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New Escapist Column! On How “Return of the Jedi” Reduced “Star Wars” to Formula…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special releasing tomorrow, I thought it was worth taking a look back at Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

In particular, the way in which Return of the Jedi sets an outer limit on what Star Wars can be. After the previous film in the series pushed the franchise outwards, the third film in the original trilogy folds the series back in on itself and sets a clear boundary on what Star Wars is and what Star Wars will forever be. It is a creative choice that has arguably hindered the franchise in the years since, restricting its capacity to push beyond that template and embrace new ideas and new concepts.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How “The Matrix” Reinvented the Hero’s Journey for the 1990s…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. The Matrix sparked some interesting conversation this weekend, with people debating the film as a metaphor for the trans experience.

This exists as part of a larger and more complicated debate around The Matrix, and the ownership of the film in popular imagination. The Matrix means a lot of things to a lot of people, and many of those things are seemingly contradictory. However, The Matrix resonates because it found a way to update the archetypal hero’s journey embodied by Star Wars for the nineties, transposing a lot of the same underlying ideas from one of the most turbulent decades of the twentieth century to one of the most stable. It did this by turning its gaze inward.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“The Price You Pay for Being Successful”: How “The Empire Strikes Back” Was One of the First Blockbusters of the Eighties…

Star Wars is often discussed in the context of the late seventies, whether the political context of the Vietnam War or George Lucas’ status as an up and coming director alongside the likes of Francis Ford Coppola or Steven Spielberg or even just the way in which it shifted movie-making away from the new Hollywood model towards the blockbuster template.

Despite all of this, it is often overlooked just how firmly Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is rooted in the context of the early eighties. There are obviously any number of reasons for this. Most obviously, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi consciously retreated back to the late seventies trappings of the original film, right down to its decision to restage the Vietnam War with adorable toyetic teddy bears in the place of the Viet Cong. There’s also a sense in which the cultural markers of The Empire Strikes Back are more subtle than those of Star Wars.

Sabre-rattling.

Watched from a modern perspective, The Empire Strikes Back seems to herald the arrival of the new decade. Like all great sequels, it broadens both the scale and scope of Star Wars, but it also pushes the franchise forward. Even beyond the now iconic revelations about family lineage and power dynamics, The Empire Strikes Back radically redefines what it means to be a Star Wars film. It is no longer about navigating the moral ambiguity of an uncertain time, wrestling with the spectre of American might. It is instead about exploring social power structures, of finding one’s place in system.

The Empire Strikes Back might just be the first truly great eighties movie.

A little father-son outreach.

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New Escapist Column! The Flawed Redemption at the Heart of “Return of the Jedi”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one has been kicking around inside my head for a little while, but came to the fore with the recent trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Primarily, the flawed redemption at the heart of Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi.

Look, everybody knows the basic arc of the Star Wars saga. Luke discovers that Darth Vader is his father, sets out to redeem him, manages to turn Vader away from the dark side before Vader dies. However, that’s never been quite how it works. The actual arc is a lot messier and more complicated, and a lot less conventionally heroic than it is remembered. Return of the Jedi never actually bothers to redeem Vader, instead focusing on redeeming Luke’s idea of Vader. At its core, Return of the Jedi is a story about how hard Luke wants to believe his father was a good man, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Along the way, Luke gambles the entire future of the Rebel Alliance and his sister’s fate on the assumption that there is goodness in Vader, while the film never actually bothers to demonstrate that there is any. It’s a fascinating incomplete arc, and one that hints at a gaping moral void at the heart of the larger Star Wars saga. It’s a story about how an individual’s redemption doesn’t matter, only other people’s idea of that redemption. In its own way, it marks Return of the Jedi as a quintessentially eighties movie; it is a story about how the most important thing to Luke is not the fate of the galaxy, but his own self-image.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! Luke Skywalker, “The Last Jedi” and “Star Wars” as a Saga of Generational Failure…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this week, looking at the (in some quarters controversial) handling of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi.

The Star Wars saga has always been – at its heart – a story of generational failure, about how the older generation inevitably fails the younger one. This was true of the prequels with characters like Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu and Count Dooku. It was also true of the original trilogy with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader and Yoda. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda tells Luke in The Last Jedi, and that has always been the franchise’s core philosophy. The only problem is that some of the audience grew up with Luke, and are not yet ready to grow beyond him.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Not Everything, Not Yet: Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises and the Prospect of Finality

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

It’s a funny thing watching The Dark Knight Rises trailer that was released earlier in the week. It seems that a lot of people had the same response that I did. Colleagues in work, friends and family members, all looked at the trailer for the third in Nolan’s trilogy that began with Batman Begins and seemed to have the same observation. “I think he might kill Batman,” a lot of people remarked on viewing the teaser for the film. Given how safe most major studio productions are, especially those that are part of a cash-cow franchise, it’s amazing that the possibility even exists at all, hovering faintly over the film.

Broken bat…

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Non-Review Review: Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace (3D)

In 1999, after decades of anticipation, George Lucas unleashed Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The response was… less than enthusiastic. After years of heightened anticipation, during which the original trilogy had been built up to near mythical status, anything less than the second coming was going to disappoint viewers. I think it is reasonable to say that The Phantom Menace fell well short of that particular target. That said, I’ve always felt a bit of sympathy for the first of the prequel trilogy. Not enough to label it as a good film (it really isn’t), but enough to argue that the fairly fundamental and central flaws do mask a number of virtues. Those virtues don’t quite redeem the film, but they do make the end result a lot more fascinating than most would concede it to be.

Schindler’s miffed…

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