2017 was a year of movies for me. Never before have I set aside so much money to go to the movies in one calendar year, and never before have I been so disappointed by the common thread of their lazy and formulaic assembly-line production. That goes especially for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which was the most bitterly disappointing film of the year — and that’s saying something.
It’s not because I don’t like spirituality mixed with science fiction and it’s not because I don’t “get” Star Wars. It’s quite the opposite. I love Star Wars too much to see the ancient and sacred art of storytelling be relegated to the role of a mere afterthought in this brave new entertainment industry. The recognition of familiar characters and legends has become nothing more than a marketing tool brand association, which is all that remains when a story fails to respect the values and messages of its spiritual predecessors.
The overall plot of Star Wars episodes one through three is the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker. That of episodes four through six is the redemption of Anakin’s legacy by his son Luke. The story of episodes seven and eight, and presumably the forthcoming nine, is something murky and unclear, but deliberately and abrasively not focused on the Skywalker legacy. Kylo Ren, nephew to Luke and Grandson to Anakin, has some kinship to the memory and intentions of each, and his arc so far has been to shed himself of these not as a continuation of their story, but as an escape from it. Luke’s presence in these movies is like that of an old man bringing his out-dated music to a contemporary party. The ongoing Star Wars trilogy is too busy including as much diversity into it’s cast as possibly to be bothered with a cohesive plot. Storytelling is so twentieth century, man.
The two big reveals that should have paralleled the original trilogy’s reveal (that Darth Vader is Luke’s father Anakin), were that the mysterious new ally, Rey, has no connection to the Skywalkers, and that their mysterious new powerful enemy has no connection to anything or anyone at all. In other words, Rey shows us that this isn’t a movie about the lives and deeds of the Skywalkers, and Snoke shows us that this isn’t a movie about the lives and deeds of the jedi or the sith, begging the question: In what way, shape or form is this movie even a continuation of existing stories under the “Star Wars” banner?
Even the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is so old that it was initially recorded on stone tablets, had a twelfth sequel tablet added to it many years after the original eleven, by a different author or authors. So there is a classical precedent for new artists to continue an established legend, a technique illustrated brilliantly in this year’s “Logan” as well, which touches on unprecedented tones and themes for the Marvel Comic’s iconic Wolverine character.
Even though my personal preference would have been to see Wolverine in the iconic over-the-top costume that I came to know the character by from consuming comic books and cartoon shows, the creators of this movie had a different message to give. That’s ok to do. That’s not why Movies like “Star Wars VIII”, and several other films from 2017 and 2016 fail in their attempts to carry on telling stories about pre-existing characters and premises.
The writing has been on the wall for lack-luster and unnecessary remakes. Just look at “War for the Planet of the Apes.” It simply shows a war between two factions, one very much like the other in every way that matters, except that the audience knows that the apes are going to win. It amounts to little more than a war movie about how one team defeats the other, losing any semblance of the social commentary about the dangers of erasing history given to us in the original “Planet of the Apes.”
I’m a capitalist and a libertarian, so my beef is not with the filmmakers making money. I understand how detrimental socialist policy can be to art from the tragic situation in Cuba. I’m not suggesting that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a bad movie because it was created with the intention of making money. Any good movie will make money, because good art always gets recognized. If anyone tells you otherwise, it’s because they’ve just come from The Emperor’s New Clothes Fashion Show.
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The problem with this movie and many others from this year isn’t that they made money; it’s that they are demonstrating a disconnect between our past morals and values, and an inability to learn from the past and stay true to their roots.
There is a right way and a wrong way to continue a science fiction franchise. Whatever you do, understand the message that the your source material has provided, and don’t undermine it or go against it. If you have a different or conflicting message to give, then you aren’t continuing the thesis of the first; you are writing its antithesis. While no ideas should be prohibited from cinema, it’s disrespectful to use the name and popularity of an antithetical masterpiece to give an incompatible message.