Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Last Jedi

For a few reasons, I haven't seen the new Star Wars franchise. For one thing, the Star Wars saga always had a somewhat juvenile quality to it. I don't necessarily mean that as a putdown. It's natural to relate to certain things at a particular phase of life. Mind you, even when I was younger there were many wince-inducing moments in the Star Wars franchise. 

To judge by reviews, and that's my only frame of reference, Rogue One was better than The Force Awakens, while The Last Jedi seems to be the kind of film that viewers either love or hate.

One of my problems with the new franchise is replacing the Luke Skywalker character with a female character (Rey). My problem is twofold:

i) There are actresses who can play strong female characters, but they're not the cute, petite ingenue types.

ii) Action films properly center on male leads. A stereotypical role for men is to protect hearth and home, kith and kin, and save civilization from existential threats. Men are natural warriors, and I refuse to adapt to feminism in movies. 

And it's not just ideological revulsion. This makes for unconvincing drama. I can't suspend disbelief. 

Let's consider some possible counterexamples. Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise. One reason that works is that Sigourney Weaver is the kind of actress who can pull that off. 

But in addition, she must fend for herself because the male warriors are killed off by the alien(s). She's not generally competing with male warriors, or leading them into battle.

In addition, she has a stereotypically maternal, nurturing dimension when she rescues the orphan girl. A she-bear defending the cubs. 

Another example is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That succeeds because it was always a lark, tongue-in-cheek, and not simply based on the slayer's preternatural abilities, but sassy wit.

Moreover, she was paired with a male lead. Audiences like to see well-matched male and female characters. Each is strengthened by the other.

There are actresses who can hold their own with the male lead. That makes for fine dramatic synergism. But it takes talent. It can't be imposed on the audience as a duty. 

I was also put off by reviews of Kylo Ren reprising the Dark Vader character. He seems effeminate. In fairness, the original Darth Vader was a very cartoonish character. 

Finally, I'm not interested in seeing Mark Hamill reprise the Obi-Wan role. It's striking to realize that he's now about the same age as Alec Guinness when Guinness played the role. How time flies! But Hamill is no Guinness. And he hasn't aged well. There are actors like Jeff Bridges, Tom Selleck, Kurt Russell, and Nick Nolte who take advantage of the aging process, but Hamill never had the natural gravitas to make that happen.

Mind you, I respect the fact that Hamill has a life outside movies. Not having the starpower to parley his initial success into a career, unlike Harrison Ford, Hamill had the self-respect to take early retirement rather than play a string of B movies like so many desperate actors. He was content to live off his fortune. 

Admittedly, my impressions are based on reviews. But then, the purpose of movie reviews is to make snap judgments about what's worth watching and what's not.  


  1. "Hamill had the self-respect to take early retirement rather than play a string of B movies like so many desperate actors. He was content to live off his fortune."

    But isn't that exactly what Hamill has done sins the first Star Wars trilogy? Lots of B list movies and also lots of voice work in animation.

    I personally enjoy Hamill the most when he does the voice for the Joker in animation such as Batman The Animated Series.

    1. As I recall, he did Corvette Summer (which I haven't seen), then bowed out of consistent film work until many years later when he began to get offers, like an episode of the Outer LImits.

  2. Hamill was in an accident that, if memory serves, put him out of in-front-of-camera work for a while.

    Both BTAS and The Simpsons opened up possibilities for actors and actresses who wouldn't have previously done animation voice-over work to start doing that. Some actors are substantially better known for voice over work than for live-action work. Probably only fans of animation will even know who Tara Strong is. Lacey Chabert (arguably best known for Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls) is more a voice actor than a live action actor even though she has the kind of look Hollywood finds useful. Judy Greer has said the advantage to voice acting is that you don't have to have a certain Hollywood cute look if a studio knows you can deliver a good vocal performance. Clancy Brown has never had leading man looks but he has a fantastically memorable voice so he's been doing voice-acting work for decades, too, and has easily got the best take on Lex Luthor I've ever heard.

    So we could modify your statement, Steve, to say that Hamill understood when the industry tide had shifted out of his favor and found a way to adapt what he was good at (histrionic vocal performances!) into a current of the industry where what was a live action weakness could be a voice over strength.

    1. "Hamill was in an accident that, if memory serves, put him out of in-front-of-camera work for a while."

      At least as far as I'm aware, the only major accident Hamill has had was right after he had finished filming (most of) the original Star Wars movie, i.e., A New Hope. He had a car accident which tore up his face. However, he went back to work and filmed the Empire Strikes Back and later Return of the Jedi.

  3. Buffy worked well for as long as it was a satire of how high school is full of castes of supernatural evil. It was operating at a hyperbolic level riffing on caste divides within the American public school experience that could read easily as a jokey musing upon the difficulty of people relating to each other across those divides while battling problems. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko managed that feat a generation or two earlier in the original Spiderman comics run.

    But Buffy went off the rails after she graduated from high school and the showrunners decided to take her seriously as a superheroine. Buffy went from someone who felt she had more interesting things to do than save the world (like being a normal teenager) to being self-serious in a way that made the character work less effectively.

  4. A potentially useful contrast with Rey (who seems to have victories handed her without effort in a way that's fairly typical of heroes these days regardless of gender), Wonder Woman worked pretty well. Gadot was a beauty pageant winner, of course, but her take on Diana was someone who had the physical power and durability to defeat the enemy but whose disposition is more nurturing and maternal (she's a mother of two in real life, if memory serves). Wonder Woman goes through the movie preferring to appeal to the better nature of the people she deals with and only resorting to fighting when people don't give her other options. One of the negative legacies of Harrison Ford in cinematic action terms was his legendary gun shot in Raiders, some film critics have said that as funny as it was, a scene where a hero resorts to the gun to pre-emptively end a sword fight played for laughs altered the moral landscape of heroism in American film. Part of the huge success of Wonder Woman as an action/superhero movie might simply be the story-telling decision to go back to a more pre-Harrison Ford model of the action hero.

  5. Two brief comments that augment much of what's already been said:

    1) As other commentators have noted, Hamill has done extensive voice-acting work since his semi-retirement from acting in front of the camera. While it's obviously a somewhat niche series, his portrayal of The Joker in "Batman: The Animated Series" is widely considered among fans to be the iconic voice performance of that character.

    2) The actor who plays Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is an ex-Marine (he was medically-separated due to a non-combat injury) and Julliard-trained actor in real life. He is outspokenly pro-military, and runs a non-profit that puts on theater performances for the armed services. In several interviews he has expressed confusion and discomfort with his newfound fame. And I agree that the Kylo Ren character is uncomfortable and odd.

    Not sure if that helps to add any color or not, but there you have it.