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Saturday, December 16, 2017

A little something for the weekend...

Star Wars: The Last Jedi • Movie review by Bruce Bethke •

Saw this movie, we did. Long, it is. Impossible to write a substantive review without including spoilers, it may be. Nonetheless, try I will.

In the interests of full disclosure, though, I must lead off this review by pointing out that I contributed not one but two essays to David Brin’s Star Wars on Trial, the first arguing in favor of the original Star Wars trilogy as a watershed moment in cinematic history and the second absolutely slagging the prequel trilogy as childish tripe. So I come into this review with a long history as both a consumer and critic of Star Wars entertainment products, and I will put my greatest heresy on the table right now:

Star Wars is not science fiction.

Sure, it looks like science fiction. It sounds like science fiction. And based on that guy in the wookiee costume who was ahead of us in the concession line, it even smells like science fiction, or at least like the third day of a furry fandom convention.

But Star Wars is not science fiction. It’s a long-winded heroic magical fantasy saga that happens to take place in a world cluttered up with lots of sci-fi props and set dressings. If considered as science fiction, there is not one thing in the entire Star Wars universe that bears close scrutiny, because if you think about it at all seriously, the seams split and all the nonsense comes pouring out.

Therefore the proper way to critique Star Wars: The Last Jedi is by using the conventions of heroic/romantic magical fantasy, and then it’s just a matter of running down the checklist. Reluctant hero with a magical sword? Check. Cackling termagant of a boss-monster villain? Check. Star-crossed (potential) lovers? Check. Old wizard and/or wise woman to provide backstory via exposition? One each, check and check. Unnecessary side-plots to pad the story for length? Check. Vast army of faceless and apparently mindless minions who serve the villain without a single thought of self-preservation? Check. Slightly smaller army of loyal cannon fodder serving the needs of the heroes/heroines with equal selflessness? Check. Moments of high drama when just one person thinking clearly instead of emotionally could have resolved the entire plot right then and there? Check, check, check, and… Too many to count, actually.

Then there are those special checklist items for the subset of romantic magical fantasy known as Disney Princess Movies: talking animals? Check. Comic relief characters? Check. Thoroughly sanitized violence? Check. (It’s amazing, really. Considering all the minions who get slaughtered in this movie, there are never any bodies laying around.) Saintly abused children living in damn near Medieval conditions? Check. Guest appearance by Mr. Toad? I think so, check. Preachy dialog about how bad rich people are? Check. The heroine breaking into a song that you’ll be hearing in your heart for years to come?

Thankfully, no.

That exception aside, though, The Mouse is strong in this one. There is not one frame of this movie that does not include some cool new toy waiting to be merchandised; not one new planet that is not home to some adorable new creature that’s just begging to be made into a plush toy. There is a reason why this movie was released now, and you’ll find it on display in the toy department of every retailer in the world, most likely on the endcap. So, if you approach Star Wars: The Last Jedi with that in mind: that this is a heroic magical fantasy movie, made by Disney, and meant to move merchandise and be watched again and again by 10-year-old children—

(Children with iron bladders, I might add. This is one seriously long movie. Don’t let the little buggers buy pop at the concession stand or you’ll be walking them to the bathroom at least twice before the movie’s over.)

—then it’s a great movie. My grandson is going to love this one when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

But if you’re an adult, then it really comes down to just one question: either you really love the way J. J. Abrams makes new movies for the new generation by mashing up scenes, samples, and even entire set pieces lifted whole from movies you loved when you were young—only bigger, longer, and louder in the Abrams Remix—or you don’t. If you loved what Abrams did with the recent Star Trek reboot, or loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you will love this movie. If not—

Well, it’s still a fun ride and worth watching, but wait for the Blu-Ray. Your bladder will thank you.

In science fiction circles, Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his 1995 Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people in the SF world have known about him until recently is that he actually began his career in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed the MIDI interface and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but now works in supercomputer software R&D, doing work that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-grounded in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the sheer love of genre fiction and the short story form.

Bruce blogs here, from time to time, but if you’re looking for more of his pop culture commentary, you’ll find plenty of links on


Judith said...

We loves this forever (sorry, wrong world).

Mr. Bee said...

Star Warz not science fiction? Pull the other one, Captain obvious.