Category Archives: Movies

My Star Wars Essay

I’ve been thinking about Star Wars a lot lately. Last weekend my brother and I booked our tickets to see The Last Jedi, and between my tepid enthusiasm for that and the debacle that was Battlefront 2 last month, I’ve been reexamining my relationship with the franchise as a whole. When I was six years old and the little apple-cheeked incarnation of Satan, my mom took my best friend Tristan and I to see The Phantom Menace. I fell in love straight away and Tristan lent me the original trilogy on VHS. The universe of Star Wars has felt like a second home to me ever since, manifesting itself whenever I needed it in the form of movies, video games, toys, comics, board games, novels, and so on. It seemed to provide an almost limitless amount of entertainment. When my brother and I were little we would go for walks in the woods and the countryside and use sticks as lightsabers to fight against imaginary droids. When my teenage years came around, I would spend hours in my room devising self-insert fan fiction; I would write stories of my adventures that fitted in with the accepted canonical timeline and draw pictures of myself as a Sith Lord with my very own Star Destroyer-esque capital ship. I subscribed to the Official Star Wars Magazine and to date it’s the only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to. And then, when I was 20 I realized that the franchise still had me by the bollocks because no sooner had I read on Facebook that all of my teenage wishes were coming true and they were making a sequel to Return of the Jedi than I found myself sprinting out my dorm room and into Aaron’s to gush about the news.

But this post isn’t just about my relationship with Star Wars. I’m interested in what it means to all of you. It’s trendy to hate on the Prequel movies, but I feel like a little perspective is needed when doing so. The Phantom Menace, as a children’s movie, is absolutely perfect. The soundtrack is excellent and it has the best choreography of any lightsaber fight in the franchise. If you’re going into the film with the expectation of Citizen Kane in Space, then you are bound to be let down. Characters like Boss Nass and Sebulba are whacky and over-the-top, but in the context of a kids’ film they are right at home. As much as I try to forget that Jar Jar Binks exists as a part of Star Wars, I can’t deny that when I was a kid I was laughing along with every other little nose-picker in the movie theater. And in terms of pacing, the movie is great and entertaining. Attack of the Clones is often regarded with disdain for its romantic focus, but at least it’s original- which is more than I can say for The Force Awakens. I remember seeing it twice in the cinema when I was nine years old, and I remember appreciating the slightly more mature tone it had compared to its predecessor. Despite its flaws, it’s always been my favorite of the Prequel movies because it’s the only Star Wars movie that’s a thriller. It starts out like a noir full of intrigue and mystery, and builds nicely towards the best battle in the trilogy. I consider Revenge of the Sith to be the worst film of the franchise, or at least the most poorly-executed. The dialogue was at its absolute worst, the plot was a mess utterly without the structure or pace of the first two movies, and the genuinely sinister space warlock that was the Palpatine of Return of the Jedi was reduced to a shrieking Saturday morning cartoon villain.

I can be both apologetically soft and unreasonably hard on the Prequels, depending on what day of the week it is. But I cherish that my relationship to each of the movies is my own and that it belongs to me- and I accept that it means something different to me now than it did to me as a child. And that’s the message I want to get across in this post- firstly that whatever your opinions on Star Wars are, they are valid, and secondly that it’s always good to have a little perspective. The Phantom Menace resonated with me as a kid, so to disparage it so wholly at this point feels like a betrayal of my younger self. It’s telling that I liked Rogue One so much, because it’s probably the darkest Star Wars movie yet- and in the context of being an adult at the time of watching it, its more nuanced approach appealed to my changed tastes. We got to see Rebel extremists, willing to commit immoral acts in order to bring down the Empire.

My favorite Star Wars stories are ones that don’t take place in the movies at all. The Expanded Universe is full of books and video games that resonate with me on a much deeper level than the movies ever have. To me, Star Wars is a balancing act- something that serves as both a strength and a weakness to the franchise. There’s something for everyone- the movies for families, the cartoons for kids, and the novels for angsty teenagers with a vitamin D deficiency. The problem is that the movies- forever the centerpiece of the franchise- will never fully satisfy each subset. Nothing else in the franchise has come anywhere near as close to the darkness and philosophical complexity that is Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords– which tackles the very nature of the force and turns its status as a magical all-purpose problem-solver into an interesting debate on individualism and free will. But as much as I love it, it’s not for everyone. Many people won’t enjoy it because it pushes the limits of what Star Wars can be, which, if pushed any further, would simply be better suited as its own IP. But it’s important because it’s proof that there is room in the Star Wars universe for more nuanced and original narratives. The worrying tone that Disney set with the Sequel trilogy highlighted the company’s lack of faith in the Star Wars universe to go somewhere new. Don’t get me wrong, as a movie I think The Force Awakens is much better written and acted than the Prequels, but it’s let down by the fact that it’s a reimagining of A New Hope. I like Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, but the folks over at Disney are wasting their potential on storylines with no ambition.

Of course, I’d love for some of the future Star Wars movies and the planned live-action TV series to go somewhere really different. The Expanded Universe has some of the most nuanced characters in Star Wars history; the likes of Thrawn, Ulic Qel-Droma, and Kyle Katarn are crying out for a gritty, Game of Thrones-style HBO drama series- but I’m not so convinced we’ll get it. If you’re like me and you will always see the books of the EU as the true Star Wars timeline, then that’s OK. Like I said before, Star Wars belongs to each of us and no one should be judged for whatever version of it they choose to enjoy. It doesn’t bother me that the Sequel movies are the officially licensed canon. I can still enjoy them as well as all the books that depict a post-Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker reinventing the millennia-old Jedi Code in order to have hot sweaty sex with a curvaceous, red-headed Imperial assassin. Ahem. Sorry, lost my train of thought for a second. Ultimately, my point is that arguing about “canon” is as sterile a debate as it is embarrassing. You can’t say “Oh, but the events of the EU never happened”, because none of it actually happened. You’re arguing over events that aren’t real and never will be. All one has to do is look upon the many contradictory timelines of super hero comics and movies, or the way the new Star Trek movies take place in an alternate universe. Neither the events of The Force Awakens or the EU are real because none of it is real. Star Wars was created for us to enjoy, so it’s only as real as you want it to be, and only relevant for as long as you enjoy it. Don’t waste your time getting in a pathetic debate with nerds on the internet when you could be sat on a beach somewhere reading RA Salvatore’s Vector Prime…or at least sat in a dark room eating Funyans and playing through user-created mods for Knights of the Old Republic on Steam…

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10 Takeaways From The Last Jedi Trailer!

The Star Wars franchise is nothing if not formulaic. I’m pretty sure there’s a guy at Disney with a clipboard that reviews the scripts and ticks off the necessary items. “Lightsaber duel- check. Bad guy says “It’s your destiny” at some point- check. Cute things make whacky noises- check. Spicy undercurrent of incest- check…”

And so on. I thought the Force Awakens was well-made and all that, but it was too much of a retread of A New Hope for me to really enjoy it the way I later enjoyed Rogue One. But what does this have to do with The Last Jedi trailer? Well if we assume the Sequel Trilogy will continue to follow the pattern of the original films, then we can get a good idea of how things are going to go. I just hope Disney have enough self-awareness not to end the film with Rey getting amputated.

 

  1. It looks like we can look forward to more impressive battle scenes, perhaps on the scale of Hoth or Geonosis. The trailer hints at this with a shot of the First Order launching an assault on Crait with a row of walkers. It looks beautiful and I’m excited, but this is what I meant in my opening paragraph about the Sequel Trilogy mirroring the Original. They are very clearly evoking the Battle of Hoth, which of course is a key feature of the second film in the Original Trilogy. The prospect of such a battle in and of itself excites me, but it also makes me cautious about the narrative as a whole. Hopefully the order of things is different and there are a few surprises in store.
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  2. Notice something different about the walkers? This is the equivalent of the Nazis invading Russia again but outfitting all their soldiers with woolly turtleneck sweaters and thermal earmuffs. They’ve learned from their mistakes and reinforced the armor of the new walker models. I don’t see any air speeders giving these behemoths any trouble.
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  3. If the echoes of Hoth didn’t already make you suspicious, then perhaps the shots reminiscent of Dagobah will. We already knew that a large part of the movie would be about Rey coming to terms with her destiny, her force powers, and learning to control them. So the parallel to Empire was already there. But the curious shot below made me instantly think of Luke’s test in the Dark Side Cave on Dagobah, and I’m not the only one. Most fans seem to agree that this is somewhere on Ahch-To (that planet named after a Scottish person sneezing apparently); my bet is it’s underneath the island in some kind of cavern system.
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  4. But maybe the retreading of the past is intentional, forming some part of a complex meta-narrative? After all, Luke in the trailer looks traumatized by the past, saying “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” and I think it’s safe to assume he is talking about Rey. He’s worried about history repeating itself, and Star Wars has always been interested in the cyclical nature of things and returning to the equilibrium of the status quo by “restoring balance to the force”.
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  5. The trailer as a whole is deliberately trolling us. We see a very distinct dichotomy between the training of Rey and Ren (who I am seriously tempted to put money on as being related). The trailer hints at both of them struggling with the teachings of Luke and Snoke respectively and has fans questioning whether Rey will fall to the dark side or if Ren will fall to the light. Personally I don’t see that happening, because I’m not yet convinced that the Star Wars franchise wants to be anything other than safe. It would be an awesome way to subvert the formula if they really did switch sides and Ben Solo emerged in Episode 9 as the true hero of the narrative.
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  6. One of the things I really did like about the Force Awakens was the characters, and I love the way the trailer for The Last Jedi Yes, the filmmakers are trolling us by making it look like Rey is considering joining the dark side, but what’s really nice here is the impression we get that both Rey and Ren are struggling with their sense of identity and purpose. Their questions and anxieties are largely the same, and there’s definitely a kinship in that that feels fresh and interesting.
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  7. This trailer just can’t get enough of teasing us, can it? It’s been cleverly edited in a way to make it seem like certain characters are talking to certain others, and nowhere is this more evident than in the glimpses of the movie’s space battle. We are to assume that Kylo Ren is targeting his mother’s capital ship, and maybe he is. But the shot stops short of revealing whether he pulls the trigger or not. What is interesting to me is how things will end for Leia in this film. A year ago I would have felt certain that they wouldn’t have Kylo Ren kill his mom, as it would lack the necessary shock and impact given that he just murdered his dad in the previous film. But with Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing last December, I don’t see how they can avoid killing her off. She’s just too big a character to be left conspicuously absent in Episode 9. I’d love to hear your theories on this one, so let me know in the comments what you think will happen.
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  8. One character we can be a little more sure of is Finn. It looks like his storyline will see him go undercover in the First Order, as he is pictured in one of their uniforms. We then see him fighting Captain Phasma, a scene that Gwendolyn Christie absolutely deserves after her talents were so underused in The Force Awakens. I think it’s important to have deadly villains that aren’t force-users- kind of like Boba Fett. Hopefully they do her justice this time around.
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  9. We’ll definitely be seeing more of Snoke. I find it interesting that he’s wearing gold robes and as opposed to the more Gothic fashion sense that’s usually so popular with Sith Lords. It makes him look more ostentatious and maybe a little androgynous too. There’s been a lot of speculation about who and what he is exactly, with some fans suggesting he might not be a Sith in the traditional sense. He might simply be very knowledgeable of the dark side, or a wielder of a similar but different kind of sorcery. We can see in the below shot that he gets a hold of Rey at some point, and we can also see what appear to be Imperial guards in the background, clad in red.
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  10. What doesn’t the trailer show us? It’s worth remembering that if something’s not in the trailer, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Clearly the focus of the film is Rey’s journey, so we don’t get much of Finn and Poe. Will their romance be further explored in this movie? It’s been repeatedly suggested by the producers and the actors themselves that Star Wars’ first gay relationship is on its way, but no indication of that is given here. It’s been confirmed that Finn will visit a planet with a casino city modeled after Monte Carlo, but we didn’t see any of that here either. I definitely think Episode 8 will draw upon Empire for inspiration, and given that the First Order took such a thorough whooping last time around, I think this entry will conclude on a much darker and ambiguous note. Overall, I’m excited to see this film when it comes out on December 15th!

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What did you folks think of the trailer? Let me know in the comments! I want to see your predictions and reactions.

What the Obi-Wan Spin-Off Means for the Star Wars Franchise

Unless you’ve been roughing it in the New Jersey Pine Barrens for the past 24 hours, you’ve no doubt heard about this Obi-Wan thing. It’s been reported that Disney and Lucasfilm are in the planning stages of a spin-off movie centered around fan favorite Obi-Wan Kenobi. What does this mean for the franchise, and better yet, what does it mean for us fans? Everyone take a deep breath- I’m about to break it down.

When Disney bought Star Wars in 2012 they promised not only a new trilogy, but a broadening of the universe with three standalone films to be released intermittently alongside the aforementioned sequels. In many ways the idea is emulate the model of success seen in the Marvel film franchise, and so far you have to say that Disney are delivering on this ambition. At the moment we’re getting a Star Wars film a year and the gap between them is only getting shorter, with Disney’s fourth installment in the franchise- the Untitled Han Solo movie- set to be hitting theaters just a few short months after The Last Jedi. The gravy train is rollin’ in, and Disney see no wisdom in hopping off just yet. Back in March, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that the company has their sights on producing Star Wars movies for the next 15 years. That’s a lot of Star Wars.

But what does a new Obi-Wan film tell us about what to expect from this new era? It tells us that we’ve got a whole galaxy to explore, but Disney are only interested in examining the few select square miles of terrain we’ve already been dragged through. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Star Wars. But I love it for its sense of scale and wonder, its infinite amount of alien species and environments and cultures. I love it despite a lot of things I think it does bad, such as Jar Jar Binks, the dialogue in Revenge of the Sith, and in general the way the prequel films turned the most iconic villain in cinematic history into a shrieking ponce that cuts his wrists and listens to Fall Out Boy. But I will always watch it for that fantastical, swashbuckling adventure upon which it always delivers.

The decision to produce an Obi-Wan standalone film should surprise no one. In May of next year we’re getting the Adventures of Young Indiana Jones in Space, and it is widely believed that Disney have plans for a Yoda movie and a Boba Fett movie. Now, I’m not saying that these films can’t be good. I hope that they are well-crafted, and attended to with careful screenwriting and nuanced cinematography. All I’m saying is it’s clear that Disney do not think it’s worth the risk to try a Star Wars film that’s not at least within suffocating distance of the main saga. They don’t believe in the Star Wars universe’s potential to bring in a profit without the inclusion of a very specific set of characters, but I do. I don’t see any reason why a movie that explores a completely self-contained narrative won’t make them an ass-ton of money. Although the Expanded Universe has been written-off as non-canon since the Disney takeover (much to my fury), there’s no reason certain storylines can’t be reintroduced, or even for the executives to take inspiration from them as proof of the potential of the Star Wars universe.

I’m not naïve though- I know that we’re never going to see a coming-of-age story about a young Mandalorian warrior whose basilisk gets shot down over a hazardous moon, or a murder mystery on a droid-operated asteroid mining colony, or a harrowing drama about a single mother on Corellia with a crippling addiction to Death Sticks. There is a generally accepted understanding of what is expected from a Star Wars movie- plenty of heroic, swashbuckling action, a little romance, some monsters, some robots, and a family-friendly adventure. I’m down with that, more than down. That’s what got me hooked on Star Wars in the first place. But we can have those elements without slipping back into the old sweater that is the main saga and its heroes.

There is one saving grace as far as this Obi-Wan idea though. As far as I can tell, they’ve got two options; either it will be an origin story in which we see Obi-Wan as a child, and perhaps his discovery by the Jedi Order, or it will cover the events between the prequel trilogy and the original movies. My money is on the latter. And if that is the case, there’s a good chance that we will see Ewan McGregor reprise his role. And that is definitely something that interests me, even if the rest of the premise doesn’t. You would have to be mad to recast such a talented actor, whose performances in the prequels were one of the best things about those films. McGregor himself has said repeatedly that he would be interested in returning to the role, and we wouldn’t have to worry about the age thing because his character would be older.

 

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What do you think? How did you and the people you know react to this news? I’d love to hear your opinion. All points of view are welcome here! Thanks for reading!

My Thoughts on The Book of Life

I do enjoy a good animated film now and then. I wouldn’t say I am a connoisseur or anything like that, but sometimes a Disney or Dreamworks adventure just hits the spot. Especially during the summer. The other day, my roommates and I went out to eat at a local café called Bon Appetit in Nassau Bay for breakfast. It was the morning of July 4th, and after washing down our food with moccacinos, something in us just said “screw it” and we drove over to Best Buy in nearby Webster, Texas. We picked up a bunch of movies to watch, and Anne-Marie chose to get something called The Book of Life.

I was assured that this film was very good, but in the opening passages I wasn’t quite sure what to think. It starts off in a quirky version of our own world, where the disjointed shapes of some of the characters make them seem like they are half-inspired by kids’ drawings. I mean- did you see the proboscis on that museum janitor? So we’re in a museum. It’s a school fieldtrip and the tour guide is this eccentric woman that manages to capture the interest of the snickering, sarcastic reprobates with a mythical tale about Mexico’s Day of the Dead. But this is all a framing device for the true narrative. I think that’s what threw me off at first. When we jumped into the tour guide’s story and the film’s artwork seemed more settled and less schizophrenic, I was able to relax and enjoy myself. In short, the narrative is about two deities of the Mexican folk religion (in which is incorporated many of the Aztec beliefs), who watch from on high three Mexican children. Even at an early age, the two boys- Manolo and Joaquin- are competing for the affections of the girl, Maria. The two gods, presumably out of boredom, decide to place a wager as to which of the two lads will one day marry Maria. The film then proceeds to follow their lives as they grow up, and how the love triangle unfolds.

I won’t say any more about the film in case you want to watch it. But I really enjoyed it! It kind of reminded me of some other animated movies we have seen recently; particularly Kubo and the Two Strings and Moana. All three of them had these mythical, folkloric connotations to them, taking us to fantastical places of pure imagination. To realize the scale of these dreamlike worlds effectually you have to have a solid team of animators and artists. All three of these films were stunning to look at, and I think I may have liked The Book of Life the best. The art style of this film, in which the characters are brought to life through the application of the school kids’ imagination to wooden dolls, is unlike anything anywhere. Every scene is beautiful.

I have always been interested in the stories of folklore and myth, such as Oedipus Rex and The Odyssey. They always seem to be about larger-than-life themes, playing with raw emotion like jealousy and passionate love. Someone always makes a fatal mistake that changes everything, or someone is cheated by a sly manipulator. These kinds of stories always seem to resonate with me, which is probably why I like Shakespeare so much, because so much of his stories are derived from folklore and legend. And like I said- the wonder of the backdrop is superb. The film really does capture the romance of colonial Mexico, blending the historical elements of things like bullfighting with pure and unadulterated fantasy. It’s not afraid to be strange and slightly macabre, and there were moments (like when a certain someone gets decapitated) that were at once comedic and disturbing, and this reminded me of aspects of Kubo– like the fact those freaky banshee women with hockey masks spent the whole film trying to gouge a prepubescent boy’s eye out (his one and only remaining eye, I might add). Eye gouging. They love a bit of that in classical mythology. You can’t escape it. Just look at Oedipus Rex, or Shakespeare’s King Lear. It’s a great tool for writers when it comes to symbolism, but that’s about all it’s good for.

Anyway, The Book of Life is hilarious and highly watchable. I was fully immersed throughout the whole thing, and I definitely recommend you try it. It might not be your favorite animated film- I’m not even sure it’s mine- but it is definitely one that you need to see at some point in your life. Hell, I can’t stop thinking about it.

How did you guys like the film? Thinking of giving it a go? Leave a comment!