My Thoughts On The Last Jedi (Part 2/2)

I have just returned from seeing Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

In part one of this lengthy expose, I talked about my feelings on Star Wars as a whole, and about the first six movies. I didn’t get into Episode VII very much and I probably won’t dive too deep into it here, because now I’m going to talk about what I really came here to talk about: The Last Jedi.

In short, I loved it.

I loved it so much that there were moments when I felt utterly captivated and I could understand, for a moment, why so many people have loved Star Wars for so long. I felt like maybe I just never quite found MY Star Wars film, the one that suited me and my generation and what I wanted to see. I suppose that since I’m a child of the nineties, the prequels would be considered my trilogy, but as I watched The Last Jedi I just couldn’t help but be impressed by every aspect of it.

It’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, this is certainly not an unbiased review, but I was biased AGAINST Star Wars going in, and expected absolutely nothing of it, not the least among the reasons being that it seems like most fans hate it (but then, as we discussed earlier, STAR WARS FANS ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE and will never be satisfied with anything), and Mark Hammill has made some… interesting comments about what he feels the writers did to Luke’s character.

I’m here to tell you, as a person who generally dislikes Star Wars, that I was well and truly impressed by this movie in every way. It felt like the movie allowed itself the space to tell a full story and utilized every moment they had perfectly, nothing was wasted. I’m not really going to do much of a plot synopsis here, but I’ll talk about the things that I find relevant. Also I guess it goes without saying but I may as well say that there will be SPOILERS for the film, and honestly if you haven’t seen it, I really think you should. And by the way, I went into the movie having had the whole thing pretty much spoiled for me on purpose. I specifically looked for The Last Jedi spoilers because I was vaguely interested in how the plot points and potential from Episode VII would be expounded upon in this movie. On paper, it would appear that the movie took all the potential from Episode VII, ripped it up, shit all over it and threw it out a window into space. None of the fan theories turned out to be right: Rey’s parents are (probably) not Skywalkers or Kenobis, Ben Solo didn’t turn good (well, not entirely anyway), Snoke is not revealed to be the long-lost Darth Plagueis (although I’m still kind of holding out hope that he might be), Poe and Finn are probably going to have a gay romance, and Luke… well, we’ll get to Luke.

It seemed to me like the change of director had been bad for the franchise.

I was wrong. As a matter of fact I think I’m really glad that J.J. Abrams left, because honestly I think his movies have the same run-of-the-mill, seen-it-all-before feel to them that I get from every goddamn superhero movie these days. But it does mean that the development of the film was tumultuous, going through several directors, and then of course there’s the very untimely death of Carrie Fisher, whose role as Leia is front-and-center in this film, and boy am I happy about that.

I’ve always felt Leia never really got the screen time she deserved, and was always a supporting character. In truth she still is a supporting character, but in a really appropriate way that I don’t think undermines her as a character at all. Carrie Fisher’s performance is wonderful, even though there are a few moments where her voice cracks pretty badly, but hey, Carrie Fisher has aged and so has Leia. The resistance members spend just about the entire movie locked in a space battle with the First Order’s flagship, maintaining a distance so that the First Order’s weapons can just reach their shields but not quite penetrate them yet, as the First Order slowly picks off all of their smaller ships and fighters. There is a moment when the bridge is blasted head on and every leader of the Resistance is sucked into space and killed at once, including Leia… but wait a minute!

Leia finally gets to have her Jedi moment and I think it’s executed absolutely perfectly. I call it her Jedi moment but really it’s her Force Power moment. We’ve always known that Leia is force-sensitive, but in the films she’s never really used the Force, apart from sensing the presence of loved ones. It might have felt silly and hammy to have Leia go on a badass rampage and start Force-pushing stormtroopers, or to whip out a lightsaber, so the way her Force ability is used feels completely organic and true to the character. When she’s sucked out into space, she’s seemingly knocked unconscious, but she begins to manipulate the particles around her and telekenetically pushes herself back toward the ship so she can be brought inside and rescued. It’s left vague whether she was consciously doing any of this or whether it was an instinctual act of self-preservation (I tend to think it’s the ladder), although her eyes do open if that counts for anything. Leia being bedridden, along with the loss of all the rebel leaders (including everyone’s favorite “It’s a trap!” trope namer, Admiral Ackbar) means that a hitherto unforseen character, vice-admiral Holdo, becomes the new de facto leader.

People seem to have a lot of opinions about Holdo, with some people feeling she’s the feminist icon Star Wars desperately needs, and others saying she is some kind of strange diversity-hire just put in to please the politically correct crowd. As always, people who think the latter are fucking stupid, because it couldn’t be father from the truth. Insert ANY character who happens to be a minority into a series, and it’s a guarantee that some fans will riot, saying that the producers just did it to appeal to “the PC crowd.” And by the way, what IS the PC crowd? Because it seems to me that if you insert a black character, the most you could be appealing to are black people, or people who don’t mind seeing a black person. So then, the only reason you’d be against seeing a black character is because… it’s because you’re racist, right? I don’t see any other alternative.

And it’s the same thing with Holdo. SOME PEOPLE (probably of the male variety, wearing fedoras and stroking their neckbeards while burping up some Mountain Dew) seem to think that she was shoehorned in so that the movie could say “Look at us, we have a female character in a position of power, HAND OVER YOUR MONEY, FEMINIST DROVES!” And also apparently some people are bothered by the fact that she has purple hair, a complaint so incredibly laughable in the context of fucking STAR WARS that I don’t even know how to go about adressing it. I mean, Yoda is a tiny wrinkly green muppet, there are green-skinned women with wet, mucus-covered tentacles poking out of their heads, one of the central characters is an eight foot tall Bigfoot that moans in a gargling whinny for speech, but yeah, it’s really the ONE LADY WITH PURPLE HAIR that strains credibility too far here.

At any rate, Holdo is the new commander of the fleet. Well, this trilogy’s Han Solo archetype, Poe, does not like that at all, and does like her methods. She wants to retreat and live to fight another day, ensuring the survival of the rebel alliance and sending a spark of hope to light a fire under the ass of the First Order. Poe would much rather be a swashbuckling hero, ride on in there and blow the shit out of their flagship (cause that worked so well when the previous heroes did that to the Death Star), and win the day for the Rebellion. They both have noble goals, and this is where we start to see what I feel is the central theme of this movie, the conflict between difficult decisions and choosing a path. Poe and Holdo both want what’s best for the rebellion, and while Leia agrees with Holdo’s philosophy, she does understand and secretly ALSO agree with Poe’s. But Leia is older now, and she’s not as willing to throw away innocent lives just to win a space battle, if that kind of thing can be avoided.

Meanwhile, back to the real meat of the story, we have Rey, who traveled across the galaxy to the homeworld of the Jedi to find Luke, who has secluded himself in shame after losing his apprentice to the dark side. We pick up right where the last movie left off, with Rey holding out Luke’s lightsaber to him. He takes it from her, and in a move that we probably all see coming, casually tosses it backwards over his shoulder. Don’t worry though, some Porgs find it, and in that moment they are ALMOST useful to the story and not clearly Disney’s attempt to merchandise a new adorable toy. Honestly I get why people hate the Porgs, they’re kind of cute in context but they do feel somewhat out of place and is it me or is their CGI kind of shabby? Oh well. That’s all I have to say about Porgs, really.

So, Luke. Mark Hammill has done several interviews now where he talks about he vehemently disagreed with the filmmakers’ writing of Luke Skywalker. Luke has become an island unto himself by sulking on a literal island in the middle of the ocean, ashamed and without hope at the loss of Ben to the Dark Side. He hates the Jedi, he hates what they became, he understands the turmoil they brought about during the time of the Old Republic, and he understands how meaningless legends can be. He knows that he’s a legend across the galaxy, but he also knows that a legend is not the real story. He’s done a lot of introspection, and in his despair he’s cut himself off from the Force. He’s isolated, scared, and ashamed. He’s in a dark and desperate place. Mark Hammill has said that this is completely out of character for Luke, it’s not something he would do. If Luke Skywalker saw that the galaxy was in trouble, he’d get off his ass and go out there and save it.

But you know, I have to disagree with Mark Hammill, and part of my disagreement is based on what a damn fantastic job he does portraying an angry and bitter Luke. The Luke we know was young, naive, and passionate. He didn’t have time to grow and learn, to be jaded by reality. Young Luke believed there was good in Darth Vader and was brave enough to go and face him to try and turn him to the Light. But old Luke is a veteran of the deadliest war in the galaxy, he’s seen so much despair and turmoil, and he had dreams of rebuilding the Jedi Order into something grand and beautiful. His hopes and dreams were dashed by Ben Solo. He’s lost everything he loves, and the galaxy that he fought so hard to protect is teetering on the brink of totalitarianism again, despite everything he did to try and save it, and he feels that it’s ALL HIS FAULT. He feels that he failed Ben, just as Obi-Wan failed Anakin.

And really, a LOT of what happens in this movie is a direct parallel to what happened in the original films. Obi-Wan and Yoda both went into hiding after losing Anakin to the Dark Side, and they both had to be approached by someone else asking for help (in Obi-Wan’s case, Leia) before they agreed to rejoin the fight. Obi-Wan wasn’t quite so depressed as Luke, but essentially they are in the same position. When Luke finally agrees to teach Rey about the Force, it’s a mirror of his time with Yoda, with him taking on the role of the grizzled old Jedi whose seen what happens when he fails to protect the galaxy from the Dark Side, and even though he has a lot of wisdom to pass on to Rey, they disagree on what should be done next, the same way Yoda and Luke disagreed on Dagobah.

I think that Mark Hammill missed the point of Luke’s sadness and isolation. The REASON that he’s acting so unlike himself is BECAUSE he’s in a rut, and he has to redeem himself. He’s only human, he’s allowed to fail, to make mistakes, to forget who he is, and then be forced to remember by a young idealist like Rey. It’s during Rey’s training with Luke that we also learn that Ben Solo actually had a legitimate reason for betraying Luke. It wasn’t because Snoke found him and seduced him into leaving the Light side, although that is a factor, it’s because Luke tried to murder him. Luke sneaked into Ben’s tent while he was sleeping, ignited his lightsaber, and stood over him, ready to murder him in his sleep. Luke later admits that this was true, although he had already changed his mind as soon as he’d ignited the lightsaber, but by then the damage was done, and Ben turned on him fully.

There’s also the interesting new development of Rey and Ben having a telepathic link that connects them at unforeseen moments and allows them to see and speak with one another. Rey begins to see Ben’s side of things, and Ben’s veneer of purpose and stoicism is breaking fast. He throws one of his usual tantrums in a lift when he breaks his helmet against the side of the wall, and spends a lot of time crying, but it’s clear that he’s on a path he doesn’t want to be on, but he’s confused and hurt, and doesn’t know where to go. He doesn’t WANT to follow Snoke’s path, but he also doesn’t want to return to Luke, who he rightfully feels had betrayed him. To her credit, Rey becomes infuriated when she learns that Luke tried to murder Ben, and the two of them have an impressing fight sequence, which Rey wins by calling Luke’s lightsaber to herself and igniting it.

The thing about Rey and Ben is that they represent balance and chaos. Rey has been our hero up to this point, but as Luke notices she has tendencies that could lead her to the Dark side. She continues to feel alone and abandoned because of her literal abandonment by her parents as a child, and she is particularly drawn to a cavern beneath the island which seems to contain some kind of deep, dark energy, although it’s never specified exactly what it is. It is somewhat reminiscent of Luke’s journey into the cavern on Dagobah when he had to face Darth Vader and found his own face inside Vader’s mask. In Rey’s cavern, she sees several versions of herself in a straight line, with her in the center, one side representing the past and the other being the future, each one moving right after the next. She attempts to learn the identities of her parents but she doesn’t.

And now both Rey and Ben have the potential to turn to the Light side or the Dark. I doubt that Rey will become the villain, but the important thing is that this whole movie emphasizes moral grey areas and the space between two extremes. The prequels were about the Dark Side, the originals were about the Light Side, and this trilogy is about the space between. When Rey and Ben finally meet in person again, each one thinks they can turn the other to their side. The confrontation with Snoke is fantastic, with him showing off his mastery of the Force and easily overpowering Rey, who begins fighting using Ben’s lightsaber when she can’t get to her own, which was formerly Luke’s. Snoke finally Force pushes her in front of Ben and gives him the opportunity to redeem himself in Snoke’s eyes and complete his journey to the Dark Side by snuffing out the only hope of the Light, but Ben finally stands up to Snoke and impales him by telekenitcally igniting Rey’s lightsaber and cutting him in half. There is this fantastic sequence rather afterward where Ben and Rey stand back to back, fighting off Snoke’s guards, finally on the same side. At the end of it, though, Ben does the same thing that Vader did with Luke, and holds out his hand in an offer for Rey to rule the galaxy alongside him. We see that Ben has the potential to overcome the Dark side, but he’s still unsure, still wavering.

It’s also around this point that Ben confronts Rey about her parents, saying that she’s known all along that they were never anyone important, just nobodies who sold their daughter for money and abandoned her, before leaving to go die a meaningless death and be buried in the desert. It’s unclear whether this is actually true, although Rey seems to agree, but there is a possibility it’s Ben attempting to turn her by extinguishing any hope that her parents might have been important or had a good reason for abandoning her.

I want to mention that I think Adam Driver does an amazing job of playing Ben, who’s such an emotionally volatile character. I also really like his fighting stance and movement, whereas previous Jedi’s have fought somewhat like samurai wielding katanas at one another, Ben is a berserker who stands with his feet apart, planeted on the ground, and moves slowly like a tank made of stone, barreling through enemies in his path. Rey is the opposite, swift and graceful, emphasizing once again how these two characters represent opposite extremes, and the grey areas between. There are several visual motifs that show this, and my favorite is when Rey and Ben are both attempting to pull a single lightsaber caught in the air between them, and their power is so evenly matched that the lightsaber breaks in half. Interestingly, this is also Luke’s lightsaber, and it’s one of the many times visual motifs represent the old guard of Star Wars passing the torch to the new characters. A lot of this movie is about Luke, Leia and the others handing over the galaxy and the Force to the newcomers, because it’s their time.

One final note about Adam Driver, I am really impressed and a little disturbed by how deep his voice is. I honestly can’t tell if it’s a vocal effect they used on him, but his incredibly low voice is unsettling. I couldn’t help imagining him saying “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me.”

HEY HOW DID THIS PICTURE GET HERE THIS ISN’T KYLO REN OH WELL LET’S JUST KEEP IT

But I digress.

The movie has a pretty long run time, which is fine with me, because everything seems to happen exactly as it should. And unlike other Star Wars movies, this one doesn’t have abrupt scene changes where the screen just wipes from one planet to the next, the characters hopping from place to place all over the galaxy, most of the action takes place within a few specific areas. There is a subplot involving Finn and a newcomer called Rose finding a master hacker who can get them into the First Order’s ship to disable their tracking mechanisms. It’s a perfectly good section of the film and the two of them do manage to liberate a herd of domesticated racehorses (or the Star Wars equivalent thereof), although there is a minor antagonist who I don’t think adds much to the story, but I guess we had to do something with Finn. Personally I don’t think this section of the movie is BAD, just that it’s a bit of a detour from the central action.

When Finn and Rose finally get on board the First Order flagship, it turns out that the sketchy rogue they hired turns on them at the last minute and hands them over to the First Order. It’s here that Captain Phasma makes her return, and I’d heard a lot of criticism saying that her fifteen minutes weren’t used very well. While it’s certainly true that she wasn’t on screen for a terribly long time, I thought she was perfectly effective and served as a good antagonist for Finn, who honestly didn’t exactly have the largest role in this movie.

Meanwhile, Holdo decides to evacuate the remnants of the Rebellion to a nearby planet with an old abandoned rebel base, and Poe stages a mutiny, taking over the bridge of the ship. He is stopped before too long by Leia herself, who walks in and blasts him with a stun bolt. Holdo elects to stay behind and pilot the ship while everyone else escapes, and while Leia knows this will involve Holdo sacrificing herself, she accepts her choice and wishes her luck. The two of them have a somewhat tearful parting in which they hold hands, implying that they’ve become very close friends during the time they’ve served together. Leia does seem heartbroken to lose someone else she cares about so soon after Han’s death.

Holdo does what I immediately suspected she would do, but admittedly I only saw it coming because Katherine Janeway did the exact same thing in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. She charges the ship up to lightspeed and then barrels right through the First Order flagship, cutting it in half. This results in Finn and crew being saved just in time by the destruction of the ship, and Finn having a final, but brief, confrontation with Phasma. Also they are at one point rescued by BB8 piloting a walker ship, which felt like a strain on credibility not QUITE equivalent to fish driving a truck in Finding Dory, but not ENTIRELY unlike it either. We do get to see Phasma’s eye through her helmet before she goes, so it was good to get to see her face.

As the ship falls apart, the half that’s still remaining operational fires on the escape pods, dwindling the entire Rebellion down to a handful of people, maybe a couple dozen, as they land on the planet’s surface beneath. This is where we enter the final act, and I have to say that there’s a visual element here that’s so brilliant that it saved the finale of this movie from possibly becoming a bit tedious. There’s a moment when the Rebels are in a trench and one of the captains walks out onto what appears to be a snowy landscape, only to leave what I genuinely thought was a trail of blood. I thought it was weird that this completely unnamed character would be bleeding, but one character puts his finger in it and then licks it and announces “it’s salt,” revealing that this planet is covered in salt that turns red when it’s touched – either that or it’s a red landscape covered in white salt, but either way the effect of this is startling good. During the ensuing battle between the last of the Rebels and the First Order, the Rebel ships skirt across the salt lands leaving a trail of red dust in their wake, making intricate patterns of red on a landscape of white, and blaster shots that hit the ground blow up puffs of red smoke, which gives this whole battle an excellent visual appeal, the kind of thing that was sorely missing from things like the original films’ battle on Hoth, which I find boring because it takes place on a bland snowy landscape.

There is a final moment on the Jedi homeworld where Luke is left alone, and he carries a flame to the tree holding the ancient Jedi texts, ready to burn the whole thing down. It’s now that Yoda appears to him as a Force ghost, looking and speaking like his older version from the originals (good choice on the part of the filmmakers), and when Luke hesitates to set the tree on fire, Yoda does it himself by calling down a bolt of lightning. Luke is flabbergasted at this, and Yoda cleverly quips “The ancient texts, page-turners they were not.” And he agrees with Luke that it’s time for the old Jedi order to die. It’s up to Rey and Ben to decide what happens to the Jedi now, and it’s time for the old masters to move on. Yoda gives Luke his usual dose of wisdom, pointing out that the burden of a master is to watch his pupil replace him and move forward into a new and different world.

Back on the salt-planet, the Rebels try their best but they can’t hold off the First Order who are fast approaching and blow a huge hole in the wall protecting them. Leia and the others wait for the end as the First Order begins approaching, and as the distress call to the remnants of the rebellion scattered across the galaxy goes out, they receive no response. Leia mourns that there is no hope left, and it’s at this moment that Luke appears in the doorway, wearing a black cloak. He kneels in front of Leia and they finally have a moment to reconcile, and he apologizes for failing Ben. Leia admits that she knows now that her son is lost, and there’s a beautiful moment where Luke kisses Leia on the head.

During most of the movie I was so interested in what was happening that I had almost forgotten Carrie Fisher died after filming in this movie and that this was her final film, coming full circle and ending her career playing Leia again. There are some really striking visual setpieces in this movie, one of them being Leia standing and looking out on the white saltlands with a veil covering the lower portion of her face, and another being Luke’s final goodbye to Leia as he kisses her on the head. I couldn’t help but notice that the love theme that played during Han and Leia’s scenes in the original movies makes a return for this moment and a couple of times in the movie during scenes concerning Leia, and it was an excellent touch. It really feels like this moment of Luke saying goodbye to Leia was also a moment of Mark Hammill, and all of us, saying goodbye to Carrie Fisher. She appears after this scene, but it’s a beautiful moment and I’m sure the filmmakers knew the kind of impact it would have on viewers after Carrie’s death.

Luke walks out alone against a fleet of First Order ships, and Ben has them unload all of their firepower into him, trying to ensure that he can’t survive. When Luke emerges completely unscathed, there is a moment where the viewer probably thinks “Oh COME ON, are we really overpowering the hero TO THIS DEGREE?” but it will make sense in a bit. Even I already knew the twist that was coming with Luke and was still startled by his appearing to survive being shot at by tons and tons of ammunition.

Ben emerges alone into the field to battle Luke. As I’ve mentioned before, the white-on-red terrain effect for this planet is brilliant, and provides a gorgeous set piece for the final act, and it really gives the impression of the land bleeding every time it’s touched. The blaster shots into the ground blowing up puffs of red smoke are like geysers of blood from the land itself, and Luke faces Ben in the bloody scar where the First Order just unloaded all their firepower. Within the rebel base, Leia and the others realize that Luke is drawing their attention to stall for time, and they notice that the local ice-foxes (a much better and more interesting creature than the Porgs, and actually relevant to the plot) have disappeared and have found a way out of the maze of tunnels. They follow them only to be blocked by a wall of rocks, and it’s now that Rey appears, obviously about to show off her force powers by lifting them out of the way. It’s a very good final deed for her character in this movie, because it’s something simple yet important, and also references Luke lifting rocks while training with Yoda, something he himself mentions earlier in the film when he says the Force is more than “just lifting rocks.”

Luke and Ben have a dramatic final battle, which ends with Ben dealing a killing blow to Luke, only to find that once again, he’s completely unphased. He presses his lightsaber against Luke’s chest only to find it goes straight through him, and Luke reveals he’s non-corporeal, as he’s been astral projecting himself this entire time. Interestingly, his astral projected form had a haircut and cool black battle robes. Presumably the lightsaber was real, though. A lot of people have been complaining about Luke astral projecting as it’s an ability that’s never before been shown in Star Wars. Well yeah, what’s that got to do with it? I mean, he’s the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy and he’s been living on the Jedi homeworld and reading their secret ancient texts, so it’s not surprising he would show off some new powers.

There is a beautiful moment where Luke shows that his hope is renewed, and that Ben is wrong to think that he’s finished the Jedi, as when Ben tells him that after he kills Luke the last Jedi will be dead, he tells Ben that he’s wrong, and he isn’t the last Jedi. I actually really like this because it implies that there is a last Jedi, but it’s not specificed who it is. We’ve seen the capacity for both Rey and Ben to be led to different sides of the Force, and that there aren’t really heroes and villains. This whole movie has the feel of reality, of bittersweet endings, of grey morality, of things not being so simple as there being a chosen one who fights off the forces of evil. It’s growth, and that’s something that Star Wars desperately needs. There’s also a nice reference to the battle between Obi-Wan and Vader (again, everything in this movie mirrors the previous films, with this fight being the equivalent of the battle between Vader and his older master, grown older and wiser over the years) where Luke tells Ben that “if you strike me down in anger, I’ll be with you forever, like your father,” as a callback to Obi-Wan’s line “strike me down now and I’ll become more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

Luke finally breaks off his astral projection and we see him flushed, exhausted, and completely spent. I don’t know if Mark Hammill really worked himself into exhaustion or if it’s just excellent makeup but he’s beat red and looks awful, it’s a very effective moment. Luke’s finale is a beautiful callback to his iconic sunset scene on Tatooine, with the same main theme playing as he looks out over the two setting suns of the Jedi homeworld, and meditates, floating into the air again, and leaving his physical body behind and dying to become one with the Force, in the same way Obi-Wan did when he died. At the same time, the remnants of the rebel alliance climb inside the Millenium Falcon and escape to safety, with Rey wondering how there can ever be hope for the Rebellion now.

The final scene is of a few slave kids seen earlier in the film, playing with dolls and talking about the adventures of Luke Skywalker. After being admonished by their owner, one of the boys walks outside and picks up a broom (is it me or did he Force-pull that broom to himself, just slightly), and looks up at the stars to see the Millenium Falcon jumping to hyperspace, giving the impression of a shooting star, and it’s revealed that earlier in the film, Rose gave her rebel alliance ring to him, and he stares at the sky with hope in his eyes. It’s a callback to Anakin’s time as a child slave, as well as a reminder about younger generations taking over as the older generation passes on, which is really what this whole film has been about.

So, I ended up expounding on the plot here a LOT more than I thought I would, but I’m glad I did. I was totally blown away by this movie, I daresay it may even have made a Star Wars fan out of me, for now at least. I was even tempted to go back and finish reading some of the earlier Star Wars expanded universe novels. But we’ll see how it all goes, I guess. Honestly I can’t recommend this movie enough, and if you’ve been brave enough to stick with me through both parts of this extremely lengthy essay, I thank you for it! I hope that if you’ve seen the movie you enjoyed it as much as I do.

On a personal note, part of my intentions in this new year are to do a lot more writing and posting to this blog as well as my Patreon where everything is cross-posted and earn my keep over there. If you like what I have to say and would like to hear more of it, feel free to come visit my Patreon page and lend your support.

May the Force be with us all in 2018.

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On Stephen King and Storm Drains

I have a weird history with Stephen King and his fiction.

Admittedly, I probably haven’t read his best books. The first Stephen King book I read was one that was given to me by a friend who assured me I would love it. I did not. It was called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and I was surprised both by how boring it was and particularly by how not-scary it was. I mean, I had heard my whole life that Stephen King was a master of horror whose books were chilling and disturbing, and honestly the book was kind of meandering and had a creepy atmosphere, but in general it was pretty underwhelming.

I thought that Stephen King deserved another chance, however, and at the time I was working my first job and had absolutely no bills to pay, and I was nineteen, so of course I had no compunction spending way too much money on a super special deluxe edition of what was at the time his newest work: Under the Dome. It was a good concept, a story about a small town that’s trapped under an invisible dome that cannot be moved by any means, and how quickly society breaks down. Apparently the original title was an unfinished story called The Cannibals, and honestly that sounds much more interesting than what the book turned out to be.

I spent something like fifty dollars on a special edition of the book that came with some cards that had illustrations on them, really high quality paper and binding, and a weird cover that had the title in a flimsy ribbon rather than actually printing it on the book. Except for that ribbon thing, I was pretty impressed by the design of the book itself, and I was thirsty to read what waited within.

Under the Dome was about a thousand pages of wandering, meandering storytelling, introducing dozens of characters only to kill them off a few chapters later. I also wasn’t crazy about all the massive buildup to the incredibly underwhelming ending (SPOILER): oh right it was aliens all along. Not much explanation beyond that. Also the dome disappears and sends tons of polluted air that is killing everyone inside flying off to the rest of the state, and surely that’s going to have some bad effects but it isn’t really addressed. And there’s no epilogue at all, you get all that buildup just for the dome to disappear and the book to end on the next page.

At any rate, it was while reading this book that I began to notice the things about Stephen King’s writing that I really don’t like: everyone, be they man, woman, or child, all kind of have this jaded outlook on life and speak like truckers. I don’t mean profanity, because I don’t mind profanity. There’s just something weirdly scatological about the way everyone speaks. Everything comes down to metaphors about farts and shit and piss, or weird sayings that might sound natural coming out of a grizzled truck-driver at a 2AM pit-stop but just sound bewildering coming out of the mouth of a nine-year-old. And everyone is secretly some kind of monster. Everyone is secretly a murderer or a pedophile or a rapist, there doesn’t seem to be anyone immune from this.

Now, I get why that’s interesting in and of itself. Everyone does have the capacity to do horrible things under the right circumstances. But the character in King’s books are automatically portrayed as hiding a dark secret. The other thing that really stuck out to me was the catch phrases. I don’t remember if Under the Dome had many, but right about this time I was dating a guy who loved horror movies, who decided we were going to watch every horror movie ever adapted from Stephen King’s work. I have to say that a lot of them were great: there’s no denying Stephen King comes up with brilliant ideas. The Mist was a particular favorite, and I both loved and hated the bittersweet ending.

Carrie was a great movie, and as the weeks went on, my boyfriend and I worked our way through both versions of the Shining, through the two-part miniseries of It, Rose Red, Pet Semetary, Dreamcatcher, Misery, 1408, Secret Window, Storm of the Century, The Stand, the second version of Carrie, and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten. I still missed some classics: we didn’t watch Firestarter, Children of the Corn, The Green Mile or the Shawshank Redemption. But it’s fair to say I got a pretty good taste of what Stephen King’s ficiton is like.

A lot of those films dealt with similar themes: childhood, everyone secretly being some kind of monster, loads of catchphrases and incredibly corny moments, and even though these were adaptations and not the books themselves, I knew from reading some of King’s work that these aspects were probably present in his books too. Another thing about Stephen King books is that I just find myself feeling really uncomfortable reading them. I get that when you have a horror novel, you want to feel unnerved, but I just kind of felt anxiety, like I was trapped in a windowless room and running out of oxygen. That isn’t fun for me. I love fantasy. So it may be that I’m just the kind of person who is automatically diametrically opposed to Stephen King’s work.

I gave him another shot and read through several shorts stories from Everything’s Eventual, none of which particularly caught my interest. I had heard a lot of good things about the Dark Tower, and since it was a fantasy series and I love fantasy, I thought maybe I’d finally found the right fit. I read the Gunslinger in one day, I think about five hours, and that’s the only book in my life I’ve ever read in one sitting. Unfortunately it wasn’t because I was so enraptured by it or anything, I just wanted to get to the end. I remember bits and pieces of it. I’ve always hated westerns, cowboys, and deserts, so obviously that whole aesthetic was wasted on me. I really hated Roland for the choice he makes at the end of the book. I won’t spoil what happens but he does something very shitty and is eaten up with guilt for doing it, and I think that as a reader I’m supposed to empathize with him and this incredibly difficult choice he had to make, but mostly I just felt like Roland was kind of a dick.

I still want to give some of his other books a try. I want to read Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and maybe a couple of others. His most recent collaboration Sleeping Beauties has a very interesting concept. I’ve heard people rave about his memoir, On Writing, and I’ve read the first chapter or so and thought it was alright. Funnily enough, the only thing in Stephen King’s books that I REALLY enjoyed reading were the forewards and afterwards. I loved hearing his perspective on being a writer, on being famous, and how humble he is. It seems to me that King himself is convinced that a lot of his fame has to do with the fact that his first few books were successful, so everyone automatically loves everything written afterward. I applaud him for being so honest and self-reflective. I do notice that he has a tendency to write, um, a LOT of books about writers who live in Maine being haunted by monsters, and obviously that’s no accident I’m sure. I don’t really like his short fiction but in fairness to him I probably didn’t choose his greatest works to sample.

When I discovered that It was being adapted as a film, I was happy to hear it and thought it would probably be good. I did watch the TV miniseries back during my ex-boyfriends Stephen King movie run, and I was surprised at how terribly it’s held up over time. It wasn’t scary at all, it was incredibly campy and silly and ridiculous. As a child, I was vaguely aware of the existence of It and I remember finding it to be a terrifying concept, so seeing it as an adult it was kind of funny how incredibly not-scary it was.

Honestly, I don’t think Stephen King is really classified properly as a horror writer. Like I said, I haven’t read his classics, but a lot of his work has a very optimistic feel to it, it’s about normal people overcoming incredible darkness. It is no different, it’s about a group of childhood friends who triumph with the power of their will and their bonds with one another. It comes out to the same love-wins-over-evil trope that is a trope for a reason, because it’s a good concept. It is a little exasperating when everything ends the same way, but it’s still a good enough way to write a story.

I actually didn’t remember that the original film adaptation of It was a miniseries, I thought it was a movie. And I actually didn’t remember anything at all about the second part when the kids fight It as an adult, so either I didn’t pay attention, didn’t watch it, or just didn’t care. I do remember getting very bored, though.

So at my job we sell a few books, and one of them was the first Dark Tower novel, so I grabbed it while I was bored and flipped through the first few pages, thinking maybe I’d give that series another try. Although full disclosure, I did spoil the ending for myself a long time ago, but that’s beside the point. Despite trying, I still found the first chapter of the Gunslinger very boring. Then I saw a magazine called the ultimate guide to Stephen King or something, and I actually read through pretty much the whole thing, and I found the details about the upcoming It film to be really interesting. So when the movie was finally released I thought about going to see it in theaters, which would be a big deal for me because I’m typically very nervous about horror movies and I certainly don’t go to see them in theaters.

Last weekend I did something even more out of the usual for me, I went to see It in theaters all by myself. I was very nervous at first and did spend a little time messaging friends for comfort so I didn’t feel so alone. I had expected the movie to be good and I’d heard all the rave reviews about it, and they were right.

The movie begins with rain, which is automatically going to get my attention because I love rain. Apparently the word for that is pluviophile. What I love even more than rain is the sound of rain mixed with piano, and the movie begins with just that, so I was automatically hooked. The opening scene is pretty familiar by this point: a little boy in a yellow raincoat named Georgie takes out a homemade sailbot and runs alongside it as it sails down the rainy streets, disappears into a storm drain, and there he meets It, calling itself Pennywise, and is enticed to reach his hand in. In the book, Pennywise bites off his arm and leaves him to bleed out. In the miniseries, Pennywise grabs him and pulls him down into the sewer. The film combines these two by having Pennywise bite of Georgie’s arms in a pretty terrifying display where his mouth pulls back to reveal several rows of teeth, and a very painful scene where the actor who plays Georgie squirms helplessly in the rain in front of the storm drain.

I was really blown away by the beautiful cinematography of this particular shot. It’s hard to find a good screenshot to show you because the film hasn’t been released on home video yet, but after Pennywise bites off Georgie’s arm, he struggles to crawl away from the storm drain, screaming in agony. The actor’s performance is heart-wrenching, it’s hard not to feel incredibly sad at this very sweet kid being so mercilessly murdered. But even more than that, I loved the framing of the shot just before Pennywise reaches out of the storm drain to drag Georgie down into the sewer. It’s shown from above, with Georgie in his yellow raincoat crawling away from the drain, and rain pouring down hard on the whole scene. As he crawls, the blood from his arm fills up the water around him and the water begins to turn red. It’s just a really beautiful shot. Then Georgie is pulled down the drain and the movie’s prologue is done and the movie proper begins.

I won’t really go into too many more details about the film, except that there is one scene in particular that I have to mention because of how incredibly effective it was in the theater. There’s a scene where all of the kids gather in the main character Bill’s garage and look at slides on a projector of various incidents throughout the history of their town, Derry, and figure out It’s involvement with them. The projector starts working on it’s own and begins showing slides of Bill’s family, with Georgie in the photos, and the slides get faster and faster until they become a silent film. It’s interesting to note that Bill and Georgie’s mother is never shown directly in the movie, she is seen from the side playing piano at the very beginning of the film and mentioned by Bill’s father (who is shown), but is never explicitly shown and has no lines.

In the photos shown on the slides, Bill’s mother’s face is obscured by her hair blowing in the wind, and as her hair parts her face is revealed to be a smiling Pennywise.

Then the lights go out and the music stops, and real life movie theater is completely dark for a moment.

Then Pennywise leaps out of the projector screen at the children.

This is a particularly brilliant effect because the audience watching this movie is watching it in a theater, and the shot is framed so that the projector screen in Bill’s garage looks just like the projector screen of the movie theater, and for a split second, even though your brain knows better, you do have the feeling that Pennywise has just jumped out of the REAL movie screen and is screaming at the audience. It shocked everyone in the theater and made me jump. I really don’t like jump scares in general and the movie was mercifully short on them, but I can forgive the movie for that one because it was so genuinely unexpected.

I mean, looking back on it, sure, it does seem like the scene is obviously setting up Pennywise leaping out of the screen at the kids, but I honestly didn’t expect it, and during the moment when Pennywise jumped out of the screen, I remember several thoughts racing through my mind: one was that I vaguely wondered if this movie were in 3D and I’d missed something, then realizing it wasn’t in 3D, then the thought that scene would lend itself very well to 3D, and then how smart it was of the director to frame that shot like a real movie theater to convey the illusion of Pennywise jumping out of the screen. It simply wouldn’t work at home on a TV or on a computer monitor.

The movie was altogether very interesting and mercifully had a moment of rest where I was able to run away and go to the bathroom (I always have to pee at least once during a movie, so I have a bit of anxiety about how much I’m drinking and the timing of when I’m going to go). The ending was pretty satisfying, it was nice to see Pennywise speaking with the kids and trying to bargain for his life. I wasn’t exactly shocked by the sudden reveal at the end when the title card of the film flashes across the screen and it says IT, followed by a newly added “Chapter One.” I already knew that the filmmakers were producing a second film, as the book is set in two different time periods that overlap one another, one in which the kids fight It as children and one when they come to defeat It as adults.

After this, I skimmed the prologue of the book itself, and then skimmed through some more interesting parts that I wanted to read. There is some interesting underlying mythology about what exactly It is, it’s relationship to the universe and the universe’s creator, a mention of a kind of godlike deity guiding the children to defeat It, and all of this is heavily connected to the Dark Tower series. I had read in the Wikipedia synopsis of the book that there is a moment when the narrative switches to It’s point of view, so I was glad to find that and read it. I also read the very ending, as well as the penultimate scene that luckily never made it into either film adaptation, in which Beverly has sex with all of the boys in the sewer in order to try and bring them together. Sex scenes like that, particularly involving innocent kids who are just on the cusp of adolescence, have a way of making me feel incredibly melancholy and this one was upsetting to read too, but I do think it was pretty effective, if a little strange. But there was an element of Beverly reclaiming her power after her father attempted to take it from her.

All in all I’m really glad I saw It, and I didn’t let my initial fear of seeing it in theaters scare me away from doing it. I may also finally give Stephen King another chance sometime, although honestly I tend to assimilate the writing style of whoever I’m reading, and I don’t want my own writing to end up seeming too much like Stephen King, so I might put it off for a rainy day.

I’ll just stay away from storm drains.

Respite

Adam closed in on Lucas from behind and instantly the warmth of his bare, downy chest closed in around Lucas’s bare back, and Adam’s arms coiled around Lucas’s waist, pulling him in securely as he leaned in to nip gently at Lucas’s right earlobe. Lucas blushed and hid his face under Adam’s chin.

“Good morning, sunshine,” said Adam.

Lucas made a whimpering noise that suggested embarrassment, his face still hot.

“I was worried when I woke up,” said Adam.

“Why?” said Lucas.

Adam leaned his head down and nudged against Lucas’s cheek with his nose, planting a gentle kiss there on his burning cheek. “Because I woke up and you weren’t there.”

Lucas gave a gentle laugh. “I wasn’t far, just enjoying the sunrise.”

“That’s not very fair,” Adam said gently into Lucas’s ear in a voice that suggested an erotic playfulness, sending shivers down the back of Lucas’s neck and warmth down his spine, “You were trying to enjoy it without me.”

“I-I,” Lucas stammered, losing his breath, “I d-didn’t want to wake you…”

“Well,” breathed Adam into Lucas’s ear, “I hope next time I can wake up to a kiss from the most beautiful man I know…”

Lucas turned away from the rising sun and nudged his way under Adam’s chin, burying his nose in Adam’s neck, feeling the soft hair of Adam’s chest brushing against Lucas’s own mostly bare chest, and wrapped his arms around Adam, who enclosed Lucas with his own warm arms. “Adam…” he breathed against Adam’s neck.

“Yes, sweet boy?” said Adam gently, bringing a hand up to run his fingers through Lucas’s hair.

“Let’s go back inside…”

“Are you cold?” Adam said with a smile.

“No, not as long as you’re here,” Lucas closed his eyes and breathed deep of Adam’s scent: a little bit of sweat mixed with soap and something else… something remaining from last night, something that smelled of passion and sex and the scent of a lover.

“Don’t you want to watch the sunrise, beautiful?” said Adam in a gentle, warm voice.

“I’d rather watch you…” whispered Lucas, running his hands down Adam’s strong back and slipping them into the waist band of his trousers, feeling the muscles of Adam’s buttocks begin, and elliciting from Adam a quiver that he could feel behind Adam’s downy stomach pressed against his own.

“You really are insatiable, aren’t you?” Adam breathed into Lucas’s ear, in that voice that again suggested romance, a cadence that made it sound like Adam was up to no good and he knew it, and was proud of himself.

“Please,” Lucas breathed, one single word combining with the whole of his body as he pressed his waist, and the hard erection there, against Adam’s waist and felt something stiff prodding back at him.

In a moment Adam had swept his hands down and lifted Lucas from his feet, holding him like a child as Lucas wrapped his arms around Adam’s neck and began kissing him fervently, and with the precision of one carrying something delicate which must not be broken, and the haste of an impatient lover, Adam whirled around and carried Lucas back into the tent, and pulled closed the entrance way behind him, the morning sunlight not reaching through the folds of the doorway and touching the young men who lay grinding against one another, kissing as though the night had never ended.

Midnight

Eric’s eyes fluttered open. He sat up beneath the soft, silk sheet and the warm wool comforter spread out on the little futon bed. There was still a dim light from the candle the witches had lit in the corner of the room. He rubbed his eyes a moment and looked around for Lucas, finding him sitting in a chair next to the small table where the single candle burned. He was staring intently at the flame, as it grew larger and then shrunk down again. He was wearing only his pants, his clothes in a pile with Eric’s on the floor beside him, next to their packs.

Suddenly he seemed to notice Eric. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Lucas said, “I guess the light woke you up.”

Eric scratched the back of his head and yawned, “Why haven’t you gone to sleep, Lucas?” he asked. Lucas had been sitting in that chair, fully clothed, when Eric had collapsed into the bed and fallen immediately asleep. “You haven’t moved from that spot, have you?”

Lucas smirked, “No, just been sitting here.”

“I suppose you like playing with the fire better when you’re naked,” Eric said teasingly.

Lucas closed his eyes and shook his head with a small smile on his lips, but when his eyes opened his face became serious and downcast again.

“Lucas, talk to me,” said Eric.

Lucas looked over at him, his green eyes wide. “I’m sorry, it’s just been… difficult.”

“I can imagine so,” said Eric, “Your life has been in jeopardy numerous times, from what you and Bronwen have both told me.”

Lucas sighed and crossed his arms in front of himself on the table, laying his chin down to rest between them and staring into the flame. It began to swirl around in small circles.

“You’re worried about your friend, Hephaestian, right?” asked Eric.

“Yes,” said Lucas gently.

“He and Bronwen are both strong fighters, I don’t think a few soldiers could cause them a problem. I’m sure Bronwen will find us soon.”

“Hephaestian told me not to trust her,” said Lucas, “And I did. Now Hepheastian could be hurt, or worse, because I didn’t listen.”

“What alternative did you have?” asked Eric.

The flame began to hover in the air above the candle wick, and Lucas moved his eyes along with it as the flame moved out into the room, becoming brighter, larger, and morphing into streams of fire that danced in a sphere.

“It must be nice,” said Eric.

Lucas suddenly looked up at Eric and the flame stopped dead in the middle of the air, a gentle fiery sphere, floating. “What must be nice?” he asked, “This power?”

“Maybe not that,” said Eric, “So much as that you’re able to do this in front of someone. I can imagine how lonely it was to play with all of those candle flames by yourself in your room, no one in the world knowing.”

Lucas cast his eyes down and held out his hand. The flaming sphere moved slowly across the room to hover above his palm, “Hephaestian knew,” said Lucas, “He was the only one I ever told. And now I’ve involved him in all this because of it.”

“I don’t think your power has anything to do with it,” said Eric, “He followed you into your caravan because he was your friend.”

“I know,” said Lucas, “I just can’t help feeling that I’m responsible for everything, even if it seems silly.”

“May I… offer a suggestion?” asked Eric timidly.

Lucas raised his eyebrows, the flame hovering above his hand.

Eric swallowed nervously and patted the spot next to him. “Come and get some rest.”

Lucas sighed, and with a sweeping motion of his hand set the candle back on it’s wick and it was nothing but a simple, small flame burning again. “You’re right, as usual,” said Lucas, standing up.

Eric had seen Lucas in various states of undress, but he always found it difficult to look away. With his shirt off and the light of the fire dancing against his bare skin, Eric found it difficult not to stare at Lucas’ lean stomach, or the hairs on his chest, around his nipples, and trailing down from his naval.

Lucas walked around the futon to his spot to the left of Eric and crawled into bed, laying his head back on the pillow laid out behind him and staring at the ceiling. Eric laid back too, on his side, staring past Lucas into the rest of the room, where various strange objects were stacked on shelves against the walls. He was making an effort not to stare.

“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do, Eric,” Lucas said quietly.

Eric timidly scooted closer to Lucas, his heart beginning to beat faster in his chest, and propped himself up on his elbow. “You don’t have to think about that right now,” he said gently, and Lucas looked up at him, his light brown hair falling into his eyes. Lucas absently brushed his hair away. Eric couldn’t help but smile. He found the gesture so endearing.

“Come here,” Eric said, and he held out his arms.

Lucas smiled and looked away, “Oh come on, Eric…”

“Just come here,” he replied, “It’ll make you feel better.”

Lucas kept a slight smile on his face as he gave a little defeated sigh and slipped forward into Eric’s arms, slipping an arm under Eric’s and nestling into Eric’s chest. His face, his chest, and his skin were warm and soft against Eric’s bare flesh. Eric held him close, placing a hand on the back of Lucas’s head and holding his head securely against his own chest.

There was silence.

Lucas took a deep breath and exhaled. His body was so warm, his breath was warm, and as he felt a wet warmth against his chest, Eric looked down to see that Lucas was crying gently, without making any sound.

“Lucas…” he said, concerned.

“I’m sorry,” Lucas said, “It’s just that no one has ever held me like this. I’ve never been close to anyone before… in many ways.”

Eric put a hand under Lucas’s chin and gently tilted his head up to look into his own eyes. He smiled down at Lucas. “I promise, Lucas, I’ll stay by you. I may not be a warrior, but I’ll protect you the best I can.” Eric leaned down and kissed a tear sliding down Lucas’s cheek, and then as Lucas closed his eyes, he kissed both Lucas’s eyelids.

Eric pulled back but Lucas reached a hand up to touch Eric’s cheek gently, and he opened his eyes to stare directly into Eric’s. His green eyes were sparkling with tears. The expression on his face seemed to be one of wonderment, or speechlessness. It was difficult to tell. Suddenly he leaned forward and touched his nose to Eric’s closing his eyes.

Eric breathed, his heart pounding. He closed his eyes too, and felt Lucas’s gentle breath touching his face. Between his legs he was completely solid, and as close as Lucas’s body was to his own, he could feel Lucas pressing against his thigh.

Lucas’ lips touched Eric’s gently, and with a hand behind Eric’s head, he kissed him deeply. Their lips stayed together for a long moment, Eric’s heart pounding and his head swimming, and when they parted, Eric went in for another and kissed Lucas quickly.

He opened his eyes. Lucas looked down, his face going red. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t know-”

“Shh,” whispered Eric, “Don’t be sorry. I liked it.”

Lucas glanced up at Eric, a gentle smile on his face. “Can I do it again?”

Eric gave a little chuckle. “Sure.”

Lucas leaned up and more boldly he kissed Eric again, their lips meeting, and Lucas slipped his tongue slightly into Eric’s mouth, Eric touching Lucas’ tongue with his own, and they parted again. Lucas buried his face in Eric’s chest and held on to him tightly. Eric placed a hand on the back of Lucas’ head and ran his fingers through Lucas’ soft hair.

He laid back, holding Lucas closed, and let his fingers trail down Lucas’ back, to which Lucas responded with a gentle moan. “Does that feel good?” Eric asked with a smile. Lucas made a groan of agreement, “Please don’t stop,” he asked. Eric ran his fingers again up the length of Lucas’ spine, and Lucas let out another gentle moan of contentment.

“It’s alright,” whispered Eric, “I’m here,” and he held Lucas close and tight. His heart was soaring. Lucas’ hand sudenly reached up and made a flicking gesture, and the flame in the candle on the table went out instantly, and the two were surrounded by darkness.

Eric held Lucas close as his head began to swim not only with joy but exhaustion, and within minutes he realized, as Lucas’ breathing became a slow, steady rhythm, that he’d fallen asleep in his arms. Eric smiled and leaned down, kissing Lucas on the forehead, then on his cheek, and giving him a gentle kiss on his lips while he slept. In his sleep, Lucas’ lips moved slightly to return the kiss and he gave a sleepy moan. Eric laid his head back on his pillow, holding Lucas close, and for the first time in days, he had absolutely nothing in his head, his mind was blank, and his heart was full. He closed his eyes, and bathed in the warmth of Lucas’ body and the tingling on the back of his neck and all over, Eric fell gently into sleep.