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The Force Reinforced: How The Last Jedi Reaffirms the Values of Star Wars

—this piece contains major spoilers from The Last Jedi

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“Light … darkness … a balance.”

“It’s so much bigger.”

Those lines, in the first teaser for The Last Jedi, led to a mountain of speculation about just how far the film would go in terms of challenging and changing our understanding of the Force and the Jedi Order. Could it herald the beginning of “grey Jedi,” or Rey and Kylo Ren starting a new order of “balanced Force users” (whatever that is supposed to mean)? As it turned out, those lines were not in the film, and far from reinventing or even re-framing our understanding of the Force, TLJ reinforced it.

The entire film is ambitious in its attempts to cram in as many classic Star Wars themes and values as possible: the danger of impulsive, reckless heroism and the importance of patience; that staying neutral in the fight against evil makes you complicit; and the notion that the younger generation will redeem the mistakes of the old. It is in its exploration of the Force, though, that TLJ covers the most ground, and makes old Star Wars values more explicit in the text than ever.

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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

Phasma v Inferno Squad: Dawn of Empire

—major Phasma spoilers ahead—

phasmanovelIt’s interesting that both of these books have come out in close proximity to each other. Each exists to promote a different item – Phasma is a Journey to the Last Jedi book, while Battlefront II: Inferno Squad tells you exactly what it is about. Both give an Imperial viewpoint, but they do so in very different ways.

Inferno Squad puts us in the position of four highly skilled Imperials – fighter pilots, military mechanic, and intelligence officer – and shows us how they view the world. Phasma is a biographical tale of its enigmatic lead, but is wrapped up in a far more interesting story of conflict with a First Order true believer. Of the two books I found Phasma the easier read. Both books sketch a very unpleasant picture, but only Inferno Squad attempts to give the reader an inside perspective of the Empire. The equivalent picture for the First Order and Phasma’s view of it is never covered in Phasma, instead it’s a story of how others perceive her.

It comes down to brutal honesty versus salesmanship. Inferno Squad seems to want to sell the reader on the worth of Imperial ideals. Phasma does not care about that, she does not care about you. You don’t like how she does things? Phasma says fuck you. She’s too harsh? Phasma says fuck you. Can’t she look out for anyone other than number one? Phasma says fuck you. The reader still gets a very clear picture of who and what Phasma is all about, but there is a lack of justification offered. There is character in Phasma who is all about justified belief and that’s Cardinal, the red stormtrooper who wants to know her origin.

Inferno Squad gives the most extreme, hardcore Imperial viewpoint there has ever been. There have been Imperial characters before – Legends’ Jahan Cross in Agent of the Empire, Baron Fel in X-Wing, more recently Rae Sloane in A New Dawn / Aftermath, however, in all three cases, it was either very clear they did not care for superweaponry as represented by the Death Star or they were ambiguous in their support of it. Inferno Squad dispenses with this and gives us Iden Versio, who we first encounter defending the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin while she still exults in the destruction of Alderaan by it. Just to hammer the point home further, if this first impression was not sufficient, the squad later drinks a bottle of Alderaanian wine as a celebration. Read More

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Breha and Leia Organa

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This article contains some plot spoilers after the intro

Leia: Princess of Alderaan is a true coming-of-age novel about one of the franchise’s most iconic characters, and seeing a sixteen-year-old Leia struggling to find her place in the world makes for a poignant and emotional story. We’ve seen Leia as the fiery leader of the Rebellion who’s wise beyond her years. We’ve seen her as the somewhat more jaded senator of the New Republic. And we’ve seen her as the Resistance general, who brings gravitas to every scene she’s in. But this Leia is younger and more untested. She is unsure of her place in the galaxy, both as the heir to the throne and as a person in her own right.

Last Friday, Jay did an excellent job detailing Leia’s struggle to make a difference in the lives of those hurt by the Empire. And even though the reader knows what lies in store for Leia, that doesn’t make it any less emotional to see her trying to do the right thing against a system she knows is unfair, to see her anguish over the sudden distance her parents are keeping from her, or to see her try to establish her own identity outside of “future princess.” It’s Leia at her most relatable, for who among us has not felt unsure about our place in the world or the identity we want to be?

But perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the depiction of the relationship Leia has with both her adoptive parents. We’ve seen plenty of Bail Organa in Star Wars before; Leia mentions him as a part of her plea for Obi-Wan’s help, he plays a major role in Revenge of the Sith, and has popped up in several books as well as the Rebels TV show. We have ample knowledge of how close he and Leia were and, of course, we know he trusts Leia with his life. But so far Breha hasn’t gotten nearly the same treatment; we know almost as little about her as we did when she first appeared on screen almost fifteen years ago. Fortunately, Claudia Gray stepped into that gap and wrote the mother/daughter story that Star Wars has sorely needed.

(some plot spoilers under the cut)

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Gray Matters III: Leia’s Atypical Teenage Rebellion

(this article contains spoilers after the intro)

It’s a good thing I’m writing an analysis and not a strict review, Leia_-_Princess_of_Alderaan_-_new_coverbecause it’s hard to be objective about Leia: Princess of Alderaan. I’ve long wanted a young Leia book, and there were only three authors that I trusted to write it: Martha Wells (Razor’s Edge), Alexandra Bracken (The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy), and Claudia Gray (Bloodline) — and we got Claudia Gray! From the moment this book was announced at Celebration Orlando, I knew I’d love it — and my sky-high expectations were met. What expectations were those? Well, I wanted a story that did credit to my favorite Star Wars film character and showed us the development of her political heroism that ends up being the driving force of the rebellion. And that’s what we got.

Leia: Princess of Alderaan is a coming of age story: the narrative is book-ended by a particular Alderaanian rite of passage for the royal heirs, and it’s Leia’s relationship to her homeworld, her parents (Queen Breha finally gets a chance to shine, and gets developed in depth!), and Leia’s nascent awareness of a growing rebellion against the Empire that forms the framework for this story. It’s about relationships, and Leia maturing as a person and as a political leader. You’ll hear from Sarah Dempster on Monday about Leia’s relationships with her parents (particularly her mother) — today I’d like to talk about Leia’s political awakening and her involvement with the rebellion.

This isn’t a Star Wars book with moral gray areas. The Empire is clearly the villain in this story, whether we’re talking about Leia’s point of view or the Empire’s role in the story. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy question whether the Empire should be fought, because fighting carries consequences for Leia and those she loves. While the audience knows about the fate of Alderaan, Leia doesn’t. For her, the dangers are hypothetical — but they’re no less certain.

There are spoilers under the cut — do NOT continue if you haven’t read this book!

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