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VIDEO: Star Wars Black Series random unboxings

Guest directed by: Kathryn Ladano

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GUEST REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2018) Blu-ray bonus features

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!

Guest review by Kovaflyer

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi (2018 Lucasfilm blu-ray)

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.

 

Scene Breakdowns

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!

 

Deleted Scenes

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

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.

 

 

 

 

#670: Censor This Too! – The Star Chamber

GETTING MORE TALE #670: Censor This Too! – The Star Chamber

This is the sequel to Getting More Tale #669: Censor This! In a footnote to that story, we discussed the evil, corrupt English department at Grand River Collegiate Institute in the school year 1990-1991.  With music as part and parcel of everything I do, here is the students’ revenge.

This story was written by myself and Andrew “Abbis” anonymously.  (You may remember “Abbis” was the subject of a Zeppelin-esque song I co-wrote called “Abbis’ Stomp”.)

Context:  A brilliant young student named Danny was accused of plagiarism for his independent study on part of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  The entire English department were united in their belief that he had cheated, not realizing this young dark-skinned kid with a strange sounding last name was actually just really gifted.  In a parallel to Paradise Lost, Danny soon found himself in a hell of his own.  The school treated him shamefully, but could not prove he cheated.  Instead of the A+ he deserved, he got a “no report”.  This was his final year of highschool, and he wanted that A+ to get into the university program he had applied to.

This story was our revenge on his behalf.

I take a lot of pride in our creative little rebellion. This was about as misbehaved as we got.  Our scathing story The Star Chamber (an obvious mashup of MacBeth and Star Wars) was published in the underground school newspaper, in June of 1991, exactly as you see it below.  Pay attention for a Zeppelin reference and plenty of Shakespeare.  My character is an homage to Han Solo named…Guitar Solo.

Please enjoy.

THE STAR CHAMBER
(The Uncensored Version)

BY: Robin Hood and his Merry Men

 

A long time ago, in a Collegiate Institute far, far away, a battle was being waged between the forces of Good and English.  The leader of the rebel forces, Danny “The Terror” Skywalker, had for months been a thorn in the side of the English Empire…

ACT I, SCENE I

In the caverns of Smithers the Hutt.

Enter with a flourish and really neato special effects, Darth Chamber and his English entourage.

DARTH:  (To Smithers) By Jupiter!  We must capture that foul wretch known to all as Danny “The Terror” Skywalker.

SMITHERS:  I say yea my Lord.

Exuent Darth and entourage with an even bigger flourish.

END OF SCENE

ACT I, SCENE II

Enter Danny, his faithful companion Guitar Solo at his side, zipping through space in the Tarachan Falcon.

Their favourite album, “Ten Classic Books in Ten Minutes” is suddenly drowned out by the wail of an intergalactic police siren.

Enter Robo Bolt, with colours and drums.

DANNY:  What hast thou pulled me over for, sucka?

ROBO:  Dost thou thinks that “E.N.G.-S.U.K.S.” is an appropriate licence plate for thine vehicle?

DANNY:  What say you?  Thou art a strange fellow.

ROBO:  Your horrid image doth unfix my hair!

DANNY:  Methinks thou art (and I quote Willie Shakespeare) “a coward, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a beggar, and a lily livered knave”.

ROBO:  Draw thine sword, I’ll make a sop’ o’ the moonshine of you!  (they draw and fight, Guitar Solo slain by accident.)

GUITAR:  To be…or not to be.  What a stupid question!  GAHK!!!  (he dies.  Robo is then slain.)

ROBO:  I am slain, I am slain, dead, defunct, kicking the bucket, etc. etc. etc.  (he dies.)

DANNY:  What have I done, o Lord, o nature?  What evil spirit hast possessed me?

Exit Danny, delirious from the battle.

END OF SCENE

ACT I, SCENE III

Enter Darth Chamber having been notified of Robo’s death, mad, and garlanded with wild flowers.

DARTH:  Oh what foul deed, what evil, for my fair fair Robo.  He is killed.  (Enter Danny, furious with rage upon sighting Darth.)  Draw, or surely thou shalt perish!

DANNY:  Have at you, bud!

Enter Smithers from behind.

Smithers strikes Danny over the head with Roget’s Unabridged Dictionary, knocking him unconscious.

END OF SCENE AND ACT

ACT II, SCENE I

Later in the Star Chamber.

First trumpet.
Second trumpet.
Third trumpet.
       Trumpet answers within.
Enter Darth Chamber and Smithers, armed, a trumpet before them, attendants, the Fool, Edgar, Edmund, Oberon, The Duke of Cornwall, Elvis, drums and colours, Danny Skywalker in chains, Gloucester wandering around outside.

DARTH:  Hark, four-score and seven years ago this treasonous wretch, Danny Skywalker, hath committed the ultimate crime against the English Empire.  May his trunk be devoured by butterflies.  By Jupiter!  Behold his foul deed.  (cries of astonishment within)  He hast plagiarised the almighty Milton!!!

DANNY:  Oh Hell!  Oh spite me!  What manner of accusation is this?

DARTH:  Silence scurvy knave.  (Darth to attendants) Place him in…(drum solo)…the machine!

SMITHERS:  Goody goody gosh!  By the fairies, Darth is mighty!

FOOL:  (sings)  O nuncle, court holy water in a dry house is better than this rain water out o’ door.  For he’s buying a Stairway to Heaven.

Exuent all.  Death march, colours and banners.

END OF SCENE

ACT II, SCENE II

Enter with a flourish, Darth Chamber and Smithers the Hutt, with entourage carrying fluorescent banners with matching tights, led by an Old Man.  Danny strapped to the machine.

The machine, a relic left over from the late 20th century, known as a “Dunking Machine” is filled with water, with Danny strapped to a chair above it.

DARTH:  By Jupiter!  My seated heart dost knock at my ribs.  For the time is near o’ blossom.

SMITHERS:  Skywalker thy trial begins!  If thou float’est, thou art guilty of plagiarism and shalt be sentenced to die…slowly.  First we shall tear all the of the hair from thine body, then soak you in lemon juice, and Kraft salad oil.  Then we shall take you out to the Dune Sea you shall be eaten alive by the almighty Mouth, while’st being garnished with tomatoes and olives!  But if thou sink’est and die’est, we shall know that thou art innocent and we shall let’est you go.

DANNY:  Sorry, but I’ve got a prior engagement.

Enter Abbis Man’s ghost.  (See last issue — ed.)

Abbis Man runs onto the stage, dropkicks Darth, hits Smithers with the D.D.T. and frees Danny from the machine.

DANNY:  Thanks bud!

ABBIS:  No problem, let’s get a beer!

Exuent, too tired to flourish.

DARTH:  Gosh darn it!  Methinks this ending really sucks!

Exuent Darth and all remaining.

END OF SCENE AND ACT

EPILOGUE

Danny and Abbis Man, having formed a powerful alliance, travel to Earth where they take on aliases and fight crime as Siskel and Ebert.

 

Sunday Chuckle: Mike the Jedi

 

I was at Subway the other day.  The girl in line ahead of me turned and said, “Has anyone told you that you look like Mike Hamill?”

“I’m sorry, who?” I responded.

“Luke Skywalker,” came the answer.

“Oh!  MARK Hamill!  And yes!”

It’s true.  I’m frequently told I look like old Luke…when I have my beard, that is.  Lightsaber is optional.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 stars

#648: “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #648:  “The Mall”

For the first 23 or 24 years of my life, Stanley Park Mall was my epicenter. If I said “Mom, I’m going to the mall!” she knew where I meant. It wasn’t the biggest mall, and certainly not the best. But it was my mall.

This very typical mall, on Ottawa Street in Kitchener, opened in 1969. It was nothing special. There was nowhere to buy music, until it expanded with a Zellers store circa 1973. As small children, we weren’t interested in music yet. Instead it was Zellers’ toy section that had us enthralled.

In 1977 my mother took me to Stanley Park to look for a birthday present for a neighbor named John Schipper, older brother of my best friend Bob. “Look mom! The movie we just saw!” I exclaimed as I laid eyes on my first Star Wars figures. My mom bought C3P0 for John, and R2D2 for me, so we could play together. Little did she know what she got me into, by buying my first Star Wars figure at that Zellers store. But to be fair, who could have known?

The mall also had a bank, and my dad soon transferred there as its manager. I used to feel like such a big shot, strolling into my dad’s office. He’d let us sit at his desk and play with his calculator and telephone. I can even remember helping him with spelling on an internal memo!  Once, when my sister was sitting in his chair, she pushed the button for the silent alarm. “Hmmm, this doesn’t do anything,” she thought. After she left, the cops arrived in force to answer the alarm. My dad realised what happened too late!

With my dad working there, plus the Zellers store, it was our main destination for shopping or just being kids. It was walking distance from home. When I was old enough to cross streets by myself, my friends and I made regular trips on our bikes. The Little Short Stop store was our main hangout. We would buy candy, pop, chips, comic books, and Star Wars or Indiana Jones cards. I managed to get a full set of The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I got them slowly, pack by pack, and by trading with friends. There was a neighbor who had the one Indiana Jones card I still needed called “I Hate Snakes”. A trade was made and I completed my set. I wish I knew what happened to all the doubles and triples of those cards.

When I was older, that Little Short Stop was my store for amassing a huge collection of rock and wrestling magazines. Hit Parader was my main title and I had a complete set of every issue from 1987-1990.

The mall was also right close to our grade school. Many of my friends would “cut through” the mall as a short cut to get home. One fellow, Chris, tells me he was sometimes chased around by mall security.  Naughty kid.

I remember there was a short-lived video store there. My dad refused to rent the Twisted Sister Stay Hungry video for me. He didn’t like the look of the “guy with the ham bone” on the front cover.

In 1987, something remarkable happened. Stanley Park Mall got its first actual record store: A&A Records and Tapes. Suddenly I had close access to all kinds of music, including 12” singles. I remember flipping through their Aerosmith and Europe singles, thinking “Woah, there are songs here I have never heard of.”

We still checked Zellers, but A&A became the place for us. In fact there were even A&A coupons on the back of every box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. $1.00 off tapes! We sure cashed in a lot of A&A coupons that year. I loved checking out their front charts too. Vinyl was still happening, and the front chart was a big huge display of records. Much larger and more eye catching than a CD chart. I remember rejoicing when Judas Priest’s Ram It Down was on it.

I have clear memories of Bob Schipper and I walking to the mall in early April of 1988 to pick up a new release. Two copies of course; one for each of us. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was an album we had been looking forward to, and we both got it on that cold Saturday in April 1988.  (It took a while to adjust to the new Maiden sound, but Bob’s immediate favourite was “Infinite Dreams”.)

In 1989 I got my first real job, and it was at that very mall. The grocery store Zehrs was my first pay cheque. I cut my hair short for that job and was teased for it at school. Not only that, but suddenly I also needed glasses!  It was a pretty drastic image change.  But it was a cool work experience. Not only was I working at Zehrs with my best friend Bob, but my dad was still working in the mall too. All three of us in one place!

I was pretty loyal to A&A during those years at the mall, but in 1990 they went under. The last thing I ever bought at an A&A (though a different location) was a CD of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able and some blank tapes.

Yet every cloud has a silver lining. A former employee of A&A Records at our mall location decided to open a business of his own. Guess who he went to for the bank loan?  My dad!  Six months after A&A closed, he opened his own record store in that mall. The rest is history. The store that I now call “The Record Store” hired me on in July of 1994. And he’s still in business in 2018, albeit not in that mall anymore which suffered a slow and steady decline in the 90s.

There are no record stores in the mall anymore. Zellers went under, and Walmart took over. Their tiny little entertainment section is the only place to buy a CD. The bank is still there, and so is the grocery store, but my Little Short Shop is long gone. There isn’t much left. No Baskin Robbins, no 31 flavors.  Bargain shops and discount stores have replaced all the places I used to frequent as a kid. Sad, but not unexpected.

The strange thing is, as much as the mall has changed, I still get a huge shot of nostalgia when I walk into that Walmart that used to be my Zellers. Like a déjà vu, suddenly I am hit with the memory of finding a rare GI Joe, or flipping through Judas Priest tapes. The mall I knew from long ago is no longer the same, but the memory remains.

#645: Catching Up

GETTING MORE TALE #645: Catching Up

The last couple months were pretty crazy.  I was clocked out.  My wife’s cancer diagnosis and surgery really took their toll on me.  This resulted in me getting very sick right during Christmas holidays.  There has been so much chaos that I really haven’t paid attention to music.  I neglected my reading, I didn’t buy anything, and I didn’t listen to much either.  I’m just starting to get caught up now that Jen’s surgery seems to have gone so well.  She’s getting a little more independence back, and I’m able to take a little time to listen to music and write about it again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my history with the band Queen.  I am on a Queen kick, but until recently I was missing two of Queen’s discs in the 2 CD format:  Hot Space and A Kind of Magic.  Eager to get back into the game, I ordered both from Amazon on a whim.  I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying Hot Space.  You wouldn’t think those synths and I would get along, but I’m digging the soul!  I already owned one version of A Kind of Magic, the 1991 Hollywood CD, but the extra disc has seven bonus tracks.

Soon after, the new CD by Mike Slayen called DUDE came by the post.  That enjoyed a couple spins, but I really wanted to go shopping again.  I haven’t been to a record store since the stress kicked in.  I had no idea what I was going in for, but I wanted to leave with a purchase.  There have been plenty of new releases that I missed, and reissues too.  The problem with new releases is, I don’t like to buy anything until I know what is on the Japanese version.  I want the maximum amount of bonus music.  So I decided to look at reissues instead and skip new releases.  Fortunately for me there was plenty going on in reissues.

Big Wreck’s 20th Anniversary edition of their debut In Loving Memory Of… was my first grab.  I didn’t think it was going to have bonus tracks on it, but it does:  “Ill Advice” and “Still Holding”.  I used to love that album, and I don’t know those two songs, so that was an easy buy.  For those who don’t know this band, check out the big single “That Song”.  Other hits you may know from this album are “The Oaf (My Luck is Wasted)” and “Under the Lighthouse”.

I then spied the recent 40th Anniversary edition of Rush’s classic A Farewell to Kings.  The 3 CD set was $30, so I tucked it under my arm.  Then I thought to myself, “You know what, I’d better check to make sure there isn’t another edition with more songs.”  Good thing I did.  Blabbermouth told me that there was a version with a brand new 5.1 surround mix by Steven Wilson on a blu-ray.  OK, then.  That had to be the one I get.  Via the Sectors box sets and other super deluxe editions, I already had every other Rush 5.1 mix.

How much?

$149.99.

Ahh, fuck it.  I earned this.

3 CDs, 1 blu-ray, and 4 LPs of vinyl, plus assorted goodies like a Rush turntable mat, a tour program and lithographs.  The CDs and vinyl include an unreleased (in full) concert, Live at Hammersmith Odeon – February 20, 1978.  A portion of this concert (11 tracks) was released in 1998 on a bonus CD to Rush’s live Different Stages.  This box set has the full 14 song (plus drum solo) performance, newly mixed by Terry Brown himself.  On blu-ray you will find the 5.1 and the stereo mix of the album A Farewell to Kings, in studio-quality clarity, plus three music videos.  Mixer Steven Wilson is generally considered one of the great masters of the 5.1 art.  The Sector 2 mix by Richard Chycki received a mixed to negative reception from fans, so I look forward to comparing.

And there’s still more:  new Rush covers by Dream Theater, Big Wreck (hey, Big Wreck again!), The Trews and Alain Johannes.  Plus a final mystery bonus track called “Cygnus X-2 Eh!”

It’s going to be fun digging into the Rush over  the next week or so.  But I wasn’t done catching up.  Because of all the shit that happened, I didn’t get to see Star Wars in the theatres.  Yes, I’m sorry folks, I’ll admit it:  Until now I only saw The Last Jedi online.  This, of course, could not stand.  I must see every Star Wars Saga film in the theatre three times, minimum.  For The Force Awakens, it was four.  Fortunately the Waterloo Galaxy still had a 3D screening, which has disappeared elsewhere in town.  Now I just have to see it two more times (2D will do fine).

I still have quite a few issues with The Last Jedi.  The slow motion is annoying as hell, and the Finn/Rose side story is still just a side story.  The ending is still at odds with set style of the saga Saga, and the movie could have used some editing.  In general I enjoyed the film more this time.  The Last Jedi is more poem than plot, but it has many rhymes.  I think it’s a fine Star Wars movie, and the fanboy overreaction is ridiculous.

Catching up feels great.  Music and movies still work as the best kind of escape.  I highly recommend both.

 

 

 

#625: The Last Fanboys [SPOILER WARNING]

SPOILER WARNING

 

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

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

 

GETTING MORE TALE
EPISODE DCXXV:  The Last Fanboys

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#623: Rocking Around the Christmas Tree

GETTING MORE TALE #623: Rocking Around the Christmas Tree

Traditions change and evolve over the years as families do.  I have always been excited about Christmas, going back my youngest days.  I would be so excited I couldn’t sleep.  Killing the days before Christmas was agonizing.  I guess as kids we were a little spoiled.

Spoiled kids became spoiled teens.  As I got older, I stopped asking for toys for Christmas.  Music replaced them.  Most of the time, I would circle titles that I saw in print ads.  Stores like A&A Records and even the local Zellers had flyers with new releases and sale items.  I remember the winter of 1986, circling two:  Helix’s Long Way to Heaven, and Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Trilogy.  I didn’t know much about Yngwie other than a few videos on TV.  I circled both and I received both, on cassette.  I recall listening to them on a pair of earphones at Grandma’s after Christmas dinner that year.

The following year, 1987, was the year of a couple pretty important albums.  That Christmas I received Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and Whitesnake’s 1987Hysteria quickly became the favourite.  Its impact was immediate and that cassette kept me entertained for years.  Whitesnake took more time to get into.  It didn’t help that the cassette had speed issues.  Similarly, the Helix and Yngwie tapes from the year before had the same drag problems that made them hard to listen to.  Because of this, many albums that originally had quality problems on tape releases, I didn’t warm up to for many many years.  It was hard to enjoy Whitesnake tunes like “Don’t Turn Away” when they were slow and warbly.

When I first began receiving tapes for Christmas, the mid-80s, we had a pretty routine Christmas schedule.  There was no variation from year to year.  We have a small family compared to others.  Our celebrations always began on the 24th.  My mom and dad would spend the morning preparing food and cleaning.  My sister and I would be pains in the asses.  Then my aunt and uncle from Stratford would come over around 2:00 and we’d exchange first gifts.  My aunt and uncle always brought fun gifts.  They would never, ever buy clothes for Christmas unless it was something we asked for.  No socks, no undies, no shirts, no pants.  Fun gifts only!  Sometimes guitar strings, games, and sheet music.  There would always be at least one tape for each of us.

After gifts were opened, my sister and I would go upstairs and play our new tapes.  Sometimes, we’d have something a little bigger:  a video tape.  In 1991, my aunt and uncle gave me Faith No More’s You Fat Bastards.  They had access to a cool store in Stratford that would special order anything.  As my needs evolved, my aunt and uncle would typically buy me hard-to-find items.  The Faith No More video was one such special order.  That year, I ran downstairs to the spare VCR and fired up the live video.  My other uncle came down to watch with me, but didn’t care too much for their cover of “War Pigs”.  Admittedly, it’s pretty different.

The traditions didn’t change much as we got older.  In the 90s, my buddy Peter would come over for Christmas Eve.  And, my sister discovered wine.  One of her rituals now is drinking her wine out of her special cup which we have dubbed the “Holy Grail”, due to its perceived similarity to the one that appeared in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Usually, before she takes a sip, I make her say the line, “It certainly is the cup of the King of Kings…”

Our Christmas Eve dinner, which is my favourite, has remained unchanged in over 30 years.  We do a beef, chicken and veggie fondue.  We’ve only had a couple of injuries over the years, but table cloths were frequently destroyed.  Today, my sister does the Christmas Eve entertaining, as my parents have retired from this duty.  She’ll always have some Christmas music playing, though not the kind I like.  We don’t run to listen to our gifts on headphones anymore.  We had to grow up, a little bit.

Christmas Day was also special for us.  When we were kids, I’d wake up my sister early in the morning to open presents.  Now, we put on our winter boats, coats and hats and drive over, and usually quite late in the morning.  More gifts are exchanged, and always more music.  It’s interesting to look at the kinds of albums I received then compared to now.   Back then, a multi-disc set was a big big deal.  Now, a three disc set can be as little as $30, the same price as a double live CD then.  I seem to get a lot of deluxe editions and box sets for Christmas now as if it’s no big deal!

My sister and I would exchange gifts, and we always got music for each other.  She was really good at filling in gaps of my collections.  Artists like Alice Cooper and Whitesnake had large discographies and I had very little.  She would look at my tape collection, go to the mall and pick up one of the many I was missing.  Whitesnake was an annual gift for several years in a row.  This was cool because it was always going to be something I didn’t expect, because my sister didn’t buy this off of some list I made.  It always came 100% from her own intuition.

After the parents’ house, we’re still not done.  Time to see Grandma!  She always makes me laugh.  One year she wrote inside a card, “You can use your Christmas money to buy a CD record.”  Aww!

There is one Christmas tradition that I don’t particularly enjoy, and it’s a more recent one.  We call it the $10 Gift Game.  Lots of families do the same thing.  Everybody buys a generic gift worth about $10, wraps it, and puts it on a table.  Then, everybody draws a number out of a hat.  #1 goes first by picking a gift off the table.  They then open that gift for everyone to get a look at.  #2 goes next.  #2 either picks a wrapped gift off the table, or steals the gift opened by #1.  If #2 chooses to steal, then #1 must open a new gift.  But #2 must remember, their gift can be stolen by #3, #4, #5, and so on.

Each round consists of the next number in line picking a gift from the table or stealing.  It gets quite tedious in our family, because my mother really likes to drag things out.  She will encourage people to steal, so that the victim must replace their gift by picking or stealing from someone else, and then the next victim must also replace their gift, and on and on each round goes.  At the end of the game people usually just end up swapping to get the gift most suited to their needs.  For example, my mother or sister always end up with the booze.  It’s harder to settle on who gets the chocolates.

One year, in protest of the game, my gift was a bag of unwrapped nickles and pennies adding up to exactly $10.*

Yes, I can be a Christmas grump sometimes.  As a non-drinking participant, sometimes things can get a little goofy for me.  Also, my dad’s level of interest in the game is so minimal that someone basically has to play for him while he does something else!  The game definitely has a short shelf-life for me.

We are a bit older today but still try to have fun with Christmas.  My sister and I will be giving music to each other, I’m sure, as we have done just about every single year for 30 years.  Usually, we will just sit around saying, “Remember that one Christmas when…?”

I sure do.  Here is a list of my Top Ten Most Fun Christmas Gifts of All Time.

1978 – Star Wars X-Wing Fighter

1979 – Star Wars Millenium Falcon

1983 – Star Wars Jabba the Hutt playset

1984 – GI Joe Killer W.H.A.L.E. Hovercraft

1985 – My first dual tape deck

1986 – GI Joe Cobra Terrordrome

1987 – The latest by Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Kiss and also Kim Mitchell’s Akimbo Alogo

1989 – My first CD player and my first CDs:  Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood, Whitesnake – Snakebite and Alice Cooper – Trash.

1990 – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin boxed set.

1993 – Led Zeppelin – Boxed Set 2

 

 

Merry Christmas one and all!

* I am told that due to inflation, the game is now the $15 Gift Game.

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Spoiler-free]

NEW RELEASE – SPOILER FREE ZONE!

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi (2017)

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.

3.5/5 stars