Attack of The Last Jedi

SPOILER ALERT: Go see Star Wars: The Last Jedi already, will you? Quit dragging your Jedi boots! Then come back and read this piece, and tell us what you think in the comments.

My favorite Star Wars movie is Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. Wait – don’t go! Let me explain. First, please note: I didn’t say “Attack of the Clones is the best Star Wars movie.” I said it was my favorite. I understand and to some extent agree with cinematic critiques of that film, and I’ve only ever watched the film on DVD, which means I can easily skip all the romantic scenes with Anakin and Padmé, which are, admittedly, difficult to watch. What’s left of the film – Obi-Wan Kenobi (played brilliantly by Ewan MacGregor) on an extended Dick-Tracy-esque sleuthing adventure, the backstory of the villainous bounty hunter Boba Fett, and best of all, some important advances in the Prequels’ subtle and complicated subtext of the Jedi Order’s downfall – is pure heaven to me, despite disagreement, even derision, from many Star Wars fans.

So I’m fine with liking a movie that isn’t perfect. I find perfection a bit boring, honestly. But the bones of a film have to be good, like the bones of a well-built house. The Last Jedi, while an imperfect film in some ways, gives us that solid space in which our imaginations can dwell, even as it challenges and shocks us. In this way, it’s not unlike Attack of the Clones, with its misdirective title and its quite nuanced subtext. The difference is with Clones, we knew where we were headed: the creation of Darth Vader, the birth of Luke and Leia and the destruction of the Jedi Order. With The Last Jedi, we’re in uncharted territory; we’re vulnerable, floating in space with no space suit. Characters we revere aren’t who they were, characters we trust make bad decisions, and characters we don’t like turn out to be right. Events seem only to lead to devastating failures for the Resistance, for the First Order, for the Jedi (whatever that is anymore), and we do not know where the franchise is headed at the film’s conclusion. When the credits roll, we have more questions than answers. [Read more…]

Three Spoiler-Free Reasons to See The Last Jedi

Fresh from my first viewing of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, here are my relatively spoiler-free impressions of the film. (Read on if you’re okay knowing some generalities about the film, with the promise of no specific details.)

I must state categorically that I loved it, and I can’t wait to see it again. I had heard that the film would “shock” me – that it takes the Skywalker saga in an unexpected direction. I am not as shocked as I was prepared to be (perhaps sheer expectation prevented that), and the film did not satisfy every question I had hoped it would (perhaps the filmmaker’s strategy to keep me coming back, and if so, as young Anakin once said, “It’s working!”). But on the whole The Last Jedi is excellent, thrilling, moving and satisfying Star Wars. Read on for three reasons why you should see it: [Read more…]

Guest Post: Kylo Snape? Is ‘The Force Awakens’ the Eighth Harry Potter Story?

Kylo 1Kylo Snape?

by Emily Strand

I know it’s hard to believe. It’s even harder to admit, but until this fall I’d never seen Star Wars. Any of them. I was too young to watch the original films in the 1970s and 80s, and while I know I went to see the one with Jar Jar Binks when I was in college (because who can forget Jar Jar?), it certainly wasn’t my idea, and my brief encounter with the franchise was just that: brief.

You see, I am a Harry Potter person. Although I’m too old to have grown up with Harry, still he has been, for me, the portal of my interest in imaginative fiction of all kinds, including Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, etc. And happily, many of the authors and books to which my interest in Potter has led me, I have come to realize, inform Rowling’s own books. Harry Potter has been, for me, a literary boomerang.

Kylo 2Content in my love of Potter and related works, and blinded by my ignorance of the ‘verse, I had not even heard that a new set of Star Wars movies would roll out beginning this year. Still something (grace? the Force?) pushed me to investigate George Lucas’ epic, just in time for a seamless transition to The Force Awakens. I borrowed all the released films from my niece and began my journey. With my Potter-colored lenses, I immediately noticed resonances with the Potter series: the influence of the hero’s journey, the “rhyming” or ring composition of the plot, minor elements like “life debts” and mis-directive titles (eg. Attack of the Clones and Prisoner of Azkaban), and major themes such as the redemption of ambivalent characters.

Kylo 3These observations made me wonder: how much had Star Wars influenced Harry Potter? I filed the question away for future investigation and readied myself to enjoy The Force Awakens, having become, in just a few short months, almost as big a Star Wars fan as I am of Harry Potter.

So, despite being a very recent convert to all things Star Wars, on December 17, this self-proclaimed Harry Potter person sat in her local cinema, trembling with as much excitement as anyone who has worshipped the franchise since 1977. Yet I’d like to think I came to The Force Awakens with a considerably different (lighter?) set of baggage. I came without treasured vintage collectibles or directorial partiality. I came without preferences for animation style or positions on the film’s genre (fantasy or sci-fi? or who cares?). I came only with my Great Lakes Christmas Ale, and a newly-awakened love of the Star Wars saga acquired, in no small part, from loving Harry Potter first.

f39174246Like Potter, I came to love Star Wars because it is a story set in a believable and comprehensive universe, with genuinely interesting and compelling characters whose adventures propel the viewer’s interest both forward and backward in time. Like my more fundamental love for the Potter story, my love for Star Wars also has to do with what lies at the heart of the story: the Force, that mysterious power that takes the characters beyond the mundane, beyond themselves, beyond hatred and even death, and appears both systematic and magical in its origin and application.

So as I sat waiting for the opening scroll of The Force Awakens, I knew that as long as these elements remained central to the newest film as they are to the franchise as a whole (and how could they not?), I was going to love it. The Force Awakens did not disappoint.

However, I did not expect to find Severus Snape in the film. And yet, there he was, just as bold as brass. And Severus Snape’s film equivalent to a photo-bomb on my Potter-shaped imagination pointed me to a question even more compelling than my first: how much does Harry Potter influence Star Wars?

Kylo 4Let’s talk about Kylo Ren. He’s young, he’s stoic, he’s emo. He runs around in a cassock and mask. He’s got daddy issues. He flies a ship that looks like an overgrown bat. If these aesthetic echoes of Severus Snape (plus the casting of Ren with an actor who is far more believably Alan Rickman’s son than Harrison Ford’s) aren’t enough to convince you of the power of Potter to influence even Lucas’ ancient and venerable franchise, let’s take a deeper look.

Like Severus Snape, who was born to a witch mother and a Muggle father, Ben Solo (Ren’s given name) is of mixed origin. Ben/Ren is the child of one Force-sensitive (Leia Organa) and one Force-skeptic (Han Solo). As Snape inherited his mother’s magical abilities, Ren inherited his mother’s sensitivity to the Force. Both young men entered into formal training to harness this inherited power for the good (Ren with Skywalker, Snape at Hogwarts), but both men, in the course of their training, became seduced by a fixation on the shadows of their own heritages (recall Snape’s self-aggrandizing moniker “The Half-Blood Prince”), and joined an order of mask-wearing evil doers (the Knights of Ren, the Death Eaters). Both men take new titles for themselves, presumably, in part, out of a distaste for associating with their mundane fathers (though Snape does not use his new moniker professionally as Ren does).

f39080230Though both men are besotted with the dark side in their youth, neither can make a permanent commitment to this way of life, especially in light of former attachments (for Snape, Lily Evans Potter; for Ren, familiar and familial figures such as Poe Dameron, Han Solo and Rey seem to test his resolve). Snape is an accomplished Legilimens, and – not surprisingly by this point – Kylo Ren has the same talent for invading others’ minds. Importantly (and most spoilerifically), both men murder their fathers (in Snape’s case, father figure): for each, that figure who represents a last chance at redemption. Finally, both of these father/redemption figures are hurtled from a great height after each murderous confrontation.

It seems to this Star-Wars-via-Harry-Potter fan that the connections between Kylo Ren and Severus Snape are more than aesthetic. Although Snape’s redemptive trajectory is clear now that the Potter series is complete, Ren’s is still shrouded in mystery. Given the similarities I outlined above, it seems safe to suppose the redemption of Kylo Ren will be essential to the coming Star Wars installments, even if, like Snape’s redemption in the Harry Potter books, it is not the story’s main focus. But anyone interested in the cross- pollination between the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises will keep a close eye on Kylo Ren.

Guest Post: Katniss Everdeen as Female Hero Archetype

Wayne Stauffer teaches writing and literature at Houston Community College in Houston, Texas. He has taught a Literature and Film class on the Harry Potter books and films and is preparing one on the Hunger Games.

The release of Mockingjay Pt. 1, the third installment of The Hunger Games movies, will give us our next cinematic visualization of Katniss Everdeen and the world of Panem. Since she is such a strong character and the protagonist of the books and films, our first thoughts turn to her as the heroine of the series. But Collins has written her as different kind of action/adventure story Hero than we have seen previously. Although she has many of the qualities of a Hero that initially come to mind, there is still something about Katniss that the usual hero analysis does not address.

Conventional literary hero analysis of fictional protagonists usually examines one or more of the following Heroic Male Archetypes as the protagonist seems to exhibit a preponderance of qualities of a given kind: [Read more…]

New C. S. Lewis Work in Print: Aeneid Selections

This is exciting news. A. T. Reeves has edited C. S. Lewis’ translations of Virgil’s Aeneid, which consist of long passages from Books 1, 2, and 6. I assume these are the best known sections, most notably, the fall of Troy, the flight to Carthage, death of Dido, and the trip to the Underworld.

As eager as I am to read this work, about which I had never heard or read mention that I can recall, the book has already delivered edifying fruit. Prof. David Downing, C. S. Lewis scholar and accomplished novelist himself, has written a review of the Yale University Press title, a survey explaining CSL’s fascination with this poem and many of the correspondences existing between Lewis’ understanding of the Aeneid and my favorite adventure in the Narniad, The Silver Chair. Read that review here: ‘Journeys to the Underworld and the Silver Chair.’ H/T to Rev. David!