Ubisoft Starts Civil War in Russia to Promote Far Cry 6

TAGANROG- The game developer Ubisoft initiated an armed insurgency in southern Russia as a special promotional event for its upcoming release Far Cry 6, which is set in a “former Soviet republic in the midst of a civil war.” A company spokesperson said customers who pre-order the game will be automatically entered in a contest in which winners will be given a free tour of the newly-created republic of “Rostovia,” as the fictional country in the game is known. The grand prize winner will be allowed to act as Rostovia’s official Minister of Energy for a week.

Since armed clashes first began in the city of Rostov-na-Donu last week, the Kremlin has reacted extremely negatively to the game developer’s promotional event. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it an “egregious provocation” and “an act of war.”

While the Foreign Minister was quick to point a finger at the United States, a State Department spokesperson denied any US government involvement.

“The United States government does not exercise any control over this private company, which, incidentally, is French,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile residents of the newly created “Republic of Rostovia” have been overly supportive of the new Ubisoft regime. Svetlana Malinovskaya, 38, runs a small grocery shop in one of Rostov’s suburbs and is quite happy with the new city administration.

“They got rid of all the corrupt bureaucrats and they’re actually doing something about the roads,” she said.

“Even better- they’re going to put my shop in the game, and my kids get all the downloadable content for free!”

While polls show that 96 percent of residents prefer the Ubisoft regime to Moscow’s rule, the fledgling republic has had to pay the price for its radical experiment in local democracy and cutting edge video game marketing. According to the most recent UN report, the conflict has so far claimed close to 3,000 casualties. An informal ceasefire which went into effect on Friday is expected to reduce the losses, and OSCE monitors have already been dispatched to the line of contact.

Russia’s representative at the United Nations introduced a Security Council resolution to condemn the game developer’s “unprovoked aggression and continued occupation of the Russian Federation’s territory.” In an official response letter, Ubisoft pointed out that it is not a state and possesses no armed forces. According to the company, all armed individuals involved in the “marketing event” are in fact “promotional contractors” who were hired locally within the Russian Federation.

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The Dark Future: It’s a Blog About Star Wars Again

In a few years they will start making Star Wars films via computer algorithm. They will be designed to create a pastiche of characters and images that reference the original series, post original trilogy, prequels, etc. A Star Wars for every fan.

The program will create a random-named protagonist and then it will be assigned to be a relative/acquaintance/friend/mentor of some important character from the main original films, e.g. Wint Blinko, Han Solo’s forgotten nephew. Based on this, a plot will be assembled with various references to Han Solo’s story, e.g. it will turn out that our hero learned about the importance of a blaster from Han! Or a love interest will say “I love you” and he’ll respond with “I know,” and the whole audience laughs and claps because they get the reference.

Of course technology being what it is, many of these computer-manufactured films will have errors and bugs. Some may introduce subplots that are unresolved, or a supporting character may be missing in the second half of the film for no reason. In this case, Disney will release no refunds nor apologies. There will just be a statement like: “We regret that our latest film, Uncle Owen’s Garbage Man: A Star Wars Story, was released without an ending or audio from 1:09:47-1:13:08. We hope next months release of AT-ST Pilot Adventure works out better.”

Fans the world over will curse the company, and yet they will continue to fork over their money.

Generations later, war has ended human civilization. Nature begins to reclaim the Earth. But there, in a Disney bunker complex somewhere in northern California, the Star Wars supercomputer lives on, immortal. Directly connected to cinema screens around the world, every few months a new Star Wars movie is released. If an alien visitor were to touch down on the planet and stumble upon a cinema, they might be able to catch Wookie Battle: A Star Wars Story.

Powered by nuclear batteries designed to run on fuel that won’t run out for millions of years, the Star Wars computer lives on as the final tombstone of humankind…

Moving On

Some time ago I promised to write about why I’m dialing down my operations, including this blog (it’s not going away though). That day has come. As I alluded to around the same time, part of the reason has to do with changing employment and focus on other activities such as martial arts and trying to learn screenwriting. In other words, I’m “getting out” of the Russia watching business mainly due to very positive changes in my life. And that is a big relief, because to be honest this business is ugly and I’ve been trying to break out of it almost since the very beginning.

I suppose the main reason for hanging up my spurs is that to be honest, the blog accomplished what it was meant to. I never managed to make a living directly from it, but it got me plenty of work and jobs thanks to the people it reached. Nowadays it seems kind of redundant because while Russia does still come up with the occasional curve ball, it tends to follow the same pattern for long periods of time. When it comes to commentary, there’s very little I can say that I haven’t said before. Yes, my views on these subjects do evolve as more facts become available, but in general things don’t change. And when it comes to breaking news about Russia, I could never hold a candle to a site like Meduza or The Moscow Times. 

Another issue is the tribalism surrounding Russia and especially Ukraine, the latter being “my side,” so to speak. This tribalism is what leads to the phenomenon of taking fire from your own side, because you fail to fully conform to what the tribe demands. This, more than anything else, is the most demoralizing aspect of this business.

In the tribal discourse, you are attacked by your own side for failing to say the right slogans, or questioning certain claims, strategies, tactics, etc. I put special emphasis on the word say here, because for tribalists, whom I have in the past dubbed as cheerleaders or football nationalists for their resemblance to sports fans, all that matters is that you say the right things in public. Actions to back your words are rarely a concern. Whether the slogans or talking points are conducive to a winning strategy is also irrelevant to the tribe. To put it simply, this is magical thinking, whereby engaging in rituals and saying the correct invocations equates to positive results in the real world. And yet while these empty gestures continually fail to achieve real results, the tribe insists that you do not question them, otherwise you are disloyal and working for the other side.

This magical thinking seems to pervade nearly all politics these days. If Trump tweets that the economy is good, then it’s good. If you question that you must be a libcuck who wants to hand out green cards to ISIS fighters. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the 2016 election must have been “stolen” by the Russians, even though nobody has bothered to actually look at the impact of its interference in terms of changing voters’ opinions.* Question that, even if you overtly acknowledge the facts of Russian interference, and you’re an apologist for the Kremlin.

I have little tolerance for such childlike behavior among adults. I do not confuse obstinacy with integrity or moral consistency, just as I do not confuse the world of politics for the world of team sports. If there’s one consistent thread in the positive feedback to this blog over the years, it’s for balance and honesty. Not balance for the sake of balance, mind you, but balance based on evidence and context. This is probably the reason why I’ve managed to attract so many loyal readers whose political worldview differs so greatly from my own. In a world where people increasingly choose their own realities, I have tried to maintain an appreciation for what can be asserted as objectively true.

I’ll continue to post here from time to time, though the content might be very different from what I normally wrote about. Also, I will be looking to write for various publications as well as finally get around to writing my book, something I wasn’t able to do during the roller-coaster years of 2014-2017. The struggle does not end here- I’m merely writing another chapter.

On the Homefront

Long time readers are well aware that when this whole “Russian information warfare” panic kicked off in 2014, I steadfastly insisted that the best remedy to this and other hostile state propaganda was for governments to focus on their own behavior and engage with their own citizens to address grievances and correct past wrongs. The reason for this is very simple. The US government, for example, cannot control what the Kremlin or its proxies such as the “Internet Research Agency” (better known as “the Troll Factory”) do. RT, Sputnik, and dozens of other pro-Kremlin propaganda sites are going to keep spinning their yarns and exporting them abroad. Sure, they can be made to register as foreign agents so they have to disclose their funding and Facebook or Twitter can try to crack down on fake pages and bots, respectively, but ultimately the only person who can stop this activity is Vladimir Putin or someone designated to do so by him, and I see no evidence to suggest this will happen anytime soon. Thus the only thing in the equation that the US government can actually control is its own behavior.

Extrapolating from this, we must admit that the interest in bullshit “alternative news,” whether it is produced in Russia or at home (and to be sure a lot of Russian propaganda is just rehashed, regurgitated American bullshit) is largely driven by actions carried out by the US government in recent decades. Actually it would be better to say it is a result of actions and inactions- actions like invading Iraq and inaction when it comes to helping ordinary Americans struggling with foreclosure, student loans, unemployment and underemployment, healthcare, etc. By addressing both of these issues, the US government could rebuild its credibility after so many foreign policy disasters and rebuild its trust with voters by addressing their needs as opposed to those of the top richest people in the country. But you already see the problem with this, right?

Put simply, it is not in the financial interest of the people who run this country to adopt this view when it comes to countering hostile propaganda. And it is their financial interest that matters above all. It is far easier to just throw a couple bucks at Molly McKew types, whose whole approach centers on loudly screaming about Russian influence and propaganda and producing no actual solutions apart from maybe censorship of certain internet platforms or useless symbolic actions that do nothing to stop the flow of propaganda or reduce its audience. Is there anything that could wake these decision makers up?

Well maybe this will.

It’s a story about a man who was enthusiastically willing to spy for the Russians and was caught by an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian handler after turning over vital technical data about satellite technology. According to the report, suspect Gregory Allen Justice “was assigned to a team working to build and test U.S. military satellites, including projects for the Air Force, Navy, and NASA that involved satellites with communication, navigational, and observational technology. The trade secrets and other technical data he had access to as part of his job related to areas such as satellite operations testing, firmware installed on satellites, and anti-jamming technology.”

Gee that kind of looks like the thing you wouldn’t want a hostile state to get their hands on! Why would Mr. Justice do such a thing?!

Justice explained to his “handler” that his motivation for his activities was to pay his wife’s medical bills (and indeed, our investigation revealed that his wife was suffering from a variety of medical issues and he had told her she had to cancel some of her appointments). But our investigation also revealed that the $3,500 Justice received—plus approximately $20,000 of his own money—went toward gifts of cash and merchandise for an online girlfriend he had never met in person.

As we see here, Mr. Justice’s claim about paying for his wife’s medical bills was just a lie. But something like this could just as easily be true for many Americans. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, people do not simply give up and die most of the time. Desperation leads to desperate measures, and the next contractor who’s being crushed by medical bills, mortgage debt, or student loans might be inclined to do some work for a hostile foreign power in exchange for relief. In this case, the FBI was doubly lucky- that their undercover agent reached him first, and that the guy was apparently in love with some kind of cam girl or email scammer.

So if we’re looking at ways the US government can engage with citizens and prevent them from selling their services to hostile foreign powers in order to keep their heads above water, what could they possibly do to prevent a real case of espionage driven by medical bills. Yes…What is to be done? What could we possibly do about that?

 

Problem solved.

Letting the Chips Fall

In debates over healthcare it is not uncommon to hear both mainstream conservatives and “libertarians” insist that healthcare is not right, and therefore those who cannot afford it are shit out of luck.

Some of these folks don’t even shy away from coming out and saying “let them die.”

 

Of course this is an immoral worldview, but conservatives have a wide variety of excuses for peddling it. In general, they will defend their claims with vague references to “freedom” and “personal responsibility,” often rationalizing letting fellow Americans die by essentially writing mental fan fiction whereby those poor Americans become undeserving. They’re lazy, they have too many kids, etc. Hey whatever helps you sleep at night, right?

But there’s another problem with the whole “let ’em die” attitude, and it extends beyond the realm of healthcare into the broader question of the welfare state itself. As it turns out, we do have historical experience with societies that lacked any sort of significant welfare state. Sadly, there are few Americans alive today who can personally remember that era, and Americans in general have next to no understanding of the Gilded Era. And Victorian Britain? Forget about it.

The important lesson we can get from the history of such times and places is that the sink-or-swim, let ’em die attitude simply does not work, because as it turns out, people really prefer living to dying. To see what I’m getting at, we must first envision how the conservative attitude plays out in their own heads.

In the conservative worldview, the government doesn’t waste money on helping unemployed people or those who need healthcare and can’t afford private insurance (or the prices hospitals arbitrarily set in collaboration with said insurance companies).

 

This, of course, is supposed to lead to lower taxes, making the government run more efficiently! More Americans get to keep more of their paychecks, and businessmen feel so generous that they create more jobs and raise wages. People who are poor, knowing there is no safety net, have an incentive to work hard and be extra productive, and if they do not- they’re screwed and it’s all their own fault. There’s an element of social Darwinism to it, because the lazy and inept get culled from the herd.

The only problem with this, however, is that in real life people aren’t poor due to their personal decisions or qualities but rather due to the fluctuations of the labor market, commodity prices, injuries or illnesses, generational poverty, sudden divorces, etc. More importantly, nobody who suddenly comes down with an illness or whose relative does simply throws up their hands and says: “Well I guess I should have worked harder so I could have afforded healthcare!” Same thing when it comes to food and shelter. People fight, unsuccessfully perhaps, but they fight nonetheless to survive.

Have you ever noticed how developing countries often tend to have problems with crime of all sorts in their major urban centers? When society orients itself to serve the super-rich and upper-middle class with no significant concern for the poor population, the latter doesn’t just go off into the forest or desert to die. They eke out a living in slums or favelas and they survive. That being said, these areas tend to be rife with crime, crime which can often claim victims among the middle and upper classes. So it was with urban centers in the United States for decades. Ditto Victorian Britain. Same with Moscow in the “Wild 90’s” or some parts of Ukraine these days.

The main takeaway here is that the cost of a laissez faire, “let ’em die” society far outweighs almost any form of bureaucratic welfare state. Most Americans don’t know shit about how their own welfare system works (or doesn’t) anyway, but what’s worse is that they have no idea what happens if you got rid of what’s left of the system. In their mind they put away that extra money they save in taxes and start their own business. In reality, whole areas of cities if not cities themselves turn into dens of crime and murder, the very thing that conservatives are constantly in fear of. If you deny people the ability to survive and get ahead via legal means, a certain portion of them will inevitably take what they need by any means necessary.

This is why the whole debate about healthcare and welfare needs to change. It’s not about “caring for the poor” or being compassionate. To be sure it is about those things on a certain level, but that doesn’t do enough to drive home the imperative. These things must be properly portrayed as an investment in America and its society, an investment in the American people. And this investment is necessary because without it, there is an alternative too terrible to consider and there is precedent to back that up (for this I highly recommend getting this book). Even if someone wants to stick by their immoral position that the poor or those who can’t otherwise afford healthcare should be left to their own devices, this degenerate person should be reminded that their ideal scenario would not play out in the real world the way it does in their head, and for that reason alone their proposal must be dismissed as utterly unworkable.

It matters not what you think these healthcare or welfare recipients are like or whether you think their decisions in life are the right ones. For one thing, you don’t actually know their situation, and what is far more important is that this person or their relatives aren’t driven to carjack you one day because they lack access to the basic necessities of life. If you value wagging your finger at hypothetical “unworthy” poor people you imagined in your head (and a lot of Americans tend to picture that person incorrectly) more than you value living in a developed country with a healthy society, well then perhaps you’re the one whose expendable.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

So recently I read this piece about Glenn Greenwald. Personally I’ve never had much of an opinion about the guy, but I think this description near the beginning of the article kind of sums him up:

Greenwald is predisposed to righteous posturing and contrarian eye-poking — and reflexively more skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community than of those it tells us to see as “enemies.”

The thing about Glenn though, is that when you look at his complaints about the Russiagate scandal, they’re not terribly irrational. Here’s his quote on the subject:

“When Trump becomes the starting point and ending point for how we talk about American politics, [we] don’t end up talking about the fundamental ways the American political and economic and cultural system are completely fucked for huge numbers of Americans who voted for Trump for that reason,” he says. “We don’t talk about all the ways the Democratic Party is a complete fucking disaster and a corrupt, sleazy sewer, and not an adequate alternative to this far-right movement that’s taking over American politics.”

This is entirely fair and in many ways mirrors my own position on the subject. What I don’t get though, is why he, like some other commentators, has to constantly leap to Russia’s defense the second anyone mentions anything related to Russiagate?

What exactly is the harm in acknowledging that there are other governments out there which do bad, and occasionally worse things than your own? What is he afraid is going to happen? If he admits that yes, Russia did act to negatively influence our domestic politics, does he fear that he’ll suddenly be on the cover of TIME  magazine as America’s newest neocon pundit? Does he think that some neocon cabal is just waiting for him to say something they can use to greenlight their secret plan to invade Syria and Russia simultaneously?

Realistically this is much bigger than Glenn Greenwald. I think this case just speaks to a larger problem of tribalism in politics, and the fear that any concession will be seen as weakness. To be fair, it’s not just an irrational fear. In the information space today, concession can be capitalized upon by bad actors to “win” internet debates. This video gives an example of how this works:

 

Going all-in on offense has a proven track record, especially today. But you also sometimes have to ask who these arguments are actually convincing. Alt-right and “anti-SJW” Youtubers have managed to garner large audiences by using this tactic, but who are they really getting? I’d reckon the majority are teenage to early twenty-something males who are gullible enough to be duped by endless videos telling them that Anita Sarkeesian is going to ruin their precious video games by lobbying the government to require all video game protagonists to be mixed-race body-positive females with colored hair. Of course Fox News has also managed to do well with a certain demographic- old people who are going to die soon.

My point is that integrity and consistency may also have qualities of their own, and even better- attract better, more reliable people. I realize it’s easy to be pessimistic these days, but at the same time the overwhelming fakeness of our politics these days, coupled with the polarized tribalism, may eventually reach a peak where increasing numbers of people start to rebel against joining a tribe and parroting one line in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Of course what would I know? I’m no where near as successful as Glenn Greenwald. But on the other hand I’ve often been complimented for my balance and objectivity, even by people who strongly disagree with my politics. A lot of my friends and colleagues are also praised for their refusal to join a team. Hopefully in the future, more people burnt out on tribal politics will start seeking out nuance, if only to escape the cynicism of those dead-end politics.

 

The Last Jedi Without BS (Spoilers)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been called the most polarizing Star Wars movie to date. At least I’m pretty sure I’ve seen someone say this on the internet. It is undeniable that people seem to either really love or hate this film, or perhaps people with access to publishing platforms or who just happen to be unbearable loudmouths do. However, it has got bad reviews from some pretty serious voices (at least serious to me) like Red Letter Media:

 

Over Twitter and Facebook I have gradually spooned out a few opinions on it, but I never got around to writing a full review. Well the day of judgment has come. Here is my Last Jedi review.

Summary

If you want my short opinion with no analysis, here it is. I would say that Last Jedi is a film that tried to do bold things and break with some of Star Wars’ sequel/prequel weaknesses such as fan service and rehashing plot points from the more acclaimed originals. However, these bold moves are somewhat mitigated by some really dumb ones, although I wouldn’t say they ruin the movie. If you think about it, there are some really dumb things even in the original trilogy, but they don’t necessarily wreck the entire plot. The dumb things in Last Jedi are awkward and cause issues with pacing but I don’t see them destroying the overall story arc or ruining anything like the prequels or Rogue One did.

 

Proper thorough review (Spoily bois ahead)

I’m just going to jump into this with a pros versus cons approach, starting with what I liked.

The Good

First off the bat is porgs. Porgs are awesome. Porgs are life. If you don’t like porgs there is something fundamentally wrong with you. No, they didn’t become the new Ewoks. They were mostly benign and used sparingly. I can forgive Chewbacca for roasting one porg and seeing the error of his ways, but if he harms one more he’s done. Yeah I know wookies can pull arms out of sockets, but can he fight on the ground? Probably not. Ninety-five percent of fights go to the ground, Chewie.

 

Moving on to main positive points, I like the way the movie tried to break with traditions and formulas. The biggest complaint about The Force Awakens was that it was a direct copy of A New Hope. You can’t really make similar accusations against Last Jedi; it is genuinely different from other Star Wars films. Of course what was different in this film wasn’t always necessarily good, but here I’d like to concentrate on what I feel worked.

For me, the best innovation here was the theme of letting go of the past, even killing it if necessary. Believe me, when your whole life revolves around Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe, the idea of killing the past is veeeeery attractive. One of the biggest problems with modern Star Wars is of course fan service. I’ve already mentioned TFA, but some people felt that Rogue One  was nothing but fan service as well. The prequels can also be looked at as fan service in the way they incorporate characters from the original trilogy that never needed to be involved in that story. Why, for example, does Boba Fett (a young clone of his father Jengo) have to be involved with such a monumental event in the history of the Republic? Remember how we meet Boba Fett in Empire? He’s there with a bunch of other bounty hunters. He’s not singled out except when Vader tells him “No disintegration.” Is that how you’d treat the son of the guy whose DNA built the whole clone army that you used to fight with for years?

Some of the complaints about Last Jedi are basically whining about how different everything is. “But Luke Skywalker is old and cynical and he’s not heroic anymore!” Excuse me what did you expect? Was he supposed to hop in his X-Wing and take out the First Order forces with a well-placed pair of proton torpedoes? Wasn’t copying things from A New Hope the reason you whined about Force Awakens?

Luke being cynical and jaded makes perfect sense. He was involved in this great victory and tried to continue his study of the Jedi arts. Meanwhile the remnants of the Empire pretty much swept right back into power and his student, his own nephew and son of his best friend, got seduced by the dark side on his watch. He was on top of the world and through arrogance or some other failing he managed to fail at the most important thing in his life, you know- like Obi-Wan failed with his father? Yeah I’d get a bit cynical after that too, especially if I had to live on an island drinking blue milk. If you want happy-go-lucky Luke Skywalker, go watch the first film.

The biggest advocate of slaying the past is, in this film, at least, Kylo Ren, who literally voices this exact concept. Indeed he does “kill the past” when he kills Snoke (Spoily boi!). If you were expecting the series to be exactly like the original trilogy with the older Emperor and his younger apprentice, Kylo subverted that expectation for better or for worse. He does invite Rey to join him similar to Vader in Empire, but it’s not entirely clear what he wants to rule over or how. He wants the resistance gone because it’s part of that past, a past of never-ending war, but it seems like he has radical plans for the First Order as well.

Now I can’t bring up killing Snoke and the scene with Kylo and Rey together without mentioning how many people were pissed off about this. First there’s the killing of Snoke with no explanation as to who he is or why he’s so powerful. A counter-argument to that is “Well the original trilogy just introduced the Emperor with no backstory or explanation of his powers and you bought that just fine!” Let me just say that both sides have compelling arguments here. I was a bit taken aback by Snoke’s death. It would have been nice to get at least some explanation as to his backstory or how he got to be so powerful. I really don’t care if he came from the original trilogy or the prequels, but we’re introduced to this extremely powerful dark side force-user who has somehow become leading this First Order and we know nothing about him. What’s worse is that since he’s dead, we’ll probably never find out what his deal is.

As for comparisons with the original trilogy Emperor, yeah this argument works at first glance. Hell, the name “Palpatine” is never uttered in the original trilogy. On the other hand, from the first film we know there’s an Empire, and Empires are typically headed by Emperors and Empresses. We were expecting an Emperor. When he finally, appeared it didn’t matter too much for the story. We already knew the Empire exists. When he revealed his powers we didn’t need any explanation. It was clear he was in tune with the dark side, he was senior to Vader and obviously much older. He also looked like an evil wizard and he clearly wasn’t carrying a light saber, so while some people might have been surprised to see him turn on the lightning, it wasn’t breaking any rules of the universe, nor was it inexplicable or confusing. What else would he do?

Snoke is a character for an entirely different era, an era in which Star Wars is this massive expanded universe based upon a foundation of six films. Backstories became a thing as soon as the first prequel dropped (dropped being a very good word for it). Remember the original Star Wars was never intended to be part of a trilogy. They “save” Vader strictly to leave the possibility of a sequel open but other than that it’s a standalone story. More importantly, that film came from an era when movie plots were much less complex and it was also inspired largely by the Second World War, a struggle which many people of the time saw in very simplistic, black-and-white terms. There’s nothing particularly subtle about the A New Hope– the good guy and the princess wear all white while Vader is in all black and the rest of the bad guys dress like space Nazis.

So to sum up that point- yeah, it kind of sucks that we get no Snoke backstory, if only because it would also form part of a rise of the First Order backstory. But this is counter-balanced by the fact that the series trope of master and apprentice, emperor and enforcer, is quite literally slain.

Now the other element of this scene that led to serious butt fury was Kylo telling Rey that her parents were nothing but dirt farmers who sold her for booze money. I find this complaint amusing because one of the biggest gripes against the prequels was midichlorians and the implication that your sensitivity to the force has a lot to do with your bloodline, since, you know, midichlorians are in your blood, like antibodies or the HIV virus. Thus Lucas had supposedly “ruined” many a childhood because some die hard fans fell in love with the idea that anyone could attune themselves to the force, whereas George was reducing it to some physical, quantifiable thing. And yeah, I get that. Midichlorians are dumb. But The Last Jedi’s reveal about Rey’s parents subverts that very idea.

When Force Awakens came out, I heard a lot of speculation about Rey and how she just had to be Luke’s long lost daughter. And to be fair that kind of made sense. She seemed to have a connection to him and was very adept at the force almost immediately. Now, if we are to trust Kylo’s word (and why would we do that, exactly?) Rey’s bloodline is, in itself, entirely worthless. Everything she’s done she has done on her own, through belief, will, and so forth. Isn’t that cool? Is it at least interesting? Don’t you want to find out just why she is so talented with the force?

And as I alluded to above, I must ask why fans are so adamant about taking Kylo’s claim at face value. Remember, this scene takes place as he’s asking Rey to join him, to rule the galaxy, and of course let go of the past. Don’t you think he might just be lying to manipulate her? How would he even know about her parents? The force? Or what if he knows that her parents are really important people and thus is definitely lying because he’s sure she would refuse his offer if she knew the truth?

I should also point out that I’ve read or heard somewhere that J.J. Abrams never had any particular plan for Snoke’s backstory or Rey’s parents. If correct, he basically just passed the buck to Rian Johnson. Maybe Johnson just didn’t want that burden and thus felt forced to either come up with a half-assed backstory (which probably would have angered some fans anyway) or just do away with both threads entirely.

To wrap up this point, I would say that I can get over my disappointment in regards to Snoke, and I have no investment in Rey’s parents. If they turn out to be dirt farmers it just means that Rey is special for other reasons that we will discover later. Or maybe we’ll find out Kylo was lying and her parents are in fact very important. No need to declare the film heresy over this.

And while we’re speaking about characters, Kylo really shines in this film. As I said earlier, Star Wars tends to revolve around very black-and-white villains and protagonists. But in this movie Kylo is a mystery. Is he turning good? No? But he turns against Snoke, right? Does that mean he’s good? Oh no- it doesn’t. But he’s “bad” in his own way. In other words, we spend a fair bit of this film trying to figure out which way Kylo is going to go. Having his story about Jedi training with Luke differ from Luke’s own narrative was also interesting. Here we have a follower of the dark side suggesting to us that we might not be entirely able to trust Luke Skywalker, which would be a novel concept.

To conclude the overall topic of breaking with the past I also don’t buy the complaints about Skywalker wanting to see the Jedi die out. To fans that seems inexplicable, but it’s very believable when you think about it. As others have pointed out, the Jedi aren’t so great. Their whole order got duped and nearly wiped out by villains who were often right under their noses. They were dicking around teaching younglings how to block lasers with tiny light sabers while the clone army was being built. They thought Sith Lord Count Dooku was just a “political idealist” even though he was a guy wearing all black played by Christopher Lee. If you can rescue any coherent, genuinely interesting plot out of the prequels, it’s that the Jedi Order got complacent and weak, leading to their downfall.

And what a downfall it was. Remember that Anakin Skywalker turning to the dark side in many ways basically led to the rise of the Empire, which in turn would lead to the destruction of an entire planet. Luke knows all about that. If he was wrong about Kylo, you could imagine that he was just afraid of unleashing another Sith on the galaxy. He knew full well what that could lead to (plus the First Order also nuked a few planets into dust so Luke would have been right).

We are now entering an era when we can expect to see two Star Wars feature films released every year. Think about that for a second. Personally I think it’s a huge mistake that is going to eventually wreck the brand by flooding the market. I’d like to think that Johnson or someone else in charge has figured out that Star Wars will need to evolve in order to survive. We can’t just have more Sith lords battling Jedi knights with light sabers, bigger and bigger Death Stars, and AT-AT walkers with six legs or something. The format of a Star Wars movie must change, and to be fair Rian Johnson definitely took big risks. The whole space chase thing was kind of weird, but very original for this sort of film.

I respect Johnson’s boldness in this film. It was a big risk and some of it doesn’t pay off so well, but some director had to do it eventually. If you can’t handle it, just stick with your original trilogy.

The Bad

Before I get into this part, I have to point out one thing that kind of ruined my viewing experience. When I got to the cinema there was only one seat available, right in front of the screen on the far right of the theatre. In other words, literally the worst seat you could have. I went with it because the showing was kind of late and I didn’t have any other plans but I almost immediately came to regret that decision. Apart from the extreme discomfort, things on the left side of the screen get very distorted. Obviously you can appreciate a film visually a lot more if you are sitting comfortably with a full view of the screen.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about what didn’t work. I think I’ll start in a sort of semi-chronological order here, which means I’m going to have to call out what I felt was a significant plot problem in the opening text crawl.

It may not seem too crucial to the film, but the text crawl, at least for me, reveals a problem with the overall narrative. Basically the overarching plot doesn’t resemble a war. At the end of Return of the Jedi, the Emperor and Vader are both dead. Second Death Star is destroyed. For some reason this immediately leads to the collapse of the Empire if you’re watching Lucas’ special edition. Thirty years later, the First Order is so powerful it has a “Resistance” against it (you think the Resistance would just be the Republic), and they are in possession of a weapon much stronger than the original Death Star. So far not too bad- they had thirty years after all. Hitler rebuilt the German war machine in about twenty. But at the end of Force Awakens the First Order has taken a serious blow and lost their superweapon. Of course they could still recover, but the opening text crawl in Last Jedi tells us they did that and much more. They’ve basically reduced the fighting rebels to a force that fits on a small armada of ships, and by the end of the movie the entire movement fits on the Millennium Falcon. And all that happens after the First Order loses yet another capital ship in the beginning of the movie.

Suffice to say this is not how wars tend to go. About a week before the Red Army’s counter-offensive at Stalingrad, the Germans had suffered a decisive defeat at El Alamein in North Africa. Then they lost at Stalingrad the next year, in the spring they lost in Tunisia, they lost Kursk, then Sicily, and so on. While the Germans were occasionally able to mount counter-offensives and on some occasions even recapture some territory on both fronts, 1942 was a turning point from which they could not fully recover, and then it was all downhill from there. But with the First Order it’s as if they fail upwards.

Moving on from the text crawl, I have to say that the scene with Poe in his X-Wing “prank calling” the First Order was a little bit too funny, too soon. It created a tone problem especially when it’s followed up with a battle where dozens and eventually hundreds of people get killed. Humor in Star Wars is usually witty dialogue, rejoinders, etc. This was different. This was a bit.

Also it’s rather strange seeing him just floating in front of a heavily armed starship during this scene. You would think that in the First Order officer’s academy there would be a lot of required reading about the Battle of Yavin, when a single X-Wing was able to blow up the Death Star due to it being designed to withstand a large starfleet attack. You would think that in thirty years the First Order’s designers would devote a lot of attention to developing defensive systems that would protect large ships from small fighters.

Moving on- yes, Leia’s survival in space was kind of dumb. I don’t usually complain about physics or science in Star Wars. It is pointless to do so. Ignoring that there’s no sound in space, every time you see a spaceship in Star Wars do a banking turn or anything else like a fighter jet- that is completely wrong. You can’t maneuver a space craft that way. For me, Star Wars is a series where you ignore all the laws of physics and relatively. In a way you could say it’s more comparable to fantasy than sci-fi. Or you could call it sci-fi fantasy. The fantasy element is basically stuff not working the way it usually would according to the laws of physics. But still, Leia’s survival was pushing it. One way or another, this should have been the film where she died, because after all, she did die. That scene with the bridge getting blown up would have been a perfect spot to end the character, with dignity.

Now we get to one of the most annoying parts of the film. Since Force Awakens there has been a tradition of alt-right losers loudly declaring that “the SJWs have ruined Star Wars!” Some of them were so angry that they apparently made an edit which literally removes every major female character from the film. I have no idea how they managed to do that and keep anything resembling a coherent story. It reminds me of this time I saw a Mormon video rental store which had titles such as Die Hard and The Usual Suspects in it. Such movies couldn’t possibly make sense if you edited out all the profanity, extreme violence, etc.

Obviously the “anti-SJW” crowd is full of shit, but I think it’s hard to pretend that pandering, corporate feminism didn’t have an influence on at least part of the film. Yes, you probably guessed I’m speaking about Holdo (Laura Dern) and Poe. Vanity Fair praised this interaction, pointing out that Poe is a brash shitbag who gets lots of rebels killed because he doesn’t follow orders, whereas Holdo is a strong woman in authority who knows what she’s doing, just like a certain real woman who is referenced later in the article!

I’m very sorry but while Leia was totally justified in criticizing and demoting Poe, the Poe/Holdo interaction is incredibly stupid. Holdo withholds vital information from a subordinate and deliberately makes herself look incompetent during a crisis situation. When someone is asking about a plan and the commanding officer can’t offer any answers, it looks like they’ve frozen up. Anyone remember this scene from Band of Brothers?

 

Now I’ve seen some people defend Holdo by saying that she didn’t need to tell him the plan since he fucked up and got demoted. Sorry but no- competent leaders brief their subordinates about the mission. Sure, Poe went off on a wild goose chase that got more people killed, but he only did that because the person who was in charge, the person who was supposed to have a plan, deliberately pretended not to have any plan at all. And that same person actually told almost everybody else on the ship about the plan, possibly before that same scene where Poe is asking her what her plan is. What possible good reason would there be to keep the plan only from Poe and a few of his compatriots while telling literally everyone else? When the plan is actually enacted, he’s not too opposed to it.  Again, he went off and did his own thing because the person in charge feigned total incompetence.

This isn’t feminism; it’s corporate, liberal, pandering feminism. It’s the type of feminism that sees progress as female ICE agents kicking down doors and dragging family members away or female CEOs in charge of tech firms that work their no-benefits employees 80 hours a week and deny them bathroom breaks for minimum wage. In this case, women and girls are supposed to look up to the idea of being an unaccountable authority figure who is not to be questioned. What a great message!

Here’s a tip, Disney. If you want a positive message for girls, young women, and pretty much anyone, cast the scene differently. Have an old male officer demanding deference to his by-the-book, cookie-cutter plan, perhaps one that’s already been tried and failed before. Then you have a young female  character challenge him using logic, which is contrasted with his conventional, outmoded thinking. You get two messages in one- don’t automatically defer to authority; think for yourself, and if you’re a girl don’t be afraid to question a confident man. Instead what we got in this movie is “Hey guys, if a woman is in a position of authority just shut up and do what she says even if she appears to be utterly incompetent. Listen to mother!”

The same scene could have been better written even if we use the same characters. Holdo could reveal her plan, and Poe could argue about it or whatever reason you can come up with. Holdo makes rational, cogent arguments, but Poe is too wreckless and up his own ass to pay attention. Then he gets a bunch of people killed the same way he does in the actual movie, and we expect Holdo to say “I told you so” right before she kamikazes that First Order ship, but instead she says something that makes Poe see the error of his ways while retaining the high ground. Poe is changed. Arc achieved.

In conclusion on this point, no, feminism is not ruining movies. What’s happening is monopolistic corporations see a marketing angle. First, you pander to the feminist side by acting like every female role in your film is a blow to the patriarchy. Some marketing that portrays your movie as having a “girl power” message helps as well (see Wonder Woman). What this inevitably does is create volcanoes of buttrage from the internet’s alt-right/Nazi/incel/MRA/human refuse population. Now you use the male backlash to garner more support from pro-feminist people, who will want to see your film more and maybe even convince themselves that they like it just to spite the fedora-wearing demographic. I’m not saying this is specifically the case with The Last Jedi, but the whole Holdo/Poe conflict really seems to have been influenced by this kind of underhanded marketing strategy. And if you think this isn’t really a thing, check out this trailer to the last Transformers film:

 

I have listened to reviews that say this girl barely has any role in the film, meaning that whole “fight like a girl” thing in the trailer was almost certainly an attempt at pandering to feminism…by Michael Bay…the man who in the same series of films would often shoot scenes with Megan Fox from practically inside her vagina. Girl power, indeed, Mr. Bay.

Next on the bad list we have the infamous Casino Night Zone scene. The biggest complaint I’ve seen in connection with this is about pacing. I totally agree. I’d describe it this way- here we’ve got the rebels running from the First Order. It’s a chase. Then they decide to send some people to another planet to get this guy and somehow catch up with the space ships that were chasing each other presumably at top speed the whole time. The movie already establishes that fuel is an issue and that the ships go different speeds. Just imagine a film with a car chase where two characters bail out of the escaping car to go do something else, then they have to somehow get back to the car chase. It would be weird. It’s weird in this movie.

Another thing that sucks about the Casino Night Zone scene is that Rose and Finn don’t really accomplish anything here. They bumble their way through the whole thing and only manage to get lucky because the code-breaker they need happens to be in the jail at the same time. What about the guy they were initially looking for and seem to find? Nah, forget him. They just get caught and either the guy they’re looking for is already in jail or there just happens to be another master code-breaker in this place. Okay.

As bis as these problems are, the Casino Night Zone scene did bring up some interesting points. I liked the idea that there was a class of people profiting off of the sale of weapons to both sides. I like the idea of someone challenging the idea that the Rebellion is inherently good. This is breaking with the past, with simple black-and-white good-and-evil storytelling. It would be good if they could follow up on this, like show how the lack of a legitimate Empire or Republic has led to chaos in the galaxy that is fueled by a 90’s Somalia-like glut of arms. The most awesome thing I could think of is the Rebellion turning evil, perhaps forcing Rey and Kylo to really join together to bring it and the First Order down for good, perhaps solving the galactic governance problem via Abdullah Ocalan’s ideology of Democratic Confederalism.

apo

‘Help me, Ocalan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!’

All that having been said, this all could have been executed better. It really did hurt the pacing.

Next I’ve got to talk about Rose. I don’t really understand Rose hate. She’s fine. The only sticking point is that she does something really, really dumb near the end of the film. You probably already guessed if you’ve already seen the film. Finn is about to do something incredibly heroic, just like Holdo. Actually he’s more heroic than Holdo because Holdo lets several transports get blown to pieces before she finally decides to go Mohammed Atta on the First Order’s flagship. Finn, however, sees what he must do and aims his speeder at the giant cannon, only to be knocked out of the way by Rose in her speeder. I’m sorry but that’s a total dick move, Rose. Finn is a soldier, only he gets to make that decision to self-sacrifice or not. Watch Four Lions some time. But the worst thing about it is that there was no guarantee that her crashing into his speeder would have saved him as she intended. They could have both been killed, or just disabled so he couldn’t do anything. Basically she could have brought the worst of both worlds. This was dumb. There’s no other way to say it.

rose

Luckily, Rose survived her incredibly stupid deed, so perhaps she’ll be able to redeem herself in the sequel.

Conclusion

Weighing my pros and cons here, a certain big picture develops. It may seem from this review that the good and bad either balance out, the latter outweighs the former. But there is a major qualitative, not quantitative difference between the positive and negative aspects of this film. True, the things that are dumb are really glaring. That’s what dumb things in movies do- they stick out, knock you out of the film, confuse you, anger you, and so on. But the positive aspects of this film have more depth and substance, and they cannot be easily torn down by a character’s stupid action or a half-assed attempt to appear woke.

The theme of change, evolution, breaking with the past is intriguing as it necessary if Star Wars is to avoid stagnation as we approach full year-round Star Wars saturation. With the Luke and the Jedi sacred texts gone, with the Rebellion whittled down to a handful of people, everything must begin anew. Rian Johnson has removed the audience’s floaties and tossed them into the deep end. This series isn’t going to be neatly wrapped up by Luke Skywalker suddenly dropping in and saving the day by taking out everyone with a light saber.

Of course this film does set up a very difficult task for the next director. With the Rebellion in such dire straits, its hard to imagine how the next film will tie up all the loose ends. Perhaps the Rebel message to the galaxy, which seemed to garner no support, was in fact well-received, and the First Order will suddenly face a massive revolt in every system. Maybe there will be a split within the First Order. Perhaps, due to some understanding between Rey and Kylo, the First Order and the remnants  of the Rebellion will team up against the real threat- the arms dealers who have been growing fat off the war and could have been using the profits to start a new political faction…like…some kind of federation…that is based on trade. A Trade Federation, if you will. But seriously, this film’s conclusion means the sequel’s director will have their work cut out for them, but it might also free them up to do something really revolutionary. Hopefully Rian Johnson will be working with closely with J.J. Abrams on Episode IX in order to tie up everything in an epic way. Of course knowing Star Wars fans, we might see another wave of buttrage at that film too. I’m sure there are many people who, upon seeing Last Jedi and hating it, cynically concluded that this series is already dead in the water and nothing can redeem it. I have some advice for such viewers.

You will never see a Star Wars film that recaptures the magic of the first films you saw as a child. Never. You’re an adult in an increasingly ugly world. You are simply chasing the dragon. At your age magical feelings don’t come from space fantasy movies. They should come from things like the birth of your first child, passionate sexual encounters, scenes of incredible humanity in the midst of war, petting a really nice dog, eating a delicious burrito, or owning people on Twitter.

anakin

One day you’ll try to introduce your kids to the original trilogy, and they may very well think it’s lame. They may think The Phantom Menace is awesome and you’ll seriously considered abandoning them in the woods across state lines, but you’ll have to face the fact that time, technology, and generations change. In a few years there will be over a dozen feature-length Star Wars films in existence, not to mention the countless comic books, video games, TV shows, and novelizations. If you truly love this series so much you’ll learn to enjoy the the stories you love and just ignore the ones that are mediocre or just disastrous. You don’t have to let other films or stories ruin the ones you love just because some nerds accept them as “canon.” Canon is essentially religious dogma. Let go of the past. Kill it, if you have to.

Some people have been ranking Last Jedi in the whole series so far, and this is something I can’t possibly do. I don’t think it can beat any of the original trilogy; it’s definitely not “the best since Empire Strikes Back,” but I’d definitely put it above any prequel film. I say that Force Awakens and Last Jedi  cannot possibly be worse than the prequels because the prequels (including Rogue One) actually undermine the original trilogy, whereas anything that happens after that doesn’t necessarily mess with that story line. If you don’t like the new films you can just act like Star Wars ended with Return of the Jedi and go on and enjoy the books, comics, or video games.

Of course my own opinion on the best Star Wars film has changed radically in recent months. Whereas up til then I would say for me it’s a toss up between the original New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, now I’ve come to realize that the greatest Star Wars film currently in existence is, of course, Star War the Third Gather: Backstroke of the West. Get your popcorn and watch the whole masterpiece right here!