MARRIAGE STORY – Artisanal Divorces of the Creative Class

MarriageStoryPosterMarriage Story (2019)
Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Alan Alda, Laura Dern, Adam Driver, Julie Hagerty, Scarlett Johansson, Ray Liotta, Wallace Shawn, and Merritt Wever
A Heyday Films, Netflix release
(All Marriage Story images courtesy Netflix/Wilson Webb)

To paraphrase Victor La Valle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, “To Noah Baumbach, with all my conflicted feelings.”

A special thanks to Brian Eggert’s Deep Focus Review. His look at Marriage Story was one of my first “discoveries” as I began this odyssey. His generous assistance regarding both grammar basics (still working on it!), and making sure my bile didn’t overwhelm any good points I was trying to make, have been invaluable. Thank You.

Where did my antipathy towards Marriage Story begin?

More importantly, Why?

Why did I dislike this praised-to-the-skies awards season favorite before I even watched it?

I blame the Marriage Story one-sheet. A sepia-toned portrait of a family’s happier days. Mother, Father, and Child. Smiling, golden, content. I’d see that image before; in 1979, advertising a movie that came out between my parents’ first and second divorce filings.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979, Columbia Pictures) made $107 million in worldwide box office and won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Actor (Dustin Hoffman) Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep), Director, and Adapted Screenplay (both Robert Benton).  For my GenX cohorts, Kramer became, by virtue of its popularity and acclaim, the go-to example of a Heartwarming Divorce Drama About The Way We Live Now.

Thousands of moviegoers go to see a film like Kramer or MS. By such exposure, it gains international recognition and viewership and achieves, through that reach, status as a broadly seen and appreciated artistic statement. No matter how specific the focus, or particular the story to a location or economic class, both films become, to some extent, an example, a shared experience about a process that touches thousands of families. Even if we don’t work as advertising executives in Manhattan (like Ted Kramer) or have never won a  Macarthur Foundation “Genius” Grant (like Charlie Barber in MS), the emotional journeys of these characters hopefully strike a universal chord with viewers, whatever their situation in life.

For Gen X divorce kids, the whole divorce experience is totemic, as if it’s not just the worst thing that ever happened to you, but the only thing. Susan Gregory Thomas captured it perfectly in “The Divorce Generation” (Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2011) “For much of my generation – Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980 – there is only one question: “When did your parents get divorced?” Our lives have been framed by the answer. Ask us. We remember everything.”

When I told my younger brother I was heading to the courthouse to read our parent’s 1982-83 divorce file, he reacted with one word – “Why?” Maybe that’s the question. Why do I keep digging through this carcass? Will I finally find something to help me understand? Maybe I keep digging because every decision I’ve ever made has been in reaction to it.  The course of my life has been shaped by it.

Fairly or not, in my mind, our parents were careless drivers who wrecked a car, then left their children stranded by the wreck as they drove off in their shiny new lives.

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I’m not angry that the unhappy family in Marriage Story doesn’t more closely resemble my unhappy family (yes, I know, we’re each unhappy in our own way), but frustrated. For all the critical hosannas to MS’s realism and rawness, it comes nowhere near the particular realities my brother and I experienced before, during, and decades after our parent’s “high-conflict” divorce. One aricle I read described the process of a high-conflict divorce as one where “a marriage ends and the war begins” For us, the post-divorce landscape just moved the battle lines we’d lived with all our lives. The marriage ended but the war continued.

I felt like I was living in a nightmare,  and the language of Nightmare Cinema spoke my truth. I found, and still find, catharsis in the horror genre. In reading novels in which a panicked father deals with losing custody of his daughter while investigating a mysterious filmmaker whose movies drive people insane (Night Film by Marisha Pessl), in movies where a father and daughter repair their fractured post-divorce relationship while fighting off a swarm of VERY hungry alligators (Crawl, 2019) or a husband and wife mourn the death of their baby as they battle Lovecraftian Eldritch horrors (The Void, 2016).

My reaction to Kramer? David Cronenberg says it best. In Cronenberg on Cronenberg (1992, ed. By Chris Rodley), the Canadian director describes making his 1979 movie The Brood as a reaction to both his own divorce and Kramer. “I was really trying to get to the reality, with a capital R, which is why I have disdain for Kramer. I think its false, fake, candy. There are unbelievable, ridiculous moments in it that, to me, are emotionally completely false, if you’ve ever gone through anything like that.

The Spring 1981 issue of Cinefantastique described The Brood’s birth pangs as follows. “Cronenberg wrote The Brood over a period of years, a tortuous time for him involving divorce from his first wife and a custody battle for his young daughter.” In the last of The Brood’s six on-screen murders, Frank Carveth (played by Art Hindle) kills his estranged wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar) to save their daughter from the murderous mutant dwarfs born of Nola’s rage. As Cronenberg told CFQ, “I can’t tell you how satisfying that scene is. I wanted to strangle my ex-wife.”

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The Kramer v Kramer-ish image of Charlie, Nicole, and Henry Barber wrapped up in each other, lit in a hazy golden glow, may have set me off, but then came the cast and crew interviews, the articles and film festival statements designed to gin up awards season buzz. The Hollywood Reporter article, “Making of ‘Marriage Story’: How Noah Baumbach Crafted His “Love Story About Divorce,” particularly annoyed me. Baumbach’s Director’s Statement for the 2019 Venice Biennale made me grind my teeth. “I wanted to find the love story in the breakdown. Hope in the middle of courts and documents and rules. Movies are an antidote to divorce. A world not of division but of love.”

Is it wrong writer/director Noah Baumbach to use his life experience to craft a movie as an antidote to reality? No, but for me, this approach turned MS into a portrait of divorce so opposed to my life history that it became a wish-fulfillment fairy tale. If your own experience of divorce is more akin to a scorched earth campaign a “love story about divorce” just rings false.

Throughout MS, I envied Henry Barber (Azhy Robertson), the pampered only child of theatrical director Charlie (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). If it were possible, I would’ve taken Henry’s bi-coastal life in a New York minute. Peacefully shuttling between Mom’s House and Dad’s efficiency apartment? Heavenly.

Despite my personal views, MS sits currently holds a 95% “Fresh” critic rating from critics at Rotten Tomatoes (with an 84% audience score) and holds steady at 93 on Metacritic. Despite the opacity of Netflix’s business model for measuring success, MS has been Hoovering up awards, especially for Adam Driver as Charlie.  Johansson’s turn as actress Nicole may have netted her fewer awards, but she’s still collecting nominations a-plenty, including an Oscar nomination for Best Actress to go with Driver’s Best Actor nomination.

Well, how about all those critical plaudits? Alas, those critical raves set me up for disappointment to go along with my annoyance. Graham’s Detroit Daily News review hails MS as “a film that combines the humor and pain of his (Baumbach’s) previous works, with a deeply personal touch that feels raw and uncut. … it’s the best movie of the year,” and the Big Fight Scene ™ is “… the most jarring, emotionally charged scene in any film this year. It’s a stunner, unfolding with the intimacy of a stage play and hitting like a bitter gust of winter wind.”

According to Matt Thrift at Little White Lies, “It’s a film of devastating cumulative power, even-handed and empathetic in its approach to two characters whose relationship has broken down, but who still want the best for their child and each other.

Even with an awards-bait advertising campaign modeled on a movie I loathe, these reviews indicated I’d find in MS less of a Hallmark Channel Story and more of a gritty, honest take at the worst experience of my life.

How could I criticize a movie for its poster, without watching it?

So I set aside an afternoon, grabbed a notebook, and watched Marriage Story.

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CHARLIE, NICOLE AND THEIR WORLD

During MS’s Climactic Big Court Scene (more on that later), Charlie’s high-priced attorney Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta) utters a line to opposing counsel Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) that encapsulates my reaction to MS as a whole. “Your account of this marriage takes place in an alternate reality. Or, at least for me, a reality not shared by 99.9% of the spouses and children experiencing divorce. Who work 9-5 jobs with little flexibility, who aren’t protected, like Charlie and Nicole, by extraordinarily privileged lives shielding them from the worst consequences of their actions. A small, hermetically sealed world in where hearing the phrase “Winning your first Tony at age 27” at an after-work social gathering is a normal part of the conversation.

Matthew Dougherty’s IGN review identified the central dilemma in MS that prevented me from identifying with Charlie and Nicole, their son, or their trauma. “Marriage Story is a film desperate to be ordinary in its portrait of a difficult divorce, and it succeeds very often. But Charlie and Nicole are immediately established as extraordinary people.” The magazine covers bearing their likenesses, the babysitter who gushes, “You’re both so good looking”, Charlie dipping into his Genius grant money to pay Jay Marotta’s $25,000 retainer – all mark this family’s belonging in a rarefied stratum of society. Charlie and Nicole often seem blind to the realities of their situation because they can afford to be.

Watching a couple who inhabit a world so far removed from anything in my life that it may as well take place in another solar system was a bridge too far for me to suspend my disbelief over. At one point in MS, Charlie prepares dinner in his (serviceable, if sparsely furnished) LA apartment.  Henry asks, “Why can’t you be here more?” Charlie responds, “I have to work. You know my play’s opening on Broadway.” A sentence you will never hear from 99.9 of non-custodial dads in America. I’m still wondering if I was supposed to find this line funny, instead of unbelievable.

Throughout MS, I appreciated the movie’s quality and craftsmanship, but I could not connect with its heart.

LEGAL FIREWORKS AND COURTROOM DRAMA

For all its fireworks, the essential point of The Big Court Scene illustrated a bit of high-priced legal theater, designed to settle scores instead of revealing ultimate truths, reminded me of an exchange between attorneys Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta) and Jerome Facher (Robert Duvall) in A Civil Action (1998). After their case goes to the jury, Facher and Schlichtmann talk outside the courtroom.

Facher: What’s your take?

Jan Schlichtmann: They’ll see the truth.

Jerome Facher: The truth? I thought we were talking about a court of law. Come on; you’ve been around long enough to know that a courtroom isn’t a place to look for the truth.

As with most of the bad decisions made by Charlie and Nicole in their legal battle, Baumbach seems to shift the blame to the attorneys, with Charlie and Nicole roped along as hapless bystanders. According to Baumach’s Venice “Directors Statement”, “The legal system of divorce is set up to divide, necessarily. It divides people, family, property and time. It keeps everyone in their own narratives and obfuscates the other person’s point of view.” But in his desire to present Charlie and Nicole as sympathetic protagonists, I felt that Baumbach strips them of both agency as human beings and diminishes their personal responsibility for their choices.

The Court Fight Scene allows Charlie and Nicole’s high-priced attorneys a chance to chew up a lot of scenery, and the presiding judge a perceptive meta-comment regarding their grandstanding. Motioning to the people waiting for their cases to be heard, the judge remarks, “There are people who don’t have the resources your clients have.” It’s a brief nod to the reality lived by the crowd waiting behind our stars for their turn, couples who aren’t as privileged as Charlie and Nicole. I appreciated this comment; my parents were probably one of those couples in the back of the courtroom.

Of the three attorneys in MS, Alan Alda’s Bert Spitz is the only character I felt portrayed a family law attorney’s job in a compassionate, realistic way. While Dern’s Nora flatters and butters up her client and Liotta’s Jay Marotta veers into cartoony combativeness, Bert, in his modest, seemingly absentminded way, gets to the truth of a family attorney’s job: making the best of a bad situation.

ON TO THE BIG FIGHT SCENE!

For a scene that is supposed to lay bare the most buried unspoken truths about Charlie and Nicole’s life together, the Big Fight Scene, following the Big Court Fight ,features quite a lot of Telling that either contradicts what previously Seen in MS or refers to things we haven’t seen.  For example, we learn next to nothing about Charlie’s family, we never see or hear from his parents;,we don’t know if he has any siblings. As a result, Nicole’s accusation that Charlie is “just like his father” meant nothing to me.  We’re supposed to take her word for it.

Later, Nicole yells at Charlie, “You put me through hell during our marriage.” Hold on; when do we see anyone put anyone through hell in Marriage Story? By the standards of marital hell I witnessed we don’t. Marriage Story’s beginning depicts an ostensibly loving, involved family going about their daily lives. After their separation, Charlie and Nicole’s relationship becomes clipped and distant. But we see nothing that in any way resembles “hell. Marriage Story is one of the most civil divorces I’ve ever seen on screen.

Another reason the Big Fight Scene felt like no big deal for me? My brother and I were eyes and ear witness to years of similar blow-ups. We were either in the same room, could hear it from whatever room we were hiding in, or pretendeding to play in the backyard while ignoring the muffled roaring from inside the house. I even got to try and play Marriage Counselor once; I sat Mom and Dad on the couch to explain why they were angry at each other. It didn’t work.

If this scene to be relatively mild as verbal blow-ups go, it is to Charlie and Nicole’s credit that it occurs outside of Henry’s presence. If their child doesn’t have to see or hear it, I could care less about what these two adults shriek at each other.

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Finally, I must address the Letter Scene. At Marriage Story’s end, Charlie moves to Los Angeles, accepts a teaching position, and accepts his reduced role in Henry’s life. Nicole is now a director-actress and appears much happier with her new boyfriend. Throughout the movie, Henry’s needed help with his reading homework; now this theme helps deliver a heartwarming conclusion to this domestic drama. A letter Nicole wrote for the separation mediation at the movie’s beginning, ( we hear her narrating over the heartwarming family scenes mentioned earlier, but which she refused to read to Charlie at the counseling session), has traveled with her and Henry to California. Henry somehow finds it in time to ask Charlie to help him read it aloud as Nicole happens to overhear. Hearts are warmed, tears are shed, and narrative threads knit themselves together for a bittersweet movie ending.

But for me, watching this scene showed the distance between these characters’ reality and the reality I knew, a yawning gap that kept me from identifying with their particular situation, a chasm preventing me from just accepting that this setup is their reality and I should just stop bitching about it.

Like Henry, I also found a letter written by my mom about my dad. Except she wrote it to five-year-old me in 1973, two years before my dad first served her with divorce papers. Like Nicole, my mom bared her heart. “I want you also to know that I love your father even though I fight with him. I do love him, and he loves us. Ann, I never really had a father; you do, so please always love him.”

But unlike MS’s feel-good, provide a sense of closure ending, this letter didn’t help draw my family together. Like Nicole, my mom refused to read these words aloud when they would’ve done some good. I found this letter in 2012, after her death, crammed into a corner of a bookcase secretary desk. A piece of furniture that we’d  carted from house to house through forty years of moving, from Wisconsin to Seattle and back.

I found it too late.

All I could do was read it and try, once again, to understand.

Review – STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI Controversy Helps the Cash Flow?

Star Wars Banner ImageStar Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Directed and Written by Rian Johnson
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Image courtesy Star Wars Official Facebook

 

[This article also published on SciFi4Me; Featured image courtesy StarWars.com/Paul Shipper]

Since its release on December 15 2017, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (SW TLJ) has garnered both enormous sums of box office revenue (over 1 Billion worldwide as of December 31, 2017) – and a bit of controversy. Disney may be too busy swimming in a sea of revenue to hear (or care), but segments of fandom are not happy. Where critics see director Rian Johnson taking familiar SW tropes and beloved characters in bold new directions, some fans see character assassination, even going so far as to create an online petition asking Disney to wipe TLJ from the SW canon (official history).

Johnson and a cast and crew of (if the credits are any indicator) thousands have made that rarest of movie creatures; a critically acclaimed, controversial, four quadrant money machine. In these days of inoffensive, mass-produced CGI blockbusters designed for the broadest possible appeal, that is noteworthy.

I’m a “first generation” SW fan. Nine year old me waited months to see A New Hope in 1977; I believe my brother and I had to wait for our report card results. My happiness with subsequent SW movies, books, and comics has varied, but my love for the SW universe remains constant.

So how did I like The Last Jedi?

Let’s go over what didn’t work for me first.

A Long, (Long, Long, Long, LONG) Time Ago … I Watched the Opening Crawl

One macro issue is TLJ’s running time. At two hours and 32 minutes, TLJ joins my “I loved it but … it’s 20 minutes too long” list.  Weirdly enough, a long running time doesn’t automatically earn a spot on that list. A movie can be several hours long, but so vivid and immersive that time flies (Seven Samurai, 1954, three hours, 27 minutes), while a movie with an average run time (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, 1999, two hours, 16 minutes) makes me regret every moment spent watching it without RiffTrax.

TLJ had a rather unique take on this pet peeve of mine. All of the storylines were important, either as practical goals characters needed to accomplish, or Life Lessons They Must Learn. As a viewer, I found the story lines listed below overly convoluted and unnecessarily drawn out. I liked the destination they arrived at, just not the particular route taken. Instead of simply getting from Point A to Point B, the following bits sat down next to me, propped up their feet, and helped themselves to some popcorn.

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Finn disovers the joys of gambling on Canto Bight. Image courtesy Star Wars Official Facebook page.

Scenes From the Class Struggle on Canto Bight

The Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran)/Finn (John Boyega) mission find a genius hacker on the casino planet/war profiteer haven Canto Bight is a character building McGuffin. Its success or failure has less to do with helping the Resistance than helping Finn Grow Up and Learn Something Important (mainly, “don’t cut and run”).  The Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) Idiotic Space Mutiny storyline has a similar aim, but the joy I experienced calling Poe while watching it unfold earned it a pass.

There are some highlights to the casino scenes. The Dickensian children working in the casino stables, the cruel treatment of the animals kept in them (officially, they’re named fathiers but to me, they are Jackalopes), and Rose’s anger at the cruelty and class divisions propping up Canto Bight’s economy are aspects of the SW universe we’ve never seen before.

But by time Finn and Rose get to the Jackalope stalls I was looking for points where the storyline might wrap up. Instead of Rose and Finn getting out while the getting is good, we watch Jackalopes breaking out of captivity, crashing through the War Profiteer Casino, complete a circuit around the racetrack, then race to freedom through the pampas before Rose and Finn are recaptured. Rose and Finn make a great pair, but would’ve shone brighter in a more tightly written and edited story.

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Snoke, turns out we hardly knew ye. Image courtesy Star Wars.com

If You Liked the Many, Many, Endings of Return of the King ….

If you’ve ever had to endure a particularly long graduation ceremony or holiday religious service, you know this routine. You hear the music develop and build to what seems to be an ending. But no! The music suddenly skips back to the very beginning, or the maybe the middle, but most certainly not to the end. Eventually, when the last graduate crosses stage or the appropriate amount of spiritual reflection time has passed, the music transitions to what – you hope – is the conclusion.

Before TLJ, my most vivid experience of this phenomenon in a movie was Return of the King. This piece at The One Ring.Net describes how the multiple endings in ROTK take a viewer “out of the movie” because they think an ending is near.

But then the next scene comes up and they are forced back into the story. Once that is over and the scene fades too, they are certain that this is the end, it is time to leave and to think about where the car was parked and how long it will take to get out of this crowded place, but – it is not over yet. Another scene, and with it the realization that this could go on forever.

The final section of TLJ gave me that same feeling. Like the Rose and Finn Jackalope Adventure on Canto Bight, with each new scene I found myself hoping that THIS scene – maybe – might be the end.

The basic story is pretty simple. After escaping the First Order fleet that’s been pursuing them through the entire movie, the Resistance escapes to an abandoned base on the planet Crait. However depleted and demoralized, they live to fight another day.

Here’s how those events played out for me. I’ve put in brackets what felt like essential story bits wedged in between the superfluous.

(Resistance flees to the surface of the planet Crait, escapes into hidden base.)

*Resistance mistakenly thinks there’s only one way in or out, braces for showdown based on that mistaken belief.

*Resistance and First Order engage in battle.

*First Order sloooowly brings up Big Space Canon to blast open the Only Way In/Out Door

(Luke Skywalker-Kylo Ren Showdown)

*Resistance survivors notice digi-dogs have fled the cave, follow said digi-dogs and,

*Find Big Pile of Rocks blocking only escape route.

*Rey miraculously lifts Big Pile of rocks using the Force, followed by a series of melancholy reunions.

(Rey and Kylo Ren reenact one of my favorite scenes from Jane Eyre with Meaningful Gazes)

THEN

(A wonderful coda of stable boy using the Force to lift a broom, sweep a stable, and gaze at the stars)

AND FINALLY, WE REACH

The End

(Or is it?)

Dare I have one more complaint about TLJ?

Yes, I do.

Alongside the noodling route taken by Rose/Finn and the finale, another moment combined circuitous story telling with too much improbability  for a Space Opera. Even Star Wars movies, with their very tenuous connection to science, can have such a moment.

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Princess or General, Leia has a lot on her plate in The Last Jedi – like Poe’s insubordination. Image courtesy Star Wars.com

During the First Order fleet’s pursuit of the Resistance fleet, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) leads an attack on the Resistance command ship. Connected to his mother, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) through the Force, Ren senses his mother’s presence his target. He cannot fire, but a wingman lands a direct hit on the command center. We see a bloom of fire consume the command deck, and Leia is sucked towards a gaping hole in the ship into the void of space.

At that moment, I was on tenderhooks; how could Leia survive this? Instead, I watched Popsicle Princess Leia float slowly from the ship, then somehow use Force abilities we’ve never seen her display to propel her unconscious body back to the ship. Even watching a Space Opera, I can only suspend my disbelief so far; that moment snapped it as I wondered how Princess Leia could survive that long in the heartless vacuum of space.

Horror movie fans (like me) can appreciate a movie filled with moments that don’t add up to a satisfactory whole.  Even a disappointing movie can have some amazing images or interesting ideas. A complete mess of a movie (which TLJ most assuredly is not) isn’t a waste of time – as long as it’s an interesting mess. I recommending listening to Episode 445 of the Bloody Good Horror podcast (discussing Cult of Chucky) for a great example of this approach to evaluating movies.

I don’t know if other genre fans or professional critics at large look at a movie in through the same lens. When I watch a horror movie, I can appreciate and enjoy a striking image, a unique setting, an interesting idea that works on its own. Even if the finished product doesn’t coalesce into a “good movie,” you can still recommend a movie to other fans.

Am I more lenient towards TLJ because as a horror fan I can appreciate some parts of it, ADORE other parts, but still find plenty of things I don’t like? I love a genre devoted to characters who face extreme situations and must deal with the disastrous consequences of poor choices. That may explain why I loved moments other fans loathed. Namely, the Luke Skywalker and Reylo (Kylo Ren + Rey) storylines.

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Luke did warn us – “this isn’t going to go the way you think”. Image courtesy Star Wars Official Facebook page.

The Last Temptation of Luke Skywalker The best moment of The Force Awakens (TFA) was the most shocking; Kylo Ren’s murder of his (or Ben Solo’s) father Han. But overriding my shock and sadness at that moment was an overwhelming sense of puzzlement. I immediately wanted to know: What had led up to this? What happened beforehand that was so awful so destructive, that Kylo Ren committed patricide? TLJ gives us that answer. It both illuminates the backstory, and paints a heroic iconic character in a light that many fans find hard to reconcile with their memories of a plucky, heroic Jedi who never gave up.

We learn more about the destruction of the Jedi Academy hinted at in TFA. Training his sister’s son, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) saw the darkness taking a hold of young Ben Solo. The Hero of the Rebellion felt helpless to counteract the malign influence of Snoke. Luke finally considered, if only for a brief moment, murdering Ben as the young man slept.

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Kylo Ren did kill Han Solo, but has he also “destroyed” Ben Solo as he claimed? Image courtesy Star Wars.com

For me, this moment, this shameful memory that drove Luke to cut himself off from his family and the Force, brought a level of depth and development to the onscreen Luke that surprised and delighted me. I loved the character’s struggle. Given the magnitude of the consequences of his momentary weakness, it made sense that Luke’s sense of shame that would lead him isolate himself.

But for many fans of the original SW trilogy, the connective tissue between the Luke of ROTJ and TLJ is not there. I don’t agree with that feeling, but can see where it comes from. The last image we had of Luke in Return of the Jedi was of a young man who’d been through the fire and still retained a fundamental goodness. The Luke Skywalker at the very end of TFA was a silent image, offering no information on what had led him to Porg Island.

To the film’s detractors, the Luke of TLJ is a prop whose character is sacrificed to make way to newer characters. Luke’s self-exile from the galaxy and the Force served no real purpose but to get him off the stage and make other, newer characters look more heroic. Like my earlier question regarding the greater leniency a genre fan may give a movie with many great pieces that don’t make a good whole, is  a SW fan’s opinion regarding LS in TLJ dependent on how much (or how little) of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels (now known as Legends in the post TFA timeline) they’ve read?

Of my immediate social circle (an admittedly small sample size) this maybe the case. Those who’ve read at least the Thrawn Trilogy liked TLJ, those who haven’t ready any SW EU disliked Luke Skywalkers’ story intensely. I’ve read SW EU books from the Thrawn Trilogy through the Legacy of the Force series, and I loved the Luke Skywalker I met in TLJ. This Luke is not a sacrificial prop, but a logical extension of the character of the I saw develop after Return of the Jedi.

A character who made mistakes, misjudged people, and made a heartbreaking decision regarding his sister’s son. In the Legacy of the Force book series, Leia’s son Jacen Solo turns dark by becoming a Sith Lord. It the movie it’s her son Ben. If the last you saw of Luke Skywalker was at the end of ROTJ, you may see TLJ as a cheap shot at the character we remember from the original trilogy. In this framework, Rian Johnson ruined a beloved hero to build up newer characters like Kylo Ren and Rey. Perhaps Star Wars now has a fandom similar to Star Trek – with fans of various generations rooting for “their” version of the story.

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The relationship between Rey of Jakku and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo may be the future of the Force. Image courtesy Star Wars.com

The Ballad of Rey and Kylo

I’m a Reylo, I’ll admit it. And the development of the relationship between Rey of Jakku (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo in TLJ is so far beyond anything I hoped to see on screen that I’m still a bit amazed. TLJ developed and built on the scenes between Rey and Ren in TFA – from the “Bridal Carry” to Rey’s interrogation to their duel in the snow on Starkiller Base, I felt that Rey and Ren had intense screen chemistry.

With the Force Bond (maybe) established by Snoke existing continuing after his death, “Reylo” – as a relationship of enemies, reluctant allies, or something else – exists; it remains to be seen how it will develop in Episode 9. The choices made by Ren and Rey at the end are less of a final note than a springboard further story. I see  Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is “Anakin done right” and Rey is Jane Eyre In Space. Kylo Ren is a multi-dimensional character with glimmers of light in his darkness. Rey is fascinating in her sturdy self-reliance and inner loneliness. We know as little about Rey’s  history as she does. I love seeing a character who is (as far as we know), unencumbered by legacy and bloodline developing into a major part of the SW universe.

Like the yin-yang-esque art in the Jedi Cave in TLJ, will Kylo Ren and Rey become the future of the Force?

Will Episode 9 “Save Ben Solo” from the decades of manipulation and brainwashing from Snoke?

We will all find out in 2019 with the release of Star Wars Episode 9.