Stop trying to make nerfherders happen! My problem with The Last Jedi

Because I was in grading jail (thanks, KD, for bringing that delightful phrase to my attention!) when Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released, I had to wait until Christmas Day to see it with my spouse, two of my siblings, and my dad. I missed out on quite a few of the think pieces that flourished in the initial release and have had to catch up slowly. The consensus is neatly split into two camps: THIS MOVIE IS EXCELLENT; or THIS MOVIE IS NOT EXCELLENT. G, my third reader on my doctoral committee, argues that there is a cut of this movie that is an hour shorter and would thus be the best of all the films, and I am inclined to agree. I didn’t hate this movie, but I didn’t find it excellent, either. This was an enormous disappointment, because while I didn’t LOVE The Force Awakens, I did love Rey and Finn. Especially Rey.

This brings me to my own take on TLJ and why it disappointed me. I was getting ready this morning, and it finally hit me:

The Star Wars powers that be are still trying to make men happen. And yet The Force Awakens has shown that the universe/The Force has shifted in a way that makes replicating some of the cultural iconography of the original trilogy (we’re just going to pretend that the prequels never happened for the moment, mmmkay?) an impossibility and untrue to the direction the story now takes.

From here on out, there are SPOILERS. Come back if you want to be unspoiled going into the movie, which I highly recommend. I’ll be here when you get back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars Exhibit

Captain Phasma knows you have no one to blame but yourself if you continue further…

 

Okay, now we get to the SPOILER stuff.

With the title of The Last Jedi, I was really looking forward to Rey’s training and struggle with/against The Force. When I first saw The Force Awakens, I was firmly in the “this is just okay” camp until a very particular moment.

You know that moment.

Rey Lightsaber

I never knew how badly I wanted to see a woman Jedi until I saw her onscreen. I wanted to laugh and cry and cheer all.at.once. And so, I went into TLJ thinking we’d get more of this awesomeness.

I do not feel that Rey’s story got its fullest justice. I still remember the training sequences in The Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite of all the films) as some of my favorites in the series. Luke was a bit whiny, and so I had hoped with Rey’s grit, we would get something even better. That whole part felt a little rushed and was heavily steeped in Luke’s personal baggage. There is an intense connection with Kylo Ren that gets a LOT of play, however, and if the third movie sets up their ultimate conflict, then okay. If not, however, we’ve wasted a LOT of time on Kylo Ren, who, let’s face it, is no Darth Vader.

And this brings me to Kylo Ren. I really felt like TPTB tried SO HARD to make Kylo Ren happen, and you do not make Darth Vader happen. He unfolds naturally over time, and the cult follows. And I am sorry, but Adam Driver is no James Earl Jones. Enough with the uncontrolled, angry white man. We have more than we can shake a stick at in the United States in 2018.

And speaking of men, we need to talk about the ridiculous Poe Dameron plot. Oscar Isaac, please forgive me. It pains me to speak ill of anything associated with you…

Nathan Dancing Gif

(we’ll always have the dancing gif)

…but why are we returning to the deep well of angsty men who have a problem with female authority? THAT STORY HAS BEEN TOLD SO MANY TIMES. Basically, Poe Dameron in TLJ is Harry Potter and Plutarch Heavensbee and Han Solo and Tom Sawyer and Matt Damon and DO I NEED TO KEEP GOING. It’s important to see how a male character evolves and changes, but the “send Finn and Rosie off to the casino and the ship” storyline just took way too long and had too little payoff, as far as developing Poe’s character within this particular film. If there is a particular story arc that makes sense in the third film, then I might be convinced to change my mind. And there had damn better not be a ridiculous love triangle where two women are fighting over a man in the third film, because I am done watching strong women fight over a dude, even if that dude is John Boyega.

Finn

(He looks like a young Denzel Washington here, and I mean that as an enormous compliment)

Ultimately, it comes down to expectations and preferences. There is a prevailing mythology that Han Solo is the hero of Star Wars and Darth Vader its well-deserving and iconic villain. I enjoy the camp and theater that comes with Darth Vader, but the hero of the series has always–for me–been one General Leia Organa.

carrie-fisher-last-jedi-600x400

Much fandom is dedicated to Han Solo and Chewbacca, and this is not unwarranted by any means. But let’s be real, while Han and Chewie were getting themselves out of tight situations and while Han was trying to talk himself out of the price on his head, Leia was keeping the rebellion alive and orchestrating plans without the same kind of ballyhoo or label of wunderkind that got placed on Luke. As a general, Leia is clearsighted about where the Rebellion needs to head next in order to survive the attacks of The First Order.

The Force Awakens shows the incredibly diverse power that women have in order to orchestrate change and resistance in oppressive societies. And instead of propelling us further into this exciting shift, The Last Jedi seems to be trying to remind us, “Hey, we’ve got a new Han Solo now! Look at the new Darth Vader!” and it’s jarring and a little dated. The Han Solos and Darth Vaders will always have their time and place, but it’s time to move on. Stop trying to make the nerfherders happen.

Instead, my hope is that the third and final film in this new sequence shows us what those of us who are women already know: The Force is Female.

 

 

 

 

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#CBR9 Review #157

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I was able to squeeze one last review in before the year is up. Even better, it’s a book that’s been languishing on my TBR list. Hooray! I have some goals for 2018, and it’s nice to really trim the to-read pile significantly. This is an author well familiar to me, though I’ve never finished this book until now.

C.S. Lewis is perhaps best known for his Narnia fantasy books, but he’s also an academic and Christian apologist. Mere Christianity is a defense of Christianity in post-war, postmodern society where the question, Does any of this matter? prevails. The book is divided into several parts, which include both the theology and the lifestyle of Christianity. The latter part has to be read in context of time period and author biography, because there are some…startling, shall we say…ideas about marriage (having read the Space Trilogy, I was not surprised, but it’s a little surreal to read in 2017). I mean, that’s kind of the deal with Lewis, though. He is well-intentioned, buuuuuuut a little sexist in his thinking.

If you are a fan of Lewis the fantasy writer, this takes a very different tone than what you might expect. If, however, you like Lewis’s more academic work, this fits neatly into that genre. You might philosophically disagree with his conclusions, but he engages the defense for Christianity well. Since I was not necessarily looking to defend my own faith or reading it in a moment of questioning, I didn’t glom onto that part. But it may prove useful at another point in life. Lewis’s work is interesting and engaging, and his use of logic works well in discussing the “God” part of us all that engages with some form of spirituality.

And that’s a wrap on 2017. See you all for CBR10. I’ve got two book club picks to read first and then a read-through of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series on deck first.

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#CBR9 Review #156

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This book was a birthday gift from my incredible husband. He went to National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) back in November, managed to get me TWO signed copies of Jason Reynolds’ books (the other was the fantastic All American Boys co-written with Brendan Kiely), and then sat on them for an entire month waiting for my birthday. I was astounded and delighted. Reynolds is quickly becoming one of my favorite young adult writers, and this book makes an excellent companion to his previous All American Boys, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, or Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, all of which deal with young adults of color and gun violence.

Long Way Down is a novel in verse that takes place in the 60 seconds it takes to go seven flights in an elevator. Will’s older brother Shawn has been killed, and Will is trying to avenge his death. He is going by The Rules, which involves No Crying, No Snitching, and Avenge/Revenge. He has found Shawn’s gun in his secret stash and is determined to do the right thing by his brother. But as he boards the elevator heading down, he is visited by several people in his life, both past and present. He begins to analyze his own doubts about what he will do, and if doing the right thing means what he thinks it does.

This is, in short, an incredible novel. The verses are short and fast-paced in a staccato rhythm. Reynolds is a gifted writer with a distinctive voice, and the genre of novel in verse fits him so well. This is an engaging and provocative novel. I am glad I own a signed copy and that I could crown my triple cannonball on something so timely and moving.

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#CBR9 Review #155

Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I love my local library. Not only do they carry each Volume of Saga, but they got this copy to me before its official publication date!!!!! This means that I have now read two volumes of Saga in 2017, but the problem is that I have already finished the latest volume of Saga and have to wait who knows how many months for the next one. This is a problem, because Brian K. Vaughan has introduced a MAJOR cliffhanger that bodes a change. A big change. I can’t say anything more than that.

It’s really hard to review volumes of Saga, especially since I know a few of you are behind. So I am going to try to be as un-spoilery about this as possible. After the traumatic events of Volume 7, we find ourselves on a different planet with the major players trying to recover. They’re all finding it kind of hard, though. And we do get teasers of stories about what is happening with The Will and Ghüs, which is always a bonus. There is simply not enough Lying Cat, which I have come to terms with the knowledge that until Lying Cat gets her own series (MAKE IT HAPPEN PLZ), I will never be satisfied about her appearances in the series. And like I said, the last line of the volume made me gasp, because it’s a gamechanger.

This volume is cathartic and interesting, but the stories felt incredibly short. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it read fast and I didn’t feel soul-crushed in the same way that Volume 7 made me feel. Of course, because it’s Saga, more soul-crushing is sure to happen very soon. In separate news, how many issues/volumes are Vaughan and Staples planning? If I knew the endpoint, I could start planning/grieving appropriately. I mostly just feel a weird tension between elation and grief every time I read the new volume, and it’s messing with my emotions.

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#CBR9 Review #154

The Tao of Life (according to Charlie) by Charlie Shae Galvin

In my last post, I mentioned that my book club did a Book Swap. B had brought a book that his colleague had written and that he, a clinical psychiatrist, had been asked to write a blurb for on the back cover. I ended up with The Tao of Life (according to Charlie) by therapist Charlie Shae Galvin, and I’m overall delighted with the read. It’s short but pithy and contains many excellent pieces of advice for learning to live with more intentionality.

Galvin’s book is set up as 365 pieces of advice, which seems to be no accident. Each piece is separate but contributes to the overall theme of life advice. Some have stories attached, and some are 1-2 sentences long. The varied length adds spice and variety to the book. The piece of advice about regret really stuck with me: I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do carry a few. I really liked Galvin’s advice about using regret to fuel your best and most compassionate parts to be a better person and to fuel your best self. Yes.

One thing I do wish Galvin had done was develop each piece of advice more fully, so that this could have acted as a year-long devotional book, with a holy text or wise quote attached, so that anyone from any or no denomination could use this as bedside inspirational reading. That said, this is a book I’d like to return to, because it’s given me pieces of advice to think about and use to improve my own life and state of being. I think this might be self-published, but if you can get your hands on a copy (I could find a link on Amazon), I do think you will find it worth your time.

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#CBR9 Review #153

How to Win at Feminism by Reductress

This year, my book club did a Book Swap for our December/Christmas meeting. We’ve done a Friendsgiving for a few years in a row, but this was the first time we’d done anything for Christmas. J, F’s husband, insisted that he was going to do his own book swap and get books for all of us. None of us took him seriously, until we arrived at his and F’s house and sure enough, there was a wrapped present with a label in his handwriting for each of us. After the official swap, he passed out his presents to each of us. And what a hoot it was. L, a fairly conservative New Englander, received a coloring book called The Swear Word (which, incidentally, I now need). C received a book called F**k Meditation, and I received How to Win at Feminism by the writers of Reductress, which calls itself the “Feminist Onion.” Excellent.

In short, How to Win at Feminism chronicles the privileged slactivism that comprises pop feminism at its finest and most tone-deaf. This book is a deliberately gleeful takedown of white feminism for its honoring of Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, and other fashionable and insignificant items that conservative Baby Boomers think all Millennials are like. There are tons of pictures and fake testimonials that had me rolling.

I recommend this book for feminists with a thick skin and a wicked sense of humor. I think Michael Che’s liberal white lady sketch on SNL tried to be funny and poke fun at pop feminism, but he is (a) NOT the right conduit or woke enough to get away with it; and (b) mislabeling “liberal white lady” for what he is really poking fun at, which is pop feminism. This book, however, is exactly the right outlet to poke fun at the Taylor Swift snakes and white Beyhivers who think that liking Beyoncé is all you need to be intersectional.

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#CBR9 Review #152

Depressed. Repressed. Obsessed. by Lisa Brown

My dear friend M bought me Lisa Brown’s Depressed. Repressed. Obsessed. for my birthday this year (Important sidenote: I should also note that M included in the package a card with an illustration of Beyoncé in “Formation” and the caption “You Slay” on the front. Basically, it was the best birthday present ever.) I had never seen her three-panel book review cartoons before, and I regret not doing so. She is a talented cartoonist, and her reviews are spot-on. I am always a sucker for pithy reviews of classic literature, and Brown’s work is right up my alley.

Brown tackles all sorts of classic books, from The Catcher in the Rye to Jane Eyre to The Scarlet Letter. Each comic is only three panels long, and the words may vary, but the formula is always the same: three panels to the review. The book gets its title from Brown’s review of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which includes one word for each panel: Depressed, which features a depressed woman getting counselling; Repressed, which features her shutting down and glancing skeptically at the ugly wallpaper in her bedroom; and Obsessed, which shows her tearing at the wallpaper. The illustrations really bring the reviews to life.

This is a must-read if you, like me, were an English major in college and/or read a LOT of classics. I haven’t read them all (Madame Bovary, for example), but if you have a basic idea of the stories, then you should be just fine. My personal favorite might be either Jane Eyre or The Scarlet Letter. I may have laughed inappropriately loudly at both of these…

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