Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Film Review

Gahhhh, I have thoughts on this film. I mean, I loved it, but it also broke me. I’m still not over it. I will never get over it. (Ok, maybe that’s a little much…..BUT STILL.) (Also, Adam Driver is still hot.)

Ok, so, this goes without saying, buuuut…..MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. If you didn’t watch, don’t read on and then @ me. Also, expect a long-ass post. Maybe go to the bathroom before you read, or avoid liquids until the end of this post.

Ben Solo’s Redemption

I have to give Ben Solo’s redemption its own section because it really was the best part of the film for me. And I have thoughts about his death. I get that Ben sort of had to die — that’s kind of the formula for villain/ anti-hero redemption arcs (read: Severus Snape, Anakin Skywalker, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Klaus Mikaelson from The Originals). The completion of their arc is an act of total selflessness and total self-sacrifice, and that’s usually at the cost of their life. Having a villain-turned-redeemed-person live after switching sides seems a bit….less? Like, after all the evil deeds they committed, after all the people they killed, to have them live feels a bit out-of-balance.

On the other hand, it would be a really interesting take to see how a villain/anti-hero goes on with life after their redemption. What does their atonement look like? What happens after the battle is won, and life goes on? It would be so interesting to see the struggles they might deal with (because there ARE struggles — you don’t just change overnight). It’s realistic to think that even after some kind of redeeming act, they would still struggle with their inner conflict between light and dark. They might have moments of weakness. They might have moments of bitterness. I mean, that’s all of humanity, not just villains. We all struggle with reconciling the conflicting sides of ourselves. We all struggle with defining who we are and questioning whether we are truly as good (or as bad) as we try to be. So, as a story with a definitive ending, a villain redemption arc ending in self-sacrifice makes sense — it ties up the story neatly. But to explore a villain’s life after redemption? That would be such an interesting, refreshing take on the villain-redemption arc.

So, I definitely see both arguments for and against Ben’s death. First off, I love Ben Solo (and Adam Driver, as usual, portrayed the character beautifully, in such a nuanced way). He is among my favorite, if not my favorite, characters in the franchise. (And it’s not groundbreaking news that I tend to favor anti-hero characters.) Ben’s character was the driving force behind this franchise (yeah yeah, I know what I did there). I mean, his actions and his character development are what moved the story forward. In TFA, what signified Ben’s commitment to the dark side was killing his father, Han Solo, and in TLJ, the exploration of that gray area between the light and dark side is really rooted in both Ben’s conflict over killing his father and Rey’s conflict over her inner darkness. The entire arc of TRoS is Rey and Ben choosing their light sides over their dark sides.

On one hand, Ben’s death is the completion of his redemption arc. Throughout the films, even in TFA, Ben is conflicted. He’s never been totally dark. However, to have him live after he kills Han Solo and is responsible for the deaths of a number of characters in the film (including Luke and Leia) wouldn’t necessarily feel quite right. It would almost lessen the impact of his redemption. Because that’s the thing with villains — their arc usually involves them going to the good side for selfish reasons in the beginning, so you never quite know their motives. Ben initially wants Rey to join him because he senses how powerful she is (and although I do ship Reylo, his treatment of Rey in TFA is questionable at best). Ben eventually returns to the light side after being forgiven by his father, but we can’t just forget about everything he’s done before his redemption. While he may have been conflicted, his actions were terrible. He acted evil; he was the villain. And intent doesn’t justify action, no matter how conflicted the villain might have been. So, to really balance out the scales, to really have him commit to this turn towards the light, Ben had to do something that was the total opposite of evil. Evil is rooted in selfishness; good is rooted in selflessness. For him to completely be redeemed, he had to commit an act of total self-sacrifice. And he had to knowingly self-sacrifice, but choose it anyway, because in that moment, he wanted something greater than himself. And that was Rey. He loved Rey, more than he cared about himself. So he chose to save her, at the cost of his life. That was what really cemented his return to the light. Because we finally see that ultimately, Ben doesn’t want Rey for selfish reasons; he doesn’t want her for her power; he doesn’t want her so she can help him rule over the galaxy. In the end, he simply loves her, selflessly and unconditionally.

HOWEVER…..the Reylo shipper in me just wants to go up to J.J. Abrams and be like, “WHY COULDN’T YOU JUST LET BEN BE HAPPY????” We’ve already seen how it looks when the villain sacrifices himself, with Anakin Skywalker. Why does Ben have to follow that cycle? What would it have looked like if Ben had lived? How would he have made amends with the other characters, like Finn and Rose? Also, like I said earlier, even though Ben Solo was a real dick in TFA and parts of TLJ, he was still conflicted. His actions were villainous, but inside, he was still torn between his light and dark sides. There was still good in him. And whatever tiny sliver of good in him there was, it still counts. Redemption and grace don’t keep track of numbers or quantity. If there’s hope, there’s hope — plain and simple. And with Ben, there was hope.

We see Ben’s inner conflict at various points throughout TLJ and TRoS, before he totally turns back to the light side. Ben felt remorse over killing his father, and so for him to feel worthy of redemption, for him to move toward the light again, he needed to be forgiven. And he needed to be shown mercy, even though he didn’t really deserve it. Because, well, that’s what mercy is. None of us really deserve grace, we’re all born with sin, but we’re given grace anyway. The previous moments where Ben did not choose the dark side and showed potential for redemption — those are all part of his character development and his eventual turn back to the light. He didn’t just change at the last minute, or change for Rey; he had good in him all along, and in the end, that’s what he chose.

There’s also a disconnect between Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s portrayal in the comics and in the films. In the comics, we’re shown that he actually did not destroy the Jedi temple after Luke almost tried to murder him, nor did he mass murder his fellow students; in fact, he did not want that to happen at all. In the comics, we see the side of Ben that is more human, that is hurt and lost after feeling like the people in his life have turned their backs on him and lost faith in him. In the films, however, we’re led to believe that Kylo Ren was responsible (at least in part) for all this. So, I think this disconnect in Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s character is what divides folks on the Reylo thing — some of us see Ben as someone who was a victim of bad choices and trusting the wrong people, while others see him as a ruthless, manipulative villain. I think I see how the directors/writers might have been torn on how to portray Ben’s character — after all, the films need a villain. But I think when you take into consideration some of the content outside the films, it’s a little easier to sympathize with Ben’s character and to understand how he came to be Kylo Ren, and place his trust in Snoke, and become the villain he believed everyone thought he was.

As far as Reylo is concerned, I’m not sure that Reylo is toxic or abusive. Rey still has agency in her relationship with Ben. She chooses her friends and her beliefs and the Resistance over him when he asks her to join him in ruling the galaxy. She leaves him when he’s cruel and evil, as hard as it is for her and even though she really cares for him. Rey only chooses Ben when he finally chooses the light. And I don’t think Ben is truly narcissistic. I think he’s someone who’s lost his way. Because in TLJ, Ben does start to really care for Rey when he sees how much they have in common — they both feel lost, isolated, conflicted. They both feel like they’re supposed to be this thing that everyone says they should be, but they don’t know if they are that person. What Ben truly sees in Rey isn’t just her power — he sees someone in whom he finds solace and comfort. He sees someone who really sees him. And I don’t think he’s ever felt seen by anyone; I don’t think he’s ever felt understood by anyone. So that feeling of being seen and understood is new, and in the beginning, he doesn’t know what to do with it, and he doesn’t necessarily make the right choices when it comes to wanting to be with Rey. But when Ben truly embraces his light side and rejects his dark side, the choice is so simple — he goes to save Rey, to help Rey, and to help their cause. I don’t think it was a case of Ben choosing the good side so he could be with Rey — that would be selfish, and by now we’ve seen that he’s not. Ben chooses the good side because he truly is good; he just needed to feel worthy of returning to the light. It also wasn’t a case of Rey needing to save him. Because Ben also saved Rey. I think they both needed to save each other, because they were both conflicted and flawed and torn between their light and dark sides. So yes, I do think that Ben deserved a shot at happiness. And I think Rey would have been happy with Ben as well. BEN SOLO DESERVED BETTER.

That said, this is J.J. Abrams we’re talking about. J.J.’s style is a bit safer, a bit neater; he likes to tie up loose ends. So, a safer ending is what we got. I think even if Ben had died, the ending would have felt way more satisfying if he had been remembered in some way. And if his redemption was made known. There was ZERO tribute to him at the end. At least Anakin came back as a force ghost, but we didn’t even get that with Ben! And, why didn’t Rey pull a Rose Dawson? SHE’S NOT REY SKYWALKER, SHE’S REY SOLO, DAMMIT. THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO GET MARRIED AND HAVE JEDI BABIES. *breathes* Clearly, I am emotionally ok.

So, Ben Solo’s character arc was really the standout of the film for me, but there were a lot of other things I really loved and other thoughts I had. Honorable mentions are:

Poe, Finn, C-3PO, and Chewie

So this was sort of the B-storyline, just like in TLJ where the B-storyline was Finn, Poe, and Rose. I was really, really happy with how the A and B storylines were so well-balanced. The pacing of this film was much better than that of TLJ. The story moved well, not too fast that you were confused, not too slow that you were bored, and not too choppy that you were waiting to switch back to the A storyline. The B-storyline didn’t feel like a separate film. It felt like part of the story. You couldn’t have the film without the B-storyline. What I didn’t like about the B-storyline in TLJ was that it just didn’t feel relevant to the overall plot. It served to make a point and to subvert, rather than to move the story forward. Finn, Poe, and Rose’s mission really was a waste of time. But this B-storyline, in TRoS, was absolutely needed in order to move the story forward. And I found myself enjoying these scenes just as much as the scenes with Rey and Ben.

Rey’s Lineage

I won’t say I called it, but….. I called it. Or at least, I knew that this fan theory had been floating around for a while, since TLJ released, so it was a plausible way to go. I’ll be honest, I thought it would have been really cool to have Rey be a Kenobi, because that’s the main rivalry in the films. In the original films and in the prequels, it was always Kenobi vs. Skywalker. So for Rey to sort of “join” the Skywalker family as a descendant of Kenobi, would be to reunite that rivalry, which would have been cool. That said, I have mixed feelings about Rey’s lineage. On one hand, I think the story just works really well when Rey is descended from someone significant and her place in the story is bigger than she thinks. I like that she’s descended from someone evil, and she does have a dark side and she has Palpatine’s power, but she still chooses the light. It’s in keeping with the whole theme of redemption and how our choices are what define us, which is what Star Wars has always been about. However, I also feel like this revelation of Rey’s lineage basically undoes the entire message of TLJ, which is that you don’t have to be descended from someone important to be somebody and to have a place in this story. Additionally, I feel like this revelation basically undermines Anakin Skywalker’s sacrifice at the end of RoTJ. I feel like Rey’s lineage was one of the creative decisions from J.J. Abrams that basically rendered TLJ, and everything Rian Johnson built up, pointless. So I personally have mixed feelings on Rey’s lineage. It works, but then it also isn’t really necessary. Notes for next time we create another Star Wars saga trilogy: STICK WITH ONE DIRECTOR. (And bring Ben back.)

Reylo

I know, I’ve already said so much about Ben Solo. But this specific thing I like isn’t about Ben’s redemption — it’s about the relationship between Ben and Rey and how it’s portrayed onscreen. In this film, especially, when I watched their fight scenes, I could really see how they truly were equals. Like, when they’re fighting against each other, Rey really does give Ben a run for his money, and vice versa. Their power and skill level is equal. And, when they’re fighting on the same side and they’re helping each other out, they just have this bond like they’re both instinctively aware of each other. They don’t need words to communicate; they somehow just know what the other one needs or what the other is thinking. It was just so cool to watch. And when Rey wakes up and Ben looks at her, like come on, that is the only time we’ve ever seen Ben happy. So yeah, I still ship it.

TLJ vs. TRoS

So I touched on a few things I liked better about TRoS than TLJ, like the pacing of the film and the B-storyline. It’s hard for me to say whether I prefer TLJ to TRoS — it’s a toss-up, and there are things I like and disliked about both films. In terms of pace and moving the story forward, I think J.J. Abrams did a better job. I love Rian Johnson, but I did feel like the way the A and B storylines were executed in TLJ were choppier, and it was one of those things where it took me a few views of TLJ to really appreciate it. J.J. Abrams’s style is more conventional. I liked the pace and the editing (for the most part), right off the bat. The pace moved really well, and A and B storylines were woven together so well. The story felt tight — every scene and every moment served to move the story forward.

However, where I think Rian Johnson was far superior was in character development. TLJ was the film where Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s character really started to get fleshed out. In TLJ, he was brought from conventional-villain-that-we’ve-seen-a-million-times to incredibly nuanced, somewhat tragic, intricately developed character that you both love and hate simultaneously. That’s not an easy feat by any means, but Rian Johnson and Adam Driver pulled this off beautifully. In TFA, I looked at Kylo Ren as just Darth Vader Lite. But in TLJ, I started to see how much more compelling Kylo Ren/Ben Solo was. I didn’t become fascinated with his character until TLJ, and I credit Rian Johnson for that character development.

I also liked how Rian Johnson brought a different twist to the Star Wars universe. Like I said earlier, J.J. Abrams’s choices are a bit safer and more conventional. With TFA and TRoS, we got a safer film, with a more traditional ending. We got storylines tied up neatly and kept within the original characters and plotlines. Rian Johnson introduced new characters (Rose) and brought a different interpretation to the Force and the Jedi. He brought a new interpretation on the light and dark sides, and showed that the two weren’t necessarily black and white, or one or the other. I wish that J.J. Abrams had carried on these themes, rather than revert back to the traditional Star Wars film format. I wish Rose hadn’t been sidelined and had been given a larger role. I wish that what J.J. Abrams had done instead was mix his more conventional style with some of Rian Johnson’s more subversive elements. I think a balance between the two styles would have been a real winner and a way more memorable end to this trilogy.

I still have questions

It wouldn’t be an Ari post if there weren’t questions, right? So mine are:

When the fuck did Palpatine have a kid? Like seriously. When did he hook up? With who? Like, I don’t understand when this would have happened. Logistically it doesn’t make sense.

So, was Snoke basically Palpatine’s puppet? And Palpatine was behind it all? So basically, Anakin Skywalker had one job (kill Palpatine) and he didn’t even do it right? Tell me again how he managed to force ghost, but Ben, WHO ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING RIGHT, did not get a force ghost? It’s fine, I’ll wait.

Can someone explain Rey’s yellow lightsaber? Does she just like yellow? Is she a fan of Coldplay? Is there any significance with lightsaber colors?

Honestly, J.J. Abrams did a great job of tying up most loose ends. I mean I wouldn’t expect anything less from him. And overall, I really enjoyed the film. I mean, the emotional impact was just ridiculous. The film gave me all the feels. I loved how even though most of the original characters have now gone, the new characters carry the torch and their legacy and even a bit of their life force. It was definitely nostalgic, but as a story, it was damn good. So thank you, J.J., for not totally fucking it up. Am I upset that Obi-Wan was STILL not mentioned at all? A little bit. Will I get over it? Maybe.

If you’ve stuck with me up till the end, then thank you, reader. What did you guys think of TRoS? Let me know!

Four Weddings and a Funeral (Hulu) – Review

So, most of my friends will tell you that I’ve been badgering them to watch the Four Weddings and a Funeral miniseries reboot on Hulu for a while now. I’m a big fan of Mindy Kaling, and this show definitely didn’t disappoint. I loved watching the characters develop, and watching their relationships develop. I haven’t seen the original, but I definitely have a lot to say about this reboot.

At the core of any good, believable rom-com, are well-written characters. And I really did come to love the characters in this reboot. So, I’ll go into the characters and what I love/didn’t love, as well as some other things I’ve noticed. While there were some things I missed, overall, there’s a lot to love, and if you haven’t watched this show, what are you waiting for?

Spoilers ahead. So, if haven’t seen the series, go watch it now, and then come back and read this. Enjoy!

Maya and Kash

Ok, I just have to start off by saying that I LOVE these two, and I was really rooting for them throughout the series. Nikesh Patel and Nathalie Emmanuel have such great onscreen chemistry. You can really feel those moments of tension before they admit their feelings to each other, and when they finally do get together, it’s magic—it’s that perfect combination of ease and fun, but still romantic. I thought the show did a great job of showing their romantic development—we’re shown why they’re perfect for each other, rather than told. I think a lot of shows make that mistake of telling rather than showing, which makes it hard for the audience to buy the romance (e.g., Barry and Iris in The Flash). Maya and Kash didn’t feel shoved down our throats; it didn’t feel like the writers were trying really, really hard to get us to root for this couple. We just did, because they felt so perfect for each other. It was just natural. I loved seeing the little bits of their lives that they shared with each other—like Kash introducing Maya to Pakistani food, Maya helping Kash practice his lines for an audition, and Maya sharing really personal family issues she deals with. These little bits really show us how Maya and Kash get to know each other and learn to work as a couple, and Maya’s sharing of her family issues is a rare glimpse into who Maya really is and the things she carries with her (more on that later).

I really liked Kash’s character development, for a number of reasons. I like Kash as a character. He’s not perfect, and he makes mistakes (sometimes, really big mistakes #wedding disaster). But, he learns from them, and he grows. He takes risks, and he follows his heart. But, he puts the people he loves before himself. He gives up his acting career prospects to stay in his banking job, to support his family when his father can’t work double shifts. He chooses to stay in London instead of going with Maya to New York when he realizes his family needs him. Kash isn’t selfish. He just does what he feels is right, even if the consequences might make people hate him, or might not be what makes him happiest. This is a big reason why it’s so satisfying to watch him finally succeed as an actor, and why it’s so heartwarming at the end to finally see him with Maya, without having to hide it or feel guilty about it. It’s nice to see a character get his own little piece of happiness, after spending so much time trying to put the happiness and consideration of others first.

With Maya’s character, it’s a bit more difficult. I like Maya’s character enough to root for her. Her heart is in the right place, but she’s also not perfect. She also makes mistakes. She makes decisions that, while definitely relatable, are also frustrating to watch. But what I got from Kash’s character that I was really missing from Maya’s, was insight into who she was. With Kash, we got great scenes with his father, his brother, his best friend Basheer, even the Imam from their mosque. We saw who he was outside of his relationships. We saw the things that shaped his character. We don’t really get that with Maya. We know about her mother’s death, and that gives us insight into certain things like why Maya is uncomfortable going to Quentin’s funeral, and why she loves Mamma Mia. But we miss those explanations of how else her mother’s death, and just her family life in general, shaped who she is. We miss those explanations of how her family shaped her values, her approach to love, her fears, her goals. With Kash, we know why he gets into investment banking (family and cultural pressure to make money and do well), and we also know what his true passion is (acting, which he ultimately pursues and succeeds at). We know the motivation behind his decisions. We know his passions; we know his struggles. But we don’t know what Maya’s passions are (aside from “helping people,” but that’s not specific enough). We don’t know her motivations. We don’t know the expectations she had from her family, the struggles she might have had growing up. We don’t really know that much about her, save for that little moment I mentioned earlier, where Maya opened up to Kash about her father. So, while I rooted for Maya’s character, it would have had a much bigger impact if we knew her character more, and if her character was given the same thorough development as Kash’s.

Duffy and Gemma

I was really surprised at how much I liked Duffy and Gemma’s character arcs, especially because I didn’t particularly like either of their characters in the beginning of the series. Duffy honestly seemed like a Nice Guy, mad at All Women for “not realizing how much of a nice guy he was,” while silently pining after the woman he loved from afar. But, I’m happy to say that Duffy’s character evolved SO well. In the beginning he’s far from perfect…he pines over Maya, and then when he breaks up with her because she starts to act sort of distant, he treats her pretty shittily—especially considering HE initiated the breakup. But, he eventually learns, and he grows up. I think Gemma had a really good effect on him, as she doesn’t really tolerate his crap. Duffy becomes a character that is an actual nice guy, not a Nice Guy. He learns to risk his ego to tell someone how he feels. He learns to take responsibility for his own happiness. He becomes a great role model for Giles. And we see some nice scenes that give us insight into who Duffy has become—like how great is with Giles, and how he cares for his mother.

With Gemma’s character, she seemed snooty in the beginning, but as the series went on, you really got to know her character—and I ended up finding her character really endearing, funny, and relatable. She had some of the best dialogue in the show. I loved how she learned to break away from what was expected of her, and do what she felt was best—especially after Quentin died and she had to take care of her son Giles on her own. I loved how she learned to stop truly caring about what her other rich friends thought of her, yet she still retained a bit of that social class humor that made her character unique. Gemma and Duffy balanced each other out really nicely. They brought out the best in each other. (Also side note: I had a feeling these two would end up together, after the following two scenes: the one where Gemma is the only one who recognized Duffy’s costume at Ainsley’s birthday party, and the one where Gemma tells Duffy that Maya’s letter wasn’t meant for him. Not gonna say I called it, but….I called it.)

Ainsley and Bryce

So, I found Ainsley’s character slightly grating and annoying at times, but in the end, I really liked how her character grew. I think out of all the characters, she experienced the most growth. From realizing that Kash really wasn’t right for her, learning to forgive Craig and going to his wedding in the end, learning to say “fuck it” to what she thought looked best and instead following her heart, and learning to forgive Maya and Kash and move on with her life—the girl grew UP. I also loved seeing the juxtaposition of her previous relationship with Kash, with her budding relationship with Bryce. With Kash, you DO get the sense that their connection is shallow, that they look great on paper but they don’t really know each other. With Kash, Ainsley is mainly focused on the appearance of a perfect relationship, a perfect wedding, a perfect life. She seeks external validation to fill something fundamental that’s missing in her romantic life and missing in the way that she perceives herself. But with Bryce, Ainsley doesn’t need all that. Ainsley is her best self when she’s with Bryce. She learns to not care what people think, as long as she believes she’s doing what’s best for herself. She doesn’t need other people to see how well she’s doing. She doesn’t need a perfect wedding. She no longer feels the need to prove anything to anyone, because she’s finally happy and at peace with herself, with her decisions, with her relationship. What I love the most about seeing Ainsley and Bryce, is that we see Ainsley for who she truly is. She may look a bit shallow, a bit spoiled, on the surface—but when we see her with Bryce, we see how great she actually is. How much she cares for her friends. How thoughtful she is. And we see that she really loves Bryce—she knows the little things about him, like his fascination with neat facts, the fact that he can’t keep a plant alive, and that his father designed Dallas Lovefield. The Ainsley we see with Bryce is a much more mature, thoughtful person than the Ainsley we see with Kash. Her character at the end of the series is miles and miles from the character she was at the beginning of the series.

Andrew Aldridge and Tony 2

I was not expecting Andrew and Tony 2’s characters to be a big part of the series, but I was pleasantly surprised. While their characters didn’t have as much screen time as the other characters, the writers (and actors) really made the most of the screen time they had, and no scene was wasted. Each scene, each line, did something to advance their characters and their story. I love that, while these two aren’t major characters, we still get a good glimpse into their background, which explains why they are the way they are. We get to know who these characters are. We see Andrew’s fellow Parliament members, and their conservative political views. We see Tony 2’s family, and the struggles they deal with as undocumented immigrants. And we see development from their characters—we see Andrew’s regret over his lost love (which is what pushes the main couple, Maya and Kash, back together). We see Andrew finally pluck up the courage to do the right thing, even though it may cost him politically. And one of my favorite scenes in the finale is when Tony 2 finally becomes a British citizen.

Honorable mention characters:

A few characters that deserve an honorable mention: Quentin, for being hilarious and an unexpectedly sweet and thoughtful husband to Gemma. He was gone too soon, and most definitely missed. Marcus, for being a great source of comedic relief AND for eventually becoming somewhat of a friend and ally to Maya. I actually really liked their relationship—it reminded me of the relationships I have with some of my coworkers. It’s a lot of playful, sibling-like bicker and banter, but underneath it all, quite a strong bond. Basheer and Fatima, for being another couple that I really rooted for. These two had great chemistry, and their wedding was my favorite in the entire series (and just one of my favorite scenes in the series, period). Also, Basheer is such a good friend to Kash. I loved watching their friendship grow. And Basheer was one of my favorite comedic relief characters. Craig and Zara, for being such fun to watch and for having a really cute relationship and character development. Both Zara and Craig had some great lines; both were hilarious. And I loved how Craig was a goofball with a big heart, and Zara was someone who, like Ainsley, might seem shallow and self-absorbed at first, but turned out to be quite thoughtful and understanding. I thought the scenes with Zara trying to get Molly’s mother to make amends with Craig were sweet, and I loved how in the end, they did come together as a family. And I also loved how Craig and Zara grew when they became parents. Fatherhood fits Craig so well, and it’s so like him to be really involved in the kids’ sports, and be an overprotective dad. These two were great fun to watch, and their wedding was one of my favorites as well.

The finale

The finale was great and wrapped the story up nicely, but I almost wish it had been longer. At times, the pacing felt choppy, and it almost felt like it tried to cram too much into one episode. It felt a little like the finale of The Vampire Diaries. The ending was good, but we needed to spend more time getting there, and we needed our big moments to have more impact. While I liked Maya and Kash’s reunion, I felt like it was a bit rushed. So much screen time was devoted to Duffy and Gemma, and I felt like we didn’t get enough time to organically work our way to Maya and Kash’s reunion. And while I thought their reunion was cute, I felt like Maya and Kash’s moment at Bash and Fatima’s wedding was so much more romantic and had much more of an emotional impact (seeing Kash in the mirror, making their way to each other). In the finale ending scene, you still did get the sense that these two felt like they were the only ones in the room, but the moment just didn’t feel quite as big and romantic as it did during Bash and Fatima’s wedding. For a happy ending reunion (and for the main couple in the show), it should have been a bigger, more impactful moment.

I think what would also have made the finale more satisfying was a bit more of a reconciliation with Maya’s friends. Before the ending, both Duffy and Craig kept saying that they “weren’t allowed to talk to Maya,” or “weren’t talking to Maya.” I get why her friends took Ainsley’s side at first, but they didn’t even bother to hear Maya’s side of the story—and I did think it was a little bit of a dick move to just stop talking to her altogether. First off, are they in high school?? Like, yes, it’s not a great move to date your best friend’s ex, but did anyone forget that Craig remained friends with Kash as well? What happened with Craig and Kash’s friendship? (And I’d just like to point out that Kash and Bash were able to remain good friends, even after Bash and Fatima started dating, got married, and had a kid.) Also, Duffy knew, before anyone else in the group, that Maya had feelings for Kash, and he also knew that nothing ever happened—but he never mentioned that during their big argument. I understand that Maya dating Kash did hurt Ainsley, but I don’t think it was necessary nor fair for all her friends to ice her out like that. I did like that they showed how Ainsley realized that Maya and Kash loved each other—but I wish Maya’s other friends had the same realization and forgiveness for her as well. I think a reconciliation was implied in the end, with the wedding dance scenes and everyone having fun together, but a reconciliation of this type, after a year-long exile from her friend group, deserved some more heartfelt dialogue and more of a resolution. Plus, we never see Maya dancing/interacting with Craig or Duffy in the final scene. I wanted to see the friend group back together, with Kash, and everyone getting along.

That said, I did like that it was Ainsley who brought Maya and Kash back together. And I like the way Ainsley and Kash mended things and were finally able to move on and just be friends. One thing I like about rom-coms is that, the main couple has to overcome some things where, if they hadn’t overcome them before, they may not have been as successful. Both Kash and Maya needed to get to a certain place before being together, and both of them needed to get together again, without the feelings of guilt or needing to hide or feeling like they were doing something wrong. With Ainsley being the one to bring them together, both Maya and Kash were able to reunite and start a relationship fresh, without the baggage that plagued them both before.

Some more things…

Ok, so this is the same dilemma I have with literally every movie/show that takes place in a big city. How does those people afford such a fancy apartment in a city with a ridiculously high cost of living, doing jobs that most likely pay UNDER the median income? Maya works for half-salary in London, and Ainsley runs a design shop that never really looks that busy. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.

Also, I found it hilarious how the writers just skirted over the logistical issues Maya would actually face if she really did move to London and start working there. Like, forget about working visas and all that—it’s a rom-com! Ha.

And while I was really happy that Kash finally made it as an actor, let’s be real here. It takes way, way, way more than one year to work your way up as an actor and star in a play on the West End with Eddie Redmayne.

But hey, it’s a rom-com. When have rom-coms ever been realistic? That’s not the point. Rom-coms are fun, feel-good, and they give you hope. We don’t watch rom-coms because they’re realistic. We watch rom-coms to get away for a bit, so that for at least a short time, we can feel like there IS going to be a happy ending, and that things DO work out.

Would I recommend this show? Abso-fucking-lutely. Am I going to rewatch the whole thing? Yes, right now.

Film Review: Black Panther

This post is super late, sorry!! I started writing this like, right after I saw Black Panther and then life happened and this completely fell off my radar. But here it is now!

Holy shit, I am like, legitimately shooketh. I watched Black Panther (I actually watched it twice, two days in a row—it was that good), and I loved it. It is too good for this world. Visually, it was beautiful, the characters were compelling and well-developed, the story was tight and paced well, and the story arc was both really captivating and relevant. There were so many things I loved about it, and it’s honestly a little difficult for me to find things I didn’t love. Maybe watching it a third time is in order?

If you haven’t seen Black Panther yet, GO SEE IT. Go see it twice. Or more than that, whatever. It is so worth it. And then come back and read my review of it. Spoilers ahead!

What I loved…

Erik Killmonger: Ok, so I didn’t love Killmonger in the sense of like, YES GO REPLACE T’CHALLA AND DEFEAT THE WHOLE WORLD, YOU HAVE MY FULL SUPPORT. No, he’s still an ass, and still totally in the wrong when it comes to his “an eye-for-an-eye” revenge-y mentality. But as a villain, he was so, so intriguing. I love villains who are complex—villains who aren’t just a Bad Guy Because The Film Needs A Villain. A really compelling villain has become the way he/she is because of his/her backstory and because of the things he/she has gone through. I love when a villain has real reasons for feeling a great deal of anger and hatred towards the protagonist and what the protagonist stands for. And I especially love when there are moments where you can empathize with, or at least feel for, the villain, and moments where the protagonist doesn’t seem all that golden either. As a villain, Killmonger checks all these boxes. His backstory is just heartbreaking. As a child, he went through way more pain and loss than most adults ever do, and more than the protagonists did. When we find out the truth of what happened to N’Jobu, it feels much more natural to sympathize with Killmonger rather than understand T’Chaka’s reasons for his choices and actions. We side with N’Jobu and Killmonger in this instance; not T’Chaka. The scene where Killmonger takes the vibranium herb and is transported to the ancestral plane is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the film. It really serves to humanize Killmonger. For the first time, we see the bond Killmonger has with his father, and we see the pain that both of them have had to deal with. It’s such a stark difference from T’Challa’s first time taking the herb and seeing his father—both T’Challa and Killmonger have their own share of challenges, but the challenges they each face are so different. I love how Killmonger was developed as a foil to T’Challa. Where T’Challa felt a sense of duty and belonging, Killmonger had no home, no family, and no legacy to uphold. He didn’t have a royal upbringing like T’Challa did, and he wasn’t sheltered from racism and bigotry. His anger at Wakanda, and their isolationism and unwillingness to get involved, is not unwarranted. He is angry at Wakanda’s inaction—and rightfully so. There’s a moment when Killmonger first arrives in Wakanda and faces the Wakandan leaders, including T’Challa, and he asks, “Where was Wakanda when our people were suffering?” (or something to that effect; can’t recall the exact quote). And he’s absolutely right. Killmonger isn’t angry for nothing. He has seen and experienced oppression, and he lost his father due to a choice T’Chaka made—T’Chaka chose Wakanda over his father and over him. Killmonger’s character was, in part, molded by the actions of the protagonists.

Killmonger’s role as a villain was also more significant; he served as a catalyst for change in Wakanda. T’Challa realized that sharing Wakanda’s resources was important, and that remaining isolated and not helping was wrong, because of what he learned about what happened to Killmonger and N’Jobu. I love when a villain has a really relevant place in the story; where the story progresses because of the role the villain played. After Killmonger was defeated, Wakanda didn’t just go back to the way it was. Wakanda changed; its future changed. Killmonger’s presence in Wakanda made an impact, and an ultimately positive one at that—which is what makes him such an interesting villain. Despite the fact that Killmonger was motivated by hatred, his defeat was what led to a change in how Wakanda interacts with the world and how it responds to the bigotry that’s present outside of its borders. Killmonger is such a nuanced, complicated, compelling character—and Michael B. Jordan absolutely did the character justice. (I mean seriously—THE MAN CAN ACT.)

Theme of community: The film really emphasized the importance of community, and I thought that was really cool. The community motif sort of underlies almost every scene, and it’s even used to distinguish the differences between T’Challa and Killmonger. When Killmonger defeats T’Challa and takes his place as king, the first thing Nakia does is to seek help from the Jabari tribe—who live in the mountains and who have rejected the Panther rule and the new technology. In the beginning of the film, we see this tribe as almost an enemy of the royal family. After all, M’Baku challenges T’Challa, and the tribe is essentially separated from the rest of the tribes under Panther rule. I love how what turns the tide in the final battle is the Jabari tribe coming to help fight and putting their differences aside for the good of Wakanda. Nakia’s mentality—and the mentality of most of the other characters in the film—is that they cannot win alone; they need each other and need to help each other. In the film, the characters find strength not from themselves, but from those they love and trust. In the final battle, when W’Kabi’s tribe is attacking T’Challa, T’Challa is having a hard time fighting back. What gives him the edge and helps him regain the advantage is when he sees his sister, Shuri, fighting with Killmonger. That’s what makes him realize he needs to win—because he needs to help her. Saving himself isn’t what gave T’Challa strength; instead, it was saving those he loved. Throughout the film, we see how the importance of community is emphasized, yet Wakanda continues to remain isolated from the rest of the world. At the end of the film, there’s no longer a disconnect between one of the central themes of the film and Wakanda.

Supporting character arcs: Almost every character in Black Panther was well-developed. M’Baku was only in a few scenes in the film, but he stole every scene he was in and really made the most of his screen time. His dialogue was on point, and I loved his sense of humor. He was a minor character, yet still had a character arc. Okoye was another supporting character that I loved—she wasn’t the main character, but her character still had a clear storyline, and she did grow throughout the film (learning that it’s not enough to just support the throne; but rather, who sits on it, what he stands for, and what’s best for Wakanda). Also, can I just say—Okoye is my fucking queen. Like, she is my soul sister. I want to be her. She was hands down the best female character in the film.

Who run the world? Girls: Speaking of female characters, I love how the film had so many empowered female characters. The female characters were central to the plot, and T’Challa genuinely needed them and relied on them. Shuri, Nakia, Okoye, Ramonda, the female soldiers led by Okoya—like, holy shit. I love how women had real, meaningful representation in this film. The female characters were strong, yet compassionate. They weren’t one-sided or stereotypes of a “strong female character” or “damsel in distress.” They were well-developed and had equal weight in carrying the story forward.

What I didn’t love…

Honestly, I am at a loss when I try to think of what I didn’t love. There are a few things I could nitpick at, like Agent Ross’s character (which was silly, but honestly I didn’t mind and he didn’t bother me), or using vibranium as a plot hole filler the way a lot of Hollywood movies use computer hacking (Ok, this is the Marvel Universe and of course it’s going to be a little bit ridiculous; I mean Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, FFS). But overall, I don’t really dislike these per se. I was really happy with the film, and it had way more positives than negatives for me.

Questions I still have

WHAT HAPPENED TO KILLMONGER’S MOTHER? I know that the interwebs has information on this, but I have not looked into this yet. Regardless, I think this would be something worth exploring in some way. Also, I have not seen Infinity Wars yet, so I know that there is a gap in my knowledge (I know, I know—don’t @ me, I haven’t had time! I’ll get to it when I get to it).

Final Thoughts

There is so much to love about this film. Even watching it twice in a row, then again a few weeks later on a plane ride to Asia—it was amazing each time. The cultural representation was so empowering—and having just seen Crazy Rich Asians and realizing how much Asian representation impacted me, I get how much representation matters. It sets a precedent for, and opens up conversations about, inclusion and diversity. And seeing oneself represented, whether in film or music or anything, is such an empowering feeling.

 

Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

After a week of waiting and scrupulously avoiding social media lest I come across spoilers, I finally had the chance to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Overall, I enjoyed it and I think it is absolutely worth watching (maybe twice or thrice!). Read on for more of what I liked, disliked, and questions that need answering.

SPOILERS AHEAD. Proceed at your own risk. (Also, this is a long post. Grab a drink, have a snack, and settle in to read this.)

What I liked…

Kylo Ren and Rey. Honestly, I thought Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and Rey carried the entire film. I found myself anticipating their scenes during scenes with the other characters because Kylo and Rey were that compelling to watch onscreen. The lightsaber fight scene after Kylo kills Snoke is my favorite scene in the entire film (and quite possibly my favorite lightsaber fight scene in the entire series). The chemistry between Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley is perfect—they are able to strike a great balance between having a natural ease with each other, but also having a good deal of tension. I love the idea of the protagonist and antagonist striking up a friendship/relationship. It adds a lot more depth to both of them, and watching Kylo and Rey connect over their shared feelings of isolation made me root for both of their characters, even though they were on opposite sides. I found myself sympathizing with Kylo Ren—which is not an easy feat considering he killed Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren and Rey both had amazing character development in this film, and I hope that in Episode IX, JJ Abrams carries on what Rian Johnson started. I know the whole Reylo ship began back in Force Awakens—and though I honestly didn’t really notice their chemistry in that film, after watching The Last Jedi, I am officially so here for Reylo.

Conflicts between light vs. dark. The relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey ties into this theme, but this theme is highlighted in other ways as well. I really love how light and dark aren’t so cut and dried, the way they have been for the previous seven films (though Rogue One plays with this theme a bit). With Kylo and Rey, we see them both tap into their light and dark sides. Rey willingly taps into her dark side when training with Luke, rather than shutting it out the way previous Jedi had been taught. Kylo Ren isn’t all bad either—we see how torn up he is after killing Han, and we see the constant conflict and the push/pull between his dark and light side. Even Luke’s character development in this film shows this conflict—he’s not the pure, perfect Jedi hero who helped lead the Rebellion to victory. In the film, when Luke sees Ben Solo/pre-Kylo get more powerful and more tapped into the dark side, he momentarily considers killing him before realizing the error in his thinking—a mistake that led to Ben Solo turning over to the dark side to serve Snoke. Even the legendary Luke Skywalker is human and prone to human temptations and errors in judgment. Furthermore, we even see that the ultra-wealthy in Canto Bight have earned their wealth not only by selling weapons to the First Order but to the Resistance as well. I love how this film subverts the theme of light vs. dark and shows that it’s not completely black and white. Playing with the concept of light vs. dark in this way adds a lot more dimension to the characters and challenges us to view the light and dark sides differently.

YODA. Need I say more?

The idea of non-exclusivity. I know that the revelation of Rey’s parents is quite a controversial topic. There were those who were so sure (or who really wanted) Rey to be Luke’s daughter or be related to Luke somehow. (Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of this theory. It’s too obvious/simple, and I really didn’t get fatherly vibes from Luke and Rey’s interactions. It’s like if Sirius Black actually did turn out to be Voldemort’s servant in Prisoner of Azkaban, instead of Peter Pettigrew. It’s too straightforward; it’s not complicated enough.) There were those who thought that Rey might be a Palpatine based on her lightsaber technique and why Kylo Ren was so fascinated with/threatened by her. There were those who, like me, were so convinced (and really wanted) Rey to be descended from Obi-Wan. (There are many convincing arguments to be made for this theory, and part of me is still holding out for this to be true…) BUT, we find out in The Last Jedi that Rey’s parents were nobodies. They were, as Kylo Ren says to her, nobodies who sold Rey off for drinking money. Even Rian Johnson confirms that Kylo isn’t lying when he says this to her—he does actually see this, and he is being honest with Rey in that moment.

While this wasn’t the revelation I (along with many other fans) was hoping for, I think it works really well, and I personally would not change it. First off, since I unabashedly ship Reylo, I like that Rey has no relation to the Skywalkers. Secondly, and most importantly, I like how the film played into the idea that Rey didn’t need to have any special lineage in order for her to be significant in this story. She wasn’t special because she was a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, or what have you—she was special because of who she was on her own. She didn’t need to be a descendant of important people in order to find her place. It plays right into the idea that the Force doesn’t belong to just the Jedi and/or Sith—which is exactly what Luke explains to Rey when he trains her.

The Force is something that binds us all together, and it’s something that belongs to all of us. I love the end scene where the stable boy Force-summons his broom into his hand. He, like Rey, isn’t anyone well-known. He’s not a Jedi—but he, like Rey, is able to tap into the Force. I love this last scene because it shows that what happened in The Last Jedi, and the Star Wars saga as a whole, goes beyond the characters we’ve come to know. There’s always more to the story. There’ll always be more people, more heroes—who may or may not come from unlikely places. A character doesn’t need to be a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, or even a Palpatine, in order to have a place in this story.

What I disliked…

Luke’s character arc (or at least, bits of it). So, I have a lot of mixed feelings about Luke’s character arc, and I’ve discussed this at length with fellow Star Wars fans. On one hand, Luke’s character arc isn’t completely uncharacteristic. While Luke did insist that there was still good in Darth Vader, and while he did believe Vader could be redeemed, Luke was also impulsive and susceptible to the dark side. There’s a scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke does let his anger and aggression consume him, and he fights with Vader and slices off Vader’s hand—exactly the same injury that Vader gave to Luke in the previous film. That’s what wakes him up; that’s what reminds him of who he really is and brings him back to the light side. I can buy that Luke did have a moment of weakness and a momentary error in judgment when it came to Ben Solo. I can even buy Luke’s disillusionment with the Jedi Order, and his reluctance to train Rey because of it. But what I really didn’t like was Luke’s role in The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens made it seem like Luke was the key to helping the Resistance, but Luke’s role in the Resistance was mainly buying the Resistance fighters more time by distracting Kylo Ren with his Force apparition. While I love that scene, and while Luke’s Force apparition and his battle with Kylo has significance in both the film and the overall story, I really wish Luke had done more. Even if Luke was reluctant to train Rey, I wish he still had, but with his own unique philosophy that he developed after realizing the error of the Jedi ways. Luke’s role in this film was quite passive. He doesn’t really do much to train Rey—in fact, Rey is the one who steals the ancient Jedi texts and leaves after waiting around for Luke to train her. While Luke’s final act was meant to signify hope for the Resistance, I wish we had seen more of why he had a change of heart, aside from Yoda’s pep talk. I wish we had seen more of a story with Luke. I feel like his arc was cut off at several points with scenes of Rose/Finn/Poe, and that made his story feel disjointed and incomplete. So, while Luke made a great sacrifice at the end that ultimately saved the Resistance, I would have really liked his story to feel more complete.

Spirituality vs. Religion. The way the film approached Jedi training and the Force reminded me of the differences between spirituality and religion. Religion is quite tradition-oriented, and there are rules and order and requirements—much like the Jedi Order in the first six films. Spirituality is quite the opposite. It’s less rigid, it’s less structured, and it focuses more on self-growth and transformation. It doesn’t require rules or training; it’s about transcending and being true to your inner self—very similar to how the Force was presented in The Last Jedi. I hate how the film played up the idea that the Force isn’t something that requires a great deal of formal training, and that the training and tradition are actually hindrances. We see the stable boy using the Force, and we’re often reminded about how Rey has a great deal of raw talent but is untrained. I hate when films play up the “raw talent” angle, as though it’s somehow better than hard work and formal training which are really just impediments and are “too traditional.” I hate the idea that you can have some kind of special skill and be able to master it with no training—that’s not true anywhere, including Star Wars. While the Force does belong to everyone, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hone it in order to use it well. While I love the idea of the new films challenging the rigidity and tradition of the Jedi order, I don’t think it has to mean that the exact opposite is a better way. It’s all about balance, just like the films reiterate—so there should also be a balance between the Jedi traditions and the new ways of using the Force.

Finn and Rose scenes. I really liked Finn in The Force Awakens (even though every other line for him was “Rey!” or “Where’s Rey?”). In The Force Awakens, Finn had a significant role—if you cut Finn out of the film, the story wouldn’t be the same. In this film, Finn’s scenes with Rose felt almost like filler. Finn and Rose went on some rogue mission that ultimately didn’t need to happen and actually got in the way of Holdo’s plans for the Resistance. I wish Finn had a bigger role than that. I get that Rian Johnson was trying show that it pays to know how to listen to others (cough*POE*cough) and that your heroes aren’t always who they seem to be, and I appreciate that. But, for a character like Finn, who was quite significant in the previous film, I wanted his scenes to have more weight. I wanted to see more personal growth. In the previous film, he mainly joined the Resistance to escape from the First Order. I can see how this film tried to show that Finn is no longer running away and is learning to stand for something and fight—but I think the execution was lacking. That said, I think Finn’s scenes with Rose would have done really well in a standalone Rogue One type of movie, rather than squished into a saga film. I would have enjoyed them much more that way; in this film, I found myself waiting for those scenes to end so we could cut right back to the center storyline with Luke, Rey, and Kylo. It almost felt like the film tried to bite off more than it could chew—like it tried to show too many things, subvert too many things. It felt like there was too much going on and the story wasn’t tight enough. I get that second films in a trilogy are a really tall task to take on, and it’s hard to create a film that doesn’t quite begin and doesn’t quite end. Overall, Rian Johnson did a great job—but I think trimming down the Finn/Rose scenes, or making those scenes more relevant to the central plot, would have gone a long way in improving the pace of the film.

Questions I still have…

Why did Luke’s Force apparition cause him to die? Why did he have to die to begin with? I’ve discussed this question with fellow Star Wars fans as well, and it seems that the consensus is that his Force apparition required a great amount of exertion and is something that hasn’t been attempted by any Jedi, ever. I don’t love the idea of Luke’s death, but I think the film might have been trying to echo Yoda’s death in Return of the Jedi, where he tells Luke that his training is complete. What are your thoughts on this?

Where did Snoke come from? (I still want this question answered even if he’s dead.) I HATE that Rian Johnson just decided to pull a “fuck it” and kill Snoke, even though fans (including me) read theory after theory trying to figure out where Snoke might have come from. I hate that this film sort of killed or quashed a lot of loose ends the previous film teased—including Snoke. Rian, you do not get off the hook for this. I still want an explanation for who Snoke was and where the hell he came from.

Why is no one even mentioning Obi-Wan? I love Obi-Wan’s character in both the original trilogy and the prequels. He was a significant character, so the films are either saving the best for last or they’re pretending like he doesn’t exist. If it’s the latter, I will be fifty shades of pissed. I really hope Episode IX includes Obi-Wan a bit more in the film. I want to see the characters I love at least mentioned or having an appearance in the new films. It doesn’t work when new characters are just shoved down our throats without any reference to the older characters. STOP TRYING TO MAKE “NEW CHARACTERS” HAPPEN; IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Just kidding; I do like the new characters a lot. But seriously, I want to see some kind of mention of Obi-Wan in the next film. He deserves that.

Final Thoughts

I know this film was pretty divisive, but you can’t deny that it was a memorable film. I mean, weeks after seeing it, I’m still talking about it and thinking about it. There were things I loved, and things I didn’t love—but it’s a film that makes me think. It made me ask questions and challenge ideas I had about the Star Wars universe. It’s not a perfect film (no film is—and Empire Strikes Back had a similarly mixed reception when it released), but it’s a film that gets people talking and thinking. The film was impactful, and for me, it is right up there with my favorites.