“You cannot sow a million seeds without reaping one potato.”
–Ian Fleming, From Russia With Love
I suppose it had to happen eventually…but nevertheless, it’s totally unexpected. When I say it “had to happen eventually”, I figured “eventually” in the sense that those million monkeys banging away on a million typewriters will, given sufficient time, eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.
It had to happen eventually.
I found myself nodding with agreement to something written by Ben Shapiro.
If you have no idea who Ben Shapiro is, you’re lucky. He’s one of the most obnoxious voices in the American right-wing today, and he is such a consistently reliable source of complete error, total bollocks, and utter bullshit that his degree of prominence makes one fear for one’s country. If you really want a taste of the general quality of Ben Shapiro’s thinking, this video pretty much sums it up:
Shapiro is a skilled “debater” in that he thinks quickly and he speaks very quickly. It’s worth seeking out a video of him talking gender issues with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who also thinks quickly but does not speak quickly; the effect is of a frantic teenager being gently put in his place by a wiser soul. Which is exactly what happens.
So, what did he say that I agreed with? At least in part? He said something about Star Wars.
Specifically, this (as shared on Twitter by an acquaintance):
As Star Wars takes go, this…isn’t bad at all. It’s not even incorrect! At least, not entirely. It’s incorrect in a way, but not a really major way…except for being part of how Shapiro relates to the world and opines about it.
But he gets a lot right here about The Empire Strikes Back. While I don’t hold it the best SW film, personally, it’s right near the top of my personal ranking, and his position that TESB is the undisputed best SW movie ever is not a fringe opinion. And he’s actually right about his reasons why it’s good. TESB has a lot going for it, but Shapiro is totally right about competence at its heart. It pits a small band of competent Rebels against a much larger, and also very competent, evil Galactic Empire. Nobody screws up in this movie (well, Luke might screw up, but a strong case can be made that he really has no choice but to abandon his training; his experiences in getting his ass kicked during the film’s third act are absolutely formative to the competent character he is in Return of the Jedi). All you have is competent people being successful or failing because the other person is either better, or they have more information, or they have more power behind them.
Shapiro’s take on the Original Trilogy being a showcase of competence is pretty interesting, actually. He then takes the “Disney era” to task for “making every man incompetent”. That’s where he goes a bit awry…but not totally.
I assume he’s limiting his thinking here to the Sequel Trilogy only, because to say that the entire “Disney era” of Star Wars is loaded with incompetent men is simply false. I defy anyone to watch Rogue One, Solo, The Mandalorian, Book of Boba Fett, or Andor and make the subsequent case that the men in those films and shows are incompetent. So that leaves us with just the Sequel Trilogy…and it doesn’t really depict all its men as incompetent, either. But it does show some of them in that light. The Force Awakens inexplicably turns Han Solo back into a giant space loser, and that’s after he spent the entire Original Trilogy being both (a) competent and (b) on a clear character trajectory from selfish-loner to committed member of a cause. (It’s for that last reason that I’ve always rejected Harrison Ford’s insistence that Han should have died in ROTJ because “he had no story”.
Mostly, though, the Sequel Trilogy gives us inept villains who are barely above the Keystone Kops in menace and competence; that they spend the entire trilogy seemingly on the cusp of victory is frustrating given how bumbling they are. Of the three Sequel films, only The Last Jedi puts competence on display to a significant degree, and then it meditates on how competence and failure are often bedmates anyway.
Shapiro doesn’t use the word, but I suspect what he’s getting at with that “Disney made all the men incompetent” thing is that Disney made Star Wars “woke”. Ranting against “woke” is one of Shapiro’s bread-and-butter activities, so I’m sure that’s the kind of thinking that’s informing his view of the Disney trilogy. But even so, he’s not really totally wrong here: one big reason I find the Sequel Trilogy uninspiring is that it’s not a story of competent heroes versus competent villains. It’s the story of somewhat-competent heroes (to the extent that we can really determine their competence at all, since the movies don’t really give us anything to go on as to what these characters even want) versus generically incompetent villains.
So, yes, I found myself in agreement with Ben Shapiro this weekend. I felt the need to work those feelings out through a blog post, which is probably better than my initial reaction, which was to sit on the floor of my shower, rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped ’round my drawn-up knees as the cold water rained down upon me.