Bittersweet Symphony: Thoughts on “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

I went and saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode in the saga this past Thursday night.  I wanted to wait a few days A) to avoid spoiling for others (warning there may be spoilers in this post) and B) to ruminate on my thoughts of the film.

I titled this post “Bittersweet Symphony”.  Those that may catch that reference it is the title of a 90s song.  And I think that title sums up my feelings on The Last Jedi.  On it’s own, it’s a really good film.  But in comparison to the previous film (The Force Awakens) and even more so the saga as a whole, it is very bittersweet.

This is no fault of director Rian Johnson.  He made his film and I was impressed (that was the word I immediately thought of when walking out of the theater) by the decisions that he made and the path he took.  On it’s own, this film immediately found and went its own path.  In the context of the third trilogy, it feels like in many ways it departed (good bad or indifferent) from what was established in the previous film.  A lot of people have brought up these thoughts (dismissing Rey’s parents as nobodies, killing off Snoke with no real explanation of who he is and how big a threat he is) as well as other thoughts (not explaining where a lot of the resistance leaders were after TFA, killing of Captain Phasma with little screentime, etc) It felt like Rian Johnson took a lot of TFA and just scrapped it to tell his own story.  Which is fine, it’s his right as a storyteller to do that.

Hence the bittersweet feeling.  As I kid, I dreamed about what episode VII, VIII & IX would be like.  As a teenager I heartily read through the Thrawn trilogy and the Dark Empire graphic novels and a lot of the EU (Expanded Universe) books.  Even though it seemed like there would never be that sequel trilogy, there was all this other media that told the further adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Lando, Wedge and the rest.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm from George Lucas and went away from his treatment of the sequel trilogy (he had written up a treatment) and went their own path, I don’t think I realized it at the time but I especially do now.  We will never (unless that treatment is turned into novels/graphic novels) know what George Lucas had in mind for the further Skywalker adventures.  While we get these new films and such (which I’m not complaining about and I do enjoy in their own right) it is sad that the EU that I loved growing up is dismissed and more importantly that George Lucas, the man who dreamed up this universe, never got to finish the story.  That would be like C.S. Lewis not getting to write the last 3 books of The Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien not getting to finish The Lord of the Rings and someone else coming in to write those books.

I wonder if Disney wouldn’t have been better off just having Johnson direct this entire trilogy (like they’re doing with the new one after IX) than to come in after Abrams like he did and then discard a lot of things Abrams had developed.  Regardless, it is a film that has developed a lot of buzz (positive and negative) as the flashing “Opening weekend” lights have started to fade.

I am sure I will see it more times.  And I’m sure my thoughts and feelings about the film will continue to settle.  But I think the feeling of bittersweetness will stick around with this film (and I think in some ways it will do so with Episode IX as well).  I mentioned this before, for kids growing up, this is their Star Wars trilogy like for me the original trilogy was and for others the prequel trilogy.  They will view this trilogy differently from me and that’s okay.  For me, it reminds me of an “alternate timeline” and that somewhere else the EU or whatever Lucas had in mind are out there as well and are legitimate timelines of how the Star Wars saga continues.

There’s so much of a thought out there now that it’s extremes, you must absolutely love something or hate it.  That shouldn’t be the case.  People can have opinions (especially something subjective like movies and art) that cover a wide range of perspective.  When it comes to The Last Jedi, I can enjoy it as a film and still fill bittersweet about the story it tells in itself and the saga as a whole.

Resonating with “This is Us”

Every year during the new “fall season” of TV shows, I’m always trying to watch previews and see what show I want to invest time in to watch.  I have a good number of shows that I regularly keep up with and so anytime there are new shows I want to see if they’re worth watching.  From the first time a saw a preview earlier in the year I knew that I wanted to check out NBC’s new show This is Us.  Even from just the brief few minutes of the trailer for the show, there was a feeling that resonated with me about it.  So I made sure to mark that as something I want to watch.

this-is-us

This is Us is a show about the Pearson family.  In the pilot we learn about a couple by the name of Jack and Rebecca.  They are pregnant with triplets and when the time arrived they got two healthy babies and one that died.  However, there was also an African-American baby that was born that same day that was left at hospital with no one to care for it and Jack and Rebecca adopt him.  Come to find out that the three siblings (Kevin, Kate & Randall) are all grown up in the present day and the episodes weave through the past with Jack and Rebecca raising the children and the present day with the three siblings living out their different lives.

I think resonate is the best word when it comes to this show.  All the struggles and heartaches that these characters face are ones that resonate with me.  I understand and feel when these characters deal with pain, hurt, rejection, hope, loss, fear.  It resonates with me because I struggle with those same feelings.  There are few shows that can entertain as well as resonate.  I can watch an episode (as well as the aftershow where the creator & the cast talk about the episode) and have that episode stick with me for several days.  It sticks with me because I can relate to what these characters are feeling and experiencing.

Whether it’s Kate and her struggles with her weight and relationship issues with Toby.  Whether it’s Kevin and his struggles of feeling ignored or not valued as an actor.  Whether it’s Randall and his struggles with feeling accepted or whether to excel or be middle of the road.  Whether it’s Rebecca and Jack trying to live out their lives and sacrifice their dreams to make the best for their family.  Each story is real because it’s things that are universal.  We all deal with these hopes and dreams and struggles and pains.

It is telling how the show weaves the past with the present and shows that the same hopes and dreams and struggles are there throughout the characters’ lives.  It is the same in our own lives.  There are certain things that we deal with all our lives along with those things that we deal at certain points in our lives.

If you haven’t seen This is Us, you really should.  It is one of those few shows that makes you feel and makes you think long after the credits roll.

Bittersweet Nostalgia: Reflecting on I Am Setsuna

I recently picked up the game I Am Setsuna for PlayStation 4.  For those not familiar with the game it is a JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) very similar in feel to 90s JRPGs like Final Fantasy and more specifically like Chrono Trigger.  Some have said I Am Setsuna is a “spiritual successor” to Chrono Trigger.

I Am Setsuna

The game tells the story of a young lady named Setsuna and Endir.  Endir is a mercenary who is hired to kill Setsuna.  Endir finds out that Setsuna is “The Sacrifice”.  She has been selected to give her life to save the world from monsters who overrun the world unless the sacrifice gives her life.  Setsuna is the latest in this line and Endir ends up joining Setsuna on this journey as a guardian.  Along the way, others join as guardians, each with their own story to tell.

There aren’t too many games that I know of where one of the main characters is destined to die.  It is that knowledge that seems to permeate throughout the game.  I will not spoil the ending for you (I have beaten the game) but this feeling of bittersweet is prevalent.

Video games like this one are what I grew up on in the 80s and 90s.  I am of that generation that grew up with video games in the home.  The wheelhouse of RPG games was definitely the 90s on the SNES and Playstation 1.  I loved Chrono Trigger.  I would dare say it is my favorite RPG game of all time.  I Am Setsuna does remind me of that game.  While I was playing it, I felt a little nostalgia playing it.  It reminded me of playing those RPGs like that as a teen.  And like the feeling of the characters in I Am Setsuna, it was bittersweet.

I think that is very much like nostalgia.  We remember the past and for the most part look fondly on it.  At the time of course there were problems that we dealt with but when we look back those problems don’t seem as bad (usually because they weren’t, especially when we were kids or teens).  We love to remember the good times and wish they would return.  But we also know that time is always moving forward.  We see and understand this all too well, especially when there are times of transition in our lives.

We all know what bittersweet is.  We have experienced it numerous times in our lives.  Times that had joyous moments but there was a hint of bitterness whether it was because of it being an ending to something or a loss or something that reminded us that as humans things are not perfect.  Until Jesus returns and makes things all right again, there will be bittersweet times.

I am glad that I played I Am Setsuna.  I would highly recommend the game.  And I’m glad the game made me think again about nostalgia and reminded me of those bittersweet feelings.  A good story (like in this game) is one that makes you think and makes you feel.  It should resonate with you.  And I believe that feeling of bittersweetness is one that resonates with us all.