PART ONE (Vignettes I – VI)
PART TWO (Vignettes VII – XIII)
Lockdown got ya bored? Not me! Today I’m playing with my Star Wars guys.
Maybe some things are only funny to me. My buddy Chris likes to tease me. He calls my treasured action figure collection my “dolls”.
He went to Disney a little while ago, so I asked if he could pick me up an exclusive Star Wars set while he was there. “Sure, I’ll look for your dolls” he said. A few days later, I had an email from him titled “Nerd Toy”. “I dropped your dolls off at work,” it read. My dolls, my nerd toys! And I love them. He even put them in his carry-on bag so they wouldn’t get damaged.
Thanks buddy, it’s worth the teasing that I take!
This is one of three Disney Park exclusive sets, and it’s awesome! Thank you Chris and Laurie for picking them up for your nerd friend.
Star Wars The Black Series First Order 4-Pack
And I don’t care who knows it!
GETTING MORE TALE #685: First Signs of Sausagefest
To quote Bon Jon Bovi, it feels somethin’ like summertime.
Ever since my first time back in ’06, summer is about Sausagefest. It’s just a month away now and I can already feel the cool waters of the Beaver River on my feet.
It has been hot in Ontario this past week. I have been sporting my hair long, but the sweaty heat is a severe deterrent. I originally wanted to try have bangin’ long hair at Sausagefest for the first time this summer. That’s not gonna happen. I have surrendered to the summer. The hair is gone. The first sign of Sausagefest has arrived: my shaved head.
Before & After
Other preparations are under way. Several weeks ago, Uncle Meat gave me the list of songs for me to introduce. I’m very excited because the ideas started poppin’ right away. I have been gathering funny audio bits for almost a year now, but I have pared them all down to the funniest. I learned from last year when I took everything to excess, and I think this time I have distilled all my stuff down to the crème de la crème. Trimmed away a lot of fat.
Just as, I hope, the Lamb Lord will be trimming the fat on his massive side of lamb for the BBQ once again.
Now that the hair decision has been made, I have been pondering some new purchases for this year’s Fest.
This will be the last Sausagefest for the old Pontiac. I’ll be getting something bigger in the fall. Space in the car is an issue, since I drive two people and all their stuff. But I want to make room for this baby below.
Someone brought Jon Snow’s sword one year, and I have been known to sport a machete on my belt. This year, perhaps a more practical weapon would be something that could light our way in the darkness after sunset: a Kylo Ren lightsaber.
These beauty “weapons” are dropping in price, and wouldn’t it be super cool to have one as a nightlight? It would sure beat glow sticks. Not a small investment, however, and you wouldn’t want it to get damaged up there.
What do you think, LeBrain readers? Is this a worthy investment? Stand up and be counted in the poll below.
Keep in mind I could use that money for many other, more practical things. New shoes. New glasses. A new tent. New Guns N’ Roses and Def Leppard box sets.
Check back and see where the poll leads and take part in the discussion in the comments.
Back to work on my recordings for song intros. Can’t wait to see the reactions this time.
From last year’s recordings
We’ve already reviewed the movie ad-nauseum, so here is something fresh: a review of the Blu-ray bonus features by guest writer Kovaflyer!
Directed by Rian Johnson
If you enjoyed The Last Jedi or if you have mixed feelings about the newest instalment of Star Wars and are trying to make sense of the film, the bonus features are a great in-depth look at where Rian Johnson took the galaxy that is so very far far away.
The Director and the Jedi – Full length documentary feature
The Director and the Jedi is your first behind the scenes look at The Last Jedi and the hard work that went into making this Star Wars movie. This part of the bonus features takes you behind the scenes of the building of up to 120 different sets, the creation of all the creatures that we have come to know and love, the eye-pleasing costumes, as well as the amount of detail involved in the makeup artistry; like the work done to create Kylo Ren’s scar.
The Director and the Jedi also features discussions with Mark Hamill about Luke Skywalker and the direction that Rian took with Luke in the film. Mark tells us that he was going to play the Skywalker that Rian envisioned regardless of how he felt about his own image of Luke. Early footage of Mark and Daisy going over lines and choreographing the Luke vs. Rey scene was fantastic.
The interviews and interactions with Carrie Fisher are both heart warming and fun and showcase Carrie at her best; the only way that Carrie knew how to be. Carrie was excited about the direction of Leia’s character in the movie, calling her strong and in charge.
Balance of The Force
Rian Johnson really wanted to hit the re-set button on “the Force” and what it means. He wanted to show new Star Wars fans that the Force is not a super power, but a balance between all things, the light and dark, in all living things. It is a gift, and not all about moving rock or things across a room.
When he started writing The Last Jedi he had a look back at Star Wars and the main characters in the story and what challenges they would eventually come up against.
Rey is looking to find herself and where she comes from; who her mom and dad are and where they have been, and what her new powers mean and how to use them. With Rey there are no easy answers and if she wants them she is going to have to find them herself.
Finn has just woken up on a ship after being injured in a fight on Starkiller Base while trying to save Rey and the Resistance. He wakes up with the ship under attack and Rey missing, and therefore he has to think fast and take action to save Rey, himself and the ship.
Leia, facing more and more loss is taking charge and leading the Resistance in the biggest fight yet.
Luke is fighting his own internal battle that the Jedi must end. In his view, the Jedi have done nothing but added to the problems of the galaxy, and if he were to bring back the Jedi, the Sith would rise again. Luke believes if the Jedi die, that a new light could rise and win. Therefore, Luke Skywalker has exiled himself; he is being selfless. Rian knew that there was a reason why Luke went into hiding, that it was a selfless act and that he was not just cowering away.
Yoda, yes that Yoda (the puppet version brought to life by Frank Oz), comes to Luke when he needs him the most. Yoda reminds Luke of the same lessons he once taught him, to stop with all the big plans and to focus on the here and now, to be the Luke Skywalker that everyone needs; to be the myth, to be the legend of Luke Skywalker and to not let the light burn out. So, Luke must train Rey and keep her in the light. The most important message Yoda had for Luke, was that failure is the greatest teacher of all. Johnson insisted to have the original puppet version of Yoda and his puppeteer Frank Oz for the film. He wanted Mark Hamill to interact with Oz and not a CGI version of Yoda, and even procured the original Yoda puppet mold in order to fashion the latest version of the Jedi master.
The bonus features also offer the following scene breakdowns.
Lighting the Spark: Space battles are massive undertakings. You get the big explosions, the visual and auditory effects. However, Johnson explains that he felt that in this space battle, he wanted to show the humans behind the spaceships; to make you feel connected to what is happening based on the relevance of the battle to the characters. It is interesting and fun to learn where some of the sound effects that were used in the battle came from (e.g. a roll of duct tape), how some of the spacecrafts and battle sequences were modelled after WWII aircraft and aerial footage (e.g. a B-52 bomber), and how Kylo Ren’s spaceship was of course modelled after Vader’s own tie fighter. In this battle, that saw so many Resistance fighters lost, Johnson chose to highlight Leia’s struggle with loss and grief and her deep love for her people.
Snoke and Mirrors: Rian explains that in bringing Snoke to life, he wanted to ground him in reality; make him have a physical presence. He was worried, however, about the complexity of creating a believable character completely out of CGI technology. In utilizing a complete motion capture suit for Snoke’s character, however, they were able to use every nuance that Andy Serkis brought to the character’s physical being; every facial expression, every twitch, etc.
Showdown on Crait: Johnson explains that the scene of the showdown on Crait was one of the first visions he had when he started working on the movie. To create the visual effects for the shots fired on the salt planet, the film crew went to the salt plains of Bolivia and filmed shooting sequences. It is amazing to hear just how many different options they went through when creating the red under the salt (e.g. shredded dyed red paper), how they reinvented the Walker from Empire into the Gorilla Walker using various sounds bytes to create its own unique ‘voice’, or how they used sounds from old beaten down cars in order to obtain the sounds for the Resistance fighter ships.
Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)
This part of the bonus features offers a look at the first meeting between Rey and Snoke with Andy Serkis in the full motion capture suit. It is amazing to see Andy’s performance in the raw without the CGI effects. To say that Andy’s performance was intense is a serious understatement!
The bonus features also provide a look at some of the scenes that did not make the final cut for the movie; fun to watch but one can understand why they were left out for the most part.
In closing friends, I give this bonus footage 4/5 stars and highly recommend that you pick up the Blu-ray edition of The Last Jedi as you will enjoy some fabulous bonus features that will enhance your enjoyment of this Star Wars film.
This 2438 word rant is dedicated to lifelong pal Scott Peddle and the late George Balazs.
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!
Directed by Rian Johnson
Writer/Director Rian Johnson brings his own slant to Star Wars with Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. JJ Abrams played it safely to fans of the Original Trilogy with The Force Awakens, and he did so successfully. He did little to expand the mythos, but Rian Johnson has certainly stepped up in that regard. Some fans are already going apeshit. The old “George Lucas ruined my childhood” has been replaced by “Rian Johnson and Disney have ruined Star Wars”. They’re also upset because just about every single fan theory…was wrong.
Some fans will have difficulty accepting certain revelations about The Last Jedi. There are also stylistic choices that are questionable, such as the return of lens flare, and lazy gimmicky slow motion. Johnson also chose to tell parts of this story by use of flashbacks, something that Lucas generally avoided. These factors, plus the recurring symbolic use of the colour red, make The Last Jedi feel like the odd man out of the saga.
Now, somebody hand Mark Hamill an Academy Award, because he earned it this time. His curmudgeonly older and wiser Luke Skywalker is note-perfect. Some fans have complained that this Luke is not the Luke they hoped for, based on the old Expanded Universe (EU) novels. On the other hand, this previously unseen Luke rocks because it’s completely different from previously told stories, which is what the Sequel Trilogy needs to be. Remember, Lucas never would have followed those old books any way. He never has. Regardless, Hamill has clearly done his best cinematic work in The Last Jedi, fulfilling the wishes of every fan who wanted to see the most powerful Jedi master in the history of the order.
This isn’t really a spoiler, but The Last Jedi does prove that Luke Skywalker has indeed fulfilled his destiny of becoming more powerful than any other.
Don’t worry, fanboys, there is lightsaber action to be seen; and don’t forget the original 1977 Star Wars had very little to start with. Instead of prequel-esque lightsaber stupidity, Johnson gives us a more contemplative Skywalker. The stories of Luke and his new student Rey (Daisy Ridley) are so compelling that other heroes are left by the wayside. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) have their own mission on the side, to cripple the evil First Order. Unfortunately, and perhaps just due to the gravity of Luke’s story, these side missions only prolong the wait for more scenes with Luke. Or, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the Vader wannabe with the temper of his grandfather. Ren has a strange connection through the Force with Rey, and the two are eventually brought together to face each other again.
The Last Jedi should satisfy some who thought The Force Awakens didn’t acknowledge the Prequel Trilogy enough. There is a reference to Darth Sidious (better known as the Emperor) and the new setting of Canto Bight would fit in with Attack of the Clones. Finn and Rose must find a master hacker in Canto Bight, a posh gambling centre frequented by rich weapons dealers making money off both sides in the war(s). New character DJ (Benecio Del Toro) is sceptical of both sides, because he knows it doesn’t matter. The same people are getting rich no matter what side wins. This is a relatively new concept in Star Wars, although Darth Sidious did control both sides of the Clone Wars, he didn’t do it to get rich.
Poe, Finn and Rose are among those under the command of Princess Leia, still a badass, and so sad knowing that Carrie Fisher has gone. Leia has her own moments in this movie, and we know that she was to be the main focus of Episode IX. Now that Carrie is one with the Force, it is very unfortunate that she didn’t have a larger part of The Last Jedi. She has a few good one-liners, and Carrie portrayed Leia as a strong and immediately charismatic leader. There is also one Leia sequence that has fanboys destroying their action figures in anger.
Also noteworthy: Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke (via motion capture). Serkis makes Snoke more three-dimensional, and though his scenes are short, they satisfy. Laura Dern’s new character Admiral Holdo was memorable for the scenes she had. Unfortunately, Gwendoline Christie was wasted for a second time as Captain Phasma, in what was little more than a cameo. General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) does a little better as the token second-in-command.
John Williams did it again with another fantastic score, although even here reviews are mixed. Bass clarinettist and fan Kathryn Ladano was disappointed that there were not many new themes involved. Radio personality Jason Drury on the other hand called the score “possibly the best of 2017” and “another triumph for John Williams”. I was pleased to hear the return of Rey’s theme and a few other favourites from the olden days.
Expect the unexpected with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Don’t pay too much attention to the extremely negative or extremely positive reviews. The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle. And that is part of the story of The Last Jedi. The truth depends largely on your point of view. The two other main themes here are hope, and the power of a symbol. If the title wasn’t already used in another movie, you could have called it Episode VIII: A New Hope.
So much here to absorb and analyze. It’s clear that the danger this time is that Rey is headed down a dark path. Will be the beacon of hope for the galaxy be extinguished forever?
Find out December 15 2017.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015, 2016 Lucasfilm Blu-ray DVD set)
When we last saw our heroes in 1983, Evil had been defeated. Seemingly, Luke Skywalker fulfilled the prophecy of the chosen one who would bring balance to the Force, via his father Anakin Skywalker. Appealing to the good still within Darth Vader, the evil henchman of the Empire turned back to the light and betrayed his Sith lord, Emperor Palpatine. The Rule of Two was broken and the Sith were destroyed, along with their ultimate weapon, the second dreaded Death Star. In death, Vader redeemed himself. Luke smiled when he saw the ghost of his father standing next to those of his old masters Yoda and Ben Kenobi. He turned to rejoin his friends in the celebration of victory. Roll credits.
For decades, we were told “that’s it”. That’s the end of the story, said the man who wrote it, George Lucas. Sure there was talk of a sequel trilogy before, even two sequel trilogies! This seemed highly unlikely in 1983 as George was adamant that he was letting Star Wars go to work on other projects. The legacy of a sequel, of “what happened to Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia later” was left first to novelist Timothy Zahn and then to a whole new generation of writers who filled the galaxy with stories of what came next. Of course, we all knew that should George actually change his mind and allow sequels to be made, all of that old stuff from the books would go out the window. No way was anybody going to try and adhere to continuity that somebody else wrote in a novel.
In 1994 there was hope. Lucas re-emerged and began working on the mysterious and long-awaited Star Wars prequels, Episodes I, II and III. Questions now could finally be answered. Who were the Jedi? Who is Luke Skywalker’s mother, only briefly mentioned before and never seen or named? Most importantly, how did Anakin Skywalker transform into Darth Vader, and why did the Repulic fall to be replaced by an Empire? One of the problems with this situation was that some questions are often best left to the imagination.
It was undeniably wonderful to finally return to the Star Wars galaxy, but it is also impossible to overlook how ill-received by fans the prequel movies were. The stiff acting, the wooden dialogue, the unlikely scenarios and muddled plots of these movies made them difficult to fully enjoy. Although entire cottage industries had grown out of anticipating the possibility of a sequel trilogy, many fans were happy all the same if they never got made. Lucas pooh-poohed the idea, now claiming Star Wars was always two trilogies, six movies, and the story of Anakin. There were no stories beyond that, he continued. It would be fun, he said, to see what Luke and Han were up to later, but ultimately they would just be extraneous to the actual story of Darth Vader. The end.
Quietly and in secret, Lucas once again had a change of heart and began work on the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Realizing that he would not be able to undertake such a massive project at his age, he made the brave choice of handing Lucasfilm over to Kathleen Kennedy, and selling Star Wars to Disney. Lucas’ story and characters were thrown out, but used as inspiration for what would eventually become Episode VII. Artists dug way back into the Ralph McQuarrie archives for inspiration, and so decades-old designs for Star Wars were finally able to leap onto the big screen.
Much of this information is the included documentary, Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey. Though that feature does document the emotion and gravitas of what a sequel really means, it fails to really express the true feeling of it all. For decades, we were told this movie was never coming, but Episode VII was what we all really wanted, not Episode I. After the credits rolled on Return of the Jedi, did we all not grab our action figures of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie and try to play out what happened next? The toy company Kenner tried to come up with new villains (I’m sure “Mongo Beefhead Tribesman” would have been a big hit), and Marvel Comics introduced a new villain called Lumiya, the Dark Lady of the Sith. Mace Windu, Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn did not exist. The truth is, even in 1983, we didn’t really care about prequels. We wanted to know what happened next much more than what came before. So the dual challenge with Star Wars Episode VII was to not only make a movie that continues the story of the Skywalker family appropriately, but also to live up to everything we imagined and played out as kid. No pressure, right?
Director JJ Abrams felt the pressure, but what he and his creative team emerged with in The Force Awakens is everything that fans needed it to be. Not that there were no complaints. The heaviest criticism laid against The Force Awakens is that it imitates the first Star Wars (A New Hope) slavishly. Some derisively refer to The Force Awakens as a “reboot”. The parallels are there, but let us also not forget that Lucas himself tried to make his trilogies “rhyme” with similar circumstances. Did they go too far trying to copy the original?
A cute heroic droid carries a secret message on a desert world that must get back to the heroes. A new young character, a loner who is unwittingly Force sensitive, meets this droid and decides to help it. The desert world is escaped in the Millenium Falcon. They are pursued by the bad guys, led by a Force-using guy in a black mask and cloak with a crimson red laser sword. The bad guys have an ultimate weapon, a planet destroyer, and they use it. Our heroes must stop them from using it again. This large spherical weapon must be blown up, and a battle of X-Wings vs Tie Fighters will decide the fate of the galaxy. An old hero from a prior trilogy makes the ultimate sacrifice. Finally, our young new hero character concentrates to use the Force, and defeats the evil. Roll credits.
That paragraph describes both A New Hope and The Force Awakens perfectly. But a lot has changed, too.
Although we know the events that occurred 30 years prior off by heart, we know very little about what actually took place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Here is what we do know.
After the Battle of Endor and the defeat of the Emperor, Han Solo and Princess Leia had a son named Ben. The Blu-ray special features reveal that Ben Solo was powerful in the Force, but with equal portions of light and dark within him. Director JJ Abrams tells us that the man known as Snoke, a dark side user, had his eyes on Ben Solo from the very start. So, much like his grandfather Anakin Skywalker, young Ben was being watched by a dark side master from the very beginning, and slowly seduced to the dark side. We also know that Luke was training a new generation of Jedi, but that Ben destroyed it all. Luke went into hiding, feeling responsible for his failure. We do not know anything concrete about this Snoke, or where he comes from. All that we know is that he seems very, very afraid of Luke. Ben Solo wants to find the map that leads to Luke’s hiding place. Snoke on the other hand wants that map destroyed if it cannot be recovered. He would rather that Luke never return to the affairs of the galaxy, where Ben is desperate to find that map, and therefore his uncle Luke.
Our new hero, the girl known only as Rey, has a Force vision in the movie that tells us a little bit more about what happened. We see brief clips of a massacre in the rain. Betraying Luke’s students by surprise in the night, it appears Ben, now known as Kylo Ren, has slaughtered Luke’s younglings with the help of his henchmen, the Knights of Ren, about whom we know nothing at all. We glimpse Luke placing his robotic right hand on his trusted droid R2-D2, perhaps shutting him down. And most interestingly, we see Kylo Ren killing someone through the back with his lightsaber, from the perspective of someone down below. Someone small like a child perhaps.
In that vision, which seems to be from the perspective of Rey as a little girl, Kylo Ren appears to be killing one of his fellow Knights of Ren. Is that indeed what is happening? Why did Kylo kill that man from behind? Did Kylo spare Rey from him? And who is Rey?
There seems little question that Rey is indeed a Skywalker. It also seems clear that Kylo Ren knows, or at least feels, that there is more to Rey than anyone else knows. It is Kylo who freaks out every time somebody mentions the scavenger girl from Jakku. Why? What is it about the idea of a girl from Jakku that has him so on edge? Rey is powerful enough to not only resist Kylo’s mind probe, but also reverse it and read Kylo’s mind. “You’re afraid,” she boldly proclaims, “that you will never be as powerful as Darth Vader!” She is strong enough to defeat Kylo Ren, at least semi-trained in the lightsaber, in a dual. Much like three other key characters in Star Wars (Luke, Leia and Anakin Skywalker), she has latent Force talents that are emerging on their own. And this terrifies Kylo Ren, very much. “You need a teacher!” he tells Rey, trying to avoid being bested by a girl. “I can teach you the ways of the Force!”
Kylo Ren is an interesting and complex villain. He has the fiery temper of his grandfather, but even more wild and untamed. His unfinished lightsaber is amaturish and dangerous. Unlike Anakin, he does not feel pulled to the dark. “I feel it again. The call to the light,” he confesses to Darth Vader’s melted helmet in meditation. “Show me again, the power of the dark side,” he begs the spirit of his grandfather. Wait…”again”? What’s this “again” business? When Anakin died, did he not revert to good? It seems highly likely that Kylo Ren’s master, Supreme Leader Snoke, is manipulating him with this Vader business. We will not know for sure until Episode VIII…or IX.
As for Snoke, we know he’s a Force user because we are told that he senses Kylo’s weakness, his compassion. We also know this because he says he’s going to complete Kylo Ren’s training. And that doesn’t sound too good for Kylo! His mucking around, trying to retrieve the map from Rey instead of destroying it in BB-8, caused the First Order to lose their gazollion-credit superweapon, the Starkiller. Think Darth Vader was in shit when he let the first Death Star get blown up? Just imagine the shit that Kylo Ren is in now. That new scar across his face his the last of his worries. When Snoke finds out that he not only got the base blown up, but also let the girl get away and the Resistance find Luke Skywalker…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be Kylo Ren right now. The “completion” of his training will result in an even meaner and more intense Kylo Ren in Episode VIII.
Kylo’s father Han Solo went down a hero in The Force Awakens. Now, true Star Wars fans could have seen this coming right from the day they announced the movie was going to be made. Han Solo was supposed to die in Jedi. At first, George Lucas wanted balance. The victory of the heroes should be balanced by a tragic loss, because that’s life. He eventually backed out of this. It seemed obvious that the idea would be resurrected for The Force Awakens. But for Han to go down the way he did? Perfect. Flawless. Some complain that Han should have had the last word; he did though — his hand on his son’s face says 1000 words.
Chewbacca’s rage in that moment reflected the shock of everyone in the movie theater. Rey and Finn’s shock and sorrow was what we all felt, even though it was telegraphed from a mile away. If those gangsters chasing Solo earlier in the film didn’t hint that his luck was running dry, then the moment Solo walked out onto that catwalk surely indicated it was time for his end. If there is one rule in Star Wars, it’s be careful of catwalks. Have these people not yet invented the safety rail? On Earth, that catwalk would have violated so many regulations that General Hux would have been busted down to Colonel.
The Blu-ray has deleted scenes, and some of them reveal a little bit more detail. In one, Rey is told that Finn is going to be just fine, something left ambiguous in the final film. In another, Kylo Ren and a squad of Snowtroopers board the Millenium Falcon after its crash landing on the Starkiller planet. Knowing Ren would have grown up on that ship, you can only imagine his feelings as he stands in the cockpit. Other cut scenes, like a battle with Finn and Rey using Snowspeeders, would have made the movie drag. So here they are for your enjoyment, and separate from the film on a bonus disc.
The bonus disc also includes interesting bits about the different BB-8 droids that were built for the film, and the various creatures and monsters. Composer John Williams is the star of one featurette. The CG effects are gone over, and so is the end lightsaber battle with Kylo and Rey in the woods. Few lightsaber battles in past movies were filmed in a night time setting. In order to get the reflective glows on film, the actors used actual glowing lightsaber props for the scene. The result is more realistic lighting in a scene featuring many trees and lots of snow. Finally, there’s a bit about the famous “table read”. When the cast were assembled and the script was read in one room for the first time, the photo of this epic “table read” went viral. You may wonder, what did Mark Hamill do during this table read? Did Luke have zero dialogue or not? Good question: Mark read the narration. It’s only a shame the full two hour table read wasn’t included.
That brings us to Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker, the ideal place to leave this epic review. There he was at the end, after 30 years of wondering “What happens to Luke, the only Jedi left in the galaxy?” Hamill’s face speaks volumes of what happened to Luke. Epic pain…sad wisdom…incredible knowledge. Luke has seen these things and much more, and it is in his eyes. His light beige cloak is a sharp contrast to the black clothes we last saw him in. In Star Wars, this communicates a purity awash in the good side of the Force. Whatever he has done in the years since he left, it is implied that Luke has become as powerful as the Emperor predicted. Probably more powerful even than Darth Vader ever was. Supreme Leader Snoke fears Luke Skywalker more than anything the pitiful Resistance can muster. Who do you think gave Snoke those horrific scars on his head? Perhaps the reason Snoke fears the last Jedi so much is that he has tasted the blade of that Jedi.
The Force Awakens may take all its plot cues from the original 1977 Star Wars, and that is a fair critique. As we have shown here, there is also much more to it. There are layers of mystery that are waiting to be peeled. When George made the first Star Wars in 1977, he didn’t know he would ever make another one. There were not as many questions to answer. What Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt came up with here was a story once thought impossible to write. They succeeded in coming up with a sequel idea that continues the story of the Skywalkers, introduces new heroes and villains, and doesn’t seem tacked on or mismatched with the original movies. It feels completely organic and natural. Indeed, The Force Awakens feels far more like Star Wars than any of the three prequels did. That’s something many thought impossible, like making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.
Everybody’s going to buy this Blu-ray, so the only question left is which version to buy? I chose Walmart’s which came in a BB-8 case with a little “trading disc” inside. Only humbug: all those trailers we sat around and watched are not among the bonus features. But there are many versions out there and here’s a breakdown of them:
Directed by JJ Abrams
“Faster, more intense!”
15 minutes ago, I was sitting in my theater seats. That’s how fresh this review is!
As mentioned in this morning’s post, Star Wars Episode VII is the movie I really wanted to see, ever since 1983. We didn’t care about backstory, we didn’t want to see prequels. All we cared about was “What happens next? What happens to Han, Luke and Leia?” That’s one reason Timothy Zahn’s written sequel, the “Thrawn Trilogy”, was so well received by fans worldwide. But that’s just a book — what really happens after the second Death Star is destroyed?
Now I know, and I am not disappointed.
Director JJ Abrams has re-captured the magic. The lived-in universe is back. The wooden, stiff dialogue and exposition are gone. The new quartet of leads (Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and especially the impressive Daisy Ridley) are everything we wanted out of a new generation of Star Wars heroes and villains. They will now join the pantheon of characters that live on in our hearts. The camaraderie and friendships that were never believable in the prequels have finally come back to life. Without the misguided hands of George Lucas at the tiller, the Star Wars sequel trilogy has begun anew, with life.
Rey is a scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku. The parallel here to Tattooine is unmistakable and obviously intentional, but Jakku has its own charm by being strewn with original trilogy space junk. In fact, the whole movie is littered with original trilogy callbacks, from certain objects on a familiar starship, to the overall look and deco of the universe. The galaxy has seen a lot of wear and tear, but a new threat called the First Order has risen, and wants to see the end of the New Republic. The Republic (which we don’t get to see much of), is defended by a secret organization much like the rebels, called the Resistance. They are led by General Leia Organa, continuing on doing what she knows how to do best. How does Rey fit in? When a droid carrying a secret message for the Resistance (sound familiar?) and an ex-stormtrooper fall into her life, it will never be the same again.
Uber-fans will like to know that there are some shots and lines in the trailers that are different in the movie.
The new characters serve the archetypes that worked in classic Star Wars movies. You have an orphan on the desert world, a hotshot pilot (or perhaps two), and the cute but witty little droid who helps out at all the right moments, but mostly needs rescuing. Original? Not hardly. The original trilogy, with its familiar set pieces and dialogue, are omnipresent. Fans have set the bar much lower since the prequels, and a group of re-tread heroes will have the fans satiated. Then we have the villain, Kylo Ren, the enforcer of the First Order, and face of the Disney marketing campaign. Much has been made of Ren’s wimpy voice, but in full theater sound it works much better. Adam Driver, an extremely talented and distinguished looking actor, fit the role like a glove. His epic temper tantrums rival those of his idol, Lord Vader himself.
But don’t worry. There aren’t any dreadful “Noooooooooo’s” or lines about sand being course and getting everywhere. There aren’t wishy-washy speeches about love, although Finn and Rey have a bond that could develop into romance later on. Writer Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on the classic trilogy and knew where Lucas wanted to take this thing, helped tremendously. From opening crawl to final scene, this feels right.
In many respects, The Force Awakens is Han Solo’s movie. When he and Chewbacca hook up with our new heroes (in a totally believable way), he takes over the lead and drives the plot forward. Harrison Ford seems to have turned his “Han Solo” knob up to 11. The older, wiser and sadder man has seen it all, now. As another character once said, “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage”. Solo and Chewie’s presence make the whole thing really feel like Star Wars.
My biggest concern going into this was that a Star Wars sequel trilogy would not feel like it was part of the whole; it would feel tacked on to the end. That is not the case. While George Lucas had nothing to do with the film, it does carry his wish that a new Star Wars trilogy would focus on a new generation of heroes, while remaining a story about the Skywalker family. JJ Abrams has done that, in an appropriate and lively way. The new Star Wars is the most exciting in many years, and what it lacks in originality it makes up in spirit. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
My only serious beef is about this new superweapon the First Order have. Superweapons are a part of Star Wars, and always require blowing up. This one made no sense at all, especially how it was visually depicted. We need Neil DeGrasse Tyson to do a pop-up video and tell us just how stupid that thing is. If you thought the “red matter” and destruction of Vulcan sucked in Star Trek, wait until you see this stupid thing. Just pretend it makes sense and watch the pretty starship dogfights.
Oh, and Luke Skywalker? Some will be disappointed, but those who love Star Wars will have the same goosebumps that I did. Mark Hamill is the man. Luke is back, looking weary but powerful and wise. There are a lot of loose ends to tie up. Get ready, galaxy.
Don’t forget to tune in tonight at midnight (ET) for Rob Daniels’ Visions In Sound, when he and I will be playing the brand-new Star Wars soundtrack composed by John Williams! Tune in locally on your FM dial to CKWR 98.5, or elsewhere, just click “listen live” via their website! The show runs from midnight to 2 am (ET). Coffee?