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Preview: Asking the Wrong Questions

Asking the Wrong Questions





Updated: 2018-01-17T19:05:07.648+02:00

 



Congratulations! I don't know this site at all...

2018-01-17T19:05:07.648+02:00

Congratulations! I don't know this site at all, so I appreciate your bringing it to my attention.

And I'm really intrigued by your interest in functional-if-flawed societies; I feel like we could collectively stand to think and imagine more about how such societies work.

Partly that's because in our current dystopian craze, along with a lot of actually-well-thought-of-dystopias and the classic thought-experiment-where-world-building-isn't-the-point, there are a lot hot messes where the dystopian form is an excuse for political incoherence/the world not making sense.

In other words, I'm not here for police states that can't pay the police unless you have a really convincing alternative economy. Or totalitarian states created by events that are more likely to create weak or insufficient government and all the resulting negative consequences.

But also because I feel a lot of contemporary non-dystopian sf and especially fantasy betrays that the authors can't imagine how worlds dissimilar to our own would actually work. I'm especially interested in how many sff authors can't conceive of poor and rural societies, despite the fact that both history and the present are full of functional examples. So much vaguely premodern fantasy (especially by USian authors) has characters who have all the benefits of an imperialist global economy in terms of their standard of living (eating whatever they want, whenever they want, especially if it's chocolate), and yet nothing that would support such a standard exists. Which sheds a disturbing light on how little they understand the world we live in.

I know your interests are more political than economic, but I'm interested in what you uncover.



Mike: since I'm a guest poster, I don't ha...

2018-01-16T17:43:35.940+02:00

Mike: since I'm a guest poster, I don't have my own author ID, so I don't think there can be a dedicated RSS for the series. But I'll be promoting the posts here and on my twitter account as they go up.



Congrats! I've always thought you'd be an ...

2018-01-15T04:30:40.654+02:00

Congrats! I've always thought you'd be an excellent writer over at LGM, and your comments have always been pretty good (even when I disagreed heavily with you).



That's great! Congratulations! Quick question...

2018-01-14T18:32:56.663+02:00

That's great! Congratulations!

Quick question: Is there an RSS feed for your posts specifically?




2018-01-14T18:32:19.106+02:00

This comment has been removed by the author.



Good

2018-01-11T11:58:27.765+02:00

Good



Just stumbled across this blog while searching for...

2018-01-08T12:11:51.709+02:00

Just stumbled across this blog while searching for Iain M Banks reviews ... Thoroughly enjoyed your take on TLJ, particularly the point that the dark/light debate often gets divorced from anything concrete the characters do. Agree with most of what you've written here (my own review: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/2017/12/star-wars-last-review.html).

Not sure whether I would classify the plot as "metacommentary," but certainly it feels like a reaction to The Force Awakens, in its deliberate abaondonment of the story threads that movie left hanging (frayed and recycled though they were). I wonder if this shows the danger inherent in hiring different directors for a "trilogy" with no clear story arc or direction. We're back with JJ for the next installment, so I can't help but wonder if he'll try to steer the ship back to its original course.



I saw the movie today and two thirds of the way th...

2018-01-07T00:26:58.333+02:00

I saw the movie today and two thirds of the way through, I thought to myself "this is fanfic metacommentary". "The Force Awakens" is about two naifs who discover they live the the Star Wars universe (and one of my favorite things about that movie was Rey and Finn's wide-eyed enthusiasm as they barrelled through the set pieces). "The Last Jedi" is all about subverting and commenting on the expectations of people "in a Star Wars story", whether it is Rey trying to force meaning into her life by re-enacting the Luke Skywalker story, or the whole idea of who "the Heroes" are being undercut by the heroic sacrifices of Paige, Holdo, Rose and others.

Also, if you were troubled by the moral underpinnings of this Universe, the "logic" of space combat troubled me greatly, with Holdo's final gambit making the ridiculous bombers from the opening battle seem even more pointless.



I don't think a series of tactical retreats wo...

2018-01-03T23:36:32.579+02:00

I don't think a series of tactical retreats would make such compelling movies

Isn't that basically the Han/Leia/Chewie part of The Empire Strikes Back? As ever, it's about how you execute an idea more than whether the idea is good. It's very clear that the constant use of frontal attacks by some characters in The Last Jedi is intended to serve the larger message of the need to reject a romantic notion of heroism and commit to a communal, positive vision and plan of action. It's just that, as in the Rey/Kylo/Luke storyline, this requires us to accept characters who learn to reject ideas they should never have held in the first place - Rey's belief in Kylo's innate goodness, Poe's need to be the hero even if it undermines his commander. The only character this approach makes sense for is Finn, whose sense of self is so under-developed. But he's the character who gets the least time and space in the film.

The Resistance has never approached the massive firepower or membership of the FO but it's major accomplishment (taking out the Planet Killer) revolved around the massive commitment to a singular weapon (I mean, hello FO, was the idea that 3rd time is the charm?).

Have you read Leia Organa: A Critical Obituary? It's an interesting bit of fanfic/metafiction that attempts to recast Star Wars as a story with serious political heft, and one of the points it makes is just what you're saying, that the Death Star and its imitations are both a waste of resources and a big blazing target whose destruction gives the Resistance a honking great victory while costing the Empire huge amounts of resources.



That's an interesting commentary in Wired but ...

2018-01-03T17:38:39.814+02:00

That's an interesting commentary in Wired but somehow I don't think a series of tactical retreats would make such compelling movies (and what's left of the rebels is effectively making retreats - 3 times in TLJ alone - paralleling the one in Episode V). The Resistance has never approached the massive firepower or membership of the FO but it's major accomplishment (taking out the Planet Killer) revolved around the massive commitment to a singular weapon (I mean, hello FO, was the idea that 3rd time is the charm?). Maybe the FO have now realised the stupidity of putting a cherry on a plate, hence their focus on killing off 400 people using a much lower risk grouping of still overwhelming armaments (and yet still managing to lose out).

And, though Kylo Ren did the actual killing of Snoke, that was perhaps a significant Rebel win (in solar as toppling the head - OK, midriff - of the Supreme Wrinkled Leader should be some sort of progress...).

Understand what you meant about Poe's 24 hours now. Thanks for clarification (time tracking TLJ isn't easy).



Either way, this isn't what I was talking abou...

2018-01-03T16:10:08.426+02:00

Either way, this isn't what I was talking about. My "24 hours" comment wasn't about the bombing attack, which I don't have a problem with*. My point was that if, after being rebuffed by Holdo, Poe had simply done nothing, the entire Resistance would have survived.

* Actually, this isn't entirely true. As this analysis and several others have pointed out, Poe's tactics in this scene are appalling. A frontal attack on a vastly superior enemy in the hopes that if you throw enough people at them, at least one will get through and save the day is a wasteful, short-sighted approach, and there were no doubt more savvy military options that could have achieved the same goal with a fraction of the cost in lives and ships. But the principle that something had to be done to cover the fleet's escape is sound, and I don't think that Poe should have done nothing in this case.



That doesn't right, Jim. I think the Dreadnau...

2018-01-03T10:27:40.094+02:00

That doesn't right, Jim. I think the Dreadnaught was recharging it's guns when the bombing raid happened. I think the choice was 'bomb the dreadnaught before it shoots us, or leave before it shoots us'
I'm going to see it again Thursday - I'll try to watch for this part when I do



Abigail Nussbaum in a reply said: "If Poe had...

2018-01-02T23:44:03.939+02:00

Abigail Nussbaum in a reply said: "If Poe had just sat on his hands for 24 hours, the entire resistance would have survived the movie,".

While the raid was disastrous for the bomber personnel (all dead), the damage inflicted on the Dreadnaught by Rosie's sister on the one bomber that got through prevented it firing on the rebel fleet before it jumped to hyperspace. If Poe's mission to bomb the Dreadnaught hadn't been allowed, then the rebels would have died in the first 15 minutes.

So Poe was a necessary foil whose escapades led to survival of some and death to many.

But great review and comments Abigail!



Ian- "If every single member of the Resistanc...

2018-01-02T18:09:40.818+02:00

Ian- "If every single member of the Resistance died in that cave, the Resistance wouldn't have, because of what Rose and Finn did."

I think this a really important point, and a key scene for broadening the story beyond the Skywalker family tree. The last scene of the orphan kid dreaming about fighting in the Resistance points to this being a theme for the third movie.

Also- I love Luke admitting he never read those texts. He can't read. Neither can Rey. They're just talismans.



What gets me is how NO ONE has commented on the hu...

2017-12-31T11:45:08.668+02:00

What gets me is how NO ONE has commented on the huge McGuffin - not so much about who was tracking/how were they tracking - but about how that tracking was known already, only if people used 2 brain cells. Think: trackers that Rey & Leia have. They show up and are focused on repeatedly in the film. If some wristbands can keep track of 2 people widely separated, it's known tech on a huge scale.



So, a bit late to the party but I wanted to make a...

2017-12-27T10:39:37.066+02:00

So, a bit late to the party but I wanted to make a couple of observations.

Firstly, there wasn't a shift from Republic to Resistance. The Republic was the government that was trying to play nice and make things work and was ignoring the danger the First Order was to everything because they couldn't stand to stay at war. Leia pretty much states that in TFA. That's why she is out with a bunch of hodge podge resistance fighters being a general and not on a planet being a princess/senator. Some of the people in charge still liked her, or respected her, enough to help her out but she wasn't in any way officially part of the Republic. So when the FA took out the core worlds of the Republic, her resistance was /already/ in full swing. It just suddenly shifted from being a bunch of fringe hunters of the space-nazis, and went into being the main organized military force agaisnt he FA.

And Yoda's scene. God I lived this... his whole "Oh, you dumb farm boy I missed you" vibe just tickled me. but regardless of that. It seemed obvious to me that he burned down the tree and prevented Luke from realizing the books were gone because that was what /Luke/ needed to move on. He needed to feel there was a break, that he could let go of his past mistakes and move on to do something. But he let Rey get away with the books precisely because she is actively searching for a connection to the past. Even if her parents are nobodies (which I love) she needs something to base her growth on, and those old texts will provide that basis.

The movie never established that the command structure knew how they were being tracked. Yeah, some random tech figures it out and tells Finn (and the audience), but there is nothing up till that point that indicates anyone else knows. Holdo not telling Poe her plans made perfect sense to me at the time, because he's just some hot shot who got a bunch of people killed ignoring orders and then when confronted by a new commander he DEMANDS she tell him everything IN PUBLIC. Of course the commander isn't going to take that well and just blurt out their plans. Maybe if he's waited she would have told him anyways. Maybe if he has just approached her in private and voiced his concerns she would have said something, but him going off in public made it so that wasn't going to happen. He shut himself out of the conversation by being a hot head.

I don't think it was perfect, but I loved the movie.



I disagree that the Canto Bight subplot is comic r...

2017-12-24T01:54:35.716+02:00

I disagree that the Canto Bight subplot is comic relief. Although it is an abject failure on the surface -- they not only fail to save the Resistance, but, indeed, lead to the destruction of half of it -- they also have the most important, perhaps the ONLY important, victory of the movie. They bring hope to the downtrodden. If every single member of the Resistance died in that cave, the Resistance wouldn't have, because of what Rose and Finn did.

Nothing that anybody else did in the movie was as consequential and important as Rose and Finn stampeding that herd of whatever-they-were-called through that casino.



I agree with you the Solomon is a remarkable novel...

2017-12-23T19:41:13.490+02:00

I agree with you the Solomon is a remarkable novel. It's no mean feat to take a form so overdetermined by genre history -- the generation-starship story -- *and* a topic, slavery, so prone to handwaving moral consensus, or notional consensus ("slavery was bad"), and out of them write a story that is, as you say, refuses to run along the grooves you might expect.



I don't have anything deep or meaningful to co...

2017-12-21T19:50:32.675+02:00

I don't have anything deep or meaningful to contribute to the discussion (at least, at this time), but I did want to say "Thank you!" for writing this.

Your reviews are thoughtful, insightful, and well-written on top of that. Thank you!!!



@mskennedy Thanks, I remember seeing that scene b...

2017-12-20T23:35:08.157+02:00

@mskennedy

Thanks, I remember seeing that scene but I definitely missed Poe spilling the beans on the transports. I do still think it's a bit of an idiot-ball of a plot that undermines the intended point, but at least it's coherent on a basic level.

(Not to get too into the weeds, but as soon as the greater plan becomes sneaking off on transport ships, disabling the Order's tracking is at best unnecessary and at worst counterproductive.)



Wonderful analysis as always. This movie is a hot ...

2017-12-20T21:22:51.260+02:00

Wonderful analysis as always. This movie is a hot mess, but by god at least it's hot enough to stoke the fires of imagination.

I came out of the theater entertained and contemplative, and after running through everyone's opinion pieces and considerations I'm still entertained and contemplative. I've heard Rian Johnson has an extra half hour's worth of material cut for time, and I'm looking forward to seeing it. I'm always a sucker for extended cuts and director's cuts and the like, but especially if I feel like the theatrical product is malnourished or underdeveloped, like The Last Jedi.

I don't know if it's my favorite Star Wars movie or anything, but that's because I don't think it's trying to be. It's trying to be a different Star Wars film, and that's really refreshing to me.

Maybe I'll cool off on the whole thing by the time it's out on home release, but in the meantime I'm having a blast soaking in the film's aftermath. If nothing else, it's a really interesting time to be a Star Wars fan.



Fresh from a second viewing today, I can confirm P...

2017-12-20T05:22:12.336+02:00

Fresh from a second viewing today, I can confirm Poe did have a conversation with Finn and Rose while they were on their way back from Canto Bight and hacker guy was close enough he'd have no trouble overhearing. Poe mentions that Holdo is fueling up the transports and that's why they need to hurry.



@This: "The problem is that the movie floats ...

2017-12-19T08:23:45.817+02:00

@This: "The problem is that the movie floats this perspective, and then immediately rejects it so strongly that, as I write, you could almost get the impression that "a plague on both your houses" is a worse stance than being a space-Nazi."

I dunno. Like, they were only ever his allies for money. I'm not a hundred percent sure we are supposed to see what he does as 'betrayal'. We aren't supposed to read him leaving the weapon maker planet and joining up with the Rebellion as betrayal, and I don't think him flopping back the other way is any different. Dude will do stuff for money.

Finn definitely feels betrayed (Leia and Co. also feel betrayed when the galaxy ignores their calls), but that's because he looks at this guy and sees Han Solo. The dude isn't gloating, he leaves with one last admonition that believing in groups is dumb.

You are probably right. Like, the idea that Star Wars could ever seriously ground its light vs. dark morality in something as prosaic as 'how they treat other human beings' is likely just me wishful thinking. It would be awesome though.

@Kylo: Definitely agree on your read. Kylo is mostly made of past. The whole 'let the past die, kill it if you have to', is something he wants, not something he has.



Well, it's not as if being full of shit is out...

2017-12-19T00:11:07.266+02:00

Well, it's not as if being full of shit is out of character for Kylo :-)

And frankly, the one moment in the film where I found myself sympathizing with him was when he aimed all the guns at Luke and let go. That was when I could see him as someone still struggling with the legacy of abuse. It doesn't justify anything else he does, and obviously there's still quite a lot of selfishness and lust for power that go into his personality. But trying to kill Luke was something I was completely on his side on, even if I'm glad he didn't succeed.

To be honest, I think if Kylo was the sort of person who is genuinely capable of letting go of the past, he wouldn't be Kylo. What he means when he talks about letting the past go is letting go of guilt, but continuing to hold on to his resentments. Which is one of the things that makes him so toxic.



When Kylo tells Rey to "leave the past behind...

2017-12-18T23:20:51.195+02:00

When Kylo tells Rey to "leave the past behind" I was intrigued. Driver plays this very well -- good moment for him. He lays out one of the better excuses for evil actions. If you release all connection to the past you also release accountability and compassion. And he's right: Rey needs to stop chasing the mystery of her parents. But then he turns around and bungles the entire final battle because he can't let go of his hatred of Luke. Everything he just spouted to Rey is thrown out the window with no nod, no explanation (except resentment). I believed him. I wanted to see what a villain with the motto "no past" would do. I lost a lot of respect for the movie when the filmmakers tossed that character arc away.