Disney

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi soundtrack (2017) [spoilers]

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi original motion picture soundtrack (2017 Lucasfilm/Disney)

Rejoice, dear soundtrack fans, for John Williams is slated to compose the music for the final Star Wars saga film, Episode IX.  It will be a fitting close for the saga, because Williams will have done all nine films.  Star Wars is about the saga.  The anthology films are extraneous to the core Skywalker story.  Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, is mostly about two Skywalkers:  Luke, and his nephew Ben Solo, inheritor of the mighty Skywalker blood.  The film score revisits many classic cues related to the main characters.  Even Darth Vader’s shadow still looms, musically and spiritually.

The Last Jedi spends much time revisiting classic musical cues, such as “The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back.  One of the best revisits is of more recent vintage.  It’s also very different.  “Rey’s Theme”, from The Force Awakens, stands atop the mountain in company with the best of the best Star Wars music.  Hearing it again in The Last Jedi is a ready reminder that Williams has the magic.  Rey is the hero of this particular trilogy, and in The Last Jedi she proved herself.  It’s all up to her, now.

One of the biggest and most delightful surprises was the return of Yoda.  Yoda’s theme recurs within “The Sacred Jedi Texts”.  The beloved Jedi Master brought hope to the film, and his music lifts the soul.  The Last Jedi, however, is a dark film and much of the music matches.  It could be argued that The Last Jedi is the darkest film of the whole saga, even more so than Revenge of the Sith.  “Revisiting Snoke” reflects the dark, while tension-filled pieces like “A New Alliance” keep you riveted to your seat.  There are some fantastic percussion beats in the latter.

The military-style marching of “The Battle of Crait” recalls classic Star Wars action, and the music for the Luke scene is stunningly emotional.  In fact, the music for any of Luke’s screen appearances gives goosebumps.  John Williams’ score is, in many ways, more successful than the movie at hitting home.  I think this soundtrack release will receive more home play with the average buyer than the overlong movie.

There are two minor critiques to be addressed.  One is when Leia’s theme is dropped into the end credits for the touching Carrie Fisher tribute.  Yes, it’s heartbreakingly appropriate, but the music doesn’t fit well.  It comes across as a cut and paste job without enough transition.  A second is in regards to the Canto Bight casino music.  On many Star Wars soundtracks, Williams has a chance to go outside the box.  “Cantina Band”, “Lapti Nek”, “Yub Nub” and the music by Maz Kanata’s castle band are prime examples.  The steel drumming in “Canto Bight” sounds a bit too much like a retread of the original “Cantina Band”, but with more…samba.

John Williams did it again, but will we ever see a proper 2 CD edition with all the music?  That would be nice.

4.5/5 stars

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#625: The Last Fanboys [SPOILER WARNING]

SPOILER WARNING

 

This 2438 word rant is dedicated to lifelong pal Scott Peddle and the late George Balazs.

Looking for our SPOILER-FREE review of The Last Jedi?  Then click here instead.

 

GETTING MORE TALE
EPISODE DCXXV:  The Last Fanboys

If you are a Star Wars fan, there is a good chance that you are getting sick of social media right now.  No one has done more to ruin the spirit of the holidays than angry Star Wars fanboys.  Ever since the release of The Last Jedi on December 18, upset fanboys have been whining non-stop about the newest movie.  They have started a petition to have the film re-made by someone else.  Like a swarm of constantly moaning mosquitoes, they attack anyone with a positive or even neutral view of the film, using words such as “retarded” or “sheep” to describe those who liked it.  It’s like being friends with a Trump fan.  You can only take so much before you have to completely unplug.

Well fanboys, this is where you get yours.  It’s time for everyone else to strike back.  Line up, whiners — it’s go time!

Yes, The Last Jedi is deeply flawed.  It’s not nearly bad as The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, but it has problems.  Let’s be realistic about this film and avoid crying in our cornflakes.  The biggest issue I have with the film is the disregard that Rian Johnson has for the original movies.  All Star Wars saga films are supposed to work as one long movie.  That means the visual style has to be consistent.  Out of nowhere, Rian Johnson introduced slow motion.  The Star Wars saga has never bowed to this trend before.  The Last Jedi is completely out of step every time this lazy film technique is used to artificially boost drama.  Johnson also uses flashbacks like nobody has before in Star Wars.  It’s not clear but these might be considered “Force visions”, something that both George Lucas and JJ Abrams used in their movies.  Yet the flashbacks and slow motion problems aren’t even the things that the butthurt fanboys are whining about.

The rallying cry of the fanboys is “Disney ruined Luke Skywalker”.  This is where we enter spoiler territory.


The Luke Skywalker of The Last Jedi is a broken man.  He is haunted by his failure with Ben Solo.  He realises what we fans always knew:  there is a cycle of conflict between light and dark.  Luke claims that a Jedi was “responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader”.  He is referring to his old master Obi-Wan Kenobi.  But Luke may shoulder even more responsibility, with his creation of Kylo Ren.  We witness the moment it happens.  Ben Solo was already beginning to fall to the dark side.  Luke sensed this.  He peered into Ben’s mind and was shocked to find that he was already horribly corrupted.  In a moment of weakness, he ignited his lightsaber to murder his nephew.  This is the moment that changed everything:  Ben became Kylo Ren, killed some of Luke’s students, and left with the rest.  Skywalker’s failure was complete.  He retreated to the first Jedi Temple, intending to atone for his mistake by dying there in shame.

Consider this, and ask “did Disney ruin Luke Skywalker”?

I say the answer is “no”.  Disney did not ruin Luke Skywalker.  If you feel Luke has been ruined, it was the collective authors of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe who did the ruining.

When George Lucas re-launched Star Wars in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, he did it the only way he could:  with his own original story, not some re-hashed source material written in a novel by a third party.  Therefore we never had to endure some obscure adventure of Yoda aboard his Jedi ship Chu’unthor.  Why would Lucas want to copy a book he never read?  Of course he wouldn’t.  For better or for worse, he mostly ignored the books and wrote his own stories.  The only detail he took from the books was the Republic capitol city of Coruscant, which was actually ripped off from Isaac Asimov in the first place.  In his Foundation and Empire novels (a huge influence on Star Wars), Asimov described the capitol world of Trantor, a city-planet much like Coruscant.  “As the centre of the Imperial Government for unbroken hundreds of generations and located, as it was, toward the central regions of the Galaxy among the most densely populated and industrially advanced worlds of the system, it could scarcely help being the densest and richest clot of humanity the Race had ever seen.”  Since Lucas has always drawn from the wide palette of classic science fiction, it makes sense for an element like Coruscant be retained from the books.

The post-Return of the Jedi era of Star Wars has already been explored ad-nauseum in books, comics and video games.  Luke had a wife named Mara Jade.  He ran a Jedi school.  Han and Leia had three Jedi kids.  They had many many adventures battling the Imperial Remnant, Force witches, a cloned Emperor (twice!), a cloned Luke (named Luuke), and dozens of previously unknown darksiders.

Just like Lucas wrote his own original prequel stories, there was no way that fans should have expected Disney to recycle old material from novels.  Not for something as important as Star Wars.  It’s fine to do that with Marvel comics, but Star Wars doesn’t originate in books.  Therefore, there would be no Mara Jade, no clones, no reheated stories and no baggage.

Any Star Wars fan had plenty of time to enjoy the heroic and sometimes tedious adventures of Luke Skywalker in books over the last 25 years.  They started off well enough:  Timothy Zahn’s excellent Heir to the Empire trilogy could easily have been a film trilogy, if only made when the actors were younger.  Things got dicey after Zahn.  Proceed at your own risk.  Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy was one of the worst. The Black Fleet trilogy by Michael P. Kube-McDowell was good but perhaps a bit too “sci-fi” for Star Wars (and it discussed Luke’s mother long before the prequel trilogy, rendering it obsolete by the movies).

The Star Wars sequel trilogy could never be rehashed from books.  It had to be new, and it had to go in unexpected directions.  That’s what Rian Johnson tried to do.  Instead of the heroic Luke, one we’ve seen swashbuckling in those old books, he gave us something far more shocking:  a realistic Luke.  Not the legendary Luke, but a human being. Someone who responds like a real, flawed person.  What fanboy is to say they “know” Luke best?  All they think they know is what they gleaned from the books over the years.  It has become their “head canon”, and they stubbornly refuse to let it go.  As we’ve discussed, fanboys should have known the movies would have to go in a new direction as they always have.  All we really know about Luke is what we have seen on screen.  In his very first movie, he was trying to escape from his reality.  In The Last Jedi, he’s not that different, as Yoda himself points out.  The contradiction between the legend and reality of Luke is one of the most important themes of the movie, and one that Luke and Rey struggle with.

It’s true that Mark Hamill read the script for The Last Jedi and was immediately turned off.  Yet he went in there and played the best Luke I’ve ever seen.  Ruined Luke?  I just don’t see it.  All I ever wanted, ever since I was a kid walking out of that theater in 1983, was to see Luke Skywalker become the most powerful Jedi of all time.  There is no question that the Luke of The Last Jedi is exactly that.  He did things with the Force that we didn’t even know could be done!  Fanboys wanted to see Luke do prequel-style lightsaber acrobatics.  As if the most powerful Jedi of all time would need a lightsaber?  Think back to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  Did Yoda and the Emperor wield lightsabers in the original trilogy?  No.  Nor does Luke in the sequel trilogy.  Balance.  Besides, do you really want to see more somersaulting with laser swords?  Didn’t you get enough of that with the prequels?  What more could possibly be added to that?  They never really topped Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace for lightsaber action.

Let’s move on to another popular fanboy complaint.  “Disney is trying to kill Star Wars by killing all the old characters”.

Ludicrous.  From Ben Kenobi to Yoda to even Anakin Skywalker himself, Star Wars has a habit of knocking off the heroes.  It’s the only way to have any tension.  If you know nobody will die, the movie has no weight.  Disney is in it to make money.  Pissing off whiny fans on purpose probably isn’t in their business strategy.  It’s not personal, fanboys.  Lucas always said that the sequel trilogy would be about the next generation, with Luke having a “cameo”.  It’s kind of annoying that this has to be explained to you.

Next fanboy complaint:  “Rey is nobody from nowhere”.

Possibly.  We don’t know that for sure.  That’s up to JJ Abrams to confirm or deny in Episode IX.  But what is the problem with it, if it were true?  All we really know is that when darkness rises, so does the light to meet it.  Where did Obi-Wan Kenobi come from?  Mace Windu?  Hell, we don’t even know the name of Yoda’s species let alone where he came from.  It is OK if Rey is not related to a past character.  Kylo Ren is.  He carries the Skywalker blood.  If that blood dies with him in Episode IX, wouldn’t that be an appropriate end to the Skywalker saga?  It would mean the nine movies tell the complete story of the Skywalker line, from the start to the end.  Where is the issue?

Fanboys have similar complaints about Supreme Leader Snoke.  It’s unlikely we’ll learn anything more about him, leaving him as one of those dangling threads.  It would have been pretty cool to find out more about him, but it turns out he was just a red herring.  Misdirection.  And that has fanboys in a rage!  Every single fan theory about Snoke was wrong!  Fanboys have been hoping to find out that he was a cloned Vader, Emperor, Darth Plagueis or someone from the distant past.  Well, he wasn’t, and perhaps he wasn’t even as powerful as fans theorised.  This leaves Kylo Ren as the one true villain in the sequel trilogy.  Again, this upset all the fanboy theories, who expected Kylo to turn good, and Luke or Rey to go bad.

Without going full fanboy, I’ll put it out there that using Snoke as a red herring was a missed opportunity.  Andy Serkis was so good as Snoke in The Last Jedi, it’s a real miss that he didn’t amount to more.  Serkis is the one actor who gives Hamill a run for his money.  In their effort to thwart the fan theories, perhaps Johnson and Disney blew Snoke.  Any backstory to Snoke will likely be left to the realm of comics and books, which is unfortunate.  It is unlikely he’ll have anything to do with Episode IX, as there’s a new Supreme Leader in town and his name is Kylo Ren.

The last of the major fanboy complaints is regarding the big Leia scene.  Kudos to Rian Johnson for faking out the death of Leia in the movie, as I’m sure many thought she was surely dead.  Ejected into space, Leia uses the Force to pull herself back to the ship.  This scene takes a number of leaps of faith.  One has to assume that the Force “somehow” protected Leia, and kept her alive until she could regain consciousness, all without being able to breath.  In the freezing cold, radiation-rich vacuum of space.  Well, sure, I guess.  There’s nothing in the Star Wars films that excludes this from being possible.  It’s just one of the things about this movie that was not good.  Also not worth getting all butthurt about.  Did you fanboys even see The Phantom Menace?  Let me know how it’s possible to take a submarine to a planet’s core.

So now, the butthurt is so intense that fanboys are demanding The Last Jedi be removed from canon and remade.  This is more a sign of the times than the quality of the film.  Such uproar never happened in 1999.  In 2017, spoilt internet warriors are used to getting what they want when they cry.  Well, fanboys, you’ll have to learn a lesson they used to teach us back in the day:  suck it up, buttercups.

The Last Jedi could have used some work in the editing.  Shortening the Leia scene would have made it less outlandish.  Cutting the artificial slow motion would have made a huge difference.  The opening battle was way too long, featuring a nonsensical segment of fake tension with a new character called Paige.  There is a side mission featuring the characters of Finn and Rose (Paige’s sister) that had multiple issues, including a pointless chase scene and a wasted opportunity to spend time in a high-rolling Star Wars casino.  Their secret mission doesn’t even impact the outcome of the story.  All it really serves to do is find a role for Finn, who otherwise had no story in The Last Jedi.

There’s a lot to be enjoyed with Johnson’s direction.  His dialogue is an improvement, but less is often more.  Some of the best character moments are performed with no speaking at all.  His visual style is stunning (slow motion aside).  The big lightsaber battle with Snoke’s red guards is one of the best in the saga.  So fluid, so beautiful.

The real issue with the film’s reception has little to do with Finn and Rose.  It has everything to do with fans becoming attached to their own theories.  Remember what Ben Kenobi said?  “Let go”.  And Yoda?  “Unlearn what you have learned.”  That’s not a Deus ex machina, fanboys. You’ve been watching too much Youtube and spending too much time on Reddit. Discussion boards were flooded with talk of the Knights of Ren; a throwaway line from The Force Awakens that fans got attached to.  That the Knights did not appear and were not even mentioned in The Last Jedi has fanboys throwing tantrums like we have never seen.  Perhaps they’ll show up in IX, but if not, who cares?

Rian Johnson himself warned us about spoiling the movie for ourselves.  When the first trailer was released, he wrote on Twitter, “I am legitimately torn.  If you want to come in clean, absolutely avoid it.”  You should have listened.

Let go, fanboys.  Unlearn what you have learned.  You’re ruining this for everyone!

 

MOVIE REVIEW: The Black Hole (1979)

THE BLACK HOLE_0001THE BLACK HOLE (1979)

Directed by Gary Nelson

45I can’t help it, I’m nostalgic for this movie. Long before I saw it, I had “The Story of…” on 7″ record. Remember those?  Kids today have no idea what I’m talking about do they!

I think Roddy McDowell is one of the most underrated actors ever, and I could probably listen to him reading his grocery list for two hours and still be entertained. McDowell and the legendary Slim Pickens both voiced robots in this movie (shameless R2D2 ripoffs, except they can fly!*) and the touch of classic, recognizable voices makes the movie that much easier to swallow.

Having said that, The Black Hole isn’t great sci-fi, but it’s not bad. The USS Cygnus (great name, if you know what it refers to) has been missing in space for 20 years. However, the exploration vessel Palomino has just stumbled upon it, seemingly derelict. It is also inexplicably hovering in front of a black hole! Impossible! And as Palomino approaches, Cygnus turns on her lights. She is not a derelict after all!

In fact, she is crewed entirely by robots, except for the commander. Dr. Hans Reinhardt (man, I love when mad scientists have German names!) commands this motley crew, a genius who has discovered the secrets of anti-gravity. But can he be trusted? Dr. Alex Durant (the wonderful Anthony Perkins) seems to trust him, but certain things do not add up. Why does he have gardens on board the ship, food enough to feed an army? Why do his robots have funerals? The psychic Dr. Kate doesn’t trust him either. Her father died under his command, and the stories just don’t sound right.

The starship design in this movie is just stellar, and very unique. All girders and lights, Cygnus is a monstrosity, with depth and foreboding beauty. The smaller Palomino follows similar designs, but is more capsule-shaped. I’ve never seen anything like these two ships before, and the level of detail is impressive.

There are some great performances here by the afformentioned Perkins, and Maximillion Schell cheeses up the place perfectly as Reinhardt. If you’re a mad scientist you may as well go for it.  This isn’t high cinema.  Also noteworthy are Robert Forster as the commander of Palomino, and Ernest Borgnine as the journalist Harry Booth. Absolutely horrible are Joseph Bottoms as Lieutenant Charles Pizer, and Yvette Mimieux as Dr. Kate McCrae. It’s obvious that they’re supposed to be the Han Solo and the token female of the crew, but man…they can’t act. I guess that’s why you’ve never heard of them?

Yeah, it’s a shameless Star Wars rip off. And yeah, the physics of space are ignored when convenient. (Creative viewers can probably rationalize how the crew still can run around the ship as a giant hole is ripped through the roof…forcefields maybe?) And yeah, the robots are kind of cutesy, especially Slim Pickens’ Old Bob. But I’ll be damned if this still isn’t a fun movie to watch. Fun, but dark. The very un-Disney ending evokes heaven, hell, and everything in between while making no logical sense. (The comic book that I had as a kid had a different ending, a more hopeful one, where the crew ended up in an alternate universe to explore.)

It’s not for everybody, certainly not for modern audiences spoiled by CG and flash. But it’s not as bad as I once thought!

3/5 stars

* Yes, I know R2-D2 flew in Episode II.  Fuck Episode II.