One of the strongest indications of creative decline is repetition. Men and women may be equal under the law, but they are not all born equal in creativity and talent. Add stifling cultural conformity in that mix, and you get the deadliest combination of repetitive and unending garbage.
The storyline seems familiar, the jokes don’t make you laugh, the characters prompt a pitiful disdain, and by the third act, your mind quietly deviates to the clothes you forgot to take out from the washing machine back home. Yet you persevere, for that one single hope of finding a little spark of nostalgia from your childhood.
Hope, as Thucydides said, is an expensive commodity. For me, an early thirties straight man taking an afternoon off from work to watch a quick screening of “The Rise of The Skywalkers,” it was also an emotionally taxing effort, not to mention the over-caramelized popcorn only worth buying because it prompted a question for which I am still seeking an answer (more on that later).
Before I start, mes amis, a warning of sorts, for “here there be spoilers.” For those of you who have already seen it, I sympathize. For the rest who are here to read, you’re welcome, I am probably saving you some cash and, more importantly, time.
The story starts around a year after the second film of this particular, but by no means defining, trilogy, and the characters are promptly re-introduced. There’s a chubby ex-stormtrooper called Finn, with a British accent, who is now reformed and one of the good guys. There’s an Asian girl, Rose, who maintains the expression of a person who is suffering from a hauntingly painful betrayal of her dog eating all the turkey before Thanksgiving dinner.
There’s a hothead fighter pilot named Poe, who has gained a bit of timber since we last saw him. Then an emo villain, Kylo, who is secretly a weepy little good guy, as all emos secretly are, but one who always looks like he is about to burst three arteries trying to look intense.
Of course, since it’s 2019, there’s our heroine (or “shero,” whatever tickles your fancy) Rey, who is near flawless. She’s breathtaking, brave but vulnerable, straight-spined when needed, strong, and has the superhuman physical capacity of doing what grizzled middle-aged Marines would fail to do in their best mornings. Perhaps she has the force with her, or perhaps she has the hereditary bloodline, who knows. Hold that subversive thought!
There are also cameos of Han Solo, and Leia and Luke (Carrie Fisher in some terrific CGI wizardry), and the best part of the film, the ever-smooooove Billy Dee Williams. Between him and Carl Weathers in “The Mandalorian,” one can almost feel a tinge of sadness for the glorious ’80s heroes and villains. Whatever happened to our society, when the two granddads have more suave charm and masculine charisma than any of our current protagonists? Compare Daniel Craig to Sir Roger Moore, and you get the idea. Something is truly lost.
Our protagonists find themselves facing an old adversary returning to form. The Emperor Palpatine is alive. Yes, it appears that the old Scot with a grave accent has been behind all the machinations. This was the first of the many “what the…” moments, as it felt like cheating.
One of the reason the original trilogy was successful was its build-up behind the story arc of Palpatine and Vader, not to mention the two very different forms of heroism, the stoic Luke and the rakish Han. This story felt like a student who forgot to study the quotes of a history textbook, and started every answer with “a wise man once said” before making stuff up.
Emperor Palpatine apparently had been behind the new First Order group, and it is still not clear whether they are the insurgents or the empire, as they behave both as insurgents against the galactic remnants of the new republic led by Generalissimo Leia (note the Peronist undertone), as well as imperial when confronted by our rebels, the good guys. It’s all sort of post-modern like gender, almost similar to how in 2019 you can pretend to be a woman in the morning and a porcupine during the night.
The rest is all linear. Our monochromatic rebels have to find the imperial base, which is somehow hiding like rebels would, and destroy the emperor “once and for all,” which means in Hollywood until a new trilogy, and which, as anyone who has seen the original series will know, goes exactly as it is supposed to be. There are no serious deaths; this is a Disney flick. Even a droid who gets his memory erased after a prolonged separation scene (which means death in droid speak) gets his memory restored by another droid.
This is a story for the “everybody’s a winner” generation. There are a lot of lightsaber duels between the emo and the shero with questionable footwork and absurd laws of physics and gravity, which then happen some more, and then some more, every 15 minutes, and from which the shero escapes every time, leaving the emo to burst some more arteries looking intense, until you lose count.
There’s always “help and hope at hand” for our protagonists in every tough situation, which meant the story writers had an ample supply of weed to make stuff up whenever they had to fill up a plot hole. There’s the typical battle prep peroration filled with as many clichés as you could muster, but since the all-important the scene was undercut with various other scenes, it failed to have the blood rising to temples effect of Aragorn calling men to be men.
Also, men rising up, to turn to savagery to save civilization? What are we expecting, a reactionary Tolkien? There will be speeches in the future to lead men to war, but today was not that day.
There are so many peripheral characters, like the sartorially superlative Richard E. Grant completely wasted as space Goebbels General Pryde, that you almost feel sympathetic for the empire, at least because they had a better sense of style. And since nothing ever truly ends, the end leads to a window of opportunity for another trilogy regurgitating another Manichean struggle in another universe in some other timeline.
This brings me back to my original question: Is this how the Soviet film directors, thespians, and story writers felt in the craven and stagnated late-1980s Moscow? See, Maxim Gorky was a brilliant author, who wrote about toppling the authoritarian superstructure in the early decades of the twentieth century, but in the last decade of the Soviet rule, the authoritarian superstructure was the erstwhile rebels.
The roles were reversed. Hunting space Nazis with virtues like iron-spine order and death-embracing discipline was interesting in the seventies, ten years after the last remnants of the old order were toppled by the liberal and sexual revolutions across the West. It feels hollow in 2019, in the days of “Bake the cake, bigots.”
When Poe is told with obvious sexual undertones that he “is not alone, and there’s more like us, and they want to divide us and make us feel lonely,” it feels good in the febrile imagination of Hollywood, and then you come out of the theater, and find J. K. Rowling being cancelled online for not being sufficiently woke. Then you feel a hyper-space jerk. The two things don’t match.
In 2019, the superstructure is stiflingly liberal, and the reactionaries are the new rebels. Star Wars, with its rebels effortlessly tackling a totalitarian armada, feels naturally anachronistic, like a hologram from a different era being carried around by a timeless droid, for middle-agers to feel the spark they lost as they carry on with their boring bourgeoisie life.
It is also a sign of repetition in a world of declining creativity, where conformity is repackaged as a rebellion for anyone dumb enough to spend his money on. The only potent moment in the film was when C3PO, the aforementioned droid, was drowning in quicksand. He turned to Edvard Munch and cried out, for all of us, “Will this agony never end?” Indeed.