Brain Teeth / Our Childhoods Were Ruined by Corporate Media Part 1: Why Rey Can’t Say “Yes”

Spoilers. Obviously.

In the Last Jedi when Kylo Ren does his whole Darth Vader “Join me. Together we can rule the Universe” bit what would have happened if Rey had said “yes”?

Like the real bad guy was Supreme Leader “Mystery box” Snoke, right? And seeing how Kylo had just offed him, and previous to that he made the difficult decision to like not kill his mum (yeah yeah he killed Dad on The Bridge with No Handrails – but come on! That was a whole movie ago!) it doesn’t seem completely impossible to imagine that maybe him and Rey could have worked something out… 

Think about it. If she had said yes, her and Kylo could have done a lot of good. You know: dismantle the First Order. Stop all of her friends being killed. No more blowing up planets. Maybe they should have put all the big expensive-looking equipment and machines (all those Star Destroyers and AT-ATs and etc) to good use – for example: rebuilding the wreckage of Endor or whatever. 

kylo

Except obviously obviously not – because that’s not how Star Wars works dummy. You can’t have Star Wars Episode 9: The Road to Peace and have the characters talking about the ins-and-outs of trade disputes (uh oh) because… well: there’d be riots in the streets and no one would pay to go see it. You can’t have characters peacefully resolving their difficulties and talking about things. Because that’s Star Trek. And that’s boring

(Star Wars without the wars is just… stars).

I mean: I’d think it would be pretty cool. But there’s obviously a limit to how much Rian Johnson can play with audience expectations and making a film about people sorting out a peaceful resolution to their difficulties is a point too far. It’s like beyond that the film just breaks and isn’t a Star Wars film anymore (let’s call this: “The Breaking Point”).

darth

And even tho “what makes a Star Wars film” is obviously a little bit vague and nebulous and probably changes from person to person – there’s still a limit where the fans are going to start feeling antsy (“That’s not Star Wars” etc): and in sense they’d be right. Even if you keep all the trimmings and toys and rubber masks – it’s not proper Star Wars if the characters are doing a Before Sunrise or whatever thing on the screen (I actually think that Star Wars: Before Sunrise would be pretty awesome – but you know – there’s creative decisions and business decisions and thank god for Disney: I’m nowhere near both). 

But yes the point is: Kylo and Rey working together wouldn’t work. Rey has to say no. Because otherwise: it’d be too complicated. Too nuanced. And it wouldn’t have all of things that the fans want (and need) from their Star Wars… 

Which is what exactly?

Obvious: Something simplistic. Good versus evil. Good guys versus bad. The Light side of the Force versus the Dark. Spaceships. Space Battles. Lightsaber fights. All that stuff. It’s like a burger, chips and a milkshake. Uncomplicated. Easy.

meal

Yummy. 

(Imagine someone trying to get fancy with it. Adding (too much) extra garnish. Chopping up the chips so fine they’re like grated cheese. Serving the milkshake in a wine glass…. I mean: interesting. But not what you wanted: spoilers – The Last Jedi is a simple meal served fancy: but here’s the thing – it didn’t really have any other choice.). 

You want 3 lessons? Ok then – here’s the first: 

Lesson 1: Make it simple.

Binaries are bad. Blinkers for the brain and prisons for the mind. Male or female. Good or Bad. Yes or No. 

More so even than all of the other films out there that are built around the idea of good guys and bad guys, Star Wars is absolutely saturated in binaries. The good guys wear white and follow the light side of the force and spend most of their time in nature communing with the trees and the Ewoks and Porgs… While the bad guys are all dressed in black, follow the Dark Side and have all of the most awesome machines. I mean – it makes it simple right? It’s for kids. The clarity is the appeal.  

The prophecy in The Phantom Menace talks about the idea of the “Chosen One” bringing “balance to the Force” and we’re lead to believe that this means someone who will vanquish the Dark Side and leave the Light Side triumphant – but I’ve always wondered if maybe it meant something else – and instead pointed towards somekind of commingling or combining of the Light Side and the Dark Side together to create some sort of Multi-Force that had all the elements of both sides existing together in harmony. 

But shit – again: what would that look like? Because oops – you lose the conflict. You can’t do The Road to Peace. Can’t just have Kylo and Rey holding hands. Working together. Because then it’s not whatever it is “Star Wars” is supposed to be. 

rey

Because the dirty little obvious truth is: Star Wars works best when it’s simple. And it runs on the engine of Good versus Evil. Because it’s a fairytale. Innocent Farm-boys going up against Evil Lords in Space Castles. That’s its strength. That’s what draws people in. It’s not a bug – it’s a feature. The blonde-haired blue-eyed kid dressed in white? He’s the good guy. And that badass looking asthmatic motherfucker dressed in black? He’s the bad.  

Full disclosure: I’m not really a Star Wars fan (sorry). Was more into the cold analytical detachment of Star Trek as a kid. My idea of thrilling was the idea of two people debating two different sides to a topic (whoops – more binaries sorry) rather than attacking each other with laser swords but like a good and dutiful citizen I brought my ticket to go see The Last Jedi this weekend and bathed my face in the glow of images of beautiful people (plus Adam Driver) doing cool things for two and a half hours. 

I don’t know if I was expecting to enjoy it (I enjoyed some small bits of it): but I’m obsessed (just a little) with all the conversations and debates and ideas that pop up after the big blockbuster releases. It’s like a tribe experiencing something momentous like a thunderstorm and the next day struggling not only to understand what the thunderstorm meant… (“It was a sign from God!” etc) but also (and maybe more interestingly) trying to understand what it meant to other people (who maybe live in the next tribe over?) who don’t share the same beliefs you do and don’t believe your story that the thunderstorm was a sign from God… 

Like those fish-nun aliens living on the same island as Luke. I mean – we see the lightning strike the Jedi tree-house and we know that it’s because Yoda did it (because obviously that’s a thing Jedi do) but are the fish-nun aliens going to share that belief? I mean – maybe they do. But maybe they don’t. And hell – if they come up with an alternative way to view the same event (“The Fish-nun Goddess did it!) then what are we going to think of that? Maybe something like: “Oh! Those fish-nun aliens are crazy.” or “Those fish-nun aliens are stupid” or maybe even – “Those fish-nun aliens worship the Dark Side.”

It’s the same event but we understand it in different ways. 

fish aliens

(By the way for future reference? The fish-nun aliens = True Fans™)

From my vantage point off to the side the story around The Last Jedi so far is that: “It’s the Star Wars film that subverts expectations” which yeah ok – fair enough. That’s what it does. And you know – there’s a lot of stuff that you can say about the movie itself (my quick capsule review: it was kinda messy. And not in a good way). 

But what’s really grabbing my attention is the narrative building around the film and not only how people are reacting to it – but how they’re reacting to other people reacting to it. So you know: stuff like this: Just How Seriously Should We Take This Star Wars: The Last Jedi Backlash? and Yes, Rian Johnson Knows That People Are Mad Online™ About STAR WARS and ‘Star Wars’ in the Reddit Age: Rian Johnson’s ‘The Last Jedi’ is a deliberate affront to some of the saga’s most vocal followers. What happens when a franchise is at war with its fan base?.

(When I mentioned this to my friend he correctly pointed out that of course the internet isn’t an innocent aggregator of opinions. And even if no-one is doing this consciously (we don’t wanna sound too cynical tin-foil hat) but Disney definitely is the ultimate beneficiary of the debate that frames resistance (pun!) to the franchisability of their franchise as more outraged and widespread than it is. But then the internet is a shitty child’s magnifying glass – one that makes everything distorted and big without actually making clearer any of the details).

Of course nowadays the correct critical default for the majority of the big releases from the entertainment industrial complex is full-throated multifarious praise. Wasn’t it great how Thor: Ragnarok was just damn funny? Isn’t Blade Runner 2049 so smart? Isn’t Wonder Woman a great victory for feminism? And anyone who dares to defy these edicts is derided as a kill-joy or a dummy or a Nazi or – *gasp!* – even worse: a bad fan

Back in the day (I remember this particularly around the advent of the first X-Men film back in the halcyon days of 2000) the issue was seen to be the other way around – that the film wasn’t serving the needs of the fan enough. And in return the film would basically tell you to: go fuck yourself

hux

Nowadays of course the power relations have flipped and the Billion Dollar Marvel Empire is built upon the dictum: keep giving the fans exactly what they want. Which you know: seems to be working out pretty well for them so far. Which is why you get (amongst other things) a Thor film that’s also a Planet Hulk film with a generous helping of Jeff Goldblum on top. Yum yum. 

But hey! Here’s an interesting question: what is that Star Wars fans™ want from a new Star Wars film? 

One good guess maybe is a constant never-ending sense of escalation – Like in this fiendish little short story The Empire Cashes Back (which you should totally go away and read right now): “The base, costing a trillion trillion, demanded so much better than generational poverty: whole poverty dynasties, at work to reform an entire planet and its crystal centre.” but I was actually thinking of something else….

But hey.

(Part 2 here).

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