What I thought of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

From the off there’s going to be SPOILERS, so you’ve been warned…

The Last Jedi has been getting some strange reactions from hardcore fans (this entitled rant sums up much of the negative response from some fans) as if the film they saw was not what they expected, which seems to have been a sort of retread of Empire Strikes Back with lots of lightsabre fights which is sort of is but it also does something different. It’s also about giving up on things and creating fresh beginnings from nothing.

Set just after the events of The Force Awakens, we find the resistance under threat of being wiped out by the First Order, while Rey has found Luke Skywalker in the hope of getting him to return to the resistance and help fight the First Order. At this point what you expect to happen, doesn’t as the First Order virtually wipe out the resistance, and Luke is unwilling to return as he’s wracked with guilt in regards what happened with Leia and Han Solo’s son, Ben, better known as Kylo Ren. In the first third of the film there’s a lot of Chekhov’s guns being cocked and they all go off in the second and third act and its how they go off that’ll shape how much you like this film.

A large chunk of The Last Jedi is about telling you that what you want in life isn’t what you’ll get so Luke doesn’t come sweeping back heroically (initially) but is tired, old and bitter about one fatal flaw he made that let down his sister, his best friend and their son while at the same time helped create a monster that threatens the weak and vulnerable across the galaxy. Luke’s redemption comes because he lets things go, destroys the things he’s collected (the remnants of the Jedi religion) and decides to sacrifice himself to spark people’s imagination to do something off their own back. The arc of Finn and new character, Rose, is essentially telling you the war is being fed by big business and there will always be people there to exploit as long as the war continues.Essentially he big thrust of the film is telling you hard truths about the world that you do have to move on, and that big corporations will exploit you and give you what you want if you let them. It is quite odd especially to see the latter in a Disney film and in the week where they’ve bought 20th Century Fox to become the sort of mega-corp Philip K Dick would have written about.

Problem is in the second act director Rian Johnson drifts. Scenes become overlong, tiresome and boring. There’s too many meaningful stares, padding and exposition not to mention at times one wonders just how crap the First Order are if they can’t work out how to destroy three resistance ships moving in what seems like first gear. The middle of the film is flabby and bloated, and really, 10-15 minutes could be lost from the film and it’ll be a better film.

Here’s a great video to show how the first Star Wars benefited from sharp editing.

Some hard decisions about cutting and rearranging scenes was needed to stop the middle from deflating because the film suffers. It isn’t til we get to Snoke’s death (and gloriously teased to be fair) that the film kicks back into gear and all the threads set up in the first act play out to ends in the third. Not all of them tidily (as after all, another film is coming after this in 2019 to wrap everything up) but that’s ow life sometimes is.

For a film that had to provide a weight to this new trilogy, set up the third film and add some character to the new characters, it pretty much succeeds. Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron is equal parts brave and heroic pilot crossed with a lunatic who should be shot out an airlock. John Boyaga’s Finn doesn’t really do much and he feels underused in the film as his character is the only one of the new characters who isn’t that changed by the end of the film like Rey, Poe and Kylo are.. Daisy Ridley’s Rey comes into her own as she realises her place in the universe, and the fact she’s come from nothing rather than be the offspring of noble or ‘special’ blood makes her a more proletarian hero to lead a rebellion than a princess or the son of a lord…

Adam Driver steals the film though. His Kylo Ren is a mix of emotions and motivations as we realise it was Luke that pushed him towards Snoke with that shameful act that pushed Luke into hiding. We’re taken to think he’s turned back from the dark before realising he’s fully embracing it and becoming what looks like the grand villain of the films.His big showdown with Luke is gloriously shot and is an example of how to edit a film brilliantly.

The legacy cast do what they need to do, Mark Hamill does a fine job as a broken Luke who gradually becomes more like the Luke we know as he’s exposed to what’s familiar to us (the Millennium Falcon, Chewie, R2D2, Rey), and as for Carrie Fisher’s final (?) performance as Leia she has a weight of poignancy in some scenes that comes from not just her early death in 2016. Her meeting with Luke isn’t going to leave many dry eyes.

Overall The Last Jedi works. It needs to lose some of its running time, for sure but as a film that could have lazily just had Rey and Luke turn up, fight Snoke and Kylo as the resistance held on against the First Order before having everything wrap up in a big fight in the last film of this trilogy. Instead Rian Johnson pushed things out of the comfort zone while maintaining a familiar enough structure to not break the diehard fan’s head too much. As a film it also looks amazingly lush, with an eye for flair, colour & light that sets it apart from increasingly homogeneous blockbusters like the Marvel films.

The next test for the film is how it works as part of a trilogy overall and we won’t know that til 2019, so we’ll meet up back here in 2019 to see the final part of this set of films before Rian Johnson embarks on a new trilogy as Star Wars will never, ever end while there’s people out there like us to exploit…

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This UFO episode from 1971 is years ahead of its time

The Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series UFO was a feature of my youth but on the whole I remembered it as a fairly decent bit of often camp TV SF. In the last weeks I’ve watched a few episodes and one leaps out as something not just different, but decades ahead of time in terms of meta-commentary.

Mindbender features this synopsis

Lieutenant Andy Conroy is investigating a crash involving an alien craft on the Moon when he suddenly gets caught up in a Wild west type shoot-out with Mexican brigands. Back at the SHADO’s earthly base another officer, Beaver James, gets involved in another shoot-out, this time with aliens. Then a voice shouts “Cut!” and the whole is seen to be a film being made at the studios telling the story of Straker’s life. So what’s real and what’s imagined?

This is meta before the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison made careers out of it, and is arguably much more adventurous being as it takes place in what was a pretty mainstream programme of the time. Mindbender really is a superb bit of television and takes the sort of risks many a programme now would never risk in case it annoys the fans. Something like this probably did annoy fans at the time but it’s such an experimental script (possibly brought on by budgetry concerns) that it really is ahead of the curve by several decades.

Thankfully YouTube have it all, so enjoy…

The joy of Space:1999

I used to love Gerry Anderson shows as a kid. Thunderbirds though was never my favourite, for me it was all about Captain Scarlet, but his live action stuff for years never seemed to find favour with me when I was older. Recently I’ve been swallowing up Space:1999 on YouTube.

I loved Space: 1999 as a kid. I even loved the flares.

I especially loved the die-cast toys of the Eagle spaceships.

Oooo, look at this beauty!

And this one, though I used to lose the wee containers.

Of course being the 1970’s there were AIrfix kits with the Hawk spaceship being my favourite.

Of course the programme itself is worth it’s weight in gold, the first series especially as it had a strange melancholy feel in many of the episodes that belied it was essentially an action-adventure series on Thursday evenings on ITV. The tone is set in the first episode.

Though the flares do somewhat overwhelm.

You could get lost in the swish of Martin Landau’s flared jumpsuit.

That first series is mainly wonderful. It’s a mix of big ideas, some good scripts, and of course action, adventure and 70’s fashions.The second series less so as the story is the American audience found the first series ‘too cerebral’ so stories became lightweight and trivial. One episode even had this title.

So here’s a word of appreciation for a great (first) series, and a series which as far as I’m concerned had the best title sequence of any programme in the 1970’s.

Rumours of reboots and continuations are a regular thing but they’ll never take away from the joy that is that first season…

 

 

A word of appreciation for John Hurt

John Hurt has passed away, and the world is a wee bit darker today. I’m not going to go on as there’s better than me doing tributes for the man, but this is a little tour through what Hurt meant to me.

I first saw him as a kid in the superb I, Claudius, and I think at that point he became an actor who I deeply admired and over the years from there even as a young lad often unable to get into see his films I tried to keep up with his work but the man was prolific. It was however Alien that cemented Hurt in my mind forever in a scene that’s a classic in horror cinema.

From there Hurt seemed to pop up everywhere from the splendid Elephant Man, to even taking the piss out if his death in Alien in Mel Brooks Spaceballs.

Hurt dabbled with science fiction often his role as Winston Smith in 1984 is for me, utterly perfect, and although he ended up doing stuff like Harry Potter and Doctor Who, this just showed how astonishingly a versatile actor he was.

So cheerio to John Hurt, we quite literally will never see another like him again.

What I thought of HyperNormalisation

HyperNormalisation is the new film by documentary film-maker Adam Curtis. It is the story of the last 40 years and how politics have failed to deal with the modern world, both real and cyber, and how the left have capitulated against the swarm that is capitalism and neo-liberalism. It also about how science fiction has shaped the 21st century as ideas from American and Soviet science fiction have been adopted by major world powers to ensure people are constantly confused and unable to present an attack against right wing politics or present a workable alternative.

It sounds extraordinarily dense. In places it is, but this is probably Curtis’s most straightforward work in some time as there’s a clear line of narrative from the death of politics as we think it still to be (big ideas, politicians with big, brave ideas changing things for the better even against public opinion) to where we are now with politicians acting as managers as banks and corporations actually run things in a system of free market economics. So Curtis plots a path from the broken New York of the the 1970’s, explaining how Donald Trump took advantage of the city’s bankruptcy, through to Patti Smith, Lybia and Syria, while skimming 911, the War on Terror, Tony Blair, the failure of the Occupy movement, Brexit and back to Trump running for president today.

But there’s two bits of SF that are crucial to this. One is the works of William Gibson, the writer of books like Neuromancer and creator of the term cyberspace.The other is a work of Soviet SF called Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky which was later filmed as Stalker. In both the book (which I’ve not read) and the film (which is excellent) there are ”Zones’, sites where reality is always shifting and where people known as ‘Stalkers’ can flit between our world and the Zones. The Stalker in the story was a once idealistic man who lost his faith in the system which has seen him move between the world we know and the world of the Zones where reality is fluid.

The ideas in Roadside Picnic/Stalker were adapted by the government of Vladimir Putin to be used in politics, so Curtis reveals how Putin would fund pro and anti government groups as well as things like anti-Nazi and neo-Nazi groups which meant nobody in Russia knows who is really who, or where the truth is as everything is fluid. Reality is always changing. The left wing/liberal radicals of the 1970’s and 80’s rather than take this on either walked away into Cyberspace or were the roots of the Occupy movement who singularly failed to achieve anything important as by now most people were living in echo chambers as their lives were controlled by algorithms on social media.

The entire thesis of HyperNormalisation is utterly terrifying. Politics has failed, so Prime Ministers and Presidents are now just managers, opposition parties are helping manage expectations and any real radical ideas are doomed to fail when they fall into echo chambers created by the very tools which helped them grow in the first place. Meanwhile the forces of neoliberalism are in control but that things like Brexit and Trump are supposed revolts against the system that’s grown up over the last 40 years but aren’t. Politicians can lie, so take say Boris Johnson. Nothing he says is real. We have no idea what his real position is on anything but he’s created enough confusion to help him achieve his goals yet what exactly are his goals? See also Trump or Farage or any number of politicians who simply cannot be trusted.

Truth is therefore not relevant anymore. We live in a Zone where reality is always shifting, always bending yet the radicals, the liberals and the left can’t fight it because they’re lost in the internet being exposed to only those views that agree with there own so any resistance is futile. We have essentially been assimilated by the Borg.

The world is a big complex thing. Big ideas are complex. Take leaving the EU, that is amazingly complex, but that was reduced to a lie on the side of a bus.

brexitlie

Yet algorithms can’t judge for the utterly unexpected as this clip from the film shows.

Brexit wasn’t supposed to happen. It did. Now we’re seeing people who spent months arguing against it cross into the Zone to support it. We have Theresa May who is going for the hardest Brexit possible yet she was supposed to be in favour of staying. The post-truth world means for one to succeed they have to shed all principles and be open to be assimilated by the new reality. The rest of us arguing against these people struggle because we cling onto principles and ideas while inhabiting echo chambers in our safe spaces meaning we can never know how the other side thinks. All truth is lies. All lies are truth.

We are all trapped in management theory, which is essentially being trapped into a meaningless system we all know is false, meaningless and leads to nothing but we stick to it because it gives us money to do our real job which is to spend that money to keep the economy running, and therefore the entire system working. Supposed radicals rather than imagine a new system, or propose new ideas have become part of that system as much as say, Donald Trump. Yet the veneer of difference; the tattoos, beards, craft beers, Great British Bake Off, is creating a twee playground for people who in past generations would be radicals have retreated into a safe world of hashtags.

Curtis’s vision is grim. It is also massive. I’m only really touching on part of what’s discussed, but for me personally the idea that a Soviet piece of science fiction may well be the thing that shaped the modern world is amazing to think of. What however isn’t taken account of is what’s unleashed by those random events nobody can predict, so Brexit and the increasingly far right politics coming out of it, or Trump’s increasingly unhinged rhetoric in the US. The system is massive and finely tuned, yet it isn’t left wing radicals that’s broken it, it’s the right that’s destroyed it because make no mistake, the system for the UK is now broken and we’re not going to leave til 2019 at least.

HyperNormalisation is a challenging work that’s apart from being Curtis’s most linear work, is also his most accessible in some time. This is a film telling the story of the last 40 years up to a point where things are on the verge of either being sheered up for generations to come, or for the system to collapse in a way that is going to unleash hell for those of us at the eye of the storm. It’s available on iPlayer but I do wish this was on terrestrial TV as it deserves a mainstream audience which helps prove a point that society and culture is retreating into echo chambers and any challenging views are sidelined. It’s nearly three hours of your life. It isn’t a wasted three hours, and in fact probably deserves at least another viewing to take it all in as there’s going to be things I’ve missed, but this is the most important bit of television you’re likely to see this year.

A word about the launch of That’s Not Current and my reviews

Over the last months or so the amount of reviews on my blog have been culled to a few every Wednesday for new comics, the odd film or telly programme and that’s it. This blog has developed more into talking about the ongoing treatment of my cancer and my stroke recovery, politics, and a load of other stuff.

I’ve not stopped writing reviews, instead they’ve been funnelled to That’s Not Current which has been going on in a sort of beta form for a few months, but has its official launch. We have a video and everything

I’m especially proud of my Killing Joke review which was written in around 30 very angry minutes. I’ve also noticed I add the word ‘frankly’ into my reviews far too much because of this spoof Twitter account getting stuck in my head. Vile, frankly.

So go check it. There’s loads of stuff of mine on there, and will be coming soon. This probably isn’t the only other site I’ll be doing stuff for in the present and future (more on that another time) but on the whole I’m quite proud of my rambling, sweary politics filled reviews.

Go look now! Spread the word!

A word of appreciation for Star Trek: The Next Generation

A friend said on Facebook the other day that I’m perhaps too locked into talking about depressing miserable things like Brexit, and perhaps do something a wee bit more uplifting and here it is! A quick appreciation of in my eyes, the programme that refined Science Fiction on American television, Star Trek: The Next Generation (STNG).

stng

From 1987 to 1994 STNG managed to turn American SF from something locked into episodic aliens/monsters of the week plots into something different by adopting a few things. The main thing it did was to turn programmes like this into soap operas, though from the first season it’s hard to see how it could become a success at anything as the first season is complete and utter crap with only a handful of episodes having any substance or quality at all.

I’ve been in and out of hospital of late so I’ve had the time to go back over all seven seasons as they’ve been recently added on Netflix, so all of STNG is fresh to me. Watching the first season is an easy task as so many episodes were terrible but a few stand out, and although the second season is better (the introduction of the Borg, a genuine threat to add real drama), it’s still mainly quite poor. It isn’t until the third season that STNG starts to really click and it’s here the soap opera of later seasons really starts to form, which isn’t a bad thing. Soap operas can be used to tell stories relating to people’s lives (Eastenders and Brookside are two examples of such programmes that did that very well back in the day) and science fiction can deal with current affairs in ways more palatable to an audience than say, a Ken Loach film. Combining both seems a simple idea yet for STNG it was groundbreaking and managed to form the basis of its third to seventh seasons where some of the best SF drama on American television was broadcast.

Of course it helps the cast were good solid actors, but with Patrick Stewart they had a then fairly hidden gem and his Captain Jean Luc Picard was the bedrock on which the entire programme rested, and Stewart also helped the programme work through some terrible scripts, even in the good years. When he had great scripts though he shone and the cast (who are all good solid, if unspectacular actors) raised themselves in accordance with what Stewart was doing.

By the end of seven seasons STNG had changed from a pretty poor SF series to a full-on drama series which was science fiction, and that in its own way helped change American TV and helped push it towards looking at SF with less contempt that it used to. As for the spin off series that followed STNG they have their good points, but it is with STNG for me that Star Trek hit its full potential for greatness and it’s a joy to be able to revisit some fine pieces of television again on Netflix.