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Saturday, October 14, 2017

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Okay, let's talk about that trailer...

But before we do, I want you to watch the trailer for the third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender – or at least the first forty seconds of it.
I've mentioned in previous posts that I love trailers: how they're edited, what they chose to give away, how they attempt to capture the tone and premise and target audience of the film... it really is an art form, as a good trailer will fuel discussion and anticipation, a bad one will only confuse or mislead.
But sometimes trailers are deliberately ambiguous, as seen above. If you've never watched Avatar before, you might think the entire show revolves around a love triangle: the bald kid tries to kiss the cute girl who withdraws; the next scene has her leaping into the arms of another guy under a romantically-lit sky.
The implication seems obvious: one guy likes a girl, but she likes someone else. The editing tells us so.
But as it happens, this assumption is totally wrong. The two scenes are completely unrelated and the second one utterly platonic in nature. There is nothing that even remotely resembles a love triangle between these three characters in the show.
So why hint at one? You'll have to look to the fandom for that, as it constructed one out of pretty much nothing. The characters in question are Aang, Katara and Zuko, and although Aang and Katara were the Official Couple, their relationship foreshadowed early and developed carefully over the course of three seasons, Zuko was the quintessential Anti-Hero: handsome, broody and dangerous.
Naturally he made for the more appealing fantasy love interest in the minds of a certain demographic that had projected themselves on to the lead female character, envisioning a redemption arc for Zuko that was triggered by his attraction to Katara, grafting a typical Beauty and the Beast narrative onto the show without any textual evidence to support it.
Naturally many "Zutarians" were perfectly reasonable shippers who enjoyed their fan art and fan fiction without expecting anything to become canon, but plenty more of them went pretty deep down the rabbit hole. It's a fascinating chapter in the history of fan drama, and it certainly caught the attention of the show's creators, who often liked to troll their fanbase. See: the above trailer.
And twelve years later, the whole debacle is playing out again between another fandom ship that bears a strong resemblance to Zuko/Katara – or at least the shippers' idea of what Zuko/Katara were: a dark male bewildered and intrigued by a female character who embodies the possibility of his redemption.
I'll give Reylo shippers this: there's certainly more canonical interaction between Rey/Kylo to provide shipping fodder than Katara/Zuko ever did. But I am very, very confident that Disney is not going to hook up their teenage heroine with a thirty-three year old Space Nazi who has engaged in a school shooting, mass murder, planet-wide genocide and the fatal stabbing of his own father. Not in a million years.
They'll certainly have an intense arc together, but there's no way it'll turn romantic (of course, that doesn’t mean it won't be interpreted as romantic – let's not forget that for some people getting knocked unconscious, kidnapped and strapped to a gurney are all indicative of a guy's interest in you as long as you get bridal carried at some point).
So what's all this got to do with the Avatar trailer? I thought of it the moment I saw the trailer for The Last Jedi; specifically the last scene in which Rey states: "I need someone to help me find my place in all this," which is deliberately followed by a shot of Kylo offering his hand. That the one follows on directly from the other (like the Katara/Zuko scene following the Katara/Aang one) suggests the two scenes are related.
But it's already been pointed out elsewhere that the two characters are clearly in separate locations (Rey seems to be in a cave; Kylo has embers falling behind him) and that Rey's outfit places her at the beginning of the film, whilst the lack of bandage on Kylo's scar suggests his scene takes place near the end.
And this franchise already has a precedent for tricky editing in their trailers. Remember all the misdirection in the promos for The Force Awakens that suggested Finn would be the next Jedi apprentice? Or how at least 70% of the shots in Rogue One's trailers weren't in the movie at all?
Yet unlike Avatar, whose trailer editing was done specifically to bait the shippers, I don't think Star Wars cares enough about that particular contingent of fans to hinge their final trailer scene on teasing them. The juxtaposition of Kylo/Rey may not mean they share that particular scene, but it does mean there's the possibility of an alliance, or thematic resonance, or something between the two of them.
Personally the thought of Reylo as a ship makes my skin crawl, but I am interested in their dynamic (particularly the implication that Kylo already knows who Rey is) and I've never doubted that the two characters were being set up as two sides of the same coin, adhering to the light/dark dichotomy that forms a fundamental part of the entire franchise.
So when it comes to what the trailer is trying to tell us with that final shot: who the hell knows. Like all good trailers, it offers hints to get us speculating, but no solid information. The final scene could just as easily be hinting at the possibility that Rey will fall to the Dark Side as it could a Kylo/Rey team-up. In fact the more I think about, the more I believe that's what the editor was trying to suggest.
In a franchise that's all about Temptation and Redemption (with a side order of Daddy Issues), it would be astonishing if Rey wasn't pulled toward the Dark Side at some point. Based on Luke's comments throughout the trailer (in which he's clearly reluctant to train her) I'd place money on Rey getting tired of his recalcitrance and feeling she needs to "go dark" if she wants to successfully beat the First Order.
The trailer also attempts to derive suspense over whether or not General Leia will be killed at the hands of her conflicted-looking son. Well, we know that's not going to happen as Kathleen Kennedy is on record for saying a) Leia would have played a big part in Episode 9 and b) none of Carrie Fisher's scenes have been altered in The Last Jedi. So that rules out an on-screen death for Leia.
That, and Kylo looks clearly hesitant about blowing his mother into smithereens. *groan* Look, I'm not necessarily against a redemption arc for Kylo, but I'm picky when it comes to how they're depicted. The character in question should preferably not be an unrepentant killer of innocent people, as there's a limit to how much suffering a character can inflict before you simply stop caring about what happens to them. Unfortunately, Kylo has already crossed that line.
Perhaps a larger post on this topic is in order, but I think the backlash against Kylo Ren is based on two things: the oversaturation of "misunderstood villains" in entertainment and real-life current events. After a wave of books/films/shows such as Wicked and Maleficent and Breaking Bad and Suicide Squad and dozens of others, I think a lot of people are just weary of being asked to sympathise with monsters – especially when their backstories are usually just bad parents and/or getting bullied at school.
There's also the fact that Kylo, a thirty-something white man-child prone to tantrums, an inflated sense of entitlement, a fanatical need to emulate/project strength and power, and who is on record as having gone to a school and killed his classmates, cuts WAY too close to home for a lot of people. He's a wannabe loser who's desperate to be intimidating, falling somewhere between single dudes marching the streets with tiki torches and a narcissistic leader who has nothing to offer the world but cruelty wrapped in childish whining.
So on the one hand, I can appreciate the banality of Kylo's evil, and I'm amused at some of the complaining (mostly from male viewers) that he's not badass enough. The fact that this is the POINT of his character seems to be lost on them, and I wonder if perhaps his depiction cut a little too close to home. But on the other hand, I have little interest in trying to see things from his point-of-view, and the effects being taken (mostly by female viewers) trying to woobify him are groan-inducing.
So I'm leery about the films trying to make me sympathise with Kylo instead of with his victims. The reason I quit Once Upon a Time in disgust was because of how offensive it's morality was, especially in regards to Regina, whose redemption arc was entirely the responsibility of her victims, and which required no atonement, punishment or even basic remorse from a murderer/rapist who terrorized innocent people for years on end.
In this case, the attempt to say Kylo is conflicted because he can't bring himself to kill his mother (and it would seem, a room full of other innocent people) is like when Belle decided Rumplestiltskin was a good man because he decided not to kill Robin Hood in cold blood. (Incidentally they tried to sell Rumplstiltskin/Belle as a great love story. And then Robin Hood ended up with the woman who would have executed his wife had time travel not intervened. God, this show was so fucked up).
My point is, you don't get cookies for not being a murderer. Or even for not being as big an asshole as you could have been. I just hope if redemption for Kylo is on the table, it's more difficult than just feeling sad, receiving forgiveness, and putting the onus of his rehabilitation on the heroes.
So ... onto the other big issue of the trailer. It minimized Finn, just as I suspect the movie will as well. The moment I saw Rian Johnson's comment that Rey/Kylo were "two halves of the protagonist", I knew he'd inevitably be side-lined. That's not to say Finn won't get some good material and significant screen-time, but judging from the trailer the film largely focuses on Rey, Luke and Kylo.
They just can't help themselves, can they? The situation is eerily similar to James Olsen's fate on Supergirl: he's introduced as the male lead and love interest, but the moment the reins are handed over to someone new, he's immediately replaced by a white guy and relegated to the B plots.
Thank God J.J. Abrams is back for the third instalment, knowing that he campaigned hard for John Boyega's casting.
Okay, let's talk about the good stuff.
The best thing about The Last Jedi is the look of it: frost-encrusted foxes, red-layered silt beneath white salt, crystal-laden caves, the green slopes of Ahch-To: it looks so beautiful and not at all like what we've ever seen before in a Star Wars film.
I have no opinion on Porgs, only that I'm already tired of the fighting.
I'm not hugely surprised that there's no sign of Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, but no Kelly Marie Tran? Not even a little glimpse? No scenes of that casino planet either, which is an interesting choice as I imagine there are all sorts of dramatic shots there.  
Thankfully they've kept the Finn/Rey reunion under wraps. That's what I'm most looking forward to, and I want to see it totally unspoiled.
Mark Hamill is on record as being uneasy about the writing for Luke, but it's clear he's gonna give it his all despite reservations. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I have no emotional reverence for the original trilogy, so I don't mind things like the Han/Leia marriage breaking up or Luke going into self-imposed exile, even as I acknowledge that those decisions probably wouldn't be made by the characters in their original iterations.
But I think it's a bold move to take our familiar heroes and portray them in a less-exalted light, as tired and somewhat broken older men and women. It provides another comparison we can make with Avatar: The Last Airbender, especially the furore that erupted over Aang and Toph being less-than-ideal parents in The Legend of Korra.
So the trailer did its job: I'm pumped for December!
In a really lovely bit of news, Moana has been dubbed into Maori for New Zealand audiences, and plenty of the original cast provided their own voices for the translation. I know French is genuinely considered the world's most beautiful language, but that's only because not many people have heard Maori.
A fascinating (albeit truncated) look at the religious hysteria surrounding Dungeons and Dragons back in the 1980s. I was too young to remember any of this in real-time, but I did thumb through my father's old collection as a kid and now vaguely recall knowing there was some controversy over it.
A hilarious article called There Are Too Many Shows, which captures my exasperation with how we're not only supposed to keep up with all the popular shows on at the moment (which includes about twenty dozen superhero shows) but also the reviews, podcasts, message boards and blogs that discuss them.


  1. I think it's more "thank God Trevorrow is out" rather than Abrams being in. Whilst I liked Force Awakens I'm not sure Abrams is the person to deliver the conclusion to the trilogy, but he's still definitely a better choice than the man behind The Book of Henry.

    1. I fully expect "The Last Jedi" to be superior to Episode 9 in terms of its plotting and spectacle - but I also trust Abrams to treat the characters he helped create with respect. As with Orphan Black, this is a story in which I value the characters over the plot.

  2. Nodding my head as a I read this. There is (seemingly) such a change in course from TFA that I can certainly believe they threw the script at RJ and said have at it, although of course I'm reserving judgement until seeing the final product.

    My issue with a Kylo redemption arc is that they need time to do it properly, which means the story inevitably becomes about that, rather than Rey and her journey. Which disappoints me.

    1. Re: Kylo. I really have no idea whether a redemption arc is on the cards or not. I mean, it's a major theme of the franchise, and I can't bring myself to want Han/Leia's son to be completely lost. But like you said, it's gonna take a LOT of work for him to come back from the place he's willingly walked into, and that's time better spent on other characters. I suppose they could do the eleventh hour redemption, in which he gives his life to help the rebels defeat Snoke ... but I struggle to see how they'd pull that off without it being Vader 2.0.