Tag Archives: Star Wars

My Thoughts on Solo: A Star Wars Story

This post is about a month late, but perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing. Hopefully it means that most of y’all have gotten around to seeing Solo: A Star Wars Story and can therefore appreciate what in tarnation I’m rambling on about. If you haven’t yet checked out the latest Star Wars flick because you’re some kind of flawlessly-extroverted sexual Tyrannosaurus too busy hosting wet t-shirt contests to give the time of day to space westerns, then I suggest taking off the star-shaped sunglasses and getting an Uber to one of Panama City’s movie theaters. You might even enjoy it! Then, come back to this site, disable your Ad-Blocker if you haven’t already, and continue with the post, because I will be covering major spoilers.

solo-star-wars-4

I liked Solo. I wouldn’t say it’s a great film- but I liked it. I’ve heard it described as a “fun” movie and I’d certainly concur with that. It’s lighthearted and a little swashbuckling in tone, which to be honest is what I would expect from a film that styles itself as a space western. It’s got a couple drawbacks- which I will discuss later- but nothing so diabolical that it completely ruins the experience (like The Last Jedi for example). It’s not the movie I asked for, but I do think it’s a worthy addition to the franchise, and even something I’d like to see more of.

When I say I didn’t ask for it, what I mean is that I was hoping for Disney’s budget to be allocated to exploring events, characters and places farther removed from the main saga than an origin story of one of its most iconic heroes. However- it was exactly the type of story that I wanted. Everyone loves Star Wars in a different way, and for me the aspect of the franchise that I love the most is simply the world itself. That’s the defining characteristic of my profile as a fan. More than anything else I’m attracted to the vastness of its universe and the potential it has to tell any story you want. The proof of its potential is in what I consider to be the greatest Star Wars story ever written- Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. The game is a perfect example of what you can do with the Star Wars template, and it’s the reference I use for illustrating that there is room in the franchise for telling stories that are nuanced, original, and dark. So even though I wasn’t initially excited about the prospect of a Han Solo movie, I found myself warming to the idea when the details of how this story was going to be told emerged in the initial marketing.

corellia-main_b70b23a7

Solo is crime movie. It’s a heist movie. It’s a wild-west movie set in outer space. It explores different worlds and different characters than what we see in the main saga. I’ve long wanted a film with Disney’s budget that focuses on the criminal underworld of the Star Wars galaxy. And the benefit of that hefty budget is seen straight away in the movie’s excellent set and costume design. I love that both this film and Rogue One capture the clunky 70’s-inspired aesthetic of the original trilogy in a way that is beautiful and fresh. That’s the first thing I noticed about this film- how beautiful it is. I’m glad they are committing to that crude and clunky sci-fi art style as opposed to something slick yet bland.

solo-star-wars-22

The film opens on Han’s homeworld of Corellia- a planet that I have long wanted to see adapted for the big screen- and it looks incredible. The artistic design really brings life to the planet and its people, with a thick, industrial atmosphere. Han and Qi’ra are young lovers with big dreams. They live in an orphan community in thrall to a local crime lord, making a living stealing scrap parts from the city’s massive Imperial ship-building warehouses. One day they find a rare and valuable material that they hope to bribe their way off-world with. Han makes it out, but not before the whole thing goes tits-up and his missus is captured by the neighborhood bully and his pet Staffordshire Terrier. They’re separated for several years Cathy & Heathcliff style, until a chance reunion on a gangster’s luxury barge in which Qi’ra reveals that in order to escape she’s had to do terrible things at the behest of said gangster. Yada yada yada, and the two of them find themselves in a situation in which they have to pull off the heist to end all heists or face getting shanked by Paul Bettany’s vibroblade. It’s a pretty good plot and the action sequences in particular are fantastic. The train heist was probably my favorite. However there were a few issues I had with the story.

tumblr_p7zdt4ph8R1saj50lo1_1280

The first problem is right at the beginning. One of the golden rules of writing dialogue is not to have the characters of your story act as mouthpieces for the plot, in which they end up saying aloud things they already know for the sole benefit of the viewer. It’s the sort of thing you get a lot in soap operas, where the characters are constantly puking information into your lap. For the most part, Solo adheres to this golden rule, but in the opening scene it gets violated like your Nan at a thrash metal concert. It’s a tough one, because the plot sort of writes itself into this hole by the nature of having the opening so fast-paced. I get that they don’t want to spend too much time going into Han’s childhood, but these are the kind of holes a good writer is expected to navigate. However, this was the only instance of this kind of thing that I noticed in the film’s dialogue.

dc9c24f9-4e54-4a61-8eef-4005f24bbd40-solo-ew-han-qira-1_3e78e93b

The second problem, for me, is in how Han and Chewie form their relationship. I wanted them to go more in-depth with the concept of a Wookiee Life Debt, which is a huge part of Star Wars lore. I expected it to manifest in a scene in which Han chooses to save Chewie’s family or something, but it never happens. Given that this film is the origin story of Han Solo, the establishment of his friendship with Chewbacca is something of paramount importance, and I just feel like this could have been done better. The film lacks any one strong and defining moment that we can point to as the birth of their bromance. For the most part they just seem fond of each other, and I don’t recall a particular scene where this fondness evolves into something more profound, that you know will last a lifetime.

The third problem I have is with Han’s character arc. For me, the heart of this film must absolutely be the transformation of a young, optimistic and naïve Han into the cynical, distrustful, self-centered rogue we see in A New Hope. Otherwise, this movie is essentially pointless. There would be no purpose to a Han Solo origin story without this specific arc. And it’s not that this inward journey isn’t there- I just feel as if it could have been done a little bit better. I know the movie wants to maintain its lighthearted tone, but the Han at the end of the film is not as jaded as I would have liked him to be. If you re-watch A New Hope, you realize just how much of a cold mercenary Han Solo is. For me, he’s still a little too hopeful by the end. I’m not saying he displays no growth, because clearly getting betrayed by Beckett and abandoned by Qi’ra changes him. I just wanted that growth to be more apparent.

null

Where this movie succeeds, aside from its creative action scenes and stunning visuals, is in its performances. Woody Harrelson is perfectly-cast as the grizzled mentor type with dry wit and suspect moral values, but for me the standout performance was Paul Bettany as the film’s primary villain. He’s a different kind of villain to the kind we’re used to- which for the most part are variants of evil warlock figures. Dryden Vos is a more familiar antagonist for moviegoers, because he’s a purely human villain with human motivations. He doesn’t wield the mysterious space magic of Palpatine or have the samurai skills of Darth Vader, and yet he’s so menacing. His unnerving stage presence comes entirely from his unstable, psychotic persona, which Bettany does an awesome job of portraying. I was genuinely nervous every time our heroes were in a room with him.

No review of Solo would be complete, however, without a mention of the movie’s twist at the end. So it turns out that Dryden Vos in fact was serving as a kind of lieutenant for Darth Maul, who apparently survived getting sliced in half in order to reinvent himself as a cyborg Pablo Escobar. Within the context of the movie the twist doesn’t bother me that much, and it’s cool to think that Emelia Clarke might be seen again as some kind of Dark Jedi, but I’m not really a fan of Darth Maul surviving. Even within the realm of science fantasy there’s got to be a certain level of believability, and beyond that, as a narrative device I think resurrecting someone is weak. I loved Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace because he was so mysterious. But whenever you get a badass that doesn’t talk much- like Boba Fett for example- you can bet your ass someone will contrive a way for them to inexplicably survive in order to milk the fanboys for a quick and easy cash-grab. It cheapens Maul as a character, and it annoys me that he’s probably out there right now in other Star Wars media, dancing around with his iconic double-bladed lightsaber like some kind of circus monkey that should have long ago been put to sleep. This is the guy that got beat by a padawan Obi-Wan (an important part of his character growth), so there’s no way in hell he’d last ten seconds going toe-to-toe with Vader, Dooku, Windu, or an older Kenobi. I also thought it was particularly cringe-worthy that Darth Maul felt the need to activate his lightsaber during his hologram exchange with Qi’ra. She knows who he is, so that little display he did was just another wink toward the audience, and another example of the fact that this Maul is not really Maul at all- he’s Disney’s trick pony they’ve trotted onto the stage to ring a few more pennies from the masses. However, I’m not opposed to the idea of Dryden Vos serving a Sith Lord, and given that Maul has already been reintroduced in other media, it didn’t spoil my experience of the movie.

Solo-Star-Wars-Story-Villain-Enfys-Nest-Male

In conclusion, Solo is definitely worth your time. I think it struggled financially because it wasn’t marketed very well. In my opinion, it should have been released in the fall of 2018, which would have distanced it from The Last Jedi and given Disney enough time to build some proper hype for the movie. I would be interested in a sort of loose sequel centering on the adventures of Lando Calrissian. I’m also curious to see what becomes of Qi’ra’s character. I hope that Disney continues to make standalone Star Wars movies and that they venture further from their comfort zone. Where would I rank Solo? Better than The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi by far, but not quite hitting the heights of Rogue One and the Empire Strikes Back. I’d put it on par with the prequel trilogy- highly watchable but not without its flaws.

Advertisements

We Need To Talk About That BIG Star Wars News

We need to talk about Star Wars. I don’t want to say that “This is the best time to be a Star Wars fan” because the sequel trilogy has been nothing if not divisive. But in terms of the sheer amount of Star Wars we are getting, and the staggering financial investment being pumped into the franchise, this is undoubtedly the Golden Age of the franchise. Disney have already made back the $4 billion they spent to acquire the Star Wars license from George Lucas, and have decided that the popular science fantasy name will replace Marvel as the dominant blockbuster property for the foreseeable future. I think that Disney are starting to recognize the potential the Star Wars universe has for fresh stories that will bring in the megabucks. The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi have all been a resounding success at the box office and maybe, just maybe, we are going to see a little more experimentation on their part.

The more I look at the sequel trilogy, the more I think it’s a hot mess. However I adored Rogue One. It felt different and edgy and interesting, and that’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about Solo: A Star Wars Story. The first anthology film was styled as a “war movie” set in the Star Wars universe, and in May we’re essentially getting a heist movie. I think the creative freedom afforded these new movies taking place outside the Skywalker saga could result in some really intriguing narratives- as was the case with Rogue One. There are supposedly two more anthology movies in the works, and by the looks of things they are going to be an Obi-Wan movie and a Boba Fett origin story. But even though these anthology movies represent a break from the Skywalker saga, they still feel close to the main films.

Over the last few months there have been several exciting announcements. Disney is now interested in telling stories completely separate from the characters, places and events we are used to. It’s like they’ve answered my prayers and finally realized the potential in the Star Wars universe. For the sake of coherence, I’m gonna break down the announcements in bullet points. These are the confirmed projects in the works:

  • At least one more anthology movie to follow Rogue One and Solo.
  • A new Star Wars trilogy directed by Rian Johnson, completely separate from the Skywalker saga.
  • A live-action Star Wars TV series, developed for Disney’s upcoming streaming service.
  • A new series of Star Wars movies written and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, separate from the Skywalker saga and the Johnson trilogy.

Goodness Globb. That’s a lot of Star Wars. The news came in yesterday that the creators of the Game of Thrones TV show would be working on this new series of Star Wars films, and it’s encouraging to me that Disney would choose them for their experience with complex characters and darker, more nuanced narratives. The language used in the press release deserves close attention. The fact that they are producing a “series” suggests to me at least 3 films, but the fact that it’s a series and not a “trilogy” indicates that it may not be a singular narrative. It could mean that we’re about to get a new anthology series of standalone films, only this time more removed from the familiar Skywalker saga. I’d say we’re looking at about 7-8 Star Wars movies guaranteed to be coming our way all in all, which is a lot of Star Wars. And in addition to these films we’ve got a TV show in the works as well, which we probably won’t see until 2020. I’m interested to see what Benioff and Weiss come up with. They said in their statement that they will get to work on it as soon as Game of Thrones is finished, so I’d say the absolute earliest we could see the first film would be late 2020, and I think even that’s pushing it. With all the Star Wars we’re getting, Disney are going to think carefully about the timing of each release, and at the moment we don’t know what we’ll see first- the first of the Johnson films, the Obi-Wan film, or the first of the Benioff & Weiss films. Whatever one comes out first, the next surely won’t see theaters for at least 6 months after. I think we’re probably looking at 1-2 Star Wars movies a year, and the box office performance of the upcoming Solo film will probably be a good indicator of how Disney will want to space these movies out.

I think it’s good to be excited. However I’m not under any illusions that all of these projects will be just wonderful. One thing we know for absolute certain is that not a single one of these upcoming Star Wars projects will please all the fans. The Star Wars fanbase can be charitably described volatile, and each generation of fans will never be able to replicate the joy they experienced in their childhood. As I said earlier, I’m not overly thrilled with the sequel trilogy- though there are plenty of good moments I enjoyed in the films, such as the praetorian scene in The Last Jedi. And a lot of people like the films. It’s important to remember that Disney will be making these new movies for a new generation of fans, and they will be different to what we’re used to. This ain’t your nan’s Star Wars.

At this point it is pure speculation what these stories will be. I would love to see a Star Wars narrative that focuses on a padawan’s training- a sort of Harry Potter style, coming-of-age Jedi story. I’d also love to see more of the criminal underworld of the Star Wars galaxy. But what do you want? Let me know in the comments all your wishes for the new Star Wars narratives we are getting!

10 Thoughts on The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi might be the most polarizing and controversial Star Wars movie ever made. I considered doing a spoiler-free review of the film, but soon realized that whatever I came up with wouldn’t be worth a dang. Whether or not you will like the eighth installment of the Skywalker Saga largely depends on what kind of Star Wars fan you are. The best way to approach this post, in my opinion, is to simply list my thoughts on the movie. I think every reaction or takeaway from the film is valid, and I’ve spent hours poring through the conclusions of others- from friends and family to my go-to Youtubers like Angry Joe and Emergency Awesome. Because my thoughts on this film are so mixed, I’ve been able to actually enjoy opinions that are not only infused with zealous outrage but also wildly different from one another. The Last Jedi has received almost universal acclaim from movie critics, but its audience ratings are shockingly low, and one only needs to scroll through Twitter to see just how the film has struck a nerve with the Star Wars ultras. All I can do at this point is offer my impressions and see how they hold up in this blood-soaked arena. Needless to say, there will be MAJOR SPOILERS for The Last Jedi.

 

zzz

 

  1. For starters I need to quickly establish the kind of Star Wars fan I am. Ultimately I would have preferred that Disney loosely adapted the books of the Expanded Universe and given us a darker sequel trilogy featuring deranged, murderous clones of dead Jedi Masters and a Luke Skywalker struggling against a burgeoning libido and the dark manipulations of the restored spirit of Emperor Palpatine. That doesn’t mean that I’m a “true” Star Wars fan, because I believe that you can take whatever you want from the Star Wars universe and enjoy it in whatever way appeals to your specific tastes. But it is relevant information going forward, because The Force Awakens left me very jaded- a fact that invariably affected my experience with its sequel.
  2. When I exited the theater I was warm with the Star Wars afterglow. I enjoyed it as a piece of cinema and the events of the movie occupied my thoughts for the rest of the weekend. But things get complicated when we realize that we aren’t just judging this as a movie; we’re judging it as a Star Wars movie. And that’s why it’s so hard to tell you whether you’ll like it or not- it all depends where you’re coming from.
  3. One thing I did note was how much of a departure this is from The Force Awakens. And this, I think, is one of the biggest dividing factors of the film, and perhaps the best indicator of whether or not you will like it. The biggest criticism of The Force Awakens was that it was too familiar. The effect of its sequel however, is one of not being familiar enough. A lot of people won’t like this film on the basis that it doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie. There are three aspects of the film that I think are alienating fans- the portrayal of established characters, the approach to humor, and the apparent change of emphasis in regards to its themes.
  4. Luke Skywalker has always been my hero, and I actually liked the portrayal of him as flawed, cowardly and emotionally-jaded. For me, it made him more interesting and compelling. I don’t like any character in any fictional universe to become so powerful they border on godlike. A lot of fans wanted Luke to have “a badass scene” but it wouldn’t have been a movie of much substance if they built the plot around making the old characters do all the ass-kicking for the new ones. I liked the way Luke became one with the force and ended up being badass in a much more subtle way. However: the complaint I am most sympathetic to is also the biggest one- the idea that Luke would try and assassinate his nephew instead of saving him. It doesn’t make too much sense that the same guy who surrendered himself to Darth Vader (the most powerful Sith Lord in history) in order to turn him back to the Light would later be so afraid of the dark potential in his student that he’d go so far as to slit the throat of his sleeping nephew- the only child of his twin sister and best friend. I like the idea of a darker Luke, but they were too vague and rushed in developing his character. How did he get to that moment of weakness? What’s so terrifying about Ben Solo’s potential that Luke would go bat-shit crazy and think the best solution is carving him up into little pieces of pubescent angst?
  5. As for the humor, I had a similarly mixed reaction. Rian Johnson opted for the kind of comedy that works so well in the Marvel movies- jokes that are sharp, slick, trendy and capture the zeitgeist of the modern world. Jokes that could easily work word for word in any genre of film. However, I think this shift may have upset the immersion of some scenes, due to the fact that the humor feels too close to our own world. Usually Star Wars has a brand of campy “sci-fi comedy” that doesn’t feel at odds with its fantastical environment, a humor that feels unique to its galaxy and couldn’t really be replicated outside of it- perhaps best epitomized with sassy lines such as “scruffy-looking nerf-herder” or “I’m programmed for etiquette, not destruction!”
    Lines in The Last Jedi like “Put me on hold” and “Never said it was a page-turner” perhaps threatened the immersion a little too much. The sequence at the beginning, in which the former is used by Poe in his exchange with Hux, really didn’t work with me. It felt like a parody of Star Wars. Part of it has to do with the fact I don’t like the Hux character at all. Instead of the next Grand Moff Tarkin, we’ve got a bunch of clean-skinned college students cosplaying to that effect in control of the Imperial fleet. The dialogue, in conjunction with the casting for Hux and the other officers, made it feel like a Star Wars fancy-dress party rather than a tense moment of battle. We need someone with presence filling the Hux role, someone like Woody Harrelson or Jeff Daniels, who could replicate the sense of terror that Peter Cushing brought circa 1977. As for the “page-turner” remark, nothing undercuts the willing suspension of disbelief faster than the idea of Yoda kicking back with a copy of Big Little Lies.
    I will say, however, that I liked the scene where Chewie was about to eat the roasted porg in front of its family. That worked, and I also appreciated the acknowledgement that everyone’s favorite walking carpet has to eat, and those fangs more than likely aren’t for chomping down berries.
  6. The third aspect of the movie that really seemed to anger the fanbase is what I like to think of as the changing or evolving themes of the sequel trilogy. George Lucas envisioned 4 trilogies, 12 films, and had written story treatments for what he said was a “family saga”. It’s been assumed that Disney’s sequel trilogy would similarly be a continuation of the Skywalker line. I think everyone was expecting Rey to be a Skywalker, and many people took to the internet to vent their frustrations at the fact her parents were basically two junkies of no name worth mentioning. Personally, I didn’t mind it, and the idea that the Dark Side mirror-thing was going to reveal some secret affair Luke had in-between the films would surely have been too far-fetched. I do like the idea that anyone can be special and that to be a hero is not contingent on having the right genes. It’s a good message and it makes Star Wars a little more Humanist and a little less Christian. I especially liked the scene at the end where the little slave kid uses the force. Taking the final image away from the legendary heroes and focusing on some random orphan was a nice touch, and it felt different to the end of other Star Wars movies like A New Hope and The Phantom Menace which were less nuanced.
  7. I don’t think fans of The Force Awakens will like The Last Jedi, because the movies don’t gel together very well at all. One might reasonably think that Rian Johnson hasn’t even seen episode 7. A lot of the hype that the first film in the trilogy builds up is discarded in the 2017 sequel. Again, I had a mixed reaction. On the one hand, I disliked The Force Awakens, so I appreciated the idea of drawing a line under it and trying to diminish it. However, it is nevertheless part of an overarching narrative and a lot of the sins of the previous movie hold back the latest installment. Starkiller Base- perhaps my least-favorite element of episode 7, is rendered almost meaningless. What did we accomplish by destroying this absurdly overpowered superweapon? The movie starts off with the Resistance reduced to about 4 ships and the entire galaxy under the thumb of what is ostensibly a remnant of Palpatine’s Empire. It might make sense if there had been a significant time gap between the two movies, but Rey’s storyline seems to take place exactly where episode 7 left off. It’s a bit of a mess and I think a definite theme of the complaints against the movie is one of questions going unanswered. Even the flashbacks to Kylo’s fall to the Dark Side still feel rushed and lacking in detail- perhaps that might have made for a better first installment of the trilogy. Now we’re two-thirds of the way through the sequel trilogy and we still have no idea where the First Order came from or why they are so powerful. Maybe it was intentional on Disney’s part to set up The Force Awakens as being a retelling of the same story only to subvert that in episode 8, but if that’s the case it could have been handled better. A lot of fans were pissed about the abandonment of episode 7’s teased concepts such as The Knights of Ren, the big reveal of Rey’s parentage, Snoke’s power and origins, et cetera. I’m torn, but I can definitely understand the reaction.
  8. One of the biggest talking points of the movie was the twist of having Supreme Leader Snoke getting lightsabered up the biscuits. His assassination at the hands of his apprentice Kylo Ren outraged many fans who were looking forward to seeing more of the mysterious, powerful figure teased to us in episode 7. I’m not gonna lie, but this was actually my favorite part of the whole movie. It felt like they were driving a lightsaber right through The Force Awakens’ bushy front-bottom. I was never a fan of Snoke and I thought his death was a great way to subvert the formula. I think many people expected a retread of Return of the Jedi for the end of this trilogy, which would end with Rey and a redeemed Kylo joining forces to take him down. I’m glad they didn’t go down that route. Ultimately, it’s Kylo we’re interested in- it’s his journey that the new trilogy wants to showcase. Snoke is uninteresting as a character- a wholly evil villain who served his purpose in seducing Ben Solo to the Dark Side. The entire scene felt very Game of Thrones-esque, and it sets up the potential for Kylo to ascend to the position of the main villain, which he was always meant to be. Snoke was only important insofar as he affected Kylo’s character arc, and his death was the greatest thing Disney have done yet. As I said earlier, I don’t like any character to be godlike- I’m a fan of surprising and understated deaths like Boba Fett falling into the Sarlacc Pit, Yoda dying of old age, or Palpatine getting thrown down a massive hole. Not every powerful character needs an over-the-top send-off where they take down a dozen enemies and finally get defeated after a 20-minute fight scene. Yawnarama.
  9. Last week I wrote a post about the necessity of realism in fantastical stories. One of the things that did bother me about The Last Jedi was the disturbing presence of what I now call “Walking Dead Logic” in honor of a beloved show that decided to shit all over itself in its latest season. I was annoyed by the fact that Poe was able to simply destroy all of the Dreadnaught’s turbolasers in just one small ship and render it completely defenseless. It was too contrived an attempt to show off his piloting skills. Revenge of the Sith was able to make Obi-Wan and Anakin seem like great pilots whilst still ensuring that they weren’t untouchable, and the opening space battle of that movie is an example of how to create real tension by making the heroes’ feats greater in the face of tangible adversity. The surrounding Star Destroyers just sit there, and the idiots on the bridge can do nothing but mutter “Oh no, he just destroyed all our turrets”. Why aren’t TIE fighters already keeping them safe? Why is it that, later in the movie, the Supremacy is able to shoot past the resistance capital ship that is supposedly out of range at transport vessels FURTHER AWAY? Sorry, but if the audience is having to ask these questions you’ve got the immersion thing wrong again.
  10. In conclusion I liked The Last Jedi but it was not perfect. My favorite scene was the fight with the Praetorian Guards. It was well-choreographed and I liked how the fighters gave both Rey and Kylo a good run for their money; their skill reflected what you’d expect from elite super-soldiers. The horse-things on Canto Bight were cute and majestic, loved seeing them run free. As for the Yoda scene, I liked it on the whole because it gave Luke a Mufasa moment that was genuinely a well-written and complex piece of character development. I also liked that they stuck to the eccentric version of Yoda from the original movies- whose genius is offset by the way living as a hermit shitting in the woods has severely addled his brain. Lastly, I want to say how much I liked the more nuanced exploration of the force and the idea that the Jedi are hypocritical and imperfect. That was interesting and added to the lore in a good way.

Thanks for reading. What are your opinions on The Last Jedi? Comment below! I want to get as many opinions as I can and all are welcome here at TumbleweedWrites.

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…

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.
    044
  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.
    045
  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.
    046
  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”.
    047
  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.
    049
  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 highlights the next phase of each of their journeys. 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 which feels fresh and interesting.
    048
  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.
    050
  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.
    051
  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.
    052
  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!

053

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.

 

*

 

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 Star Wars: Battlefront Autopsy

The other day my roommate and I were driving around Webster, TX to complete a few errands. We had a little time left before our other roommate was expecting us home for supper, so we decided to take a cheeky visit to one of our local game retailers, Game Over Video Games on Bay Area Blvd. We had intended to grab a copy of The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, after the Game of the Year Edition we picked up at Half Price Books turned out to have data corruption. I’ve never played Morrowind and our idea was to do a Let’s Play of the game together to upload to Youtube and this here blog. Unable to find this and the other games we wanted to do review videos for- Metro: Last Light and Rayman 2: Revolution– we ended up snagging The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Star Wars: Battlefront (2015 version). Then, with E3 having just showcased a sequel to the latter, I felt that the time was right to get a lot of my feelings about the game out of my system.

I have some very fond memories of the original Battlefront games, which I played on Xbox. I got the first one for my 12th birthday. That day my two best friends at the time- whom I shall name Shane and Artie for the blog- had come over to the house and we were about to go out and play laser tag together. I remember playing as a Droideka on Naboo as they watched. The Battlefront games were definitely the source of some fun memories, and I especially enjoyed the addition of space combat to the sequel. However, I have to admit- they were never counted among my favorite games as a teenager. Time has a way of obfuscating things, and it’s easy to attach gilded, nostalgic qualities to those games in reaction to the infuriating 2015 franchise reboot. In truth I remember liking them but not loving them. They were fun and all, but at the time I was much more interested in playing games like Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. But of course, expecting EA to invest in a reboot of adventure game classics like Bounty Hunter, Obi Wan and the Jedi Knight series is somewhat akin to waiting patiently for a wood tick to stop engorging itself on your blood and just fly away. It’s an increasingly multiplayer-focused industry, and the higher-ups would rather put out a game that people play over a long period of time, allowing them to make more money through micro-transactions and paid DLC.

Which brings us to the game my roommate and I acquired last week. My roommate had not played the new Battlefront yet, whereas I had. It was a waste of money, I told him. But for ten bucks, there might be some fun to be had. After all, I’m not saying that Battlefront can’t serve as a fun and entertaining game. Nor is it poorly made. It’s more that its imperfections are so egregious they become magnified, and one can easily forget that underneath there’s a little potential here. The graphics and environments are beautiful. And Star Wars is as good a setting for this kind of game as you are going to get- there’s a whole galaxy to explore full of a myriad of cultures, bizarre life forms, and fantastical settings. But that’s the problem right there. Battlefront didn’t add something of its own to the Star Wars legacy. It must be noted that I am criticizing it here not as a game, but as a Star Wars property. I’ll approach it as a game critic later in this post. For now, however, I’m a Star Wars fan- and a damn angry one at that. As many others have pointed out, the game seems less interested in telling a Star Wars story or exploring its rich galaxy than it is wearing the aesthetic of the Original Trilogy like some grotesque, Ed Gein-inspired skin mask. What the game boils down to is a watered-down Battlefield 4 with a Star Wars theme pack. We are offered Tatooine and Endor and Chewbacca and Vader. The entire enterprise seems like a bland, corporate cash-in rather than a new, dynamic title with artistic vision. Keep rehashing the old stuff and you run the risk of making Star Wars boring.

19489673_10211618596798671_1412689077_n

But let’s move on to a discussion of Battlefront as a game. Like I said, my roommate and I have been having some fun with it. As much as it may disappoint me as fan of Star Wars, there is potential in the little clusterfucks it offers- it’s just that it could be so much more. I’m less angry at the game than I was when I first played it. My roommate and I have been taking it in turns to have a go at the multiplayer. So far we have had a mixed response I would say. It keeps us entertained for a short time, but pretty soon we get fatigued by it. For the most part the game functions soundly enough; its most glaring drawback being the sticky effects one encounters when trying to navigate elevated terrain. Getting bondangled by every twat with a thermal imploder in 20 yard radius because my Stormtrooper had his ankle stuck in a tree root starts becoming grounds for a rage quit very fast. Overall, I like how the game feels and how it handles- and I especially appreciated the option to go into third person, something my roommate and I have found makes things a little easier.

I would say my biggest gripe with the game is its maps. When the game launched I could count the number of maps on one hand, and they were all so boring. We need to move past the goddam Battle of Hoth already. Not only was the game’s choice of maps spectacularly inane, but the maps themselves lacked the creativity I was looking for. Endor was a square mile filled with trees, here and there a few ridges. It’s beautiful to look at it, but it’s not all that fun to play. I’m looking for more nuanced and intriguing environments that lend themselves to interesting gameplay situations. It actually made me appreciate games that I had previously disparaged, namely Halo 2 & 3. See, the thing is I’m jaded. When I was a teenager, the Halo games were the hottest thing, but they didn’t appeal to me at all. All anybody wanted to do back then was play Halo 2 on split-screen. And whilst I’m sure that sounds like a grand old time to a lot of you, to me it was always like being dragged on a long shopping trip with one’s parents. Anyway, I’m getting off-topic. The point I’m making is, when compared to shallow modern shooters, the games I used to dislike years ago don’t seem so bad. I distinctly remember those Halo games having a huge variety of maps, and all of them were unique. There were big buildings, wide open spaces for large scale warfare, and more claustrophobic maps whose tight corridors lent themselves so easily to orgies of grenades and energy swords. Whilst I’m still not tempted to play the games, they have at least earned my respect.

19511744_10211618595998651_587490718_n

Also, the system of acquiring vehicles by means of power-up coins is absolute dogshit. This is something I really hope they change for the next Battlefront title. In games like Halo, and even Battlefield 4– which is very much the basis for the new Battlefront model- you have the excitement of running toward a tank and taking it. It’s a lot more immersive and it serves to keep the action and intensity going. By contrast, Battlefront’s coin system completely removes any chance of swashbuckling, balls-to-the-wall tension, as you spawn again in some safe corner of the map and try to kill as many players as possible before inevitably getting blown to Nal Hutta. It’s also terribly imbalanced, as the rebels have few if any vehicles to combat the walkers of the Empire. One of the most iconic features of the original games was the immersion one felt at running into the hanger and grabbing the last speeder, the exact same way a trooper would do in the films. There’s nothing fun or exciting about searching for a pale, translucent discus in a field of snow. Seeking it out is frustrating and breaks with the excitement of the battle. Get. Rid. Of. It.

My final criticisms of the game may just be personal taste; I’m not at all a fan of the card power-ups and the game’s economy. In fact, I’m against levelling up altogether. I realize that may irk some gamers, but I prefer games like Overwatch (which, as far as multiplayer shooters go, is excellent- even if it is a tad overpriced) in which newcomers are not at a disadvantage due to a lack of the best equipment and upgrades. In that game the only edge the veterans have over the newbies is experience, and that edge is plenty in my book. They don’t need better guns and power-ups. There is something so pure about the fact that every Overwatch player regardless of experience has the same tools at his or her disposal. I hope the developers of Battlefront scale back on this kind of bullshit, if not remove it entirely. I would also like to see a return to the class system of the originals- which it seems like they are doing for Battlefront 2. It was hella fun playing as a scout trooper one game and a death trooper the next. I think gamers are cottoning on to the fact the whole “do it your way” trend in gaming offers a lot less depth than advertised.

I have seen a little of what the studio is preparing for Battlefront 2 during the game’s coverage at E3 the other week. From what I saw, it seems that they are taking a lot of the first title’s criticism on board. I would say that my attitude toward it at the moment is one of cautious optimism. I can tell they are making active efforts to improve the game in all areas, even going so far as to pull a Titanfall and incorporate a single player story experience for the sequel. I am even more pleased- as a Star Wars fan- that this story will be going somewhere new, exploring the narrative of an Imperial officer after the Battle of Endor. It supposedly will help bridge the gap between the original trilogy and the sequel trilogy, which is a great idea. I also like the idea of a story from the perspective of the Empire.

Perhaps the best evidence for EA DICE’s intent is their announcement that they will be scrapping the paid Season Pass in favor of Overwatch’s seasonal model. All DLC will be free. I’m not gonna lie, that right there makes a difference to gamers. Battlefront 2 releases in November of this year and I am honestly rooting for this game. I won’t be pre-ordering. But I may just pick it up, if the reviews are good or if my friends want me to play it with them. Anything Star Wars is sure to tempt me.

sixteenNine.img