Archive for Scotch Tape and Popsicle Sticks

Let the Past Die: The Last Jedi Flings the Torch

—this piece contains major spoilers from The Last Jedi

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When Rian Johnson was announced as the director for Episode VIII, I recall one of my first thoughts being “oh shit, the ‘Ozymandias’ guy”. While I had seen Looper and liked it well enough, Johnson’s work on Breaking Bad was the most interesting to me in light of this job—what would a TV director do with Star Wars?

So it’s fitting that one of the easiest comparisons people are making to The Last Jedi is ’33’, an early episode of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica that sees the heroes’ fleet hounded indefinitely by the Cylons with no escape in sight. We knew the Resistance’s escape from D’Qar would be an early set piece in the film, but never in a million years would I have expected that escape to be the entire film. Though maybe that’s on me—The Empire Strikes Back is mostly about the heroes running away as well.

Nevertheless, it felt like a bold decision in a film full of bold decisions. Both supporters and detractors can generally agree that The Force Awakens was the safe version of a new Star Wars movie—it needed to be loved by as many people as possible or the whole operation would have been limping right out of the gate. But The Last Jedi expands the cinematic (and tonal) language of Star Wars enough for both of them. Actual, non-Force-based flashbacks, time lapse shots, X-Men-style telepathic conversations, and that crazy lightspeed ramming sequence are just some of the new ideas Johnson injects into the saga here, and while one or two of them may not be well-regarded in the final analysis, you have to give the guy credit for daring to try. » Read more..

The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. XV – The Origins of the Jedi

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With The Last Jedi seemingly poised to spend a good chunk of time in the environs of the first Jedi Temple, it is likely to include revelations about the history of the Jedi, or even the Force itself, that affected Luke Skywalker profoundly and perhaps contributed to his belief that “it’s time for the Jedi to end.” We’ll have to wait a couple more weeks to find out what those revelations might be, and just how much detail we’re given. But in the meantime, did the Expanded Universe ever get into this?

You’d better believe it did—though impressively, Lucasfilm resisted the impulse to fully explain the Jedi’s beginnings for almost thirty-five years. In 2012, the comic book series Dawn of the Jedi by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema finally pulled back the curtain and stitched the few scant details we did have into a much larger tapestry of brand-new characters and conflicts that still felt true to their trademark brand of Star Wars melodrama. The series was successful enough that a tie-in novel, Into the Void by Tim Lebbon, was released about a year later (and only one year before the reboot was officially announced, meaning the whole project came in pretty close to the wire). Let’s talk about what they came up with. » Read more..

How Foggy is Too Foggy? The Minority Report, Year Three

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One in three named Star Wars characters is a straight, white human man. Three in four are male.

I know that because I’ve done the math—both before the reboot and ever since. If you’ve followed this blog for a while you probably know that, but I find it helpful every so often to restate my case for people who haven’t kept up with this particular project of mine (though the older pieces are of course still available). Once a year, I take it upon myself, with a big boost from Wookieepedia, to tabulate every named character from the previous twelve months1 of Star Wars novels, films, and television, and calculate how many are straight, white human men (hereafter WHMs), and separately, how many are males of any kind.

The percentage of a story’s cast that does not quality as WHMs is what I call its diversity score—for example, one WHM in a cast of ten would means a score of 90. The percentage of non-male characters I call the parity score, with an implied “ideal” score of around 50.2 Diversity scores have much less of an objective “ideal”—the occasional story with no WHMs would hardly be the worst thing to happen, but in a perfect world I’d say an average score in the high eighties/low nineties would be pretty good.

That said, we are nowhere near either of those targets, and that’s why I do this. The numbers can of course be broken down much further and endless productive discussion can be had over how intersectional the human cast should be, the ideal amount of LGBTQ representation, the ideal amount of aliens and droids, and most important of all, the strength of the characters as conceived and portrayed—but the bottom line is we’re not where we should be, and this is my way of looking at the big picture of representation and whether things are moving in one direction or another, so that we might decide how to move forward. That is a question with many, many good answers, none of which I claim to offer here. » Read more..

  1. Note that since the new canon effectively began with A New Dawn, I use that as my rough “zero point” rather than calendar years. []
  2. Nonbinary characters do count toward a work’s score, but there’s so few of them thus far that statistically they barely even register. []

Quick Years: What Star Wars Novels Have Been Getting Wrong

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One of the first adult Star Wars novels of the new canon was Tarkin, by franchise veteran James Luceno. Many of Luceno’s books have been “biographical” in nature, choosing a subject and covering a large swath of their existence in one story. Sometimes this works well, as in Darth Plagueis, which had a pretty open canvas to work with and, perhaps most importantly, a definitive climax and resolution that had never been told in detail. Other times, notably when alternating between backstory and events in the “present day”, Luceno has had trouble maintaining a balance between the primary plot and the wide-ranging flashbacks (do you even remember what Millennium Falcon‘s framing story was? I don’t).

This was the case with Tarkin, I felt—“the central story of Teller and his group of renegades stealing the Carrion Spike and cutting a swath through the Empire with it was actually pretty interesting,” I wrote at the time, “but ultimately I think I would’ve preferred a novel of just that.” Unlike with Falcon, I was more interested in the present than in the past, but the issue was the same—an imbalance wherein the thing I really wanted to read was constantly being interrupted by something far less interesting and only nominally related.

I thought then that a good solution would be to just jettison the alternating structure and tell overtly biographical stories, but wouldn’t you know it? Over the last few years, Star Wars has repeatedly followed that very advice—and I’ve come to see things very differently. » Read more..

On Theorizing, or Why Benicio Del Toro is Playing Ezra Bridger and I’ll Fight You Over It

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Last month’s The Last Jedi photo spread in Vanity Fair, among lots of other things, gave us our first look at the characters played by Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro—something that’s especially interesting for Star Wars, where knowing that an actor is “in” a movie isn’t necessarily a guarantee that you’ll see their face. While Dern’s character was given not just a name, but a rank and affiliation—Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo of the Resistance—Del Toro’s character is identified only as “DJ”, and if the accompanying article can be trusted (though let’s be honest, it can’t), he gets no moniker at all in the film itself.

Picking through the scraps of information doled out in advance of a new film and trying to decide what’s important is one of the most fun things about this new era for me—who is Bobbajo? What’s a “Guavian Enforcer”? And who is this intriguing Constable Zuvio?? For us to know about them months beforehand, these must be crucial parts of the story, right?

Well, nope. Not remotely. The truth of Star Wars is that everything is a “big deal” in the sense that it’s new and fantastical and captures people’s attention—but actually playing a major role in the story is another thing entirely. This is reinforced by the fact that many well-known, respected actors will gladly sign on for what amounts to a cameo role, or even a completely anonymous one, just for the thrill of being in Star Wars. Knowing that Benicio Del Toro is in The Last Jedi, in other words, is a very, very different thing from knowing that his character matters. The fact that he allegedly doesn’t even have a full name supports this—“DJ” could be to TLJ what “Bobbajo” was to The Force Awakens: a glorified walk-on role.

Having said all that, though? I decided pretty quickly that he’s playing a grown-up Ezra Bridger. » Read more..

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