Saturday, December 30, 2017


WARNING: This piece contains spoilers for The Last Jedi.

Image nabbed from YouTube

Bishop Robert Barron is a theological expert, intellectual giant, and heir apparent to the Catholic media crown of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He is not someone I care to disagree with, certainly not publicly. That being said, I have to sort of, kind of take issue with his review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. His article is well worth reading in its entirety, but his general conclusion can be summed up in this excerpt...
"The mythic and archetypal dimensions are all but overwhelmed by an aggressively feminist ideology. The overriding preoccupation of the makers of the most recent Star Wars seems to be, not the hero’s spiritual journey, but the elevation of the all-conquering female. Every male character in The Last Jedi is either bumbling, incompetent, arrogant, or morally compromised; and every female character is wise, good, prudent, and courageous."
Yeah, let's talk about that. To begin with, I'm not going to contest the existence in Hollywood of a mindset that would like nothing more than to do away with any portrayal of what it sees as "toxic masculinity." My own parish priest once told me over dinner that he believes it started with Alan Alda's character in M.A.S.H. and he would brook no argument otherwise :) Whether or not that's actually when it began, it's a fact that such an anti-male movement is at work in some corners of Tinseltown. Not every corner, but some.

I'm also not going to argue that Bishop Barron shouldn't have interpreted the movie in the way he did. A film is a collaborative work of art, and each person viewing it may construe what they saw differently. That's how art works. So, if it's His Excellency's takeaway that The Last Jedi was a feminist screed, so be it. What I am going to do, though, is give a couple of reasons why I disagree with such an interpretation.

Reason one is that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not a stand-alone film. If it existed in a vacuum, I might be more sympathetic to the Bishop's read. However, Star Wars has been around for forty years, and during that time I've seen plenty of guys save the universe. In fact, if you take all of the characters into account, the franchise has been something of a sausage party. Luke, Han, Chewbacca, Lando, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Mace, Yoda; they've all had their time in the spotlight. So the ladies get to shine in a couple of films while the guys play second banana. Big deal. Nothing Rey does takes away from what all the men did before her. And it won't take away from all the men who come later. Star Wars is going to be around for awhile, probably longer than I will. I'm sure another man or two will get to be the main hero at some point.

Speaking of Rey, that brings us to my other reason. While many who watched The Force Awakens pegged her as something of an insufferable Mary Sue, The Last Jedi actually explains Rey's seeming invincibility. Hint, it's not because she's a girl. Perhaps this is the part where the good Bishop fell asleep, as he admits to doing, but at one point Snoke reveals that as Kylo Ren grew to power in the Dark Side, the Force itself chose someone to bring to prominence in the Light. Why exactly it chose Rey isn't given, but absolutely nowhere is it hinted it's because she is female. By all appearances, she's simply the right person in the right place that the Force can use to accomplish what needs to be done, as long as she's open to it.

As a Christian, I kind of like that. It's actually nice that Rey is a nobody, as the movie goes to great pains to point out again and again. She's just a girl from humble origins whom the guiding force in the Star Wars universe has chosen to bestow its graces. There are plenty of times in the past two films in which Rey is about to have her butt handed to her, but then she surrenders to the Force in a kind of "let it be done unto me" sort of way, and the Force sees her through. It's nothing inherent in her gender that makes Rey so powerful, it's the Force working through her. There's a good Christian lesson in there for both women and men alike if they want to think about it.

I could go on, but I've blathered on enough to make my point. While I can understand Bishop Barron's take on The Last Jedi, I just can't agree with it. But that's always been part of the fun of being into movies. You watch'em, you argue about'em, then you start over again with the next one. And considering how much money The Last Jedi is raking in, there will definitely be a next one. And a next one after that. Happy arguing, everyone!


Xena Catolica said...

Agree with you. I was quite surprised by Bishop Barron's take. And he's usually content to make observations without sweeping conclusions (I'm thinking of his "Skyfall" review, for example), which might have been a better approach. He also doesn't notice the age difference for some of it, which was much more on the nose, I thought.

The place I did have trouble with the Hollywood PC-ness of it was a woman in authority slapping a man in anger for his bad judgment. Genderswap that scene, and is it ok? Of course not. (It's the same thing with Molly slapping Sherlock about addiction - imagine if the genders were reversed in that scene!) On the other hand, Rey thumping Luke on the head to get his attention didn't bother me at all, since it's canon (and later Yoda reminding us with zero subtlety) that's about the only way that backwwods moisture farmer's full
attention can be gained when he' being a donkey.

EegahInc said...

Good call on the slap. Had it been a man, they would have General Patton-ed him in a second. As for the the age thing, I mentioned it in my original review. I thought it was pretty obvious.

I wonder if this a case where Bishop Barron has had this issue on his mind and is seeing it everywhere. I can't help but think of a well-known well-respected Catholic movie reviewer who is so sensitive to the issue of fatherhood that any portrayal of a less-than-saintly dad in a kids movie always seems to be grounds for him declaring the film a monstrosity. I'm sure I have my blind spots as well.

Joseph R. said...

I sit somewhere in the middle on the blatant feminism in the movie. I did roll my eyes in the theater when the Resistance brought on their third in command and it was another woman. Also when Rose stopped Finn from saving the day at the end on Hoth II with the explanation, "But it's important to sacrifice yourself to save others!" Which is just what Finn was about to do. I walked out of the theater thinking there was an agenda there but that didn't ruin the film (or indeed the franchise) for me.

On the other hand, I did roll my eyes the first time I read Bishop Barron's review when he started with "I fell asleep for ten minutes." I stopped reading his review after that first sentence (because I think it really invalidates any opinion he gives about the film if he truly did fall asleep) and only went back to read it because of this post. I agree he's probably oversensitive about the issue and I like your holistic viewpoint that there will be male heroes in the future. Also, Luke manned up in an awesome way at the end. I'm sure Finn and Poe will be doing more in the next installment, along with Leia and Rey.

EegahInc said...

Exactly. If the next film follows through with this one's storyline, Finn and Poe will both be smarter AND more truly heroic the next time around. What choice will they have? They no longer have Leia, Phasma, or Dern's general character. It's mostly the men who are left :)