As I get older, I get more and more leery of sharing my feelings online. It just seems like such a liability–and if you really want to know what I think, why not just ask me? I knew something monumental would be required to drag me back to blogging. Well friends, The Last Jedi is something monumental.
Here is my 100% SUPER SPOILERY review–so don’t you dare read it until you’ve seen it! You have been warned.
First of all, it was totally overwhelming. I feel hungover today, just lost in fog of the implications of this movie. I think I loved it? I loved most of it. Some of it was unecessary. At 2hrs30, it was about 15 minutes too long, and I could tell you exactly what needs to be cut. (Start with EVERY SINGLE ANIMAL and you’d be close. Seriously. Even the fathiers [space greyhounds/horses] were just too much.) But–it also blows the entire franchise wide open without betraying its heart. It’s an evolution, and a necessary one–perhaps even a rebirth. And it blew my frickin mind.
First, the bad. Poe Dameron, a man I dearly love, is a mansplaining jerk here. His subplot (fight with no-backstory Laura Dern while Leia is out of commision) is the weakest one, and that includes the previously mentioned space greyhounds. In TFA, he was a brilliant, goofy, loyal pilot–a new kind of hero, confident without swagger and sneer. Like Han Solo but so much less alpha-male posturing. And I loved that. I really did. I want my son to grow up in a world where heroes can be masculine without toxic masculinity. And Poe was that for me, 100%. This new Poe is just…off. He’s either a high-ranking member of the Resistance or he’s not, right? So his push to get secrets from Laura Dern, then override her command, just feels dated and gross. Sure, Leia was too easy on him and now he’s chafing under new authority, I can buy that. But trigger-happy flyboy was not a good look for Poe. It’s almost as if the showrunners were like, “wait, this kid is TOO enlightened! Let’s back him off emotionally a little bit so he can have a character arc where he matures into the leader we will need him to be when Leia’s gone.”
Speaking of that–my goodness, it was pretty traumatic watching her die again. And then not? The Force-flying was cheesy as hell, and if Carrie Fisher was still with us we’d all be jeering, but as it is we were all too busy crying. So that whole thing was weird.
This movie will forever be a product of its time. It’s no coincidence that the Resistance and the #Resistance share a name (and a hero–Princess Leia features prominently on many signs, tees, and other protest gear). Losing Carrie in the middle of this trilogy makes it all the more poignant–the world of The Force Awakens is not the same world of The Last Jedi. Things are darker, bleaker. We don’t trust our heroes to protect us, we believe in evil because we’ve seen it firsthand, we know all too well how a fringe lunatic can marshal a repressive regime into a totalitarian state, and we understand that light and dark is a lot more complicated than we originally thought. We are sadder but wiser. And we need hope now more than ever.
That’s maybe why I liked Rose, the new character, as much as I did. Because she’s us. She’s some low-level tech whose heart is ready for greatness, who gets the chance to do the right thing, and even though she’s hurting, does it. She pours love on the fires of hate, and it’s so, so right. I was more than a little invested in the Finn/Poe love story, but I will gladly give Poe the boot for Rose. I thought her kiss came out of nowhere, but there’s potential in that pairing.
Another pairing that took me by surprise was Rey and Kylo. It makes a lot of sense (the other two boys frankly can’t keep up with her) but I was not expecting it at all. And it was…super hot? Their interaction was the beating heart of the movie, and it was perfect. Sometimes people do unforgivably bad things, but they are still capable of good. Sometimes good people are tempted to be bad. Rey and Kylo are two sides of the same coin, and their force-bond was the most compelling part of this film. More than a little of that is due to Adam Driver/Daisy Ridley’s fantastic acting work. I am so, so curious to see where this goes.
The space battles were incredible. Holdo blowing herself up to destroy the First Order fleet was literally breathtaking. The battle on Crait with the red salt was gorgeous. The lightsaber duel between Rey/Kylo and the red guards is maybe the best duel in all Star Wars. Visually, this whole movie was stunning.
I am torn on the Finn/Rose/codebreaker thing. It was not well-fleshed out and so clearly a McGuffin, but then it planted the seeds of the whole new Star Wars direction. Benecio was so useless he didn’t even have a name. I think he was supposed to do some more work in the “heroes aren’t perfect, good and bad are abstract” camp (which I feel was adequately covered in Rouge One) but he was just a waste of movie time for me. And Phasma’s death was pointless. What a waste of a character–really. And the fathier-chase was endless. However–I cried several times during this movie, and once was definitely when Rose showed her Resistance ring to the children. Because the Resistance isn’t leaders and powerful rulers–it’s always been the little people, the poor, the unrepresented, the weak. This movie absolutely wrecked the Powerful Bloodlines trope of Star Wars, and proved once and for all that anyone could be a hero.
Rey being not important felt really authentic to me. I never thought she was a Skywalker–it was just too obvious. I love that she’s just a nobody, because she’s going to save the whole damn galaxy and isn’t that a great role model for all the nobodies out there (like me)?
I think this movie managed to subvert all expectations while still meeting them, which is such a tightrope act. I think it tied up a lot of loose ends and opened up so many new ones, which leaves Ep. 9 in a really good place. I have no idea what’s coming next, and I love that. I know Disney wants to keep pumping out new Star Wars movies forever and ever, and now they’ve got a great chance to do it in a way that doesn’t seem exploitative or overly commercial. Because, now, everyone can be a hero.
Luke dying didn’t hurt as much as I thought it might, because a)he wasn’t gunned down by AT-ATs (which, in a Trump world, I thought could happen) and we know that heroes end eventually. It felt like a passing of the torch, on Luke’s terms. The central theme of this movie might have been Yoda’s little speech–do your best, but know that your kids will be better than you (very loose paraphrase obviously). Star Wars has grown and changed so much in the 40 years since its creation–to strictly adhere to the same format would be folly. Rian Johnson has given us a new blueprint to move forward. And that’s a heck of an accomplishment.
I look forward to seeing it again. I think I will catch a lot more nuance when I’m not hyperventilating with excitement! What did y’all think?
Today is a departure from our Regularly Scheduled Programming, but I got really inspired at church this Sunday and I have to share about it. For those of you who don’t know, yes, I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus and that He calls us to love others as He loves us. I don’t believe that I am any better than anyone else who believes anything else (or doesn’t believe anything at all.) That pretty much sums it up for me. So! On to the inspiration!
I think right now could be a huge moment for Christians to act. One thing we can all agree on is that Americans live in troubled times. Both sides of the aisle believes that the other side is populated with bullies, morons, or both. We are constantly in battle for what we believe is the soul of America, and It. Is. Exhausting. Everybody’s involved. We are all constantly angry and sad, and there’s no escape from it. Ignorance is a luxury that Americans can no longer afford. It’s not healthy to be on high alert like this for so long. It’s taking a toll on us all.
I think about giving up—refusing to watch the news, devoting myself wholeheartedly to my family and my job instead of constantly thinking about ways to #resist—every day. The temptation is so strong to just tune out and believe everything will turn out okay. Why do I personally have to be the one to keep calling my Senators and sending postcards and reading Activism Checklists and going to meetings? I’m so tired.
Good thing that we as Christians have a source of renewal and comfort that cannot ever be depleted or destroyed. On Sunday, we read Matthew 10:28, “ Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We also sang God of Grace and God of Glory, where the fourth verse states “save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.” I felt both the lyrics and the Scripture to be a glass of cold water in my face. God understands exactly where we are. He knows it sucks. And He’s telling us—don’t give up.
We are uniquely qualified to wade into this mess because our leader was used to stirring things up in tumultuous times. One of the first thing He did on Holy Week was flip tables in the Temple. He hung out with lepers and whores, broke ranks with tradition, and generally did the opposite of what everyone expected Him to do. His message was Love, and He was not afraid to make big statements to spread it. He is not a timid, quiet, pray silently and move on to other things God. He is a god of Action. And so we, His hands and feet in the world, must be people of Action, too. We have to keep fighting when others cannot, because they don’t know Jesus, who carries us when we can’t walk any longer.
Christians must practice radical love and acceptance to save America. I think it’s the only thing that can work. We know fighting doesn’t work. Namecalling, ditto. Shouting, bullying, and all the other awful things that have been going on don’t seem to be making much headway. We’ve tried pretty much everything else. Why not try this?
You might say, but I’m not political. Separation of church and state, remember? Why should the church get involved? And I hear that. I am a huge proponent of separation of church and state. However, the current situation is beyond political. The current health care bill amounts to a humanitarian crisis. Jesus was clear in Matthew 25:40, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ And in Proverbs 14:31, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” This is beyond politics, beyond party. This is beyond anything America has ever faced. And my Christian brothers and sisters and I are literally called by our Creator to join the fight.
The key to Christ’s radical love is a lack of judgment. Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s ALL of us. Not just one party or the other, not pro-life or pro-choice, nobody is exempt. We ALL sin and fall short, so we are all equal. I saw a post recently about books featuring LGBT+ families in elementary schools. Some Christians were aghast that this sin was being taught at school, and they defended their position as non-hatred because they earnestly believed that gay people were going to hell, and they wanted to help turn them away from the fire. Which is admirable or something, I guess, but that misses the point that WE ALL are sinners. If Jesus came to earth today, he’d dine with me, because I’m the modern equivalent of a leper. Or you are. Even that nice lady on the FB post is. We as Christians have got to stop thinking we’ve got a leg up on anyone when it comes to salvation and start acting accordingly. It’s why people say they hate Christianity and frankly, I don’t blame them. Our actions are turning people away from Christ. Not their sin, our actions. It’s on us, and it has to stop.
So what does this radical love without judgement look like? I’m not so sure. Smarter people than me will have to spell it out. But I have some ideas.
–Reach out to all brothers and sisters, those in our faith and those out of it. Those in our party and out of it. Invite them over for dinner. Take them out for coffee. And listen to them, without judgement. Learn where they are coming from and why.
–Lend a hand anywhere a hand is needed. Help fix a local mosque’s roof. Drive an elderly person to a doctor’s appointment. Pitch in to a friend of a friend’s gofundme on FB. No act of kindness is too small, or ever in vain.
–Find commonalities with your enemies. Build community. Pick something you can agree on and run with it.
–Say thank you. I’ve started sending postcards to senators and other representatives to tell them I appreciate what they’re doing for me. I’m doing the same with friends who are kicking butt in their lives, both activism and non-activism related things. Think of how great you’d feel if you opened your mailbox to a card saying “I see you. You are working hard. I value your work, and I value you as a person. Keep it up!” Let’s fight a war of guerrilla kindness via the USPS.
–Pray together. I don’t understand it, and I can’t explain it, but miracles happen when we pray together. As a high school kid, I was very un-self-conscious about praying in public with friends. It was the culture I lived in, but it was not uncommon to see bowed heads and clasped hands in the cafeteria or at the mall. I am trying so hard to do that again. After a good conversation, I ask a friend “can we pray together?” Usually they are too nice to say no. So I bow my head, shoot off a few sentences of thanks for the opportunity to be together and request God to be with us until we meet again, and that’s that. Be brave. Be bold. And pray hard.
When we look back on 2017, the heroes will be people we never expected—the National Park Service, Margaret Atwood, Teen Vogue. Will you be a part of adding Christians to that list? Will you put yourself out of your comfort zone and show America what being a Christian really means? It’s terrifying and it’s not easy, but just living in 2017 in America is terrifying and not easy. Let’s counteract hate with love. Let’s win the battle. I’m ready. Are you?
What do you think? Stay safe out there, friends. Be good to yourself and to each other. Hit me up with great ideas!
Sorry I’ve been AWOL for so long. I don’t have a great excuse except I got home from the Pirate Women book tour and I’ve been flailing around for my next project. Flailing (and its companion activity, Wallowing in Existential Crisis) takes up a lot of time, y’all. But, I am happy to say that I am in deep research/pre-writing mode for my next project! It looks like it’s going to be a YA sci-fi novel, featuring a great female protagonist, and of course some pirates. So stay tuned…it might be coming to a bookstore near you in 3 or so years 🙂
Anyway, I FINALLY managed to beg, borrow, and steal my way to “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” yesterday. I hired a babysitter, bought my ticket, realized I had hired a sitter for the wrong day, begged sitter to come a day early, lied and said I had a doctor’s appointment, and slipped out the door in the nick of time to see a movie I have been waiting to see for years.
The POTC franchise is big for me. It emboldened me to come out of the closet about my love of pirates, invigorated my lady pirate research, occupied many, many of my waking hours through daydreaming and reading of fanfiction, and, most importantly, was a huge part of my social circle at college. I lived in a semi-commune in college, and my housemates and I watched these movies over, and over, and over again. We all still talk about them fondly and they are a large part of our identity as a group. Many legendary stories begin with a viewing of Pirates. The second one, in particular, is very dear to me for coming out in a really shitty summer of my life and providing a perfect escape from my miserable job. I think I saw it six times in theaters and I’ve seen it hundreds more on DVD.
So I had high hopes, is what I’m trying to say. I am optimistic enough that I erased the 4th one totally from my memory and I truly believed this movie could live up to its ancestors and bring me joy. I was not disheartened by its 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some people just don’t understand great art 🙂
Caution–spoilers ahoy!! If you want to see it, and you don’t want to know some things about it, wait until you see it and then come back and read this. You’ve been warned.
It felt…the same but different. In the opening sequence, Jack and his crew steal a bank. Yes, not rob a bank, steal a bank. There’s a giddy sequence with galloping horses, ducking bridges, and the trademark silliness that comes with Captain Sparrow et al. I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth right then, but I was worried, because #4 (okay, I lied, I didn’t TOTALLY forget it) started out equally promising and then quickly devolved into incomprehensible self-satisfied madness. Nevertheless, I persisted.
It’s a little weird watching Johnny Depp gamely gnaw on the scenery as Jack again. He’s dirtier, unmistakably older, but the schtick is still strong with him. One wonders why he still agrees to these, although he did make Alice in Wonderland 2 so it’s possible Disney has him under a spell or at least has some really awful kiddie porn blackmail on him and he’s powerless to turn them down. Given the recent allegations of his mistreatment of his wife (ex-wife? I don’t really know) I was especially worried about enjoying the film (and perhaps that explains a bit of its floundering at the box office, although I daresay the target audience of this film either a) doesn’t know about the abuse or b)doesn’t care).
However, you reach a point where you shrug and say “it’s Jack Sparrow. This is what you get,” and you get sucked into his world and forget about everything else for a while. I’m not particularly proud of this–I can’t make excuses for his behavior and I have dropped other artists from my roster of people I enjoy for less, but I was able to put it out of my head for long enough to enjoy the movie. Like Charlemagne, who waits in the hills to come rescue his people when they most need him, Jack Sparrow had arrived to offer me personally an unparalleled diversion from the horrible trainwreck of the political season we’re in, and I wasn’t going to be left ashore when he set sail.
At the beginning of the film, it’s possible that I’m the only one who is still happy to be in Jack’s crew. He’s lost his ship, (Blackbeard put the Pearl in a bottle? I guess? In #4? I don’t remember but that’s the exposition given.) but most importantly, he’s lost his luck. His crewmembers, including his faithful first mate Master Gibbs (but not including Mr. Cotton [with the parrot] or Pintel and Ragetti [the one with a glass eye and the one who says “poppet” in the first movie] which makes me wonder if they were killed off in the 4th one), all abandon him, and he trades his beloved compass for a bottle of rum–at this point literally covered head to toe in mud and pig poop. Nobody can keep up the buffoon routine forever, the movie shows. We all have to grow up and get on with our respectable lives. It’s very Falstaff at the end of Henry IV, Part 2. He’s gone from a legendary pirate to the butt of a joke, and suddenly I’m worried about where this is going.
With the arrival of Henry Turner (the product of Will and Elizabeth’s doomed union), a sea-lore obsessed lad who seems to have inherited the Turner penchant for getting whacked on the head, and Carina Smyth, an extremely likable plucky astronomer labeled a witch, Jack is saved at the last minute from the guillotine (in a pretty whimsically hilarious sequence that had me in stitches) and back on the sea, hunting for Poseidon’s trident.
There’s a bad guy, of course–Captain Salazar, Butcher of the Seas, played with meaty menace by Javier Bardem. He’s a pirate hunter who was caught in the Bermuda Triangle and is hellbent on revenge against the man who put him there–you guessed it, Capt. Jack Sparrow. There’s also a lot more plot, but it ultimately doesn’t matter, because you’re not here for the plot. You’re here for Jack.
In the ten years since At World’s End premiered, much has changed in my life. I’ve gotten married. I moved to the countryside. I have a child. (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have each had their first child during that time as well, come to think of it.) As the villain of the original three, Cutler Beckett, said, “the world is getting smaller. The edges of the map are being filled in.” So I knew that I could never go back to my all-encompassing love of the original trilogy–and the movie kind of knows that, too. It doesn’t make the mistake of the 4th one and get waterlogged with a Very Serious Plot and a love interest for Jack. It aims to entertain, and that it does.
The set pieces, and the special effects, are really, really terrific. Salazar’s ghost ship kind of turns into a scorpion? And it’s just awesome? Barbossa’s ship is a rococo nightmare of glittering golden skulls and jewel-toned…everything. One thing you can always say about this franchise–it doesn’t do anything by halves. This one is no exception. It must have been so fun working on this film from a technical standpoint. I would have loved to have done set dressing for Barbossa’s ship.
Yes, Barbossa is here. Of course he is. Geoffrey Rush, you shining treasure, we don’t deserve you. He imbues each cheesy line with Shakespearean gusto and desperately tries to give this film some much-needed pathos. He almost succeeds, and that is a credit to him. He is undoubtedly the best part of this (and every) movie.
Henry Turner and Carina Smyth turn in two hugely likeable performances here, which for me added a lot to the movie. They’re no Will and Elizabeth, but they are a far, far cry from the pastor and the mermaid from #4, whose names I cannot recall for the life of me. Carina’s a scientist and all the boys think she’s a witch (or possibly a prostitute), which is played for laughs but in the end, she’s right in the thick of the action. It’s not revolutionary, but it is nice. They both serve as “wow, is this Jack guy for real? We’re all just nice normal persons who would never behave this way so we shall pearl clutch” people, but then of course they are both more than they seem. Encounters with Jack Sparrow change people–for better or for worse. Maybe that’s his greatest power; he is a lightning rod for people to escape their ordinary lives and become the people they were meant to be.
But there’s some sadness in here, too. In the inevitable sappy reunion scene, Jack views the whole affair from aboard the Pearl through his spyglass. In a movie all about parents and children, Jack has neither. He does, however, have his ship, and his crew. He’s almost a tragic figure, honestly, keeping wildly spinning plates in the air so he’s one step ahead of everyone figuring out he’s terribly lonely. Or maybe he’s not lonely, he’s just not interested in normal stuff–a wife, a home, children. He’s the cool, weird uncle who can get you weed but never brings a date to family functions (although he brags about the girl he had last weekend constantly). Is it pathetic or admirable? The movie doesn’t really make up its mind, and I haven’t either. But it’s all part of the fun, I think. To see Jack find a nice girl and settle down would feel a betrayal, whether it’s a good idea or not. As he told Elizabeth in Dead Man’s Chest, his only love is the sea. That may have been the truest thing he’s ever said.
The high school audience who loved the first one in theaters are all thirtysomethings now, and the movie is in on it. The jokes are a bit bawdier, the sight gags are fewer. There’s a few things I was laughing out loud at that the teenagers next to me were absolutely not getting. There’s only one really awful sexist part, as opposed to protracted (racist) sequences in 2 and 3, which is nice. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.
Apart from the massively impressive effects, does this movie have a beating heart? For me, that depends on if Jack ever sheds the cartoonish act and shows us a glimpse of the steel-nerved, deadly-accurate shot, secretly brilliant captain. It’s not obvious, but I’ve decided that he does, in two key points. One involves lassoing a shark (just watch it) and the other is at the end (don’t want to spoil it, but you will know it when you see it). As usual, when a tough decision, a life-or-death decision, needs to be made, Jack is there. Jack is in your corner. And that, my friends, makes all the difference.
There are a spree of cameos I won’t mention, but they are all just great and one in particular is about perfect. In the final scenes, there was a moment that almost got me a little teary. I’ve loved this crew for a long time, you see, and even though we’re all getting older and allegedly wiser, sometimes there’s a glimpse of who we once were and the limitless potential we held, and that’s just a bittersweet moment now isn’t it? The whole movie, come to think of it, was bittersweet. A fitting sendoff for the ride of a lifetime–no doubt past its prime, but still undeniably something special. It’s fun, it’s goofy, it’s stupid, it’s delightful, it is totally entertaining.
What did you think, friends? Did you see it? Will you see it? What other summer movies are you jazzed about? I for one can’t WAIT to see WONDER WOMAN, which I am going to see tonight, and I will no doubt blog about it for days and days and days.
Be excellent to each other. Talk soon!
Short post today–but I finally get to see Hamilton!! Today is the day! Many thanks to my devoted and intrepid husband who braved the online ticket block distribution back in June to get us these seats.
It’s pretty amazing how excited I am about this. It’s crazy that people’s first question is “have you seen it?” As a lifelong musical theater nerd, I love that people across every demographic are getting into it. (Welcome, newbies! We love you!) I truly think Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius and I am delighted to be alive in the same time that he is. I can’t wait to see what his next musical is.
When I start to despair about the state of the world or any old thing, I remember that Hamilton exists. It’s art like that–big, bold, beautiful multicultural art–that is what makes us America, and it makes me feel “how lucky we are to be alive right now.” Listening to Hamilton makes me want to be a better human being. I want to make art like that.
May we all find things that make us want to be better, and may we all be better.
Love you all–expect a florid review next week!
So as you have probably heard, I was on NPR’s On Point yesterday! Link is Here, if you missed it. It was a crazy cool experience and my head is still spinning.
It was so cool being on the show! The host, Jane Clayson, was extremely warm and helped me feel comfortable, even though I was pretty terrified at the beginning. Kudos to the producer, Maeve, who picked the incredible music and movie clips, because as soon as I heard the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, I was like, “I can do this!”
There’s the tweeters, the sound techs, the producers, the on-air talent, and that’s only the people I met! There are so many smart people who make On Point happen, and I was honored to be a part of it for a day.
What I didn’t expect was how fast-paced it all was. Nobody wants dead air on the radio, so as Jane was asking questions, she was gesturing for me to start talking. I was thinking, “I have to hear the whole question first!!!” I had been clinging to my mom’s advice to “take a deep breath, collect yourself before you speak” but I quickly realized that was going out the window. Thankfully, I don’t think I said anything stupid, which I was worried about. In the era of everything being recorded, I know one gaffe can stay with you forever, but I managed to keep it together.
Something I didn’t realize was how much work is happening while the show is going on. During breaks, people ran in with new questions, viewer questions, and media clips. Decisions and adjustments are happening all the time. I was so impressed with how Jane held it all together during the constant changes. She is clearly super smart and I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to meet and work with her.
Between NPR and Cosmopolitan picking “Pirate Women” as the #1 book of 2017, things have been pretty busy in the Duncombe family! I had my first reading last night at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA. Thanks to everyone who came out and to the incredible staff there, especially Currie, who was in charge of my event. Rest of the tour–the gauntlet has been thrown! Let’s keep the good turnouts going.
A huge THANK YOU to everyone–I have so many friends who have bought the book, reviewed the book on Amazon (Seems stupid but it really helps me out!!) come out to tour, posted about the book, and sent messages of encouragement. It means the world to me! Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Y’all are the best friends and fans a gal could ask for!
What crazy thing will happen next week? Who knows? The sky is the limit! Check back next week. Thanks for reading! Be good to yourself.