science fiction

TV REVIEW: The Mandalorian (2019 Disney+)

“Look outside. Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? I see nothing but death and chaos.” — The Client

THE MANDALORIAN (2019 Disney+ series)

2019 might have been the biggest year ever in the history of the Star Wars franchise.  Not only did the original Saga finally come to an end after 42 years of wondering if it would ever happen, but even the very first Star Wars live action TV series came to be.  This comes a full 15 years after its aborted predecessor, Star Wars Underworld was announced.  Headed up by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian Season One was a commercial and critical success.

But was it as good as its hype?

Pedro Pascal headlines as the mysterious Mandalorian, a bounty hunter trying to make ends meet about five years after the battle of Endor.  The New Republic rules the roost and times are lean, but the Empire is not gone.  Not yet.  The Imperial Client (Werner Herzog) needs a very important asset.  The Client leads a run down, rag-tag Imperial force in hiding on a backwater world.  Via Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), the Client acquires Mando’s services.  Deliver the package alive, but dead will suffice if necessary.  Bounty hunting, after all, is a complicated profession.

Today in 2020, the entire world knows what came as a tremendous surprise back when the pilot episode first aired.  There are no spoilers.  The asset, though claimed to be 50 years old, is just a child.  An alien child with a familiar green hue and large, pointed ears.  The internet quickly dubbed it “Baby Yoda”.

Through the course of eight episodes, we learn that Mandalorians are almost extinct, “purged” by the Empire like the Jedi were.  Those remaining live in secret.  We also discover that the Child the Empire wants so badly can use the Force; powerfully so.  Instinctively with no training.  The implication here is that Yoda’s species are uniquely strong in the Force.  The only other members of the species that we have seen were on the Jedi council.  The Child can do things that only one Jedi in the entire history of the Saga (Rey) has been shown to do.  What isn’t clear is what the Empire wants with the Child.  The Client is just as happy if it ends up dead.  Dr. Pershing, a scientist under his protection with cloning insignia on his uniform, clearly wants it alive.

The Mandalorian is not the average bounty hunter.  Though hard on the outside, he has a soft spot for “foundlings” (orphans), since he was orphaned by a droid army during the Clone Wars.  This also left him with a strong distrust for droids.

Mando’s quest takes him, in his gleaming pre-Empire ship the Razor Crest, all the way to planet Nostalgia in the Fan Service sector.  Every alien species and reference from Saga and spin-off films will await you.  The animated series are likewise plundered for references and threads to pull.  Don’t ask yourself how the scavenging Jawas managed to spread through the galaxy, ask how they brought a sandcrawler with them.  Also ask how the Mandalorian, who lived through both the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, has never heard of anything resembling the Force in his life.  Not impossible, true, not impossible.  But certainly unlikely?

To the show’s strength, Mando surrounds himself with allies including the wise Ugnaught Kuill (Nick Nolte) and the former Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano).  He even reluctantly forms an alliance with bounty hunter droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi).  Each one of these bring out another aspect of Mando’s disguised personality.

Unfortunately, the show’s weaknesses are apparent by the second episode.  It lacks a consistent tone and even the soundtrack is all over the board.  Mando’s path is too twisted by side missions and quests, like a video game biding its time before you’re back to your main story.  A few episodes play out like actual video games, particularly the sixth. Some such as the fourth suffer from substandard acting and poor direction (which came as a surprise, being directed by Bryce Dallas Howard).  While there is nothing low-budget about the Mandalorian, some of the performances are pretty cut-rate.

The meandering season finally returns to form when Mando and the Child encounter the Imperials once again.  And guess what — they’re not as poorly equipped as we were led to believe.  Giancarlo Esposito, who was unforgettable on Breaking Bad as drug kingpin Gus Fring, menaces our heroes one more time as Moff Gideon.  With a squadron of crack Imperial Death Troopers and a custom TIE Fighter, Moff Gideon is willing to sacrifice his own men to get the Child back.

The show is a hit.  “This is the way” is a phrase that has entered our modern lexicon, along with “I have spoken” and “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold.”  To say that season one was successful is an understatement.  Season two is already locked and loaded, bringing in Rosario Dawson to the fold playing former Jedi Ahsoka Tano.  She will likely be the first protagonist on the show to understand who the Child is and what Moff Gideon wants it for.

Hopefully season two will cut down on the obvious fan service.  (Did Bill Burr really have to do a Gungan impression in episode six?)  With one season down, we look forward to a tighter story with fewer episodes where nothing really happens.  And we certainly anticipate what Pedro Pascal will bring to the role next time.  His performance, limited to voice and body language, was without flaw.  The set must have been electric any time he was together with Werner Herzog.

Episode highlights of the season:  four out of of eight great episodes.

  • 1. “The Mandalorian” directed by Dave Filoni
  • 3. “The Sin” by Deborah Chow
  • 7. “The Reckoning” by Deborah Chow
  • 8. “Redemption” by Taika Waititi

The rest don’t bring much to the story and can be skipped with little lost except most of the fan service.

3/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

STAR TREK BEYOND (2016 Paramount)

Directed by Justin Lin

The “Kelvin era” or “JJ-verse” Star Trek movies have been more “miss” than “hit”.  There was a time when you could count on every even-numbered Trek to be excellent, but Star Trek Into Darkness (#12) and Star Trek Beyond (#13) were two rotten movies in a row.  What went wrong?

Too.  Much.  Dumb.  Action.

Specifically, there is one modern action motif that is freakishly common today and it drives me insane every time.  It’s when a vehicle or body hits a wall or other obstacle, going right through, and keeps going, and going…minimal damage and zero loss of momentum.  This happens far too often in Beyond.   Hell, the bad guy Krall (Idris Elba) has a swarm of spaceships completely based on this physics-defying visual.

Every time Beyond feels like it’s going somewhere, the movie devolves into meaningless, dull action.  The shame of it is, there are other scenes that are character-driver and almost vintage Trekkian.  Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) caring for an injured Spock (Zachary Quinto) felt right.  Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) tiring of his daily space-grind was reminiscent of the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage”, and also colours in a little bit about how the prime Kirk eventually became an Admiral.  These slower, more contemplative shots are then succeeded by numbing action, so far removed from Gene Roddenberry’s original vision that you can hear his complaints in the back of your mind.

Idris Elba is unfortunately underdeveloped and buried under layers of makeup.  His character Krall has cloudy hatred for the Federation, believing that their mission of peace and exploration weakens humanity, who must instead be prepared to defend itself.  Krall is not all he appears to be, of course, but the reveal is far less interesting than it could have been.  Ultimately, the setup is never enticing nor is the execution.  Since the plot is based entirely on the motivations of the villain, the movie can’t hold together.  It’s just an alien looking for a superweapon so he can kill lots of people.  And it’s never made clear why he even needs that superweapon, since he can do plenty of damage on his own.

Case in point?  Krall [SPOILER] takes down the U.S.S. Enterprise only three years into her five-year mission.  Compare this to the original prime U.S.S. Enterprise, which only went down only in a last ditch attempt by her captain to keep his crew alive.  Only after 40 years in space, three television seasons, and three movies.  Its ending was poignant, and after saving the crew countless times, it was earned.  This ships’ ending was not earned, to use the words of Rob Daniels.  We’ve only known her in a few hours of screen time.  Her demise was not earned.  It was just a gimmick to sell tickets.  See the Enterprise go down!

A new character created for this movie, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) is a tough nut and good companion for Scotty.  Unfortunately, knowing the past history of female sidekicks in Star Trek films, that means you’ll never see her again.

Sadly, Anton Yelchin (Chekov) died tragically in an accident shortly before the film’s release.  J.J. Abrams has said that Chekov would never be recast by another actor.

Star Trek Beyond both gains and loses points for some real-world references.  The death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015 is reflected by [SPOILER] the death of Spock prime in this film, and there is a beautiful moment to reflect on that.  Less successfully, the character of Sulu (John Cho) is ret-conned as gay, to honour George Takei who played the original Sulu.  Even Takei found this ret-con to be strange since he never portrayed Sulu as gay at any point in the series.  It technically doesn’t directly contradict anything from the prime universe, but it feels so awkwardly shoed in.

Star Trek Beyond has, for the time being at least, ended Star Trek’s theatrical comeback.  Patrick Stewart has confidently returned to television in Picard, and so Trek never dies.  No thanks to Beyond.

1.5/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker [Spoiler free] 2019

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)

Directed by JJ Abrams

The greatest saga of a lifetime; the story that began in 1977 when I was 4 years old has finally come to its end.  And what a satisfying end it is.

JJ Abrams had an unenviable task: fix the mess that Rian Johnson created with 2017’s Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  Instead of winding towards a logical conclusion, the Johnson film steered the story into strange new directions poorly suited to the second-last film in a nine movie saga.  The death of Carrie Fisher the same year threw a giant wrench into the whole thing.  How was JJ to wind up a massive story like this, finishing not only his trilogy but the other two as well?

I’m not going to tell you, except that he managed to do it.  It’s not perfect, but no Star Wars movie has been perfect since 1980.  Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the best movie of this final trilogy, and is certainly better than 66% of the prequels.  He managed to pick up the ball that Johnson shat out, weave it tighter, and make lemonade from lemons.

The Carrie Fisher scenes are somewhat difficult to watch.  You know the actors are not reacting to her, but performing to pre-recorded scenes.  Her dialogue is necessarily vague and cloudy.  It’s unfortunate because Episode IX was supposed to be her film.  Nothing can be done about that.  But wisely, JJ recruited Billy Dee Williams back into the fold as the debonair rogue, Lando Calrissian.  Lando’s role is larger than expected which will please many fans.  The film is also bolstered by cameos from just about every living Star Wars actor (no, not Jake Lloyd) in ways that brought nothing but smiles.  Look for Hobbits and late-night talk show hosts too.

The villain this time, as you know from the trailers, is Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine.  How did he survive the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi?  It only takes one line of dialogue to sell it.

With the stakes higher than ever before, the Sith and the Jedi meet one last time.  If you’re looking for an inkling of the plot, read the old Dark Horse comic series Dark Empire.  Not only did that series feature a resurrected Palpatine, but also Luke Skywalker doing Force projections.  It’s highly likely that JJ Abrams took inspiration from Dark Empire, though The Rise of Skywalker is far superior to that old book.

Suffice to say, our heroes once again must face incredible odds with little on their side except friendship and heart.  The movie stumbles after we are told repeatedly that they must succeed, or all of this – everything – has been for nothing.  Then they go on a silly rescue, instead of completing their mission.  There are also, perhaps, too many meetings between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) which blunts their overall effect.  At least the heroes, Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) bond like the classic trio.  You’re aware that you are watching a knockoff Luke-Leia-Han trio, but don’t forget, that’s the kind of stuff fans used to say they wanted.  “No more wooden crap like the prequels,” they moaned.  Now they moan when it’s what they said they wanted before.  Sceptics will not be won over by The Rise of Skywalker.

Another possible weakness that fans might resist is a tenuous connection to the Disney+ TV series The Mandalorian.  Rey and Kylo Ren can do something that a Mandalorian character can do.  Some will accept it as fitting in with classic Star Wars lore.  Others will baulk and call it “Disney ruining Star Wars again.”

The cutesy stuff is kept to a minimum (though there is a new droid called D-O introduced for no reason) and emotions run high.  Nostalgia is heavy.  Action is fast, though JJ unwisely resorted to slow motion techniques again, which breaks visual style from the six Lucas-guided movies.  He would have insisted on the movies being consistent.  Lens flare, though, is gladly reduced.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and The Rise of Skywalker must stand up to repeated viewings and further analysis.  It does drag at various times in the middle, but when it drops bombs, it goes nuclear.  Special mention to Keri Russell for a fine performance as spice runner Zorri Bliss, and again to Billy Dee Williams.  He never abandoned Star Wars, you know.  He returned in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels as suave as ever.  And of course, John Williams.  His score contained some really cool motifs, like a re-imagined Emperor’s theme that fit like a glove.

The Rise of Skywalker is probably the best ending to a saga we could have expected (and certainly better than what Lucas had planned).  If you want to live your life as a person who only has six Star Wars movies in their head-canon, that is absolutely fine.  (I know people who to this day consider Star Wars to be three movies.)  It can easily be argued that this entire trilogy was just tacked on.  But JJ did his best for it not to feel that way; for it to appear like this was always the ending.  Did he succeed?  That’s up to you.

4/5 stars

#772: The Phantom Menace (20 Years On)

GETTING MORE TALE #772: The Phantom Menace (20 Years On)

If you can believe it, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is 20 years old this year.  2019 is a significant year in the history of Star Wars.  It is the 20th anniversary of its return with the prequels, and it will also witness the final movie of the Skywalker saga in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.  Back in Record Store Tales Part 209: The Phantom Menace, I said I wasn’t “interested in contributing to the background noise” regarding the movie, but I’ve since changed my mind.  Now that George Lucas is out of the picture and J.J. Abrams is helming the finale of the sequel trilogy, it’s hard not to get a little nostalgic for 1999, when things were…simpler.

Netflix has different movies available in different countries, but you can sidestep this with some VPN software.  Some countries have no Star Wars, but between them, all of the films are available.  Bahamas is the only territory I’ve discovered so far with the first two trilogies, so I’ve been re-watching from I to VIII.  And for all its flaws, with the benefit of hindsight, The Phantom Menace is still quite enjoyable.

George Lucas had his own ideas about where to take Star Wars, but the fan hate that Phantom Menace (and the other prequels) received took the wind out of his sails.  He laid the groundwork in Phantom Menace, with that talk about the highly maligned midichlorians.  Now, midichlorians were an awful idea.  J.J. Abrams is right to leave them out of the sequel trilogy.  The idea of little microscopic organelles in your blood giving you the ability to tap into the Force?  It creates so many problems.  Like, if you have more midichlorians in your blood than someone else, does that automatically make you more powerful?  Can we therefore rank numerically every character by midichlorian count and deduce who the most powerful is?  Can you get a blood transfusion from a Jedi and steal his or her Jedi powers? That’s the kind of shit that fans hate on.  Why couldn’t Lucas leave the Force alone with all its mystery intact?

Because he was going somewhere with that.  Lucas came up with the name and concept of midichlorians back in 1977; the idea is very old.  Now we understand why.  George was also setting up the final trilogy, the one that J.J. is currently finishing. Episodes VII through IX “were going to get into a microbiotic world,” George Lucas told James Cameron. So, like Ant-Man?  “There’s this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force.”  Fans recall that “Whills” is an old word.  The first Star Wars novelization refers to the entire saga as The Journal of the Whills.  In Lucas’ own sequel trilogy, Jedi were to be merely “vehicles for the Whills to travel around in…And the conduit is the midichlorians. The midichlorians are the ones that communicate with the Whills. The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force.”

Like Ant-Man meets Dr. Strange meets The Fantastic Voyage, maybe.  With lightsabers?  Terrible; undoubtedly awful.  I can’t even fathom how he would have executed this idea.  The fans would have rioted.  You think the hate that fandom gives Disney today is intense?  Imagine if George’s microscopic version got made.

rey and the midichlorians of doom

But at least George had a vision.

Lucas wasn’t about making the trilogies the same.  Having watched both The Force Awakens and Phantom Menace recently on Netflix, it’s clear that J.J. made a better movie that feels more like Star Wars.  Flawed, yes, but it seemed to be setting up some pretty epic storytelling (until Rian Johnson took a shit all over it with his left turn Last Jedi.)  J.J.’s Star Wars is better acted, paced and edited.  The dialogue is far less stiff.  But George’s Phantom Menace has something that J.J.’s Force Awakens does not:  daring imagination.

One of the most successful sequences in Episode I is the pod race.  It’s completely irrelevant to the story, which is one of the many problems, but on its own, it is a glistening example of George’s unfettered imagination.  In 1999, this race was unimaginably new.  The only thing that came close was the speeder bike chase in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, primitive as it was.  Lucas broke new ground in multiple ways with his prequels, whether you like his innovations or not, and primitive CG characters aside.  People complain that J.J.’s Star Wars is just a soft reboot.  Well, watch Phantom Menace if that’s not your cup of tea.  The pod race, at least.  Lucas combined his love of race cars with science fiction and directed one of the best race sequences in the genre.  In any genre.  Even little Jake Lloyd shone in that cockpit, confidently flying himself to victory.

It’s a shame that pod race sequence was completely unnecessary.  I mean, you’re telling me Liam Neeson couldn’t figure out any other way to get off that planet, other than a complicated scheme of betting; gambling on a child pod racer?  Liam was supposed to be a goddamned Jedi master.  They keep talking about how much time they’re wasting on the planet, but they wait to see how this damned race plays out?  A race that could have killed a little kid!  Weird choices.  If you were a Jedi, you could have figured out dozens of faster and safer ways to get off that planet, right?

Once they do finally get off that planet, the Jedi arrive home on the capitol world Coruscant.  This was a bit of fan service, something that they wanted to see more of, since it had been such an important part of comics, novels and production artwork.  Cloud City aside, it was the first real time we saw an urban city environment on Star Wars.  True to form, Lucas made the whole planet one environment, in this case a city.  It was also some of the most brilliant visual designs on the prequel trilogy, one which would set the tone for the two movies that followed.

For better or for worse, Lucas spent much of the prequel trilogy defining who the Jedi were.  What they could do, what they couldn’t, and what they believed in.  We learned of the “living Force”, and oodles of Jedi wisdom about attachment and fear.  Jedi couldn’t marry, which was surprising, considering the Skywalker bloodline is the entire focus of the saga.  Yet George was throwing tons of ideas at us.  Stuff that he had been keeping in dusty old notebooks for years.  Nothing in the sequel trilogy comes close to revealing as much about the Star Wars universe as the prequels do.

Though Phantom Menace is the movie with the most cringe-worthy moments, wooden dialogue and shitty acting, there are the odd scenes that George did artistically and perfect.  Take the moment that Anakin and friends arrive on Coruscant, an overwhelming moment for the little boy.  George shot some of the footage from kid-height, allowing us to experience Anakin’s anxiety without clumsy dialogue.  The aforementioned pod race sequence is brilliant, and so is the final lightsaber duel.  For the first time, serious acrobatics and martial arts moves were incorporated into the laser sword battles.  This went on to define how the Jedi normally fought throughout all the prequels:  with a lot of jumping, leaping, and somersaulting.  For all the epic duels in the saga, one of the greatest (if not number one) is Kenobi and Jinn vs. Darth Maul.  From John Williams’ score (“Duel of the Fates”) to the choreography by Nick Gillard, it was focused through George Lucas’ lens into something absolutely brain-melting.  Until Darth Maul lost like a chump.  No excusing that; although remember that George did something similar to Boba Fett in Episode VI.

The droid designs were also pretty cool.  As iconic as a stormtrooper?  No.  But sleek, interesting, new and believable?  Absolutely.  This helped shape the visually stunning Naboo land battle scenes.  J.J. didn’t introduce any new infantry troops in his movie, he just updated the existing ones.

There was one thing that The Force Awakens and The Phantom Menace did equally well.  One very important thing that neither gets enough credit for: they made us anticipate the next film in the trilogies with hunger.  (Until Rian Johnson pissed all over J.J.’s ending, that is.)  Both films’ endings felt like the setup for events we couldn’t wait to see on screen.  The training of Anakin/Rey, for example.  A clue to the truth about the big bad guys (Sidious/Snoke).  The next meeting between good and evil.  J.J. and George both succeeded in creating this feeling of heavy anticipation.

By the time all three prequel movies played out, each problematic with wooden acting and stiff stories, fans were burned out on prequel-era Star Wars.  The Clone Wars TV show did a better job of living in that universe, but fans longed for the old familiar again.  X-Wings and Han Solo and the Empire and all of it.  So that’s what J.J. delivered.  And J.J. Abrams learned what we all know:  there is no pleasing Star Wars fans.

We fans take this stuff too seriously sometimes.  You’ve just read 1500 words, comparing Star Wars movies’ strengths and flaws.  That’s excessive, for both the reader and the writer!  We take this too seriously, friend.  Sure, we don’t go and harass the actors on Twitter like some juvenile delinquents do, but we’ve invested so much time and thought into a goddamn space movie series.  Too late to turn back now.  I think it’s important to take a break, step back and appreciate the movies from a different perspective.  Having done that with Phantom Menace, I can see it has its mitigating traits that still make me smile 20 years later.

 

DVD REVIEW: Blade Runner (1982) – Tribute to Rutger Hauer by Holen MaGroin

Guest review by Holen MaGroin


BLADE RUNNER (1982, 2007 Ultimate DVD edition, Warner Bros.)

Directed by Ridley Scott

The first time I saw Blade Runner, I was unimpressed. I didn’t believe it to be a bad film, but it inspired nothing inside me. However, something about it burrowed into my mind. It could have been the inspirational aesthetic, the cryptic atmosphere, or something operating deeper in my subconscious. Something I couldn’t place my finger on. Whatever it was, I had an undeniable desire to see the film again. When I acted upon that impulse, I fell in love with it. All the emotion and humanity that had eluded me on the initial viewing became elucidated the second time around. Since then, I’ve viewed the film many times. Each of my viewings reveals more secrets and offers new interpretations to this alluringly ambiguous picture.

I’m not entirely certain why Blade Runner went over my head the first time. If I had to speculate, I’d guess that my mind was so overwhelmed by the sheer visual spectacle, that I had a difficult time focusing on the movie behind it. After becoming accustomed to the astonishing world in which the story resides, it became clear to me that much more than just the design was awe-inspiring. Underneath the electronic digital exterior was a human pulse, one that beat the strongest in the characters that weren’t even human. It poses the existential question of the definition of life, and makes us wonder who should have the authority to define it.

The events take place in the future world of November 2019. Earth has become an overcrowded, polluted, and commercialized urban environment. The Tyrell Corporation manufactures synthetic human beings known as replicants. They are just as intelligent as their creators, while also possessing superior physical abilities. They’re used off-world for slave labor, and are forbidden on Earth. Deckard is a blade runner, the best there’s ever been. His job is to take out stray replicants, a process described by the euphemism ‘retiring’.

 

When we’re introduced to Deckard, it’s clear we’re observing a broken man. He lacks purpose, and hides his feelings of worthlessness behind alcohol and a bitter attitude. Having quit his job as a blade runner, he drifts around going through the motions. He’s living a very shallow existence, numbed by whiskey, afraid to feel, and terrified of self-reflection. He’s called in to do one last job, and does so only after being threatened by his old boss, Bryant. Six replicants escaped an off-world colony, and four made it to Earth with their lives. They’ve travelled to Earth in an attempt to extend their lives, which have been set to approximately four years. Their leader is the tactical and ruthless Roy Batty, an imposing figure played by the recently departed Rutger Hauer (R.I.P.). Deckard’s job is to retire them, as they are considered a threat to the public.

Despite being artificial, these four replicants are the most compelling characters in the film. They possess real emotions, and you can’t help but empathize with their plight for life. Their methods may be cutthroat, but understandable given the abhorrent treatment they’ve received at the hands of humans. Not excusable, but understandable. Roy is the most viscous, yet he is also the one we learn to care for the most. The other three want more life only because of their fear of death. Unlike his companions, Roy is a pensive philosopher that questions the nature of his existence, and sees the artificial manipulation of his life expectancy as an injustice perpetrated by Tyrell, his creator.

Contrarily, Deckard is a classic noir archetype inserted into a science fiction world as a way of contrasting him with his supposedly ‘less than human’ targets. He has no raison d’être, no philosophy, he simply exists. The very machines he’s been commissioned to destroy contain more human characteristics than he does. He has learned to detach himself from his emotions because somewhere inside he knows that his job is immoral. As the film progresses, it’s a truth that he finds harder and harder to deny.

His path to realization begins when he visits Tyrell at the onset of his case. While there he meets the beautiful replicant Rachel and is immediately captivated by her. Rachel isn’t initially aware that she is a replicant, as she is part of a new generation that has been fitted with memory implants. She’s rather sterile and distant at first, but ironically becomes more emotional as she comes to accept the fact that she is indeed a synthetic human being. This coincides with Deckard’s own increased feelings of guilt and empathy towards these machines as he approaches the completion of his job. Both characters struggle with the concept of humanity in a dehumanizing urban environment, falling in love as they relate to each other’s fear and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Roy and the seductive Pris manipulate genetic designer J.F. Sebastian into leading them to Tyrell. Sebastian is afflicted with a disease that accelerates aging, allowing him to relate to and take pity on the replicants and their limited lifespan. Roy and Sebastian visit Tyrell during the dead of night, under the pretense of a chess game. Roy’s patience has been rewarded. He is finally able to face his creator. His resentment towards Tyrell for manipulating his lifespan culminates in the line “I want more life, fucker.” The profanity underscores the pent up rage. It’s an emotional slip for the previously silver-tongued devil, and a subtle hint for his surprising climactic decision at the end of the film. When Tyrell informs Roy that there is no way to extend his lifespan, he disposes of his creator and Sebastian.

Deckard learns of the deaths of Tyrell and Sebastian on his radio, and decides to check out Sebastian’s place. What follows is the infamous final confrontation between Deckard and Roy. Deckard offers absolutely no challenge to Roy. Roy’s methodical killings of before are replaced by a sadistic playfulness. Driven past the point of caring upon the realization of his inevitable mortality, he plays cat and mouse with Deckard. In the middle of their game Roy’s hand begins to seize up; his time has come. Deckard attempts to jump from one building to the next to escape, but doesn’t go the distance, grasping the edge hanging precariously high above the ground. Roy catches up to him and easily makes the jump to the next building, standing above Deckard as his fingers slip. But just as Deckard’s grip fails, Roy grasps Deckard’s arm and hoists him up onto the building, saving his life.

In this moment Roy realizes that the most human gesture he can make before death is forgiveness. Saving Deckard even after he killed all his companions was an act of mercy and forgiveness that made his final deed a human one. Roy has reached the stage of acceptance, and ponders in his death soliloquy that once someone dies, all of their memories are lost. All their experience is gone forever. As he puts it, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” An immortal line written by Rutger Hauer himself, it fixes an image to the human fear that we won’t have a legacy, and that all we’ve learned and experienced will be lost forever. Roy believes that with the loss of his experiences, humans will remain ignorant of the nature of replicant life, and that humans will continue to view them as objects to be used instead of living creatures. As he dies peacefully, a dove ascends out of the oppressive city. The shot seems to suggest that Roy does have a soul, and the dove symbolizes something pure and innocent. Roy has redeemed himself by saving Deckard, and his purified spirit ascends to heaven.

Blade Runner is a pensive film. It takes its time unravelling to give the viewer a chance to think along with it. It’s about a man that learns to embrace his humanity from the very machines he’s expected to kill. He even falls in love with one. It makes us wonder what truly constitutes life, and what value a life has after it’s gone and forgotten. Blade Runner is moody, stylized, and very open to interpretation. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but for the people that enjoy when movies offer more questions than answers, there are few that have done it better.

5/5 replicants

Version Guide

There are five distinct cuts of Blade Runner available on Blu-ray, so I figured I’d do a quick version guide and offer my opinion on the best version of the film (it’s not the Final Cut).

  • Work print (1982) – The original work print shown to test audiences. It is a few minutes shorter than the other cuts, which are practically all the same length. It contains different opening credits, and one instance of voice over narration during Roy’s death scene different than the one heard in the theatrical cuts.
  • U.S. Theatrical Cut (1982) – Voice over narration was added that elaborates on certain plot points and offers background information. This version also contains a happier ending.
  • International Theatrical Cut (1982) – Identical to the U.S. Theatrical cut, only it has a few instances of unedited violence.
  • Director’s Cut (1992) – This version removes all voice over narration, and the happier ending. It also inserts a unicorn dream that heavily suggests that Deckard is a replicant. This version doesn’t contain the extra violence.
  • The Final Cut (2007) – Everything in this cut is cleaned up. The visuals, the sound, etc. Visible wires were removed from the flying cars, and an obvious stunt double’s face was digitally replaced with the actress’s face. Includes a longer unicorn dream, no narration, Roy apologizing to Sebastian before killing him, a different background for the dove shot, the violence from the international cut, and green color grading. Roy also says “I want more life, father.” This is the only version besides the work print where he says father instead of fucker.

My favorite (short version): The director’s cut.

My favorite (long version): The green color grading of The Final Cut is awful. It buries the spectacular world and neon colors in a gross green. Using CGI to replace a face and cover up wires is also a bit too revisionist for my tastes as well. I also think the assertion that Deckard is a replicant ruins the theme of the movie. Therefore, I don’t like the unicorn dream. I also don’t like Roy apologizing to Sebastian, it’s out of character. And father just isn’t as powerful as fucker, even with the God complex connotations. As for the theatrical cuts, the narration isn’t all that awful in my eyes (it’s performed pretty badly), but it is a better film without it. It has some interesting background information, but it ruins some of the ambiguity. I do like that the theatrical cut doesn’t push the idea that Deckard is a replicant, because it’s missing the unicorn dream. The happy ending is inconsistent with the movie’s tone though. So my ideal version would be the international theatrical cut without the narration, and without the happy ending. But since we don’t have that cut, my preferred version is the director’s cut, with the international cut coming in a very close second. You should watch both of those cuts just to get the full experience. I switch back and forth depending on my mood.

This review is dedicated to Rutger Hauer. Thanks for the films, man. We’ll miss you.

 

REVIEW: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978, 2009 CD)

JEFF WAYNE – Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978, 2009 Sony CD reissue)

Simply put, it’s one of the greatest rock musicals ever: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.  Not as well known as, say Jesus Christ Superstar, but it is essential ownership for fans of:

  • both science fiction and rock musicals
  • concept albums
  • H.G. Wells
  • Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues
  • Phil Lynott

That’s a lot of niche.  Composer Jeff Wayne wrote a musical that spans multiple genres.  Progressive rock, Disco beats, space rock, spoken word, symphonic rock…there is a foot on all those bases.  A theremin-like synth hook recurs through the album, increasing the tension.  Richard Burton is featured as the narrating Journalist, speaking the words of Wells, creating the necessary serious tone.  Meanwhile Justin Hayward is featured as the main lead vocalist, singing as the Journalist in a shared role.  It is he that delivers the catchiest of refrains on the album:

“The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, he said.  But still they come.” 

The story has of course been streamlined down from the original 287 page novel.  The plot remains the same, as do the major setpiece scenes.  The opening of the first Martian capsule in “Horsell Common and the Heat Ray” is impeccably narrated by Burton.  This also introduces a guitar theme that pops up again and again on the album.  And now it is clear the visitors from Mars have hostile intent, and weapons beyond those known to human science.

David Essex joins Burton on “The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine”.  He plays a young soldier, survivor of the first Martian attack.  “They wiped us out.  Hundreds dead, maybe thousands.”  Guitars and synthesizers mingle in haunting fashion.  Dramatic strings emphasise the danger, as it quickly becomes an action piece.  Another recurring musical theme is introduced:  the terrifying Martian cry of “Ulla!  Ulla!”

Hayward resumes his role as the Journalist on “Forever Autumn”, a ballad memorable for its lamenting chorus of “Now you’re not here.”  But the destruction also resumes with the refrain of “Ulla!  Ulla!”  Then “Thunder Child”, featuring vocalist Chris Thompson, describes a counter attack by the ironclad ship Thunder Child.  She puts up a valiant struggle, managing to damage one of the Martian fighting machines, but succumbs to the heat ray.  Collapse is imminent, and Earth now belongs to Mars.

The second disc, subtitled The Earth Under the Martians, continues the story with Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott as Parson Nathaniel.  A foul red weed has claimed the land.  The mad Parson barely survived a Martian attack and is discovered by his wife Beth (Julie Covington) and the Journalist.  Lynott portrays the character with manic delight, as the Parson is convinced the Martians are the devil.  His feature lead vocal is “The Spirit of Man”, where the Parson blames the death and destruction on the sins of all mankind.  They witness a new Martian machine that pursues, captures and harvests humans for their blood.  The Parson thinks he can destroy the Martian demons with prayer, but fails.  The Journalist survives, and meets the Artilleryman down the road.

The Journalist is delighted to see a familiar face again.  The Artilleryman is the polar opposite of the Parson.  He believes mankind can survive underground.  “Brave New World” is a dramatic Floyd-like ballad in tribute to the new life the Artilleryman sees for himself.  The chorus of “We’ll start over again!” is infectious like all the others on this album.  “We’ll even build a railway and tunnel to the coast!  Go there for our holidays!”  He makes the future underground sound like a paradise, but the Journalist doesn’t believe such grand plans can be accomplished by just the survivors.  Instead, he returns to London.

The city is blackened, looted and abandoned.  Darker music accompanies the narrator/Journalist on his journey through on “Dead London, Pt. 1”.  Then he notices two massive fighting machines, making sounds but unmoving.  Then the machines goes silent, and the string section from the opening track “The Eve of the War” returns to dramatic effect.  This is when he discovers that simple Earthen bacteria and germs have killed the Martians.  They had no immunity to our diseases, and so the Martian invasion was stopped not by man, but by the smallest living things.  “Dead London, Pt. 2” is a triumphant refrain symbolising the victory at hand.

Life eventually returns back to normal, and the Journalist is reunited with his love.  There remains a question of a future threat from Mars.  The epilogue conclusively answers that question….

The highly recommended 2009 CD reissue has an unlisted bonus, a medley of two of the big Justin Hayward pieces, “Forever Autumn” and “The Eve of the War”.  There is also a 2009 re-recording of “The Spirit of Man”.  This set comes recommended mainly for its lavish booklet, with full colour illustrations and pages of art.  It also has full credits and lyrics for every track, including dialogue.  The remastering is full and clear, without any obvious sonic flaws.  You can buy this album in a number of editions, with loads of remixes and outtakes, but this simpler 2 CD remaster is the ideal entry point.

Though the musical chapters are long, War of the Worlds flows by rather quickly.  Sometimes it bears sonic similarity to Alice Cooper’s elaborate Welcome to My Nightmare.  But it is far weightier and more expansive than that.  You can finish the album in a single sitting quite easily.  In fact, you probably should.

5/5 stars

Blu-ray REVIEW: Dune (1984) by Holen MaGroin

Guest review by Holen MaGroin


DUNE (1984 Universal)

Directed by David Lynch

Frank Herbert’s seminal Dune is one of the most beloved and influential works of science fiction ever committed to paper. Despite its convoluted plot, world specific dialogue, and the presence of enough supporting characters to fill a football arena, readers have been captivated by the tale of lost humanity and political turmoil for over half a century.* The book’s epic length gave it the time it needed to develop compelling three-dimensional characters. Adapting such a complex story into a feature film proved to be so challenging that Arthur P. Jacobs, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ridley Scott all tried and failed to bring the book to the big screen. After three misfires, American surrealist director David Lynch was hired to helm the project in 1981. The film took three challenging years to produce, and upon completion, was a substantial critical and commercial failure.

In the years since its release in 1984, the film has developed a cult following, and for good reason. While it’s not everything a fan of the book would hope for, it’s certainly not as bad as it was made out to be upon its release. For people new to the series, the sheer amount of characters, alliances, and jargon can be overwhelming. Especially when Lynch was only given two hours with which to tell a five-hundred page novel. This is easily the weakest aspect of the movie. Much of the exposition is crammed in at the beginning of the film, and its delivery can best be described as clunky. The scene in which Emperor Shaddam IV explains his plan to destroy House Atreides to the Spacing Guild is so poorly written that it calls to mind a moment from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs in which the evil Lord Helmet turns to the camera after excessive exposition and asks the audience if they caught it all.

The sloppy exposition is exacerbated by the literal interpretation of Frank Herbert’s use of internal dialogue. Lynch’s decision to literally adapt the book’s internal dialogue by having the actors narrate each character’s thoughts and motivations is belligerent and awkward. The film too often relies on this internal dialogue that robs the movie of surprise and subtlety for the sake of clarity that it ironically fails to bring. Much of the dialogue is used to further the plot, as opposed to developing the characters. Certain characters are simplified out of necessity due to the relatively brief runtime, such as the formidable Harkonnens of the novel being turned into the disgusting cartoonish characters seen in this film. However, at only one-hundred thirty-seven minutes, the story could have been much more incoherent and disjointed than it ultimately was, but that doesn’t excuse it from being an underdeveloped mess.

While the story falters somewhat in comparison to the novel, it works surprisingly well taken on its own. Many of the theological questions of the book remain unexplored in the film adaptation, but the complex themes of political strife, globalism, and corruption are all addressed in the conflicts between the many groups gifted with power.  Each entity mistrusts the other, but must form uneasy alliances to stay afloat or to destroy common enemies covertly. The film balances these relationships remarkably well. Every group’s selfish motivation is made abundantly clear, yet each motivation prompts thought over their individual plans within plans.

Another area that the movie excels at is its tone. The novel had a very regal atmosphere, which the film captures in strides. It does a remarkable job at humanizing the bombast of the occasion. In a society where humans are trained more and more to act and perform like machines, the protagonist Paul Atreides triumphs with his innate sense of human morality and communal bonds with the Fremen. Kyle MacLachlan perfectly captures the innocence, the exuberance, and the pride of the character in the novel. Dune has a rich supporting cast including Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, and José Ferrer that help to elevate the material and capture its humanity.

Part of the film’s emotional success can be credited to the excellent score, contributed by Toto with one beautiful piece by Brian Eno. Toto fused orchestral arrangements with their instrumental rock prowess to create a hybrid score that is surprisingly exciting. It frames the most overblown scenes in a way that seems triumphant instead of pompous, and prevents the quiet emotional moments from buckling under the weight of the jargon. At the heart of all this technical jargon and political strife is a story about human characters, filled with human virtue, human emotions, and human desires. This score pulsates with humanity, and is something that Toto and Brian Eno should look at with pride.

The film also succeeds in its unique visual aesthetic that perfectly brings the spiritual and transcendental aspects of the novel to the screen with style. Thanks to the surrealistic tendencies of its director, this film is full of striking visual moments, particularly those that depict Paul’s prescient visions. The scene in which Paul takes the water of life in the desert and unlocks his full mental potential is especially breathtaking. It lacks the narrative depth of the novel, but makes up for it by explaining visually what the film’s clunky dialogue often failed to clarify on its own.

Dune is by no means a great film, and it doesn’t live up to the timeless reputation of the novel it’s based on. It is a cult classic from a decade known for producing its fair share of cult cinema. While many fans of the book and members of the general public look at this movie with disdain, I always walk away from it having been entertained, if left yearning for a better adaptation. We may get this adaptation now that Dennis Villeneuve is directing a new version of the film set to release in 2020. This 1984 version is flawed, and even its director calls it his worst film (I disagree; I think 1990’s Wild at Heart would take that position). The fact that I originally sought out the Dune novel because I was such a big David Lynch fan and wanted to read the book before seeing the film may paint me as a biased source, but I consider the positive attributes of the film Dune to (just barely) counteract the many negatives.

3/5 Sandworms

Author’s Note: Get the Blu-Ray if you’re going to watch it. It is a substantial improvement over any other version of the film. Dune was always a bit of an ugly duckling, but this Blu-Ray edition has gone the distance to clean up the visuals to present what is by far the best looking version of this film ever released. And whatever you do stay away from the 3 hour extended/T.V. cut that is so bad the director removed his name from the credits. It’s a butchered mess that mixes up the musical cues and needlessly edits material back in from the cutting room floor. The theatrical cut is the only version available on Blu-Ray, so it shouldn’t be too hard to avoid the bastardized extended version.

 

* Because of its generous detail and epic world-buildingLeBrain

 

 

DVD REVIEW: The Orville – The Complete First Season (2018)

THE ORVILLE – The Complete First Season (2018 20th Century Fox 2 DVD set)

We like Star Trek: Discovery, we really do.  At the same time, we wonder, “Why do studios insist the only way to do Star Trek today is to modernise it into a gritty action drama?”  Does it have to be so?  Is Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future somehow outdated?

Though CBS Paramount seem terrified of anything “too Trekky”, others have not been timid.  Sensing the wide-open void for something styled in the old spirit of Trek, Seth MacFarlane (of all people) made his move with The Orville.

Before you scoff, let’s not forget that MacFarlane clearly knows his Star Trek.  1) Patrick Stewart regularly appears on his shows.  2) He reunited the entire Next Generation cast for the first time on an episode of Family Guy.  3) He cast Michael Dorn in Ted 2 and dressed him up as Worf.  It should surprise no one that The Orville is closest in spirit to Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  In fact, not even Deep Space Nine or Voyager are this close.  From the gentle pastel sets including conference rooms, hallways and holodecks, to the techno-babble, to the minimal use of violence, The Orville is the NEXT Next Generation.  It is the Enterprise D, but if Captain Picard allowed the crew to crack wise when opportunity knocked.

It would take only the slightest nudge to turn The Orville into Trek canon.  Change some names and terminology, tone down the humour slightly, and you’re there.  Humour on a starship?  Yes, of course, but The Orville is not a comedy.  It is first and foremost science fiction, and indeed some of the best science fiction on television since Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled.  The episodes are generally commentary on modern society, much like Star Trek has always been.  Change the setting to outer space and suddenly it’s parable.  Topics covered include the “court of public opinion” seen in social media today, gender reassignment, underachievers, religion in society, and making the most difficult decisions.  The biggest difference between the voyages of the Orville and the Enterprise isn’t even that big:  on the Orville, there are no transporter beams.

The crew of The Orville is obsessed with Earth culture circa 1980-present, but that is to be expected given Seth MacFarlane’s own interests.  References to movies and TV shows of today are rampant.  Jokes are toned down from the usual modern fare, but the pilot episode sets up a comedic premise.  Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) catches his wife, Commander Kelly Grayson, in bed with a blue alien (Rob Lowe).  When Grayson is assigned as his first officer on the Union ship the Orville, the entire crew learns of their marriage issues.  Captain Mercer’s best friend (and best pilot in the fleet) is Lt. Gordon Malloy played by Scott Grimes of American Dad.  Seth’s buddy Norm MacDonald also shows up as Lt. Yaphit, a gelatinous yellow blob based on Odo from Deep Space Nine, but played for comedy relief.

Too much science fiction today has flimsy barely-there characters.  The Orville’s crew are more fully formed than the usual, with a few receiving interesting story arcs.  They are all new versions of classic archetypes.  The robot Isaac (Mark Jackson) is the twist on Data.  He is still immensely curious about humans, but knows he is vastly superior and considers everyone on the Orville his inferior.  Bortus (Peter Macon) is your “Worf”, a deep voiced, strong alien species with head ridges.  His unique trait is that his race is single-gendered, and much of his character development is in tandem with his partner Klyden (Chad L. Coleman).  Halston Sage plays the inexperienced security chief Alara Kitan, a young alien from a planet with such high gravity, that their species have evolved tremendous physical strength.  Though small she can easily throw a punch to send Bortus flying, or re-shape a cube of titanium with her hands!  Yet she lacks the confidence that her crewmates have in her.

More casting genius:  Penny Johnson Jerald, Deep Space Nine‘s Kassidy Yates, as ship’s doctor Claire Finn.  In cameos or recurring roles are Ron Canada (Next Generation), Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West), Victor Garber (Titanic), Mike Henry (Family Guy), Robert Picardo (Voyager‘s Doctor), and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development).  One has to respect both the sheer talent involved, and the willingness of Star Trek actors to participate.

As the show grows during its first season, comedy takes a back seat to science fiction.  In the bonus features, MacFarlane states that he paid attention to fan feedback, and he noted that fans were discussing the legitimate characters and science fiction tales.  Episodes feature a new twist on classic sci-fi (and even Star Trek) themes:  living in a simulation, a space zoo, Flatland, a civilisation living in a generation ship without its own knowledge, interference with space-time and developing cultures, and many planets with Earth-like societies that act as a mirror for us to view our own.  Ray guns are rarely used, and monsters are usually misunderstood.

It’s remarkable but not untrue to say that The Orville is Star Trek, but without infringing any copyrights.  Dig a little further in the credits and you’ll have a better understanding of how they managed to play The Orville so close to classic Trek.  In the director’s chair:  Jonathan Frakes, AKA Riker, and director of Trek on both TV and in cinemas.  Also directing:  Robert Duncan McNeill, AKA Tom Paris and also director of many Voyager episodes.  Behind the scenes is Brannon Braga, a producer on The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise, Cosmos…and The Orville.  Jon Favreau even directed the pilot episode.  With a team like this in place, MacFarlane and friends were more than capable of making a show truly within the optimistic Roddenberry philosophy.  Guys like Braga, Frakes and McNeill spent years living in that universe.

The DVD includes your traditional special features, the best of which is a Q&A session with the cast and creators of the show.  Another interesting featurette is about the physical model of the Orville spaceship, used for those slow “beauty shots”.

The Orville is the show that Trek fans have wanted for years now, at least since JJ Abrams brought it back to movie screens.  The true Trek on TV is not Discovery.  It’s not Short Treks.  It is The Orville.  If that pisses off CBS Paramount, then too bad.  If they won’t make the Trek that fans want, then someone else will — and did.

5/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Solo – A Star Wars Story [MINOR SPOILERS]

It is a lawless time.

CRIME SYNDICATES compete for resources – food, medicine, and HYPERFUEL.

On the shipbuilding planet of CORELLIA, the foul LADY PROXIMA forces runaways into a life of crime in exchange for shelter and protection.

On these mean streets, a young man fights for survival, but yearns to fly among the stars….

SOLO: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Directed by Ron Howard

We are dangerously close to Star Wars overkill.  With the announcement of:

  1. A new trilogy helmed by so-so director Rian Johnson.
  2. A new trilogy brought to you by the folks who gave us Game of Thrones.
  3. A live action TV series from Jon Favreau.
  4. And not to mention more Star Wars Story spinoffs (Obi-Wan? Boba?) and the only movie that really matters: the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga, Episode IX.

We are very close to oversaturation indeed.  Remember when you had to wait three years between movies and much longer between trilogies?

Fortunately, Solo is a welcome addition to the crowded Star Wars family.

Solo was one of the spinoffs conceived by George Lucas before he abandoned ship.  He’d been trying to do “young Han” since at least Revenge of the Sith, when he was pictured in concept art as an orphan raised by Wookiees.  Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) and son Jon wrote Solo, so you can be assured there is a level of authenticity here.  Who better to write that space scoundrel?  Nobody.

And who better to direct than Ron Howard?  He came in under difficult circumstances after the firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, re-shot 70% of the movie, and pretty much nailed it too.  Howard also brought in some of his regulars (brother Clint Howard and Paul Bettany) and threw in a literal ton of Star Wars references and crossovers.  Solo is Easter Egg heaven.

Finally, composer John Powell created a soundtrack that is different yet founded in the Star Wars universe.  Powell hybridized new and old themes together into a memorable score.  He too included Easter Eggs, in his music.  Listen closely when [SPOILER] the marauder Enfys Nest and her gang arrives.  Powell utilised a children’s choir, as a clue foreshadowing Enfys’ young age under the mask.

Everybody was worried about lead actor Alden Ehrenreich as Solo.  Admit it, you were too.  Fear not, for young Ehrenreich (who is signed on for three films) nailed the role.  His higher voice is the only niggle that consistently reminds you that he’s not the Han you remember.  Similarly, Donald Glover fits into Lando Calrissian’s capes comfortably, including the suave talkin’.  Billy Dee Williams should be very happy with the new Lando.

The concept of Han as an orphan is retained, but instead of being raised by Wookiees, his backstory is more aligned with the old Star Wars novels.  He is a thief on planet Corellia, where he and girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to stay under the Empire’s nose.  Corellia is a shipbuilding world with huge, expansive scenes of Star Destroyers under construction.  When Han and Qi’ra are separated, he joins the Empire, as he did in the comics.

Han wanted to be a pilot, but got stationed in the muddy trenches to quell an uprising on planet Mimban.  Han, you see, isn’t the best at taking orders.  While enlisted on Mimban, he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his best friend to be, Chewbacca (now played by Joonas Suotamo).  Solo is swept into the seedy world of organised crime where he is delighted to catch up to Qi’ra, and is introduced to her boss played by Paul Bettany.  They both work for the dark, shadowy crime syndicate Crimson Dawn.

From an exciting pulse-pounding train heist to the Millenium Falcon, Solo keeps things moving.  It’s one big set piece after another, including the Kessel Run.  And yes, they used the novels as the source material.  The Falcon does indeed make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, getting a little beat up in the process.  By the end of the film, she’ll look a little more like the ship you remember.

The plot has its twists but you can foresee that some backs are going to get stabbed.  Han’s backstory is over-explained a bit too much for a single film, but there is still enough left to explore should Solo 2 be somewhere in pipe.  The truth is, the first viewing of Solo is less paying attention to the plot, and more looking for cameos.  Speaking of which, characters tie Solo into movies as diverse as Rogue One and The Phantom Menace.  You’ll see some stirrings of the early Rebellion, and Han’s intrinsic sense of right and wrong.  You might even see a giant “fuck you” to the Star Wars special editions.  [SPOILER] Han is definitely a “shoot first” kind of guy.

Things get a little muddled with a side character (Lando’s droid L3-37 played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) with a passion for droid’s rights.  Perhaps a droid-based Star Wars movie would be interesting for the future, but it was extraneous here.  Solo is best when it’s giving you a tour of the Star Wars universe, from crime lords to the trenches on the front lines of the Empire.  Trench warfare on Mimban is directly inspired by the muddy fields of World War 1, and it’s far better than any of the Clone Wars stuff in Revenge of the Sith.

Unlike The Last Jedi, a spinoff movie doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.  In many measures, the pressure was off.  Solo aims to be a fun movie that requires no connections to the Force or Skywalker family.  It’s a shame that it has not performed well, but that is not a reflection on its quality.

3.75/5 stars

WTF Comments: Discovery of the Lemming edition

Star Trek: Discovery is a controversial series.  Reviews have been very mixed, and fans are split.

Before reviewing, I watched every Discovery episode twice.  Even three times for some.  My review is rather positive3.5/5 stars — and hopeful for the future of the show.  Discovery is not perfect.  Not only is there room for improvement, but things that simply must improve.  But Star Trek has a history of poor first seasons.  Remember The Next Generation in 1987?  Nobody liked Next Generation best in 1987.  It had a rough, rough start.

My review received lots of great comments.  Nobody agreed with my full assessment, just bits and pieces here and there, but comments were helpful and completely relevant.

All but one!  Enjoy this WTF Comment from Dick Dirk.  

He blocked me shortly after.

In the words of William Shatner, “It’s just a TV show!  Get a life!”