Nobody’s Perfect in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and that’s Why it’s Fab

It isn’t often that a film makes you truly stop and think. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is one of those movies. It seizes you by the collar, slaps you about, and then parks up in your brain for days on end (in other words, it’s fantastic). Uncomfortable and surprising in a stubborn, determined sort of way, it’s also earnest in doling out a genuinely crucial lesson: no-one’s perfect.

Awooga, awooga – spoilers for The Last Jedi ahead.

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Look there, in the shadows…. it’s Grumpzilla the Hutt (concept art from Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

Nowhere is this more obvious than Luke. Now a grumpy, haggard old man, he’s far from the hero we cheered on in the original trilogy. He’s rude. He’s disgusting. He’s selfish. And therein lies the brilliance of it. Basically, he’s human.

Luke’s been trapped in storytelling amber for over 30 years; he ended Return of the Jedi on a triumphant, righteous note, and we took it for granted that his troubles were over. He became idealised and messianic, a standard we could strive toward but never reach. Yet life doesn’t work that way. We don’t ever stop making mistakes, nor do we stop learning. This is why it’s so healthy to see Luke become a miserable git who lives on a diet of fish and space-cow milk. It’s a reminder that we’re all flawed. And you know what? That’s OK. Heroes aren’t people who do no wrong; they screw up, just like us. Anyone can be a hero, an idea reflected in the wonderfully down-to-earth Rose.

Furthermore, the mark of a hero is that they get back up again after being knocked down… even if it’s not right away. Although Luke had a momentary lapse of judgement that cost him everything, he came roaring back in the end to save the day. It doesn’t matter that this took time. What matters is that he eventually did. That’s a powerful message. It’s an inspiration, too. If Luke can overcome such enormous problems, we can as well.

For me, this is why The Last Jedi’s easily the most important chapter of the Star Wars saga. It’s a message of hope for anyone of any age.

Check back each Friday for more on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

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Now Star Wars: Battlefront II is Over, What Comes Next?

The chance to tell a story in official Star Wars canon is one many would commit bloody, bloody murder for. This is a world we’ve come to know inside and out over 40 years, so fiddling about in such a beloved toybox is one hell of an opportunity. It’s also a setting that can carry a range of narratives without buckling; basically, the sky’s the limit.

Star Wars: Battlefront II made the most of this with a tale from the Empire’s perspective. What should the series do next, though? Although it’s very likely that Battlefront III will follow the adventures of Zay (daughter of Iden Versio, our last playable character), there’s a whole universe of possibility to choose from within that.

AWOOGA! AWOOGA! Spoilers for Star Wars: Battlefront II ahead.

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Looks like we’re heading for the Outer Rim next time around – concept art for Star Wars: Battlefront II

The Resurrection DLC sets up a current-trilogy campaign to perfection. After watching her mother die, Zay leaves for the lawless Outer Rim under orders of Leia… moments before The Last Jedi begins. It’s a real statement of intent/flare shot into the sky accompanied by an orchestral band that shrieks, ‘all aboard for Kylo Ren and Porgs in the next game’. This is a fab idea for more than brand synergy. While Battlefront III will probably hit at the same time Episode IX does, it’s an era we know precious little about; what we’ve cobbled together can basically be recounted in an elevator ride. As such, there’s plenty of scope to plug those gaps.

What better subject than the First Order? The Force Awakens waved vaguely in the direction of military loyalists left behind after Return of the Jedi, but we’ve got very little to go on beyond that. Specifically, we’re told that:

  1. They established themselves through the help of sympathisers.
  2. Were seen as a pocket of nutters without any real manpower (whoops).

What does life look like for the average First Order citizen? It makes you wonder if they buy into the bigotry of these Empire-wannabes or if they’re simply brainwashed. The Last Jedi tells us via Rose that they occupy planets and force the inhabitants to work for them, but just that’s the tip of the iceberg; how do they find enough children to abduct for their Stormtrooper program, for instance? Are kids willingly given over by fanatics within First Order space? Let us find out by going behind enemy lines, messing with the bad guys’ s***, and generally throwing a spanner in the works.

Failing that, lifting the curtain on the New Republic (which is now in disarray after Starkiller Base’s attack) would be a good call. After all, we’ve only been to the outskirts of modern galactic society in the last two films. I’d love to see how things have changed since the Empire’s day.

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More, please – concept art for Star Wars: Battlefront II

Moreover, it’d be fun to find out whether criminal outfits like Jabba the Hutt’s have been snuffed out after peace was restored by Leia and co. (spoilers – I’m guessing not). This at least is a strong contender; I’d say Zay going to the Outer Rim guarantees bounty hunters, Tattooine, and scruffy lookin’ nerf herders. Which is wonderful, obviously.

Of course, there’s no reason why the developers have to limit themselves to this new era. In fact, I’d almost prefer them to take a leaf out of Battlefield I’s book and give us a range of missions from throughout the series. The latter provided a collection of war stories from various points across WW1, and Battlefront is ideally positioned to do the same. We could have the harrowing story of a clone in the trenches of the Clone War, culminating with that massive space-battle in Revenge of the Sith/Order 66. We might then step into a Rebellion fighter’s boots as they struggle past the biggest conflicts of the original trilogy, leaving us to finish up with Zay’s narrative post-The Last Jedi.

Regardless of where the story goes, it’s wonderful to see the developers given such a position of trust within Star Wars’ story. Lucky sods.

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Yeah, This is Why the Jedi Need to End

I boot up the internet and Star Wars is everywhere. With Star Wars Celebration 2017 coming to an end last weekend, the aftereffects of the event are still reverberating through the web like an infamous cry of a million souls before they were extinguished by a dirty great space laser. More to the point, everyone’s still recovering from The Last Jedi teaser and Battlefront II’s trailer. Suffice to say, that kind of reveal leaves a lasting impression.

However, one of the biggest takeaways from the event was Luke Skywalker’s claim that the Jedi must end in The Force Awakens’ sequel. As a former beacon of hope for the Jedi order, his disillusionment has caused quite a stir. The obvious question is ‘why’, but a better one should probably be ‘why not?’.

Perhaps it IS time for the Jedi to end – they’ve caused enough trouble. Concept art by Ryan Church

If you stop and think about it, the Jedi have been nothing but trouble. Besides appointing themselves as galactic police who stick their noses where it may not be wanted, they seem to rely on violence more often than diplomacy. Moreover, they bulled their way through the Clone Wars as generals and warriors when that’s precisely the opposite of what they were built for: I thought a Jedi’s lightsaber training is meant to be used in defence of the innocent and as a last resort, not a first response. Aren’t they primarily diplomats and monks?

Then there are all the amusing gaffs they’ve made throughout the original/prequel trilogies. Most egregious of these would be Obi-Wan’s flagrant dickery in lying to Luke’s face about his father. ‘True from a certain point of view’? Shove off, that’s ridiculous. It’s a somewhat limp attempt to justify a retcon and makes Obi-Wan look negligent. Then there’s Qui-Gon Jinn’s hilariously bad attempt at babysitting, where he takes a young child into the heat of battle when he could have left him literally anywhere else. Finally, the books reveal that the prequels’ Jedi temple was built on a super-evil Sith shrine that apparently corrupted them over millennia (it was apparently capped, but would you take that chance?). I mean, come on. I adore these films, but the characters do make some bizarre decisions.

Then there’s an aspect that, in contrast, the prequels handled rather well. The Jedi are essentially a cult: you follow their strict rules or you hit the road. Additionally, these rules can seem needlessly cruel. Take their refusal for Jedi to form attachments, for instance. This has never ended well, as demonstrated by Anakin’s fall and the fact that those same attachments let Luke save the whole damn galaxy.

Most damning of all would be when you read between the lines. As explained by Tor, a reason for Obi-Wan lying to Luke about his father could be that they needed an assassin who’d take out the Emperor’s greatest asset without querying why. Knowing about his head-in-the-clouds demeanour and daydream to be a hero, Kenobi fed him a suitably clichéd story about his father that’d set him on a collision course with Vader, no questions asked. It’s a calculated, manipulative move.

Similarly, Luke was given the surname ‘Skywalker’ and left with his family – surely a giant red flag to Vader – because he could also serve as bait as an added bonus. If Vader found him, Obi-Wan would emerge and take him down.

It’s a fascinating way of looking at the old Jedi order, and it doesn’t paint them in a very good light. As such, I’m not surprised that Luke wants to shut things down now he’s older and wiser.

Rogue One May Stand Alone, But its Dark Underbelly Shouldn’t

WARNING! There are spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story up ahead. Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen it yet.

Rogue One is many things, but mostly it’s a shock to the system. The first indication of this is an abrupt shove into the plot instead of the iconic text crawl we’re used to. Rather than setting the scene with choice backstory of a galaxy at war, we’re booted headfirst into space before witnessing a family being torn apart. It’s a powerful statement of intent.

The Empire may be evil, but the Rebels aren't necessarily good either - concept art shown at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim
The Empire may be evil, but the Rebels aren’t necessarily good either – concept art shown at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim

What follows is no different. Although there are hints of the loveable cheesiness you’ll recognise from older Star Wars films, this movie plants its flag in a morally grey quagmire. The Empire remain fascist dictators, but now we know the Rebellion aren’t paragons of justice like we thought them to be either.

This wrinkle adds oodles of depth to the original trilogy. When Luke Skywalker joins those plucky Rebels in A New Hope, they’re portrayed as a ragtag yet idealistic group of freedom fighters who have a lot in common with Robin Hood’s Merry Men. A collection of brave souls who’ve given up everything to defeat the corrupt establishment, they’re one step away from giving all they steal to the poor. However, Rogue One peels back the curtain to reveal an organisation with considerable amounts of blood on their hands. From outright murder to acts of terrorism, their actions challenge the idea that they’re entirely ‘good’.

Despite evicting Forest Whitaker’s radical Saw Gerrera from their number, they still make use of some dubious contacts and count very dodgy individuals amongst their number. More to the point, their superior officers are happy playing dirty. Captain Andor kills his informant at the beginning of the movie in cold blood, whilst his commander orders him to assassinate an Empire asset… despite said asset’s contributions to the Rebellion. Rather than being heroes, we learn that they’re not always to be trusted. It’s an intriguing but chilling twist.

This kind of revelation doesn’t just inject complexity into the saga; it allows our imaginations to run wild too. What else have the Rebels been up to that we don’t know about? Do we even want to know? Andor suggests he and his crew have done some dubious things in the name of freedom, and those blurred edges open a trove of stories begging to be told. If that doesn’t demand a comic series, novel or video game, I’m not sure what does. Though we won’t get a sequel to Rogue One, hopefully the franchise isn’t going to let this dark underbelly stand alone as well.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.  

Star Wars isn’t a Space Opera; it’s the Wild West

Tactical ignorance is a flaw most of us share. Specifically, we prefer to forget that life can be ugly. These kind of reality checks are uplifting in a way you wouldn’t expect, though; they demonstrate how far we’ve come. Our ancestors puzzled out mathematics despite rampant disease and the threat of being pillaged, for heaven’s sake. That’s to say nothing of natural disasters they simply weren’t equipped to handle. Fast-forward a few centuries and we’re firing satellites toward the other end of space. These bundles of technology then trundle around alien planets, beaming data back at us.

Applying this kind of logic to fiction is intriguing. Take Star Wars. We associate the franchise with devices that let you cover light-years in a matter of moments (hurling ships into what’s known as ‘hyperspace’), but this makes you wonder what the galaxy looked like before they were developed. We’ve got very little idea now the expanded universe has been booted unceremoniously from canon. Books, comics and games before Disney acquired the franchise no longer ‘count’, leaving a gaping hole in the timeline prior to Phantom Menace.

What’s left suggests a less romantic universe. Mention of millennia-old ‘hyperspace sextants’ in The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary hints at a simpler time, one where faster-than-light travel wasn’t possible. I’d assume they were used in charting a new frontier, supported by the ‘historical’ need for carbonite stasis to survive long journeys beforehand. While it’s best known for snap-freezing Harrison Ford in The Empire Strikes Back, apparently the process was intended to put travellers into suspended animation during long-haul trips.

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Early Star Wars concept art, courtesy of the incomparable Ralph McQuarrie

As with the Alien franchise, this breed of star-trekking isn’t glamorous. For starters, astronauts might wake up to a universe that’s rather different from the one they remember. Then you’ve got to factor in scientific mind-benders like time dilation, whereby time is relative and dependant on the rate you’re travelling. It’s a low-key version of time travel; those jaunting around space may find that everyone else has aged ‘faster’ than them.

It’s not a great alternative, basically. Being realistic, you need months to bridge the distance between planets. Exchange that for decades when crossing the void separating solar systems. Colonies are likely to have been established closer to home as a result. They’d also be notably smaller than those seen on film, because it’s expensive transporting supplies across the cosmos. According to Planetary Resources, shipping enough water for six people on the International Space Station costs $2 billion per year. Even breaching the atmosphere is pricey. You need an absurd amount of energy to clear gravitational pull. As NASA researcher Kevin Fong noted, making sure vehicles achieve ‘an orbit wide enough to get it to miss both the Earth and the upper layers of the atmosphere… you need to travel at around 17,500mph’. Consider the cost of reaching those speeds. When coupled with the provisions and fuel needed for a single astronaut, you’re staring down the barrel of a very expensive project.

These outposts would probably be isolated, too. Help is hard to come by in the depths of space, particularly when it takes weeks to arrive. This leaves settlers to fend for themselves. Aside from foreign weather patterns, flora and fauna, they’re stranded on a planet that may not even feature oxygen. And what about the physical cost of living on another world? Although Star Wars never troubled itself with reality (and nor should it), this might rob us of our health. Lesser gravity wastes bones and musculature, to say nothing of radiation. Then you’ve got to consider the psychological impact of being cut off, not to mention other people. Astrobiologist Charles Cockell pointed out that space ‘is a tyranny prone environment… If somebody gets control of oxygen, they could very well have control over the whole population and could threaten dire consequences in return for extraordinary levels of power’. It may sound ridiculous, but experts are already planning a bill of rights to avoid those problems – not to mention ways of toppling dictatorships.

In a nutshell, it’s a lifestyle which strips away every luxury. The fact that Maz Kinata’s pirate empire has existed for one thousand years indicates a frontier more like the Wild West than anything else. As observed by Frederick J. Turner in 1894, settlers of North America returned to ‘primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line’. That doesn’t sound dissimilar to Tatooine.

Which raises a question of its own; did early inhabitants of Star Wars piece this all together through trial and error, or were they sped along by first contact with one of the series’ extra-terrestrial races? Perhaps the answer is ‘neither’. The Tarkin novel references an ancient civilisation which constructed interstellar weapons of mass destruction. This became an inspiration for the Death Star, so it’s possible the remains of an older society provided the technological leap needed (a la Mass Effect).

No matter their origin, it puts the Empire’s advancement into context. It must’ve taken decades at the very least to reach that stage, especially when those efforts had to have been funded by competing nations. We’re told that Coruscant (the prequels’ city planet) is humanity’s homeworld, so did it host different countries before galactic rule? Do they still exist at the time of the Skywalkers?

It’s wild and unnecessary speculation on my part, obviously. But that’s fun of it. What we don’t know is often more entertaining than what we do; we can fill in the gaps ourselves. Many criticise the removal of EU content. This is my counter-argument.

Sources: BBC, American Historical Association, Wired, The Guardian