Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Celestial Armed Conflict: Bullet Point Edition


There's a new Star Wars movie this week so I'm back to talk about the most popular space fantasy series ever made.

In preparation for the "final" movie, I decided to go back and watch all the others in order of their internal chronology. Unfortunately, that means starting at the bottom of the barrel with the prequels but there you go.

(Not an ad:) Watching the SW movies has never been easier, now with Disney+; they're all there in 4K HDR for the first time (except Solo which is coming in July, and The Last Jedi, which is coming the day after Christmas, but I have them on 4K blu-ray, so it's moot).

As of this writing, I've watched, in order:
  1. The Phantom Menace
  2. Attack of the Clones
  3. Revenge of the Sith
  4. Solo
  5. Rogue One
  6. Star Wars (I'll be damned if I call it A New Hope. Ah dammit, I just did.)
  7. The Empire Strikes Back
  8. Return of the Jedi
The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are next on the docket but I'll get to those later.

Obviously, a lot has been said about these movies over the years so instead, in bullet points, I'm going to jot down some stray obversations I've made this time around that I've never really given too much thought about before.

If you're a fan of bullet points, you're in for a feast.
  • The prequels remain awful; the less said about these incompetently filmed, acted and written movies, the better.
  • But I will add the acting is so low-energy, as if everyone is mired in cold molasses, underwater, with tranquilizers coursing through their Midichlorianic veins.
  • The exceptions to this:
    • Ewan McGregor as Obi-wan. He's doing more of an impression than actually acting but he has some life to him.
    • Ian McDiarmid: he's one of the very few who knows what kind of silliness he's in and he's playing it to maximum potential, especially in RotS where he goes bananas once unveiled as a Sith. ("No...no...no!")
    • Watto. I kid you not, the movies just come to life during his handful of scenes in TPM, and his tragic underuse in AotC.
  • The Naboo fighter is a great design.
  • The MVP of the prequels is John Williams. His music stands out where the actual movies themselves don't.
  • Christopher Lee is totally wasted in two movies. They hint at a lot of story that's never developed for his character and his role in the prequel story. But oops, nothing comes of it.
  • I only just realized that smaller ships don't have hyperdrive in the prequels. The Jedi Starfighters have to connect to a hyperdrive ring. By the original trilogy, ships like X-wings (but still not TIE Fighters) have hyperdrive.
  • The Trade Federation control ships aren't one piece. That giant sphere in the middle can detach. I only realized this during the battle at the end of AotC when a sphere is rising from Geonosis (and gets shot down). Later, in the background of a space shot, you see one of the spheres that managed to escape the planet dock in the centre of an enormous ring, giving us a Trade Federation control ship.
  • I know that Palpatine is the main villain but each movie gives us a new lightsaber-wielding bad guy who they almost instantly dispatch (Maul, Dooku, Grievous ). What a waste.
  • So Palpatine created Anakin inside Shmi Skywalker by manipulating the Force? That's weird.
  • If you're going to hide a baby that's the future key to taking down the Sith, maybe change his last name? Just a thought.
  • Is it me or is Yoda murdering a bloody swath in the prequels a distasteful betrayal of his character as established later (before) in ESB.
  • The Emperor makeup in RotS is just laughably amateur, orders of magnitude worse than the job in RotJ over 20 years prior.
  • I still can't tell whether this was done on purpose but in the original trilogy, we have oppressed planets resisting the central government, wanting to be free. The Empire is the bad guy here by subjugating them. But in the prequels, we're supposed to side with the Jedi who are fighting a war on the side of the government trying to forcefully keep independently-minded planets from leaving. Huh?
  • Solo is actually pretty good, too bad it wasn't seen as much as the others. And speaking of being seen, whose decision was it to make the entire movie a grey blur. The worst I can say of Solo is that it's really difficult to see what's happening from dark filter it feels like they applied to the whole endeavour.
  • Shame Solo didn't set the box office on fire because they plant the seeds of some sequels I would have liked to see, namely Han taking a job with Jabba, and then taking down Maul and the Crimson Dawn gang.
  • Jyn Erso's turn in Rogue One is conjured almost out of thin air. The whole time, she's on about how she's in it for herself. Then, before the epic last third, she gives a rousing speech about hope and rebellion to marshall the forces. I get it, her father died in her arms, but it's much too quick a turn and falls flat every time. I'll chalk it up to heavy reshoots that significantly changed the movie. At least those reshoots gave us the final product's spectacular endgame, which is better than the rest of the movie that came before and remains one of the best acts of any SW movie.
  • Pressing play on the original SW immediately after Rogue One ends is very satisfying and near seamless.
  • I never noticed Threepio’s silver leg when I was a kid but now, with our higher resolutions, I can’t not see it anymore.
  • Why are the ships and droids in SW-world named after our letters when they use an alien alphabet (Aurebesh) in these movies?
  • Since when does the Empire save their energy and not shoot things? Allowing the escape pod to land on Tatooine with the droids directly leads to the downfall of the Empire. It's a Death Star-sized contrivance that could only be excused because the movie that follows is so good.
  • Not until RotJ does this series start to suggest that the Force is passed through family. Prior to that, especially in the first movie, it's heavily implied that anyone, with training, could become a Jedi. While not exactly the same, the idea that a hero can come from anywhere makes a welcome return in TLJ.
  • Yes, ESB has bombers in space. It's not a big deal in TLJ, and it's not a big deal here. Again: fantasy, not scifi.
  • How exactly do Han and the rest survive on the tongue of the giant exogorth space slug? Their bodies are open to the vacuum of space, they should be dead. But again, this is fantasy, not science fiction.
  • Just the concept of Force ghosts in general. It's so strange, especially since others can interact with the ghost, as when Luke has a conversation with Yoda and Ghost Obi-wan.
    • Also, Ghost Obi-wan gets tired apparently and needs to sit on real-world logs?
    • Also also, RotS ruins the already tenuous concept with a throwaway line right before the credits, saying it's something Qui-Gon discovered by studying. Did he study this...after he died somehow? If he was researching this in his life, it should have been mentioned earlier. Also, if Qui-Gon was the first to discover this ability, how did Anakin figure it out?
  • Luke's insistance throughout RotJ that Vader has good in him comes from absolutely nowhere. (Its out-of-nowhere-ness reminds me of the whole "chicken" thing from the Back to the Future sequels.) He keeps saying Vader has good in his like it's self-evident from what we've seen but it's not. He gives lip service by saying Vader didn't kill him yet, so that's proof but I call that a real flimsy justification. Vader's motivation to spare Luke in ESB came from a desire to overthrow the Emperor and claim absolute power for himself. It's unconvincingly retconned in RotJ to redeem Vader's character.
  • Can Vader's character even be redeemed? In a chronological rewatch like mine, we saw him not three movies ago slaughter a room full of schoolchildren.
  • I always laugh when people complain that a new SW movie is introducing new Force powers. Every Force power is new until it's not. ESB introduced moving objects with the Force, Force ghosts, and Force telepathy. RotJ threw Force lightning in there. Introducing previously-unseen powers is not new.
  • I never quite understood what happens when Luke leaps off that...jutting structure in the hollow of Cloud City. He's falling into nothingness, then for some reason gets sucked into a porthole on the side that conveniently drops him outside, underneath the city, to get picked up. Do I have that right?
  • Why do many bottomless pits everywhere? When the Emperor designed his throne room, did he specifically ask for one adjacent to his chair?
  • Luke Skywalker remains a hotheaded (not Hoth-headed, which would clearly be the opposite), whiny, dithering guy who none of us liked growing up. Let's not pretend anyone was a big fan of the character.
  • Luke mentions how great a pilot he is but we never see it until he pilots an X-wing and destroys the Death Star. That's a big leap.
  • Luke gets what, a day of training from Obi-wan? Then a couple days with Yoda before quitting and suddenly he fancies himself Jedi Knight? If the Internet were around back then, it would have launched a thousand whiny articles about how overpowered he is.
  • Luke vacillates between murder and pacifism. He kills so many people in RotJ, some unnecessarily (#justiceforgamorreanguards). He goes to town on Vader, trying to kill him before stopping himself and throwing away his lightsaber. All this tracks with the Luke we see in TLJ, who almost kills his nephew (probably should have? amirite? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) before changing his mind.
  • The space battle at the end of RotJ is still untopped. The end of Rogue One comes close.
  • There's a zero percent chance that Leia was originally supposed to be Luke's sister. I think it's one of these "everything's connected" shoehorned plot elements you often see that just creates too many coincidences.
  • Yes, I admit, some of the Ewok antics make me laugh.
  • When that one Ewok pulls on the arm of its friend only to realize the friend died...that's the most emotional thing to happen in the whole trilogy.
  • In the original movies, he's simply called "The Emperor". The name Palpatine came from ancillary material that we somehow just knew from osmosis in a pre-Internet world.
  • Ian McDiarmid rules. He has all the best lines in RotJ.
  • A bunch of things don't line up. The classics being:
    • Leia apparently remembers her mom.
    • Obi-wan says Yoda was his teacher.
    • Obi-wan doesn't remember R2-D2 or C-3PO.
  • Everything about the special editions sucks.
There you have it. I have two more movies to go before Episode IX, which will no doubt create an avalanche of think-pieces and heated arguments among people who spend way too much time on the Internet (🙋‍♂️). I'm already so tired, knowing what's coming down the pike.

See you on the other side of this milestone event!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

We Cheer for Clothes

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a basketball fan. I don't find it entertaining, it's just not my (NBA) jam.

That being said, I'm happy for all the fans out there who love it, and the Raptors fans who finally see their team this close to winning the championship. I bear no ill will to anyone for liking something I don't, and I hope your team does it (but please don't destroy the city if they do).

What I do take issue with is this cynical "We the North" slogan the Raptors have been perpetuating for a few years now. We the what? How exactly are they the North? The Raptors have exactly *checks notes* zero Canadian-born players on the team, yet the marketing firm they hired is fully comfortable disingenuously appealing to some kind of Canadian pride to sell this product. The St. Louis Blues are almost 3/4 Canadian-born, they have more of a right to use the slogan for their Stanley Cup run!

Again, if the Raptors are your team, I'm happy for you! It's always a thrill when the team you back does well. But don't hang the marketing campaign on a dubious claim of representing the country.

All this reminds me of the old Seinfeld bit that we're cheering for laundry.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Sino-Fi: A Mini Book Review of "The Three-Body Problem"

The third highest-grossing movie of the year (as of this writing) was just released on Netflix to little fanfare. No, it's not another Marvel movie but rather "The Wandering Earth", a bombastic Chinese scifi film that's amassed $700 million. Technically, that total is their global box office haul, but 99% of it was made in China. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If you like big spectacles with forced sentimentality and sometimes grating humour, the kind of thing that will remind you of the output Bruckheimer produced in the 90s, check it out! The effects are sometimes beautiful, other times dodgy, but it's not the worst way to spend a couple hours, if only to see an American blockbuster done through a Chinese lens. I saw the movie a couple months ago when it played at the Forum and I can only hope Netflix put some money towards cleaning up the subtitles.

The (wandering) Earth is in trouble!
Frequent readers (if any) of this blog have been clamouring (citation needed) to hear what I have to say about TWE, which is based on a short story by noted Chinese scifi writer Liu Cixin. However, like a classic episode of "The Simpsons", I'm going to pivot halfway through here to instead discuss Liu's novel, "The Three-Body Problem".

I'd heard about this book for a while, the English translation having won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015. So I went down to the local library (support your local libraries!) and found a fascinating book that kept me engaged.

I don't want to give too much away because part of the joy is discovering how the story unfolds, but the title refers to a difficult physics problem of calculating the orbits of three bodies in space, one of which has negligeable mass (and thus gravity) compared to the other two. What struck me the most, however, was how the book isn't science fiction right out of the gate. Rather, it begins as a lesson in 20th century Chinese history, referring to events, people and factions that must be common knowledge in China but virtually unknown here. It isn't a Westerner's view of China like we often get in media but a view of Chinese culture from inside Chinese culture, and that's one of the most interesting aspects of the book. Be sure to read all the footnotes!

What could that crazy pyramid be?
As the pages go by, the story becomes increasingly abstract to the point of crazy theoretical physics (you just have to go with it), and some characters are rather broad. Nevertheless, I'd still give "The Three-Body Problem" a recommendation for fans of the genre for its hard scifi elements, sure, but also for a look into a culture that's similar yet captivatingly different from our own here. I look forward to the next two entries in the series!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Finn: Rebel Scum

I was thinking about Star Trek recently (which happens often enough), specifically about how brilliant an idea it was to have McCoy and Spock represent opposite points of view for Kirk, like the devil and angel on his shoulders you see in cartoons. McCoy would argue the emotional, human side of a point while Spock would stump for dispassionate logic, with Kirk falling somewhere in the middle. It made for some great character dynamics and meaty drama.



I'm still thinking about Star Wars (which also happens often enough), specifically about The Last Jedi, which has proven to be a source of contention among some of the SW fan base. It had some high highs and some puzzling lows, but I liked it well enough anyway. One of my quibbles was the seemingly pointless detour into Canto Bight, the casino city. But reflecting back on it, through the lens of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate, I now see that it wasn't a complete waste of time at all, even if it dragged on too long and came dangerously close to some of the more terrible, cartoonish elements of the prequels.

The key lies in the line Finn utters when he finally defeats (or has he...?) Phasma, proudly declaring he's now "Rebel scum". Let's get this out of the way now: that's a terrible one-liner; it makes little sense for Finn to say that in context. (Maybe "Resistance scum" would be a shred better?) The line is purely there as a callback to Return of the Jedi, meant for the audience and not the characters. Words for fans to recognize.

Putting that catchphrase aside for the moment, the casino detour is the culmination Finn's character arc, stretching back to when we first met him in The Force Awakens. In that one, "Big Deal" Finn was out for himself, lying about being in the Resistance in order to save himself. Later on, he agrees to go to Starkiller Base, to help disable that battle station, sure, but mostly to rescue his new friend Rey, not for really for the greater good of the Resistance and the Republic.



In The Last Jedi, upon realizing that the Resistance is in dire straits, Finn takes off again in hopes of finding Rey and preventing her from returning to the fleet and near-certain death. Not really the "Resistance hero" Rose thinks he is. To help out his buddy Poe, Finn goes along with a plan to recruit a hacker to disable the tracking device that the First Order is using to find the Resistance fleet.

From the very first, Finn is out for himself and his friends, not a greater purpose. But, beginning with the adventure on Canto Bight, we get a turning point for his character.

There are a couple minor points brought up on Canto Bight (which could turn out major future SW works, we'll have to wait and see): the ideas that Force-sensitive people can be anywhere, and that the true villains are the upper crust profiting off war and misery. Where better to make that latter point than a decadent casino, far from the consequences of the struggle?

But in this movie, those points are minor compared to Finn's turnaround. And this is where my random Star Trek thoughts brought me. Much like Spock and McCoy represent dueling idealogies in classic Trek, Rose and the hacker DJ (although we never heard his name spoken in the movie itself) function in a similar capacity. Rose represents compassion, the emotional side of fight, while DJ (and his obvious, inevitable betrayal) represents self-interest, the good of the one over the many (a very un-Spock-like idea). Maybe Finn is a little slow on the uptake, but only after going through the casino journey, terminating with the confrontation against Phasma, does he realize which side he's going to pick. He finally chooses to put self-preservation aside, which was his defining trait from the moment we met him, and embrace being a hero of the Resistance.



I fully acknowledge that this particular B-plot could have been shorter and more subtle, but I realize now it definitely had a purpose: to turn Finn from an incidental hero into someone who is ready to sacrifice himself by flying into a superweapon, something he would have accomplished if not for the emotional Rose coming to the rescue. I expect Finn to be in full-on hero mode in this trilogy's final chapter.

But I still don't get why he says "Rebel scum" though.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Reject the Past: The Last Jedi in Bullet Points (Spoilers)


(Update at the end of the article, 20/12/2017)

Apparently I haven't posted in a year, since the last Star Wars movie came out. Well, another Christmas is here and with it, another trip to a galaxy far, far away.

In short, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (TLJ) wipes the slate clean, upending your expectations of a Star Wars movie and I'd say largely succeeds despite some flaws. The more I think about it, the more interesting it becomes.

I'm no film student, but here are my meandering thoughts on TLJ in (easily digestible?) bullet points! (I'm going off memory here so if I have some facts wrong, please cut me some slack.)

Spoilers abound, naturally.

What worked:
  • Rejection of your expectations, of legend-making...of fandom as it exists today? SW fans spent two long years theorizing and arguing about who Rey's parents would be. Is she a Skywalker? Is she some secret child of Obi-wan's? Two years of debating Snoke's origin. Is he a clone of Palpatine? Darth Plagueis risen from the dead? Is he that guy from Vader's castle in Rogue One? (Yes, that was a theory). Two years of what Luke would say upon taking his father's lightsaber. Guess what? TLJ doesn't care. At all.  It's like the movie's telling us "stop obsessing over details that make no difference in the long run. Stop deifying what's come before otherwise you'll never be happy with what's to come."

    This is where we see the grand theme the movie is trying to communicate: heroes (and villains) aren't as clear cut as they seem, and that heroes can come from unexpected places.
    • Rey's parents are nobody (or are they...?).
    • Snoke is dead, his backstory doesn't matter.
    • Luke tosses the laser sword (his words) over his shoulder.

    Other examples of this idea of rejection: Kylo's helmet being ridiculed and discarded, Phasma dispatched (again), and generally the idea of heroes not being as heroic as we make them out to be (Luke considering murdering his own nephew; "Resistance hero" Finn disappointing Rose's expectations of him at their first encounter; Yoda burning down the force tree.)
  • We're done with nostalgia. If The Force Awakens was about wallowing in classic Star Wars nostalgia, then TLJ is telling us that we had our fun one last time with the previous movie, now we're going into uncharted territories. I enjoyed TFA very much but that's behind us, and I'm on board with what's to come.
  • Musings about the Force. Any time Luke discussed the Force, the movie instantly became more interesting. TLJ wants to bring the Force back to its nebulous spiritual roots, which is a hard left turn from the dreaded midichlorians of the prequels. This is a mystical energy that permeates the universe again, not a quantifiable micro-organism.

    Furthermore, Luke finally acknowledging head-on what we've all thought for years now (namely that the Jedi were pompous, arrogant Force-appropriators) was a revelation. The Force doesn't belong to the Jedi. Top marks for that.
  • Long-distance. The telepathic conversational link between Rey and Kylo was a neat idea that I'm surprised hadn't been done before in Star Wars, not that I've seen at least. Nicely done.
  • Kylo Ren. When we first met Kylo Ren, he seemed like a Darth Vader surrogate. But as we go along, Adam Drive really drives (sorry!) home the character's inner conflict. I found myself sympathizing with him, or at the very least empathizing, which is a tough sell given that he frickin' killed Han Solo.
  • Yoda. I definitely was not expecting Frank Oz to reprise Yoda (in proper puppet form, no less). This scene felt truly "classic Star Wars" to me in a way I haven't felt in ages. Yoda was wise, silly, and mischievous, all in proper measure like he was way back when. Playing Yoda's Theme during this bit really lifted it (more on that below).
  • The music. This was a big one for me. There were a handful of moments where the use of old themes from the original trilogy triggered chills.
    1. Yoda's Theme (from ESB)
    2. Luke and Leia (from RotJ)
    3. Han Solo and the Princess (from ESB)
    4. Here They Come! (from Star Wars)

    And of course, the Force Theme was all over the place, but it felt most powerful when Luke looked out at the twin suns on Acht-to, like back on Tatooine, before he died.
  • Hyperspace through another ship. This was just awesome.
  • The final scene. Maybe it was a bit cheesy, a bit too on the nose, but that stable boy using the Force, holding his broom like a lightsaber kind of summed up the thesis of the movie: heroes can come from unlikely sources.

What didn't work:
  • The runtime. This is the longest Star Ward movie but it definitely didn't need to be. It could easily have been a half hour shorter and stronger for it (see next points).
  • Mutiny in the Resistance. The mutiny storyline was pretty pointless, just thrown in there to give Poe something to do, and inexplicably take Carrie Fisher out of the picture for a while. Maybe Poe should have been killed off at the start of TFA as originally planned? Why didn't the vice admiral just let Poe know of her plans from the start? It's contrived and could have been snipped.
  • Canto Bight. The casino sequence could have been promising in showing a corner of the Star Wars universe we hadn't seen before but also ended up being filler, meant to keep Finn busy in a movie where he really has no place. Sure, we got a decent new character like Rose out of the bargain but, by the end of the Canto Bight story, it felt like something out of the prequels. The war-profiteering message wasn't worth the detour. Cut it.
  • Finn lives. Speaking of Finn, near the end when it looked like he would sacrifice himself, I was actually hoping he would. It was clear in that moment I wouldn't really miss him, that he served his purpose and should be taken off the board. Nothing against the actor, maybe they'll give him something meaty to do in the next movie to justify his existence, but if he gets another busy-work B-story meant to run out the clock in the next one, it probably would have been wise to heroically off him here.
  • The Rebel base. Did I miss something or was it just dumb luck that there were right next to a planet with an abandoned Rebel base? A bit convenient.
  • Let the Wookiee win. If Finn and Poe can get time-filler subplots, why not Chewbacca? Chewie was virtually absent in this one and I didn't like that one bit! (The gag with the roasted porg was pretty good, though.) I'd have sooner forgiven an aimless Chewie subplot than what we did end up getting in the middle of this one.
  • Contractual obligations. Speaking of "put them in the movie just because": Maz Kanata. Why?

What I'm still thinking about:
  • Luke's fate. He was once a new hope and then at the end of his life, the spark. By the end, there's a great psych-out where we discover Luke was never really on Crait, fighting Kylo and the First Order. In retrospect, I guess it's kind of obvious, given that he fights Kylo in the most defensive way possible, to avoid touching him and giving away the ruse. But then this effort is too much for Luke and he disappears back on Ahch-To, presumably becoming a Force ghost in the process.

    That's all good and well but something kept nagging at me. There is a shot earlier in the movie when we see Luke's submerged X-Wing. Why place that shot there if not to sow the seed of his triumphant return in person to save the day, why couldn't he fly back and actually fight Kylo? The moment was perfect for Luke to put himself in Obi-wan's shoes from decades before, turn off his lightsaber and let himself go for the greater good. He even gives a variation on the "if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine" line.
    Everything was lined up for that, so it's a bit surprising they didn't go there, it would have been a stronger.
  • But maybe that was the point? Luke's virtual presence plays into the recurring theme of heroes not being as they appear, in a very literal sense. He said he went to Ahch-To to die, and die he did on his own terms. But when the remains of the Resistance needed him, he did show up, just not in the way they expected their hero.
  • Epic (?) end-of-movie lightsaber fight. Audiences now seem to crave that final lightsaber duel at the end of a SW movie, and from what I'm hearing, many were disappointed we didn't get to see Luke go all-out with his blade skills. But again, does that play into the movie's deliberate intentions of subverting expectations? "You wanted a duel? Well, here's your hero and your villain but their blades never touch!" It kind of thematically justifies Luke's tele-projection.
  • Porgs. Yes, porgs. Sure they serve no story purpose, but they're just so darn cute. C'mere, I can't stay mad at you, porgs. Awww...I bet they're delicious though.
    (Apparently, there's a practical reason for the porgs' creation.)

On the whole, there's quite a bit to like from the new Star Wars movie. Strong performances, nice visuals, refreshing humour, and countless curveballs all contributed to an entry that'll keep us talking in the two long years until the final chapter comes out. Sure, there were some glaring entries in the cons column but they don't detract enough in my book to turn the film sour.

TLJ a very different, very...strange SW movie, a challenging one that doesn't seem to follow any kind of formula or structure that I can tell after my initial viewing. But then, when Empire Strikes Back came out, it was met with perplexed reactions, only years later acquiring its "best of" label. I'm not arguing that TLJ is on par with ESB, but a little time to think about this one will definitely add some extra perspective.

And in that vein, it'll definitely be fun to revisit this post once the trilogy is complete. See you then!

Update (20/12/2017):

I've done some more thinking and I want to address a couple things.

  • At first glance, the casino planet adventure seemed pointless but now I see that it does fit in with the idea of the failure of heroes, just that the execution falters.

    Finn and Rose don't come out of that B-story with a win, but if you take a step back, they're making a point that the Resistance (and the Rebellion before it, I can only assume) aren't as heroic as we thought they were either. Both sides in this decades-long war are enriching arms dealers. As long as people are profiting from war, conflicts like these will continue. The Rebels won back in the day but that didn't stop anything, really, so if the Resistance ends up winning, will it even matter in the long run?

    It's a really interesting idea, shifting the villains of Star Wars from evil empire rehashes to something new, but it was touched so fleetingly in TLJ that it just didn't stick. Perhaps the military industrial complex will come into play in Rian Johnson's future trilogy?
  • Poe's story is still silly, but it could have meant more if they used an existing character in the antagonist role here instead of creating a new vice admiral who I feel no connection to when she sacrifices herself. You could have used Admiral Ackbar in that slot and sent him off in glory, instead of out through a window.

    Or if they absolutely wanted a woman in the role, why not get Mon Mothma back? She was the head of the Rebellion in RotJ, and the actress is still alive and working. That would have fit perfectly, and we have a pre-existing connection to her. It would have carried a lot more weight than vice admiral new person showing up and dying.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rogue Wonderful: Ranking the New Star Wars Story in the Pantheon



Another holiday season is upon us and we have another Star Wars movie, the second since Disney bought Lucasfilm. I've been seeing some rankings online lately, listing the SW movies from top to bottom, and I figured my hungry and adoring public wanted me to briefly chime in.

Rather than a simple list, I'm feel we can separate the eight movies (I'm not familiar enough with those Ewok movies, so they're not considered) into three distinct groups of quality:

Classics


  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. Star Wars
For obvious reasons, these two are a cut above everything else. I don't have to get into it but I'm sure not many out there would argue too hard about this placement.

Solid Entries


  1. Return of the Jedi
  2. The Force Awakens
  3. Rogue One
Mind you, while the above three are numbered, at the moment they are very close together in my mind, just a hair away from each other. I know RotJ has dropped in favour with many fans over the years (Ewoks!), but there's just so much that's great about this one. The rescue of Han to start things off, the weird aliens in Jabba's palace, the sarlacc pit, the speeder bikes through the forests of Endor, and of course the space battle at the end (intercut with Luke/Vader/Emperor and the shield generator action) that still hasn't been surpassed by anything that has come since.

In the year since it's release, it's become cool to hate on The Force Awakens but I haven't jumped on that particular bandwagon. Rehashed plot notwithstanding, TFA has great pacing (barring a slight dip when they get to Maz's castle), and wonderful characters brought to life by instantly charismatic actors. For these reasons, it edges out the newest but still great entry, Rogue One.

Rogue One has one of the best last acts I've seen in a while, its space battle almost on par with RotJ. Gareth Edwards's sense of scope, imagery and direction of action is a revelation for a SW movie. The subtle ties to the original SW are great for observant fans, it even strengthens A New Hope. There's no denying any of this, and that's why I think it's a great and worth entry into the SW canon. But on the other hand, the first half is slow and the roster of characters aren't memorable, outside the droid and the villain Krennic. Sure, the blind guy has a cool gimmick and look, but we hardly know anything about him. And so it goes with the rest of the team. Perhaps that was the goal: to show that the mission was the important thing, and to demonstrate how tragic the life of the unknown rebel solider is. I'm not taking away anything from the actors, they all did fine jobs with what they were given.

I get it: both movies had different sets of goals and both succeeded in their respects. I can't wait to see Rogue One again, having loved it the first go-around. However, right now, if I want to be purely entertained, TFA gets the slightly higher ranking on my list.

Unmentionables


  • Revenge of the Sith
  • The Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
Notice the bullet points? That's because, on any given day of the week, my ranking for the prequel movies can change depending on my mood. Let's say the order in which they appear above is my usual ranking, though.

The less said about the prequels, the better. Sure, there are bits here and there I appreciate and actually like but on the whole, they're misfires. (Yes, I've read the exhaustive "ring theory" defense of the prequels but that doesn't change that they're failures just the same.)

I could go on about the prequels but I don't want to be here all day, or to think about them for too long.

***

So there you have it: my list as of this date. Over time, I might even change my mind about some of these, who knows? Be sure to check back this time next year when the oddly-still-unnamed Episode VIII comes out in order to find out where I think it fits.