The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s Optimism vs DC’s Nihilism at the Movies

I imagine over at the Warner Brothers DC offices there must be a lot of envy as another Marvel movie takes off. The latest release, Black Panther, must really sting because it took in as much money in the first weekend that the big team-up movie, Justice League, did in its entire run. I’ve been thinking about why this is so. I think I’ve figured out one part of it.

To start with I return to the comics themselves back in 1986. That was the year that DC was releasing two of the most lauded comics ever produced. They were part of the movement from comic books to graphic novels. One was “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller and the other was “Watchmen” by Alan Moore. They stood out for being different from the other titles surrounding them. One reason for that was they both had nihilistic protagonists more interested in winning than anything else. Collateral damage was just part of the job. Forget vigilante these heroes were the executioner when it was necessary. Now I adore both stories for giving that style to the comic book realm. Except it has become a pervasive infection, especially at DC. They would race to make ever darker grittier versions of their recognizable heroes. Retconning their origins if necessary. It was not a resounding creative success.

Director Zack Snyder would film an excellent version of “Watchmen” which captures much of its nihilistic charm. After that he would take over as the creative force of the DC movie universe hoping to create a similar series of films to what Marvel had done. There were expectations.

Marvel was taking a different path. During the same time as DC was trying out the darkness Marvel decided they needed a giant crossover event. Thus, was born Secret Wars which spanned 12-months from 1984-1985. The numerous different creators of all the main Marvel heroes agreed to have a universal battle where every hero would have their moments. There was lots of humor. The universe was saved with a smile and “Kapow”. Marvel would continue this lighter side of things without deciding to go all in on what their competitors were doing. Although there were some notable exceptions in series like Daredevil, for instance. For the most part there was a Marvel style which was not gritty.

When director Jon Favreau laid the first brick in the Marvel movie universe, 2008’s Iron Man, he brought with him that same humorous style. Robert Downey Jr. inhabited a hero unafraid to laugh while also throwing a punch. He looked like he was enjoying being a hero. That is what the essence of Marvel movies have been; the characters understand the responsibility while also showing a joy at having these powers.

Mr. Snyder would take the darkness and shroud the DC movies in it. For a character like Batman that has always been part of the undercurrent. For a character like Superman it was not. Yet he was turned into a killer who destroyed a city at the end of his movie. This nihilism is the glue which holds the DC universe together except for one which doesn’t; Wonder Woman. One reason is the director Patty Jenkins didn’t see her heroine as anything but noble she used humor and optimism to power it to the biggest DC universe movie to date. Inclusive, funny, and heroic instead of exclusionary, grim, and nihilistic.

Compare this to Marvel’s latest releases; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. Three different filmmakers who stamped their movies with their perspective while also never losing the optimism which binds the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is why there is much more faith in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War which will blend 20+ heroes over the disastrous Justice League which couldn’t pull off the same trick with six.

I think nihilism only appeals to a very small slice of the moviegoing public. Mr. Snyder is an embodiment of that as a creative concept and seems unable to see the DC universe in anything but shadows. I wonder what it would look like with Ms. Jenkins in charge?

The fun optimistic world which the Marvel universe inhabits shows time and again where people want to spend two hours in a movie theatre. It is a lot more fun to feel like part of a positive universe than one which seems intent on reveling in what is bad.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s Black Panther

I have mentioned in previous columns that I am always pleased when one of my geek touchstones is realized well on the screen. There have been extremely rare opportunities when what is portrayed on the screen not only exceeds my expectations it provides a new perspective; Marvel’s Black Panther has done this.

I have seen the movie three times now and the richness of the story Director/ co-writer Ryan Coogler uses continues to allow for me to find new things to enjoy on each showing. Mr. Coogler has poured himself into making this movie and his cast has joined him. I am not going to dwell on the plot very much but instead talk about some of the things which make this movie stand apart.

Ryan Coogler

I will start with the nearly entirely black cast and main characters. This was discussed endlessly prior to release. After seeing the movie it is necessary to have this cast to tell this story. It is also refreshing to see Africans as the pre-eminent technological society in the world. Every character displays competence without speaking of it by performing their jobs. There is also a lovely inversion of movie tropes with the inclusion of the two white actors in the spots people of color occupy in most action movies; the low-level bad guy and the plucky sidekick. Played by actors Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman I saw them referred to as the “Tolkien White Guys”. Mr. Freeman’s CIA agent smiles and nods at the end completely in the background as hundreds of black sidekicks have done before.

(l. to r.) Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Okoye (Danai Gurira)

The title might be Black Panther but the movie could also be called Women of Wakanda. There has never been a superhero movie with so many women characters who pop off the screen. The tech genius sister Shuri, plaved by Letitia Wright, as the film’s fierce intelligence. The ultimate warrior Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, always in control of the elite military guard of the country. The spy who is also the conscience Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o. These characters are as integral to the plot as the name in the title. Truth is, that I see them in the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War has me even more excited about that film.

Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger

The villain matters when he is given such incredible tones of grey instead of monolithic black. Erik Killmonger’s story could have resulted in the hero’s quest as easily as T’Challa’s but for one crucial decision. Killmonger’s motives have some reason behind them even some which are sympathetic. What makes him villainous is his method for achieving them; pure ruthlessness. By the end of the movie T’Challa stands victorious but Killmonger and his philosophy effects a change. So much of this is due to the performance of Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger his performance is the equivalent of Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa-The Future King of the Marvel Universe?

My final thought on the movie is this. When Iron Man was released ten years ago there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was a movie taking chances with the style of telling a super hero story on the movie screen. Fueled by the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. That movie was the first cornerstone laid in what has become one of the greatest movie sagas. With Black Panther and an equally charismatic actor in Chadwick Boseman; the cornerstone, I hope, has been laid for what comes after the Avengers finish with Thanos. The next part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe story needs to be firmly set with Wakanda as its center and this rich vein of characters as the glue which unites the movies. Black Panther ends with a scene reminiscent of Tony Stark telling the world he was Iron Man at the end of the movie. That seems a good start to the next decade of Marvel movies.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Black Panther The Album

Yes, I have many thoughts about the movie, but I want to see it one more time before diving into all of them. I have found equally as inspiring the music for the movie which is what the topic will be for this column.

One of the things I admire about albums by innovative artists who interpret a movie is it provides a different artistic perspective on the same material. One of my favorite Prince albums is his music inspired by the first Tim Burton Batman. It was the work of a musician firing on every creative cylinder. The same has happened for Black Panther: The Album as an equally precocious talent, Kendrick Lamar, adds an authentic musical signature to a movie which lives its authenticity.

When director Ryan Coogler approached Mr. Lamar about providing a song or two he asked if he could see the movie. When Mr. Coogler showed him what he had Mr. Lamar wanted more than just a couple songs he wanted the whole thing. He has provided a fantastic musical companion to the movie.

In the hip-hop world of 2018 it is all about collaboration and Mr. Lamar and Sounwave took on the majority of the production duties pulling from a number of current stars to form a killer line-up of talent.

The most recognizable song is the one which plays over the end credits “All the Stars” with Mr. Lamar and SZA. Like I mentioned above it is the songs which pick up threads from the movie and elaborate on them which connect with me.

“King’s Dead” might as well be the villain of the movie’s Killmonger, theme song. The lost son of Wakanda full of swagger. “Pray for Me” is the internal dialogue of T’Challa as he fights for his kingdom. Every song on the album does this. I had listened to it enough that when I saw the movie for the first time I was cued into picking up the musical backing vocals to the action on screen.

Black Panther: The Album is the kind of collaboration that adds to the enjoyment of the very movie which inspired it. Just another reason for the success of the overall enterprise.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin

There are times when I worry that one of my favorite literary forms is slowly disappearing; the short story. With less and less of the print literary outlets available the basic topsoil, where the form thrived, is eroding away. I was talking to a colleague about what we were reading, she told me she was reading an incredibly relevant book of short stories about women. When I asked she told me the name of the book was Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin. After finishing it I am still considering the perspective that was presented to me.

I am not sure how Ms. Lazarin convinced a publisher to release a book of short stories. One way might have been that there is a connective thread which runs throughout. These are stories of women at all stages of life mostly dealing with experiences anyone has gone through. In one story a girl experiences the loss of her mother and the bloom of first love. There is one which covers the nature of how women experience power as a transaction becomes a battle. An emotionless summary of the men a woman has no love for until she ends her narrative with, “I’ve forgotten too much, or maybe I just refused to learn it.” It is that kind of summation that recolors the story I just finished in a different hue. Is the narrator a free spirit or an empty one? Allowing every experience to flow through her without sticking?

Danielle Lazarin (Photo: Sylvie Rosokoff)

Throughout all the stories they feel like snapshots of the mundane female perspective. Like a conversation I will never be privy to because of my gender. Ms. Lazarin finds a way to make it all seem spontaneous

The story which continues to rattle around in my head is “Gone”. It is the story of two teenage girls who start keeping a book of the dead in a composition notebook. Entwined through the incidents they would record are the joys of best friends who, at that age, feel like the only one who understands you. As the ledger is discovered, with lots of parental concern, there is a pivotal moment of defiance practiced with silence and crossed arms. This leads to their separation and knowledge that this relationship was on its way to being added to their list. Ms. Lazarin’s style of writing is evocative in every single story here but the loss of friendship feels like a death in this story.

In these early days of 2018 with #MeToo movement in ascendance stories of women living their lives showing that each of those acts also carry significance too seems especially prescient.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Hero Looks Like Me

I love being a geek in this present time. For over forty years I have been a fellow traveler with my heroes as we journey to fantastic new places or protect the world from bad guys. For most of those years it was easy for me to see myself as Mr. Spock, Frodo, Bruce Wayne, or Peter Parker. They shared a skin color with me; I could pretend to be any of those. The first time I became aware of this was in high school as my social circle read J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”. We all took alternate names from the books. I remember my friend Rodney, who was black, also played along. Except he chose a white character to take a name from because there wasn’t anyone who looked like him in the story.

Nichelle Nicols as Lt. Uhura on "Star Trek"

The other affirmation of the power of having someone who looks like you doing heroic things comes from actress Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. After the first season had finished she said to the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, that she was going to leave the show. Soon after she was at an NAACP meeting and she met someone there who was a fan; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He told her how Star Trek was the only television show he let his young children watch because of her character. A black woman on the bridge seen as equal to everyone else there. She was there not to preach but simply to show that equality comes in funny guises. Ms. Nichols would be instrumental in recruiting female and non-white candidates to NASA as astronauts. It is what it means to see someone who looks like you, being heroic.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

In the last year there have been so many examples. The female centric heart of “Wonder Woman”. The new core of heroes in the new Star Wars trilogy. The spectacular re-imaging of the superhero through an African-American lens in “Black Panther”.

Poe, Rey, and Finn from "Star Wars"

That each movie was helmed by directors and writers, intent on making these visions seem normal without feeling like you’re being told it is special. As Diana Prince faces down the villain in the epic final act of Wonder Woman there is no thought that she is weaker. When Rey ignites her lightsaber she is every bit as formidable as anyone who has wielded one. Literally, the entire set of characters in Black Panther show strength of character is not the exclusive property of Caucasians.

The Cast of Black Panther

I have mentioned this in the past, but I use the cosplayers at Comic-Con as barometers of how far things have progressed. Last year there were a lot more Wonder Women and Reys walking around as women found new ways to represent themselves. I can’t wait for this October because I suspect Black Panther is about to have a similar impact.

The great mass of us geeks are often referred to as “fanboys” and as recently as five years ago that was accurate. With the inclusivity of heroes who look like more of the world I think we’re going to have to find another word.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

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Makeover shows have been a staple of the high numbers on the cable television channel list for many years. They all tend to work on the same principle, ambush someone who is clueless about their way of dress and show them a different way. The great majority of these are for women subjects which is why the 2003 debut of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was so different.

The Origianl Queer Eye Fab 5

Queer Eye was a show with five openly gay men, dubbed The Fab 5, would drop in on a slovenly guy and show him not only how to dress better, but also how to cook a nice meal, grooming tips, social niceties and decorating. Each member of The Fab 5 had a specialty and would spend a part of each episode with their straight guy giving him a new perspective on these things. It also gave those who watched the show a perspective that there wasn’t “gay culture” there was just culture. The episodes were sweet in the way they would develop. It was also a refreshing change from the mean-spirited reality shows which delighted in making fun of those who were different. Queer Eye always attempted to keep the quirky aspects of each of their subjects while improving the parts which needed the assistance.

The 2018 Version of The Fab 5

Queer Eye was a surprising success. It also garnered its share of blowback for reinforcing stereotypes. I think it succeeded despite that because it showed everyone participating was working from a genuine place. After the show was canceled in 2007 many of the original Fab 5 went on to further careers in their respective fields. I thought it was a concept which had found its time but had done its job.

I was surprised when I was cruising Netflix looking for the things coming up that there was a new season of Queer Eye coming in 2018. I was really wondering if this would succeed eleven years later. I’ve only watched the first two episodes, but I think it is going to be as good as it used to be.

There is a new Fab 5 and they are all enjoyable to watch. The biggest difference in this new version is instead of taking place in the Tri-State area of New York City, as the first one did, this time all eight episodes are taking on subjects in Georgia. It changes the dynamic when the suggestions of the Fab 5 are transported from the Northeast corridor to the Deep South. It adds new subtext to some of the conversations which have me looking forward to watching the final six episodes of the new Queer Eye.

In the end all makeover shows are like fairy tales where the rough edged sincere hero is turned into a prince. Even in 2018 it turns that a Queer Eye can still lead to happily ever after.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Stranger Things 2

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I’ve written a lot in this column about how much the right characters can make me overlook a lot of plotting flaws. If I enjoy the time I’m spending with the characters what’s an improbability or two? Like many who were big fans I watched Stranger Things when it was first released. The thing was I was more enthralled by the quilt of obvious 1980’s “inspirations” The Duffer Brothers were employing. It felt like I had watched a greatest hits of 1980’s genre movies by the time it was done. I enjoyed it but thought one season was going to be enough. I thought the characters had not connected over the nostalgia. After the New Year my Netflix queue was surprisingly clear. I thought I’d watch a couple of episodes; remind myself why I had checked out and be done. Nine hours later I sat there surprisingly satisfied.

It wasn’t because The Duffer Brothers stopped using the 1980’s as plot devices. I would say Stranger Things 2 was even more obvious in what they cribbed from. What hooked me were characters who I didn’t realize snuck up on me in the first season. They were given lots to do which kept me wanting to see what was next. I want to call out a few of them because the actors behind the characters did such a good job.

Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin

First is Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin. To get an idea of how charming he is you only must see him in the Verizon commercials extolling the virtues of FiOS. In 30-second clips the actor makes you smile and sells the service with that charisma. In Stranger Things 2 he is given the Gremlins sub-plot where he brings a strange creature home and as it grows things get out of hand. The other half of his story is his bond with the older high school boy, Steve. Dustin is from a one-parent home and Steve takes him under his wing. Mt. Matarazzo steps up and becomes the heart of the Stranger Things series.

Millie Bobbie Brown as Eleven

The soul is Millie Bobbie Brown who plays Eleven. A child who was experimented on to hone her telekinetic properties she escaped the government at the end of season one. Season 2 finds her in a safe place one which is explained over the first few episodes. Once she decides safety is less important than understanding who she is that propels her last half of season 2. Ms. Brown does all of this with an earnestness which had me rooting for her while also lamenting her leaving her safe place.

David Harbour as Chief Hopper

David Harbour plays Chief Hopper who is always caught in the middle as the weird ratchets up in his small Indiana town. In season 2 he is much more the linchpin which holds it all together. He has relationships to every other character in the cast. That allows Mr. Harbour to highlight that. From telling hard truths to the kids to making the adults understand the stakes. He admits his flaws while standing in front of the danger.

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers

Finally, Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers the frazzled single mom who has her son being taken over by the monsters in both seasons. I have always thought highly of Ms. Ryder as an actress. In season 2 her fiercely protective mother has found some happiness, but those moments are fleeting in the Stranger Things universe. Ms. Ryder shows the joy and the pain in equal amounts sometimes within a few seconds of each other. She has a showcase where her talents are fully on display.

These four characters and the actors who play them made me realize how much I am enjoying Stranger Things for them and not the plot.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Gifted

The comic book history of the superhero group, X-Men, has two distinct eras. The first covering their creation in 1963 until they ran out of steam and were canceled in 1969. The early incarnation was all about these powerful mutants helping humanity without too much resentment on display. When they would return in 1975 with a new team they had shifted from teenagers to adults from all over the world. The other significant shift was the world feared them. It has been that struggle which has become the hallmark of the comic book and movie versions. The feared outcasts have always provided a rich vein of stories and the latest television series, The Gifted, has taken that as its starting point.

Over the first couple of episodes we meet the Strucker family. The two children, Lauren and Andy, with parents Reed and Caitlin. Reed is a district attorney known for prosecuting mutants. Which of course means when his son exhibits uncontrollable powers he is split as a father and prosecutor. His journey will be the decision on what is more important to him. Andy’s use of his powers sends them on the run. They encounter a Mutant Underground which will smuggle you out of the country. Of course, it is never that easy and the family finds getting out of Atlanta tougher than expected which covers the entire 13-episode first season.

The other background provided throughout the first half of the season is important. First, The X-Men have disappeared. There are no heroics to be found from the most well-known mutants. Second, the fear and hate from the non-mutant population stems from an incident that happened on July 15 when at a mutant rights protest something, which hasn’t been explained fully, happened to cause mass casualties. The humans hunting the mutants refer to this as 7/15. This is the backdrop which propels the story.

Matt Nix

Over the course of the season there are discussions of how these mutants should react. The large ensemble cast does a nice job of expanding on all the different perspectives. I have liked the overall framework and the general storyline being told but the large cast has created a different problem. I am not invested in the individual story of anyone. There isn’t a mutant I particularly want to see or that stands out. There isn’t a villain which provides me enough animosity I want to see their fall. The strongest emotions I had were when the mutants who have the mind-altering abilities used them..

The show is written and overseen by Matt Nix who was a fan of the same comic books I read. If I could give him some advice for the second season I’d ask him to focus more strongly on a couple of mutant characters. Make them our focus from which stories can expand upon. The foundation is here but it now needs to be built upon so that The Gifted is more like the second generation of the comic book that created an entirely new superhero style.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s Runaways

I have written in the past about how much I admire writer Brian K. Vaughan and the stories he tells in comic books. One of my favorites was the series he created for Marvel Comics called Runaways. The premise is simply related; what if a group of teenagers discovered the yearly gathering of their parents was to gain power by sacrificing a human? It is one of the great aspects of Mr. Vaughan is how a simple premise has so much to discover. It is with trepidation when I hear something I admire as much as Runaways is being adapted for television. This leads to something I must start letting go of. In this new television universe being optioned to be made as a tv show does not mean it has to be bad. The transition of Runaways the comic to Marvel’s Runaways on Hulu is a success story.

It started at the top when Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage were brought in as showrunners. They have a knowledge on how to get authentic teenage voices on screen from their work on “Gossip Girl”. Mr. Schwartz created one of my favorite riffs on an action series in “Chuck” so I felt that would also be a great fit for Runaways. The thing which made me happiest was hearing Mr. Vaughan was along for the whole process adding his suggestions which the production team had sought out.

Runaways takes place in Los Angeles which is a fun place for a Marvel Universe series to happen in. There are few of the typical Marvel superheroes on the west coast let alone LA. It allows Runaways a chance to breathe without wondering about if, or when, a more recognizable Marvel hero will pop up. That allows the first ten episodes which just finished to focus on the core team and serve as their origin story.

This is an interesting choice to make as this is perhaps the most in-depth origin story ever done in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Through this we learn the stakes. Meet the bad guys/ parents. Each one of the Runaways gets to slowly discover who they are and what they bring to the team. The first two episodes are a great example of this pace. In the first episode our team of Runaways discover their parents dark secret and it is all from their point of view. Episode 2 is the same events from the parent’s perspective. It is 360-degree storytelling which allows for the audience to have an opportunity to connect with a sprawling cast quickly.

Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Savage have an eye for young actors and have assembled a cast of memorable ones for Runaways. They feel the paradox of having to save the world from your parents while also learning they have the abilities to actually do it.

Throughout the first ten-episode season the stakes get progressively higher until our team of teenagers become runaways in the final act of episode 10.

I thought this was a great way to finish the first season. Season 2 can be the showdown. By going slow I am now invested in these characters and am looking forward to their growth into the heroes they are destined to be.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve waited a month to write about Star Wars: The Last Jedi because I am going to talk more about the plot and giveaway some of the big twists in my discussion of it. If you haven’t seen the movie yet stop reading now before I ruin your chance to enjoy it without having things spoiled,

If there was one overriding emotion I had after The Force Awakens re-awakened Star Wars two years ago it was, “That was great, but I don’t just want bigger and bigger Death Stars I want something new.” J.J. Abrams who directed The Force Awakens provided jumper cables to a moribund franchise by relying on what made it special in the first place. Handing over the reins to writer-director Rian Johnson was giving him something much more difficult; evolve Star Wars. The difficulty of this has no better example than the prequel trilogy by George Lucas who created all of this. He dared to do something different. You may detest those movies, but Mr. Lucas did not give us the same story. As I’ve mentioned before his problem was as a storyteller we all knew what was on the last page of Episode 3; Annakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. The new movies have an advantage because the audience does not know what is going to happen. Which is why Mr. Johnson has some more latitude when it comes to choosing different paths.

Through the first hour of The Last Jedi I was feeling uneasy as it seemed like it was a next generation “Empire Strikes Back”. Rebels under merciless attack; check. Young Force user being trained by Jedi Master; check. Young Force user coerced into entering the ship of the big bad guy; check. As Rey leaves Luke Skywalker behind to go to meet Supreme Leader Snoke I began to inwardly groan. There was no growth happening it was all just the same as before. Then in literally the stroke of a lightsaber that evolution began as all those familiar things got turned on their heads.

When the big Force showdown between Rey and Snoke ended up with him dead and Kylo Ren offering to rule the galaxy with her there was something exhilarating in what her answer would be. From there Mr. Johnson makes a movie of heroes and villains who aren’t destined to their roles because of their bloodlines but because they are heroic or villainous. When Finn who has spent two movies running away finally proudly declares he is “Rebel scum” his transformation is complete. The story on the screen has shown us his journey from frightened want-away to hero. Finn, like Rey, have no genetic disposition to heroism but the internal desire to be the ones to make things better.

The other choice Mr. Johnson made was with Luke Skywalker who ends up much different than when we last saw him. It is easy to see Leia and Han Solo as older versions of when we last saw them; they are the same people we left before. Luke is the one who has had his optimism shattered. His hope to build a new Jedi Order is destroyed from the inside by the Dark Side. It drives him to exile where he cuts himself off from The Force. When Rey finds him, and asks to be trained his instruction comes not from a place of optimism but from someone who has lost hope. Unlike the relationship between Yoda and Luke in Empire Strikes Back this new teacher isn’t sure it is a good idea for Jedi to exist. His reluctance to be a full-time teacher makes Rey into her own. She fearlessly explores the island of the first Jedi Temple and learns the lessons that exist just by exploring. Luke is less teacher and more guardrails meant to keep her on the path to the Light Side. It isn’t heroic but as we learn Luke’s story it is understandable.

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

That loss of heroism has been a major point of contention among Star Wars fans since The Last Jedi opened. Luke is allowed his moment of unalloyed heroism at the end of the movie but everything prior to that is a dramatic change from the Luke who believed he could turn his father from Darth Vader back to Annakin Skywalker. The Luke in The Last Jedi has lost belief. As a proponent for change I liked this choice it asks real questions of what it means to be heroic. It asks whether it is cowardice to hide away with the power to make change while the galaxy burns. The story lays out the changes, but actor Mark Hamill makes me believe that Luke could end up in this place. Mr. Hamill’s performance is brilliant; the best he has turned in in a Star Wars movie. I liked the changes because Mr. Hamill sold me on them with his performance.

This all leads to a final scene which shows that The Force is not only running through those with Skywalker blood in their veins but also young stable hands who dream of Rebellion. If there was a stifling aspect to The Force was its affinity for only those darn Skywalkers. Mr. Johnson’s final nod that for The Light to meet The Dark it is made up of many points around the galaxy from the stables to the palaces. This is an exciting place for Star Wars to be at the end of Episode 8. It leaves the storytelling paths wide open with no previous blueprints to be followed. I am very happy that these choices were made it feels like Star Wars has never been fuller of potential.

Mark Behnke