes all MacGyver and creates twenty of those spear things he used earlier.

Or maybe they’ll all just stand there and watch it play out on a fucking screen.

Really?

Look, I know Jon Favreau is a better plotter than I’ll ever be. He’s as much to credit as Robert Downey, Jr. for the entire MCU existing. But that was utter bullshit. Would we have been happy if, in the final battle against Obediah Stane in the first Iron Man movie, the Hulk randomly showed up and beat the shit out of the bad guy, with Tony Stark unconscious on the sidelines? 

But if it’s Luke Skywalker instead of Bruce Banner, all bets are off. As the “debate” over The Last Jedi proved, Skywalkers are the only beings in the entire Star Wars universe who are EVER allowed to resolve ANY conflict. Or maybe the Emperor.

There were ways to bring Luke back without being the deus ex machina, without stealing all agency from the main character. They could’ve gotten out of the situation then delivered Baby Yoda to Luke, similar to the Rogue One Princess Leia scene. I even would’ve been fine with Luke showing up to help Mando, who was already fighting back on his own. But the title fucking character should not be a fucking bystander for the ultimate battle. 

How’s season three gonna go? Is he just going to stop trying to get out of situations? I mean, the more dire the situation, the more likely Zeus will fly in to save the day, right? Just tell Baby Yoda (who we all know will still be prominently featured in season 3 despite “leaving” with Luke) to call for Papa. 

Or maybe they’ll just wait for Han Solo this time.

It’s a Holiday Trilogy, Charlie Brown

Trilogies come in all shapes and sizes.

Scratch that. They all come in the same shape and size, that being “three.”

What I meant to say was they have a variety of styles.

You’ve got “Back to the Future,” which has the same basic plotline, but in three different genres. Time is broken because someone’s driving the 1980s version of a Tesla, and Alex P. Keaton needs to fix it before midnight, when he turns into a Teen Wolf. But they tell it as a teen comedy, then dystopian sci-fi, then a western so we wont notice. 

There’s “Superman,” where they also played with time travel. No, I’m not talking about Superman spinning the world backward to save Lois Lane. I’m talking about how “Superman III” was so bad that it went back in time and made “Superman” and “Superman II” worse. As in, you would never set out to rewatch them as a complete saga, so as to avoid needing to watch the third movie. It also went forward in time, making sure “Superman IV” flopped so hard that I often need to remind myself that the original “Superman” trilogy was not, in fact, a trilogy.

Don’t forget “Indiana Jones,” which was three entirely unrelated movies. I’m pretty sure “Temple of Doom” takes place a decade before “Raiders” and nobody noticed. Yet still they stopped at three (not counting the geriatric sequel and newly-announced “Indiana Jones and the Artificial Hip.”).

More recently, there were three Iron Mans, three Captain Americas, there’s about to be three Spiderman movies for the third time. Except the second Spiderman 2 was so bad, they didn’t make the third. But you know they were planning to. Thor is filming its fourth, which feels wrong. Ironically, the MCU killed off all the characters who could have aged along with their actors, but is keeping the one who’s supposed to be immortal.

Three is the magic number. A trilogy is a great way to space out a story, making each entity distinct while still fitting an overall narrative and theme. If you go beyond three, you’re getting into James Bond territory. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bond franchise. But prior to Daniel Craig, there wasn’t much cohesiveness from one movie to the next. We never questioned how the character went from a suave Scot in the 1960s to a pull-my-finger prat for most of the 1970s and 1980s. Come on, Roger Moore NEVER would’ve landed Ursula Andress. And I don’t think Sean Connery would’ve fucked Grace Jones.

Despite some lousy writing (and some pretty poor acting, to be honest), Star Wars is probably the definitive trilogy. Sure, sure, Fellowship of the Ring, blah, blah, blah. Let’s talk about Star Wars.

The first movie is a standalone. It’s a complete story of a terrorist whose home is destroyed by an uncaring empire, so he finds solace in an ancient religion. Han Solo redeems himself. Nary a midi-chlorian in sight. Nobody gives a second thought to Alderaan appearing to be both a democracy and a monarchy. If “Empire Strikes Back” never existed, we wouldn’t have given two shits about balance in the Force or chosen ones. Luke Skywalker was just an orphan farmboy, not a hugely-important lost son of a world-famous… orphan farmboy.

The second movie is the darkest one. It expands upon the worldbuilding, throws in some twists and turns, delves into the lure of evil. Han Solo being frozen in carbonite was quite possibly the cliffhangeriest of endings in cinematic history until “Avengers: Infinity War” came along. Of course, we all knew Harrison Ford would be back for the finale. What we really didn’t know was whether or not Darth Vader was lying when he said Luke was his son. I know this might shock anyone under the age of 40, or anybody involved with any of the subsequent movies except “Last Jedi,” but for three solid years, grade schoolers debated that question endlessly. It was never a forgone conclusion that two families, the Skywalkers and the Palpatines. were the only ones who mattered and everybody else should go fuck themselves.

“Return of the Jedi” gets maligned for being cheesy, campy, featuring too many characters chosen for their cute cuddliness moreso than their ability to add to the storyline. I speak, of course, of Jabba the Hutt. But seriously, the third part of a trilogy is supposed to be happy. It’s resolution. It’s catharsis. The heroes are fulfilling their journeys while the villains receive their comeuppance, at least until Episode IX. If that doesn’t call for some walking, talking teddy bears, then I don’t know what does. 

So while I might nitpick some of George Lucas’s character beats, for the most part he nails the proper emotional beats of a trilogy.

I don’t know why it was so tough for Charles Schultz.

What’s that? You didn’t know there was a Charles Schultz trilogy? Sure you did. You watch the three holiday episodes in the same order every year.

Much like Star Wars, the Peanuts holiday specials feature a cast of characters each moving through their own arcs. Charlie Borwn and Lucy go through their Han Solo and Princess Leia “will they or won’t they” tete-a-tete. Peppermint Patty and Marcy go through their… scratch that. The lesbians are the blossoming, unrequited love story. Charlie Brown and Lucy are C-3PO and R2-D2, incessantly bickering while having little impact on the plot.

But the true focus of this trilogy, the unassuming hero, is Linus. A little dab of Frodo and a vast heaping of Luke Skywalker, all rolled into one. He even has his own lightsaber-esque weapon nobody else comprehends in his blanket. And, again like Luke, he struggles with the meaning of purity, of life, against a myriad of ancient philosophies preaching right and wrong. 

Except the order makes no fucking sense. Schultz starts with “Empire Strikes Back.” 

We all know the plot of the Peanuts Halloween special. It’s even in the title. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Linus is a pagan who believes in plant gods, despite everybody around him arguing against it. He even drags Sally into his heresy, hoping to start his own Jim Jones-esque sex cult. Fortunately, she doesn’t drink the Flavor-Aid, and in the end, he’s the only one clinging to his pagan gods, staying in the pumpkin patch all night. Even after his sister rescues him, with a force-connection similar to Leia at the end of “Empire Strikes Back,” he’s unconvinced. As C-3POS whines about the Halloween Party, implying that getting rocks instead of candy is every part as bad as Linus’s near hypothermia and shaken faith, Linus still believes, shouting about the true meaning of Halloween. As he tests his new robotic hand and looks out the window to see the imposing phantom of Darth Vader. 

See what I mean? Totally should be the second story in the trilogy. Especially when you consider where his story arc is going.

In “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Linus again takes center stage (literally) for his deep-rooted faith. Only this time, he’s quoting Christian scripture. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” He goes a little overboard, requesting a spotlight. Clearly his conversion never got around to the whole Sermon on the Mount shit. You know, “do not [pray] like the hypocrites; for they love to stand… at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.” 

Then again, it’s been less than two months since he was a full-on pagan, so give him some time. I assume his Christian sponsor hasn’t made it to the Gospel of Mark yet. We’ll never know how his conversion happened, because the Jan Brady of the Peanuts holiday trilogy doesn’t give us shit for answers. 

I’m talking, of course, about “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Our hero doesn’t appear too much in this one. Maybe he’s off on Dagobah learning about the Easter Bunny. However, his brief appearance is profound, providing the plot linchpin. Peppermint Patty invited herself and others over to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving, but he’s supposed to be at his grandmother’s house. In a Solomonic decision, Linus suggests he cut his Thanksgiving in half, giving the first half to his friends and the latter to grandma.

Is that why he can only quote parts of the New Testament come Christmas? Was he wasting his two-month crash course on the Old Testament? C’mon, man, the Ten Commandments are sooooo 4,000 BC.

He still has some fallacious understandings of the social sciences. Instead of whatever religious studies class he’d failed or sociopathic breakdown he was having at Halloween, this time he only exhibits a minor misunderstanding of history. Not surprising, considering he was likely a product of a jingoistic post-WWII education system with a tendency to hire teachers incapable of enunciation. 

What he espouses is the typical Thanksgiving bullshit. That the Pilgrims were kicked out of England because evil Anglicans didn’t allow Puritans, even though there were Puritan members of Parliament. Hell, twenty years after the Pilgrims, one of those Puritans raised a damned army and captured and killed the fucking king. Yeah, that sounds like a society where poor Puritans just couldn’t exercise any rights. In reality, the Pilgrims were seditious rabblerousers. Not only were they kicked out of England, but the Netherlands, too. Can you imagine being kicked out of Amsterdam? That’s like being banned from Vegas. And they weren’t even card counting! Oh, and the Dutch? They were Calvinists, too.  So the “religious freedom” the Pilgrims sought was freedom from their own fucking religion. Or at least the people in their religion who felt it was okay to live among other religions.

But whatever. Linus wasn’t spouting anything that the average American doesn’t still believe today. Like that the Pilgrims were the first British colonists, despite the fact that they’d been down in Jamestown for thirteen years already. Blame that one on old “Honest” Abe, who made Thanksgiving up during the Civil War. He couldn’t have the country originating from Virginia for obvious reasons. So he glorified the Pilgrims and pretended they came to America for freedom, something the North claimed to be fighting for. In reality, Jamestown was founded for money, that TRUE American ideal. While I may quibble with some of the claims of the 1619 Project, one thing I’m grateful for is that there is finally an official acknowledgement that there were non-natives in British America before the Pilgrims, who didn’t show up until a year later, in 1620.

Linus also chose to ignore the whole genocide thing. Y’know, the natives gave the Pilgrims a shit-ton of food and in return… well, there aren’t a lot of Native Americans left in the Boston area. They must’ve been so full of love, appreciation, and turkey that they all… they all… 

Hey, don’t forget! The Pilgrims killed all the witches in Salem, too. Who loves baseball and apple pie and racial co-mingling?

But like I said, I don’t understand the character progression.

Because much like Luke Skywalker’s conversion to the force, the Peanuts holiday trilogy is the story of Linus’s personal journey from paganism to the righteous might of Christ. It makes sense, given Schultz’s uber-evangelical Christianity, right? I mean, Schultz doesn’t even think Marcie and Peppermint Patty are lesbians. How d’ya like that? Wrote the best star-crossed lovers since the Capulets and the Montagues, but didn’t even realize it because they were both Juliets.

It’s only the order of the stories that’s missing. How does Abraham Lincoln’s errant, white-washed version of Thanksgiving serve as the middle chapter. Does it begin the transition? Like the Native Americans themselves, they once had pagan beliefs of Great Pumpkins, but after they shared some turkey (with a side of smallpox), their pagan beliefs magically disappeared. 

Along with their lives. 

But let’s focus on the gravy.

If Schultz wanted to tell a proper, and literal, come-to-Jesus trilogy, I feel like he shoulda put Halloween in the middle. Sure, it might be tough with that whole “calendar” thing, but hear me out.

Linus starts with some vague misconceptions about Thanksgiving. It shows he’s not a bad guy, maybe a little bit gullible, too trusting of dubious stories. Then in the second story, he follows those personal foibles down a deep path, finding himself outside, alone, praying to a pagan deity of autumnal squash. Doesn’t that make his “Return of the Jedi” conversion more triumphant? And the lord said, I give unto thee a jedi, like my father was before me.

Then he signs Marcie up for conversion therapy.

I know what you’re saying. It’s not supposed to be a trilogy. They weren’t written in the same order we watch them in.

But ready for me to blow your mind?

The Christmas special came first!

That’s right, Charles Schulz wrote Linus’s beautiful Christian soliloquy first. A year later, he decided that the only member of the Peanuts gang who could properly quote scripture should become a druid of the Great Sky Gourd. Is there some hidden message there that Chuckles was secretly tired of going to church every Sunday and would rather be home watching the Vikings game?

The Thanksgiving special didn’t come till a decade later. More “The Phantom Menace” than “Return of the Jedi.” And I suppose that makes sense. Less redemption, more Jar Jar Binks.

What a picture perfect portrayal of modern America. Both halves of the country think they’re speaking the True Word of Wisdom while the other half spouts gobbledygook that’s going to get them hurt. 

But they can all agree on one thing. 

A complete misunderstanding of history.

Wherin I Explain Why “The Last Jedi” Kicked Ass

Okay, y’all are really starting to piss me off.

Not you, of course. I’m sure my readers, reader, potential reader is awesome with the correct opinions.

I’m talking to all the rest of you. You idiots that didn’t like The Last Jedi.

Seriously, I had just finished writing a wonderful polemic about my childhood friend, Rian Johnson, and his most recent film, which happened to also be one of the best Star Wars movies of all time. While writing it, I was unaware of a burgeoning counterpoint. Evidently, some people were deluded into thinking it did not deserve the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all Time) designation.

I heard some initial rumblings over opening weekend. The Rotten Tomatoes fan score was middling around in the low-fifties, but it seemed a lot of those reviews had come in before the movie actually opened, and there were rumors of bots intentionally messing around with the score. Certainly, I knew, when real people took to their respective social media outlets, they’d all love it.

But as first the weekend, and then the following week, went on, there seemed to be a very distinctive backlash against The Last Jedi. The actual size of the backlash might be hard to discern. Two weeks in, I still believe it is a very vocal minority that is being given extra media attention based on how outlandish their cockamamie ideas are.

Recently, one of the yelly-yelly shows on ESPN wondered why people are still paying attention to the Balls, the basketball family whose middle kid dropped out of UCLA because they couldn’t single-handedly break him out of a Chinese prison. I remember thinking, “Who, other than ESPN, is paying attention to the Balls? If you don’t think people should be talking about the Balls, maybe stop leading with them every day.”

But considering the conversation amongst the Baby Boomers at my Christmas dinner table, I guess people are still talking about the Balls. And the Star Wars naysayers have also persisted. So now it’s up to me to defend a movie, and by extension a director, that shouldn’t need defending

The first set of people who seem upset with the movie are the political extremists. The right are pissed that Rose is Asian. The left is angry that Rose isn’t Asian enough. The right hates that General Hux is white. The left is pissed that Poe Dameron is white. The right isn’t sure if they like Kylo Ren as a bad guy, because he’s white but he kind of looks Jewish. If he’s Jewish, they’re okay with him being a bad guy, although they’re not too sure they like it when the maybe-Jew kills the Hitler-ish guy. That’s not how the Alt-Right believes Hitler/Jew stories are supposed to unfold. The left is upset that there are no LGBTQ characters. Holdo is, but it didn’t come up in the movie. Because it would’ve been so much more appropriate for her to grab Billie Lourd’s ass in the midst of the evacuation. Right in front of her dying mother, no less!

And don’t get me started on the force-sensitive little boy at the end. Both sides are whining, “Why did the slave have to be a white male?”

The fact that critics loved the movie pretty much sealed the ire of both sides, as well. Anyone who puts ideology ahead of facts hate the so-called experts who tell them things like the South lost the Civil War or that they should vaccinate their kids.

To both sides, I have a simple enough explanation: go fuck yourselves.

No seriously. Both of you have successfully ruined politics, humor, discourse, general civility, and pretty much everything else in our country. You just couldn’t leave Star Wars alone, could you? And be honest, you didn’t enter the movie with an open mind, did you? You went in looking for things that didn’t fit with your political alignment and proceeded to focus entirely on that. Were you aware that there was a movie with dialogue and a plot going on around all of those casting choices? Probably not.

Here’s something to assuage both sides. Alt-right: It was a long, long time ago, so it’s about as conservative as you can get. Socialists:  no planets were destroyed by human action this time.

Now go back into your corners of watching only war movies or Oscar-worthy dramas. And when you’re there, don’t forget to go fuck yourselves.

The other group that dislikes this movie did not approach it with an open mind, either. They are the people who have spent the last two years trolling around on slashfilm and other internet sites espousing their theories about the two great mysteries brought up during The Force Awakens, namely the backgrounds of Rey and Snoke. And if darthmaul-69-420 has based his entire online presence on Snoke being the love child of Palpatine and Yoda, and if he has Jar Jar as Rey’s parents in the office pool, he’s not going to be happy when neither answer is correct.

It’s an odd world we live in. People hate when questions are raised and they hate when those questions are answered. There were all sorts of petitions and calls to boycott The Walking Dead after they ended Season 6 with Negan killing an unknown character. HOW DARE YOU, they screamed, USE A COMMON STORYTELLING DEVICE? Would those people have been happier if the season ended with Abraham lying dead on the ground? Then the people who thought it would be Glenn would’ve been pissed, until Glenn was actually killed, and they would’ve been pissed again. The Walking Dead has been hemorrhaging viewers ever since that fateful decision to add some suspense to their story.

Westworld might have found the sweet spot, but that was helped by the fact that it was a little slow to catch on. It took a few episodes before people realized they were playing with timelines and putting clues and red herrings everywhere. By the time people started going back to re-watch the first few episodes for “clues” (aka the orgy scene), there were only a few episodes left and we had been promised it would be wrapped up by the end of the season. I’ll be curious to see how many people will be pissed off during the second season if it follows a similar pattern. Ten weeks might be a little long of a wait for the big payoff in this watch-an-entire-season-in-an-afternoon world we live in.

If Dallas aired today, “Who Shot JR?” would need to be solved the following week. Hell, if comment threads existed when Empire Strikes Back came out, the Rotten Tomatoes score would be filled with all sorts of “How can we even know if Darth Vader is telling the truth? How dare they bring that up if they’re not going to resolve it?”

Speaking of Empire, you are all aware that The Last Jedi is the second movie of the trilogy, right? Remember all of those questions and mysteries and mythologies of the first Star Wars trilogy? They didn’t really show up until the second movie, and then were resolved pretty early in the third movie. The first movie was a straight-forward, standalone fairy tale. If these people got their wish and Episode VIII started with a flashback of Snoke and Rey in a baby manger together, how satisfying would the next five hours of movie (counting Episode IX) be?

So the question of Rey’s parents was either going to be held over until Episode IX or it was going to be answered the way it was. And it’s very fitting. Anybody can be the hero, you don’t have to come from wonderful Skywalker sperm. Let’s not forget that in the original Star Wars (I know I’m supposed to call it A New Hope, but that was never really a thing until the prequels came out), Luke Skywalker was a nobody. And for ninety percent of Empire Strikes Back, too. Anakin started out that way, too, even if we already knew what he would become.

Speaking of Luke, that’s the other thing people are pissed about. They were hoping that Rey would show up, he’d say “Gosh, even though I have the Force, I had no clue my nephew is a bad guy or that the galaxy is in tatters. I had just retired here for shits and giggles. I guess I’ll come back, no questions asked.” Somehow that would have been more in line with his character?

Or maybe they just wanted Luke to sink an X-Wing into a swamp and mock Rey for not being able to raise it.

There had to be a pretty major reason he had exiled himself. To be true to the hero y’all seem to think he is, the best reason to exile himself would be if he felt he was bad for the galaxy.

Some people are pissed that the Extended Universe was retconned out of existence when Disney bought the rights. Those same people are now pissed that some of the things from that Extended Universe are being brought back into canon. In the Extended Universe, Luke briefly succumbed to the dark side, and he tried and failed to train Han and Leia’s son.

And if you think Luke should’ve been much more perceptive about Kylo Ren’s power or corruption, don’t forget he made a whole bunch of horrible judgments in the first trilogy. “I’m looking for a great warrior,” he said when he first met Yoda.

But whatever. “Not my Luke Skywalker.” Yeah, no shit. Your Luke Skywalker is now 65 years old. He’s Obi-Wan. He’s Yoda. He’s supposed to be a hermit that is not quite sure if the galaxy is ready for thenext generation of Jedis.

Back to Rey, have the people that are so pissed off really thought their theories trough? The two most prominent ones were that she was Luke’s daughter or Obi Wan’s granddaughter (which she may still be). How heroic does that make those deadbeat dads? Conflicted Luke is a bad thing, but Maury Skywalker would be great?

Sure, Anakin abandoned his pregnant wife, but a) Episode III retconned it so he didn’t even know he had done that, and b) he’s Darth fucking Vader.

Do we really want a movie where heroes with subtle mind-control powers are impregnating women and then skipping town? How awesome would that be on the heels of all of the sexual harassment and assault cases coming out of Hollywood and Washington this year? Not your Luke Skywalker? Of course not. He’s Harvey Weinstein’s Luke Skywalker.

I suppose in Obi-Wan’s case, there was the whole “hiding from Darth Vader” thing, but what excuse would Luke have? That he isolated himself on Ahch-To to avoid child support?

Again, I don’t know if the backlash is real. I hope it’s not. Everyone I’ve spoken to loved it. But everyone I’ve spoken to has an IQ and an ability to understand nuance.

A number of theaters have had to post a warning that the ten seconds of silence is intentional. People were complaining that the sound cut out, then cut back in. Really? Because in the theater I saw it in, there were a few gasps, followed by an awe-inspiring, simultaneous holding of two hundred breaths. It was probably the most collectively powerful scene I’ve ever seen in a theater of complete strangers.

I can’t imagine who saw that and thought “Hey, some shit just done blowed up, but there ain’t no big blowsy-upsy sounds. I want my money back.” These same people think that an entire theater’s-worth of speakers can go on the fritz simultaneously and then be fixed within ten seconds.

The simplest answer is that people wanted a predictable Star Wars movie and The Last Jedi was anything but. We’ve been indoctrinated, Empire Strikes Back notwithstanding, that there aren’t supposed to be surprises in Star Wars. The plot is supposed to follow a prescribed narrative. The missions aboard the First Order base of operations aren’t supposed to go sideways. The mercenary is not supposed to stay a mercenary. The bad guys aren’t supposed to realize there are cloaked escape ships. The force is supposed to have a very limited power set. And the hero must only come from an established, Eugenics-based bloodline that would make Hitler Palpatine proud.

People complained that The Force Awakens followed that narrative too closely, then they complained that The Last Jedi strayed from it. Welcome to 2017 America.

Now about that milking scene…

Thank God I’m Not Rian Johnson

(Note: This is a post primarily about Rian Johnson. To see my thoughts on “The Last Jedi,” click here)

Holy freaking schnickerdoodle. I just saw The Last Jedi. I might be a bit biased, but I think it’s the best Star Wars movie since, I don’t know, ever?

Oh yeah, spoiler alerts and whatnot. But seriously, you get what you deserve if you’re on the 17th page of Google results for Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi. 

It’s a long movie, but never feels dragged out. It’s longer than Revenge of the Sith, but feels about half as long. There’s so much going on with it. One review equated it to a combination of “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Yes and no. It certainly answers a number of lingering questions and ends with a sense of optimistic finality that hasn’t wrapped up any Star Wars movie since “Jedi.”

But it didn’t follow the plot of either Episodes V or VI, like The Force Awakens did with Episode IV. Luke’s tutelage on Ahch-To (had to look that one up. I just assumed, in normal Star Wars parlance, it was “The Island Planet”) wasn’t just a rehash of Yoda on Dagobah (The Swamp Planet). The porgs weren’t just updated Ewoks. They didn’t rally together to fight a paleolithic guerilla war against the bad guys.

That one battle that ends most Star Wars movies – you know, the giant battle raging in space while a bunch of the good guys are on board the enemy vessel that’s about to be blown up – turned out to NOT be the culminating scene. The guy we all thought was the new Emperor Palpatine, who would be killed in an orgiastic lightning-fest to end Episode IX, was in fact betrayed and killed during that battle. But it turned out Snoke’s death wasn’t what the movie, or even the trilogy, had been building toward. There were still another 45 minutes in the movie.

And holy shit, how about that “light speed the other way” scene? Has there ever been a silence for that long in any other Star Wars movie? Did John Williams have to be paid extra to NOT write music for that scene?

That “this is not the ending you are looking for” is a classic Rian Johnson tactic. His other movies tend to play along according to form, then the last half-hour pushes the film into another realm, bringing into question all of the assumptions of the trope. The Brothers Bloom, which I think is his best, follows a typical con-man/heist formula. Had it faded to black on the beaches in Mexico, it would have been a standard con-man movie. But then there’s the whole Russia scene, where the target has tracked down the brothers because she had so much fun being conned. When they set up one final con, you’re not entirely sure who is scamming whom. When Adrien Brody realizes Mark Ruffalo actually died, there’s an emotion that isn’t supposed to be experienced in a heist.

Oops. Brothers Bloom spoilers, too. Sorry.

Then again, I might be a little biased when it comes to Rian Johnson. I know the guy. We went to high school together.

The bum still owes me twenty bucks, so his movies better succeed!

Just kidding. He doesn’t owe me any money. In fact, I’m pretty sure I accidentally stole his copy of “Woman of the Year” (1943) on VHS. Rian, sorry if you’ve been looking for a clean copy of “Blitzwolf” all these years.

The rest was all real, though. Rian and I went to high school together. And when I say that, I don’t mean he was some random guy that I knew the name of as we occasionally saw each other around a huge campus. We were in the same history and English classes from pretty much seventh grade on. We hung out outside of class.

When people ask me “Why are you the Wombat?” my go-to response is, “Because Rian was the Llama.”

Rian had a video camera. Shocking, right? We made movies together. Sometimes it was random. I think my first “Rian Johnson Project” was at his birthday party freshman year. I don’t recall the premise, other than we were breaking into a house and I was some sort of James Bond villain that used utensils as weapons. I think. I could be totally off.

But that was what Rian did. If he was with more than one other person, it was, “Hey, let’s make a movie.”

Where we really grew together, and where he started showing his directing chops, was 10th grade English. I don’t know if I would’ve passed Mr. Neidhardt’s class without Rian and his video camera. We had to do a project for every book we read. There were other options besides “make a video,” but those options are lost to time. Probably write a report? Papier mache? Interpretive dance?

Regardless, we did a film project for every book. Each one pushed the scope beyond the previous. It started with little things like adding subtitles. By our third film, we (and by “we,” I often mean Rian, but the rest of us contributed) were splicing together shots to make it look like a raft was going down the freeway and that two people were split seconds away from being hit by a train.

By second semester, we were trying new things. Did you know that when you throw a big Raggedy Ann doll off a cliff and film it from far enough away, it tumbles down just like a human would? And I remember the first time we did a “character disappears from the screen” trick. I said “Danny, you’re no longer needed in this scene,” and waved my stick in front of Danny. We then filmed the same stick movement without Danny, and voila! it looked like I waved my stick and he disappeared.

Amateur stuff, really. But considering we were fifteen years old and digital editing didn’t exist yet, not too shabby.

As I think back now, a lot of our later projects had very little to do with the book. We had built up enough credit with the teacher (a concept I wish more of my students understood), and honestly, I think the teacher was enjoying seeing what we were capable of, as well. Or maybe he had learned his lesson after the one time he said we couldn’t film a video, and then fell asleep during me and Brendan’s debate about whether or not Dungeons and Dragons led to violence.

I knew we should’ve gone with “Where was Alice’s bedroom in the Brady Bunch”?

With another four or five friends that weren’t in that class, we formed a filming group we called the Flat Poodles, after a Weird Al song. We continued to make films throughout junior and senior years. Junior year, Rian, Brendan, and I took an ROP videography class. The teacher was a distant cousin of the NBA player, Jeff Hornacek. I bet that’s not his go-to for “famous person I’ve had encounters with” anymore.

By senior year, I had pretty much hit my ceiling, but Rian was still going strong. He took the ROP class a second time for no credit just to get more experience with editing and the new-fangled (1991 era) computer graphics. By then, the entire school was aware of his talents. I think every rally senior year featured some Rian Johnson video showcasing something around the school. Being on the student’s side back then, it didn’t seem all that momentous. Rian was talented, why wouldn’t his work be featured? Now I’m a teacher, and it occurs to me how out of the ordinary that really was. Everybody at the school knew he was a once-in-a-generation talent.

It wasn’t just his talent behind the camera, though. He writes everything he directs. Movies, at least. I don’t think the “Breaking Bad” people were going to let him write the third-to-last episode. He’s funny and his natural intelligence and empathy comes through in everything he does. That was true back then, too. The rest of us could occasionally help with one or more of those things. I can be funny. Brendan might have gone toe-to-toe in intelligence. Joon and Craig had the whole humanity and empathy things down pat. But Rian was the glue.

An aside: Rian had a hilarious routine for Phil Collins’s “Take Me Home,” where he pretended to be a taxi driver. “So take, take me home.” “Yeah, buddy, you already said that. Where’s your home?” “But I don’t remember.” He timed it perfectly, and the dialogue went on for most of the song. I hoped the taxi driver would show up in one of his movies. Brothers Bloom was probably the best chance. It looks like his next few movies will continue to take place “a long time ago” in a galaxy where Phil Collins doesn’t exist.

But that opening sequence of The Last Jedi, where Poe keeps saying he’ll hold for General Hux was excellent, yesno?

I’ve stolen some of Rian’s ideas, in addition to his VHS tape. I suck at coming up with ideas, as is evidenced that I’m writing this the day after I saw The Last Jedi. Had I thought of it in advance, I could’ve posted this on Friday and gotten all the clickbait. But no, I’ll be posting it after the buzz is gone. Typical. And now that scintillating expose on “Dora the Explorer” that I was thinking of writing this week will be put off till the new year.

Freshman year of college, I took a creative writing class. We had to write a new story every week. While I think my writing is good, um, acceptable, I can’t come up with a new fucking idea every fucking week. Seriously, what the hell? And you want me to sign up for your advanced class? You know I’m on the verge of discovering alcohol, right?

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, ideas. Whenever I was stuck for a new flash fiction idea (we called them “short stories” back then) that quarter, I would always remember some off-hand Rian comment. “I thought it would be cool to write a story from the perspective of an ant being washed down the drain in a sink.” Or “A guy is trying to get up the courage to talk to a girl and finally gives up, will maybe try again tomorrow, even though they’re the only survivors of a nuclear holocaust.” I think I stole both of those. Probably sucked horrendously at both. But add a creative writing class at U.C. Davis to the list of classes I would have failed without Rian.

Rian’s first movie, Brick, was filmed at our high school. If you look close enough, you can see the house I grew up in on the hill behind the school. I think he already had the idea for Brick, or the beginnings of it, in high school. Senior year, he had an idea for a movie about a high school student who saw through the mirage and knew the dark dealings going on beneath the shadows. We didn’t get much into it, only filmed two scenes, but the tone seemed very familiar thirteen years later.

The role of the high-school student, later “stolen” by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was originally played by yours truly. The part moptop, part mullet, mess of a hairdo that JGL sported in the movie was exactly what I looked like in 1992. I’m not saying I was the inspiration (yes, I am), but I definitely know that Rian equated my hairstyle to a specific type of character.

And let me go one further. Rian as a director wouldn’t exist without me. I was the first headache-of-an-actor that he ever had to “direct around.” Not in the prima donna, demanding my own dressing room, type of way. But in the “I’m a horrible actor” kind of way. Think Nicholas Cage playing Austin Powers. Over the top and punctuating every joke to death. After me, Bruce Willis must’ve been a breath of fresh air.

The last time I saw Rian was at the San Francisco opening for Brothers Bloom. Back then, he was still small time and had to/got to follow his movie around to each of its openings. I told him he needed to stop killing off all of his characters. Hollywood survives on sequels. I thought maybe he was going to become the directorial version of Leonardo di Caprio, who I believe has never acted the same role twice. It turns out Rian was just waiting for the RIGHT sequels to come along.

Although he still (spoiler alert) has the tendency to kill off main characters.

It was great seeing Rian at the Brothers Bloom premiere. Someone asked him how he got into filming, and he talked about \he and his friends grabbing the camera and running off into the canyon to, I don’t know, see what it looked like when we throw a Raggedy Andy off a cliff. I thought he was throwing out that anecdote because he knew I was in the audience. Nope. That’s just who he is.

If you see any interviews with Rian, be assured that his unassuming humility is real. Remember that the next time you think only assholes succeed. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit A FUCKING STAR WARS MOVIE AND ANOTHER TRILOGY TO COME.

My Facebook feed has been filled with well wishers this week. Most of them were tongue in cheek, “going to see a friend’s art project.” I haven’t seen a sour grape amongst them. Rian’s a guy you can’t root against. The entire SCHS Class of ’92 feels a huge bit of pride, and a small bit of ownership, for him. We referred to him as “Rian, Freaking, Johnson!” long before the rest of the world knew he deserved such a moniker.

Did we know he had a Star Wars in his future? Hell, no. It was the early 1990s and as far as we knew, Star Wars was over. The Timothy Zahn trilogy that started the Expanded Universe was just hitting the bookstores. At the time, Rian wanted to work on “Twin Peaks.” Hey, “Twin Peaks” is back, too.

But David Lynch, I knew Rian Johnson. Rian Johnson was a friend of mine. And you, David Lynch, are no Rian Johnson.

George Lucas, I’m looking at you, too.

I still sometimes show one of those 10th grade projects to my current students. It was ostensibly about “Johnny Got His Gun,” but we basically used the book as an excuse to make a “commies vs. good guys” war pic. Because Dalton Trumbo was a communist. Like I said, our teacher gave us some leeway by the end of the year. Did I mention the camera was broken for one project so we just spliced together scenes from “Three Amigos” and did voiceovers?

I show the film to my students, at least in theory, because it shows what we thought of the commies in the 1980s. Cold War propaganda and whatnot. My character’s first line is “It is good zat ve attack zem from behind, because if ve fight fair, ve are so weak.” Then we both laugh, exaggerated and simultaneous. “Hah. Hah. Hah.” Now re-read that dialogue in the style of Nicholas-Cage-as-Austin-Powers.

But the real reason I show it is to give my students a glimpse of me at their age. And, as a postscript, “Oh, that other guy? Yeah, he wrote and directed <Insert most recent Rian Johnson project here>.” This year, I added, “Here’s a YouTube clip of him on Jimmy Kimmel last week.”

This year, all three of my classes, after seeing the two of us on the same screen together and what Rian is today, asked if I was pissed.

“Why in the world would I be pissed? One of my friends is awesome!”

“Because that could’ve been you.”

“No. It really couldn’t have been.”

Even if I was an accomplished writer, I wouldn’t touch Star Wars with a ten-foot pole.

That’s how my students are, though. I don’t know if it’s an age thing (Teenagers!) or a generational thing (Millenials!) or a culture thing (Low SES!), but most of my students think another’s success is at the expense of theirs. When one of them catches a touchdown, the rest of his team is pissed that it wasn’t them.

Hopefully it’s just a teenage thing and they’ll grow out of it. I hope they get to feel the pride that comes when the most talented person you know is acknowledged for that talent. I’m sure I wasn’t as nervous as Rian was when the movie was about to start, but I probably attacked the reviews more voraciously. Oh please, oh please, oh please, I thought, let it be the best goddamned Star Wars movie ever.

And it was.

After the movie, I mentioned to my wife that, had I been Rian Johnson, after Carrie Fischer’s unfortunate death, I might have gone back in and switched who was flying the ship that went to light speed and cut the First Order ships in half. It would’ve been a fitting sacrifice for a character that we know won’t make it to Episode IX.

I also don’t think I would’ve turned Benicio del Toro. I had visions of him as the next Han Solo.

My wife’s response?

“Thank God you’re not Rian Johnson.”