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Rey of Hope: Star Wars Episode 8

Star Wars Rey is the Last Jedi

Rey is my favorite thing about The Last Jedi (Luke is my second favorite). She is not only the last Jedi, but also the most compelling Jedi we have ever seen. I know I usually write about books and stuff and this is a movie review, but I can’t help it. And although I feel like a bit of a sellout, I really like Star Wars and I want to talk about Episode 8.

The rest of this is going to have a bunch of spoilers (fyi), so if you haven’t seen the movie and you care about spoilers, come back later and let me know what you think. Please comment below and share your thoughts.

My Take

Star Wars is never going to change. The entire saga is an above-average (not amazing) story, magnified by incredible special effects, and loved because of compelling characters. Unfortunately, all of these are glued together with relatively predictable execution and (quite honestly) some fairly poor writing. I think I will always enjoy watching Star Wars, but in the back of my mind, there will always be this little question of “what if it were actually written well”?

We’ll probably never know the answer to that, which is usually the case in life. Fortunately, what we do have is still fun.

What I liked

I liked Episode 8 more than I didn’t like it. Considering how I felt about Episode 7 (which was that I hated it), I think this is a relatively glowing recommendation for me. The best part was that Episode 8 was an original story and not a copy of Episode 5 (unlike Episode 7…which was a copy of Episode 4).

Rey is the Best

The very best of Episode 8 was everything with Rey…and also Luke by association. Rey is really the greatest stand-alone character in the new trilogy, and in my opinion in all of Star Wars. I think the cast of Rogue One is better than any other Star Wars cast as a group, and Rogue One is by far the best Star Wars movie of them all. But taken alone, Rey wins hands down. Rey is courageous, wise, and hopeful. Star Wars Rey is the Last Jedi

She is not a fake girl-power figurehead thrown in to prove that Star Wars is modern and now respects women after decades of not doing that. Obviously, Episodes 4 to 6 only had Princess Leia as a legitimate female character, and she was reduced to the slave costume in Return of the Jedi. I’m glad we’re past that. Episodes 1 to 3 had Padme, but few others and although she had potential, the writers still couldn’t let her do anything on her own without the Jedi around. And then there was the prisoner scene in Episode 2 where they rip her shirt off to expose her midriff while she’s chained to a post and we’re back to the slave costume problem again.

Rey on the other hand is independent, has survived on her own for her entire life, and makes her own decisions. She has a strong will and she is tough. She doesn’t need anyone to rescue her. Above all, she feels real to me. Her identity is legitimate, believable, and admirable. The only other character that could have been like her, but was wasted by the terrible decisions of past movies, is Princess Leia. That is an entirely different discussion though.

Rey is the best character we have ever met in Star Wars.

Other good stuff

There are a bunch of things I liked about this movie, but I can’t write about all of them in-depth because of space. But I’ll run through my top five here:

  1. Luke fighting Kylo on the salt planet tied with the walkers blasting at Luke to no avail. Seeing the true Jedi master at work including the heart-breaking and simultaneously satisfying conclusion was simply amazing. Luke could not have gone out in a better way. Five stars for that.
  2. Kylo force-stabbing Snokes: Finally someone uses the force in smart ways rather than just as plot devices (Episodes 1 through 7, I’m looking at you). Four stars for this.
  3. Kylo stabbing the ninja guard through the visor when Rey dishes him the light saber. Awesome. Five stars for that one.
  4. Rey facing her inner doubt and insecurities with the underground icy force mirror…thing. Whatever that was, I liked it. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but I don’t care. It was cool. Four stars.
  5. The part where Poe totally trolls Admiral Hux on the bridge of his star destroyer. I laughed out loud at that part. Three stars.

My award of stars for random moments is very inconsistent. Don’t read much into it.

Most surprisingly cool moment

Vice Admiral Holdo was the coolest surprise of the movie. And that includes every scene with her up until and including the light-speed collision with the ridiculous star destroyer that Snoke parades himself around in. I knew nothing about Holdo before the movie, and I actually didn’t really know her name until I looked it up just now on Google.

Star Wars Rey is the Last JediBut she stole the show in a big way.

First, hats off to the writers that made everyone really dislike her up until her big moment. Her apparent bureaucratic space battle strategy was so frustrating, especially her closed-mouth approach to communication (see what I did there?). Through most of it, I felt like she was just a trumped up side character designed to give Poe the justification to disobey orders and blow stuff up on his own.

But instead, she lit up the screen with her self-sacrificing plan to give the rebels enough time to reach the tiny little salt planet (I’ll look up the name later…I promise) and escape the clutches of the First Order.

More than anything, I loved that she did not expect or demand a big fanfare. She just went about her business and did her thing. Plus, she has the single greatest explosion scene in any Star Wars movie ever. Her character was complex, totally sucked me in and duped me, and I loved it.

What I didn’t like

Consider yourself lucky; I really pared this section down for you. It could have been so much longer.

Gravity

Star Wars has never been huge into physics. I know this story is usually considered science fiction, but it really isn’t. It is fantasy (space cowboy fantasy). Really, though, even in fantasy, gravity should still count.

I could almost (maybe) believe that the Death Star had enough gravitational pull to suck in the star destroyers at the end of Return of the Jedi…almost. But, space bombers dropping traditional WWII-style bombs from “above” was just terrible and unnecessarily stupid. This is also true for the arcing “artillery” during the incredibly long chase scene. Things don’t fall or arc in space without some relevant gravitational fields. Objects in motion maintain their direction and velocity until another force acts on them. It’s Newton’s first law.

Star Wars writers need to learn it.

Princess Leia…In Spaaaaace!

I believe Princess Leia in Episode 8 is the first of any Star Wars character to actually enter a vacuum on screen. When the bridge of her ship gets hit and she is floating amid the debris in space, I was legitimately sad. I wasn’t ready for her to die, but I could see it coming. If she had died right there, I think it would have set the perfect tone for the rest of the movie.

Star Wars Rey is the Last Jedi

And then: the eye blink…the fateful movie trope of regaining consciousness in the face of insurmountable odds. Contrary to all medical realities. Of course, in this instance she was in space, so she was still going to die. Except that all of a sudden she could use the force. And she was super girl or something. So she flew back to safety.

That was terrible. Rey is the greatest character ever in Star Wars, but Leia is a close seccond. She had to surmount some incredible odds, and she is still pretty darn cool.

But Leia was strong not because she had the force, but because she suffered and endured the tyranny of the Empire first-hand. She saved the Rebellion from the jaws of defeat multiple times and grew up fighting the Imperial domination so perfectly shown in Rogue One. The princess was so powerful she could control her own emotions to continue leading a failing rebellion even after her son killed her husband in cold blood. And she was strong enough to continue to love Kylo in spite of his terrible choices.

Leia was strong for so many reasons that she didn’t need a cheap theatrical movie-trick and suddenly the force to be amazing. She already was.

I didn’t like any of this because I felt like they copped out on Leia’s strengths for lame movie drama playing on the emotions of viewers who miss Carrie Fisher. Zero stars for this from me.

Snoke (everything)

Snoke was dumb. I know there are Star Wars geeks who have spent the past two years talking about him and his origins and on and on. But from a story perspective, he was deus ex machina more than anything.

He was an incredibly powerful force user, stronger than what we saw from Vader most of the time, and definitely more than Emperor Palpatine. And yet, how did he become so? Where would he have come from? How did Vader and Palpatine not know about him? Yoda didn’t know him. Obi Wan didn’t know him. No one knew him. He didn’t try to dominate the Empire, but he must have been completely aware of them and their Sith connections. None of this makes sense.

He had no legitimate reason to exist, but because it’s a Star Wars movie and they are somehow duty-bound to make movies that are essentially repeats of each other, they made him exist. If you’re wondering, he is just Emperor Palpatine all over again even down to the ugly face.

To be honest, I’m glad he’s dead, but I would prefer that he had never been made up to begin with. I’m super glad that Kylo killed him in an awesome way, though. More than just being glad he’s dead, I hope he stays that way.

Star Wars Rey is the Last Jedi

Ninja Guards

I won’t spend a ton of time on t his, but the ninja guards that Snoke had around him were dumb. The concept of martial arts in Star Wars has never been common other than Darth Maul (who would have been a much better Sith lord than Palpatine, by the way). Secondly, the ninja guards had weapons completely foreign to the Star Wars universe (electric nun chucks or whatever).

Although the fight sequence was pretty cool from a cinematic standpoint, it seemed out of place with the style of Star Wars.

Anything with Finn (and also Rose)

Finn had a cool backstory, and brings out a little more of the human side of the Empire. He represents the common, innocent life caught up in the Empire’s machine of war and domination. I didn’t really like his character that much in Episode 7, but I thought Episode 8 would resolve that by developing him more.

That didn’t happen. He was still a somewhat bumbling side character who occasionally knows everything about the layout of the enemy base…because he swept the floors. We get it, but that joke’s not funny anymore.

Star Wars Rey is the Last Jedi

I felt there was a huge missed opportunity near the end of the movie. Finn had a moment where he decided to sacrifice himself to preserve the rebellion. He matured right before our eyes as he sped over the field of salt towards the insanely huge door buster cannon thing. It was intense and, just like the Leia in space moment, I was seriously sad. Someone was about to become a legend right before our eyes.

And then Rose ruined it. She stole Finn’s moment of real contribution for her own selfish reasons. I didn’t feel any connection to Rose throughout the movie. The entire side story of Finn and Rose felt forced and boring to me. I just didn’t care. It was too much slapstick in contrast to the rest of the movie’s tone.

And then the one almost meaningful moment turns into a non-starter as Finn and Rose both get back to base alive having done absolutely nothing for the entire movie. Both characters’ treatment throughout the movie was disappointing. Zero stars for that.

Boba Fett…oops…I mean Phasma

I never had any interest in Phasma. Her armor was shiny, but I never cared about her as a character, and I’m glad (hope) she’s permanently dead. She feels to me like she’s the Boba Fett of this part of the story. Boba Fett was loved by fans, but had very little purpose or impact on the actual plot. He could easily have been edited out.

Star Wars Rey is the Last Jedi

Episodes 1 through 3 tried to make him relevant, but they honestly tried a lot of stuff in those movies and failed at almost all of it. Either way, Phasma is just too much fluff and hype in a story where we really only care about the people that are connected to the Skywalker family.

Can I give negative stars?

What is the future for Star Wars?

I don’t really know the future, but I’m confident in this:

The future of Star Wars is that the franchise will make literally billions of dollars, people will watch any movie they make (good or bad) and love it, and super fans will go crazy over every little detail of clothing or alien species or whatever. I will contribute to that in my own small way by watching all the movies they make too. I won’t regret it.

Star Wars will not change. This potentially incredible story will remain average, but beloved. The movies will be visually stunning, the characters will be lovable, and I think Rey will be unstoppable and awesome. Hopefully she is the pathfinder to more characters like her. But there will always be a nagging “what if?” What if Star Wars was written not as a juvenile fantasy but as an epic fictional piece of literature? It already means so much and has so much to offer. But it could be so much more. I might never know that answer. But I do know we will always be entertained.

Star Wars Rey is the Last Jedi

 

(fyi The salt planet is called Crait)

Empathy, the Hero Maker

In the course of a lifetime there were some things that mattered

“In the course of a lifetime, there were some things that mattered” (Walk Two Moons).

I’ll admit it up front, before reading this I thought it was a science fiction book. I have no excuse for it. But, well, there was the whole “two moons” thing and that seemed space-like and I didn’t read any blurbs or reviews, so I didn’t know better. The title makes perfect sense to me now, of course, but it’s not science fiction.

I probably wouldn’t even have read this book if I had known that in advance because I was in the mood for something totally made up at the time. I don’t regret my mistake one bit. Whether you are in the mood for sci-fi or anything else, if you have not read Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, I’ll recommend that you do.

It’s a book intended for young adult readers, but there is a lot there for all ages. The tone reminded me of Peace Like a River (Leif Enger), which was a worthwhile book to read as well (two recommendations in one post! Lucky you!). I enjoy these flowing, first-person narratives through the newness and discovery of young eyes looking at parts of the world for the first time.

Salamanca (Sal) is the young protagonist of the book and the narrative follows her growth as a person in the face of tragedy.

What I liked: Some Spoilers

Don’t read this part if you haven’t read the book and you don’t like spoilers. I won’t reveal anything too important but skip on down to “Empathy: Some Thoughts” if you need to.

First a comment about the writing. I liked getting Sal’s perspective and I loved that I only knew what she knew. I discovered the truth along with her, which kept me guessing (usually incorrectly). That’s a challenging type of narrative to create while also keeping the text engaging. Creech pulls it off expertly.In the course of a lifetime there were some things that mattered

I was about one-third of the way through the book and was starting to have some very judgmental feelings towards Sal’s mom. By that point, I was certain I knew enough to condemn her. And I was totally wrong. To me, that is evidence of an expert author at work. By the end, my opinion had changed 180 degrees and I felt a little guilty for my earlier conclusions.

Not only was I completely wrapped up in the story, I also learned for myself the actual moral Creech was portraying. Namely not to judge someone until you had spent some time seeing things from their perspective. That’s the “walk two moons” part of it, borrowing some Native American phraseology regarding months.

Half the story is spent on Sal as she drives with her grandparents to see her mother. The other half is spent in Sal’s memory as she relives time spent with her friend Phoebe. I really enjoyed the interweaving of these two threads. Both stories, meandering at first, eventually unite to reveal the same moral offered from the perspective of a young girl. The lessons learned with Phoebe are naive and awakening contrasted to those learned in the “present” that stem from the cold reality of life taken too soon.

Empathy: Some Thoughts

The central theme of Walk Two Moons is empathy, alluded to (very subtly) by the title. Sal repeatedly recites variants of the phrase “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” There are other renditions of this phrase around, but they all mean the same thing. Until we can see life from another person’s perspective, we can’t understand who they are or how they came to be that way.

In the course of a lifetime there were some things that matteredUnderstanding a situation from another person’s perspective is called empathy. It’s no simple skill to acquire. I title this post “Empathy, the Hero Maker” because the people that do the most good are those that can seek to understand. My heroes are those whose first thoughts are “why is she like that” or “how can I help him”?

Sal is the protagonist of Walk Two Moons, but as she grows up throughout its pages, she also becomes heroic. She comes to understand that snap judgments and her own long-held ideas are not always right, even though they feel right. Once she starts to see how to be empathetic and begins to find value in doing so, she becomes a positive influence on her friends and family.

Maybe the most important thing that happens to Sal once she learns empathy is that she finally can forgive. She finds a way to forgive her mother, which was difficult for her. Forgiveness healed her soul, which had been suffering for a long time.

And then she forgives her father, which healed her most important relationship. These kinds of changes, which we all need to make, are not easy for anyone. Inevitably with empathy comes a measure of humility. Or possibly it takes some humility to acquire empathy. Either way, they go together. I don’t think it’s possible to really have empathy and also retain a sense of arrogance or pride.

Personal Growth: Some Lessons

In the end, Walk Two Moons was about personal growth. Sal learns a variety of lessons, more than I can include here. One that I like is “We never know the worth of water until the well is dry.” I love the simplicity of that statement as well as the depth of meaning. In Much Ado About Nothing it’s stated less simply, but I’m quoting it anyway because I like Shakespeare:

For it so falls out

That what we have we prize not to the worth

Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,

Why then we rack the value, then we find

The virtue that possession would not show us

Whiles it was ours.

I love the thought both ways. We should not let the commonness of the good things in life blind us to their goodness.

Hand-in-hand with this thought is the quote I opened with, “In the course of a lifetime, there were some things that mattered.” For many of us, it is easy to lose sight of the value of the good things we have because we fill up our days with distractions of little consequence.

I do it myself. My article on Fahrenheit 451 touches on this from a different angle. There are things that matter in life, and there are things that don’t. Does it matter if you work hard?

In the course of a lifetime there were some things that mattered

I say it does. But does it matter what your work is? Not as much. There is value in hard work, in effort and achievement, but we place too much emphasis on certain fields rather than on the quality of work itself.

The easiest tack to take on this concerns things, that is to say, material wealth. Does it matter what we have, or is the real substance found in what you do with what you have? For some that is a rhetorical question, for others, an inane one. For me, intellectually and rationally, I believe it only matters what we do with what we have. Applying that principle in practice is another story.

What Really Matters

For Salamanca in Walk Two Moons, being able to forgive and understand her mother was a thing that mattered. It mattered the most and it made all the difference.

For me, I think we can learn from this short but profound story. First, be empathetic. Empathy matters. In the course of your lifetime, empathy will matter forever. Care about someone else and try to see things from their perspective before judging. If we do that, I think we will have less conflict and more happiness.

I believe that applies personally and globally. We need more heroes in the world, and to get those, we need more empathy. Empathy is the hero-maker. With it, we can see beyond our self, and we will feel the need to make a difference. We must be willing to lift someone else up because we understand that they need us.

Second, in the course of your life find the things that matter. And once you find them, make them the things that matter the most to you. I have heard the quote before “you will never look back at your life and wish you had spent more time at the office.” Time with our loved ones has to be one of the things in our life that matters most. In fact, we need to make it that way.

I highly recommend you take a few hours and read Walk Two Moons. Then spend a little time on introspection afterwards. I learned a lot from doing both.

In the course of a lifetime there were some things that mattered

 

 

Please leave a comment below on what you think. If you’ve already read Walk Two Moons, what was your take on it? Also take a minute and subscribe to my blog so you never miss a post.

 

 

Photo credits:

Pond Photo by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho on Visualhunt / CC BY

Moccasins Photo by TracyKoPhoto on VisualHunt / CC BY

Starscape Photo by j-dub1980 on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

 

The Modern Today Show Prayer

The Modern Today Show Prayer: Words with no Actions

The Modern Today Show Prayer

Somewhere far away

Gunshots

Change the lives of thousands

In an instant

 

An earthquake or wind or water, Nature,

Unavoidable

Sweeps away cities of nations of people

A chaotic wake

 

And the Modern Today Show Prayer

Is offered

Instantly tumbling from every lip like water

Cascading and rushing forth

 

We send our thoughts and prayers

To You

The Suffering, the Broken Hearted, the Lost,

And to the Dead

 

Our thoughts and prayers are all for you

Until

The next day when another shot rings out

And You are forgotten

 

Still the Modern Today Show Prayer echoes

Everywhere

Through every mind and from every mouth

But no one’s heart

 

The prayer, cloned from screen to screen,

Spurred by guilt

Each offers it back and to each other, fulfilling

The obligation

 

And then you feel at peace, having done

Your part

To show that you have done your part

Doing nothing

 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to you

But that’s all

 

-Eric Halpenny, November 6, 2017

 


What Did I Just Read?

I woke up today with the words of this poem in my head and I had to write it down. But honestly I was afraid to post it, so I’m pressing “Publish” before I can talk myself out of it. Poems are pretty personal to begin with, especially ones like this. And besides that, this is the kind that might offend someone.

There was another shooting yesterday, at a church in Texas. I don’t know why, and I really don’t want to know. Trying to find the “why” almost makes it seem like there could be a legitimate reason that people are looking for to make it okay. As if we could find an explanation that would make us say, “oh, okay, I get it now. Makes sense.”

No. There is nothing that justifies it. There are no whys that matter and no amount of bluster will fix it. I’m not going to touch any of the usual topics that come up in American news media either. The endless debates and outrage seem futile to me. There is no real communication, no dialogue, and no listening in that debate. There is only noise.

I think it’s the same with disasters and catastrophic events. There is the never-ending well-wishers, and then the small number of doers. Those in need need doers.

All I want to say is this: Do something good in the world today. And tomorrow. And every tomorrow. I don’t mind that people say they are sending good thoughts to another person or that they will pray for them. That wasn’t my point. We can always use more goodwill and prayer. But neither of those things, even with the best intentions, are enough if your commitment ends there. Take action. Make a difference.

Make a difference today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow.