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Thinking Deeper: Analyzing Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out in theaters six months ago and the impact of its release is still being felt. To say the film is controversial appears to be an understatement. Some claim it is the death of Star Wars, a film worse than all the prequels (really?) that shreds the source material. To others, including myself, it is a breath of fresh air and maybe the first true Star Wars “sequel” in quite some time.

One of the main reasons that I love Last Jedi is that the movie generates conversation. I saw Solo last week and am already forgetting it. It wasn’t a terrible film by any stretch, nor was it really good. Solo just exists, checking off all the boxes it has to without feeling particularly inspired or warranted. I feel like there was no deeper subtext or character development. Spoilers: Han Solo is a scoundrel but a good guy. Did I really need to spend $16 just to confirm that?

With Last Jedi, I felt like I was watching a movie that wasn’t content to simply check boxes. It didn’t care that it was a “Star Wars film” and spent more time trying to be a genuine movie. The result is an experience that gives me something new every time I watch it. Here are some of the thoughts and readings I’ve had while watching Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi:

Luke Skywalker is George Lucas

I know, shocker right – that Luke S. could mean Lucas? Watching Mark Hamill in Last Jedi is fantastic. True to the series’ Kurosawa roots, Luke is no longer the bright-eyed boy on Tatooine but a grizzled, jaded Jedi master. Unlike Harrison Ford’s Han Solo from The Force Awakens, Hamill’s Luke feels different from when we last saw him. His character has been appropriately aged along with himself.

When I was last watching the movie, I paid attention to Luke’s dialogue – in particular his self-loathing. Luke Skywalker did the impossible, he redeemed Darth Vader. Bear in mind, Luke is still fairly young in Return of the Jedi – at most 30. It’s not everyone who saves the galaxy before they can even qualify for a midlife crisis.

Therefore, it’s easy to see how Luke made mistakes. In his hubris, he felt he could do anything after that. It’s a very human reaction. Some would say it’s exactly what happened to Star Wars creator George Lucas after he made the original trilogy.

The struggles of George Lucas in making Star Wars have been widely documented. He had to fight on every decision and ultimately had to shoulder more than his share of the work. Lucas saw someone few people did, perhaps that nobody else did: that Star Wars could be a hit. And he did it. When everyone doubted, George Lucas did it. The man created a property that has impacted the lives of millions and created a devote following (to say the least).

To quote Hamill’s Luke from Last Jedi: he “became a legend.”

Then the time came for George to duplicate his massive success. The year was 1999 and the world was hungry for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Then the movie, and its two sequels came out and…well…lighting did not strike twice. With the introduction of characters like Jar Jar Binks and concepts like midichlorians, many fans thought that Lucas was destroying his creation and tarnishing his legacy.

And not to mention the Special Editions that are widely held as inferior to the original theatrical cuts. On all fronts, it seemed like George Lucas could do no right. Yet still he forged ahead. Why? Because he was George Lucas…a legend.

Until, one day, older and definitely with some bitterness, George Lucas sold Star Wars and retired to his home, essentially becoming a grizzled old hermit himself and completing the character arch that he envisioned for so many of his Jedi heroes.

Did Rian Johnson write Luke S. as a metaphor for Lucas? Who knows. But the similarities are uncanny.

Are sacred texts the expanded universe?
Part of me wonders if the sacred texts are a stand-in for the expanded universe. If so, then Yoda’s dig is even more of a burn…although not entirely undeserved in my opinion.

Kylo Ren really is a Star Wars fanboy

When I first wrote my article declaring Kylo Ren a Star Wars fanboy, I had no idea how right I’d be. In a movie script obsessed with subverting history, Kylo Ren is the character most consumed by it (even more than lonely Luke). Despite his vocal claims to the contrary, Ren cannot let go of the past.

He sees himself as the central figure in the story, a view he asserts on Rey in the following line:

“You have no place in this story; you come from nothing. You’re nothing.”

Charming. Such a wonder why Rey promptly runs away after that exchange. Kylo Ren’s delusions of grandeur aside, his character typifies the negative perception that Star Wars fans feel they “own the trilogy” more than anyone else. This belief (to varying extents) was represented in the documentary, The People vs George Lucas where the filmmakers made the argument that fans owned Star Wars more than its creator.

The story of Star Wars has become so ingrained in pop culture that most everyone knows at least the basics. The heroic Skywalker stands at the center of the galaxy, reshaping it in his image. For both Luke and Vader, this perspective holds weight and no doubt Kylo Ren sees himself as simply a continuation.

He knows how the story will go, how could he not? He believes himself to be the main character. This fits with a large viewpoint in the Star Wars fandom that family lineage matters. Even in the Expanded Universe, the focus was largely on Luke, Han and Leia – not to mention all of their children and spouses.

This idea runs so counter-intuitive to the message of the original film, which showed that heroes could come from anywhere – even a nowhere like Tatooine. Kylo Ren has done very little to declare himself a hero, yet he still clearly sees himself as one.

His expectations and actions based around how he believes the “story” will go reflects the controlling nature of fandom. The cry for newness while wallowing in the familiar. Kylo Ren must be the hero because…well, that’s how he wrote it in his head.

Who owns Star Wars?
Part of me is starting to wonder why we feel the need to “own” things – especially universes that aren’t real. Star Wars has impacted so many people, I’m honesty not sure if anybody can really say they own it more…except Disney.

The toxic masculinity of Poe Dameron

When I first saw The Last Jedi, I had problems with Poe Dameron’s subplot. Specifically, I didn’t understand why Admiral Holdo didn’t just tell him the plan. Was she worried about a spy? Was it subversion just for subversion’s sake?

Since then, I’ve noticed quite a few things in Poe Dameron’s dialogue. Holy hell, is he an asshole. Never mind that he gets nearly the whole bomber fleet killed at the beginning of the movie (an action which gets him justifiably demoted), he refuses to treat Holdo with respect.

His first “not what I expected” conveys a personal disappointment. The feared military hero, Vice Admiral Holdo, is nothing more than a skinny, older, soft-spoken woman who doesn’t convey bravado or really anything. She just sets about doing her job.

Watch Poe’s first conversation with Holdo, look at what he’s saying:

Poe: “Vice admiral? Commander Dameron. With our fuel consumption there’s a very limited amount of time that we can stay out of range of those star destroyers.”

Holdo: “Very kind of you to make me aware.”

Yes, because there is no way that the Vice Admiral of the Resistance fleet already understood the very basic situation. If you’ve ever wondered what “mansplaining” is – this is an example. Poe, who was recently demoted for screwing up royally, still feels entitled to assert himself.

His lack of faith in his superior officers translates into a loss of hope and a dangerous turn that gets more people killed. The First Order learns of the rebel plan partly through Poe’s actions.

Remove the fact that Holdo is a woman and treat it like a standard military operation: A demoted officer immediately undermines his superior’s orders because he feels left out. Granted, we never see if Holdo tells anyone the plan because we’re confined to Poe’s view point.

We see him rebel again and again, not to further any real cause but his own desire for control. It is a subplot that I did not fully pick up on the first time through – mainly because I was so surprised to find it in a film like this.

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Visual storytelling: Snoke and Hux

One last point I want to make before I wrap this article up. When I saw Force Awakens, I didn’t have to think about my least favorite characters: Supreme Leader Snoke and General Hux. Snoke, despite the performance of Andy Serkis, came off as Emperor Palpatine 2 – a character who served the story because, well, it’s a Star Wars movie and those need a creepy old dude in a chair.

Hux, by contrast, had the personality of an evil brick. I had no sense of these people as characters, merely as roles. Snoke was the leader and Hux was a general. Got it. Last Jedi greatly improves this without taking serious script time and Johnson does it through visual storytelling.

First, Snoke: Look at that robe! Who wears a fabulous glitter gold robe complete with slippers while overseeing a military operation? Someone who is very arrogant and very much in control – a.k.a. the dear Supreme Leader. By the simplest wardrobe change, Snoke takes on some of his own character and becomes less of a Palpatine clone.

Snoke more interesting in Last Jedi
Best part of Snoke in Force Awakens? When I thought he was 20 feet tall.

Hux, by contrast, has more of his characters conveyed through his unspoken actions. Whether it is the smug sneer he gives Kylo Ren at the start of the film or when he almost pulls a gun on Ren’s unconscious body, the audience understands the relationship between these two characters. No one ever blurts “power struggle” because they don’t have to.

This dynamic gives Hux depth and informs us better of his character.

There’s more to say on Last Jedi but I’ll save it for another day. Suffice it to say, I feel strongly about this movie and I hope Episode IX can live up to its fine example. I’m genuinely sorry for the other Star Wars fans who saw this film and thought it was the worse thing since Jar Jar – but I implore them to give it another go. No, it’s not what you were expecting – but that’s okay. This film still has a heart and, more importantly (at least to me) it has a mind clearly present in its script.

How to Train Your Child to Love Dragons

Dragons have fascinated humanity for millennia. No matter which part of the world you travel to, odds are the indigenous culture had at least one myth devoted to these beasts. While some may run to conspiracy, the logical explanation for widespread dragon mythology is dinosaur bones… or are dinosaurs a cover-up for dragons?!

They’re not. Dinosaurs have always existed but it’s easy to forget that we’ve only started formulating scientific study on these fossils during the last couple centuries. Before then, they were just giant bones – proof that our planet once held strange and amazing animals.

The natural mystery of the dinosaurs gave birth to arguably the greatest fantastical creation of all time. One that symbolizes our creative spirit as a species and adds an element of wonder to our collective consciousness. So, in my mind, passing on this love of dragons is essential in healthy human development.

After all, I love dragons and I consider myself a well-balanced individual (twitch).

Early Childhood

If you’re trying to get your child to love anything then start early. I don’t mean ramming dragons in the face of your baby and screaming “like it!” – rather, maybe just choose books and films that are age appropriate. Luckily, popular culture has you covered.

In terms of movies, recent hits like Pete’s Dragon and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader both feature friendly, nonthreatening creatures. Another obvious choice is the How to Train Your Dragon series from Dreamworks Animation.

If I may state a personal preference and a loved childhood memory, I would recommend Flight of Dragons. This light, whimsical fantasy gives dragon flight and fire a pseudo-science explanation and features a lot more elements of the genre. Talking animals? Got it. Ogres – yeah there’s one. James Earl Jones voicing the villain who turns into a giant monster – okay, we’re onto something here.

Also, it’s got this song:

Yeah, that will be in your head awhile. It’s a wonderfully meta film, choosing the author of the source book as a main character. And speaking of books, you don’t get much more famous than The Hobbit. Read that to your child and I guarantee, apart from the giant spiders, Smaug will be a highlight.

In terms of other books, really you can’t go wrong. There are so many dragon stories out there. I would also advise purchasing those giant picture books – like World of Dragons or something. They’re image focused so literacy isn’t a barrier, and the better ones feature drawings that will compel the development of a healthy imagination.

children dragons
One of the coolest aspects of dragon lore is how many different shapes and designs the creature can take. Try to look for literature that highlights each vision.

The tweens

As kids age, “cool” starts to matter more. Everyone wants to be cool – gotta do the cool things to be cool. However, they’re not quite teenagers yet so, you know, parents have yet to become the exact opposite of cool. So you can still make recommendations but the best bet is just making things available for consumption.

A film like Dragonheart, while rated PG-13, is perfect for this age range. After all, you can’t get much more awesome than Sean Connery voicing a dragon. It’s a little more violent without being Game of Thrones and the sexual innuendos will likely fly over your childrens’ heads… like a dragon, get it? I’m very clever.

Notable books include easy reads like Harry Potter, stuff your child can devour and process easily, helping to fuel not just a love of dragons but a greater affection for reading in general.

Harry Potter children dragon
Harry Potter ages along with the series, but its never particularly terrifying or overtly mature.

Teenage Years

Okay, now you’re not cool anymore. Being a teenager is all about being rebellious. Are they old enough to watch Game of Thrones? Doesn’t matter, they’ll likely watch it anyway.  However, this desire to revolt can be capitalized on with some appropriate dragon literature.

Gork the Teenage Dragon is every story of young adult high school trauma and liberation only… you know, with dragons. We follow Gork, a young, smaller dragon who is too nice for his own good. This hurts his chances of winning a female for the mating dance (a more straight forward name for “prom”) and impressing his family.

Gork has no idea what he wants to be but he feels the enormous pressure to be great. Typical teenager stuff, just substitute the people for dragons.

teenage dragon books
I feel the cover gives an excellent indication of the overall tone of this story.

The Magicians trilogy also provides dragons in more mature setting, although parents have to be comfortable exposing their child to teenage sex and drug use – if anything, it can be seen as prep for actual high school.

At this point, more scholarly works like Beowulf may also be attempted. Video games like Dragon Age also, as the name suggests, feature dragons very promptly. And I think it’s safe to assume that Skyrim will still be being released on new systems, even ten years from now.

And there you have it. Obviously there’s more to cover. I haven’t even scratched the surface of dragon pop culture.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject but I like to think that I still remember what it was like to be a child. Dragons are amazing creatures of power and mystery. These are qualities that I believe are attractive to children. Keep in mind, you don’t always have to go traditional.

As I mentioned in the beginning, dinosaurs are part of dragon lore and can easily expand the overall love of fire-breathing winged beasts. There’s also Godzilla, who is pretty amazing and fights other dragon-like creatures on a regular basis. I’m just saying.

How I would Improve the Friday the 13th Game

The Friday the 13th series doesn’t have much life these days, at least so far as the cinema is concerned. It has nine years since the Friday the 13th remake tried and failed to breathe life back into hockey mask-wearing slasher Jason Voorhees. If it weren’t for the 2017 video game (aptly named Friday the 13th: The Game), the franchise would be all but dead.

Oh but what a game it is. If you’ve only ever played the 1989 indecipherable mess that was the Nintendo Friday the 13th, you may have written off the series’ gaming potential. Which would be a shame since developer IllFonic and publisher Gun Media have created a fan love letter to the series, complete with meticulously recreated campground levels.

When I first started playing Friday the 13th: the Game over Christmas vacation, I thought it was fun but frustrating. Months later and I’m still routinely diving into Crystal Lake, the Jarvis House and newly added Pinehurst. Clearly they’re doing something right.

That said, I do have some thoughts on how Friday the 13th: the Game can improve and, maybe more importantly, how these companies can keep financing their efforts. I know: Unsolicited feedback from a white guy – how original.

Being able to turn the male counselors into mock kid Jason

One of the most interesting aspects of gameplay in Friday the 13th: the Game revolves around killing Jason. Yes, it is possible (if unlikely) for the counselors to band together and turn the tables on their foe. This method is a multi-step process that involves summoning Tommy Jarvis, stealing a sweater, and knocking off a mask.

It is the second part where the potential issue begins: Only a female counselor can steal the sweater. This is to recreate the ending of Part 2 where the final girl pretends to be Jason’s mother, halting the killer in his tracks. It’s a cool bit of fan service to be sure and – as I said – really interesting gameplay.

Yet if there are no female counselors in the game, or if they have died, it prematurely closes the option to kill Jason. This is kinda lame. Rather than have Chad discover his feminine side, I believe I’ve come up with a solution that stays close to franchise emulation.

While only female counselors can steal the sweater, male counselors can cut their hair and mimic kid Jason (much in the way that young Tommy Jarvis did at the end of Part 4). This will require a procedure of its own. First, scissors. Every game would load with one set of scissors in a drawer. It would be exactly one item that would function much the same way as a pocket knife should Jason grab you.

Friday the 13th: the Game
Sure, our counselors are a little older but the effect could still work. Not like Jason is supposed to be the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Once the counselor has scissors, it’s time to look for a bathroom, more specifically a mirror. After this is done, the counselor will need time (perhaps a button-pressing mini-game like car repair, except based on composure stat) to re-style his looks. After this is done, he now has a one-time opportunity to stun Jason, much like the sweater.

I believe this will add variety and further develop what already is one of the most interesting aspects of the game.

Adding a more open water level

A lot of perks in the game revolve around water – this is true for both counselors and Jason. While it’s a cool aspect to add variety, it feels pretty weak right now for one major reason: There’s not a lot of water on the current maps. Most have a shoreline in a corner or narrow rivers running throughout. I don’t have any solid numbers to back me up here but I wouldn’t be surprised if the average counselor spent less than 10% of his or her time in water.

This makes all those water traits kind of useless. When I can only equip three perks – who cares if one of them pluses my water speed by 99%? I’m never going to use that. Oh, Part VII Jason has excellent water speed… does that matter?

Friday the 13th: the Game
As things stand currently, this almost never happens in the game.

While one new level won’t entirely fix this problem, it will help. I would propose one of two options. First, the setting from Part 7: A New Blood. I would design that map to have a massive lake in the center – maybe with an island or two scattered on it. This will force counselors to swim for rapid transit or item retrieval.

Second option is the cruise ship from Part 8. Since this boat inexplicably sailed from Crystal Lake to New York (how did that happen?!), it would make sense to have supporting islands. The claustrophobia of the boat would also be a nice change of pace from numerous levels of open cabins and sparse woods.

More weapon variety 

I’m actually really happy that they toned down the amount of guns and machetes in the levels. I always wondered why a summer camp had like… literally a gun every few feet. While it could have been a commentary on the status of firearm worship in America, I doubt that’s what Gun Media and IllFonic were going for.

While too many top tier weapons is a bad thing, I hope they enhance the number of options for mid tier and low tier weapons. The branch is awesome but it needs company. So I propose three new weapons:

  • a paintball gun: Made famous in Part 6, this rapid fire projectile could temporarily blind Jason if enough shots hit. The blindness would work like the blooper ink in Mario Kart 8, physically obstructing the screen. Jason players could always wash the paint off in water. While it won’t do much damage, it would be a terrific irk weapon.
  • Dinner plates: I see them on every table, stacks of projectiles. This would be the lowest tier ranged weapon. Counselors could hurl plates at Jason, hoping with enough direct hits to knock him down or at the least stun him. Stun chance percentage would increase based on the number of direct hits. Plates would come in stacks of five.
  • A rake: This weapon would function purely as a push-away. Counselors could prod Jason from a distance, not doing much damage but keeping him from getting close. Given that they just increased the number of throwing knives, this would be a cool chance to highlight their effectiveness. Jason would also of course eventually just break the rake.
Friday the 13th: the Game
How funny/frustrating could this make potential matches?

Monetization methods to support continued updates 

Now here me out here fellow players: Games cost a lot of money to make and maintain. Not everyone can do what Minecraft did. Gun and IllFonic have, to date, done an excellent job of keeping their Kickstarter promises and delivering a slew of free content. There’s but some monetization but it has been limited to a couple dollars for costumes and kills.

I want them to build on that. Keep the Kickstarter promises free, obviously but augment them with DLC to justify their continued investment. The counselor costume variety is terrific – keep it coming! This nature of superfluous paid DLC is the best as it doesn’t make those who can’t afford feel like they’re at an unfair disadvantage.

To this end, I have a few suggestions:

  • New Jason starting screens: Currently, Part 3 Jason greets players every time they load the game. While he’s cool looking, some variety might be nice? Charging a dollar or so per main menu Jason seems reasonable. Again, no one needs it but I might fork over some money to customize my game further.
  • Roy voiceover:  If players select the Part 5 – or Roy – Jason, they still hear Pamela Voorhees droning on about killing kids and making them remember and bla bla bla. Honestly, it would be cool to hear someone else. While Dick Wieand may not want to return to voice his character, it would still be cool to hear someone play Roy. Dialogue could be more focused around vengeance and his little brother and things like that. I would definitely pay at least $2 not to hear Pamela every single game.
  • Part 5 Tommy: Designing models is expensive and getting voice actors is also not cheap. These two factors together explain why we only have one version of Tommy Jarvis – the Thom Mathews Part 6 version. Having John Shepherd’s Part 5 incarnation (or even an adult Corey Feldman) would add some awesome variety to the game. But for free, it doesn’t make sense – not on the developer’s side. I would be willing to pay for a new Tommy, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
  • A Kane Hodder Jason costume: While Savini Jason remains locked away forever (single tear), they could add another cool/funny Jason to the game. Kane Hodder. That’s it, no costume, no mask (well maybe some kind of mask for gameplay purposes), just the famous Jason actor. It would be a fun extra and technically wouldn’t violate their policy of not charging for Jason.
Friday the 13th: the Game
Obviously buying the likeness rights to Kevin Bacon will be expensive but I would be willing to help invest in that cost.

Adding in a way to report bigotry/hate speech 

One last quick thing: there needs to be a way to report players who are bigoted assholes. I was playing as Jason one night and came across a kid. I could tell his age because of his microphone – I could also notice an accent. But I think, whatever, all races and people are scum in the eyes of Jason Voorhees so I’m going to go after him.

As soon as I kill his counselor, this other one appears and starts shouting the most vile, hateful crap I’ve heard during gameplay. Honestly it made me feel awful for having offed the kid’s character. I hope he didn’t think I agreed with any of the shit this “adult” was saying (I didn’t have a mic at the time so I could not vocally voice my disgust).

I made killing the bigot my next priority but I didn’t feel like that made it right. People like that should face consequences for spewing vile garbage across the internet. Jason may kill people but even he isn’t that much of a monster.

A report option please – I never want to be in that situation again.

Friday the 13th: the Game
Social Jason Warrior (would also pay money for whatever that looked like)

So there you have it, just some thoughts on improving the game. Obviously I’m not alone in having suggestions – just hop on the Forums to see more. If you haven’t played yet, give Friday the 13th: the Game your time and money – especially if you’re a fan of the film franchise. It may be a mess, but it’s a fun mess.