big canvases

the new Star Wars trailer dropped today

The Last Jedi was a really beautiful and important movie to me, and there are others who have written longer and better than I can about why (most especially Film Crit Hulk, both about the movie and the reactionary culture clash that followed).

While the Star Wars movies were certainly a part of my childhood* but they never captured my imagination to the extent that other media would, like Harry Potter or Dune. Maybe to some, that would be enough to discount my opinion. But I did like them, and I’m grateful that I was able to be exposed to the original trilogy in the quiet years before the prequels were released, when the culture at large was not interested in them beyond extended universe books and video games.

*In fact, the copy of Star Wars that we had in the house was a single extremely long playing VHS with all three movies taped from a TV broadcast. Honestly, I think this is very legit, fandom wise.

There’s a funny paradox at the heart of the mega-franchise dominated culture we live in now: the health of franchises is determined by the attention they attract, which determines which get sequels. At the same time, the more attention a franchise has, the more any given movie in it is required to include characters and events to support the infrastructure of the universe, which leads to the movies becoming thematically incoherent, long and boring (see: every Marvel movie with a colon in its title).

The wild thing about The Last Jedi, the thing that makes it such an outlier, is that it managed to have artistic depth in a form and a creative structure that are difficult to work within. It did three very difficult things: it worked as a movie (it was fun to watch, the story made sense, there were good jokes), it had a thematic gestalt, and—the most difficult part—the thematic ideas of the movie complicate and enrich our understanding of the stories we have bonded with.

Put another way, it’s hard to make one of these movies that say anything, and it’s even harder to make one of these movies say something that makes sense, and it’s even harder to make one of these movies say something that both makes sense and is meaningful.

There are a whole host of good but flawed movies in which a clear director’s sensibility shines through: Sam Rami’s Spider-Man, Christopher Nolan’s Batman, as well as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and James Mangold’s Logan. And there’s also many other movies that are workmanlike but are so much fun that we don’t care that they don’t say anything: James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Jon Favreau and Shane Black’s Iron Man. And then there are a whole bunch of hacks, turning out movies that are fun enough and are forgotten the second you walk out of the theater.

The most depressing part of the followup to The Last Jedi is that J.J. Abrams is the king of the hacks. And so this movie is going to end how all of his movies end, with slowly moving shots of characters we don’t quite understand experiencing what seem like profound emotions that aren’t quite proportional to the events that just happened, all set to shimmering strings in Michael Giacchino’s score. And none of it will have meant anything, and we’ll walk out of the theater and it will be like none of it ever happened.

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