Liner Notes (December 20th, 2019)

The Rise of Skywalker

In this week’s newsletter I share my first impressions on The Rise of Skywalker; I guess this is a Star Wars newsletter now. I also share a few things around the internet I found interesting this week and go through my usual weekly media diet rundown. This week’s supporter Q&A post can be found here.

Since we have the holidays coming up, I’m making this post free for all here on the website. If you’d like this newsletter delivered to your inbox each week (it’s free and available to everyone), you can sign up here.

Five Things

  • I stumbled across this Flickr page of a bunch of high-resolution photos of LEGO figurines in Star Wars poses. I’ve been using a few of them as backgrounds on my devices, and they’re pretty fun.
  • This issue of Liner Notes is the first that I’m writing while using Brett Terpstra’s SearchLinks service. You can read about the basics here, but the idea is that by using a little shorthand in my Markdown while writing, I can then auto-populate quite a few of the links in the article at the end, instead of having to constantly switch between a browser and this document. We’ll see how this experiment goes and if I can start working this more into my writing workflow.
  • Federico Viticci shared his new MusicBot Shortcut this week for iOS and it’s an awe-inspiring showcase of pushing the boundaries of what an iOS Shortcut can be. On that note, I also updated my very simple ShareThis shortcut. This is the one that if you run from an Apple Music share sheet it will create and open up one of the Chorus share pages I use in this newsletter for linking to various music streaming platforms.
  • I’ve spent the week playing with layouts for the new website redesign I’ve been working on, and it’s coming along pretty well. At the moment, the one page that’s stumping me is the new “tag” page (example). I want something that can aggregate quite a bit of information in one place, looks good and is easy to use, and can pull out some relevant extra information from our database to be even more useful. I haven’t quite cracked it yet; this is always the most frustrating part of designing. I’m thrilled with the new homepage look, as well as the mobile versions, and I think most of the rest of the site’s prototyped out now.
  • This is the last newsletter I’ll send out before Christmas and the holidays next week. I hope everyone has a wonderful time celebrating with friends, family, or just doing whatever it is that makes you happy. I always try and remember that this time of the year can be hard for some, so I try and reach out to old friends and say hi and check-in.

In Case You Missed It

Music Thoughts

  • It remains the slow period in the music industry. Not a whole lot of new music coming out, so I like to use this calm before the new year to dive into some albums I may have missed that are showing up on end of the year lists and/or I see recommended. I have most of my best of 2019 list completed at this point; it’s just about finalizing a few placements and getting all the extra stuff written up. We’re still on track for that to run, like usual, the second week of the new year.
  • This week did have me diving back into MUNA’s latest, Saves the World, and it keeps growing on me. I liked it when it first came out, but it’s been climbing its way up my favorites list these past few months.
  • The Ataris re-recording of “Boys of Summer” feels like it was done entirely for royalty payments on streams. It’s the exact same song but recorded and mixed … worse.

Entertainment Thoughts

  • This week was a very Star Wars heavy entertainment week. As I wrote about last week, we were doing a re-watch of a bunch of the movies to prepare for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. We started with Solo: A Star Wars Story, and while this isn’t a great movie by any means, I enjoyed it for what it was a whole lot more on my second watch. It’s better than it gets credit for, and I find it entertaining and as good as most of the Marvel movies. It’s there to be entertaining, and I think it succeeds at that. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story contains some of my favorite cinematic shots in the entire series. It’s a gorgeous movie. It has some pacing and structural issues, but I still enjoyed it. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will forever hold a spot in my heart as it reinvigorated my love for these characters and world. Sure, it’s got quite a few flaws, but it also makes me feel like a kid again and captures a feeling of excitement, adventure, and wonder. And, lastly, we finished up with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’m now more than ever willing to die on the hill that says this movie is incredible and unlocks Star Wars in a way that no other has. It’s brilliant. There’s a few campy and corny moments that don’t quite work (because no films are perfect), but what this movie has to say about legacy, hope, and what it means to be great is all a home run. I love this movie. Reevaluating what I wrote over a year ago in my rankings of the movies, I think I’d now move The Last Jedi above Return of the Jedi, and might even toss it above Force Awakens. I’m not positive, but that feels right to me. The rest I think I’d keep where I have them.
  • This week’s episode of The Mandalorian (Chapter 7) was the best yet. They’ve been setting up the world, introducing us to these characters, and now it all feels like it’s coming together. I’ve enjoyed every week of this show, but this episode felt like a turn into something even bigger, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
  • Welp, Watchmen, knocked it out of the park. I’m unsure if I’ve ever been so wowed by the first season of a television show. I am almost at a loss for how well they pulled this off. Easily one of the best shows I’ve watched in years and one I expect I’ll return to again in the near future to re-watch knowing everything I now do.
  • OK, now it’s time for my Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker thoughts. I’ve put them here at the end because I want to preface by saying I am going to include spoilers in my first impressions. If you do not want to be spoiled, just skip right over this section and come back after you’ve seen the movie. This is your warning.

    The movie as a whole is a giant spectacle of nostalgia and action. It barely has time to breathe as it clips along in sprinting fashion, edited in a way that almost immediately gave me whiplash. Do not slow down; do not stop explosions or exposition, ever. It ends up being a movie that is enjoyable on the surface alone if you don’t think about it too much, and all you’re looking for from Star Wars are the lasers and the superpowers. If you want to look beyond that, to the idea of good versus evil, to the role of legacy and legend, to teachers and students, to what it means to be a good person and live a good life, or to following a plot that makes a lick of sense and actually carries with it consequence of action … look elsewhere. In The Force Awakens we are asked to mine nostalgia in a way that opens up a new world, that introduces to us characters and action and a continued story, so I often look the other way when the flaws in the execution or similarities to A New Hope are pointed out. However, at the end of the trilogy I am no longer as titillated by just seeing things I liked in the past and letting the memory of the past be enough. I’m looking for actual stakes, a genuine statement, but instead, this film has no stakes, makes a statement I dislike, and has one of the dumbest big bad galaxy domination strategies ever. But it also has enough that I do like and moments that do elevate it to being at least entertaining. Those are the moments where I shut off the part of my brain that’s screaming.

    I knew we were in trouble the moment the crawl began and we learn of a galaxy-wide collect call from the Emperor. The dead speaks! And we go from there through a caustically edited mishmash of Kylo action scenes to get the Emperor being back, he’s been behind everything the whole time, he was manipulating Snoke (don’t think about it too much). And then we’re off and running in a film that spent more time telling me what just happened, or was happening in the moment, or was about to happen than maybe any movie I’ve ever seen. Often with the characters running across the screen as this exposition occurred. But all of that aside, my biggest issue with the movie is that it never felt like it had actual stakes, gave me a version of a hero that feels antithetical to many of the lessons learned in Return of the Jedi, and replaced it with storytelling that rivaled every middle-school sleepover version of creating your own Star Wars fanfic. We all sat around making these up. And then what if this happens, and then what if that happens, and when this happens, and ohmygod it’d be so cool if they did this. I remember doing this, and we should all be thankful our adolescent brains weren’t given a few hundred million to go make a movie.

    Let’s start with consequences. Rey is extremely powerful, and also seen to be impulsive. (Some callbacks to early Luke.) She is full of arrogance (and anger). (Another callback to early Luke.) With Luke, these traits become things he needs to learn to control, and when he doesn’t, very bad things happen. With Rey, her impulsiveness and arrogance gets Chewie (to her and the audience’s eyes) killed. This could have been a massive moment with real consequence and learning. But no, it barely lasts three minutes, no consequence, he’s fine, just go on. She doesn’t need to learn from that instead go run off and jump in the ocean next, it’ll be fine. Get angry. Fight with anger. The moment you can kill Kylo Ren, do it. Stab him. Are we supposed to ignore that this moment should be one that is textbook Darkside behavior? The lesson from Luke in ROTJ learned not? Consequence? Nah, heal him, you’re good, again: no worries, no stakes, no consequence. Time and time again the movie felt like it was telling me: Look, we can’t actually do anything here, it’s a billion-dollar franchise and we’re terrified people won’t be happy, so we’re just gonna feed you all the junk food you like, sorry, it has to be this way. Remember the character that the racist sexist trolls ran off the internet after the last movie? Don’t worry we’ll barely use her here. You know the big message from ROTJ? We’ll hint at it in the end after the Big Bad has given his speech, but we’re not quite sure what the rules on this will be. Palpatine wants Rey to kill him. Doing so in anger means she’ll be the Sith. OK. But billions are about to die. Still Sith. Can she calm herself and then save them? No. Still gonna be the Sith. What if we wait a while, people die, he shoots electricity at me and I fry his ass with all the Jedi in me? Sure, that’s cool, get him. Wait what? Is it because of sacrifice? What are the rules and circumstances to when we can murder a stormtrooper or Sith Lord and when we can’t, I’m confused. Don’t think about it, just watch the fireworks.

    And I’m just going to say: if you spent thirty years being the this master manipulator to build a giant fleet, pull all the strings, create thousands of little Death Stars, but put them all on one planet, can’t get them into space, and have them all be sorta controlled by one unprotected antenna or only one ship that can be destroyed and fuck your entire plan up, you’re a fucking idiot that deserves to stay dead this time. Too much of this movie relied on me having to turn my brain off. From the master plan that someone playing RISK for the first time would have thought out better, to the dagger lining up with the Death Star ruins to it also being the dagger that killed Rey’s parents, to wait slow down no quick yell a characters name emotionally again an explosion is about to happen.

    And then there’s the whole Grandpa Palpatine thing. I’ve written so much about how I loved what The Last Jedi did because it decoupled greatness from genetics. It said you do not need to be born into this bloodline to be powerful, to be a legend, to be great in this world. You can make your own path and be great no matter who your parents were. That’s a powerful message, especially right now in a world of wealthy aristocrats passing down power and privilege while so many suffer. Deciding instead to go in the opposite direction and doubling down on a bloodline being one of the most important predictors of your power, kinda fucking sucked to see. It’s been written about better and in more depth than I can go into here and here, so I’ll just leave it there. That disappointed me as much as anything.

    I have always wondered what a movie that was built as a vehicle for pure fan service would look like, and it’s this. Story and consequence are second, giving everyone a dopamine hit of what they want to see is paramount. And on that level, it works. It’s a whole lot of fun to see characters I love doing stuff. Rey is a goddamn superhero, and it’s fucking awesome. There’s laughs. There’s jokes. There’s callbacks galore. It’s big, loud, and you get sad when Leia dies, and Chewie reacts. You feel for C3PO for the few minutes before the movie-of-no-consequences undoes his memory wipe. You get to see Han! There’s Bendemption! There’s new Force powers, and lightsabers, and clever new ways to combine all of it. There’s even a kiss! And with all of that, I’m sitting there in my X-Wing t-shirt as “Red Five” is right there on the screen, and I’m smiling and emotional! And the entire time, I know I’m being so much better manipulated than anything Grand Palpy could have ever come up with. And so I enjoy it despite its flaws. I see the strings, I see the massive story flaws, the ridiculous script problems, but I also realize it could have been so much worse. We get a moment at the end of Rey choosing to continue the legacy of Skywalker, and we, the audience, can blank out thinking about the utter destruction across the galaxy, the plot holes, and instead relish in hearing the voices of Jedi that have come before, living in Rey now, and be happy with the story we’ve been given. I’m frustrated and happy, managed expectations and content, have the need to rant, and the need to reminisce. It’s my least favorite of the new trilogy by a good margin, and yet I hope I can come to terms with choices made. My love for Rebels and The Mandalorian (and the books) show me there are so many stories in the Star Wars universe to tell, so many things to say, and I’ll always be there to watch in wonder. But I now know, for this fan, creating a film that feels like fan service incarnate is going to leave me feeling a little hollow. And I’ll think back on the final scene of The Last Jedi, a child looking to the sky, holding his broomstick and dreaming of his part in the story, legacy, and place in the fight, and would have traded all the big-whizz-bang-spectacle, for just a little more of that magic.

    The final verdict from my first impressions? Least favorite of the new trilogy. Probably would rank it right below Rogue One at the moment. I expect it to be very popular with the masses, though. It’s literally everything they could want. I’m sure I’ll have a whole lot more to say the more I think about the film and dive into some of the reviews and podcasts from people I’m interested in hearing from. As always, my thoughts and impressions often change over time, so I reserve the right to change my mind as time passes. And, lastly, I think this piece by FilmCrit Hulk does a great job laying out a bunch of the story issues I have and says it better than I could.

Random and Personal Stuff

  • This week we finished writing and got all of our wedding thank you cards in the mail. It feels terrific to be able to cross that off the to-do list and, I think, that’s pretty much the final thing from the wedding project. I can’t believe it all happened and is over, and we did it. Sometimes it still feels surreal. Now we’re in full-on “wait for video and photos” mode, and I’m not being very patient.
  • Lots of family stuff planned for the next few days. I’m going to need a vacation from this holiday vacation.

Ten Songs

Here are ten songs that I listened to and loved this week. Some may be new, some may be old, but they all found their way into my life during the past seven days.

  1. Mutemath – Pixie Oaks
  2. Harry Styles – Watermelon Sugar
  3. Tiger Army – Valentina
  4. Now, Now – Knowme
  5. Olivver the Kid – This Guitar’s Gonna Kill Me
  6. All Time Low – Sick Little Games
  7. Boygenius – Stay Down
  8. Ruston Kelly – All Too Well
  9. The Maine – 12.25
  10. Relient K – In Like a Lion (Always Winter)

This playlist is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Community Watch

The trending and popular threads in our community this week include:

The most liked post in our forums last week was this one by Fucking Dustin in the “My Chemical Romance” thread.

May the force be with you.

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Previous editions of Liner Notes can be found here.