Talking Shit to Power

EW’s Molly Templeton is the perfect reviewer for movies like the new ‘Star Wars’. Perfect, because she takes the relentless, transparent, and utterly contrived moralizing of these films as if they were deep expressions of eternal truth. She has the willing naiveté of a good childhood playmate, except she’s an adult, and this movie is made by adults, and pretends to hold a mirror up to the adult world.

I can’t think of another movie that tries so hard to idolize the social and political movement of its authors but ends up making the whole thing seem vapid instead. It is art made by people too utterly sure of their righteousness to recognize that they’ve parodied themselves.

As is usual lately, the plot movements in The Last Jedi don’t hold up to the scrutiny of a single minute. Again and again and again, the circumstances, and hence the characters, don’t make sense. Far more significant, it’s clear that a sensible plot isn’t even on the list of priorities.

Take for example – and most any scene in the movie can provide an example – the opening combat sequence, which is necessary in setting the stage for the later gender-battle for power, but makes no tactical sense whatsoever. As the depiction of a military encounter, it’s idiotic, but that’s entirely irrelevant. It’s just a device to demonstrate Po’s impulsivity and provide a pretext for Leia to demote him. Were it to be taken seriously as an example of the military activity of the Resistance, we would have to wonder how in the Galaxy it has lasted this long. But it’s not meant to be taken seriously, as an actual military encounter. The abandonment of plausibility is a feature, not a bug, of the new storytelling.

By abandoning the limitations of plausibility, and relying instead on an audience that either won’t or can’t disbelieve, individual scenes and character relations become perfectly pliable devices for conveying contrived moral messages. And there, as the Bard put it, is the rub. Because real moral messages depend upon having one foot in the real world. Plausibility is an author’s link back to this world. By abandoning it, the moralizing is made perfectly easy, but also perfectly empty.

Fortunately, though, there are viewers and reviewers like the EW’s Templeton, who are dying to see their own sentimental fantasies dressed up in imaginary clothes on a giant screen, with sound loud enough to maybe make your forget for a while that it’s all complete bullshit.

Some years ago, I found myself thinking along lines that I later found were traveled by some early Christians. In a nutshell, it struck me that if Jesus weren’t human, his way would be useless to humans. Asking WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) would be like asking WWSD (What Would Superman Do). The answer to this would hardly matter, except as the sort of abstract hypothetical long-considered of special interest to geeks, nerds and philosophers. It all gets down to the difference between an exemplar and an idol; the difference between vainly escaping reality and transformatively engaging with it.

Commercial mythology like the latest ‘Star Wars’ is all about vain escapism masquerading as transformative engagement. Joseph Campbell is not amused.

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