Taking those in order we have protagonists who are: trans/gay (more so in the movie than the comic), female, female, female, female, female, female, female, female, female, female, female, and…female. I would have to go back for a proper analysis to be sure, but I suspect many (most?) of them wouldn’t pass a male version of the Bechdel Test.
Which is maybe why early in Rage is a Wolf after yet another douchey male character showed up, a little voice in my head sighed, “I need to read something with some proper dudes in it.” This was quickly followed by a dawning realization. “Oohhh…is this what it’s like for women and minoritized groups who hardly ever see themselves properly represented?”
Yes, I’m well aware this is a dilemma of my own making. It’s not like there’s a shortage of male-centric fiction out there. I just happen to have stumbled into a run of works that are less so, and had that weird little moment of clarity that seemed worth noting.
There’s a scene in episode 2 of “Secret Invasion” where Nick Fury and Talos are on a train somewhere in eastern Europe, and Nick tells Talos about taking the train from Alabama to Detroit when he was a kid. He does this primarily to get Talos to play a game of “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” (exposition!), but along the way he mentions having to ride in the “Colored Car,” and how they had to bring their own food because they weren’t allowed into the dining car.
I had one of those record skipping moments in my head. Wait, how old is Nick Fury supposed to be? Looks like the MCU version was born in 1950 (for comparison, Samuel L. Jackson was born in 1948). Okay, so next check a Civil Rights timeline. The Brown v. Board of Education decision was 1954, followed by lots of protests and attempts to maintain segregation in schools. Rosa Parks is 1955. Sit-ins are late 50s into the 60s. Riots in 1961 at UGA over the first two Black students to be admitted (and they get suspended). Alabama Gov. George Wallace calls for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in 1963, same year as MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Civil Rights Act came in 1964.
Nick Fury would have been a teenager at this point. So…yeah, he could absolutely have had to ride a segregated train.
I’m sure none of this would have been a surprise to a Black person watching the show, but I guess I needed a reminder that the days of hard-core segregation aren’t that far in the past.
Sidebar: Justice Sotomayor’s dissent had this bit, which generated a genuine, “Oh shit” reaction from yours truly:
JUSTICE THOMAS, for his part, offers a multitude of arguments for why race-conscious college admissions policies supposedly “burden” racial minorities. Ante, at 39. None of them has any merit.
He first renews his argument that the use of race in holistic admissions leads to the “inevitable” “underperformance” by Black and Latino students at elite universities “because they are less academically prepared than the white and Asian students with whom they must compete.” Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 332 (concurring opinion). JUSTICE THOMAS speaks only for himself.
I don’t know how to properly cite Supreme Court rulings, but you can find that on page 195 of the PDF linked above. It’s page 56 of her dissent.
Anyway, Thomas aside I can kind of get where the majority justices in that opinion are coming from. They’re white people with at least the baseline of privilege that implies. No one in their family history ever had to worry about being prohibited from attending school because of their race. I haven’t dug into their personal histories, but I expect they have more than just that baseline, thus their oblivious attitude. However, the notion that this country has gone from centuries of institutionalized, and often violent racism, to a state where we can say, “Welp, no more racism here, we good?” within the span of one man’s lifetime, and any long-term harm has been wiped clean is absurd. They should be smart enough to recognize that.
Here’s what I know. I’ve attended and/or been employed at five different universities across as many states. All of them have had affirmative action programs, and none have had, let’s say, a shortage of white people. I’ve had applications rejected from four other institutions I can remember (Caltech, Carlton College, UC Berkeley, and The University of Michigan), all due to my own mediocrity, thankyouverymuch. My parents and at least one grandparent went to college, so there’s a chance1 I could have gotten a leg up thanks to legacy admissions, though I didn’t apply to any of them. At any rate, I did just fine at the institutions I did attend. I hope there were Black people admitted to all the schools that rejected me, and God speed to them. I had experiences as an undergraduate I absolutely would not have had without living and studying with people of other races and cultures, however they came to be there.
Anyway, I mostly wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that history runs long, and it’s easy to forget how any given person may have been affected by conditions that you may not have personally experienced or remember. The MCU’s Nick Fury went from high school into the US Army, and then to the CIA, but I don’t think we know why. It’s certainly possible the army was his only option, for financial reasons or because…Alabama. As he put it in a different context, “Men who look like us don’t get promoted because of who our daddies know. Every ounce of power we wrestle from the vice grip of the mediocre Alexander Pierces who run this world was earned in blood.”
A small one. Of the three institutions I checked, one very explicitly does NOT factor in legacy, one seems to, and the last I can’t find any information on.
Some time after I posted about movies we watched in 2021, I got a year-end recap from Letterboxd. Surprise! Their recap includes a bunch of different stats, including release year, directors, languages, etc. One of these stats is country, and USA was on top by…a lot. There’s nothing wrong with that, and given that I am ‘merican & all, not a real surprise.
Ever since I’ve been able to, I’ve enjoyed watching international films. Back in college and especially grad school, I was a regular at film screenings of all types. However, without really meaning to, I’ve more recently stopped going to art house and foreign films. Chalk it up to no longer living in a college town, I guess.
So seeing that bar chart with USA towering over every other country like Shaq in Munchkinland was kind of a wake-up call. This called for a resolution to make a conscious effort to watch more global cinema. We’re making up the rules as we go, but we’re trying to evenly distribute our viewing across the continents (excepting Antarctica, though we’re committed to at least watching The Thing), and within those trying to hit as many different countries as we can. So far, we’re doing pretty well. We’ve hit every continent twice, with only North America lagging behind, but only because we’re not counting films from the USA.
Even though we’re only in March, we’re already finding there’s a trick to finding what films to watch. Services don’t tend to list their offerings by country, even less by continent, so I’ve spent a lot of time browsing trying to track down eligible films. BUT! I hit upon a promising strategy this weekend. Rather than just blindly search by country or continent, if you search Letterboxd and set the results to show “Lists,” nearly every country you punch in has at least one curated list of films made in or about the country. Yes!
Of course, the next trick is going to be tracking some of these films down, since not everything is available on streaming services we subscribe to. My guess is at some point we’ll need to hit our local (or university) library, but that’s a problem for another day.
If you want to follow along, my Letterboxd diary should be public. Don’t look for reviews or ratings, though. I’m marking stuff I liked, but that’s about it for now. I’ll leave more detailed thoughts to others.
Here’s how I know The Rise of Skywalker isn’t up to snuff. Once in theatres was enough for me. I’ll still read the novelization, and will watch it again at home afterwards, but I have no desire to deal with all the crap that attends going to the movies for it.
However, I don’t want to recite a litany of the ways TROS was disappointing. Instead, I want to think through how the film could have been better, given where the story stood at the end of The Last Jedi, and where the film ended.
Let’s start with Leia. I get that they wanted her to play a key role in Kylo/Ben’s redemption, but without actually having Carrie Fisher around, Leia’s presence and death were both super flat. Instead, they could have dealt with her death in the opening crawl, and had the first shot of the film in the Alderaanian graveyard, with the remnants of the Resistance performing a service in her honor. Hell, maybe the first shot is Lando’s ship arriving.
We acknowledge the leadership vacuum in the Resistance. Some look to Poe, but he’s still wrestling with being a hotshot pilot vs. taking on a more prominent leadership role, and hasn’t fully come to grips with what he did in the run-up to the Battle of Crait. Poe is keen on General Calrissian heading things up, but that’s not really Lando’s bag. He digs the title, but doesn’t want the responsibility. Instead, he offers to help use his old contacts to beef up the Resistance. Chewbacca goes with him. Leia’s death also flips out Kylo, and Palpatine uses the opportunity to reach out to him through the Force.
Next, let’s give the Kylo Ren vs. Hux and conflict within the First Order more time to breathe. I actually think this could have been one of the primary story lines of the film. Imagine if we got to watch Resistance leadership pulling itself together at the same time as the First Order is tearing itself apart. Rather than the whole chasing this artifact and that, we could have had Kylo unbalanced by the loss of his mother, pulled towards Palpatine and chasing (with the Knights of Ren, sure) after what to Hux would appear to be phantoms. Disillusioned, he reaches out to the Resistance as part of a play to eliminate Kylo.
Let’s keep the memory wipe of C-3PO, except instead of doing it to translate Sith MapQuest, the Resistance has to do it as part of a scheme to get in contact with Hux, because he can’t get word out from the Star Destroyer he’s based on without getting busted. Think of it as the reverse of what the Rebels did to K-2SO in Rogue One. This gives us an excuse to get our heroes in trouble, put Rey in Kylo’s quarters, etc.
Now that I think about it, this could also have given us a different way to introduce Jannah. I saw a tweet recently suggesting that she could have told Finn she and others left the First Order after they heard about his actions. Imagine taking that a step further, and being able to see them do it on screen because they ran into Finn on a First Order Star Destroyer.
Okay, so at this point let’s say we have Kylo haring off to Exogol, on a promise of power, one-upping grandpappy Vader, etc. He’s dealing with a bunch of Sithy things, including ghosts of Han and Luke getting in his way. The Resistance has to make a decision. Do they go after this new threat, or take advantage of turmoil in the First Order to get a much needed win on that front? Poe wants to do the latter, but ultimately recognizes they don’t have the resources. Rey takes off for Exogol in the Falcon…let’s say with Rose, because the ship is in desperate need of repairs. Finn and Jannah tag along, on the excuse that some First Order knowledge might be useful. Really, Finn is nervous about what Rey and Rose might discuss, and Jannah is infatuated with Finn.
Rey and the gang pause before the final leg to Exogol, where they run into a substantial part of the First Order fleet. They have to fight their way through, with a slight assist from Hux, who sabotages First Order efforts to capture them. In the process, our heroes see Hux get busted, courtesy holo transmission from him. Once they finally make it to Exogol, everyone but Rey focuses on repairs so that they can maybe make it back out alive. They also contact the Resistance to let them know about the fleet and Hux’s predicament.
Poe reasons that Hux is too valuable a resource to lose, and risks going after him. He also contacts Lando, and has him send anyone who can help to a rendezvous point outside the storms near the entry point to Exogol.
So— we still get our big lightsaber fight and space battle going on simultaneously. Yay! A couple changes, though. The Rey/Kylo/Palpatine part is a much more intimate affair. No more arena of whatever the hell those things were, and no fleet of planet-killing Star Destroyers, because Oh. My. God. Just the three of them battling each other and their own demons. Palpatine does his cackling “I have foreseen this” thing. Rey has to deal with being Palpy’s grand baby. Leia speaks through Rey to Kylo, which finally breaks him. On the space battle side, we start quietly as well. Initially there are not enough Resistance ships to risk taking on the First Order fleet, and they keep their distance. The First Order similarly ignores the Resistance ships as not being a threat. However, there is a steady stream of newcomers joining the Resistance. The First Order begins to get nervous, and at some point a hot head arrives and barrels forward to attack, ignoring Poe’s calls for him to stop. This causes confusion on all sides and the battle kicks off in earnest.
On Exogol, Ben and Rey defeat Palpatine, and race to leave before everything crumbles around them. They emerge from the storms in the middle of a now-raging space battle. The storms have increased in severity, and have jacked up the Falcon’s shields, and they’re sitting ducks. Black Squadron swoops in to escort the Falcon to relative safety. We see Poe’s ship, but it’s piloted by Wedge Antilles.
See, fanboys? I can pander, too.
Whatever destroyed Exogol has spread, and the storms surrounding it increase in size and intensity. They begin to swallow up the First Order fleet, which is now trapped between the storms and the Resistance. Poe sees this and orders everyone away, while lightning leaps from one First Order ship to another in a web of destruction that ultimately claims nearly the entire fleet. The Resistance wins the day!
One last thing I would do. Throughout the new trilogy, Rey has been pining for her parents, or trying to find out where she belongs. By the end of TROS, she has been explicitly told she’s more or less heir to the Sith, while she at the same time makes a conscious choice to fight against that. In the epilogue to TROS, Rey does two things that I think are in conflict with each other. She claims the name “Rey Skywalker,” as if claiming the mantle of the light. However, she also sparks a new lightsaber that is a golden yellowish color. This is a color we have seen from Temple Guards Star Wars animated shows, but in the context of Rey’s story I think we can interpret it as Rey forging her own path. I would probably drop the whole “Rey burying lightsabers on Tatooine for Jawas to dig up later” bit, but could easily see a small exchange at the end where one of the other First Order troopers who left with Jannah asks “Rey who?” To which Rey smiles and says, “Just Rey.”
So anyway, if anyone wants to give someone at Lucasfilm my contact information, I’d be happy to talk to them. I know it’s too late for the Skywalker Saga, but maybe I can pitch in on something coming up. 🙃
This is super spoilery, but it’s a snow day and I’m pretty sure no one’s reading this stuff anyway. So, here are two small scenes I’d like to see in Start Wars Episode VIII
INT. resistance hangar
The MILLENIUM FALCON lands, and after a brief moment LUKE, REY, R2-D2 and CHEWBACCA exit. GENERAL LEIA approaches LUKE and gives him a hug.
It’s good to see you again. It’s been too long.
I know. Listen…I’m sorry about Han.
LEIA steps back and looks at LUKE for a moment. He looks older than his years, and clearly feels guilt about his friend’s death. She gives him a wistful smile.
It’s alright. It’s a wonder he lived as long as he did.
CHEWBACCA grunts his agreement.
…and scene number two…
KYLO REN is pursuing REY, who is injured and desperately trying to break away. She pauses at an intersection, glances left in surprise and then takes off to the right. As KYLO REN gets to the same intersection, GENERAL LEIA steps in front of him. She is pissed.
Benjamin Anakin Solo, put that light saber down! Now!
KYLO REN drops his saber and stumbles back a step.
And take off that ridiculous mask.
He rips the mask off his head like it’s on fire and stares past his mother, unable to make eye contact. LEIA picks up the light saber and starts pulling at the exposed wires.
Mother, no‑‑ that’s mine!
KYLO REN reaches for the light saber, but LEIA refuses to let him have it. She continues yanking pieces from the weapon.
Not anymore, it’s not. Do you have any idea how disappointed I am with you? If your father were here…
But he’s not, is he?
She slaps him across the face, hard enough to leave a growing red mark.
Your father loved you, and did everything he could to keep you safe. And how do you repay him?
She begins jabbing him with the light saber pommel, wires and bits now dangling from it. KYLO REN’s eyes begin to tear up.
Suddenly, FINN bursts into the corridor, a small group of Resistance fighters in tow.
General? Rey said‑‑ oh, crap!
FINN and the other fighters point their blasters at the now weeping KYLO REN.
Take him into custody.
(to KYLO REN)
This conversation isn’t over.
I have no idea what Kylo Ren’s middle name really is, but “Anakin” seems as likely as anything, and it has a nicer ring to it than the only other options I could think of. Bail? Luke? Lumpy? In any case, I’m amused at the thought that even though as far as we know Leia’s had no training or interest in the Jedi arts that her sheer force of will would be enough to stop Kylo in his tracks and reduce him to a little child again.
Sometime back in the early spring/late winter I saw a couple trailers for “Killers,” the new Ashton Kutcher/Katherine Heigl flick. By the second trailer I was pretty sure it was going to be a stinker. I don’t remember the exact exchange I had with Chandra, but I stuck the following on a sticky note:
Jason predicts “The Killers” will be bad. Specifically, he predicts a 54% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
Chandra, unable to resist joining in, predicts a 63% rating.
If you have an iPhone, be sure to check out the newly released NFB iPhone app. Dozens of great and classic NFB animated shorts are available on it including Richard Condie’s The Big Snit, Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care, Caroline Leaf’s The Street, Ryan Larkin’s Street Musique, Gerald Potterton’s My Financial Career, Peter Foldes’s Hunger, and, of course, Colin Low’s The Romance of Transportation. More recent films like Chris Landreth’s Ryan and Theo Ushev’s Tower Bawher are also on there.
My network connection is really spotty, so I’m struggling to watch anything, but the few seconds I saw before it crapped out were excellent quality.