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Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – A Review

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Relatively spoiler free but you might as well not read this if you haven’t seen the film.

To say you have problems with Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is to say you don’t like it. That’s where geek culture is, and has been for as long as geeks have had a culture in the first place. That’s on me just as much as anyone. When it comes to the big series and franchises, I love or hate them. But, hear me, I didn’t love The Force Awakens but I still liked it. It’s possible to think that J.J. Abrams’ 2015 offering was entertaining but lacking and still be a Star Wars fan.

How you felt about The Force Awakens will definitely play into how you feel about The Last Jedi. I hope people who enjoyed that first film will like this new one, but the way the internet is drawing lines in the sand (or salt), I doubt there’s going to be lots of carry over. For myself, I can say that I found the movie exciting, emotional and satisfying.

Rian Johnson has a visual eye that I don’t think Star Wars has had since The Empire Strikes Back. The planet of Crait, with white salt covering the red dirt underneath, allows for stunning shots of ships dragging along the ground and gorgeous caverns. Snoke’s chamber, awash in red like it’s out of the film Kagemusha, is a highlight in simple but effective set design. That won’t be the last time Akira Kurosawa’s films are referenced, which in it’s own way is a reference to the original Star Wars films.

star-wars-last-jedi-ep8-ff-000021But, for the most part, people don’t come for the cinematography of Star Wars (the lighting change as Luke flies off from Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite shots in all of film). What people want is space battles and great characters. Luckily, The Last Jedi has them both, but you millage may vary on how satisfied you are with either.

The new characters introduced in the The Force Awakens are given more room to breathe this time around, with a longer run time and less death stars. The two that benefit the most are Rey and Poe Dameron. Rey’s journey of self-discovery and false father figures continues but she comes out being a bolder and stronger character, one that feels worthy of leading this franchise forward. Dameron gets much more to do this time around and I finally feel like I understand his character. He’s a hotshot, to a fault, but that’s because he’s relentless in the cause. He’s a true believer in the Resistance, but he has to learn that, sometimes, cooler heads prevail.

rey_wide-1ebee285de548009eb96c8a28300af7fac2a91fd-s900-c85Finn is a different case. Plot-wise, his story has little impact. It’s a side-quest that doesn’t effect the main story, though that’s because of turns taken in the third act. But, character-wise, his story brings him into the Resistance proper. In The Force Awakens, Finn was looking to get far away from the First Order and only hung around to rescue Rey. In The Last Jedi, Finn’s story brings him to an understanding of why the galaxy needs the Resistance. It seems like he has a reason to stay now, outside of Rey.

Kylo Ren is still entertaining, but he has the least amount of growth as a character, staying more or less the same as when we first met him. His story is still interesting and I’m excited to see where his character goes from here, but it’s less of a revaluation as Rey or Poe.

Leia gets more screen time than the previous film, but, unfortunately, it’s easy to tell Lucasfilm had more plans for the character in the next movie. Her scenes here are great, but there’s a reservation with her character that most likely would have been released in the next film. There are some great moments with her, made bittersweet by Carrie Fisher’s passing.

star-wars-the-last-jedi-luke-skywalker-journal-of-the-whills-1040412Luke Skywalker is there as well. And luckily, the direction his character goes in isn’t proving to be controversial at all! I mean, outside of the internet and all of fandom, I guess. I can’t say how you’re going to feel about Luke in this film, as it seems like it will be one of the most subjective elements of all the Star Wars films. In my certain point of view, Mark Hamill is fantastic this time around, delivering some of my new favorite lines and carrying the emotions for the two of us.

There’s a cameo later on in the movie that I didn’t think I wanted, but proved to be a gut-punch nonetheless. Watching that scene, with music from The Empire Strikes Back, brought up emotions I didn’t know I had and I was happy to find them. And Luke’s “Everything you just said is wrong” tag later on was one hell of a delivery.

Another area where you might end up disagreeing with me is the resolutions of Rey’s parentage and Snoke’s identity. I didn’t realize how little I actually cared about Snoke until this movie, so I didn’t mind his reveal at all. And for Rey’s origins, all I can say is that I was relieved by it all. I didn’t realize how exhausting lore can be until this movie. While I don’t want the same tactics in every movie, Star Wars or otherwise, this time around, it was a welcomed change of pace.

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Outside of the characters, The Last Jedi is an exciting ride. It’s a slow build, but when the film reaches the tipping point, it doesn’t stop. There’s the stressful ticking clock that reminded me of a certain Battlestar Galactica episode, some stressful lightsaber duels and a stressful last stand…you know, actually, this movie might be stressful! I found myself never knowing what was going to happen next, even if I was certain I knew how it would all play out. And what an opening.

I will say, since I made such a fuss when The Force Awakens went to the remake-side of the Force, that The Empire Strikes Back is all over this film as well. A perusing enemy fleet, a young hero looking for training from a reluctant teacher, trench warfare against giant, walking tanks on a white planet (salt, not snow, as the movie makes sure to point out). Star Wars, since the first movie, has been nothing if not referential. But, I found that tendency to be less annoying this time around. Maybe that’s because it subverted a lot of those references, or maybe I just think The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film. Whatever the reason, seeing an X-Wing submerged in water made me laugh instead of rolling my eyes.

methode2fsundaytimes2fprod2fweb2fbin2fda8a222c-d434-11e7-945f-b625fa742a9eI don’t know where the series is heading or how this trilogy will conclude. I’m not thrilled with homage master J.J. Abrams back in the helm, as I’m worried he’ll undo a lot of the good done by this film. And where Rian Johnson is influenced by Rashomon and Casablanca, Abrams seems influenced by Star Wars alone. Maybe he’ll surprise me, but I don’t think surprise is in Abrams wheelhouse, no matter how fun or talented he is as a filmmaker.

For now and the next two years, I’ll take joy in the fact that The Last Jedi is an exciting, dark, interesting film that plays around with presumptions about Star Wars movies. I won’t rank it anytime soon, as it took Revenge of the Sith ten years to become my second favorite of the films and I spent most of my childhood preferring Return of the Jedi over The Empire Strikes Back. I’ll have to rewatch this movie a few times to see if it stands up with all it’s secrets laid bare but I’m confident it can handle the pressure. If the next movie can be as surprising and thrilling as this one, this new trilogy will be just as good, if not better, than the original films.

Book Review – Star Wars: Dark Disciple

23277298I just finished the Jedi Academy trilogy and instantly stared reading Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie GoldenMy enjoyment of the latter helped me figure out my disappointment with the former.

Now, I don’t want this to upset any fans of Jedi Academy. The reason I wasn’t won over by the trilogy, or the Thrawn trilogy is a personal preference, subjective as it gets. Both have pointed out two things I dislike in Star Wars books so far, and that’s trilogies and post-Return of the Jedi stories.

First, on trilogies, they have to have a huge cast of characters. All those characters have to have stories and side missions and everything has to lead to the big final of the series. That tends to mean a lot of filler. Characters will have quests that happen apart from the main story just so they have something to do until the end. Some stories will be important to the series but will take three books to reach the end.

And I don’t like this. With so many important (or at least note-worthy) characters, the writers need to include them for face value, even if they aren’t necessary to the grand scheme of things. I want all the characters to feel important to the story. I don’t like extra fat, even in epics. Keep in mind, it’s not trilogies I dislike, it’s trilogies in the Star Wars books.

760110My dislike of stories taking place after Return of the Jedi is also one that won’t be shared by everyone. For me, the holy trinity of Luke, Leia and Han doesn’t really click. Their stories have already been told. Luke’s most important adventure ended when he defeated the Emperor. Stories following a now-stoic Skywalker don’t do it for me, nor do stories of a married and fathering Han Solo.

What I want in stories taking place after Return of the Jedi is new characters and new adventures. It’s part of the reason I loved Star Wars: Legacy so much and part of the reason I’m hesitant about the trinity showing up in Episode VII. The future of Star Wars belongs to a new set of heroes.

That’s part of the reason stories taking place before A New Hope work for me. The Skywalker twins are nowhere to be seen and there are large gaps of history that can filled. But those gaps aren’t so large as to need trilogies. Stand alone stories work just fine.

And I like stand alone Star Wars books. Instead of a large cast, they can focus on one or two. Instead of interconnecting threads and filler, they can have a specific plot and goal, digestible in a few hours of reading.

Those traits benefit Star Wars: Dark Disciple. The book itself isn’t the best in the world and it’s based on an unproduced script for the Clone Wars cartoon. But because it’s focused and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, it’s enjoyable.

Telling the story of an undercover Jedi and Asajj Ventress, villain of the Clone Wars, Dark Disciple is about an assassination plot against Count Dooku. Now, we know nothing will happen to Dooku, as his fate lies in the films, but Ventress has been question for a while. A popular character from the Expanded Universe, her story wasn’t given a full conclusion in the show or comics. Now we get to see where she goes after the Clone Wars.

22012290It’s an interesting tale, partly because we get up close and personal with Ventress and see how her mind works. The Jedi of the tale, Quinlan Vos, is also great to read about because he has to straddle the line between the light and dark to work with Ventress. Both characters have fates that are up in the air when this book begins and I was intrigued to see where it would all lead.

The book reads quick, helping when the third act starts to drag, but it’s a satisfying end. I’m finding Star Wars can read like a popular thriller, like Clive Cussler in space, and it’s not a bad way to do things. They’re adventure stories, they don’t always have to have the fate of the galaxy at hand, but they have to matter to the characters involved. Dark Disciple matters for Ventress and Quinlan and they matter to us.

It’s an encouraging read for the quality of the new Star Wars canon. I’ll be reviewing Lords of the Sith next, since I picked it up right after I finished Dark Disciple  and it benefits in the same way for being a one shot.

If you haven’t picked up Dark Disciple, give it a try.

Stop Complaining About the Star Wars Prequels

Star Wars fans are spoiled brats.

They’ve been given one the best movie trilogies of all time, tv shows, books, games, toys and comics based on those movies and all they ever do is complain.

They complain about editions, about title changes, about prequels, about casting and Disney and canon.

Look, at this point, a lot of the people who complain about the same old things are either aging or latching on to dead concerns. Take the video above for example. They make the joke (it’s not that funny of a video) that they’re refusing to call the first Star Wars movie A New Hope. Considering that the movie came out in 1977, I have a feeling that the people making Honest Trailer weren’t even around when it came out, or at least too young to care.

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You know what I’m gonna call this? A New Hope.

I’m on board with the special editions of the first three films having problems. Trying to watch A New Hope and having dated CGI get in the way of shots is annoying, because so much of that first film based in the grandeur of 70s film making. But there is plenty to like about them as well. Considering how much continuity matters to geek culture, the changes to make them consistent with each other seems like it should win people over. Lightsabers are the right color, voices are the right voices and actors are the same characters throughout. George Lucas ignored the Expanded Universe and fans found it annoying but if he made sure the films made sense with each other, they got angry.

And the prequels. They won’t shut up about the prequels.

I want to meet any child of 1999-2005 who had their life ruined by these films. I was thirteen when Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace hit theaters and I lived a pretty good life my teenage years, with Star Wars being an enjoyable part of them. When the Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones came out, I had a great time at the theaters and when it was over, I was more pumped for the franchise then ever before. I had seen the original trilogy and thought they were great, but they didn’t push me to be a huge fan of the series. When I saw Episode II, I just got excited about it. I started playing the games, reading the comics, watching the cartoons. I was hooked.

Ended my teen years and I was fine.

I understand the film is not great and as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the last forty minutes are the best parts that don’t include Obiwan Kenobi, but it still got me (and plenty of people) jazzed for Star Wars. By the time Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was out, I was all in. I saw the film three times, even knowing what was wrong with the movie. The flaws are aggravating, especially when the good is so good, but it holds up. Maybe not to the hardcore Star Wars fan base who wants to relive their childhood over and over again, everyday of the year, but to someone who was a kid when the movie was happening, it was great.

So the Star Wars prequels didn’t ruin my childhood and they didn’t ruin the original trilogy for me either, and I have a hard time see how that would happen. They’re not great, and the first prequel is agreeably bad, but it’s not a scar I or any reasonable person carries around with them. My younger brother was ten when the last prequel came out, and he enjoyed the Lego Star Wars games based on the that trilogy, had a poster that has a lot of prequel characters on his wall and enjoyed the Clone Wars cartoon. Childhood saved.

Here’s the part that is driving me crazy lately. This hate for the prequels, and the changes of the original trilogy, is being transferred to a generation that could have been just fine. People who grew up when the prequels were out, who enjoyed them as kids and teens are now forced to say how much they hate the movies to not anger the real fans.

When I was in college, I had heard two people talking about the movies. One of them asked, “What’s a Midi-chlorian?” The other answered, “Something George Lucas made up to ruin Star Wars.” This kid was younger than me(!), probably didn’t see the films until the early 90s and was acting like he was there opening night of the first Star Wars and had to carry on the defense of changes and mistakes.

I tend to be a fan to the max degree. If I love something, I love it. But I try not to blind to the problems of what I love. I love the X-Men movies, but boy, do they have flaws. But my love for them lets me forgive those flaws, laugh about them, and enjoy the rest.

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Even if this is great, the fans will always complain about the prequels.

Star Wars fans haven’t been able to laugh since the 80s and it’s their fault. They can blame George Lucas, they can blame CGI and Hayden Christensen but they’re the one’s stopping them from enjoying the prequels and anything else that bothers them. If they could just roll their eyes and laugh when Anakin talks about sand instead of burning with hate, they could have a good time. Don’t they realize that hate leads to suffering?

You know what, I enjoy the prequels. They’re not amazing, not always well written or acted, but who cares. They’re still Star Wars, they have some great moments and characters, they gave us the Clone Wars and Ewan McGregor as Obiwan. The gave us John Willaim’s score for those films, each one with a standout piece (Duel of the Fates, Across the Stars and Battle of the Heroes). I don’t give into hating on them, because they didn’t ruin my (or anyone’s) childhood, they didn’t ruin the original trilogy and they won’t bother anybody as we move into the future.

As we prepare for J.J. Abrams entry into the series, the fans will come down on the prequels again, to hold Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens above them, even if that movie is just a greatest hits collections of A New Hope. But I’d prefer they just stop talking about, stop pushing your hate on the rest of us and grow up. Find something else to start talking about or just stop talking because ten years after Revenge of the Sith, you’re starting to need a new edition.