Since it’s Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you!), and The Last Jedi has recently become available for home viewing, and Solo: A Star Wars Story will be hitting screens in a few weeks, I figured the time is right to go through a long-delayed rite of interweb passage. I’m finally making some time to take pot-shots at good ol’ Star Wars! Even if it’s way too late, why not take a dip in the almost-empty pool already clouded up by a million nerds’ sebaceous discharge and medicated eczema cream?
I have touched on the events from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a few times on this website, but in case I haven’t made it absolutely clear, I am a hardcore, lifelong Star Wars fan. The first one I saw was The Empire Strikes Back at age five in the summer of 1980. In those pre-home video days, hugely popular movies were often re-released back into theaters. So even though, at two, I was too young to remember seeing the original Star Wars in 1977, I got to see it on the big screen, twice, during its 1982 re-release. Then I watched the original trilogy conclude with a crushing defeat for the evil Empire in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Yub nub!
…then we all grew up and moved on for awhile. Star Wars went into a lengthy hibernation, except for the development of a Star Wars role-playing game by West End Games (giving names and backstories to several minor on-screen characters) in the mid-1980s, which was the seed that grew into the “Expanded Universe.”
…then the EU really took off with a trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn starting in 1991, continuing the story beyond Return of the Jedi. They were…pretty ok. Further novels in the EU were not-so-much ok.
…then came the prequel films from 1999 to 2005. They have their latter-day defenders, but the general consensus is that the prequels were…underwhelming. Like most of us, I found Revenge of the Sith a worthy entry in the overall series. The Phantom Menace had a plethora of problems, but retained an earnest likeability at its core. Much of Attack of the Clones, though, was downright dire, with plot holes you could fly a spice freighter through, unclear and illogical character motivations, and dialogue that was bad even by prequel standards.
…then Disney bought the entire Star Wars franchise outright in 2012, wiped most of the EU from the canon (the correct move), and began the post-ROTJ stroyline anew. I was totally on board. Despite its obvious “fan service” (which I don’t think is automatically a bad thing — yes, I’m a fan and, shucks, I don’t mind being “serviced” now and then) and repeating some story beats from A New Hope, I thought J.J. Abrams did a fine job crafting the opening salvo of a new trilogy for a new generation with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And I was already an admirer of the next installment’s writer-director, Rian Johnson. I talked up his 2005 indie debut, Brick, to anyone who would listen, and his time-travelling crime drama Looper was one of the best films of 2012.
So when I put on my 3D glasses settled into my seat at the IMAX theater to see Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi on the pre-opening night of Thursday, December 14, 2017, I was vibrating with anticipation…and I was duly blown away. I found tears running down my cheeks two or three times. It was a dark, complex, very grown-up episode of the saga, full of angst, desperation, and characters making snap judgements and hasty mistakes. I was moved in a way that few films moved me. A little overlong? Yes, the editor’s scissors could have made an extra snip here and there, especially in Canto Bight. That was my main quibble (there was a secondary one, see #14 below…)
I had avoided all spoilers in the weeks before I saw the film, so the next morning I was excited to go online and plunge into the fan reviews and discussions. To my shock, when I made my first stop on the good ol’ Star Wars subreddit, I saw a tidal wave of…negativity. Howls of outrage, even. Other websites with active discussion forums were in a similar state. It seemed that everyone in internet-land hated it.
Whaa…? Did I (and every professional film critic, who all praised it to the skies) see a different movie? “Bombs can’t fall in zero gravity” and other whiny horseshit was being hollered by pedantic dweebs as they flung themselves on their racecar beds in despair. (Sound doesn’t travel in space either, but everyone wants to hear those engines, lasers, and explosions, don’t they? Yes, you too, Neckbeard. Remember, it’s a fantasy.)
Many of the complaints seemed to be along the lines of it didn’t “feel like” a Star Wars movie. “It’s too different” these guys pouted, and I’ll bet you a frosty mug of blue milk a lot of them were the same chinless wonders who bitched that The Force Awakens was “too much of the same.” Also, everyone seemed want Snoke to have some kind of awesome backstory, and everyone wanted Rey’s parents to be some kind of noteworthy figures. Well, guess what? Fuck ‘em, says The Last Jedi. None of that turns out to be important to the story as it barrells forward. Despite the (admittedly handy) existence of Wookieepdia, not every character needs an elaborate backstory, and not every character has to have family ties with other characters. (I suppose Kylo could be lying about Rey’s kin, but I hope not.) The Star Wars galaxy is a little too small as it is.
The other major source of pissing and moaning was the characterization of Luke Skywalker, which I thought was the film’s masterstroke. In The Last Jedi, Luke has become a Yoda figure — a wild-eyed, disillusioned hermit, who believes to the core of his being that he is a catastrophic failure (echoing Yoda’s Revenge of the Sith line “into exile, I must go” after failing to stop the Emperor). This was a nice piece of work by Johnson, and performed beautifully by Mark Hamill (who was snubbed by the Oscars in the Supporting Actor category, if you ask me.) But evidently, Luke wasn’t enough like the old “Expanded Universe Luke” for some naysayers, clutching their pearls in high dudgeon. Based on the decent-sized amount I’ve read myself back in the day, a good chunk of the original EU was uninspired, juvenile, color-by-numbers garbage. Seriously, I’ve never read anything as badly written as some of that shit. I don’t care what the upcoming stand-alone Han Solo movie does, it will never be as clunky and stilted as Ann C. Crispin’s version of the Solo origin story. I loved the fact that The Force Awakens had Han return to his roots as a shady, second-rate smuggler and made Leia a boots-on-the-ground Resistance general. The EU’s choice? Make them a boring old married couple dealing with the bureaucracy of the “New Republic.” And the EU’s Luke Skywalker was a dull plaster saint with nothing truly interesting about him. That’s what people wanted?
After a half-hour of wading through these complaints, I actually unsubscribed from the Star Wars subreddit in a fit of disgust, and thought dark thoughts about perpetually butt-hurt fanboys who were disappointed that The Last Jedi wasn’t the movie they had “written for themselves in their heads” (to quote my very perceptive wife, who also loved the film, along with all of my friends and anyone whose opinion I respect.)
Since those first few days after release, more measured and thoughtful opinions have become the norm and TLJ has been established in the upper end of most people’s rankings. The (very vocal) minority who once dominated discussions of the film are now reduced to mumbling bitterly among themselves and making occasional snide remarks on online forums.
So…since every other opinionated man-child on the internet has already weighed in, and this clickbait-worthy subject may get this little-known blog some views, why shouldn’t the Holy Bee embrace his own nitpicky tendencies and take a moment to wallow in the negative aspects of the piece of pop culture he ostensibly loves? Keep in mind, if there were no goddamn “Special Editions,” this list would be a little shorter. And, to reference another remark from my wife, literally no movie — especially a “space fantasy” — can stand up to the type of microscopic scrutiny Star Wars has endured over a span of five decades and nine entries.
Here we go anyway…
15. Luke keeps his last name. If you’re a Skywalker placed in hiding from the unhinged cyborg who formerly went by that moniker–and who everyone knows will obsessively search for you–wouldn’t a name change be in order? I’ll even accept putting him on Anakin’s origin planet with (step) members of Anakin’s immediate family as being a “hide in plain sight” form of double bluff against someone who hates sand, but at least make the kid a Lars.
14. “Leia Poppins” in The Last Jedi. I know people can survive for quite a few seconds in the vacuum of space, and if you’re strong with the Force, probably for awhile longer. But when Leia’s command ship is blasted apart, and her unconscious body drifts stiffly toward another ship, I thought it just looked a tad silly. I expected The Blue Danube waltz to start playing, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
13. Everyone is a hot-shit pilot. Not every sentient being in the galaxy should be able to fly a spaceship. I liked the character detail in A New Hope of Obi-Wan clearly hating even being a passenger during space flight. Escaping Imperial capture in a modified freighter with an impulsive gambler at the controls is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, and it shows in Kenobi’s distressed expression as he buckles himself in. But in the prequels, he’s zipping around in a Delta-7 starfighter, blasting enemies and avoiding asteroids like a goddamn pro. He has one vague line of dialogue about flying being for droids, but you’d never know it based on his Chuck Yeager-like performance. Also, I was a little annoyed that orphaned scavenger Rey could pilot the Millennium Falcon well enough–on her first time even seeing the inside of the cockpit–to evade destruction by trained First Order pilots. (Yeah, yeah, “she’s strong with the Force…”)
12. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s desert hermit outfit is actually the official Jedi uniform. These brown and tan, rough-hewn heavy robes worked well for a crazy old wizard in the barren, sun-baked Jundland Wastes…but were probably not so effective in the posh Jedi Council chamber on Coruscant. But there they were anyway. A great choice by the costume department in A New Hope was retroactively and carelessly applied in the prequels. The “Oh, Obi-Wan wore them in the first film, so that must be what all Jedi wear all the time” reasoning is the type of reductive thinking that makes the Star Wars universe frustrating at times. (Yes, Yoda wore something similar in Empire, but like Kenobi in A New Hope, we’re talking about a reclusive hermit living far away from civilization. It’s a “reclusive hermit” uniform, if anything.)
11. De-mystifying Boba Fett. Even though he went out like a chump at the end of Return of the Jedi‘s first act, we all know Fett was one of SW’s coolest characters. His gunslinger persona and grim, quiet authority in the original trilogy (he had but four lines) made him utterly fascinating and he already owned a huge place in our imaginations. So we didn’t need to find out later that he’s merely a clone like all the other clones (without the additional genetic mods). We also didn’t need to know he’s a clone with daddy issues. We certainly didn’t need to see him as a scowling little snot-nosed kid in Attack of the Clones.
Remember…A detailed backstory is not always a good thing! Yet every alien or robot that waddled or rolled in front of the camera for a few seconds has a biography the size of a 19th-century Russian novel thanks to the overbaked original Expanded Universe. (“Tales From the Third Row of the Yavin 4 Briefing Room,” etc.)
10. The “comedy” of Return of the Jedi. Another complaint about The Last Jedi attacked its more-frequent-than-usual use of wisecracks, which seemed to irritate those who feel that witty dialogue has no place in Star Wars. (If I wanted a dull, humorless slog, I’d watch any episode of any Star Trek.) At least the jokes in TLJ were actually funny, unlike, say, Chewbacca doing the Tarzan yell as he swung from a tree in ROTJ. I still have a hard time accepting that actually happened.
One of the best moments of humor in the saga is in Empire. Just before he goes into the carbon freeze, Leia confesses her love for Han, and his classic reply — “I know” — was thought up by Harrison Ford and director Irvin Kershner right before the cameras rolled on that scene, and reflected their total understanding of the characters, and was a savvy use of comic relief in what was a very tense part of the story. In ROTJ, the same dialogue is repeated–with the roles reversed–for the sake of a cheap, callback laugh of recognition as Han and Leia grin at each other. I always cringe at that part.
9. Fart jokes in The Phantom Menace. If anyone ever complains about the humor in The Last Jedi in my presence, I would want to make them watch an endless loop of an eopie passing a copious amount of gas right at the camera.
8. Restaurants in Attack of the Clones. The old cantina in A New Hope felt properly alien and exotic. The establishments in Clones were way too Earth-like and pedestrian. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s investigations lead them to what seems to be a down-market, overcrowded Buffalo Wild Wings, where Obi-Wan is approached by a drug-dealer alien with cheesy-looking My Favorite Martian antennae, offering “death sticks.” (This entry would be at #1 if the movie actually mentioned the incredibly stupid name the EU gave this incredibly stupid alien — “Elan Sleazebaggano.”)
They later amble into what is essentially a Johnny Rockets — a perfect replication of a 1950s American diner, complete with a robot waitress who spouted a gum-cracking Brooklyn accent, and a gruff-but-loveable alien fry-cook modeled on Mel from the old Alice TV show. (And yes, the robot waitress was named Flo. Pause the film and check the nametag.)
7. “Real mother” conundrum. In Return of the Jedi, Luke asks Leia if she remembers her real — as opposed to adoptive — mother, obviously meaning the charatcer that turned out to be Padme in the prequels. And Leia says she does, and quite vividly (“very beautiful…but sad…”), despite Padme dying immediately during childbirth. This gaping plot hole has never been adequately patched over by either Lucasfilm or the myriad of desperate-sounding fan theories (“they Force-bonded at the moment of birth…”). It will never cease to bother me.
6. Midi-chlorians. The Force was originally introduced as a powerful, mystical energy field that is generated by and surrounds all living creatures, and could be manipulated by sensitive individuals. It added an element of spirituality to the saga, and was beautifully described at various times by Obi-Wan, and especially Yoda (“luminous beings are we…”). Then George Lucas ham-fistedly clunks it all up in Phantom Menace by establishing it as being caused by a surplus of a specific microorganism in the bloodstream. Lucas’s horrible story decision on this issue has been explained away by prequel apologists, who opine that midi-chlorians don’t necessarily cause the Force, but are merely an indicator of who can wield the Force skillfully. Bullshit. That wasn’t Lucas’s intention and you know it. Viewing the films in “Machete Order” (4-5-2-3-6) totally eliminates Phantom Menace as narratively unneeded (I tried it and it works), and also wipes out the whole midi-chlorian thing, as it’s barely mentioned anywhere else.
5. “Jedi Rocks.” The perfectly acceptable little song performed by the three-piece house band at Jabba’s palace in the original Return of the Jedi is replaced in the Special Edition (the only version now commercially available) by a cheesy CGI cartoon of a musical production number with a cast of dozens that sends me scrambling for the fast-forward button every time. I’m not too happy about them replacing the tribal Ewok song at the end with some Yanni-sounding New Age crap, either.
4. Jabba in the Special Edition A New Hope. The pre-release rough edit of the first Star Wars film had a scene where Han Solo is confronted by a human Jabba the Hutt, who at that juncture was played by Irish actor Declan Mulholland, a heavyset chap draped in robes and furs. It was cut out before the original May 1977 release, because it served no plot-related purpose, and simply repeated information conveyed earlier in the Han vs. Greedo encounter. The movie, without this scene, played in theaters through the original release, at least two theatrical re-releases, and two home video releases.
Most hard-core fans vaguely knew of its existence (the scene appears in the novelization), but no one cared about it or missed it. Jabba was re-imagined as a huge, slug-like alien for Return of the Jedi, and was portrayed in that film by a gigantic, latex practical-effect puppet, performed with great effect and impact.
Then the scene was re-inserted into the 1997 Special Edition theatrical and video version of A New Hope for no reason, other than to test the ILM staff’s animation skills. (They failed.) Declan Mulholland was digitally overlaid with the world’s most primitive CGI version of the alien Jabba that looked like the talking trash heap from Fraggle Rock and, at about two-thirds the size of his later incarnation, had none of the menace and greasy repulsiveness that the original puppet and performers managed to convey. And yes, Han does step on Jabba’s tail in this scene, causing Jabba’s eyes to bug out in what was believed to be a comical fashion. There’s room for humor in Star Wars, but it should not be reduced to a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
3. Anakin and Padme’s romance in Attack of the Clones. By citing this as one of the primary flaws of the Star Wars saga, I realize I’m essentially negating a substantial portion of an entire episode altogether. I’m fine with that. Attack of the Clones, without a doubt, is the weakest link of the saga, largely due to the horribly-executed attempt at developing the crucial romantic relationship between Luke and Leia’s parents. Is the writing horrible, or the acting? It’s a self-devouring circle. The actors could have done a better job if they had better lines to speak. But if they were truly skilled actors, maybe they could have elevated the inept writing? (Of course, I’m talking primarily about Hayden Christensen. Natalie Portman, very good in other things, is somewhat passable here, although she always looks faintly embarrassed.) Any way you slice it, you’ve got the absolute nadir of the entire film series. Padme is generally portrayed as an intelligent woman in a position of great power, yet she’s inexplicably attracted to Anakin — a sulky, bratty asshole five years her junior, who openly demonstrates sociopathic tendencies and is quite up front about his creepy obsession with her. It truly boggles the mind. It also raises the question, is she all about the physical, and Anakin’s just a demon in the sack? That would explain a lot, but doesn’t seem right for the generally libido-free Star Wars universe.
2. Greedo shooting first. George Lucas’s revision of the showdown between Han Solo and the bounty hunter Greedo in the Special Edition of A New Hope is symbolic of everything wrong with the Special Edition versions of the original films, and with Grandpa Lucas’s latter-day instincts as a whole. For those of you who don’t know (though if you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you do know), in the original film, Solo, at this point in the story a space pirate and smuggler of questionable morality, gut-shoots a fellow lowlife in cold blood. By way of a very clumsy edit in the Special Edition, the scene is altered so that Greedo gets his shot off first, making Han’s subsequent dispatching of him a self-defense move. Solo’s character development is compromised and his bad-assery is completely neutered in a lame attempt to make him a family-friendly good guy from the get-go.
1. Jar Jar Binks. The universal consensus laid down over the last almost-twenty years is absolutely spot-on — Jar Jar Binks is the most annoying character in film history. (Willie Scott is a distant second, and anything played by Pauly Shore is tied for third.) I have to say that I actually enjoy some elements of The Phantom Menace. Its tone and style mark it as closer in spirit to something like Willow (produced by Lucas) or The NeverEnding Story — a simplistic children’s fantasy adventure. I never made the common “too much boring talk about trade routes and space politics” complaint. That never bothered me. The film looks beautiful, and has a great John Williams score. (“Duel of the Fates,” right? High five to Johnny Dubs on that one.) The underwater chase and pod race are stunning set-pieces. And it has Liam Neeson as the rebellious, anti-establishment Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn.
But every time Jar Jar and his dumbass Trix rabbit ears flippity-flop onto the screen, the movie grinds to a halt so the audience can have a laugh at his supposedly adorable antics. One character totally ruins what could have been a pretty decent film. (And adds another feather in the cap of Machete Order, which by eliminating Episode I, eliminates Jar Jar almost entirely — even if the Machete Order creator correctly admits Episode II is the lesser film overall.)
It’s a good thing there are about 10,000 other moments of total awesomeness in the saga. And even though I’ve taken my jabs at him here, and he’s turned into something of a pop culture punching bag, I still say all hail George Lucas, without whom…life would be far less fun.