Wednesday, January 31, 2018

some more videos

I don't watch Roaming Millennial much these days, but I did catch this video about the UN and agreed with it wholeheartedly, mainly because I've contended much the same thing on this blog for years. I wouldn't mind if the UN packed up, left New York, and moved to Geneva—all without US funding or support. Or membership.

And here's Paul Joseph Watson taking down the sanctimonious Grammys:

SOTU: the next best thing

I didn't get to see the State of the Union address, but I have access to the next best thing, i.e., Stephen Green & Co. "drunkblogging" the event. See here.

Stephen Green's concluding remarks:

I think we're to the wrap now, so I'll give my quick wrap.

Trump used political judo against the Democrats tonight, daring them to sit and stare as he boasted of the benefits which conservative policies have delivered to liberal constituencies.

And by and large, Democrats took the dare. They refused to applaud for delivering on jobs to black[s], on providing a path to citizenship for Dreamers, on moving our embassy to Jerusalem, and other items, too.

Trump reached across the aisle, counting on Democrats to slap his hand.

They did.

Trump was the grownup tonight -- something which seemed unlikely two years ago as he bullied and insulted his way through the GOP debates.

The Democrats looked like losers, to borrow one of Trump's favorite words, as decades-worth of unfulfilled Democrat promises are being delivered on by... Republicans. And not by some monolithic all-powerful party, but by an almost-impossible assemblage of establishment types, true believers, and one upstart GOP newcomer who also delivered one helluva SOTU.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

another discovery

I've seen the moniker "Blonde in the Belly of the Beast" quite a few times over the past year, but this was my first time actually listening to her:

possible military rumblings in Venezuela?

Venezuela's economic and social plunge continues, and now it appears even the military is demoralized. Here's an article that's short enough for me to quote it in full:

The government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, hated by much of the country's population and sanctioned by a growing number of countries, is facing problems keeping the police and military happy as food shortages and hyperinflation start to hit their barracks.

Recent meetings and internal documents of the Venezuelan armed forces point to concern in the Maduro regime as troops grow more demoralized and commanders report an increase in the number of insubordination cases and desertions.

In addition to the signs of unrest among the Army and National Guard units, the government also faces a tense relationship with the investigative police agency known by its initials in Spanish, CICPC, after the recent public execution of rebel policeman Oscar Perez, who was killed by security forces in an assault broadcast live through social media.

“There is unrest, and there's a lack of discipline. The soldiers are demoralized,” said Gen. Herbert Garcia Plaza, a former Maduro cabinet minister, in a phone call from Washington. “Military installations have declared a state of alert, which is not normal [at this time] because there are not even street protests now. It seems like they think the enemy is inside.”

The high military command, in a document leaked recently to the news media, ordered that 75 percent of the soldiers be restricted to their barracks, in effect activating a general state of alert.

Another document, which contained the minutes of a meeting of senior armed forces leaders, showed Army Commander Gen. Jesus Rafael Suarez Chourio instructing unit commanders to improve their relations with subordinates, listen to their opinions and “motivate them to remain loyal” to the army.

The low morale within the armed forces is spreading through the barracks at a time when inflation is hitting 4,000 percent and the legal minimum salary pays for only 10 percent of the monthly basic food basket.

You can see why North Korea has its seon-gun (military-first) policy. Venezuela, meanwhile, has no China-sized benefactor to provide it with an economic I.V. drip, so this plunge can only continue until... what? What does a country splatting look like?

Brace for impact.

time to learn some slang!

Vanity Fair has a series of cute videos on YouTube in which various stars teach us regional slang terms from their native lands.

Here's über-Scottish Gerard Butler with Scots slang:

Margot Robbie with Aussie slang:

Mark Wahlberg with Boston slang:

And thanks to Steve Honeywell (visit his excellent movie-review blog here), we have the lurvely Salma Hayek giving us examples of Mexican slang:

There's more. Go dig!

Monday, January 29, 2018

a little red-pilling this evening

Stefan Molyneux to the rescue in one of his better spiels:

Sunday, January 28, 2018

"Only the Brave": one-paragraph review

Based on the 2013 Yarnell Hill fire (Arizona), 2017's "Only the Brave" is the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots as told primarily through the perspectives of firefighter newbie Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) and Hotshots superintendent ("Supe") Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin). Most of the film is devoted to introducing us to the Hotshots—the chain of command, the rivalries, the family interactions. We see Supe's often-rocky relationship with his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly); we watch as Brendan's prickly relationship with veteran Hotshot Chris "Mack" MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch) turns into an actual friendship, and in the end—it's no spoiler to say this if you know the real story—we watch nineteen of the twenty Hotshots die in a blaze that went way out of control thanks to dry conditions and sudden high winds. This movie, given its stars and subject matter, has all the marks of a Peter Berg film, but it's ably directed by Joseph Kosinski, who directed "Tron: Legacy." The story is structured in such a way that we come to know and care about the crew as a whole, even if the large cast ensures we'll get to know only a few characters closely. That buildup makes all the difference because, when the end comes, it comes suddenly and cruelly, and the tragic aftermath is as gut-wrenching as the tragedy itself. I admit I shed a few tears watching this film which, despite the formulaic narrative, was telling a true story. If nothing else, "Only the Brave" will give you an idea of what it means when firefighters put their lives on the line for us regular folks.

ADDENDUM: Wikipedia says this film cost $38 million to make, but its global box office was only $23 million. That's a crying shame, in my opinion. This is a story of bravery that deserves to be told far and wide, and in a just world, the film would top the $100 million mark, with much of that money going to the bereaved families of the firefighters who perished in 2013.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

meanwhile, in a happier universe...

My favorite Iron Chef, Mike Symon, shows off his own unconventional way to prepare mac and cheese. You may recall that I showed you guys a mac-and-cheese prep method that involved something approaching a custard (see this post); Symon's method, also avoiding the standard roux,* involves using double cream (i.e., cream that's boiled down to half its volume for twice the density, hence double cream). Look here:

Symon's method includes no oven time, so there's no lovely crust of cheese on the top. Since I'm planning to do mac and cheese on February 9 (a Friday), I might use Symon's method to create the dish right there in the office instead of baking it at home and bringing it in, as I did with my lasagna. For the crust, I might break off some pan-crusted Gruyère.

For the asking: Symon's recipe can be found here.

*I admit it: I'm fascinated by mac-and-cheese recipes that avoid the roux.

at least 37 dead, 130 injured in Miryang hospital fire

A massive fire broke out in a hospital in Miryang, South Korea, killing 37 and injuring over 130 people at last count.

MIRYANG, South Korea, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- A fire gutted the ground floor of a hospital in southeastern South Korea and sent toxic fumes raging through the six-story building, killing at least 37 people and injuring 131 others in one of the country's deadliest blazes in a decade.

Nearly 180 people were inside Sejong Hospital in Miryang, some 280 kilometers southeast of Seoul, when the fire broke out around 7:30 a.m. Witnesses said they first saw smoke coming from the hospital's emergency room or a dressing room for nurses next to it.

The death toll was reported to have climbed to 41, but officials later corrected it, saying some victims were counted twice. Still, the toll could rise further as 18 of the injured are in serious condition, officials said.

The fire completely burned the hospital's first floor, but didn't reach the higher levels. But smoke was seen billowing from windows on higher floors, and most of the fatal victims were believed to have died from inhaling toxic gas. The dead included one doctor and two nurses.

Credit to ROK Drop for linking to this article.

the secret to walking in 7°F (-13.9°C) cold

As cold as my walk had been the other night, my walk on Friday night was even colder, at about 7°F, or -13.9°C. But I was ready: this time around, I wrapped my scarf around my head instead of around my neck, thus adding an extra layer of warmth to my already-masked face. This proved to be the crucial step to ensuring I was relatively warm (except, once again, for my legs) during my walk back to my apartment. That added layer of fabric made all the difference in the world, and I was about as comfortable as I could be while walking along my thirty-minute route, sparing myself the pain of breathing in super-cold air. I now know the secret to walking long distances in such cold: use the scarf, and put on another layer of pants. Voilà. With such armor, I become invincible.

Friday, January 26, 2018

my "Quoranic" insight

I posted an answer on Quora to a vaguely worded question about walking.

Check out the preview below:

Read Kevin Kim's answer to How long would it take to walk across the whole state? on Quora

NB: it's weird, but don't click the "more" link if you want to see the whole answer. Instead, click the question itself: the question is also a link that will take you to the full entry on Quora. Strange, but that's how these links work, for some reason.

Or just click this link.

ADDENDUM: hitting the "more" link from my Chrome browser at work (my office desktop is a Windows machine) produces weird behavior. Hitting the "more" link while at my apartment and using Chrome on my MacBook Air laptop produces no strangeness at all. Go figure.

the coldest walk

Last night, I walked home in 8°F weather (that's -13.3°C for you metric-heads), which may well be the coldest walk I've ever taken. Right now, at noonish the following day, it's 9°F outside. We've had several days like this over the past few weeks, making this a distinctly colder winter than what we experienced last year—subjectively speaking, at least; I don't have the numbers to compare average temperatures, but I don't recall single-digit temperatures last winter. Hey, any hiccup in global warming is a welcome hiccup to me.

I had plenty of layers keeping my upper body warm for the walk home last night. My face mask proved serviceable, but I think I need to supplement it with my scarf. (I also need to cut away some annoyingly wispy fibers inside the mask that tickle my nostrils whenever I breathe in.) My blue jeans didn't offer any protection against the cold, so I found out what it was like to be one of those poor Korean girls who dance around in miniskirts and heavy coats outside a new store to advertise its grand opening. Yes, you can survive harsh, cold temperatures with cold legs, as long as you keep moving. I plan to take some long walks to begin practicing for a planned wintertime walk to Incheon, so I'll be sure to wear an extra layer over my legs. I don't have long underwear, but I do have my trusty athletic pants. Those will do the trick.

The Incheon walk will take place around mid-February, i.e., right around Lunar New Year (officially, Seollal goes from February 15 to 17), which will give me a whole long weekend to walk There and Back Again. This is over the hump of winter, so I'm guessing that temps will be cold, but somewhat higher than they are now. If I walk in the daytime, I'm thinking it'll be right around the freezing mark, i.e., 32°F or 0°C. I've never walked long distances in the cold before, so this ought to be an interesting experiment. Carrying water in potentially freezing weather will be especially interesting; I'll have to read up on what mountaineers do (probably something involving insulation and/or body heat). Then again, if temps in mid-February prove to be in the 30s, Fahrenheit, freezing might not be a problem.

More on the upcoming walk as things begin to fall together.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

your moment of instant karma

As seen on Gab:

In case the image is too small, and you can't make out the action:

1. Robber makes the mistake of overextending, attempting to jam his pistol over the counter and into the shop owner's gut.
2. Instantly, a German shepherd leaps up and grabs the robber's forearm.
3. The frightened robber breaks free of the dog's grip and runs away.
4. The incensed owner scoops his dog up and tosses him after the robber.

Must be nice to own a guided missile.

paging John McCrarey

This Jörg Sprave video is all you, John:

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

awesome vs. fail army

Today, I found my new binge-watching addiction: a series of "Awesome vs. Fail Army" videos on YouTube that pair up scenes of people succeeding at doing some trick with people failing at doing the same (or a similar) trick. Here's a sample video for your delectation:

toilet woes

One of the problems with working at a hagweon (a Korean cram school for students aged elementary to high school) is that you have to share your restroom space with students, and many students (well, many adult Koreans as well*) have no sense of civic duty toward their fellow citizens, so they have no problem leaving the toilet cubicle a royal mess for the next person to deal with.

Two cases in point. First: a couple weeks ago, I walked into my usual cubicle in the men's room and was immediately smashed in the face by a sickening fecal odor. I couldn't tell, at first, whether the odor was merely ambient, or whether it was coming specifically from my cubicle... but the moment I raised the toilet lid, the question answered itself. Some kid had smeared his feces all over the toilet seat. Whether he'd used his hands to do this or had just wiped his asshole all over the toilet seat during or just after his shit, I have no clue. All I saw was a toilet seat covered in brown. Being who I am—i.e., the kind of guy who, when he sees a problem, feels the problem has become his problem—I marched back to the office, grabbed some cleaning supplies (a roll of paper towels, some spray cleaner, and a plastic bottle of disinfectant wipes), and went back to the toilet. I locked myself into the cubicle, reopened the toilet lid, that gateway to horror, and began cleaning. Some kid was in the stall next to mine. In Korean, he started talking to me, obviously thinking I was a classmate or friend of his. "Hey," he said, giggling. "You go in there? Don't go in there, man!" Obviously, he knew what had happened, even if he didn't know who had done the ugly deed. I sprayed, wiped, and tossed away sheet after sheet of my paper towels. Slowly but surely, the toilet became its old, white self again. I gave the whole thing a once-over with the disinfectant wipes, then felt guilty when I finally sat on the toilet to take my own shit. Unlike the mystery vandal, though, I somehow managed to suppress the urge to wipe my feces-pumping anus all over the toilet.

Second: the very next day, my regular cubicle was backed up thanks to there being an enormous pile of bloody toilet paper in the porcelain bowl. The effect was positively menstrual. I had to wonder what sort of spectacular bleeding had prompted the use of this much blood-soaked toilet paper. Unlike the previous day, I didn't play the hero and clean the mess up, primarily because I had already seen the janitor on his way over to the men's room, as if he knew about the problem. I simply switched to a different cubicle to do my business. An hour later, and the problem had been resolved. (I've sometimes heard the old guy cursing at the kids under his breath while he cleans these messes up. I'd love to catch these little fuckers in flagrante and exact some vigilante justice on them.)

Students have no sense of civic duty. I'm still trying to create a mental profile of the kid who had smeared his shit so thoroughly all over the toilet. What the fuck had he been thinking? Was he angry? Had this act been fun for him? How on Earth did he do the deed and then get away without getting shit all over himself? He was either on his way home after class or on his way to class. Either way, he'd have encountered friends who would have immediately picked up on any shit on his clothing. The mind boggles. Same goes for Mr. Tampon Mountain: what the hell had he been thinking? Why hadn't he dumped his pile of soaked toilet paper into the trash can right next to the toilet? Why did he have to pick an action that would be the most inconvenient to others using the facility after him? I'm pretty sure the answer to these questions involves some toxic combination of psychosis and youthful stupidity.

These are two major examples of inconsideration in the men's room, but minor examples abound, the most notorious of which I've come to call the "assprint." Think: fingerprint, but made by an anus. Yes: every now and then, I'll walk into my regular cubicle and be greeted by the unwelcome sight of an ever-so-slightly tan spot on the toilet seat, right at the location where one's ass crack would normally be. This tan spot comes courtesy of someone's poorly aimed asshole: a desperate student bursts into the cubicle, frantically works his pants off, then sits down hastily, overshooting the large, impossible-to-overshoot hole and smooshing his filthy asshole against the plastic seat, thereby leaving a fecal print for the next user of the cubicle to appreciate. I encounter this particular problem several times a week; the above two nightmares have happened to me only once each thus far.

The kids who come into the restroom do other creepy, disturbing things. Some kids come in alone and just... stand there, loitering, staring into their cell phones, possibly playing games or texting. Some kids barge into the restroom in noisy groups, shouting and cursing gleefully, tussling and even bumping up against my cubicle's door while I'm inside trying to enjoy a blissful discharge. In the States, the Unwritten Man Code is that, if someone you know comes into the restroom while you're doing your business, you say nothing. No eye contact, no acknowledgment of each other's presence. Silence. This goes double when it's a guy you don't know. I don't know what Man Code is in operation in Korea, but it appears there is none: Korean guys are just like American girls in their urge to go to the bathroom in chatty flocks. It's awkward, but I'm often greeted by fellow male Korean staffers when I'm washing my hands. I usually offer a curt nod or grunt in return, not being ready to engage in conversation. But the adults normally stop there, with just a greeting; the kids, with their creepy loitering and obnoxious group behavior, are a nightmare.

I'm home sick today, so I thought I'd toss these thoughts off while I could still smell them.

*Yes, to be fair, you can find idiots like this in other countries, too. This is often the argument used by conservatives when discussing public versus private stewardship: when something is managed by the public, it normally ends up dirtier because users have no sense of personal responsibility for the thing being used, e.g., a public restroom. Compare the relative cleanliness of the typical suburban home's bathroom with that of a public restroom, and you can readily see the difference between private versus public stewardship of something. People care for a thing when they have a personal stake in it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

your moment of Star Wars levity

It took a moment for me to realize this rant was tongue-in-cheek, but no matter how you approach the rant, I think you'll enjoy it. With all the bitterness and controversy surrounding the newest Star Wars trilogy, it's nice to take a break and just have a laugh.

Oh, and here's that climactic scene in "The Last Jedi" between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren, redone as a 16-bit, 1980s-era video game:

I found the above almost as touching as the scene in the movie.

And, finally: here's the Snoke/Rey/Kylo throne-room scene, using actual audio from the movie, and redone with Legos:

Monday, January 22, 2018


You'll recall that I spent Christmas Eve with my Korean buddy JW and his family. JW's daughter, MJ, has to write a sort of journal for school, and JW happened to see a recent entry in which she wrote about Christmas. Even if you don't read Korean, you'll have noticed the name "Kevin" in the middle of all that hangeul. MJ wrote about the gifts she and her brother got from her "foreign ajeossi," who speaks Korean "really well." (Hey, she said it, not me.) After listing her gifts (I think she liked the stuffed animals best), she wrote that she had named her new animals. All in all, she'd had a good time with my visit. JW saw the entry, snapped the above photo, and passed it along to me. We just won't tell MJ that her private thoughts have now been exposed to the public. Sssshhhh.

when immigration is unchecked...

...Paris becomes a shithole.

The destruction of Paris: How the city of light became the city of garbage

Somewhat related (in French):

Pourquoi l’Île-de-France n’arrive pas à trier et recycler ses montagnes de déchets
(Why the Île-de-France [in Paris] Can't Manage to Sort and Recycle Its Mountains of Garbage)

Quick excerpt from this second article:

Des montagnes de déchets totalisant 40 millions de tonnes chaque année. Un quasi monopole de Veolia et de Suez sur leur traitement. Des incinérateurs qui posent davantage de problèmes qu’ils n’en résolvent. Bienvenue dans les poubelles de l’agglomération parisienne. Où les ordures se mélangent et s’agglutinent, se brûlent puis se stockent, sans pour l’instant que soient imaginées d’autres alternatives. A quand une vraie filière de tri et de compostage ? La région Île-de-France osera-t-elle se lancer dans le mouvement « zéro déchet » ? Enquête.


Mountains of garbage totaling 40 million tons every year. A quasi-monopoly by Veolia and Suez for its treatment. Incinerators that cause more problems than they solve. Welcome to trash in the Paris area, where garbage is heaped and clumped together, burned then stored, without imagining any other alternatives. When will there be a real sorting/composting process? Will the Île-de-France region dare to throw itself into the "zero garbage" movement? Investigation.

Shitholes are everywhere. It isn't surprising to hear this about Paris, but that's mainly because I've never loved Paris.

one addition to my "Last Jedi" review

I added a thought about Snoke that I had initially forgotten to tuck into the review. It involves the fact that Snoke utters two overtly Christian references. See here.

WARNING: link doesn't work from cell phones—only desktops and laptops.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Donald Trump, one year on

A year ago as of yesterday, Donald Trump was inaugurated and began serving the country as president of the United States. Back on November 13, 2016, as the smoke from the presidential election was clearing and people were still pulling themselves out of the rubble of their smashed and sundered expectations, I had written about the tough cognitive and psychological lessons I had learned over the course of that strange, surreal presidential campaign in which two candidates—both unsatisfactory to me—duked it out for a chance to sit in the Oval Office for the next four to eight years. Like much of the populace, I had thought that Hillary Clinton was going to skate to victory over The Donald, whose campaign to become president had struck me, for most of that year, as something on the order of a joke or a prank. Trump lacked conviction, I and others thought; he lacked the necessary drive and substance. He was a stumbling, fumbling, inarticulate boob who brought over plenty of baggage from his multiple failures in the business world (bankrupted four times! I recall myself saying); there was no way in hell a man like that—a superficial media figure, terrible speller, and mental lightweight—could possibly win against a seasoned intellectual like Hillary Clinton, who (1) had already spent time in the White House, (2) had plenty of political connections and experience, and (3) could, thanks to her law background, debate circles around Trump.

And then a strange thing happened.

Over the final months before the November 8 election, I began to notice other voices—people who had been there all along, but to whom I had paid little or no attention. These people, it turned out, had been calmly and assuredly predicting a Trump victory the entire time. From the moment The Donald announced his intention to run until that victorious night on November 8, 2016, these folks—including at least one acquaintance of mine as well as public voices like Scott Adams and alt-media kooks like Styxhexenhammer666—took The Donald at his word and clearly saw how he might plausibly—even easily—win. The lesson I learned, as I began to listen more closely to these alternative voices, was that—as I had written myself several times on this blog—there were at least two competing visions of reality out there, and the election would prove to be a litmus test for which vision was closer to the truth. Ultimately, the "alt" vision won out, thus ironically proving that it was, far from being a mere "alt" vision, actually a reflection of where mainstream America was and remains. This was a humbling lesson to me, mainly because it illustrated just how out of touch I had been (and probably still am) with my fellow countrymen. Like any human being, I don't like admitting when I'm wrong, but I did my blogger's duty and ate humble pie, laying out the ways in which I had been wrong about the election, and about Donald Trump in particular.

Since the election, there have been pragmatists who, like me, have willingly shifted their perspective to keep it in tune with reality. At the same time, we have all seen that, over the past year, there are millions of people, possibly as many as one hundred fifty million Americans, who refuse to acknowledge the fact that Donald Trump is president of the United States, and that he won the election fair and square. Yes, he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million: all of that margin of loss came from true-blue California, and even if Trump had lost in California by eleven million votes, it wouldn't have mattered at all.* This hasn't stopped half the country from refusing to accept reality. As a result, this disgruntled half of the public now lives in what Scott Adams would call a bubble of cognitive dissonance. From where I stand, given the pendular nature of US politics, it's simply the liberals' turn to wait four to eight years. The conservatives just spent eight years seething under Obama, and the country was obviously (well, now it's obvious to me) ready for a change.

Trump has been under fire—mostly unfairly, in my view—since even before he was inaugurated. Media outlets like the Huffington Post have been relentless against him, printing articles that range from small-minded nitpicking to full-on attacks, many of which are delusional in tone and content, and almost all of which play into a metanarrative that feeds a sort of collective confirmation bias: Trump can do nothing right; that's the story, and we're sticking to it. But the man seems to enjoy battling the media; he coexists in a sort of weird, vicious symbiosis with it: if the media ever stopped paying attention to Trump, it's possible that the Trump Train would grind to a halt. Like a vampire, Trump feeds on attention, both positive and negative; it's what keeps him going. At the same time, he obviously adores social media and alt media for the democratizing power they bring to all citizens—even to the very president of the US, who is no longer beholden to the gatekeeper press corps when he wishes to get the word out. No, Donald Trump can now go straight to Twitter with his apparently unedited thoughts ("negative press covfefe," anyone?), or he can push a 3-minute YouTube video in which he gives a brief speech about some of his most recent moves. Straight to the people. And this drives the media absolutely crazy: their privileged position in society has been taken away. Instead of being thought of as some sort of moral force shining a light on national and global iniquity, the media now look irrelevant and desperate, angrily posturing as a way to recover the scraps of their tattered dignity. Of course, millions of people still haven't woken up to the fact that the mainstream media are no longer worth watching or listening to, so the old-guard Fourth Estate still retains great power and influence. Luckily, that power and influence are eroding as more people shake themselves free of delusion.

Despite the positive trends, I've spent the past year feeling almost sorry for Donald Trump. He's been laboring under some of the most unfair conditions that any president has ever had to labor under. With media coverage so fiercely negative, Trump would have to be almost pathologically insensitive to the incoming attacks to be able to focus on his job. If it were me in Trump's chair, I'd have sent out squads of assassins, by now, to take out the families and best friends of my enemies, though not my enemies themselves: we can't have martyrs. And it's not just the media against Trump: it's deep-state** organizations like the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. True, on his mad scramble to the top of the presidential heap, Trump rather unwisely made plenty of enemies, and he hasn't been shy about pointing the finger or insulting people he felt needed to be insulted. In that sense, Trump has done a marvelous job of shooting himself in the foot, a quality that his enemies like to focus on.

But his enemies keep making the mistake of dismissing Trump with hastily cartoonish brush-offs: he's an idiot, he's a racist, he's a Nazi, he's an inveterate pussy-grabber whose latest publicized dalliance is with porn star Stormy Daniels (can we add that to the nineteen accusations of sexual impropriety against Trump?). He has no style; he has no strategy; he has no specific point of view. It's amazing how these people fail to see that most of the Trump-related nonsense we see in the news every day is just that: nonsense that's meant to distract the enemy from Trump's true agenda, which is the undoing of Obama's damage to the country through rehabilitation of the American economy and the reassertion of US prominence on the global stage. While people have focused, superficially, on Trump's infelicitous use of the word "shithole" (keep in mind that it's still not confirmed that Trump did, in fact, use that term), Trump has been busy doing the following (pulled from this recent blog post):

• He has improved the US economy by creating more than 2 million jobs, bringing overseas jobs back into the US, and unplugging suffocating, anti-business regulations. With the stock market as a bellwether, and with the DOW now currently over 26,000, Paul Krugman's dire prediction that Trump's election would prove a nightmare for the US economy is shown to be laughably false.
• With Mad Dog Mattis off his leash, Trump has been busily smashing ISIS wherever our military can find it. If you haven't seen much news of these victories in the news lately, that's by design: the "legacy" news media have no interest in relaying any of Trump's successes to you. Because Trump relentlessly refers to most news outlets as "fake news"—a term the mainstream media first developed as a way to denigrate positive spin on the president, but which Trump appropriated for himself—they have a personal stake in crucifying him every chance they get. If you want real news about Trump's successes, you're pretty much left with the alt media.
• Trump has refused a security-assistance package to Pakistan, stopped a $221 million transfer to Palestine, and cut other aid to Palestine in half. At the same time, he has brokered $300 billion in deals after taking a tour through several Asian countries, and he has put the world on notice that America will not be suckered into any more deals in which the US gets the short end of the stick.
• Keeping one of his campaign pledges, Trump appointed conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
• Trump has begun instituting a raft of changes in domestic and foreign policy:

- Dismantling Obama’s climate change initiatives.
- Travel bans for individuals from select countries embroiled in terrorist atrocities.
- Enforcing regulatory reform.
- Protecting law enforcement.
- Mandating for every new regulation to eliminate two (actual ratio: 1:22).
- Rebuilding the military.
- Building a border wall.
- Cutting funding for sanctuary cities.
- Approving Keystone and Dakota pipelines.
- Reducing regulations on manufacturers.
- Placing a hiring freeze on federal employees.
- Removing the US from the TPP.

Over the past couple of months, I've been collecting articles that have highlighted the positives of Trump's first year in office. Is this a biased thing to do? Of course it is, and it's no less biased than what the mainstream media has been doing, in the opposite direction, for the past year, without surcease. So if the following list of fifty-some links seems relentlessly one-sided to you, you're right. It is. And that's the point. The list then becomes a psych test of your own open-mindedness: how many of these links will you click? If you click none of them because you think you already know what they're going to say, well... that says something about you, your own bias, and your willingness to face other points of view. If you click on many of them, but only for the purpose of mentally formulating rebuttals, that also says something about the depth of your emotional commitment to your side. If, however, you click on the links, read their content, and accept what they say not because you've suddenly switched to Trump's side, but because you're simply balancing out the biased library of news articles and blog posts inside your head, then good for you: you're the one most likely to benefit from these links, the listing of which isn't meant to convert anyone so much as to expose people to the kind of news they've been missing for a whole year. (And it goes without saying that, if you're already a Trump supporter, and you're clicking these links merely to bask in confirmation of what you already believe, then you're just wasting your time.)

1. Trump vs. Al Franken on the sexual-harassment front
2. Trump as racist/white supremacist
3. Scott Adams on Trump's 2017 presidential report card
4. 26% rise in US hiring in November 2017
5. Even Jeb Bush applauds the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
6. Victor Davis Hanson: Trump's is an old-school, Reaganite conservatism
7. Styx: impeachment effort against Trump fails (12/8/17)
8. Althouse on Trump vs. Franken
9. Gateway Pundit: unemployment at 17-year low; 2 million new jobs
10. December 9, 2017: Dr. V evaluates Trump, esp. his Pensacola speech
11. the "un-personing" of Garrison Keillor (possibly a function of "the Trump Effect," in which people who attack Trump usually end up hobbling themselves)
12. Trump is managing the media's downfall.
13. the positive effects of/responses to Trump's tax bill
14. the media's very bad year, and another look at "the Trump Effect"
15. while no one was looking, Trump & GOP got things done. One quotable (edited because of a frustrating lack of commas):

When congressional Republicans failed to enact many of President Barack H. Obama’s agenda items on looser immigration laws, gun control and “social justice” issues, they were declared by the press to be The Party of No. When Senate Democrats blocked one GOP bill after another supporting the agenda of President Donald J. Trump, the media lauded them as The Heroic Resistance. When President Obama declared that he had a pen and a phone and took executive, extra-legislative action in response, he was declared to be Decisive. When the pen and phone in question were placed in President Trump’s hands, he was branded as Authoritarian.

16. WSJ: rise in consumer confidence at Christmas
17. Trump's agenda owned 2017.

The first year of Donald Trump's presidency has, in many ways, been exactly what you would expect: Trump has continued to drive his opponents — and sometimes his allies — batty with his predictable unpredictability, distracting the media and dominating the national conversation, all the while implementing many of the major policy initiatives he promised in his sweep into office.

Political pundits, media elites and pollsters decree that the presidency is on shaky ground. They'll note that the president remains divisive, with record high unfavorable ratings. There’s no way he and the GOP can survive this.

Sound familiar? It’s the same mistake most of them made in 2016. Americans may not always like the “way” President Trump does his job, but they do like a lot of “what” he is doing. Proof is the paucity of polling data and media coverage on many of the popular policy initiatives that put Americans first: job creation, the economy, immigration, national security, fair trade, support for law enforcement and the military, international relations.

The media remains consumed with Trump’s job approval rating while missing the most important metric: what Americans can see with their own eyes. And while the next Congressional election looms 10 months down the road — a lifetime in modern politics — concerned Republicans will have considerable advantages thanks to what Trump accomplished for the American people in 2017.

18. (Some) Dems approve of Trump's stance on Russia.
19. no new wars under Trump in 2017
20. Americans Fleeing Blue States to Avoid High Taxes (the problem is that these people bring their blue-state voting habits with them into the red states, thus "purpling" their new home)
21. Of all people, Ridley Scott defends GOP tax bill.
22. Rasmussen: Trump approval same as Obama's at the end of his first year.
23. media coverage of Trump = 3X more negative than for Obama
24. on the public's distrust of the media
25. WaPo Opinion: Trump's little-noticed war on hidden taxes
26. "Trumps Ends 2017 Residing in his Enemies' Heads"
27. Is Trump out-Gippering the Gipper?
28. "Stupid" Donald Trump has had more success than Ventura or Schwarzenegger
29. Far from propelling Hillary into the White House, "weaponized" feminine anger propelled Trump in.
30. "It’s amazing how the sex-harassment torpedo the Dems aimed at Trump has circled back around on them."
31. taking Trump seriously
32. Trump vs. Obama on Iran
33. RCP: Trump's Top 10 Achievements in 2017
34. WaPo on Trump's shrinkage of federal bureaucracy
35. 1/1/18: Trump's sneakily successful first year
36. the NYT struggles to save its collusion tale
37. The Year of the Donald (with thanks to Bill Keezer for the Diplomad link)
38. the Rooseveltian effectiveness of Trump's tough talk overseas
39. In a rare move, the NYT praises Trump.
40. US manufacturing enjoys its best year since 2004.
41. 2017: a record year for counterterrorism strikes
42. VDH: Trump vs. Obama: the great experiment
43. Bernie Sanders on questions of Trump's sanity
44. "Twitter-fueled" foreign policy not as bad as you'd think
45. Michael Wolff's "dementia Trump" has never been seen in public
46. NK being "strangled" by Trump
47. Trump should cut aid to UNRWA.
48. Roger Simon: Trump as the lone adult in the room on immigration
49. Trump confounds the media yet again.
50. 2017: the year the media went to war against the president
51. Trump deconstructs Obama's legacy.
52. Has Trump made the world more dangerous?
53. Trump's fake-news awards
54. The media treat Trump and Hillary's health differently. (No shit.)
55. DOW up 31%—best since FDR
56. "I wasn't a Trump supporter. I am now."
57. Trump hired a surprising number of women.
58. Trump's First Year: Truth Gets Lost in Hysteria (This one's a must-read.)

It galls me to say this, but I was wrong about Trump's prospects for winning, and I was wrong about Trump's fitness to lead. He's doing a good job under incredible pressure from both the left and the right. While I still think that Trump does much to undermine himself whenever he speaks or tweets in an off-the-cuff way, I'm willing to believe, along with his defenders, that he is, in fact, capable of thinking both strategically and in a "4-D chess" kind of way. Too many of his opponents have ended up tangled in their own snares for me to believe otherwise; there is a such thing as "the Trump Effect." I don't think Trump's intemperate rhetoric is going to lead us into war; that's the propaganda (and your own fear) talking. If anything, I think Trump's understanding of human psychology, based on years of getting in the muck while doing business, stands him in good stead. If he comes off sounding childishly Freudian when he claims, for example, to have a bigger, more powerful nuclear button, the nervous public should understand that this is all part of the Trumpian theater. Yes, it's embarrassing to hear trash talk like this from a US president, but trust that Trump knows his audience.

Furthermore, I trust that Trump knows what he's doing when it comes to the economy. Deregulating the market is, according to my own convictions, one of the best things he could be doing right now, especially after eight years of oppression and strangulation under Obama, who seemed to take a dim view of both capitalism and the notion of American success in the international arena. Creating jobs and helping businesses, both big and small, are good priorities to focus on, and the American heartland, eight years forgotten, is thankful.

I'm not exactly rabidly pro-Wall, but I also don't think a wall is a bad way to stop the influx of illegals from crossing into the States (you say a wall is ineffective?). I'm pro-immigration, but pro-legal immigration. Bring in people who don't (1) reject assimilation, (2) drag along their seventh-century values and, (3) instead of being thankful for where they now live, end up quietly seething with hatred for their new country. We have no use for such scum. At the same time, I'm not completely against amnesty, which scares conservatives because amnesty has the potential instantly to create a huge pro-Democrat voting bloc. I'd be okay with risking the creation of such a voting bloc if it meant we got to keep a group of hard-working, loyal Americans. Anyway, that's a discussion for another blog post.

Where I part ways with Trump is in his continuation of bad policies in both Syria and Afghanistan; I'd like to see a serious build-down in both areas. I'm also unhappy with his arms deal, last year, with Saudi Arabia. We shouldn't be keeping up the pretense that that country, a major sponsor of terrorism, is any sort of friend. I'm happy to see Saudi Arabia belatedly liberalizing, but until I see the country actively cracking down on global terror, I'll continue to treat it with circumspection. As things stand, Trump's deal with Saudi Arabia feels like Obama's bad deal with Iran, and in both cases, it's like gifting your rapist with a dildo.

Friends and readers of mine who aren't where I am on the political spectrum will doubtless point out, in the comments, Trump's myriad personal flaws, grave moral failings, lapses in leadership, and potentially crippling scandals—not to mention where they think I've gone wrong in writing this post. I welcome this. Feel free to list your complaints and to bolster them with links to various articles that damn Trump in this way or that. Do note, however, that I think this will be far easier for you to do than it was for me to collect those fifty-eight links, which took weeks. Articles critical of Trump, meanwhile, are far too easy to find.

So at this point, I'd call myself at least partially a believer. That doesn't mean I think Trump is perfect: I think, for example, that Trump should stay the hell away from social-conservative issues like reproductive rights, trans people in the military, and other matters involving personal choice and sexuality. I wouldn't mind at all if he insinuated himself into the ongoing debate about on-campus free speech, but I don't trust him to have either the nuance or the eloquence to say what needs to be said. Then again, who knows? I've been wrong about Trump before, and I'll likely be wrong again.

ADDENDUM: 2018 is the year for midterm elections. Some liberal Democrats are thinking there's going to be a "blue wave" in which they'll recover quite a few lost seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. I'm thinking that, if the economy is truly improving and not merely a bubble, that's only going to hurt the Democrats this coming November, and in the end, their influence in Congress will end up either remaining about the same or actually diminishing. The Dems aren't wise to look at Alabama—and their recent defeat of pervy Republican Roy Moore—as a bellwether for November. It isn't: defeating an old, gropey lecher is no major victory. It's certainly not predictive of the future, and things are already starting to look bad for the Democrats. These are just inklings, of course, but there's reason to suspect the start of a trend.

ADDENDUM 2 (23 Jan, 1:32AM): Donald Trump, in his own words.

*According to the New York Times, the election numbers were these:

HRC: 65,853,625 votes
DJT: 62,985,106 votes
Margin: HRC wins the popular vote by 2,868,519.

HRC: 232
DJT: 306
Margin: 74 (not a landslide, but Trump won 132% of HRC's electoral vote)

HRC: 8,753,788 votes
DJT: 4,483,810 votes
Margin: HRC wins CA by 4,269,978

Ergo: California, all by itself, more than accounts for all of HRC's overage. She could have won California with 12 million votes to Trump's 1 million, and it wouldn't have made a difference: she would still have gotten 55 electoral votes for California.

**The term "Deep State" or "deep state" isn't some raving-looney designation. It's a reference to the entrenched elements of power in the US government–the people who, once installed in given positions in the government, never seem to leave. These are the people who stay entrenched, and who develop their own reasons for never departing their particular niches. These are the folks who watch presidents and congressmen come and go; they are, arguably, the real people in power, and their power comes from the fact that they endure. This is why more and more people speak of the "deep state," these days, as if it were an entity with a mind and an agenda of its own. But far from being some shadowy, paranoid fantasy, the deep state exists, and it doesn't even require any effort of imagination to understand how it came to be and how it might not have your best interests at heart.

the occasional ddeokbokgi

Below: yesterday's dinner, which I could barely taste, thanks to a very stuffy nose. I think one possible hell, for me, would involve sitting next to a conveyor belt of amazing food for all eternity, but lacking the ability to smell or taste any of it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

"It": review


"It" (or "It: Chapter One") is a 2017 horror film directed by Andy Muschietti and starring Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs (who looks a hell of a lot like a very young Muhammad Ali... he's going to grow into that role, mark my words), Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, and Jackson Robert Scott. The movie is based on part of the 1986 novel It by Stephen King.

The town of Derry, Maine, has suffered more than its share of people gone missing, especially children (more than six times the national average), and the statistics seem to spike every twenty-seven years. It's 1988, and little Georgie Denbrough is out in the rain, chasing after the paper boat that his older brother Bill has made for him. The boat plops into a storm drain, and when Georgie reaches the drain, he encounters a feral-eyed clown inside the gutter who calls himself "Pennywise the Dancing Clown." Pennywise offers Georgie the boat, and when the little boy reaches for it, the clown transforms into something demonic that rips Georgie's arm off and kills him. Georgie's body is dragged into the sewer, and Bill and his family must deal with the grief of losing Georgie. Bill, devastated, is convinced his little brother is missing; his father, meanwhile, is sure the boy is dead. (In the novel, a neighbor finds Georgie's mangled body, so the Denbroughs know for sure that Georgie is dead.)

In the summer of 1989, the malevolent presence inhabiting the sewers of Derry makes itself known, through a spate of horrific visions that only children can see, to a group of friends known as the Losers, of which Bill is the leader. Each member of this group is dealing with personal demons: Beverly lives with a sexually abusive father and has an undeserved reputation as the school slut; Ben, the new kid in town, is fat and constantly taunted; Eddie is a hypochondriac thanks to his overbearing mother; Stan is nervous and neurotic; Mike has the misfortune of being black and living in a small town stocked with too many racists; Richie is constantly in trouble thanks to his foul mouth and cruel wit. After a series of encounters, both while alone and while together, with the being the kids call "It," the group begins to realize that they can defeat the monster—which tends to manifest as a clown, but which also, boggart-like, manifests as the thing each kid fears most—as long as they stick together. Beverly ends up being kidnapped by It, and the rest of the Losers go in search of her.

I read the novel so long ago that it's now hard for me to remember how closely the events in the movie match those in the book. I recall a chapter called "The Apocalyptic Rock Fight" that happens fairly far along in the plot, but in the movie, the rock fight seems to happen rather early. There were other parts of the movie that didn't seem to match my fuzzy recall of the book, but I'm not about to reread the thousand-plus-page novel—which was a chore to get through the first time—just to confirm my intuitions.

One of the biggest problems I had with the novel is also one of the problems I had with this movie: the creature itself doesn't seem to make any sense. By the time we're into the final part of the novel, we've learned that the thing is some sort of alien that crash-landed on Earth millions of years ago. But it's not an entirely biological alien—it's also spiritual or metaphysical: it feeds on abstractions like fear and delights in conflict and division, much like sinister Leland Gaunt from King's other novel, Needful Things. (Gaunt, at least, made sense because he was essentially the Devil.) If the creature feeds on fear, though, then how did it snare Georgie Denbrough? Georgie, barely seven, was a bit leery of Pennywise, to be sure, but he reached into the sewer to retrieve his paper boat all the same. Late in the movie, Bill encounters the monster's simulacrum of dead Georgie; the simulacrum begs Bill to take the boy back home, but Bill walks up to the illusion and uses Mike's captive-bolt pistol to "kill" Georgie, thus breaking the creature's spell and, perhaps, injuring it temporarily. So my question is: if the monster can read minds and determine each child's greatest fear, why was it unable to suss out that Bill had intended to kill faux-Georgie all along? And while we're on the topic of things about It that don't make sense: if the monster is able to recover, like Wolverine, from the various blows the kids deal It during the final battle in the sewer, why does the demonic clown act injured and retreat?

I remember that, toward the end of the novel, the kids have to engage in something called the Ritual of Chüd in order to combat It. The monster turns out to be vast and ancient, and there is a countervailing cosmic force that helps the kids—a being in the form of a turtle as superannuated as It (why the malevolent being is a shape-shifting alien while the benevolent beast is a recognizably terrestrial turtle is another mystery that turned me off from the story, but this first chapter of the movie saga doesn't deal with cosmic turtles). The ritual, if I recall correctly, involves some mutual tongue-biting as well as the chanting of certain sacred phrases. I don't remember much more than that, but I'm morbidly curious as to how the story is going to play out in the second film, "Chapter Two." Another thing to look forward to is the adult Beverly's sudden recollection that one of the ways in which the kids had "combined" their powers was for all the boys in the group to have sex with Beverly. That's going to be a bit awkward to portray on screen, especially in the current prudish sexual climate.

So I felt the monster didn't make much sense. While I hate to say this about a Stephen King novel, I found the monster, and the story as a whole, poorly written, with the poor writing transferring over into the movie. And the net result, consistent with my current inability to be frightened by any horror films, is that I ended up more bored than scared while watching "It." There were parts of the film that were truly horrible, and which did produce a strong emotional—even visceral—reaction in me, but none of those moments had anything to do with the film's nonsensical antagonist. Pennywise simply wasn't scary. It could be that this is a type of horror that doesn't affect me: some people are sincerely freaked out by clowns, and I'm not one of them. I'm also not freaked out by jump scares, especially when the movie's scenes are written badly enough to telegraph each scare in an utterly cliché manner. And yes, "It" is full of standard horror-movie clichés, the most prevalent one being Separation from the Group. (That brings up another plot-logic problem: the monster is fully aware that the kids, as a group, possess a power they don't have as individuals. Knowing this, why does the monster kidnap Beverly, thus provoking the rest of the Losers to go after It as a group? This makes no tactical sense. Luckily for the monster, lone members of the group follow the standard horror-movie script and wander off randomly.)

"It" includes things that horrify and revolt: Beverly's disgusting, lecherous father is a good example. So is Eddie's bloated, domineering mother, who keeps Eddie on placebos, convincing him he's riddled with all sorts of diseases when he is, in fact, just fine. The racism of evil juvie delinquent Henry Bowers and his gang is pretty repugnant, and there's a scene—that is actually very hard to look at—in which Eddie falls through the floor of an old house and breaks his arm. These very human aspects of the story, both in the movie and in King's novel, were without a doubt the best things about it. I remember reading the rock-fight chapter and mentally cheering the Losers as they fought back against Henry Bowers and his gang, eventually driving the older boys into an ignoble retreat. These were good moments.

But the creature feels almost as if it's getting in the way of a potentially better story. With so much human evil in evidence in Derry, it's almost as though the creature doesn't need to be there at all: things are shitty enough for our young protagonists. The Pennywise we see in this film—ably played this time around by Bill Skarsgård, who has the unenviable task of trying to do an original take on a Joker impression—is an amped-up, CGI-driven version of the Pennywise from the 1990s TV-movie version of the clown, then played by Tim Curry. The 2017 Pennywise retains some of the same goofy traits as the old TV version, with the practical effects often being bad enough (I'm talking about the 2017 movie) to break my suspension of disbelief. Specifically, there's a moment in the middle of the movie when Beverly manages to spear the clown through the head, and Pennywise's face is half-morphed between the regular clown look and a more demonic, fanged look that I found utterly unimpressive. Stan finds himself pursued by a ghoulish woman (Pennywise in his "thing you fear the most" guise) whose twisted face looks hilariously like Marilyn Manson's. An attack on Eddie by a leper (Pennywise again) also left me cold, as did Beverly's moment in her bathroom in which she ended up drenched by fountaining gouts of blood; that reminded me of nothing so much as a scene from one of the "Evil Dead" movies. And speaking of tropes from other films: the flickering lights that greet the kids' lone encounters with Pennywise come straight out of "The Exorcist," as well as from many, many other horror movies. Not impressed, guys.

The novel It switches back and forth between the 1950s and the 1980s; the movie updates this so that the kids' story takes place in the late 1980s, and there's no decade-switching. "Chapter Two" will doubtless take place 27 years later, when the monster is hungry again around 2015, with Obama still comfortably in the White House. The movie's callbacks to the 80s were charming at times (I loved the Molly Ringwald gibe); at other moments, the 80s references did nothing for me because they were references to things I hadn't been into back in that decade—certain types of music, for example. The costumes and set design, too, felt a bit "out of time" for me; sometimes, the styles successfully evoked the 80s; at other times, I felt the film could just as easily have been taking place in the 1950s.

Having said all that, I can say that the film wasn't entirely a waste. If I had more of a religious-anthropology or cultural-anthropology background, I'd be fascinated by the way the movie delves into the primitivity of ritual and sacrament: the scene in which the kids help Beverly clean up her blood-soaked bathroom, for example, has a deeply sacramental tone. The kids prove themselves open to ritual at many moments throughout the story, especially when they swear the blood oath to return to fight the creature at the very end. When Beverly returns Bill's kiss before they part ways, her bloodied hand on the side of Bill's face is a sort of chrism. They've blessed each other. These were the moments that caught my attention, along with all the human-scale horror.

I've spoken with atheist friends and acquaintances who have reacted to "The Exorcist"—which I find genuinely creepy and disturbing—the way I reacted to "It." Your background strongly determines how you react to certain kinds of horror, I think. In my case, given my Christian upbringing (and despite the fact that I'm an off-the-scale liberal, nontraditional Christian), I suppose I'm more open to being creeped out by the notion of dark, demonic forces. Nonbelievers will obviously view such things as ridiculous, so they won't be susceptible to the power of religion-fueled horror. But I must say that, aside from the lingering eeriness of "The Exorcist," most horror movies do nothing for me these days. I hardly jump at all, and if anything, I'm more likely to laugh scornfully as stupid characters die on screen.

All in all, I didn't like "It" very much. The acting by the kids, the teens, and the creepy adults was just fine, and Bill Skarsgård does the best he can in a weird role, but it's the lame, nonsensical story that is, for me, the primary problem. Finally, there's this: if the creature is an alien, then why does it thrive on humanity's moral foibles? Why would an alien have any notion of human morality at all? And if this thing is, in fact, some sort of cosmic being on the order of a god or devil, why did it crash-land in a spaceship? I can hear James Kirk asking, in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," "What does God need with a starship?"

Friday, January 19, 2018

when you need a smile

Nothing entertains quite like watching...

(The golfer on the ice is downright scary. She could've slipped under the ice and drowned.)

faux or faux faux?

Politico thinks The Donald's accusations of "fake news" are a lot of hot air. The article makes one interesting point with which I somewhat agree:

Trump doesn’t really hate the press, as I argued two months ago. He relies on it as a scapegoat and as something to push against when he needs an applause line.

For a media guy like Trump, any publicity is good publicity. Praise Trump, and he purrs in contentment. Excoriate Trump, and he purrs in contentment. For lefties who are rolling on the ground, kicking and screaming, it would behoove them to understand this point if they truly want to combat Trump and unseat him in 2020.

Meanwhile, we've got this assessment of the media's coverage of Trump during 2017: it was 90% negative. (The data are from the Media Research Center, a conservative organization based in Virginia.)

The major findings:

■ The Trump presidency was the biggest story of the year, accounting for one out of every three minutes of evening news airtime — nearly 100 hours in total.

■ The tone of coverage has been incessantly hostile, especially for a new President in his honeymoon year: 90% negative, vs. just 10% positive (These percentages do not include neutral statements).

■ More than two-fifths of evening news coverage of the President (43%) focused on controversies, not policies, with the Russia investigation alone accounting for one-fifth of all Trump coverage (1,234 minutes).

■ Despite their massive coverage of Russia, the networks had almost no airtime for questions about how the investigation began, or whether special counsel Robert Mueller’s current investigation is biased.

So—is it all fake news all the time, or is the fake-news claim itself fake?

Tomorrow is the one-year mark for Trump's presidency; he was inaugurated on January 20 of last year. I promised you that I would hold off on judging the president until I'd had a year to evaluate him as a leader. Sometime over the weekend, then, you can expect my unprofessional opinion on The Donald's first 365 days in the Oval Orifice. Stay tuned.

PS: given that I only recently gave birth to a nearly 18,000-word essay on a movie, I don't have it in me to write a long screed about Trump, so don't expect anything too lengthy.

"A New Old Skywalker" by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Rian Johnson's buddy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has starred in such Johnson vehicles as "Looper" and "Brick"), has written an essay defending the version of Luke Skywalker that we meet in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." It's not a bad piece; it makes a few good points, and if you number yourself among the butthurt, the essay might be worth your while. characters are usually better when they’re flawed. Speaking as an actor, when I’m considering whether or not I want to play a certain character, I’m always looking for a healthy balance of virtues and shortcomings. Otherwise, it doesn’t feel real. No one is a perfect hero or a perfect villain[;] we’re more complicated than that, every one of us. Flawless characters feel thin. And forgive me if I blaspheme, but the young Luke Skywalker always did feel just a little light to me, which is why it was so cool this time around to see him fill out into a more imperfect human being.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi": review and meditation


At first, I had planned to write just a standard review of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," but I realized right away that I had also wanted to discuss both the controversy surrounding this film and some of the major themes and ideas that appear in the story. To that end, I'm presenting you with a three-part essay: (1) a summary/review of the movie, (2) a commentary on the controversy, and (3) a meditation on some of the movie's themes and concepts. Whereas my original, impressionistic review was spoiler-free, this essay will be chock-full of spoilers. This also promises to be a long piece, so pour yourself a large mug of hot cocoa, settle comfortably into your chair, and enjoy the ride.

"The Last Jedi" came out last year, in mid-December of 2017, which is the fortieth year since 1977's "Star Wars" (eventually retitled "Star Wars: A New Hope") came out and caused a cultural revolution. This newest addition to the saga won't cause a cultural revolution, but based on fan reactions versus critics' reactions, a revolt of some sort may be brewing. In any event, the movie's been out for a month, so I assume most people on the planet have seen it, except maybe for those who prefer to stay under their rocks and/or those who simply don't care one way or another about the Star Wars franchise. I, for one, was more excited to see this movie than I had been to see "The Force Awakens" two years earlier.

Directed by Rian Johnson (who directed "Looper"), "The Last Jedi" stars a huge ensemble cast that includes Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, and Frank Oz. The movie picks up pretty much where "The Force Awakens" left off: with Starkiller Base only recently destroyed, and with Rey (Ridley) on a remote backwater planet, face to face with Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Hamill).

1. A Summary and Review of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

It might be best to summarize the movie by breaking it down into its various plot lines, many of which start off separately, then converge later on.

The first such plot line, which occupies much of the film, involves a "Battlestar Galactica"-like chase: the First Order, despite having lost its superweapon in the previous film, has found the Resistance's latest base. Resistance forces make a mad dash into space to escape the First Order fleet's onslaught; Poe Dameron (Isaac) leads a complement of fighters and bombers against the enemy. With most of the Resistance successfully away, Poe is ordered by General Leia Organa (Fisher) to break off and follow the fleet, but Poe wants a crack at the First Order's largest ship, a dreadnaught.* Poe disobeys the retreat order and attacks the dreadnaught, clearing away its cannons to allow the lumbering bombers to have a chance to crack the dreadnaught open. The First Order retaliates by sending out its TIE fighters, and all of the bombers end up destroyed except for one, on which the only conscious crew member is Paige Tico. Paige manages to unload her entire payload onto the dreadnaught; the ensuing explosion destroys the First Order vessel, and Paige along with it. This victory comes at the cost of many lives; Leia slaps Poe in the face when he returns, and then she unceremoniously demotes him for his arrogance. The Resistance jumps into hyperspace, but when the ships pop back into real space again, the First Order is still on their tail, this time with Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) and his cartoonishly massive flagship in pursuit. A squadron of First Order fighters led by Kylo Ren, a.k.a. Ben Solo (Driver), wreaks havoc among the Resistance vessels; Kylo has the chance to destroy his mother, whom he senses in the bridge of the Resistance flagship. He hesitates, but his wingmen let fly their weapons, which blow out the bridge, killing such luminaries as Admiral Ackbar. Leia is sucked into space, but the extremity of this circumstance evokes her latent Force abilities: she instinctively protects herself from a cruel death by hard vacuum, and she uses the Force to pull herself almost angelically back to the flagship, after which she falls into a coma from the exertion. Vice Admiral Holdo (Dern) takes command in Leia's place; this causes immediate friction between her and Poe, who is still an Organa loyalist despite his recent demotion. Holdo gives orders that indicate she has a plan, but she refuses to reveal this plan to Poe, who becomes mutinous. The Resistance concludes that the First Order is somehow able to track ships through hyperspace, something previously thought impossible. Holdo and company also note that the remaining fleet is very low on fuel. Because it would be a waste of fuel to engage in another hyperspace jump—which would be fruitless because the First Order can simply track the fleet again—Holdo directs the fleet to stay out of cannon range of the First Order and proceed to an initially undisclosed location, stalling for time and stretching out the fuel.

A second plot line involves Finn (Boyega), who wakes up on board the Resistance flagship with a shout of, "Rey!" Now healed of the lightsaber wound to his spine thanks to his bacta suit, Finn walks the corridors in search of his friend but encounters Poe instead. Deciding to leave the fleet and search for Rey, Finn makes his way to the escape pods where he meets a weeping Rose Tico (Tran), who has learned of the death of her sister Paige. Rose idolizes Finn at first... until she realizes he is trying to leave the fleet. She stuns him and plans to drag him to the brig, but when Finn wakes up, they talk, and both realize that there may be a way to disable the First Order's ability to track the Resistance through hyperspace. They make their case to Poe, who is chafing at being out of the loop regarding Holdo's plans. Thanks to a brief Skype session with a beleaguered Maz Kanata—whom they catch in the middle of a gunfight—Finn, Rose, and Poe learn of a pro hacker—or "codebreaker"—on the planet Canto Bight. They aim to retrieve the hacker, infiltrate the First Order flagship, and disable the tracking system. Finn, Rose, and the droid BB-8 head out on their mission. Canto Bight turns out to be a huge casino planet, where the rich and powerful engage in all manner of dirty dealings, including a profitable arms trade that supplies all sides of the current war. Alien racehorses are exploited and abused there as well, which angers Rose. Finn and Rose prove unable to find the right hacker: they are thrown in jail for, essentially, illegal parking. While in jail, though, they meet another, scruffier hacker (Del Toro, with a stutter), who says he can do what needs to be done, proving his ability by easily breaking all three of them out of the prison cell. BB-8, meanwhile, brawls with the guards, knocking them all out. The team manages to get off-planet on a stolen ship; the hacker shows Finn how the arms dealers are supplying both sides. He tells Finn that good and bad aren't as clear-cut as they seem, and the best policy is "don't join." When the team reaches Snoke's flagship, they end up captured by the First Order before they can disable the tracking system. Their captor is none other than Captain Phasma (Christie), who is probably still seething about having been tossed into a garbage dump in the previous film.

Meanwhile, on a remote planet far across the galaxy, on a remote island on that planet, Rey offers Luke Skywalker his father's old lightsaber. Luke sourly tosses the weapon over his shoulder and initially refuses to train Rey, declaring that the time has come for the Jedi order to end. Rey persists, however, in a manner reminiscent of a Japanese Zen postulant who is trying to become an adept. She follows the old man around on his daily routines, witnessing a stupendous feat of spearfishing and an awkwardly intimate moment during which Luke milks a walrus-like sea mammal. Chewbacca, who co-piloted the Millennium Falcon to the planet with Rey and Artoo, eventually loses patience with Luke's stonewalling and literally breaks down the door to Luke's monastic chambers in order to roar some sense into the Jedi. This, coupled with Artoo's re-showing of Leia's old holo-message ("Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."), finally convinces Luke to train Rey. He promises her three lessons (of which we see, at most, two), and the first is a doozy: Luke enjoins Rey to stretch out with her senses and to perceive the nature of the universe. She experiences reality as pairs of opposites, but Luke prompts her to see that the Force is the coincidentia oppositorum that both surrounds and lies between those poles of life and death, peace and violence: the Force is both integument and ligament, beyond notions of light and dark, a nondualistic fundamental reality that is not the exclusive property of the Jedi. As old Ben Kenobi once said, the Force surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. Luke stresses (and this is his second lesson) that the arrogance and vanity of the Jedi have led to failure—especially the failure to protect living beings from encroaching evil.

Exploring the island, Rey falls into a cave that is strong with the dark side of the Force. While there, she experiences a strange vision of herself, multiplied uncountable times. Much like Luke's own dark-side experience in the tree/cave on Dagobah, Rey's vision basically throws her back onto herself. It's almost as if the dark side—beyond being a reification of anger, fear, and aggression—also has a tough-love aspect to it, like a dour Zen master who tells his student, "You figure it out!" Rey's lingering question about her parentage leads only to another reflection of herself, almost as if the divine powers are saying, "You make you." The girl is the mother of the woman.

Rey eventually learns the story of Kylo Ren's break with Luke: Luke had sensed the growing darkness in Kylo's heart, and he contemplated killing the young man, but Kylo defended himself, destroying Luke's school and taking some of Luke's disciples with him. Disappointed in Luke, whom she also perceives as having closed himself off from the main flow of the Force, Rey loses her temper and fights him, eventually winning (or did Luke let her win...?). Luke warns her that the future will not turn out the way she thinks it will; Rey tells Luke she will seek out Kylo on her own because she thinks he is "the only hope" for the galaxy. With that, she and Chewie take off to find the Resistance. Luke, now alone, resolves to burn down the island's ancient tree in which are housed the earliest Jedi texts. Hesitating for a moment, Luke realizes that the ghost of Master Yoda (Oz) is with him. Yoda, ever the caring mentor, gently accuses Luke of still looking to the horizon instead of to the present moment, and he tells Luke that failure is "the greatest teacher." He also observes, regarding the younger generation, that "we are what they grow beyond." And finally, after calling down lightning to burn the ancient tree, Yoda reassures Luke that Rey has "all she needs" to continue to grow.

Another, somewhat weirder, plot line weaves itself into the above events: while Rey is on Luke's island, she begins communing with Kylo Ren via a mysterious, Force-fueled telepathic connection. The connection has some interesting aspects: the first such communion occurs while it is raining on Luke's island; Rey stands in a trance near a freshet of water running off the Millennium Falcon's hull; meanwhile, Kylo stands by a great window through which we see an assembly line and a shower of sparks, falling like water in front of him. He asks Rey whether she is the one instigating this telepathic conversation, then he quickly corrects himself and utters the foreshadowing-heavy line, "You're not doing this; the effort would kill you." At the end of that communion, Kylo lifts his hand and notices water on it—presumably rainwater from Luke's planet, thus opening up the possibility that the Force can channel matter across great distances, as well as mind and spirit. A subsequent telepathic session ends when Luke walks in on Rey as she and Kylo are touching hands; the palpable shock and embarrassment in this scene were humorously reminiscent of a parent's bursting into a child's bedroom right as he's masturbating.

At this point, plot lines are beginning to converge. Rey and Chewbacca manage to find the First Order in pursuit of the remaining Resistance ships (I don't know how Rey tracked the fleet down... maybe through a sisterly Force connection with Leia?). Rey launches herself in one of the Falcon's escape pods and lands safely on the flagship, where she is met by Kylo Ren himself. In a grim repeat of "Return of the Jedi," Kylo escorts Rey to the throne room of Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke tortures Rey in an attempt to do what Kylo had failed to do: learn the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. When Rey tries to take back Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber, Snoke easily disarms her; the lightsaber, propelled by the Force, comes to rest on the arm of Snoke's throne. Snoke congratulates Rey on her Jedi spirit, then forces the young woman to witness the destruction of the Resistance fleet.

In another part of Snoke's ship, Finn and Rose are dismayed to discover that the hacker has betrayed them: he has given away information about the Resistance's strategy, for which he receives a large sum of money. Phasma then prepares to execute the prisoners, unaware that the droid BB-8 is on the loose inside the ship.

The Resistance fleet has split up: the survivors have boarded small transports and have abandoned the larger ships, and a reawakened Leia has calmed Poe Dameron down by revealing that the survivors are heading to the nearby planet of Crait, on which an old-but-sturdy Rebel base still exists. Unfortunately, thanks to the hacker's betrayal, the small Resistance ships are being picked off one by one. Vice Admiral Holdo, who is still on the Resistance flagship, points it toward Snoke's enormous flagship and rips into hyperspace, effectively bisecting the gargantuan vessel in an awesome display of destruction and sacrificing herself in the process.

In Snoke's throne room, Snoke gloats when he realizes that Rey is still trying to turn Kylo to the light. Professing to know Kylo's every thought and intention, Snoke sneeringly offers a step-by-step narration of Rey's impending death. But at the moment when he crows that Kylo will ignite his lightsaber and "kill his true enemy," Kylo telekinetically swivels Anakin's lightsaber until it aims directly at Snoke, then he ignites it, spearing Snoke through the gut. Kylo then drags the lightsaber's blade through Snoke's body, cutting him cleanly in half. Snoke's red-armored praetorian guards leap into action. Having failed in their primary duty to protect the Supreme Leader, they have nothing to fight for now except revenge as a way to save face and exact a measure of justice. Working together, Rey and Kylo handily defeat the guards, but Rey is crestfallen when Kylo claims that Rey's parents were no more than nameless drunkards buried in the sands of Jakku. Kylo then entreats Rey to join him and rule the galaxy—the same temptation that Darth Vader offered to Luke decades earlier. Rey makes a Force-grab for Anakin's lightsaber; the ensuing telekinetic tug of war ends when the saber splits in two. By this point, Holdo's suicide-by-ramming has occurred, and the ship is in chaos. Rey makes her escape and heads to Crait. Elsewhere inside the ship, BB-8 commandeers a scout walker and murders several stormtroopers to provide cover for Finn and Rose, who have managed to defeat Captain Phasma: she falls into a mass of flames. Finn, Rose, and the droid all head to Crait in a stolen First Order shuttle.

All eyes are now on Crait as every element of the story converges here. Crait is a ghost-white planet that appears to be covered in snow, but the snow is actually a layer of salt that conceals some sort of red mineral.** The Resistance successfully reaches the base, but the First Order has sent down a troop of "gorilla walkers" (this name is in the promo materials but is never used in the movie) and a clunkily named "battering-ram cannon"—which is a scaled-down Death Star superlaser—to blow open the base's lone entrance and slaughter the remaining survivors. The Resistance decides to attack the line of walkers with rickety speeders; the battle doesn't go well until the Millennium Falcon shows up, cannons blazing. Finn risks his life in a suicide run against the superlaser, but Rose streaks across his path, saving him from death, but crashing her own speeder and severely injuring herself. Kylo Ren's personal shuttle hovers ominously over the battle.

When things seem at their bleakest, Luke Skywalker suddenly and inexplicably appears inside the cavernous Rebel fortress. He has a warm exchange with Leia, telling her that "No one is ever really gone," and handing her Han Solo's tacky golden dice from the Millennium Falcon. Kissing Leia on the forehead, Luke heads out to do the very thing he had earlier mocked: facing the might of the First Order alone, just one man with a lightsaber. Kylo Ren sees Luke walking out of the base, but fails to notice that, unlike every other living being on this planet, Luke doesn't leave any red footprints on the ground. Enraged, Kylo orders every gun to aim at his former teacher and blast him to smithereens. The First Order war machines do so, but when the blood-red dust clears, Luke is still there, insouciant. Kylo descends to the ground to meet his master face to face. He ignites his flawed, crackling-red lightsaber; Luke ignites his shimmering blue blade. What follows is an exercise in frustration for Kylo as Luke dodges the younger man's blows like an aikido master. Luke apologizes to Kylo, saying he has failed his student. Kylo tells Luke he will destroy him and the Resistance, and that will be the end of the last Jedi. Luke counters that the Rebellion is reborn today, that the war has only just begun, and that he will not be the last Jedi. He also warns Kylo that, should he strike Luke down in anger, Luke will always be with him, "just like your father," i.e., like Han Solo. Kylo delivers what ought to be a killing blow... only to discover that Luke is merely an apparition, a Force projection. "See you around, kid," Luke says before fading away.

Back on his island, far away, Luke Skywalker sits like a Buddhist monk, floating in the air. He sinks down onto the boulder beneath him, utterly drained from the herculean effort of projecting himself across the galaxy. As the life leaves his body, he stares out at his adopted planet's twin suns, so like the Tatooine of his youth. Finally at peace, he fades away, one with the Force at last. His robes are carried off by the wind, a symbol of his departed spirit. Back on Crait, the Resistance has followed a community of crystalline foxes into the back of the fortress; boulders block their exit, but on the other side of the rock pile is Rey, who uses the Force to lift the rocks and allow the Resistance's few survivors to escape. Everyone piles into the Millennium Falcon; there are so few people, now, that the fighters have no trouble squeezing in. Rey experiences a final Force-communion with Kylo; she breaks the connection and heads over to Leia, showing the general the two broken halves of Anakin's—Luke's—old lightsaber. Finn, meanwhile, opens a drawer and finds a blanket for the injured Rose; just for a second, we get a peek at what else is in that drawer: the ancient Jedi texts that Rey had spirited away from Luke's island before Luke had a chance to burn the old tree down. Yoda's remark that Rey has "all she needs" to continue to grow takes on a fuller meaning.

Epilogue: on Canto Bight, the casino planet, some children—slaves or indentured servants—are telling each other the story of the great Jedi master Luke Skywalker. The alien boss barges in, scattering the kids and barking at them to get back to work. One boy wanders outside and casually uses the Force to call a broom into his hand. Holding the broom like a lightsaber, the boy stares into the night sky and sees a ship flare into hyperspace. We are left with the knowledge that the Resistance will live on, and that the Force has many mansions within the hearts of all living beings.

*** *** ***

We'll be talking about the controversy surrounding "The Last Jedi" in the next section, but for now, let me say that, unlike the angry legions on YouTube, I wasn't a hater. I did come away frustrated by some aspects of the story, but there were other elements that delighted me, wowed me, and gave me much food for thought.

I agree with the people who have griped that the movie suffers from pacing issues. Some of those issues relate directly to how the timeline is supposed to work for the parallel storylines. We get a hard number regarding the Resistance fleet's fuel supply: something like sixteen hours. Does this mean Rey was on Ahch-to (Luke's planet) for less than that amount of time? This leads to another frustration: Rey didn't seem to receive much, if any, training at all. When Luke was with Yoda on Dagobah, we had the chance to witness several Yodic discourses on Jedi ethics and the nature of the Force. In this movie, Rey gets a heady dose of metaphysics at the very beginning, but the rest of her stay on the island is marked by irritation at Luke. Oh, yes: I also found it unsatisfying that Rey was able to defeat Luke in that brief scuffle, but we'll deal with the Rey-as-Mary-Sue issue in a bit.

I also agree that the Canto Bight plot was unnecessary, especially given how the whole endeavor ended in failure, except for the valuable moral lesson given by DJ (the hacker played by Benicio Del Toro), which is basically that we live in an amoral universe, so it's unwise to pick sides ("Don't join"—a motto that corresponds to DJ's initials; alas, we never hear the name "DJ" in the movie). This can be interpreted as a cynical version of Luke's insight that the Force's true nature goes beyond light and dark, good and evil. I wonder what a Luke/DJ conversation would sound like. Anyway, the main reason I didn't like this particular subplot is that it wasted Finn's character. The previous movie establishes that Finn, too, is Force-sensitive: you'll recall that, when he and Rey steal the Millennium Falcon on Jakku, they both slip immediately and intuitively into their respective roles as pilot and gunner. When they make their escape, they babble excitedly at each other about how they were able to do what they'd done—and to have done it so well. That was actually one of the best scenes in "The Force Awakens," and I think director Rian Johnson squandered Finn's potential by shoehorning in this utterly unnecessary (not to mention overly preachy) storyline.

"The Last Jedi" contains a lot of humor. This irritated some viewers, but I had fun with it, even with the cheap laughs, such as the Luke/Rey "reach out" joke and Chewbacca failing to chow down on some roasted porg (trivia: porgs are based on puffins, birds that inhabit Skellig Michael, the real-world island that doubled as Luke's haven away from galactic affairs). All in all, the story was a good balance of humor and gravitas.

In terms of the movie's pluses: I did enjoy the expanded theology of the Force. I was also glad to hear John Williams's score, which seems to feature a reinvigorated Williams. This score is a far cry from the muddled, boring tripe he composed for the prequel films (even "Duel of the Fates" is mindlessly repetitive; my brother Sean, a professional cellist, never misses an opportunity to mock that leitmotif); I'm glad to see the old guy back in fine form. I hope he's around long enough to create the score for Episode IX. I also thought the battles that bookend the movie were epic in scale and amazingly well done. The destruction of Snoke's ship, somewhere past the movie's middle, was impressive as hell: I gave an audible "Wow" in the theater when that moment happened. A cynic might say that the screenwriters were once again betraying their titanic-explosion fetish (how many Death Stars and capital ships have we seen blowing up, now?), but this particular cataclysm was impressive on its own terms.

Overall, I'd say "The Last Jedi" had its heart in the right place. In its defense, I'll note that you can't please everyone (critics observe that it took years for "The Empire Strikes Back" to be acknowledged as the best of all the Star Wars movies), and that I, too, came away dissatisfied about certain aspects of the story. I don't mind that the Force has been democratized; if anything, I think this is a necessary course correction for the goofiness of George Lucas's absurd "midichlorians" in the prequels, which was a lame attempt at justifying how Force-aptitude runs along family lines. Now, with a more democratic and less dynastic Force, we have a more interesting galaxy to romp around in. The movie was good enough for me to view it twice in theaters, and whatever the controversy, it has certainly proven to be great fodder for thought and discussion.

2. Complaints and Controversies

After watching yet another YouTube video excoriating "The Last Jedi," I scrolled down to the comments section and saw a hilarious quote that ought to be made into a bumper sticker:

No one hates a Star Wars movie quite like a Star Wars fan.

How painfully true, especially given the reactions I've seen online in both article and video form. Go to YouTube and type "Last Jedi worst movie ever," and you'll be deluged with videos trashing the film. Meanwhile, professional movie critics have almost universally applauded Rian Johnson's effort, which they see as taking the story in a new and different direction, much to the relief of people who had feared we were in for a slavish repeat of "The Empire Strikes Back." Above, I linked to Rotten Tomatoes, which shows "The Last Jedi" enjoying a 90% approval rating from critics ("certified fresh"), but only a 49% approval rating ("certified rotten") from regular viewers. Meanwhile, the CinemaScore for "The Last Jedi"—a sort of exit poll of the attitudes of the hoi polloi—is a solid "A."

Having mulled over this problem for a few weeks, now, I've come to the conclusion that we're looking at three blocs of viewers, each coming at the movie from a different perspective. First, there are the professional critics, whose job it is to evaluate "The Last Jedi" according to its artistic merit. These are people who, from years of movie-watching, see the marionette strings, so to speak, in movies. Because they've seen it all, it comes as a relief to them when a movie brings something—anything—new and fresh to the table. For this reason, the critics greeted "The Last Jedi" with joy. The second bloc, represented by those who gave the movie an "A" CinemaScore, are the regular Joe and Jane Citizens who simply want to go watch a movie and be entertained. These folks aren't deeply invested in the Star Wars universe; they just want some escapist entertainment for a few hours, and that's enough to make them happy. Viewed in that way, "The Last Jedi" certainly delivered for this crowd, with plenty of blast and spectacle. The third and final bloc is composed almost entirely of rabid fanboys and fangirls—the ones who are heavily invested in the Star Wars universe. These are the people who own Star Wars visual dictionaries, have followed the comics/graphic novels, have read the Expanded Universe novels (most of which have been de-canonized with the release of JJ Abrams's "The Force Awakens"), and have a clear and firm idea of where the movies' story arc ought to be going. It's this group that is the most angered and disappointed by the newest trilogy because the films seem to offer less-than-optimal portrayals of the Star Wars universe's most beloved main characters. The fanboy crowd is furious because, from their point of view, Rian Johnson (who was also involved in writing the story of "The Last Jedi") has betrayed George Lucas's original intentions—and has even undone much of the setup provided by JJ Abrams in "The Force Awakens." The fanboy fury is so extreme that some have written that Johnson's film "makes the prequels look good by comparison." Damn.

Having watched over a dozen different review videos about "The Last Jedi," most of them negative (with Kevin Smith's 90-minute, from-the-heart review as a notable exception), I think I've distilled several of the major issues about which viewers are griping. These issues can be very roughly subdivided into complaints and controversies. By "complaints," I mean simple gripes about the film. By "controversies," I mean issues about which two or more factions are divided. I'm going to list these issues and go over them point by point, but I'm not going to label each issue as a complaint or a controversy because, frankly, there are some issues that could be classified as either or both. Please pardon the formatting of what comes next: it's going to remind some of you of Catechism of the Catholic Church.*** With that in mind, let's examine what all the fuss is about. Here are the issues and my takes on them, in no particular order, listed in a way that isn't meant to be comprehensive:

• Luke Skywalker would never have tried to kill Ben Solo.

The loudest cries of fanboy outrage seem to focus on this issue. Mark Hamill himself is on record as saying that he fundamentally disagreed with Rian Johnson's interpretation of the Luke character. According to Hamill, Luke was the most positive person in the galaxy, willing and able to see the good in his father, Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker, when everyone else saw nothing but pure evil—including the revenant of Ben Kenobi, who dismissed Vader as "more machine, now, than man—twisted and evil." How, then, could the most positive person in the galaxy view the rising evil in his nephew and conclude that the best thing to do would be to kill the young man?

A defense of this movie's version of Luke, though, might go something like this: in the movie, we see two versions of the story of Luke and Kylo's falling-out. In one version, Luke out-and-out tries to kill Kylo; in the other, Luke hesitates, allowing Kylo a chance to defend himself. Luke's version of what happened has him implying that he felt guilty for thinking he should destroy his nephew, so that's one point for Luke. We can also note that there's precedent, in the Star Wars universe, for Jedi wanting to kill someone consumed with evil: remember what happened between Mace Windu and Chancellor Palpatine in "Revenge of the Sith." The reasoning behind the motivation to kill—which does admittedly seem un-Jedi-like—might be the same rationale behind killing a rabid animal.

Critics of this character beat think that Luke's decision to kill his sister's son would have been more realistic had he talked the matter over with Leia and Han first. How do you outright murder your nephew? By any metric, this would be insane, which makes this moment in the movie an example of bad storytelling.

Like Mark Hamill, I think Luke would have been too positive a person to contemplate, even for a moment, killing his nephew, so even though the two flashbacks created an interesting sort of unreliable-narrator vibe for me, I did feel that Luke's moral lapse was unrealistic—not a good fit for the character we've come to know. It might have been better to show Luke perceiving the moral rot in Kylo's soul that had, up to then, been cultivated by Snoke, and it should have been Kylo who, through some evil action, instigated the falling-out.

Be that as it may, we're stuck with this version of Luke. I suppose we can justify Luke's lapse by observing that Luke, like Vader before him, carried a good measure of darkness within himself, some of which came out in "Return of the Jedi" when Vader provoked Luke by threatening to turn Leia to the dark side. Decades may pass, and a person can plunge ever more deeply into his chosen religious discipline, but this doesn't fully erase the darkness. In fact, as we'll discuss later, this movie seems to make the case that we need to look more deeply into the Force as that which transcends any dark/light dichotomy.

• Rey was a Mary Sue in the first film, and she's even more of a Mary Sue now.

Sorry to all you Rey-lovers, but I have to agree with this criticism. For those who don't know the term "Mary Sue," allow me to explain it. I learned the term only two years ago, early in 2016, when people had had a couple months to digest "The Force Awakens," which had come out close to Christmas 2015. The term began popping up with increasing frequency as people went from loving JJ Abrams's movie to falling out of love with it as they thought about it more deeply. In essence, a Mary Sue is a perfect female character who can do no wrong. She's competent in every situation, morally pure, highly intuitive, and guaranteed to make the right decision, even with a dearth of evidence to justify her choice. The male equivalent of a Mary Sue is called a "Gary Stu," and the best example of a Gary Stu that I can think of is arguably Jack Bauer from the series "24." True: Jack's Gary Stu-ness is undermined by the fact that his friends and loved ones keep dying around him, thus curdling his soul until he becomes almost inhuman. But in every other respect, Bauer is utterly competent and unfailingly correct with his intuitions: people who ignore Jack's advice usually end up dead or end up causing a major—but preventable—disaster.

Here, too, Mark Hamill has publicly joked about how he had imagined the Kylo/Rey fight in "The Force Awakens" going: Rey would call the old lightsaber to herself; it would fly toward her... but then it would go past her and be caught by none other than Luke, standing behind her in that forest on Starkiller Base. When Hamill saw how the scene was actually going to play out, he comically griped, "But she didn't even go to Dagobah for training!"

This, I think, is a major problem with how Rey's character has been written for these movies. She gets everything right on the first try, up to and including the performance of Jedi-specific deeds like the "mind trick" to use on the weak-minded. I can buy the notion that Rey is inherently powerful with the Force; what's hard to swallow is the idea that she's also inherently disciplined enough to master Force tricks with no training whatsoever. It is, in fact, frustrating to see everything come so easily and undeservedly to her; I don't think Rey has earned her place in this saga. And just as Jack Bauer became a joke as "24" plodded into its later seasons—unfailingly right about and unfailingly good at everything—Rey isn't a character I can take seriously. She needs flaws so she can be a more textured, relatable individual—someone in whom we can invest our interest, someone we can root for.

• Vice Admiral Holdo's destruction of Snoke's flagship makes us wonder why the hyperspace-kamikaze tactic hasn't been used before. Also, while we're at it, it should have been Admiral Ackbar at the controls, not Holdo. Ackbar could have gone out in style.

Wow. The destruction of Snoke's massive ship (called the Supremacy in the promo materials, but never named in the movie) was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen on film. It was way better than the simplistic, fireworks-like destruction of the first Death Star in 1977's "Star Wars." At the same time, the big ship's death was yet another example of Star Wars showrunners betraying their big-explosion fetish: if it's not two Death Stars, a droid-control ship ("The Phantom Menace"), or Starkiller Base, then it's a massive flagship. Something's gotta go boom!

But the fanboys' complaints are something to consider. First: why haven't we seen this tactic before? Just put a ship on autopilot, point it at the enemy, then let it auto-launch into hyperspace. The Rebels could have destroyed the Death Star from a distance with that tactic! I suppose one response could be that no one had ever thought to do such a thing before. I don't know how plausible that notion is, but we learn from Poe Dameron that Holdo enjoyed a reputation as a brilliant strategist, so maybe her suicide run was an example of out-of-the-box thinking. Second: why wasn't it Admiral Ackbar at the controls? Ackbar, one of the most beloved and gently parodied characters from "Return of the Jedi," deserved better than to be unceremoniously sucked into space in the same attack that almost killed Leia. The poor admiral had served with distinction during the Battle of Endor, and we viewers have had decades to enjoy Ackbar in layers upon layers of pop-culture references to his now-classic, overly memed "It's a trap!" line. Holdo, meanwhile, is a newcomer to us; it's hard to warm up to her when she isn't given enough screen time for us to appreciate who she is.

I don't know the inside of Rian Johnson's head, but at a guess, he liked the character of Holdo enough to give her an arc that would begin and end in the same movie. By that standard, Johnson probably thought it fitting to send Holdo off with a bang, and actress Laura Dern's take on the soft-spoken character of Holdo is good enough for us, in the audience, to feel a pang when the vice admiral sacrifices herself so spectacularly. As for Ackbar's rather ignominious end... perhaps Johnson is racist against Mon Calamari.

• Poe Dameron, through his actions, essentially kills most of the Resistance.

I've seen this accusation in only one place: on Vox, in an article criticizing Rian Johnson for not having gone far enough in presenting new themes and ideas in this film. The author of the Vox article, David Roberts, argues that it's Poe's errors in judgment that lead to so many deaths. First, there's the matter of Poe's insistence on bombing the dreadnaught at the beginning of the movie. This attack, which began with the disobeying of General Organa's order to return to the main fleet, ended up costing the lives of the entire bomber squadron. Poe then secretly sends Finn and Rose on their doomed mission to Canto Bight, the casino planet, only for them to pick up a hacker who turns out to be traitorous, and who hands over information about the Resistance's plans to the First Order, thus allowing the First Order to pick off the Resistance's remaining ships, one by one. Roberts writes: "[Poe] can't see past his next move. And so, between defying orders, mutinying, and leaking highly sensitive information, he almost single-handedly gets the entire Resistance wiped out." Roberts also notes that, frustratingly, Poe suffers no significant consequences for his recklessness. In fact, Leia and Holdo share a moment in which they both confess to liking Poe for his fighting spirit.

• There was absolutely no reason for Holdo to stonewall Poe Dameron. Poe was an asshole, but Holdo was just showing bad leadership.

Given what I wrote in the previous section, this complaint doesn't seem legitimate anymore. Holdo doesn't know much about Poe except for his recent actions (getting all the bombers killed) and the consequences of those actions (an immediate demotion). It therefore seems legitimate for Holdo to be leery of giving Poe information on which he might act rashly. All the same, this particular complaint has come up repeatedly online. The more I think about it, though, the more I feel that this complaint can be safely ignored.

• The entire Canto Bight sequence was one huge irrelevancy.

This is another frequent complaint, and I generally agree with it. In her video on the topic of wrong-headed complaints about "The Last Jedi," Jenny Nicholson contends that the Canto Bight sequence, far from being irrelevant, roundly underscores one of the movie's central themes, which is failure. I think this is a good point, but I don't think it required an entire subplot to make, especially since the failure trope appears in so many other places in "The Last Jedi." Rose, as a new character, feels awkwardly shoehorned into the plot of this movie. By the end of the story, I still had little idea of how she was supposed to fit into the bigger picture. Her importance seemed to hinge on the fact that she had a sister, Paige, who had sacrificed herself to destroy a First Order dreadnaught—an action that earned no accolades from General Organa because Leia was furious at Poe for having led that attack and for having cost the Resistance so many lives.

Nothing good comes of this casino-planet side adventure (except for the liberation of some abused animals), which also does little to nothing to flesh out Finn. As I said in my review above, Finn had been set up by JJ Abrams to demonstrate his own potential with the Force; Finn really ought to have had a storyline that explored his spiritual progress and development. Instead, there was this almost-random romp that ended up serving no purpose at all. In short, Finn was cheated, and I think our time was wasted. The Canto Bight sequence is a major reason why "The Last Jedi" is, at 152 minutes, the longest movie in the Star Wars series.

• How was the one remaining bomber able to "drop" its bombs? There's no gravity in space!

This complaint came up in several YouTube reviews of the movie, and while I'm normally among the first to point out absurdities in what I call "Hollywood physics," I think there's a plausible in-universe explanation for how bombs can be "dropped" in space.

You'll recall that Paige has fallen off a ladder and lost the remote device that releases the payload. The device is at the top of the ladder, teetering at the edge of the hole in the floor. Paige begins kicking the ladder, hoping the vibration from the impact of her kicks will send the remote tumbling down to her. Luckily for her, this is what happens: she catches the remote and hits the button; the bombs all leave the ship and drop down onto the First Order dreadnaught below/behind her.

How did the bombs drop? Easy: as evidenced by Paige's fall and the remote's subsequent tumble, her ship has artificial gravity. Since the Star Wars universe deals with recognizable humans who have all presumably grown up on worlds with 1 g of gravity, we can safely assume that the bombs, while inside the ship, will accelerate out of the ship at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. Once in space, they won't accelerate any longer, but their momentum will still carry them down to the dreadnaught.

If you're determined to pursue this argument, I suppose you could counter that that's an overly slow way to release bombs in space, given that space combat would occur over far greater distances than typical, Earth-style air combat would. I'd have to agree with you, but that argument is beside the point, which had to do with how Paige could send bombs down to the dreadnaught by "dropping" them without gravity. The point is that she did have some gravity on her side.

• The movie was too preachily political, being filled with lefty/SJW moments.

This complaint comes from the more conservative fanboys. I thought the Canto Bight sequence was overly preachy and didactic, but for me, that was more of a storytelling problem than an actual ideological problem. After all, who seriously disagrees with the message, "Don't abuse or exploit animals"? If anything, it might have been nice to see a greater degree of bonding between Rose and one of the alien horses, such that, when it came time to leave the planet, it would have been hard to say goodbye.

A coworker of mine said he'd seen and heard complaints from folks who felt the movie had too many minority characters. I had to wonder what century these complainants thought they were living in, especially given that the Star Wars films, with their endless plethora of alien life, have always emphasized diversity in some form or other. I still have trouble believing that such complainants exist.

• How do you kill off Snoke without doing more to flesh out his character?

Ah, Snoke.

Snoke, Snoke, Snoke.

I have to give Rian Johnson credit for having the garbage-truck-sized balls to kill off a character that we had all assumed was this trilogy's big bad—a surrogate for Emperor Palpatine from the original trilogy. I was surprised and amazed when Kylo used the Force to slice his master in half (does Andy Serkis ever play mo-cap characters who don't die? Gollum, Kong, Caesar, Snoke—all kaput), but like everyone else, I experienced an almost-tragic pang when I realized: where the hell do we go from here? True: this pang was premised on the assumption that, with Kylo Ren as the only significant villain, we're not left with much to work with. Kylo is temperamental, immature, and unfocused, which ought to make him easy to defeat, especially since he's covered with emotional buttons to push. Snoke, by contrast, seemed to be cold, methodical, and scarily powerful, almost Sauron-like in his machinations. As some online critics pointed out, Snoke's hollow, skeletal face, with that massive crack in the top of his skull, hinted at a story, begging to be told. We'll never get to know that story, now, and the abrupt dismissal of Snoke from the trilogy feels like a major fuck-you to JJ Abrams, who had set Snoke up as a figure to be explored and fleshed out.

On the positive side, killing Snoke off is a deliberate signal that this trilogy will not be a slavish repetition of the original trilogy. With Snoke now gone, we're guaranteed not to have a Rey-versus-Kylo fight with Snoke as the cackling spectator. Instead, the story will have to take a completely original path.

I find that I'm actually okay with this. While Snoke's death was a surprise (and, on second viewing, a comical surprise, especially when I realized that Snoke's left hand had been severed and was still sitting on his throne, even after his upper body had toppled to the floor), I'm actually glad he's gone. Assuming I accept the story I've been given, I'm now free to view Snoke as a sort of MacGuffin, a misleading plot device to distract us from the more fundamental story: the twin arcs of Rey and Kylo. So, yes: while I do regret the fact that we won't be delving into Snoke's backstory (much of which has apparently been explored in recent novels), I'm fine with his death and with the need to move the plot forward.

One last comment: did you notice that Snoke gave us two overtly Christian references? I found this exquisitely ironic, given Snoke's near-demonic status. First, there's the moment when Snoke congratulates Kylo Ren by saying, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!" This is an almost exact quote from the parable of the talents, found in Matthew 25:14-30. Next, there's Snoke's reference to the prayer of Saint Francis when he says to Kylo, "Where there was conflict, I now sense resolve; where there was weakness, strength!"

You may recall that the prayer goes like this:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

• Leia, when she's doing her Mary Poppins/Star-Lord thing in space, simply looks ridiculous. This was the cringe-inducingly corniest moment in the film. Plus: physics! When she floats over to the door to be let back into the ship, the outrush of air would blow her back out into space.

Several online critics report that, in the scene where a frost-bedizened Leia uses the Force to pull herself back to the Resistance flagship, the entire audience laughed at the absurd tableau. Here in Seoul, the crowd I sat with took the spectacle in with utmost seriousness. No one laughed at all, perhaps because, like me, they assumed that what they were seeing was on the order of a holy miracle. This was Luke's sister finally coming into her own.

I had been primed, thanks to certain articles I had read, to expect to see people using the Force in new and unconventional ways. I had no idea what form those new ways would take, but when Leia began to glide back to her ship, I knew that that scene was one of those unconventional instances. I'll be writing more about the expansion of the theology of the Force in the third section, but I'll note here that I don't share the cynics' scorn for this moment of the movie. I took the moment in stride and simply assumed this was something miraculous, and something that made sense given Leia's own inherent Force abilities, hinted at long ago in the original trilogy, as when she senses Luke calling out to her in "The Empire Strikes Back," and when she finally realizes she's Luke's sister in "Return of the Jedi."

As for the second complaint about Hollywood physics: come on. If Leia is able to rescue herself from death by hard vacuum, then surely she can manipulate the air such that there's no massive blowout of atmosphere when the ship's doors open to let her back inside. Besides: in the Star Wars universe, there are many examples of doorways that are open to space, but that hold back a ship's atmosphere through the use of invisible forcefields. Could not a temporary forcefield have been called up after the bridge had been destroyed by TIE fighters?

I think my only real problem with Leia's evocation of the Force is that she used her powers to save herself, not someone else. I don't know why this doesn't sit well with me, but it's only a minor complaint. I kind of like the idea that extremity is what it takes to activate Leia's heretofore hidden Force talents; this is reminiscent of the torture scene in "Deadpool," in which we learn that extreme stress is needed to activate some mutants' X-genes.

• Puppet Yoda? Dafuck?

I do not understand this complaint at all. What's not to love about the return of puppet Yoda? For Christ's sake, lighten up, you guys! Any chance to see Yoda—puppet or CGI—is a happy moment, indeed. And this Yoda brings along a few more moral lessons for Luke. Despite Luke's status as a Jedi master, there's still more for him to learn, and in this case, the major lesson is that failure is the greatest teacher. There are mournful echoes and resonances in Yoda's insight, which made me wonder about Yoda's own past failures over the course of nine centuries—nearly a twentieth of the existence of the Jedi Knights.****

Anyway, no: I wasn't upset to see puppet Yoda. I read that Rian Johnson wanted, like JJ Abrams, to go back to practical effects for many of his creatures, so it's unsurprising that Yoda would come back in this form.

• Did we really need a walrus with tits?

According to the promo materials, these lovely creatures, one of which Luke almost tauntingly milks in front of Rey (hilariously, the creature turns its head and gives Rey a meaningful look as it's being milked), are called thala-sirens. I have to admit that, when I first saw a thala-siren up close, I thought the tits were massive balls: our first view of the alien walruses was somewhat cut off at the bottom; initially, we could see only the tops of the upper teats, which were seated right where you'd expect a mammalian crotch to be. A subsequent shot, though, made it obvious that we were being treated to the sight of teats and stubby udders. (Perhaps I'll name my firstborn son "Tudders.")

This was a bizarrely earthy and intimate scene. People speculating on Luke's motives have largely settled on the notion that Luke is deliberately showing Rey his daily routine as a way to put her off and send her away. This explains the almost vicious grimace of satisfaction on Luke's face when he swigs some thala-siren milk and looks at Rey. Rey, of course, is not so easily turned aside, but I can imagine that, for a desert girl, watching Luke milk a sea cow and drink its secretions would have taken her a bit out of her comfort zone. At least we were spared the sight of Luke actually suckling a teat.

I liked the earthiness that the thala-sirens brought. I like the implied story behind Luke's relationship with the land and sea life around him, and the oblique reminder that Luke had started life as a man of the soil, a poor farmhand. The old Jedi master might have closed himself off from the Force, but he hadn't done so completely; he was still in touch with the living beings around him—still sensitive enough to their presence that he could perceive and spear a large fish over a hundred feet below him. (I did, however, wonder what on Earth Luke was going to do with that much fish meat. It might have been nice to see some Korean-style lines on which row upon row of pieces of filleted fish meat were drying.)

If anything, the thala-sirens made me wish we could have seen more of how Luke had integrated himself into the ecology of this planet. "The Empire Strikes Back" did a better job, I think, of showing how thoroughly Yoda, also a non-native, had become a denizen of Dagobah's swamps and forests, utterly at home in primitive nature, like a Taoist mountain sage or an Indian samnyasin (i.e., a forest-dwelling renunciant).

Early in "The Phantom Menace," young Obi-wan Kenobi uses the tantalizing term "symbiont circle" to describe how the planet's life forms relate to each other. I wouldn't have minded a fleshing-out of this circle in "The Last Jedi." I wouldn't have minded seeing a Luke who, though sad and somber in self-imposed exile, had still managed to forge a joyful communion, of sorts, with the sentient beings around him—life forms that gleefully scamper over to him when they see him, perhaps bringing news from around the planet, or simply stopping by to engage in pleasantly desultory animal-chatter with this powerful human who can gently touch their minds and participate in a sort of soul-deep brotherhood with the world.

• If the Resistance fleet had only sixteen hours of fuel, does this mean Rey was on Luke's planet (Ahch-to) for less than that amount of time (keeping in mind that the Star Wars universe largely ignores relativistic effects)?

One of my big frustrations with both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Last Jedi" is the unsatisfactorily short amount of time that both movies devote to Jedi training. In "Empire," we do see Luke going through arduous routines and learning several important skills, but we never see how he improves his swordsmanship, which he must have improved in order to face Darth Vader. In "Last," we never see Luke training Rey at all. The scene in which Luke tells Rey to "reach out," for example, carries the subtext that Luke has already figured out that Rey is skilled enough to do what he's asked her to do without further guidance: Luke already knows Rey can stretch her perceptions as wide as the galaxy. Rey's act of expanding her percipience is, therefore, already well within her capabilities. This isn't training, except perhaps in a very loose sense.

Both "Empire" and "Last" suffer from the same timeline issue: how long, exactly, was Luke on Dagobah? Long enough for the Millennium Falcon to find its way to Bespin, apparently, but how long did that take? Weeks? Months? We have no idea how far Bespin is from Hoth, so it's hard to say. And how long was Rey on Ahch-to? Hours? Days? All we know is that she was there long enough to become thoroughly disenchanted with Luke, whom she abandons after stealing both his Jedi texts and his father's lightsaber. Her life of desert thievery has never truly left her: pilfering is an impulse she hasn't outgrown.

Assuming Rey was on Ahch-to for less than sixteen hours, I suppose it makes sense that she wouldn't have received much, if any, training from Luke. She was there long to enough to get a brief tour of the island and a look at some of Luke's routines; she saw the old Jedi tree and its small stash of ancient texts; she had a few touchy-feely visions of Kylo Ren; she briefly fought Luke and learned something about Luke's falling-out with Kylo; she gathered up Chewie and Artoo, then left the planet. I suppose all that could have plausibly happened within the space of sixteen hours, while the Resistance fleet was burning away its remaining fuel in another part of the galaxy.

• Phasma: shortchanged again. She's this movie's Boba Fett. There's no point in hiring an actress of Gwendoline Christie's caliber, then utterly underserving her.

I do feel bad for Phasma. Although some fans are speculating that she might return a third time in Episode IX, I kind of hope she doesn't. The way she's been shortchanged, two films in a row, has become something of a bitter running joke. I can definitely see the fanboy complaint that she is the Boba Fett surrogate in this trilogy: a character who looks cool, menacing, and full of potential, but who ultimately checks out like a punk (cf. Boba Fett's unceremonious exit, straight into the gullet of the Sarlacc).

Phasma could have been given so much more to do, and with Gwendoline Christie's amazingly expressive face, she could have enjoyed many scenes with her helmet off. Most of us know Christie from her work as Brienne of Tarth on the HBO series "Game of Thrones," and Christie has proven to have a lively, bubbly personality in interviews, but I think she's a good enough actress to pull off the role of a vicious, merciless baddie in the Star Wars universe. In conclusion, I think Phasma, as we see her in this movie, represents sadly wasted potential.

• Whose story is this, anyway?

In interviews, Mark Hamill has repeatedly said that "this is no longer Luke's story," and with the in-universe deaths of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, plus the untimely real-life death of Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), the new trilogy truly is moving into uncharted territory, decidedly away from a dynastic narrative about the Force-powerful Skywalkers. The final movie in the series has, as a result, a sort of anything-goes aura about it, and I'll be curious to see what JJ Abrams does to wrap things up. Abrams will, of course, have to beware the third-movie-in-a-trilogy curse; I hope he concentrates on bringing everything into focus instead of exploding the story into thousands more loose ends in which nothing of substance gets answered. (Abrams, who helmed the TV show "Lost," got plenty of flak for that series's disappointingly open-ended finale.) That said, it's very likely we'll see Luke come back as a Force ghost, now liberated from his corporeal bonds and perhaps possessing the same level of power and influence that Yoda, as a Force ghost, has.

At first, I would have said this trilogy was mostly the story of Rey and Finn, but with Finn having been so thoroughly marginalized this time around, this is looking more and more like the story of Rey and Kylo Ren. I'm not sure how I feel about that. With Abrams back in the captain's chair, perhaps we'll see Finn's role and significance rehabilitated in the final chapter of the trilogy.

• There was no chemistry between Finn and Rose. That kiss was painfully awkward. Besides, there should be a romantic arc involving Finn and Rey.

I'm not sure what to make of Rose. A sexist-pig, chauvinistic interpretation of her role in "The Last Jedi" is that she now serves as some sort of consolation prize for Finn, especially since Kylo Ren seems so focused on having Rey at his side as co-ruler of the galaxy. This is a shame: "The Last Jedi" started out with Finn's first waking thought being, "Rey!" I had really thought there was potential for a love story, here, but Rian Johnson apparently doesn't see it that way. By the end of the movie, Rey finds herself quietly watching Finn as he puts a blanket over the injured Rose, who is now the focus of his caring impulses.

You could argue that this is a realistic portrayal of human behavior. Remember your crushes and dates in college and high school? Remember when they used to be the center of your world, but somehow life intervened, and they gradually shifted outside of your focus, only to be replaced by other people you came to care about? When Finn first meets Rose, he's trying to sneak into an escape pod so he can go find Rey. Rose catches him as he's boarding, and at first, she's gaga over meeting a hero of the Resistance... until she realizes he's trying to board the pod, and she interprets his actions as desertion (he's not a cowardly deserter by any means: he's willing to risk everything to find Rey). Finn and Rose begin to bond thanks to their Canto Bight adventure, and by the end, they're fighting side by side to thwart the final First Order assault against the Rebel base on Crait. Rose's unexpected kiss—given after she tells Finn that the Resistance will win not by destroying what one hates, but by saving what one loves—was awkward, true, but it probably got Finn's attention.

And yet... as realistic and plausible as this twist in Finn's potential love life might be, I can't help feeling that Rey and Finn share a romantic destiny. (I had much the same feeling regarding Harry Potter's not ending up with Hermione—a feeling that JK Rowling herself admitted to having years after the final book in her heptalogy was published.) This feeling, coupled with the sight of Finn's not really being into the kiss Rose gives him, leads me to agree with the gripers that the Rose/Finn thing lacks chemistry. The best dramatic solution may be to turn one of them into a tragic, self-sacrificial figure in the final movie. Maybe Finn's focus on Rey will eventually drive Rose into a depression (although, these days, with the Bechdel-fueled demand for "strong" female characters, it's hard to imagine any woman in the Star Wars saga getting depressed over not nabbing a man). Maybe we'll get a new male character on whom Rose can focus her amorous attentions while Finn goes haring off after Rey in an attempt to woo her back from Kylo. (Does it seem as if all the main males in the new trilogy are focused a little too creepily on Rey? Even Poe Dameron, when he finally meets Rey at the very end, seems to give the young lady a look filled with potentially naughty subtext—or is that just me reading too much into that exchange? One way or another, Rey seems to be living through a "There's Something About Mary Sue" situation. She certainly doesn't lack for suitors; attracting men is yet another thing she's good at doing.)

• Did Luke do a 180 regarding whether the Jedi should go on?

I'm not sure I saw this complaint anywhere, but it's definitely been a question in my mind. Luke begins his interactions with Rey by telling her that "it's time for the Jedi to end." Later on, he talks about how Jedi vanity and arrogance led to the rise of people like Darth Sidious, a.k.a., Emperor Palpatine. In his exchange with the ghost of Master Yoda, Luke learns that it's good to let the past go, and to let the next generation start afresh. By the end of the movie, Luke confidently declares to Kylo Ren that he, Luke, will not be the last Jedi.

I don't know how to take this. Is Luke saying, in the spirit of Yoda's pro-evolutionary stance, that there will still be Jedi, but who and what those Jedi are will be an entirely different breed from what has come before? Or is Luke merely contradicting his own earlier, pro-extinction stance, given that Rey's future will resemble Luke's own autodidactic progress between "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi"?

Either way, it's obvious that Luke has gone through a radical internal change from earlier in the movie to later in the movie. Where before, he had been thinking in terms of endings (he tells Rey, at one point, that he's basically waiting to die), he now thinks in terms of rebirth and new beginnings: the creation that follows destruction in the ever-dynamic, paradoxically off-kilter balance that is the way of the Force. "Darkness rises, and light to meet it," as Snoke says, echoing the notion of cosmic balance.

• Does ghost-Yoda's ability to affect the material world (calling down lighting, bonking Luke on the head with his walking stick) mean that Obi-wan could have intervened more substantively in the previous war?

Before this version of Yoda appeared, like a Yuletide revenant to Scrooge, all we ever saw of Force ghosts was (1) their apparition as a way of manifesting and radiating benevolence (cf. the end of "Return of the Jedi"), and (2) their apparition as a way of giving crucial sage advice to mortals in times of need. From early on in the overall saga, Force ghosts have been capable of providing not only guidance, but new information: witness Ben's ghost on Hoth in "The Empire Strikes Back," telling Luke quite specifically to head to the Dagobah system to train with Jedi Master Yoda, who had been Ben's teacher. Witness Ben again on Dagobah, giving Luke the morally dubious backstory of Anakin's transformation into Vader.

But now, we see Yoda's spirit perform two unexpected actions: he calls down lightning from the sky in a paroxysm of pagan witchcraft, and he bonks Luke on the head with his ghostly walking stick, producing an audible thumping noise. This throws into question just how corporeal or incorporeal these Force ghosts are, but as one YouTube reviewer noted, the quasi-materiality of these ghosts now makes Ben Kenobi's act of sitting down on a log in "Return of the Jedi" more understandable. Traditionally, here on Earth, ghosts are imbued with similarly contradictory traits. They can often pass through walls, but they seem to respect the solidity of floors and the ground. You can reach right through a ghost and receive nothing but a chill for your trouble, but a poltergeist might, in anger or pique, knock around small household items with a swat of an ectoplasmic appendage.

The simplest answer is, of course, that Force ghosts do whatever the screenwriters need them to do to move the story forward, but that doesn't make for an entertaining in-universe explanation.

As for the question at hand: does Yoda's Force ghost throw into question the behavior of ghosts who have come before? I'm inclined to say no: Yoda's act of calling down lightning is fairly minor on the scale of planets; we don't know what Force ghosts are fully capable of doing, but I doubt the ghost of Ben Kenobi could have summoned some huge, cosmic weather event to destroy the original Death Star.

• How could Snoke not sense that sneaky Kylo intended to kill him?

Quite a few critics are hung up on the question of how the all-powerful Snoke was unable to Spider-sense the fact that Kylo was aiming to kill his master. I actually think the answer to this is as simple as the answer to the question of how Palpatine couldn't sense the metanoia happening in Vader while the Emperor used Force-lightning to torture Vader's son.

Hubris. Simple as that.

The Star Wars story has always incorporated elements of Greek drama and tragedy into its universe; hubris is a major driving force for the saga's villains, and a temptation even for the good guys: witness Luke's prideful manner when he confronted Jabba the Hutt in the fat gangster's own palace.

Yoda warned us in "The Empire Strikes Back" that "always in motion is the future." Yoda's metaphysical stance was informed by his humility in the face of the cosmos: the universe is always bigger and badder and bolder than we can ever know, and Yoda respects this. The Emperor and Vader, meanwhile, speak about plans and outcomes with the overconfidence of people who think a clear, singular future can be seen when, in fact, all we really see are infinitely ramifying possibilities among which some courses may or may not appear probable. This definiteness about the future can be found in other sci-fi movies—The Matrix trilogy, for example: Agent Smith and the Architect, as products of the machine world, see all events in terms of their inevitability. Neo and the Oracle, meanwhile, view matters in terms of choice and freedom, thus acknowledging a certain degree of existential wiggle room and denying causal closure. Smug surety—hubris—is a sure sign of impending defeat: whom the gods destroy, first they make proud.

So Snoke, who was so close to getting part of what he wanted, i.e., the destruction of Rey, if not the destruction of Luke, was unable to see the lightsaber swivel ninety degrees toward him. He caught that Kylo was intending to ignite a saber and kill someone, but he missed that he was the "true enemy" to be destroyed.

Aside: in "The Force Awakens," Snoke seems interested in Rey for her Force potential ("Bring her to me," he commands Kylo). What happened between the first movie and this one to convince Snoke that Rey should be destroyed? Did he, upon seeing her in person, realize she was already too far gone in her Mary Sue-ness ever to be corrupted and brought into the dark side? Was this, then, another of Rian Johnson's fuck-yous to JJ Abrams?

• Benicio Del Toro's character was as underused and underdeveloped as Phasma's. Plus, that stutter was annoying.

I love Benicio Del Toro, and I know he likes to endow some of his characters with weird verbal quirks: witness his Fred Fenster in "The Usual Suspects," or his Collector in "Guardians of the Galaxy." The man likes unusual speech patterns. Knowing this, I didn't mind his choice to give codebreaker DJ (Mister "Don't Join," remember) a stutter. The stutter never felt in-your-face, and it wasn't played for comedy the way that Michael Palin did in "A Fish Called Wanda."

Del Toro is also capable of giving his characters a threatening, dead-eyed stare that makes it hard to read what his motives are, and I thought he put that deadly, deadpan face to good use in "The Last Jedi." But while I'm glad we got to see him give some cosmically important advice to Finn regarding the amorality of the universe and the importance of living in between as opposed to taking sides, I did feel we didn't get enough character development. Del Toro's DJ was the darker, more unpleasant version of early Han Solo. Solo ultimately came off as a lovable rogue while Del Toro's character was, in my opinion, a hair's breadth from being a full-on trickster figure who really could have thrown the plot into far greater chaos than he did. If we stick with the trickster trope for a moment, it becomes obvious as to why DJ was able to skippity-skip away from imminent danger scot-free. Some critics have complained about how DJ simply disappears from the story after he gets his money, but to me, this feels consistent with the idea of DJ as a Joker-style "agent of chaos." It'd be nice to see him again in the final film, but I have to wonder what role he might play.

One last DJ thought: I think that he and Luke would have agreed on many levels about the nature of existence, although perhaps for different reasons.

• Luke should have been there, bodily, to confront the walkers and Kylo on Crait at the very end.

While I understand the butthurt behind this sentiment—a lot of people were rooting for Luke to get a titanic battle scene of some sort, some demonstration of his awesome power—I have reasons for thinking that Luke's end is, ultimately, the right way for Luke to bow out. I'll discuss this further in the third section, when I talk at length about the nature of power.

• It sucks that Rey's parents turned out to be nobodies.

...are they, though?

Fans are divided over whether to take Kylo Ren at his word when he tells Rey, in Snoke's throne room, what she has apparently already suspected: that her parents were drunken nobodies who now lie buried in paupers' graves on Jakku. (If so, then what did the departing spaceship in Rey's lightsaber-induced vision in "The Force Awakens" signify, if not that her parents had abandoned her and gone off-planet? Confusing, these movies are.) It could be that Kylo was lying; it could also be that Kylo was simply wrong. Of course, it's also possible that Kylo told the truth, and that Rey truly did come from nothing, which is one way to interpret the vision she experiences in the dark-side cave on Ahch-to. When Rey has her "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall" moment, the glass merely (mirrorly?) reveals Rey herself. As I wrote in my review above, I tend to see this as a sort of tough-love moment: the dark side offers the harsh truth that all answers lie within, that you must throw yourself back onto yourself to gain wisdom. Luke, in that cave on Dagobah, lops off Vader's head only to see his own face behind the mask; Rey goes digging for answers about her parentage, only to see her own face in the glass. The harshest, but most valuable, lesson is almost always, You figure it out.

So maybe Rey's parents really are nobodies. Maybe Rey's loving human connections must be forged by her and not merely inherited or otherwise passed down from elders. Maybe it's as Maz Kanata told Rey in "The Force Awakens"—that "the belonging you seek is not behind you: it is ahead." This quote by Maz made a lot of us wonder whether Luke would turn out to be Rey's father. If we refuse to take Kylo at his word, then this is still a possibility. Luke didn't initially sense that Leia was his sister (hence that crypto-incestuous kiss in "Empire"); it could be that Rey and Luke couldn't sense they were related to each other, either. Now, with Luke dead, it's too late for Rey to do anything about that.

The argument for not having Rey be the child of a famous, Force-powerful father is that this goes against the notion, established in "The Force Awakens" and further cultivated in "The Last Jedi," that the Force should be democratized: it's not the sole possession of a spiritual/hereditary elite—it truly is the energy of the entire living world. In "The Force Awakens," we meet Maz Kanata, a millennium-old wisdom figure who runs—well, ran—an important bar. Maz knows and understands the Force, but she's no Jedi. The notion of Force-sensitive beings who are neither Jedi nor Sith is one of this trilogy's major concepts, I think. Abrams hints at the notion; Johnson blows the doors of that notion wide open.

So maybe it's better this way: Rey is free to make herself into whatever person she wants to be.

• Rey is never really tempted by the dark side.

I saw this accusation while watching a panel-review video on YouTube. This accusation is in line with Rey's Mary Sue status: everything comes easily to her, and even when she seemingly flocks to the dark side while Luke monitors her, nothing bad comes of her action. Later, in the dark-side cave, Rey encounters nothing that's particularly evil, unlike Luke's horrific vision of a looming Darth Vader inside the cave on Dagobah. The world doesn't seem intent on punishing Rey; life generally treats her with kid gloves. Even her harsh existence on the desert world of Jakku is fairly simple and straightforward, and since she was obviously adept at mastering the dangers of the desert, learning several alien and droid languages, and learning how to fight with a quarterstaff, she was able to manage just fine. So I understand this criticism, where it comes from, but I don't fully agree with it.

Rey does, in fact, lapse into the dark side the moment she attacks Luke Skywalker from behind during that rainy night on Ahch-to. That particular fight almost ended with Luke easily overpowering her... until Rey called the old lightsaber to her and threatened Luke with it, at which point Luke instantly submitted.

Of course, with the new metaphysical picture that "The Last Jedi" paints for us, Rey's dark-side moment needs to be taken into context with the rest of her behavior and motivations. Like Luke—like every living thing, really—Rey carries darkness within her. As a living being, as a source of the Force, Rey is a natural mix of light and dark. Rey attacks Luke out of anger, but she easily restrains herself from killing the old Jedi because, at heart, she's basically a good person who, as she tells Luke, merely wants to find her place in the greater scheme of things. That, I suppose, is Rey's one major weakness: she sees and hears many calls to allegiance and belonging, but she doesn't know in which direction she ought to head. The lesson of the dark-side cave is that Rey can and must create her own belonging; like a good French existentialist, she must stand up and forge the shape of her life by making proactive choices, not by waiting passively for the return of her nameless parents, and not by being swept up by historical forces far greater than she is. "Don't join." Forge your own path. "Grow beyond," to echo Yoda.

• Too many stupid, Marvel-style jokes. This is thanks to Disney's insidious influence.

There have been many, many gripes about the sometimes-awkward use of humor in "The Last Jedi." I personally didn't mind the levity. Sitting with a Korean audience as I did, I often laughed when no one else was laughing. Humor is a very culture-specific thing, unless it's slapstick, which is apparently pancultural. We all enjoy a good pratfall or head-bonk. As to whether Disney is the cause of all the humor, I must plead ignorance. How much creative control did Rian Johnson have over his own movie? I suspect he had quite a lot, so if you need to blame someone for the overabundance of jokes, you should probably blame Johnson and his other writers, not Disney Studios.

• Turning BB-8 into a violent murderbot is a disservice to the droid's otherwise gentle character.

Okay, this plot point viscerally affected some people the way Batman's behavior in "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" incensed Batman fans who watched in horror as Batman literally gunned down criminals. We're not used to the cute droids in the Star Wars universe brutally beating up guards outside a prison cell or climbing into a scout walker and wantonly blasting stormtroopers to hell. But here we are: BB-8 is shown battering humans (off-camera) and taking human lives.

There's some precedent for this, of course: you'll recall that BB-8 first sees Finn on Jakku while Finn is wearing Poe Dameron's jacket. When Rey chases Finn down and starts hammering him with questions, BB-8 actually tortures Finn with electric shocks. (While this trilogy has managed to avoid the "black guy dies in science fiction" trope/trap, it seems we can still at least torture the black guy. And just think: Rose zaps Finn, too!) So BB-8 is perfectly capable of violence, which is a reflection of his apparently Machiavellian programming.

I was actually okay with BB-8's killing of stormtroopers, but I do admit to being a bit surprised by it. I guess I've been pampered by years and years of C-3PO and R2-D2: Threepio can't hurt a fly, and Artoo has only ever shocked Salacious Crumb and a random Ewok ("Return of the Jedi"). True: Artoo did once "murder" a couple heavy-duty battle droids in "Revenge of the Sith," but I don't think killing droids counts as actual killing, unless we really want to go down that ethical rabbit hole. Is killing a droid on the same moral level as killing a Cylon (which is human down to the molecular level) in the "Battlestar Galactica" universe?

• It's frustrating that Luke didn't have the chance to do more.

I'm going to reserve my response to this complaint for the following section, when I discuss the nature of power. For now, I'll say that, initially, I too wanted to see Luke engage in superheroic derring-do, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that Luke's fate was handled in about the best way it could have been. We didn't need to see him clench his fist and crack a planet in half. "That's much too vulgar a display of power, Karras."

• Rian Johnson basically undermined everything JJ Abrams had set up.

I'm halfway convinced that this accusation has merit. The list of the JJ Abrams sandcastles that Rian Johnson kicked over is disturbingly long. Here are a few items from that list:

(1) Abrams sets up Snoke as a figure of power and mystery; Johnson kills Snoke off without revealing any answers to important questions about Snoke's backstory.
(2) The identity of Rey's parents is a huge mystery presented by Abrams. Johnson gives us a story in which Rey's parents turn out to be nobodies.
(3) Finn seems to have his own Force potential in Abrams's story; Johnson ignores this and sends Finn—a cool and interesting character—off on a side errand.
(4) Abrams gives us a chance to learn more about Poe Dameron; Johnson turns Dameron into a dangerous klutz who gets thousands of people killed.
(5) Abrams teases us with The Knights of Ren; Johnson makes zero reference to Kylo's associates, instead making us wonder whether Snoke's red-armored praetorian guard—all of whom get killed by Kylo and Rey—might actually be those very knights.
(6) Abrams builds up a mystery about the provenance of Luke's lightsaber, teasing us with Maz Kanata's line, "A story for another time." Johnson has Luke toss the saber negligently over his shoulder, then later on, after Rey steals the saber, it gets ripped in two during a childish, Force-fueled tug of war by Kylo and Rey.
(7) Abrams concludes his movie with Rey standing before Luke, the legendary hero. We're led to believe that big things are coming when Luke starts training Rey; what Johnson gives us instead is a brief series of disappointments culminating in Rey's huffy departure from Luke's world.

When you think about it, this feels a bit like one of those cooperative-writing exercises in which a sheet of paper is passed between two people who must each contribute a sentence to a single story that they're supposed to build together. With each turn, the two writers each undo whatever occurred in the previous sentence and tug the story in the opposite direction. The result is a jumbled mess. With Abrams pulling one way, then Johnson pulling the other, and with Abrams getting the final say because he's directing Episode IX, I fear the trilogy will end up just like that sheet of paper. Will it cohere?

• Rey should never have been able to defeat Luke in combat.

This was a major frustration for me. Luke is in exile, but does this mean he's allowed all of his Jedi skills to atrophy? I should think not. When Rey attacks Luke, the first false note is that Luke doesn't perceive her attack: she whacks him on the back with her staff, and he goes down. After that, he fights her fairly competently by calling a weapon to himself and disarming her, but Rey gets the upper hand when she "cheats" and uses the Force to grab the old lightsaber, thus forcing Luke into an ignoble submission.

It's not that I'm antsy about Luke's having been beaten by a girl. That's not it at all. What bugs me is that we should have seen a much more physically spry, competent Luke. Mark Hamill was a bit misleading, in his interviews, when he talked about all the physical training he'd had to undergo for this film. To be frank, the man still looked pretty flabby and paunchy to me, despite his having been ferociously athletic in his younger days, so I'm not sure I believe him when he says he underwent a tough training regimen. The final "fight" with Kylo Ren featured a CGI Luke, visibly younger and thinner, and able to perform "Matrix"-style dodges of Kylo's crackling blade.

Anyway, yes, I was frustrated by this scene. Luke could have beaten Rey soundly (thus also protecting her from more Mary Sue accusations, as she would have experienced what it was like to fight a true master who far, far surpassed her untrained abilities), and the rest of their dialogue could have proceeded the same way, with Rey still taking Luke's books and lightsaber, then heading off-planet with Chewie and a few hitchhiking porgs.

(We haven't talked much about the porgs up to now, have we? That's mainly because I found them harmless; they were little more than humorous punctuation for the plot—tiny spots of comic relief that added nothing to the story, but that also didn't get in the way.)

• If Luke had really wanted to be alone, he should never have left a map that could lead people to him.

This is a tough one to figure out. I cast about online and found at least one plausible nerdsplaining answer, which seems to be this: the so-called "map to Luke Skywalker" was actually a map to the first Jedi temple, i.e, the place that Skywalker himself was searching for. It's therefore not a map that Luke left for other people to be able to find him. If anything, the fact that the map had a missing piece probably indicates Luke's own desire not to be found except in case of an extreme emergency—something that Luke trusted Artoo to be the judge of. (Whether "Find me only in case of emergency" dovetails with "I've come to this planet to die" is a good question.)

I'll finish this second section by noting a poignant parallel: Luke, like his teacher Yoda, goes into exile and spends years in isolation as major events unfold around him. Years later, again like Yoda, Luke ends up dying on his adoptive planet. George Lucas has often said that, in this saga, history doesn't necessarily repeat, but it rhymes.

3. Major Themes and Concepts

In this final section, I want to chew over a few of the major themes and concepts that "The Last Jedi" presents to us. The first two themes are fairly obvious and won't receive much discussion; the final three topics are, in some sense, at least partially intertwined, and I'll be spending the bulk of my time focusing on them.

First, we have failure. Failure is explicitly mentioned by Yoda's ghost in the context of a major life-lesson for Luke, and it's a recurring theme throughout the entire movie. Because this is the second chapter of a trilogy, it should be plain that this act has to be the darkest and bleakest of the three. We watch Poe Dameron fail to live up to his potential as a military man because he proves unable to grasp strategy over tactics. We watch the Resistance flee the First Order at least three times, first abandoning their base at the beginning, then abandoning their larger ships about two-thirds of the way through the story, then finally abandoning the old Rebel base on Crait, piling into the Millennium Falcon for one last escape. Finn and Rose try to find the hacker ("codebreaker") who can help them dismantle the First Order's trans-hyperspace-tracking system; they fail to find the right guy, falling in, instead, with the dubious DJ, who ends up betraying them. It's Vice Admiral Holdo who solves the problem of the First Order's pursuit when she turns the Resistance flagship around and spectacularly rams Snoke's flagship. Even this isn't a clear victory, though, as Holdo perishes. Rey, not heeding Luke's warning ("This is not going to go the way you think"), fails to turn Kylo Ren back to the light. Kylo, for his part, doesn't manage to tempt Rey to rule the galaxy alongside him. Supreme Leader Snoke fails to see his own impending doom. In some cases, we see how failure actually sows the seeds for future success; in other cases, failure turns out simply to be failure. Somewhat undermining the theme of failure, though, is Rey's Mary Sue status. She fails to turn Kylo, true, but she is otherwise, and rather frustratingly, a success at everything she puts her hand to. In a movie that is a veritable tsunami of failure, Rey stands as a breakwater of success, holding fast against the tide.

A second theme is that of transcending the past. As with failure, this theme is explicitly mentioned in the movie, this time by Kylo Ren, who advises Rey to "Let the past die—kill it if you have to." Rey seems to gain a similar insight during her cave experience on Ahch-to: her attempt to anchor herself through her parentage ends with the realization that she is all she's got. Turning to Luke Skywalker for help, she realizes, is like turning to the past when she ought to be facing toward the future, proactively seeking new solutions. Luke gets similar wisdom from Yoda when the old master calls down lightning to destroy the Jedi tree. Yoda is fully aware that Rey has made off with the Jedi texts, but this lesson is specifically for Luke's benefit, as the tree symbolizes Luke's own attachment to the past. However, Yoda is not necessarily telling Luke that Luke needs to focus on the future; in fact, he chides Luke, early on, for still looking toward the horizon instead of practicing a Zen-like Be Here Now ethic. Whatever the case, whether we're dealing with future-orientation or present-orientation, the central message seems to be that you can't live life facing backward. It's in that positive spirit that Luke tells Kylo, at the end, that the Rebellion is reborn today, the war has only just begun, and that Luke will not be the last Jedi.

For a character who doesn't get much screen time and who's involved in a side story that has little to no effect on the main plot, DJ and his amoral attitude are bizarrely important for the insights they bring to this universe. This latest trilogy is busily subverting the clear-cut cosmology and morality that undergirded the original 1977-1983 trilogy, presenting us with subtler, more complex worldviews. This subversion isn't without precedent, of course: Ben Kenobi's contention in "Return of the Jedi" that "many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view" has been explored in the previous trilogies: you'll recall Anakin yelling at Ben, in "Revenge of the Sith," that "from my point of view, the Jedi are evil." But DJ is suggesting that you can live freely without ever picking a side. The world doesn't have to be viewed in Manichaean terms; you can chart your own path, be your own person, make your own karma, move to the beat of your own tailor-made destiny. You don't have to define yourself as belonging to something greater—a desire that both Rey and Finn seem to have. DJ opens up a new universe of possibilities with his devil-may-care attitude. He rejects the worldview that sorts everyone into the categories of "good" and "bad," and his motto is inscribed in his initials: "Don't join." DJ is, in a way, a shadowy echo of Luke, who shows Rey that reality isn't about the antipodes: it's about everything in between.

And thus do we turn to the question of Luke and the rather disappointing showing he gives us. Part of the fanboy frustration comes from the fact that "book Luke," i.e., the Luke Skywalker we see in all the Expanded Universe (EU) novels and comics, is scarily powerful—well nigh invincible. By the time book Luke comes into his own as a mature Jedi master, he is arguably the greatest Jedi in history, scion of a Force-powerful lineage, hero, veteran, and sage. By contrast, the alternate Luke we meet in "The Last Jedi" seems disappointingly weak, cowardly, and pessimistic—nothing like the positive, can-do Luke of the earlier trilogy and the ensuing EU literature. Rian Johnson's Luke looks and feels rather shrunken and debased. As discussed above, Mark Hamill was himself in fundamental disagreement with this vision of Luke, but he went along with the portrayal all the same.

There are, admittedly, a few things about "movie Luke" that frustrated me. He doesn't fare well in single combat against Rey, who manages to whack him from behind, and who gets Luke to submit when she threatens him with his father's lightsaber. He's so out of touch with his friends that he has somehow failed to feel the death of Han Solo in the way that Ben Kenobi once perceived the deaths of millions of souls when the Death Star destroyed Alderaan. His conviction that the Jedi legacy is one of failure seems to gloss over the thousands of years of good that the Jedi did, maintaining peace and order in the galaxy for over a thousand generations. And yet... movie Luke also demonstrates that, like book Luke, he possesses colossal might. This isn't revealed to us until we realize he's been Force-projecting himself across the galaxy to Crait. There are also hints—not just from "The Last Jedi," but from other movies as well—that Luke possesses power in a subtler, less visible way, and that this power is the power that truly counts.

So let's talk a bit about the nature of power as I've experienced it in fiction. Two examples come to mind from the fantasy genre: we have Gandalf in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and we have the Creator in Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Gandalf, as you probably know, isn't actually human: he's one of the Maiar—powerful celestial beings who have existed since creation. As portrayed in the relevant novels, Gandalf is incarnated as an old man, and while his mortal frame contains unimaginable might, the manner in which he expresses power tends to be subdued and subtle. For a being like Gandalf, waging a fight against evil, true power is less about brute force and visible strength than it is about the ability to influence events. Tolkien uses Gandalf sparingly, having the wizard appear at crucial moments, but almost never overstaying his welcome. In Peter Jackson's filmic rendition of The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is again more apt to exercise his will in subtle ways, such as when he asks the humble moth to tell the Lord of the Eagles that he requires rescue from Saruman. All distinct things have distinct natures, and this is no less true of powerful beings, who must act according to the strictures that accompany their power.

In the Thomas Covenant novels, the same holds true for the Creator of the alternate universe that the leper Thomas Covenant finds himself thrust into. As we learn through the first six novels, the Creator created his world, but his brother the Despiser worked quietly alongside him, sowing banes in the earth and undermining the glory of the Creator's creation. In anger, the Creator cast the Despiser into the universe he had created—a universe bound by time and space, making it an unnatural prison for the Despiser, a transcendent being who was never meant to be spatiotemporally constrained. The Despiser immediately pursued the twin goals of seeking escape from space-time and doing what he could to ruin creation from the inside. The Creator watched all this with dismay, but he knew he could do nothing: because he had sealed his creation inside the great Arch of Time—by virtue of which all events happen in sequence, and reality receives its cohesiveness—he was now unable to act directly to stop the Despiser. Instead, he sought and found a champion from a different universe, our universe, to save or damn the Creator's creation through the exercise of his own free will. The Creator thus selected Thomas Covenant to be his champion, but he could not give Covenant a single clue as to what to do: any such manipulation would compromise Covenant's freedom and make him a mere tool of the Creator. Only free acts have moral weight, so freedom paradoxically becomes a limiter on the Creator's power. And that's how it always goes for powerful beings: the more powerful they are, the more constrained they are.

This manner of viewing the nature of power, when applied to "The Last Jedi," makes Luke's apparent weakness in the face of galactic events understandable. Luke is truly powerful, but like the powerful beings in the above-mentioned fantasy series, he's constrained by his own power. This is why, when Luke finally exerts his might, he does so in a way that manifests as a shimmer, a projection, a mere mirage whose true strength lies in the ability to influence events with a nudge here, a prod there—never through direct action or brute force. This is a Gandalf-style exertion, and at this point in Luke's deep mastery of the Jedi arts, it's about all one can expect. If you find this disappointing, then you're in the same position as Rey, who expected Luke to deliver some Old Testament-style, mountain-smashing miracles. Rey's expectation is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of power.

Having now covered the themes of failure and transcending the past, having explored a philosophy of not-joining that rejects antipodal thinking, and then having meditated on the nature of power, we come at last to the topic that gives me the biggest thrill: the expanded theology of the Force. Let's dive on in.

Some of what we learn about the Force, in "The Last Jedi," comes from new abilities that various characters have. Most or all of these have already been mentioned way above, in the summary section, but let's go over them again for thoroughness's sake. One new ability is seen with Leia: she preserves herself from death-by-vacuum, but this apparently requires a herculean effort, as she lapses into a coma once she's been brought back inside the ship. When Leia wakes from her coma, she shares a brief telepathic bond with Luke that echoes the moment the siblings shared in "The Empire Strikes Back," when Luke was dangling beneath Cloud City and awaiting rescue. That bond isn't anything new, but it was a nice callback to the older films.

Rey and Kylo share an amped-up version of the Luke-Leia bond, to the point where Rey is able to "conjure" Kylo inside her chamber and seemingly touch his hand right as Luke walks in on this communion. Through this bond, Rey and Kylo talk, and it seems that some of Rey's environment is transported over to Kylo's location, as water (presumably Ahchtovian water) ends up on Kylo's hand. Does this mean the Force can be used to transmit matter over great distances? Perhaps. It could also be that the water on Kylo's hand is as illusory as the golden dice that Luke gives to Leia as a memento of Han: you'll recall that the dice disappear along with Luke. At the very least, then, the Force can project simulacra that seem material, but only if the simulacra aren't examined too closely. When Kylo pushes his lightsaber's blade into the projection of Luke, we all realize the whole thing has been a trick on a scale far greater than a small-time "Jedi mind trick."

Another new property of the Force is the apparent materiality of spirit: the ghost of Yoda bonks Luke on the head with his equally ghostly walking stick, and the selfsame Yoda calls down actual lightning from the sky to destroy the old Jedi tree. As discussed above, this does raise sticky questions as to what the ghosts could have physically done in earlier films, but despite the potential for narrative problems, I felt that Yoda's invocation of lightning was actually consistent with what we already know about Force ghosts: they are articulations of the will and personhood of those who have passed into the Force. Instead of disappearing into the Force's oceanic oneness, certain beings are able to retain their individuality, expressing a personal will that is, perhaps, a subset of the larger will of the Force as a whole. (The phrase "will of the Force" appears in the prequel trilogy.) None of these new abilities strike me as out of line with what has gone before; if anything, they feel like proper extensions of what we already know: from the beginning, ghosts have had a certain corporeality: they can be seen with the naked eye, heard with the unaided ear; when Ben Kenobi's ghost talks to Luke, Ben sits heavily on a log at one point, interacting with his environment. If Yoda's ghost can call down lightning, this new ability isn't a radical departure.

Snoke demonstrates the ability to establish and cultivate a telepathic bond between Kylo and Rey. I'm not sure how Snoke could then fail to ascertain Luke Skywalker's location: all he'd have to do is focus more on Rey's end of the connection and see Luke's planet through Rey's eyes. Given what happens to Snoke later in the story, this plot hole becomes moot, but it's still something that I wonder about.

Rian Johnson's movie is at pains to democratize the Force, but it should be noted that the seeds for this democratization were sown in the original trilogy. Old Ben Kenobi tells Luke that the Force "is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together." Later on, Yoda tells Luke that "life creates it—makes it grow. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter!" No explicit mention is made by either teacher of the idea that there are Force-talented elites, although the original trilogy does introduce us to the idea that "the Force is strong in X." This seems to imply that Force-talent is unevenly distributed. George Lucas, perhaps out of a desire to explain this unevenness more clearly, made the fatal mistake of introducing the concept of midichlorians: tiny, symbiotic beings within us all that allow us to perceive and channel the will of the Force. One's aptitude with the Force varies directly with the abundance or dearth of midichlorians in one's body, as there is apparently a such thing as a "midichlorian count." Lucas claims he had begun to take an interest in neuroscience, hence this goofy new concept. Fans largely rejected midichlorians, which are mentioned exactly once in "Revenge of the Sith," when Palpatine is relating to Anakin the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise. I view Johnson's insistence that anyone can be Force-powerful as a course correction that makes the Force less the province of an elite few and more a thing that anyone, from potentially any background, can participate in. Again, this feels consistent with how the Force was initially laid out to audiences in 1977. Even when Luke tells Leia that "the Force is strong in my family" in 1983's "Return of the Jedi," this isn't necessarily an exclusivistic statement.

But in terms of the raw theology of the Force, let's talk a bit about this exchange between Luke and Rey:

LUKE: What do you see?

REY: The island. Life. Death and decay, that feeds new life. Warmth. Cold. Peace. Violence.

LUKE: And between it all?

REY: Balance and energy. A force.

To my great delight, I see Luke going nondualistic here, pointing Rey not to the antipodes but to the essential betweenness of the Force—that which, as Kenobi once said, "binds the galaxy together." While it's tempting to see Luke's emphasis on this betweenness as something new, it's good to remember that, in "The Empire Strikes Back," Yoda offers a similar insight:

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.

The Force has always been both ligament and integument, but Luke's emphasis, to my mind, moves us away from the poles of light and dark and more toward a focus on the Force-in-itself, which is beyond both light and darkness. As I said in my review above, the Force is the coincidentia oppositorum, that in which opposites meet. Balance is the state toward which the Force naturally returns, which may explain Snoke's cackled, "Darkness rises, and light to meet it!" The idea, from Snoke's point of view, may be that, when a dark being becomes powerful, then quite naturally, a being of light will rise to counter the darkness. This notion does confuse the theology, though, because you have to wonder why Snoke would think that he could turn that natural reversion-to-balance to his advantage.

There are strong hints that Luke's vision of the Force follows the pattern of ancient Chinese philosophy. Consider the image of "the Prime Jedi" that appears as a mosaic in the shallow pool that sits in one chamber of the Jedi temple. In the movie, you can't see the mosaic that clearly. Luckily, it's readily available online:

If that doesn't remind you of the t'ai-ch'i (the Great Ultimate, called taegeuk in Korean), I don't know what to say. Notice that light and dark are united in a single Jedi who sits between the extremes. It could be that Luke's evolved understanding of the Force is such that he realizes that the entire dark-versus-light, Sith-versus-Jedi dichotomy has been false from the beginning. When we look at the t'ai-ch'i and step back far enough, the dualism that we see up close merges into one unified whole:

This insight could provide us a hint as to how the final movie is going to end. Whatever the new religious order will be, it's going to embrace the Force as an organic whole, not take a side and subdivide into Jedi and Sith. Thesis, antithesis... synthesis. Whatever Rey and Kylo are heading toward, it's going to be the creation of something we've never seen before.

And this, folks, is where I'll end my meditation. This was a fun project that got way out of hand, but I don't mind if you don't. The Star Wars movies have been a part of my life since elementary school, so I guess it's only natural that I'd have a lot to say. Feel free to agree or disagree with part or all of what I've written; I'll be interested to read your comments, assuming you had the fortitude to make it all the way through this long, long blog post. Thanks for accompanying me on this extended review, exploration, and meditation. I'd say May the Force be with you, but I think it might be better to say... Don't join.

*The word can be spelled "-naught" or "-nought." Etymologically, it means "fear-nothing," which makes sense given that a dreadnaught is a large, imposing warship that is heavily armored and armed—truly a vessel with nothing to fear. (back)

**It was actually difficult to determine whether the white material or the red material was the salt in question. One quick scene shows a Resistance soldier walking across our field of view, leaving red footprints as he moves past defenders in a trench. One defender reaches out, touches the red material, and mutters, "Salt." So is it the red mineral or the white powder that's the salt? Hard to tell. (back)

***Father Gerard Sloyan of The Catholic University of America was one of the priests who worked on Pope John Paul II's opus, and he insists that there be no definite article in front of Catechism. It is merely Catechism, not The Catechism. I attended one or two of Father Sloyan's classes. (back)

****Ben Kenobi told Luke that the Jedi had been around for "over a thousand generations." If a single human generation is standardly thought of as twenty years—about the time it takes for a human to reach both sexual maturity and emotional readiness for parenthood—then that means the Jedi had been around for about 20,000-some years. Yoda died at nearly a thousand years old, hence my guesstimated fraction. (back)