The Rise of Sky-high Expecations

January 5, 2020

After seeing The Rise of Skywalker, I tweeted: “Actually saw TROS. First Star Wars I’ve seen in a cinema since TFA. It was good! Not sure what movie the naysayers saw or what they were smoking beforehand.”

TROS press pic

Which I’ll admit does imply I was unaware of all it’s flaws, which I was not unaware of. I don’t believe anyone could be, they’re glaring. The question is, do you care? And I didn’t.

I knew going in—based not only on the two previous films in this newest trilogy but the six preceding films of the other two trilogies—that it was going to be a shit-show of plot-driven illogical nonsense and ham-fisted retconning. What I cared about was will I enjoy it? And, for the most part, with low expectations and no stakes riding on it, I did. I even shed a single tear at Ben’s redemption and the star-crossed lovers’ solitary kiss.

What I found confusing was that all of the film’s armchair critics hadn’t gone in with the same blissfully forgiving mindset. After all, these are the people who LOVE Star Wars, right? These are people who seem to have a lot riding on enjoying it and they seem to have stacked their own decks against being able to.

Now that I’ve watched a few critical reviews of The Rise of Skywalker, I think I understand things a bit better. Of course, I agree with the criticisms objectively. As I said, the flaws are glaring. But it seems what I want and expect from a Star Wars movie is different from what other people do which is also different from what Star Wars has actually ever been in the past or even has the potential to be.

What do I want from a Star Wars movie? Friends running around going pew! pew! pew! That’s it and that’s what I got. I was happy. What people seem to have wanted instead: a deeply significant and nuanced multi-generational epic.

From a franchise that treats morality, ethics, and politics as a literal good/evil binary.

There’s lots of logical holes to pick in The Rise of Skywalker from pacing issues and illogical character motivations to seemingly arbitrary retconning. But I’ve always felt that The Empire Strikes Back was full of that stuff too. And Return of The Jedi even more so with things like the pointless sibling revelation that had no actual impact on the plot.

So what did people really want and expect from The Rise of Skywalker? Are they even aware of what this thing is they love? It’s like the shared hallucinatory head cannon of what Star Wars is, and people have internally retconned it to always have been, no longer has any relation to what actually is on the screen.

Does Star Wars have potential to be “more”? Sure. It’s got space wizards and bloodlines and characters who find the fate of the galaxy is in their hands. That is certainly a recipe (arguably concocted by Frank Herbert in his Dune series of books) for a vast epic filled to the brim with deep lore where valiant but flawed heroes navigate the “feints within feints” of clandestine amoral political forces.

But to do so Star Wars would have to abandon what the core of Star Wars is. It would have to lose being a light buddy adventure-comedy which it could be argued all three films in the Original Trilogy were to varying degrees. Of course, the Prequel Trilogy did mostly abandon this aspect for the more dour tone of a serious military and political drama where no one seems to be buddies at all. You might be aware there were a few fans who didn’t care for this direction. But there were others who did and lauded the attempt to imbue the Star Wars universe with an historic and political depth that was only hinted at in the OT. If the Sequel Trilogy has any one fundamental fault it’s been trying to play both sides of the field. The dramatic scope of a meticulously detailed nine-book fantasy epic while still being a frivolous matinee adventure in the style of Flash Gordon.

So what we have are two Star Wars existing simultaneously: Flash Gordon Star Wars and Dune Star Wars. Sometimes they are apart (A New Hope vs. Revenge of the Sith) and sometimes they coexist (The Empire Strikes Back and The Rise of Skywalker).

That isn’t to say there can’t be darkness or emotional content in our matinee serial, but despite the literal world-ending stakes the heroes face Flash Gordon Star Wars wasn’t built for deep psychological studies or complex political maneuvering. It doesn’t have the frame for that stuff and it buckles under the weight.

Similarly when Dune Star Wars tries to plumb the psychological depths and motivations of characters in this galactic struggle, it runs up against the wall of morality being a laughably reductive good/evil binary. It’s the philosophical equivalent of a cartoon Disney villain and also buckles under the weight of trying to hang a broader and deeper story upon. To me, it’s like watching the Scooby-Doo gang attempt to perform Hamlet.

Of course, at this point I expect a million voices to cry out “Whoa whoa whoa! But what about Empire? It is a perfect film. Check. Mate.”

Was it perfect though? In 2011 I wrote about all the flaws I see in Empire in a zine essay subtly titled The Empire Sucks Back. I’ll admit, it’s exactly the sort of essay I scoff at now when people lay-out all the joy-killing imperfections in TROS. But people seem to forget, or were too young to have experienced that—critical reviews aside—Empire wasn’t universally enjoyed. People didn’t, in fact, think that Star Wars needed to be anything other than a fun romp through the galaxy trading sarcastic quips and pew! pew! pew!-ing bad guys. There’s been a bit of a cultural retcon that Empire was always seen as the best Star Wars film and that Return of the Jedi, despite teddy-bear-shaped flaws, wasn’t actually greeted by many with a sense of “Finally, we’re back to what a Star Wars movie was supposed to be! A fun space adventure!”

I only bring this up to illustrate what I believe is a cognitive dissonance shared by many Star Wars fans today. I suspect a combination of childhood nostalgia, merchandise-driven Lucasfilm propaganda, and the sweet seduction of herd mentality has resulted in a fanatical belief that Star Wars movies have always been “good” movies, when I believe an objective analysis of them demonstrates they have always been flawed and messy. This cognitive dissonance, in my opinion, has coloured fans’ perceptions of the latest trilogy in an unfair way.

It’s not unfair to say that about half of each of the Disney era movies are a steaming dung-heap, but I do think it’s unfair to hold them up against movies which contain many of the same flaws and thus find them lacking.

It makes me question if many fans really love Star Wars films or if they’re fanatically devoted to an ideal based more on head canon and off-camera lore than the actual films.

 


Episode 229: So Long, And Thanks For All The Slicé

December 21, 2018

NH229-rectangle

On December 18, 2018, a full 17 months after our previous episode, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Nerd Hurdles by recording our final episode. We did it as something we swore we’d never do: a live show.

If nothing else, we proved why we never did a live show—even before having a rambunctious toddler or when Facebook and YouTube made it so easy with their livestream technology. Technically easy, that is, performing a show on live video is a definite skill we’d never developed. Respect to those who do live video shows well.

Instead we preferred to hide behind the extremely edited facade of an audio podcast. And in that spirit, above you’ll find the fully edited, audio-only version of the episode. Or if schadenfreude and fremdschämen are more your speed, watch the full, unedited, mess of a livestream below.


Episode 227: Star Trek Survey Results

January 10, 2017

227

We made a survey about Star Trek. A whopping 47 people responded (including us)! These results are totally scientific and reveal the ultimate truth about who the best and worst characters are and what series is the true fan favourite. You can’t argue with the opinions of a whole 47 people.

Listen via Soundcloud (above) or the fancy “enhanced” video version on our YouTube channel (below) which features illustrative and illuminating  image pop-ups a-plenty.

See below for data! Small-d data, not Data. There really should’ve been an episode where the Enterprise was almost destroyed because someone misunderstood which data/Data was being referred to.

Read the rest of this entry »


Episode 226: Gilmore Girls Apoocalypse

January 3, 2017

226

Jakob and Mandi discuss the end of all things Gilmore Girls… or is it? Are we going to be subjected to another glimpse of Stars Hollow life in ten years’ time? And so on and so on, forever and ever, the same as Stars Wars and Trek? And what is the cultural relevance of having seen A Year In The Life or not having seen Rogue One. Plus, 2016 takes another life.

A couple quick notes of things I meant to bring-up on the episode but forgot:

Why is it that Gilmore Girls can’t  portray any career accurately? I can only speak from experience of working at a university newspaper and being a musician, but from that I can extrapolate that they way they depict running an inn, diner or kitchen is a weird TV fantasy version as well. One thing I appreciated in A Year In The Life  was that, ten years later, Zack and Lane are still in Stars Hollow playing what they would’ve previously considered sell-out jazz in an alley. Much more realistic than hipsters booing Zack’s on-stage melt-down that breaks up Hep Alien. For a show that claims to love and honour music, the writers sure seem to have never been to an indie show before.

I was really hoping they’d address, or acknowledge, Lorelei’s mental health issues in A Year In The Life and, for a hot moment, it looked like it was finally going to happen when Emily tricks her into attending therapy with her. But the moment passes and Lorelei is left to carry on blissfully unaware of her narcissistic personality disorder, or whatever it is the jumble of anti-social traits the writers have given over the years add up to. Emily does call her out for steamrolling through peoples’ lives but Emily’s opinions of Lorelei have long been positioned to be either ignored or viewed in reverse. And while I can understand why the producers don’t want to diagnose their lead manic pixie dream girl as mentally ill, but if she isn’t then… she’s just a living nightmare and every act of inter-personal destruction she’s committed over the course of 7.5 seasons is, at best, normalized and, at worst, romanticized as a quirky ideal.

 

 

 

 

 


Episode 225: Netflix and Quill

December 20, 2016

225

Since having a baby (the titular Quill), we watch a lot more Netflix and get out to the movies a lot less. So no timely Rogue One or Fantastic Beasts reviews (probably to the relief of many listeners). Instead we talk Orphan Black (yay), Star Trek: Enterprise (ehh), For The Love of Spock (guh), Gilmore Girls (yah) and Captain America: Civil War (good lord).


Episode 224: Super Gotham

November 17, 2016

224

This week we talk about a couple DC television shows, the fabulous Gotham and the pretty good Supergirl. But not The Flash or Green Arrow because we’re not super dedicated nerds and just watch whatever superhero shows Netflix throws in our laps. As some listeners have noted, we’re not even aware of the bronze, silver and gold eras of Batman. We can only assume the only true Batman, Adam West, is in the Platinum era.


Episode 223: Marvelous Marvels of Marvel (Luke Cage, Deadpool)

October 26, 2016

223

In this episode Jakob and Mandi chat about the marvelous marvels of the Marvel universe. Well, Luke Cage and Deadpool at least. They also discuss Star Trek: Enterprise Season 3 and Bones Season 11.


%d bloggers like this: