The Battle of Yorktown: Hamilton’s St. Crispian’s Day Speech

As I said in a previous post, Shakespeare’s language is my language, but his country is not my country.  This means that passages such as John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II does not have the same effect in the US as it does in England.

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!

I have never been to England, and even if I had, it is not my country, so I will never see it as a seat of Mars, another Eden, a demi-paradise.

This is very true in Henry V.  I have never seen a live production of it, and this is understandable, since it is not frequently performed in the United States.  The average American has never heard of Aginicourt, so the productions must find another way to get the audience invested in the story.  This is starkly different to how the play feels in England.  I read an interview with an actor who played Henry V at the Globe, and he said that some men showed up to the theater with their faces painted with St. George’s flag, as though it was a soccer match.  I will never experience that with Henry V.

But I do get to experience it with Hamilton.

I have mentioned Hamilton: An American Musical several times on my blog.  As I am sure everyone knows by now, it is a hip-hop musical based on the life of America’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton.  And I know that sounds terrible, but it’s really amazing.  Many people have made comparisons between Lin Manuel Miranda’s lyrics (my favorite part of the show) and Shakespeare.  I think that this is a valid comparison for two reasons.

First, Lin Manuel Miranda pushes the boundaries of what is possible with the everyday language.  Shakespeare did that through iambic pentameter; Lin Manuel Miranda does it through hip-hop.  My point is not that Lin Manuel Miranda is the same as Shakespeare.  I am saying that he, like Shakespeare, is using theater to expand the boundaries of what is possible in language.

Second of all, Shakespeare is called The Bard because the bard would traditionally recite poetry about the deeds of his patron.  In the pre-Christian Celtic world, they had no written language so the Bard had an important role of preserving history through the oral tradition.  Shakespeare’s history plays recount the deeds of many of the English kings of the recent past.  This is plain in works such as Henry V.  Lin Manuel Miranda did that in Hamlton: An American Musical.

I will never know what it is like to hear the St. Chrispian’s Day Speech, or Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends as an Englishman.  But I do know what it is like to hear The Battle of Yorktown as an American.  The Battle of Yorktown does not have the best lyrics of the show, but they work so well in conjunction of the music that the experience is truly powerful.

 

I love the Alexander’s account at the beginning.

I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
This is where it gets me: on my feet
The enemy ahead of me
If this is the end of me, at least I have a friend with me
Weapon in my hand, a command, and my men with me
Then I remember my Eliza’s expecting me…
Not only that, my Eliza’s expecting
We gotta go, gotta get the job done
Gotta start a new nation, gotta meet my son!

I can almost see the the enemy ahead of me and feel the weapon in my hands and the ground beneath my feet.   It reminds me of Lose Yourself by Eminem.

The frenetic energy of Hercules Mulligan.

A tailor spyin’ on the British government!
I take their measurements, information and then I smuggle it!

To my brother’s revolutionary covenant
I’m runnin’ with the Sons of Liberty and I am lovin’ it!
See, that’s what happens when you up against the ruffians
We in the shit now, somebody’s gotta shovel it!
Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction
When you knock me down I get the fuck back up again!

That gives you a real sense of who Hercules Mulligan is and the arrogance and self-confidence behind him.

Then the lyrics give you a sense of the calm, exhaustion, and numbness that follows a battle.

[Hamilton:]
After a week of fighting, a young man in a red coat stands on a parapet

[Lafayette:]
We lower our guns as he frantically waves a white handkerchief

[Mulligan:]
And just like that, it’s over. We tend to our wounded, we count our dead

[Laurens:]
Black and white soldiers wonder alike if this really means freedom

[Washington:]
Not yet

This is followed by a growing sense of triumph.

We negotiate the terms of surrender
I see George Washington smile
We escort their men out of Yorktown
They stagger home single file
Tens of thousands of people flood the streets
There are screams and church bells ringing
And as our fallen foes retreat
I hear the drinking song they’re singing…

Then begins the refrain,

The world turned upside down.

Whenever I hear that, I get a sense of what the American victory in the Revolutionary War meant, not just to Hamilton and his fellow soldiers, not just to the colonies, or even to America as a whole.  I get a sense of what it meant to the history of the world.  It is an unbelievable, but exciting revelation.  I feel like cheering and crying all at once.

As I said, it is the closest I will get to the St. Crispian’s Day Speech.

 

 

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Killing Sacred Cows: The Last Jedi’s Portrayal of Luke Skywalker

Oh, this post is about The Last Jedi and Jane Eyre.  Spoilers for both.

 

 

*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*

Almost a year ago, I addressed the Reywalker theory (the theory that Rey was Luke Skywalker’s son) by explaining the only way that I would be OK with this plot line.

I will make one exception to the idea of Luke Skywalker as Rey’s father.  If they use that dynamic to set up Luke Skywalker as a villain, then I would be fine with that.  Here is what I mean.  If Luke Skywalker is Rey’s father, this means that he abandoned her on Jakku.  He left his daughter to die.  This is not the same thing as Obi Wan leaving Luke in the hands of his aunt and uncle, whom he knew would feed and raise Luke.  If Luke truly is Rey’s daughter, then he threw her out like a piece of trash. Furthermore, Maz tells Rey that her family is simply never coming back for her.  This means that Luke abandoned his daughter to die and had no intention of ever coming back for her.  What an asshole.  Imagine what Rey would feel when she discovers that her father, a legendary great man, left her to die without any intention of ever rescuing her.  Imagine how the audience will feel when they discover that the hero of their childhood has become the kind of man who leaves his children to die without any intention of rescuing him.  Imagine if Disney had the guts to completely discredit Luke Skywalker, to transform him into terrible person, a callous, villainous man who the audience would be forced to hate!  I would totally see that.

So, needless to say, the most controversial element of The Last Jedi, was one of the parts I appreciated the most.  #NotMyLukeAndILoveIt

fanboy tears

Mmm, your tears tastes like green milk freshly squeezed from an alien’s teet.   😉

The big theme of all of my Reylo posts is that Star Wars needed to take chances and potentially piss off a lot of people.  Fortunately, Rian Johnson did just that, and I while his movie is flawed (I’ll get into that in later posts) I will forever thank him for slaughtering some sacred cows.  And there is no greater sacred cow in all of Star Wars than Luke Skywalker.

Star Wars has been a part of popular culture for 40 years now.  Two generations grew up and have grown up with Luke Skywalker as a hero, a knight.  Most of the online videos on Youtube (cough *Collider Video* cough) are all about fanboys drooling over the opportunity to see Luke Skywalker in action again, fighting Snoke, fighting Kylo Ren, fighting Rey and Kylo Ren together  (No, I am not making that up!) etc.  The fanboys wanted so badly to see what they never got to see, and what they were never going to see.  The problem is, what fans want to see and what is good for the story is rarely the same thing.  A good storyteller knows this.  A good storyteller is mean to their characters and mean to their audience.

A perfect example of meanness is found in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, which has nothing to do with space.  In the book, Jane Eyre (despite her assertion that she has no tale of woe) has lived a miserable childhood.  She is an orphan who lived with family members who hated her, and was sent to a cruel, Puritanical boarding school.  When she grows up, she becomes a governess, which despite the fact that it gave a woman an income, was still a perilous life.  However, while she is at Thornfield Hall, caring for her young charge, she falls in love with the wealthy, mysterious Mr. Rochester the ward of the young girl and the owner of Thornfield Hall, a grand estate.  You would think that this would be a good chance to give our heroine a very well deserved happy ending.  But no, you would be wrong, for Charlotte Bronte is a cold-hearted bitch who understands the value of being mean to characters.  On Jane Eyre’s wedding day, she discovers a horrible truth.  Mr. Rochester is already married.  His wife is insane, and he keeps her locked in the attic.  Jane cannot marry Mr. Rochester, so he attempts to persuade her to become his mistress, as many other women have done.  Jane must choose between her love for Mr. Rochester and her faith, her conscience, and her integrity as a person.  She chooses the latter, runs away, and nearly dies on the moor.  (As I said, Charlotte Bronte is a bitch.)

It would be utterly wrong to proclaim that Rian Johnson is a storyteller on the level of Charlotte Bronte, but his treatment of Luke Skywalker shows that he is not afraid to be mean.  Rian Johnson does not make Luke the villain, but he literally takes the fan’s expectations of Luke Skywalker and throws them over Luke’s shoulder, along with Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber.  Indeed, much of Luke Skywalker’s portrayal is all about shattering the expectations of the fans. Rian Johnson knows what fans want, and makes a conscious decision to disappoint them.

I couldn’t be happier.

fanboy tears

Slurp, slurp, slurp.

So, why am I thirstily drinking up all of the fanboy tears?  Is it pure schadenfreude?  Almost, but not entirely.

Is it because I predicted that Luke Skywalker’s portrayal in The Last Jedi would be very unsettling to fans?  Also part of it, but not entirely.

Here is why I like the portrayal of Luke Skywalker is actually a good thing in the film.

1 Our protagonist is not Luke Skywalker.  It is amazing how few people understood that.  Collider Videos were filled with arguments about whether or not Luke would fight Snoke, etc, etc, as though Rey was a placeholder protagonist for Luke.  This frustrated me to no end, and was due to fans being unable to let go of the sequel films that they would never get to see.   Luke does not show up to save the day because he is not the protagonist.

2 Rey is our protagonist, and Rey, and she is a young woman.  Everyone associates Star Wars with Joseph Campbell.  Joseph Campbell wrote Hero of 1000 Faces and talked about The Hero’s Journey.  These ideas and books were very influential on George Lucas when he wrote Star Wars.

Both the podcasts Star Wars Connection and Scavenger’s Hoard have alluded to this, but have pointed out that Rey is not on a hero’s journey.  Rey is on a heroine’s journey, and one of the important steps in a heroine’s journey is Confronting the Powerless Father.

The idea of a heroine with a powerless (or dead) father is a well established trope.  Jane Eyre, which I mentioned above, is an example of one such character.  In most versions of Cinderella, and Snow White, her father has died.  Belle in Beauty and the Beast has a father, but he is somewhat silly and ineffectual, and she is separated from him almost immediately.  Psyche’s father is told by the gods to abandon her on a mountain, and he acquiesces.  Atalanta’s father exposes her at birth, and she is suckled by wolves and raised by hunters.  Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and Margaret Hale have disinterested, silly, or weak fathers.  This stands in stark contrast of heroes, who must have powerful fathers or mentors that the hero must supplant.

The reason for the powerless father trope is quite simple.  In times and places where women had limited or now power of any kind, a woman without a protective father figure is in an especially dangerous situation.  She has nothing but her wits to defend her.  It elevates the stakes for our heroine.

By making Luke Skywalker a fallen hero, they also make Luke Skywalker a Powerless Father.  They continue Rey’s journey as a heroine.

3 Luke Skywalker’s Powerless Father figure is essentail to Rey’s development as a character (such as it is.)

This is a continuation of the last point, but Rey’s main weakness as a character (such as it is) is the fact that Rey is looking for her parents.  (Yes, her desire for her parents is a weakness.)  She began to move away from her weakness for her parents in The Force Awakens.  She abandons Jakku, accepting that her parents will never come back for her there.  However, she quickly transfers this desire to Han Solo, a man she has never seen and has known for about two days.  Then he is murdered by Kylo Ren.  She goes to Luke Skywalker, once again looking for a father figure, and once again she is disappointed.  In her Force Bond discussions (skype?), Kylo Ren correctly points out that Rey is looking for a father figure, and that this is a weakness.  Rey must learn to stand on her own feet, without a father.

By making Luke Skywalker a failed father figure, Luke serves Rey’s character development.

4 I don’t want to see one dimensional characters.

The characters in Star Wars have always been a little shallow.  This stems from the fact that Lucas is drawing on the serial tradition of the 1930’s and 1940’s, as well as archetypal myths.  However, he did allow for some character growth to all of his characters.  Except Leia.  (More on that in a future post.)   Luke Skywalker begins as an impulsive adolescent who grows into a man.  He is forced to confront the truth about his past and his family and to make a difficult moral choice.

There is no reason to think that just because Luke conquered his challenge at the end of The Return of the Jedi that he would never fail ever again, or at the very least be tempted.

I actually think that Luke’s momentary lapse with his nephew makes sense to me.  Luke has already seen the destruction caused by the Empire.  It’s not abstract.  He lived it.  He senses the darkness in Ben Solo and he knows through experience what this will mean.  (Does he even sense his brother in law’s death?)  He also knows that he is growing older.  Luke senses his physical powers waning and knows that he will be less of a match for a powerful Force side user.  Considering this, it makes sense to me that Luke would have a moment of weakness and ignite his lightsaber.

5 Luke’s imperfection in this film continues what J.J. Abrams set up in the first movie.

People argue that Rian Johnson ignored everything that J.J. Abrams set up, but this is certainly not true in this case.  J.J. Abrams establishes that Luke Skywalker is in self-imposed exile.  Han tells us that after Ben turned against Luke and destroyed everything, Luke was overwhelmed with guilt and he walked away.  This is not the action of a hero.  A hero accepts a failure but returns to fight again.  Plus, at the end of The Force Awakens, Luke does not accept the lightsaber and he is not happy to see Rey.

Rian Johnson correctly gets that J.J. Abrams set him up as a fallen hero and continues this motif.

6 Luke’s failures contribute to the blurring of the lines between good and evil.  Rey goes to Ach To looking for answers and guidance.  She is looking for a black and white world where she can have easy answers.  She does not get that.  Instead, Luke is revealed to be flawed, and Kylo Ren is revealed to be conflicted.  (More on their relationship to come in later posts.)  I have to brag.  I called thisMore than once.  🙂  This also positions Rey to create Grey Jedi, Jedis who use both the Dark Side and the Light Side.  I think that could be interesting.  (I’ll talk more about my hopes for Rey in the last film of the series in an upcoming series.)

7 I actually like Luke’s ending.  I found a video on Youtube which reviewed The Last Jedi.  He pointed out that there are good reasons for keeping Luke on Ach-To.  First of all, Luke’s ship has been sunk in the ocean for years.  Even if he pulled it out, it still could not run.  Second of all, Luke realizes that if the galaxy keeps doing the same things over and over, the war will never end.  They have been fighting this for more than 30 years.  They must do something different if they wish to end the war.  I wish I could find the video again because the creator is absolutely correct.  The galaxy cannot continue the war for another generation.  Luke knows that they must find another way.  This, I think, is part of his desire to see the Jedi end.

8 By not allowing Kylo Ren to kill Luke, the writers keep a certain degree of ambiguity around his nature.  If Rian Johnson wanted to show that Kylo Ren is truly evil, the easiest way to do that would be to have him kill his mother.  The second easiest way would be to have him kill Luke Skywalker.  That might even be more significant considering that Luke Skywalker was the protagonist for the original series; the hero for two generations of children.  And yet, Luke does not give Kylo the chance to kill him.  Kylo does not take Luke’s life; he lays it down of his own accord.  This actually paves the way for the last image of Kylo Ren as a broken, powerless figure.  Rian Johnson refuses to give the audience two things that they want: a one dimensional hero and a one dimensional villain.  J.J Abrams is the better off for it.

Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is not a perfect film.  But the portrayal of Luke Skywalker is not one of its flaws but rather one of its strengths, providing a moving end for a legend, an important element for the protagonist, and leaving J.J. Abrams with a more complex world for the last film.

fanboy tears

 

Drink up everyone!

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Icon of the Mother of God and the Infant Christ by Angelos Akotantos

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Angelos Akotantos was a Byzantine Cretan icon painter who lived in the 15th century.  According to tradition, icons are not painted; they are written.  I remember seeing an article about the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.  One of the nuns in the article was learning to write icons, and a priest was examining her work.  Apparently, the true test of an icon is that a person who looks at it should want to pray.  I find the tenderness in Mary’s expression very moving.

This is from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Winterstürme Wichen Dem Wonnemond by Joans Kaufmann

I am not a fan of Wagner.  Jonas Kaufmann eloquently said that, as a child, Wagner’s music resembled shouting giants.  He is not wrong.  And yet, Jonas Kaufmann can make shouting giants sound appealing.  It may even make me look forward to the Cleveland Orchestra’s performance of Tristan Und Isolde.

Oh, he has marvelous diction.  If I spoke German, I could probably understand what he was saying.

 

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Adoration of the Shepherds by Hans Leonhard Schaufelein

This isn’t a great picture, but it’s from the Cleveland Museum of Art.  This is a German Renaissance painting.  Very different feeling from Italian Renaissance.

 

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Merry Christmas everyone!

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Star Wars Thoughts: Were Rey’s Parents Ever Really That Important?

Needless to say…

*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*

 

 

There is a lot of anger in the fandom now because of the killing of Snoke and the revelation of Rey’s parents.

I can’t speak too much to the idea that Snoke was killed, because I never really cared too much about who Snoke was.  When I first saw The Force Awakens, I was very confused, not so much about who Snoke was but about the whole state of the galaxy.  What is the First Order?  Is the New Republic destroyed, because they mention it later in the film.  Is the First Order just another pocket of the galaxy?  I know I could have read Bloodlines to find out more information but I decided I didn’t care enough.

I mean, think about the Original Trilogy.  Imagine, for a second, that the prequels never existed.  (Nice, right?)  We would know virtually nothing about the Empire or the Emperor.  Except that they were evil.  That’s all the original films ever offered and that’s all we needed to know.  These films were throwbacks to the Flash Gordon films of the 1930’s.  It’s not War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov.  (I heard a podcast recently describe Star Wars as a nuanced film.  Nuance is not a word that should be used with Star Wars.)  In other words, to quote Mystery Science Theater 3000, “Just repeat to yourself, ‘It’s just a show.  I should really just relax.'”  So I decided to just relax and accept the fact that The First Order had arisen and it was bad.

My point is, I never felt that there was a tremendous mystery about who Snoke was.  He was Snoke.  Why did people think that he had another identity besides that?  I don’t get it.  My only question about him when I watched The Force Awakens was whether or not he truly was a giant.

However, I don’t really want to talk about Snoke.  What I really want to talk about was Rey’s parents.  People are really upset that Rey’s parents are nobody because they feel that The Force Awakens teased that Rey’s parents were really important.

But is that true?

When we begin, Rey is living in an incredibly harsh existence.  Living is not a good word; surviving is far better.  We see her talk to no one during her day and when she goes home, she etches another day on the wall.  We clearly see that she is marking time, and has been marking time for years, but we do not know why she is marking time.  Our answer is given later when BB-8 comes on the scene.  She tells them that she is waiting for her family.

Now think about this for a second.  There is no indication in this preliminary information that she does not know who her parents are.  She is not searching for their identity.  She is not searching at all.  She is simply waiting.  The realization is also painful because we know that Rey’s parents are never coming back for her.  Rey is in denial, and it is clearly holding her back.  I mean, think about this logically.  Rey is a pilot.  If she had accepted the fact that her parents were never coming back, she could have stolen the Millennium Falcon and gone anywhere she wanted.  Instead, she is trapped, a prisoner to a past.

In the Lessons of the Screenplay channel on Youtube, he breaks down this issue very clearly.

He quotes a screenwriting guru, K.M.  Weiland, who calls this “The lie your character believes.”  She writes in her book Creating Character Arcs,

In order for your character to evolve in a positive way, he has to start out with something lacking in his life, some reason that makes the change necessary…

He is harboring some deeply held misconception about either himself, the world, or probably both.

That’s what Rey’s preoccupation is in the story.  It is a deeply held misconception.  She still believes, even after all this time, that her parents are coming back for her.  This is her character’s weakness, and it is what is inhibiting her.  We see this repeatedly.  She refuses to go with Finn to the rebel base.  She declines a job offer from Han Solo.  Her reason for avoiding these new adventures and embracing a horrific existence is because she wrongly believes that she will be reunited with her family on Jakku.

When she touches the light saber and experiences her force vision, she sees a flashback of her being abandoned on the planet.  She is not a baby, but a young child.  She would certainly be old enough to have a clear memory of her parents.  We also get a hint of that in the fact that she has been counting the days since her family left her.  She was old enough to remember the day and old enough to know how to count.  Either way, there is nothing in the story that indicates that she does not know who her parents are.

Then we get to Maz.  This is a pivotal moment of the film.  Rey has just seen a vision after touching Luke’s and Anakin’s light saber and immediately decides to run away and go back to Jakku.  Maz takes her hand and tells her the painful truth that Rey already knows.

Dear child, I see your eyes.  You already know the truth.  Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back.  But there’s someone who still could.  The belonging you seek is not behind you.  It is ahead.

The belonging you seek is not behind you.  It is ahead.  

The belonging you seek is not behind you.  It is ahead.  

The belonging you seek is not behind you.  It is ahead. 

The film is trying to tell us something!  Rey’s past doesn’t hold any answers.  She cannot look for belonging in the past, and neither should we.

Looking at the film, I think it is pretty clear that the film is trying to tell us

1 Rey knows who her parents are.  She is not searching for their identity; she is just waiting for them to come back.

2 Rey’s belief that her parents will come back for her is the fundamental misconception that is holding Rey back.  It is a misconception she needs to reject in order to grow as a person.

3 Rey must let go of her parents in order to fulfill the will of the Force.

I also think that Rey is, in some way, a stand in for the fans.  Rey is holding onto the past to such an extent that she rejects the possibility of new adventures.  The fans are doing that as well.  (See this post.)  Maz is talking to the audience as well, letting them know that they can let go of the past and embrace new adventures.

J.J. Abrams also had another motivation for this decision.  J.J. Abrams has made it clear in interviews 2 years ago(!) that he doesn’t like the idea of midichloreans.  (For good reason.  They are stupid.)

I’m not someone who quite understands the science of the Force. To me Star Wars was never about science fiction — it was a spiritual story. And it was more of a fairytale in that regard. For me when I heard Obi-Wan say that the Force surrounds us and binds us all together, there was no judgement about who you were. This was something that we could all access. Being strong with the force didn’t mean something scientific, it meant something spiritual. It meant someone who could believe, someone who could reach down to the depths of your feelings and follow this primal energy that was flowing through all of us. I mean, thats what was said in that first film!

And there I am sitting in the theater at almost 11 years old and that was a powerful notion. And I think this is what your point was, we would like to believe that when shit gets serious, that you could harness that Force I was told surrounds not just some of us but every living thing. And so, I really feel like the assumption that any character needs to have inherited a certain number of midi-chlorians or needs to be part of a bloodline, it’s not that I don’t believe that as part of the canon, I’m just saying that at 11 years old, that wasn’t where my heart was. And so I respect and adhere to the canon but I also say that the Force has always seemed to me to be more inclusive and stronger than that.

J.J. Abrams wants to expand the notion of who can use the Force, away from the idea of midichloreans or bloodlines.  The idea that Rey, a nobody, can access the Force is not contrary to J.J’s idea of the Force but very much in concert with it.  It is the fulfillment of this idea.

So, given the fact that the film actually makes it clear that Rey knows who her parents are but that her devotion to them is holding her back, and J.J. doesn’t like the idea of bloodlines being important to the Force, why did fans decide that her lineage is super important?

1 Fans had been trained by prior works to see all of the characters as related to one another.  Vader was Luke’s father.  Leia was Luke’s sister.  We meet Padme at the beginning of the Phantom Menace and then she doesn’t age for 10 years so that she can marry Anakin.  It’s amazing we never found out that Yoda was Chewie’s father!  We add to this the godawful plot device of the midichloreans.  We were led to believe that the power to use the Force is genetic, passed down from parent to child.  Within this framework, the idea that Rey has a noble lineage is logical. Third, we meet Anakin and Luke Skywalker in the first films of their respective trilogies on Tatooine, the desert planet.  When fans saw Rey on a desert planet, they were led to associate her with Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and because everyone in the prior Star Wars movies is related to each other, fans believed that Rey must be Luke’s daughter and Anakin’s granddaughter.

2 Ben Solo, the only Skywalker of his generation, has fallen to the Dark Side.  Fans have been told repeatedly that Star Wars is the saga of the Skywalkers.  When fans see that the only Skywalker is the antagonist, they assume that he is going to die at the end of the trilogy.  Kylo Ren is the last of the Skywalkers.  When he dies, the Skywalker line is over.  Fans instinctively reject the idea that the Skywalker line will come to an end in darkness, so they wanted Rey to be a Skywalker in order to continue the Skywalker saga.

Now that many fans have accepted the idea that Ben Solo is the only Skywalker in the film, they are bummed that the Skywalker line is coming to an end.  Jeremy Jahns on Youtube stated that he no longer cares about the last movie because of that fact, to the point that he is willing to consider recasting Leia so that there can be one other Skywalker in the last film.

3 The Force Awakens does not fully develop the idea that Rey’s belief that her parents are holding her back does not truly have meaningful consequences.  Lessons of the Screenplay discusses this in his review.  Other than telling people she need to leave and go back to Jakku, Rey doesn’t really face any consequences for her belief.  The only time this misconception has any consequences is when she runs away from Maz, only to be captured by Kylo Ren.  However, there is no sense in the movie that she has given up on the idea of her parents.  The film could have used a scene between Leia and Rey at the end of the film.  In this scene, Leia could give Rey a choice to either go back to Jakku or to go find Luke Skywalker.  Rey could have made it clear that she was accepting the fact that her parents abandoned her and she is now moving forward with her life.  That scene would have helped the audience.

4 Death of the Author.  One comment I see repeatedly from people discussing their opinions of The Last Jedi is, “Did we see the same movie?”  The answer to that question is, no, we didn’t.  In the 1960’s, French literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an incredibly influential essay called, “Death of the Author.”  In it, he rejects a mode of criticism where  person reads a text and looks to the life and ideas of the author and uses those to explain the author’s intent.  Instead, Barthes argues that the intent of the author is unknowable.  It is not the Author who speaks in a text. Rather the language itself speaks, independently of the author.  Barthes writes

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single “theological” meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.

In other words, the text (or in this case film) does not have one divinely inspired meaning but a whole host of meanings which complement and compete with each other.   The removal of the author’s intent also means that the reader has real power to construct the meaning of the text.

Thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author.  The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.

Barthes would argue that The Force Awakens does not have only one meaning which was infused when J.J. Abrams created the film.  Instead, there are many conflicting movies and meanings within the film, and it is the viewer, not Abrams, that constructs the meaning of the film.  This is why it feels as though other people saw a different film than us.  They did.  Now, as I stated before, I do think that the author’s intent does matter if they know what they are trying to convey and know how to use the medium to convey ideas.  But even so, every writer or artist has experienced the limitations of their intent.  I have had people grossly distort what I have written, despite my best effort.

Barthes would also argue that Rey’s parents are important to the film insofar as the viewers decide that the are central to the meaning of the text.  If the fans felt that Rey’s parents were important, then they were important.

5 J.J Abrams’ stupid mystery boxes and Disney fucked up.  People know that J.J. Abrams likes ambiguity and mysteries in his films, so they expected that if he didn’t give information in this film, it implied that there was some sort of mystery to be revealed later.  A perfect example of that was Maz having Anakin’s light saber.  When Han asked Maz how she got that, she said, “A good question for another time.”  Many people assumed that they would get answers in a later movie.  I assumed that was a cop out on the part of the writers.

However, if their original plan was to have Rey’s parents be unimportant, I think they should have stepped in to modify the expectations of people in the film.  They played with fire by the way they baited fans in interviews.  For example, J.J Abrams stated that Rey’s parents are not in The Force Awakens and then he backtracked and said, “Well, she doesn’t discover them.”  Interviewers asked Daisy Ridley unknown numbers of times about her parents.  If her parents were not central to the plot, they should have authorized her to flat out state that they weren’t important.  Rian Johnson tried to state this when he said that Rey’s parents were important to Rey, but Disney could have been far more forceful a long time ago to try to shape the way the fans were interpreting the film.  They definitely messed up in their marketing.

Now, of course, there is some argument that Rey’s parents could still be significant.  Many people argue that Kylo Ren is an unreliable narrator, which is true.  I still think that Disney wants to go into the realm of Rey nobody so that they can have other, non-Skywalker (or Kenobi or Palpatine) force users arise.  Think about the little boy at the end of the film.  He is clearly a Force user.  They don’t want to have to argue that he is Qui Gon Jinn’s love child or something.  Eventually they will run out of Force users.  We know that they are making another trilogy that does not center around the Skywalkers.  In order to do that, they need to make it clear that there are other Force users who are not related to previous characters.

I think it would be a good idea for fans to revisit The Force Awakens anew and wonder if Rey’s parents were really as important as we made them out to be.

 

 

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Let the Past Die: The Last Jedi and Mourning the Star Wars Films We Will Never See

Let the past die.  Kill it, if you have to.  It’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.

Kylo Ren speaking to Rey

We are what they grow beyond.

Force Ghost Yoda speaking to Luke

I wrote about the fact that, even though I went into The Last Jedi completely spoiled ( I watched tons of spoiler videos before going to the film) but I still felt that the movie was battling with the movie I made in my head.

One thing that struck me reading the comments is that many people are struggling with the fact that the movies we see are not the movies that we make in our heads.  Most of the time, the movies in our heads is better.  This is even harder in films like Star Wars.

Star Wars has been a part of popular culture for 40 years.  That is two whole generations of children growing up with these stories and characters.  In the years and decades between movies, people created entire worlds to fill the void.  Popular books expanded the world and characters.  I remember someone in high school telling me that many people felt that the Heir to the Empire trilogy of books were really Episodes 7, 8, and 9.

While George Lucas gave people episodes 1, 2, and 3, most people really wanted episodes 7, 8, and 9.  They wanted Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia back but we never got to see those films.  And we never will.

This is not going to go the way you think.

Luke Skywalker to Rey

I don’t think that fans ever accepted the fact that we will never get those films.  I think that this is the most important motivation in killing Han Solo.  They are trying to get fans to move on from the characters of the original trilogy but we are stubborn.  There’s a moment when Kylo Ren, yells at Rey in frustration.  “You’re still holding on!”  At that moment, I felt that Kylo Ren was speaking for Rian Johnson (and J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy) at that moment.  They seemed to be breaking the fourth wall to express their anger and frustration.

Moreover, I think that they want fans to let go of the way that they have read these films.  I think that fans were so trained from watching the prequels and the books into expecting the new films to take certain paths.  I remember a reviewer last year saying that he expected that this trilogy would end with Rey turning dark and that she would be redeemed at the end of episode 12.  (Grrr.)  We see this in the obsession over the identity of Snoke and Rey’s parents. Fans expected Rey’s parents to be rooted in the past of the trilogy (a post about Rey’s parents is forthcoming) because Luke was related to Darth Vader and Princess Leia was related to Luke.

I quoted in my previous post that the Star Wars universe is a small, limited universe with which not much can be done.  I don’t know if that is true.  True, the prequels were unbelievably terrible, but that’s because they were written and directed by George Lucas.  They should have ripped the screenplay out of his hand and given it to a good screenwriter and a competent director.  If a great Star Wars screenplay was directed by Alfonso Curon and it still sucked, then it would be definitely be true.  I hope that this is not true, and the only way we can test this is to embrace new stories and new characters.

This is is necessitated by the fact that Carrie Fisher is dead.  We will never get the sequel trilogy of Luke, Leia, and Han, and we need to be OK with that.

Buddhism stresses the impermanence of everything, even ourselves.  We need to accept the mourn the loss of the films that we wanted and accept the films that are.

I leave everyone with two musical selections.  First up, Pie Jesu from Fuare’s Requiem, recorded by Barbara Bonney to help us mourn the loss of those films.

Up next, I leave you with Sand Mandala from the movie Kundun, composed by American composer Phillip Glass.  The song draws upon the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and refers to the creation of sand mandalas.  Buddhist monks create beautiful works of art from sand and then destroy them.

In summation, let’s mourn.  Then let’s sit under the Bodhi tree.

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