I Don’t Know Why YOU Hated The Last Jedi, But I’ve Got a Theory….

Something weird is going on with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. We’ve got a movie that is labeled “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with an impressive 92% of reviews for the film deemed as favorable. Rotten Tomatoes has gotta be, I think, the internet’s go-to aggregate website of movie reviews. But the funny thing about The Last Jedi, is that it’s only holding up this fantastic score of 92% on the critical side. Apparently, only 54% of audiences actually enjoyed the film. Now, I think this is just based off of audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, I mean, to me, this is mind blowing.
A few things:

  1. First off, I loved the movie and expected others to as well. Go figure.
  2. How did so many people hate this movie while critics loved it? Critics, the soulless, crotchety buzzkills, are supposed to be the ones that hate fun and popular things.
  3. Why is everyone so passionate about hating this movie? According to various accounts I’ve heard, this movie has destroyed childhoods. Destroyed. Childhoods. Imagine that. Like, how could…? I don’t know… I mean, a movie would have to be REALLY awful to do that, right? I dunno, I’m assuming a lot of people speak in hyperbole about a film they had high expectations for, but still…

Usually after being confronted with this intense Last Jedi vitriol I’m just left sputtering to myself, “buh… wuh… huh?” The film was just so enjoyable to me. I haven’t been this entertained by a holiday box office mammoth since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. During the movie I was in nerd heaven. It lived up to my expectations and more. So what gives? Why are the haters hating SO HARD on this particular intergalactic romp?

Well, I kinda just now noticed something that I think may have been more evident to others much earlier… And keep in mind, this isn’t to take away from any valid critical points anybody may have about the film. It wasn’t perfect, y’all. I can still critique a movie I loved. It’s just… a lot these angry nerds (I’ve noticed) who have had their lives torn apart by a fantasy/action/sci-fi blockbuster flick (a Star Wars) are (it seems to me) angry white guys.

And, like, not necessarily the same angry white guys who elected our shithead of a president. A lot of diehard Star Wars fans are bleeding heart liberals, I know this. There are a lot of proud Jedi junkies that were on the Hillary Hill from the beginning, I’m sure. I’m not really trying to make a comment on the political leanings of these white boy nerds… it’s just… they’re white boys. Like, they represent a vast majority of the people I’ve heard hating on this latest franchise film.

Again, obviously, there are women and non-white people who hate the movie. They exist. I’ve talked to some of them. But still… the majority of the pissed off, passionate nerds I’ve seen are white and male. And I think… I mean, just… hear me out, but I think… it’s because they don’t see themselves in the film?

Like, they have a hard time finding a major character they can relate to and empathize with. That’s… that’s essentially my theory. Rey is obviously (I think..) the main character of The Last Jedi, but the movie is an ensemble piece. And it’s got a lot of women. My belief is that for a lot of these white guys–though they’d NEVER admit it–the abundance of women is off-putting. You know, they don’t get a cool Han Solo, shooting aliens and delivering sarcastic one-liners. They don’t have a blonde haired, blue eyed archetypical Luke Skywalker fulfilling some destiny and discovering after all these years *gasp* his birthright is important and meaningful.

35339966635_d2f5b06a26_b
Source: Flickr, junaidrao#Movie #Poster Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) [1024 x 1523]
The white dudes in Last Jedi are not what these angry white dudes are used to having pass for representation in the film. We have Kylo Ren, the main young baddie. He’s a petulant man child that throws tantrums; he is perpetually angry. We’ve got General Hux, a soldier who seems to fail at every turn; he’s a fascist asshole who can’t seem to please his fascist asshole bosses. These guys are both bad dudes, and they aren’t particularly “cool” about it either. And even if Kylo has a bitchin’ scar, rad helmet, and nifty red lightsaber, he’s a complicated character. We can’t just “ooh” and “ahh” over him due to sharp, bold character design like Boba Fett, Darth Maul or General Grievous. He’s more than a sleek looking killing machine with a potentially titillating back story (that we never explore except in comics, tv shows, and out-of-canon novels). Kylo Ren is meant to be deeper than just a cool looking villain who fights flashy. This makes him harder to relate to for people. The emotions he struggles with and the personal drama he sorts through makes him complicated, but he’s not someone you want to see yourself in. This is not the character angry white dudes are looking for.

The Luke we have now is not the familiar, hot, young Skywalker from the initial three films. He’s not a plucky pilot with something to prove. He’s not a Jedi Master-in-training with untapped potential. He doesn’t have fun sidekicks to banter with, or a training montage, or a kiss from a pretty girl (who may or may not be his sister). Naw… instead Luke is old and kind of grouchy and NOT AT ALL into the whole “Jedi thing” anymore. He’s the exact opposite of what so many (white guy) nerds imagined him to be. This is not the character angry white dudes are looking for.

Even Poe, (who like… I guess a lot of people like to identify Oscar Issac as white?) is not what the nerds are looking for. He makes mistakes and is reprimanded repeatedly–by women, no less! In the film, he’s portrayed as stubborn and arrogant. Poe is like a Han Solo except he doesn’t really get a big redeeming moment where all the people (ie, women) who doubted him shake their heads and say “oh man, he was right and I was wrong.” Also, he’s far from the main character. He doesn’t even play foil to the main character. Nope. This isn’t what the angry white dudes wanted either.

And they won’t tell you this, but they didn’t want Rey or Rose or General Leia or Vice Admiral Holdo or Finn. They wanted someone they could see themselves in, and in my (wild and unsupported) opinion, none of the aforementioned characters fit that bill simply because they don’t literally resemble the angry white male nerd. Obviously Kylo Ren, Hux, and Luke are white; but again, these aren’t who the angry white male nerd wants to see himself in.

It’s a shame too, because, like, representation in film and television and music and theater (and everything) is important. Another thing that’s important: being able to empathize and connect with people who DON’T look like you. Anyone who isn’t a white guy has probably already had to do this. In fact, everyone else has had to learn to empathize with average white dudes because for such a long time in American narratives, that’s mostly all anybody ever saw. That’s how, in the west anyway, the vast majority of stories were told. White dudes pairing up with other white dudes usually fighting some more white dudes. Maybe they’d get a girl or a brown friend to help them out, but… usually… white guy adventures just consisted of one group of white guys meeting and fighting with other white guys.

With this in mind, The Last Jedi looks pretty fucking diverse. And divisive, I guess? What I’m trying to get at is, maybe white men have been conditioned to have a hard time empathizing with a character that doesn’t look like them. Is that such a wild thought? I don’t think so.
And again, this isn’t something I think a lot of white dudes are consciously doing. And also, I’m not trying to say every white male who hated The Last Jedi has unrecognized internal biases toward women and/or brown people (but, uh, you probably do); I’m just saying that I think A LOT of white men have a problem with failing to see a person they perceive as the Other, as someone they can relate to or empathize with. Am I totally crazy? Is this too out there? @ me.

Review of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers

To say that their is no shortage of awful summer action films being spit out of studios and onto the silver screen seems a tired thing to do at this point. We’re all aware, aren’t we? If you haven’t expressed the sentiment directly, you’ve heard someone who has. Whether it be from a close friend, a random date you had a one night stand with, or even an through an extended family member who always has to have his opinions heard during the family reunions, you’ve heard the complaint. And because of this needlessly over-expressed fact–needlessly expressed again, by me–the mediocre world-on-a-wire action flick has become a delight. It’s something that the moviegoer is no longer bored by. Instead, we’re relieved; “At least it wasn’t another Transformers,” we sigh, walking away from the theater in a fine, but certainly not inspired mood.

Bearing the current circumstance in mind, I think it fair to say that I shouldn’t be judged harshly for entering the theater to see Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, being extremely skeptical. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big a nerd as they come. I don’t need to count the ways, (Magic: The Gathering, Modern Warfare, League of Legends, Dungeons & Dragons, Game of Thrones) but just believe it when I say that, undeniably, I am not a cool person. I am a cynic though, apparently, and being such a person, found it difficult to get excited over this latest loud and bright superhero romp.

Oh I, of little faith. Whedon’s rap sheet alone should have been enough to settle my anxiety. The man has been putting out tight, well constructed narratives since before I knew what a narrative was. At this point, he clearly knows what he wants. Avengers is Whedon at his peak as an auteur. (Listen up Michael Bay. This man knows how to make explosions mean something other than “boom.”)

The film is paced spectacularly, and it knows it. Moving from scene to scene with a swaggering confidence, the stakes are raised at precise moments; revelations occur, and they shock us, but they are not contrived; relationships are brought to light and then played out with a cartoonish sincerity that never seems forced. We’re not so much asked to suspend disbelief, as we are tricked into it. It is the Whedon spell: the plot can be outlandish and the characters, equally so. Whedon can have gods/demons/vampires/evil geniuses/frozen soldiers from WWII, it doesn’t matter. We end up truly believing in them.

Whedon knows what makes a comic book good and he knows what makes a comic book bad. When we’re talking about film, this point might seem irrelevant. It isn’t. Not in the case of a comic book movie; or, rather, a movie that is trying to capture the voice and essence of the Western superhero. This is where Ang Lee’s The Hulk and every X-Men related movie after X2 failed. Those films weren’t just about conflict, they were conflict. That was all they were. You can have countries at risk, the world at risk, even multiple worlds’, it doesn’t matter. There is no sentiment the audience can feel other than a light awe at your pricey CGI, if they don’t care about who is in the middle of it all. Whedon makes us care. He didn’t have to though. It would have been very easy to just make this movie about vengeance and violence: Bad guy does bad thing. Good guy makes him pay. People cheer. The end. We get something much more interesting instead.

The actual physical enemy in the story is fairly boring as far as motivations go. Loki, the Norse god of trickery, wants power and subjugation. The creatures working for Loki want the same thing, in essence. It’s power. Power, power, power. The bad guys want power. The real conflict in the film though, the foremost interesting fight, is that which the Avenges have with themselves. Every hero on the team has a chip on their shoulder. They’re all egotistical, wrapped up in their own problems while simultaneously being asked to save the world. This is where the entertainment comes from: the change in character, the personal reveal.

Of course this is all done though the comic-book-tinted lenses. Dialogue is sharp and quick, the jokes are often cheap, but self-aware. There are scenes that look like they could have been lifted straight from an Avengers comic, punchline and all. (Yes, comic books can be quite funny.) But you have to stylize the film in a way like this. When you deal with time travel, alien technology, Norse Mythology, secret government agencies, you can’t take yourself too seriously. Whedon doesn’t. The movie contains real emotion and engaging narrative not spite of the total committal to an insane comic book universe; it contains these things because of that committal. It is in the honesty that Whedon, and everyone who works on his projects with him, infuse into the film that creates such a satisfying movie going experience. The Avengers is a chaotic, colorful, Hollywood action flick. Whedon knows it, the actors know it, and we know it. In that knowing, that awareness, it damn nearly transcends the genre.