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Second Look: Middle-Chapter Romance – How The Last Jedi Holds The Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones Accountable

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

As regular readers of the site may know, I do not interpret The Last Jedi as romantic. However, I understand many of the reasons why others do, even if I don’t agree. Romance has always been a part of Star Wars, and many relationships end up being mirrors of each other. For my part, I can read romance into The Last Jedi from that angle, though it’s not necessarily a positive spin. With parallels to the previous Star Wars romances visible, I can see this film as a commentary on The Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones.

Movies are a type of communication. And like any type of communication, movies can communicate their ideas well, poorly, or anywhere in between. So when I speak about how the two previous “middle chapters” of Star Wars fail in their romances, I am not discussing the idea of Anakin or Han as romantic leads, nor am I critiquing fans who see either of them (or Kylo) as just that. I’m discussing how the film communicates those ideas of romance. This is a Doylist discussion.

The Last Jedi in general is a wonderful exercise in Watsonian and Doylist interpretations. “Watsonian” is from the universe: John Watson explaining the events of his adventures with Sherlock Holmes. “Doylist” is from the meta: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle explaining why he wrote those events.

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Second Look: How The Empire Strikes Back Ruined Star Wars

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

“The saga comes to an end”, announced the trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. It isn’t the first time we’ve heard that.

In 2005, Revenge of the Sith was marketed with the tagline “The saga is complete,” and the first six movies are still available in a blu-ray box set titled “The Complete Saga”. The sequel trilogy was an unnecessary addition to the story of Anakin Skywalker, and the prequels themselves were unnecessary additions to the story of Luke. What is now a multi-generational saga, with a final episode which will define the legacy of the Skywalker family, was, just a few years ago, the story of the rise, fall and redemption of Darth Vader; and a few years before that, it was the hero’s journey of a farmboy.

Nothing, however, changed what Star Wars is more than The Empire Strikes Back. With Episode V, we gained a blockbuster franchise, a sprawling family saga, a modern myth. But we also lost something – a weird, fascinating high-concept movie, an episode of a Flash Gordon-style serial that the audience would stumble upon without ever knowing what came before, or what came afterwards; and the completion of a thematic trilogy of films by a young filmmaker which dealt with leaving home and going out into the world.

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Second Look: Boba Fett and The Mandalorian: A Role Fulfilled

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

How many of our readers out there remember the show Robot Chicken? It was a sketch comedy show with crude stop motion puppetry, and odds are if you do remember it you mainly remember their various Star Wars segments or specials. I ask because there’s a particular sketch that’s been stuck in my mind ever since it originally aired over a decade ago. It’s a cold open for an episode that has Boba Fett returning from the dead to arrive on Endor’s moon, killing a bunch of Ewoks with blasters, rockets and lightsabers, and winding up with Leia clad in her gold bikini wrapped in his arms. The segment then switches perspective to show that the whole scenario was a fantasy narrated by the show’s stereotypical nerd character, a fantasy his equally nerdy friends fawn over.

It’s meant to be satire and is a pretty biting one at that. And the most biting part about it is that it’s not too far off from a lot of the stories that did involve or star the OG Mandalorian. Boba Fett has been both a role-fulfillment and wish-fulfillment fantasy character for authors and fans of Star Wars since his first appearance, and perhaps more than any other character in the whole saga in terms of what he does in “official” material versus his role onscreen. As time has gone on his character has evolved and developed away from that, but those fantasies haven’t gone away, and the old version of Fett (or a character like him) is still sought after.

Let’s get a couple of definitions really quickly: wish-fulfillment means that a character does things that the author or the author’s intended audience wish they could do in real life but can’t. Role-fulfillment means a character that people want to see within a given fictional universe and haven’t, so they adjust an existing character to fit that bill. And I want to emphasize that neither of these are inherently negative things. They are, like all creative tropes, tools in a creator’s toolbox, and it’s how they’re used that ultimately matters. In the context of this discussion, many people have used Boba Fett both to fill a role that appeals to them that Star Wars otherwise lacks, and to do things in Star Wars that they might like to do. I can illustrate both of these points with an example.

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Second Look: Press B to Join the Dark Side – On Jedi Gaming in the New Canon

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

The first gameplay footage from Jedi: Fallen Order dropped recently, and it was…well, if I had seen it when I was twelve, I would have been very excited for this game. Most of the issues I have are things that you can see anywhere else on the internet, issues with out-of-date mechanics and unengaging combat. Instead, here, I wanted to talk about something different, how the game seems lackluster as a Star Wars story.

The developers have made a few things very clear about the game. It is a linear, story-driven, Jedi action adventure RPG about a Padawan who survives Order 66. A story we’ve all heard before—but just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean you can’t explore it from a new and exciting angle. You could explore the conflict between the dark and light as it relates to what he must do to survive conflicts with his Jedi teachings.

Except, they aren’t. The devs have said there is no light/dark moral system. There are no consequences to running into every situation swinging your lightsaber like a madman. It sounds like the game pretty much forces you to play that way. The devs also say they liked that the character was on the run because it meant that they could have you go into situations and kill without thinking about it. So rather than using the moral dilemmas involved in being a Jedi forced to fight stormtroopers who are essentially lawmen doing their jobs, we ignore that and go straight to being an indiscriminate killer.

The thing that puts me the most off of this game is the use of the Force in the trailer. For someone who never even completed their Padawan training, you do some crazy things with the Force: picking people up with your mind; running faster than blaster fire; even stopping blaster bolts in midair. Abilities we have seen used rarely, and when they are used, it’s by incredibly powerful individuals.

So why does this game have a Padawan that is freely using powers that most Jedi Masters struggle with? Simple, the game is a power fantasy. Most video games are power fantasies, with the story written around the fantasy rather than a story being written, then a game built around the story. There is nothing wrong with this; I’ve never complained about any game doing it before, so why does it rub me the wrong way when this particular game is a power fantasy? Is it possible that the Jedi and the Force are anti-power fantasy?

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The Rise of Skywalker: It’s Kind Of A Lot

This piece contains major spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker. Like, all of them, probably several times over. Proceed accordingly.

Mike: Well, that happened.

I anticipated that my piece on The Rise of Skywalker two days ago would likely serve better as a semi-conclusive statement on the sequel era than something I forced myself to stay awake for in the aftermath of the movie, so instead of tackling this reaction piece single-handedly I invited the whole staff to weigh in with their first thoughts—but some quick ones from me first, because I’m in charge.

My friend Pearl and I both loved The Force Awakens, but we had absolutely polar reactions to The Last Jedi, and we’ve been arguing about it for two years, and will probably keep arguing about it forever because we’re like that. What I kept thinking during my first viewing of Rise tonight was that the movie felt precision-calibrated to make both of us, despite the separate universes we’ve been living in, equally happy—or at the very least, minimize our unhappiness at all costs.

Palpatine’s alive, but kind of not. Rey’s parents were nobody, from a certain point of view. Rose is there, but she doesn’t do much. There’s a gay kiss, but not the one people wanted. There’s a Reylo kiss, but it’s quick and vague and then he drops dead. Chewie dies and comes back. Threepio “dies” and comes back. There are porgs, but just barely. Hux goes rogue, but just barely. And on, and on—J.J. Abrams seems to screamingly, desperately want to make as many of us as happy as he possibly can, and if it required smothering logical and thematic coherence with a pillow, he was just the guy to do it.

But the thing is, superficial enjoyment is Abrams’s number one skill—and I’m honestly not saying that in a critical way, he’s really good at it. TFA definitely has a much, much easier lift than this thing does, but it’s got superficial enjoyability leaking out of every frame—and when it’s dumb, it’s just as dumb as Rise is. So I find myself in a weird position where I’m intellectually cynical but emotionally content, because a surprise acid trip that ruined your plans for the evening is still an acid trip, and chemically, it’s got you.

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