Over the past three months, I’ve probably been to the theaters over 30 times. I was going to do a post that covered every single movie I watched between October and December, buti I spent the last three hours just on the two movies in the title… so yeah, that’s all you’ll get for now. I’ll come back at a later point to talk about the other movies I’ve seen. And obviously, spoilers ahead. And these aren’t really reviews, per se. they’re more like thoughts and reflections on what I interpret from the movies.
Blade Runner 2049
I’ve seen this three times now. Is it because I love the film? Yes and no. I wanted to see how it held up to repeated viewings. Ultimately, I still love the atmosphere, the cinematography, the vision, the soundtrack, etc. The story, however… I have two main things on my mind.
Wallace tries to seduce Deckard to his side by creating a replica of Rachel. Physically, she’s a carbon copy in almost every way except for the color of her eyes. Let’s be intelligent about this. He would’ve ordered the Rachel clone to have the same personality and memories as Deckard’s former lover. And like the fact that her eyes are the wrong colors, if there’s even anything slightly off about the clone’s personality or memories, it’s probably a superficial and insignificant difference. I mean, think about it: if your wife used to have brown eyes, but now they’re blue, would you honestly reject her? If she used to like strawberry ice cream, but now she likes mint chocolate, would you honestly reject her? But this is exactly what Deckard does. He rejects the clone, and as a result, she gets shot in the face. After all, she’s no longer useful to Wallace. More importantly, the audience passively accepts this conclusion. A living, feeling being dies simply because she is not a perfect copy. An innocent woman is condemned to death because of something so superficial and insignificant. For a film that wants to talk about humanism, the sudden demise of the Rachel-clone is starkly anti-humanist.
Onto my next quibble, which is a little more complicated. I’m not an expert on gnosticism, but Wallace reminds me of the Demiurge. There’s the one true God above all, and then there’s the Demiurge, an abominable creation of Sophia. One day, she creates something monstrous, so she tries to hide it. The Demiurge awakens and, seeing nothing but itself, assumes that it is the one true god. It proceeds to create angels to serve and worship itself, but its creations are ultimately flawed. The Demiurge, after all, is blind to all that is spiritual.
Well, Wallace is also blind. Not only that, he cannot create a replicant that has the ability to procreate. He has a God complex, but his children are flawed. Wallace sees himself as the father to millions of children, but he’s merely working off of Tyrell Corp’s technology. His “powers” are derivative like the Demiurge. His only innovation is merely the ability to create docile and subservient replicants. His model doesn’t rebel. As a result, they don’t have souls; they lack humanity. To drive the point home, Wallace even refers to his infertile creations as angels. So what does Wallace ultimately desire? He wants Tyrell Corp’s reproductive technology so that humanity may one day conquer the stars and even storm the gates of heaven.
Lt. Joshi is super dramatic about replicants being able to reproduce, and I never really understood her apprehension: “Am I the only one who can see the fucking sunrise here? This breaks the world, K!” Doesn’t it strike you as horribly vague? But storming the gates of heaven is pretty bad. It would upset the universe’s order. I’m just not sure what this means within the context of Blade Runner 2049’s literal world. After all, the movie merely touches on these ideas, then goes whole hog on K’s personal story. He sacrifices everything to unite Deckard with his daughter, so we are left with nothing but questions.
Wallace is obviously very much alive, and he will no doubt continue to search for a way to storm the gates of heaven. The underground revolutionary army thinks Deckard is dead, so they’ll want to proceed to the next step of their plan with Stelline as their spiritual leader. But how will this play out? We’ll probably never know. Considering how the movie performed way below par at the box office, I doubt we’ll revisit this same universe for a while. And even if we do, Hollywood is probably inclined to reboot it.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The good guys aren’t really that good, are they? They can’t even agree amongst themselves. The conflict between Poe and Holder epitomizes this. They’re a bunch of so-called liberals fighting over how to fly the spaceship in their quest to “resist” against the big bad evil (read: conservatives). Both sides are, of course, blind to the real villains pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Recall what Maz, one of the “good guys,” had to say back in Episode 7:
“The only fight. Against the dark side. Through the ages, I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order. Their shadow’s spreading across the galaxy. We must face them. Fight them! All of us.”
JJ Abrams wants to revive a dead franchise, and in order to do so, he has to posit some eternal good vs. evil conflict that defines the nature of the Star Wars reality. This is why Episode 7 feels so derivative. It’s trying to mythologize the events of the previous films so that we passively accept the idea that this is simply how the Star Wars universe works. Rian Johnson then comes in and flips everything upside-down. To him, this whole light vs. dark thing is bullshit. It’s propaganda. Do you really believe that every so often some weirdo magic user will rise up with a laser sword and fight some evil wizard? And somehow, this is just natural?
Episode 8 lets us see that the true war is between the rich and those that they enslave. In fact, these wars are engineered by the rich on some stupid planet. We see in a very crucial scene between Finn and DJ that weapons are being sold to both sides. And this really makes you look back on the original trilogy with a different set of eyes. How did some fledging Rebel Alliance even manage to put up a credible resistance against the Galactic Empire? Obviously, they had secret funding. Obviously, that secret funding was used to buy ships and weapons. Who stood to profit from that war? And who stands to profit now?
At the very end of the movie, no one responds to Leia’s request for help, and cynically, it doesn’t even matter. Yes, her Resistance will be wiped out, but so what? The rich weapons trader would just bankroll another rebellion. If peace was ever achieved, they’d lose their cash flow. If peace was ever achieved, there’d be no story to tell. Trust me, this story matters to somebody. You don’t think some CNN equivalent in the Star Wars universe is making a killing from covering the war?
And therein lies the rub. The conflict gets rebooted because otherwise the Star Wars franchise would die off, and Disney would lose their cash cow. So there’s the meta-narrative behind everything. Disney is pulling the strings, fueling the Star Wars universe with money for bigger explosions and flashier space battles. Even the superweapon from Episode 7 is nothing more than a bigger Death Star. And we’ll just keep coming back to watch the same ol’ conflict play out.
And this is very consistent with how Rian Johnson tries to treat the rest of the core Star Wars concepts. He tries to subvert as many as he can. Just some quick points to illustrate what I mean:
- Luke doesn’t become some benevolent teacher like Yoda or Kenobi. He’s kind of an asshole who even attempted to kill one of his pupils (if we can believe him, the urge apparently lasted for only a second). And when he projects himself across the galaxy, he doesn’t wield his green lightsaber. He uses the blue one that belonged to his flawed father. Hmmm.
- The conflict between Poe and Holder seems nonsensical, because why doesn’t she just trust him with her strategy? He can’t even disagree with her because he doesn’t know what it is. But again, like I’ve said, this is a power struggle within the good guys’ own organization. The heroes aren’t noble. They’ve got their own stupid baggage.
- The First Order’s leadership is equally incompetent. You don’t have anyone who commands the room like Tarkin. Yes, Tarkin made a fatal mistake, but he never struck you as a fool. On the other hand, the First Order is dominated by a trio of numbskulls. I immediately had a bad taste in my mouth when the movie opened with a Verizon-esque “Can you hear me now?” joke. It doesn’t strike me as Star Wars humor. But this speaks to something consistent about the latest addition to the storied franchise: the villains are pathetic. Hux is a joke, Snoke does a bad Palpatine impression then dies like a chump, and Kylo Ren is an emotionally unstable manchild. How is it that the “good guys” can’t seem to drum up support against these assholes? And it’s ironic that Snoke berates Kylo Ren for imitating Vader when he’s aping the fuck out of Palpatine. I can’t read minds, but I can’t help but think that this is deliberate on Rian Johnson’s part.
So I wonder if Kylo Ren’s offer to Rey is all that bad. He wants to wipe everything out. He’s very insistent about that:
“The Empire, your parents, the Resistance, the Sith, the Jedi… let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.”
“I’ll destroy her. And you. And all of it.”
Y’know, maybe he’s onto something. Maybe he can break the cycle. Burn it to the ground. Torch this stupid forced conflict to the ground. All you have to do is pick a side. Once the Resistance is gone, go after the weapons traders next. But of course, that makes him evil and shit… presumably. I mean, he dresses in all black, and that’s bad, right? He commands an army of stormtroopers, and that’s bad, right? But then I think about the following exchange:
Kylo Ren: “I’m sure you are! The Resistance is dead, the war is over, and when I kill you, I will have killed the last Jedi!”
Luke Skywalker: “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong. The Rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.”
Luke is trying to inspire us. He’s trying to light the hope that has gone out in the galaxy. But what exactly are we hopeful about? Another war? Another tired struggle between supposed fascists and a ragtag bunch of freedom-loving fighters? It’s just very hard to swallow when the same conflict keeps happening again and again and again. Why aren’t we learning from our mistakes? Why do we keep dooming ourselves to the same Sisyphean struggle? All that the working class people know is that they’re screwed either way.
Luke isn’t even much of a hero. He goes and hides on some planet because his stupid school for stupid space wizards failed. Meanwhile, children are literally being enslaved and he doesn’t go down fighting for them. Robots are enslaved and he doesn’t care. He’d rather just mope about his personal failures until the day he dies.
Over and over again, we’re told that the Empire is bad and the rebels are good. In the original trilogy, it’s easy to tacitly accept these assertions because it’s a simple children’s tale between good and evil. But now that we’ve gotten all political, it’s no longer that straightforward.
Unfortunately, Star Wars has to be Star Wars, so the majority of the story has to revolve around the current weirdo magic user rising up to fight against the current evil wizard. Good vs. evil, man.
So I sit there for more than two hours and watch Rey try her best to emulate the heroes that she grew up idolizing. But what’s missing is her key motivation to even involve herself in this mess. Obi Wan Kenobi tells Luke that Vader killed his father. Then the Empire shows up one day and nukes his aunt and uncle. He has a reason to become a terrorist. What exactly motivates Rey to be a terrorist?
And of course, the usual criticisms apply. I hated Leia flying through space. Rey telling Kylo Ren to put on a shirt made me roll my eyes. BB-8 continues to be comically overpowered, so I roll my eyes some more. I don’t care about Rose, and she falls for Finn way too quickly. I think the dialogue feels stiff at times.