[Never topical, never on time. I wrote this the night after seeing Star Wars VIII. Now it’s no longer relevant, my self-disgust has reached an ambient enough level to actually publish it.]
Not to repeat myself, but
It should never be far from mind that the Jedi are an ancient aristocratic order of religious monarchists, fighting the trade federation backed Empire. Ultimately, the Rebels-Vs-Empire resembles not a struggle for freedom against fascism, but rather the historic spat between the Whigs and Tories.
Why the Fuck then, are the rebels so overtly Clinton, and the empire Trump? The poverty lies not in the Star Wars franchise, but the degeneracy of reality itself; the “democratic” caucuses’ overtly anti-democratic imposition of the Clinton-dynasty; Obama supplementing his predecessor’s abhorrent proxy war with a ridiculous and impossibly expensive droid army.
It must be credited, VIII comes across as far more self-aware than VII. Luke admits, (as the prequel films made clear) that it was the Jedi’s ideological air-headedness and absolute fiscal incompetence that heralded galactic collapse. The Hacker DJ forces the rebels to confront that the true ruling class doesn’t care for either the rebels or the empire; only that the war economy continues.
If VIII is an improvement on VII, it is in its admitting its ideological base, running with it, perhaps even reflecting on it, rather than just providing barely-veiled slaughter porn for self-satisfied liberals.
In some ways it’s more active identification is more repulsive; As Bernie polled well among Latino voters, Poe Dameron the HOTHEADED brocialist, must be symbolically punished for failing to support the Pantsuit-nation chain of command. Liberal Left Feminism, of course, means the obedience of a handful of older, educated, aristocratic white women who should not be questioned or expected to explain themselves. Yet obversely, near the end we somewhat glimpse an actual feminist ethic; promoting a philosophy of care in resistance, against a machismo-fuelled brocialist martyrdom; “we win not by killing who we hate, but protecting what we love”. The success is not so much being entirely less ideologically-awful, as actually presenting ideological dispute as ideological dispute. It is thus that film thus escapes complete banality and gestures towards occasional insight.
On the other side of rebel-liberalism then, we have Kylo Ren as the alt-right. Here, the union between the fascist, militarized power-structures of the empire, and the libidinal rage of pathological, socially malformed teenage white males is, similarly nicely, presented as-is; a sometimes frighteningly effective, a sometimes strange and precarious antagonistic union. Here, actually giving Kylo a shred of character development became easily the highlight of the film.
I must admit, when I used to lurk both 4chan and tumblr, I always felt a pang of tragedy at their disputes; aren’t the ‘beta-males’ of 4chan and the feminists of tumblr born of the same symptom; a pathology towards a degenerate patriarchal-capitalist social-sexual-hegemony that leaves the majority utterly alienated from each other- either in total isolation or direct competition? However, as “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution”, 4chan’s identification of pathological masculinity, -rather than challenging the mode of production that birthed it,- evolved into gamergate, and then into the alt-right’s frog-posting Trump supporters: Instead of a desire to oppose toxic hierarchies, beta’s decry the fact they aren’t the ones at the top; that they aren’t the ones benefiting from them.
The film presents Kylo and Rey as orphan children, the abandoned generation of a degenerate war economy only geared towards galactic conquest and destruction, and hints the possibility of solidarity and transformation through shared pathology; born from a shared over-identification with history, with the same degenerate patriarchal-familial structures that birthed them into an age of austerity.
Yet here, the film –as all films- resides in the realm of fantasy: If it were accurately portraying the groups, the Kylo and Rey’s scenes of connection should have been 2 hours of Kylo frothing at the mouth making increasingly elaborate rape threats, and Rey insisting Kylo is an irredeemable malformed loser whose only meaningful course of action would be to immediately kill himself. The two should have spent the whole movie sat in their mutual bedrooms and accomplished nothing; occasionally viewing the galactic dogfight through gifs with glazed, indifferent expressions, before collapsing tired and bored from performing a vacant investment while doing fuck-all.
This then, is the issue: If I enjoyed the hope for this world implicit in Kylo’s development, it is only because I already chose to project onto Kylo. Talking about the film after seeing it, the first friend I spoke to said she hated it, because she was not looking forward to all the Kylo-x-Rey ship-posts she’d have to see over the coming months; a ship she did not identify with. In a strange turn, this statement had a much deeper and longer emotional impact on me than any stake in the film itself. Why? Was there a political ground I could summon to oppose it from? (shipping is inherently such a reactionary and monogo-normative form of engagement. The only thing that matters is WHO’S FUCKING).
Ultimately, the issue was obvious; there was simply nothing to be said; the film presenting a possible union between the broken-masculinity of the alt-right and the counter-cultural-feminist-left doesn’t generate that reality, -it doesn’t even offer support for it-, just because I happen to identify with it. The filmic imaginary gives the traumatic impotency of reality sweet release, but ultimately, any engagement with the mass ornament of pop-culture is just cathexis-porn; masturbation of whatever investments and intents you bring into it. Kylo making decent arguments does nothing redeem the alt-right, or my own miasma of pathological masculinity, and anything said or done-to-or-by any character won’t do anything for anyone whom hasn’t already decided to selfishly sympathise with them.
Still, the presentation of Kylo remains interesting; even when he returns to the role of overt villain at the end, he is still making essentially the same argument as the deus-ex-protagonist Yoda. Here, it is rather Rey who is the true fascist; stuck in pure identification with ‘the cause’ as the only hope for fulfilment and identification. Obversely to Rey, we have Luke; in attempting to efface all history, he inevitably brings it to bear upon him all the stronger.
If Luke embodies that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, then Rey’s attempt to revive the Jedi order embodies that those whom remember the past are doomed to live it. Here then, Yoda and Kylo present the same argument; history exists so we can burn it to the ground. The past exists always as the wound of the present; the phantom matrix than defines us in our very attempts to escape it.
It was not Kylo, then, that retreated into villainous fantasy, but the writers, the film itself. More than any political metaphor, Star Wars VIII is a metaphor for its own identity crisis; a crisis of the Star Wars franchise. The unbearable banality of endless sequels of endless space battles, where the ‘balance of the force’ really means generating enough spectacular proxy-wars to keep a fandom engaged. The rebels cannot win; the juvenile dualism of the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ side cannot be overcome, because it is the identification needed to sustain the Star War Economy.
Luke and the Hacker, then, represent the writers repressed conscience, or at least their hatred of their jobs. By the end, Luke must turn back into a Jedi puppet, and declare the moral imperative of posterity’s identification with the rebels. The ending is not one of hope, but absolute tragedy; of the Disney Empire stamping out the last surfacing of resistance.
Here, then, rather than The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi’s, spiritual predecessor is perhaps Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
The contradiction of any Vietnam War film was that Vietnam was an irredeemable series of utterly unjustifiable atrocities. The bombing, slaughter, systematic rape of civilians, continued birth-defects from chemical poisoning in Agent Orange. Yet, -as was clear in interviews, Michael Herr’s Dispatches, etc.– the US Soldier’s identity and understanding of their experience was born not from historical-political circumstance, but primarily from the identification with the characters of formative Hollywood war films. The crisis of the Hollywood Vietnam film, then, was that Hollywood could not portray the horror of Vietnam without portraying its own barbarity; it could not comment on the war economy without both recouping and perpetuating it.
Where Apocalypse Now actively identifies with its ideological-retreat into US libidinal fantasy -like Heart of Darkness, it does not even pretend to ever ‘show’ The Continent outside the White Man’s horror at his own aporia of conscience- In FMJ, Kubrick resolves this crisis by embracing its own evil with Nihilist glee; the narrator Joker -with all his ironic disavowals- is not so much a character than the precipitation of the film’s attitude towards itself.
Common to Kubrick’s style, the film’s acts feel at once widely disconnected, with structural joins arising rather in the minor detail: At the end of the first act, when the sergeant asks Pyle ‘What is this Mickey Mouse shit?’, the private kills himself on a toilet. At the end of the second act, Joker echoes Pyle; ‘I’m in a world of shit’ and the troupe marches off singing ‘the Mickey Mouse Club March’. What we get is this: In both the inward and outward acts, The War, presented at its most abject and horrifying, -as mindless death and shit-, is translated, encoded and comprehended via the signifier of Mickey Mouse; the Disney Empire absolving both the trauma of the war, and its own imperialist evil, by converting both into an absurd lark though its own symbolic fantasia.
The Last Jedi bares this same repeated structure. The film closes with a force sensitive child, cradling the rebel vigil, looking to the stars; as the resistance looks for salvation in posterity; the suffering of the nameless masses to carry on their torch. This parallels the film’s opening -not the first scene, but the very opening-; when, before the lights dim, you sit through an advert for a Lucasart’s game product, of a young girl playing with a lightsaber on a VR set, cutting down blocky and identical First Order troopers. The implication of these scenes are clear, identical, and a mirror repetition of FMJ’s: Disney’s sigil’s will absolve the horror of the war it creates, and will train, you, the viewer, to go through the motions required to slaughter the Stormtroopers, the enemy it constructed. Identification as tunnel vision slaughter absolved in banality. This is my Star Wars Sequel, this is my VR headset. There are many like it, but this one is mine….
Where can Star Wars IX go from here? Does it release another ideological repeat of Seven? Back to Two-Hour-Snuff-Film, Good-guys-kill-bad-guys basics? Or will it present another crisis like Eight; made all the more hollow and empty, through sheer repetition? It would be a nice commentary, in a sense.
Here is my suggestion: Kylo and Rey discover the location of the first Sith temple. In it, they discover tomes that imply their whole reality is a simulation; they are all puppets, controlled by an immortal, Ur-Sith named Walt Disney and his homunculus Padawan, Viceroy Mickey Mouse. ( the upside of picking an actual Nazi as sith leader!)
The rest is obvious: The remnants of the First Order and the Rebels’ team up, use all their resources to force-hyper-drive Kylo and Rey out -past the cameras- and into the Walt Disney studio, where they work together towards the mindless slaughter of all the cast and crew working on the production of the film itself; climaxing in an epic duel with Disney’s shareholders and board of trustees; with Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse force-lightening’d off the top-floor of the Disney head office. As the film world begins to breakdown, Kylo and Rey realise they have one last task; a meticulously choreographed standoff to kill Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley; to kill their hosts so they can finally be absolved of their banal, stupid, symbolically overwrought existence in some quasi-gnostic suicide ritual. Yet -when it finally seems like they’ve won, as they stand side by side, acknowledge each other, and begin to disappear-, in a sickening last minute plot twist, Walt Disney re-appears to reveal that it’s all useless: Death is no escape; Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing have been dead for years…
It would, of course, be utterly degenerate kitsch post-modern trash; No one would enjoy it, and it would be an absolute Box Office flop. But, here, then, is the beauty of it; in being a flop, -in ruining the Star Wars franchise,- It would be the first movie, in the entire history of cinema, to actually bring about the Good, the Fantasy, it so desperately describes…