Movies · Television · Uncategorized

The Best of 2020 in Entertainment

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Normally my lists for the year are about the movies that I was able to see in the theater, well we all know how that went in 2020, so this year, I am listing out the best things I saw that were released in 2020. 

Best Movies 

Tenet

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So thankful this was one of the few movies I was able to see on the big screen during the COVID season. It truly was meant to be experienced in the theater. In my opinion there is no greater filmmaker of our time than Christopher Nolan. This film is, in many ways. the culmination of all that he has been building on since Memento. The imagination at work in this movie is astounding. Some may have had trouble keeping up with the story but thankfully a lifetime of Star Trek and sci-fi allowed me to get what Nolan was doing. This is a movie I cannot wait to watch over and over, allowing me to pick up all the little connections placed throughout the film. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on this one! 

Soul

soul_ver3Pixar has brought our inner world to life with Inside Out and now they tackle the great beyond. What a perfect gift at the end of 2020, to be reminded of the beauty of life, even with all the bumps and bruises we acquire along the way. The movie smartly stays away from answering what lies beyond and its message about the souls we all have is one of the most pro-life messages I’ve seen. Don’t miss Soul on Disney+ and look for The 602 Club episode next week!

Fatman

fatman_ver3This was the perfect Christmas movie for 2020. So sad I was not able to see it on the big screen but it was something I’ll be returning to as a new Christmas classic every year. Mel Gibson is perfect as a Santa that has almost run out of holiday cheer and who’s being hunted by a hitman payed but the indefatigable Walter Goggins. Do yourself a favor and rent this! 

The Gentlemen

gentlemen_ver8This is a fantastic ride from start to finish. Every single actor is on top of their game. Hugh Grant is the standout and almost unrecognizable from his usual fair. Don’t sleep on this one if you missed it at the beginning of the year.

 

Hillbilly Elegy

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This might be a controversial pick but I found this movie to be a powerful depiction of a side of life many of us don’t even know exists. The performances are brilliant and Glenn Close is perfection as Mamaw. I’m honestly not sure why people have not responded better to this movie but it’s worth your time, as is the book it’s based off of. 

 

The Way Back

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In many ways this movie feels semi-autobiographical for its star Ben Affleck. He is so good as a man struggling to overcome is addiction to alcohol and find a way to rebuild his life. It feels like the kind of intimate storytelling that gets lost in the blockbuster shuffle but that 2020 has made more relevant since studios will be looking for ways to get people back into the theaters with films that don’t cost $300 million to make.  

Love and Monsters

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This movie was a complete surprise and one of the few I was able to see on the big screen during the COVID season. It has such heart and it’s message about not staying locked away because life can be dangerous was one of the most timely in 2020. My favorite quote from the movie, “There is a great big beautiful inspiring world out there. Crank open that hatch, breathe some fresh air, go live your life. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.” Worth checking out and enjoying with friends!

Greyhound

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I am so thankful that Apple+ picked this one up. The movie knew exactly what it was, an intense war thriller about the trials of a Captain trying to get as many ships safely to England in the middle of “Battle of the Atlantic”. It’s a story from WWII that is often overlooked and yet was one of the most pivotal. You really feel apart of the stress and worry these men went through as they knew that any minute could be their last. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode! 

Onward

onwardSuch a fun idea, a world where magic use to be a way of life and has now become mundane. It is a beautiful story about brotherhood, as well as the importance of good male role models in the life of a young boy. Pixar was on fire this year. Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories episodes! 

 

Wonder Woman 1984

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I’m positive this will be the most controversial pick of the list. I cannot get over how important the themes are in this movie, what it has to say about Truth is astounding. It was not as good as Wonder Woman, but it was a lot of fun and the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine is electric. Please don’t miss The 602 Club episode about this film, I’m so proud of the conversation we had about the movie. 

Best Shows

The Queen’s Gambit

iu-7Engrossing and utterly fascinating character study of a chess prodigy in the 1960s. Anya Taylor Joy is beyond brilliant as Beth Harmon, as is Isla Johnston who plays her as a young girl. This is a series you just have to watch. 

 

The Mandalorian: Season 2

EoVumzTVoAESrJcSeason one blew everyone away, season two left everyone speechless. Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau continue their resume for why they should be running creative for Star Wars at this point. The way they have been able to connect with the larger universe is excellent, while at the same time never losing sight of the story of The Mandalorian himself. Don’t miss The 602 Club conversation about the season!

Documentaries

The Social Dilemma

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We tweet, we like, and we share— but what are the consequences of our growing dependence on social media? This documentary-drama hybrid reveals how social media is reprogramming civilization with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.

This is what The Social Dilemma looks to answer. This documentary from Netflix explores, in depth, how social media, technology and smart devices are reshaping the human race. To do this Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist and the co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology has gathered experts from all over social media and technology to talk about the dangers they see in their own creations. 

This panel of experts breaks down the ways in which technology is dangerous. They help explain the ways in which social media is addictive by describing the algorithms behind these platforms and the ways they are meant to keep people engaged, even tempt people to become engaged when they are not actively using them. 

They also dive into the ways in which fake news has rapidly spread on these networks and the way in which people can fall down the “rabbit hole” very quickly. These “rabbit holes” are the ways people can become radicalized because they only see one side of an issue because algorithms suggest new content based on what you’ve previously watched.

Each of these experts also confesses that this is all driven by profit, the more you scroll, watch, like, stream, the more they make on advertising. For them it’s about keeping you engaged. They never had any thought as to how this would impact the lives of kids. Therefore entire generations are the test subjects for the impact of these devices and platforms. We’re only now realizing what these things are doing to our children and to ourselves. It is interesting to note that none of these experts allow their children time on social media or much time with the technology they helped create, says a lot. 

With all this said, I would recommend spending the hour and a half to watch this, watch it with your teens and talk about the impact these things are having on their lives and your family.  This may just be the most important thing to come out of 2020, don’t miss it.

The Last Dance

iu-8There are very few teams as storied as the Chicago Bulls from the 90s and this documentary shows why. A look inside the dynasty that defined a generation as well as reminder of who the true GOAT of basketball is. The series will have you binging for sure. 

 

The Worst

There are a few movies this year that belong on this list. Ava and The New Mutants were absolutely dreadful, avoid them. 

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi – Review

This is a spoiler free review. Star Wars: Light of the Jedi will be released on January 5th, 2021.

For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire. – Obi-Wan Kenobi

In 2012 the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm and one of their first acts was to mothball the Expanded Universe that had begun with Heir to the Empire in 1991. Since that time, the literature has been made canon but have stayed in the time periods of the Star Wars galaxy that have been seen onscreen. That has all changed now, with this quote from Obi-Wan as inspiration, the publishing arm of Star Wars is venturing into the unknown with The High Republic era. It is set two hundred years before the events of The Phantom Menace and is going to be seen in all print forms; adult novels, young adult, middle grade, young readers, picture books and comics.

For the first book in the series, Light of the JediDel Rey has turned to author Charle Soule for his first Star Wars book. Soule has written some of the best comics since Disney took over, with his Darth Vader run in contention for the best. His writing is crisp as one who has read his comic work would expect and his dialogue is snappy. Soule does an excellent job for setting the stage of what is to come in this era.

The Republic is at its height, as the title for the era would suggest. For those that know history, it feels akin to the golden age of Elizabethan England. Things are bright for the Republic as they look to open their first deep space station in the Outer Rim, the Starlight Beacon. Soule differentiates this version of the Republic from others we have seen through a motto of this iteration, “We are all the Republic”. The Jedi are at their height as well, serving the Republic, yet not officially as part of the government. This is a time period unencumbered by war. Everything seems to be perfect when a hyperspace incident causes a chain reaction that could threaten the very existence of the Republic.

The “villains” of the story, the Nihil also feel historically based. Anyone familiar with the vikings of the eighth to eleventh centuries will feel right at home with this group. These raiders are the antithesis to the Republic and only have their own interests in mind. Their goal is nothing more than plunder and pleasure.

The most exciting aspect of this series is the ability for it to do something new. Since it is two hundred years before The Phantom Menace there is not much the authors will be bound by, giving them freedom to create something all their own. There are a few characters that fans will know from the Prequel era but the majority of them are new. Soule’s also given readers some interesting relationships to follow in the stories to come. The book’s storyline feels timely and timeless, creating a sure foundation for the High Republic era. Light of the Jedi is rated 3.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed with a review copy of Star Wars: Light of the Jedi from Del Rey Publishing.

This post originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Mandalorian

The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian – Review

In the Disney era of Star Wars, the “making of” book has gone out of fashion, with the “art of” book become the all-in-one for those looking for a behind the scenes information on the creation of new Star Wars material.  There have been “art of” books for the new Episodes as well as the Story films and now fans are being treated to The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian covering the inaugural season of Star Wars’ first live action television show on Disney+. Like the previous “art of” books for the Disney era, this one is also written by Phil Szostak who is the senior content and asset specialist at Lucasfilm Ltd..

One of the stand out things in the book is the behind the scenes look Szostak is able to give readers. Star Wars has always been about letting no designs or ideas go to waste. The genesis for The Mandalorian goes back as far as 2005 when Lucas announced that there would be a cartoon series call The Clone Warsas well as a live action show dealing with the Underworld on Coruscant. Many of the elements that would play into the live action show were seeded in The Clone Wars, yet would never be brought to fruition as the live action series was shelved for budgetary reasons. Yet many ideas from The Clone Wars and the live action series would find there way into other Star Wars projects. And the idea of a live action Star Wars show was the first thing Disney+ would use to launch it’s new service. Szostak is able to weave the story of The Mandalorian, it’s creators Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni collaboration as well as the art for the series perfectly.

It is also fascinating to see just how important the art of Dave Filoni is in this process of creating the look and feel of the show. His visual acumen helps bring things to life so that Jon Favreau and the other artists have a good frame of reference for where they want to go with the designs as well as shot compositions. This brings to mind a great “art of” book idea, The Art of Dave Filoni!

There are plenty of juicy details in the book about the series, but they are best left to the reader to be discover themselves. The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian is a wonderful companion to the series and a fantastic addition to any fan’s library. Here’s to hoping that they continue to do these books for each season! The book is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This review first appeared on The Star Wars Report

This review was completed with a review copy of The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian from Abrams Books.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Thrawn · Uncategorized

Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising – Review

iuIn 1991 author Timothy Zahn continued the Star Wars trilogy with his book, Heir to the Empire. The story was not only a continuation of our favorite characters’ stories but also an introduction to new characters. One of these creations has stood the test of time, having been adapted into canon by appearing in Star Wars Rebels and having his story continue in the literature. His name is Thrawn. This mysterious blue alien from the Chiss Ascendancy is finally getting his origin story in Zahn’s latest book, Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising.

The Book

The book is broken up into two different, alternating story lines. One is the “current” story of Senior Captain Thrawn and the second is the Memories section which tells us the history of Thrawn. The memories section also works to fill in the backstory for the relationships between the galactic powers inside the Chaos region of space, where the Ascendancy is located.

The absolute pleasure of this book comes in finally gaining an understanding of why Thrawn is the way he is. Getting to explore his history coming up in the Chiss military is fascinating and gives readers the fullest understanding of the character by letting us see his successes and, more importantly, his failures. Thrawn has always felt like the Sherlock Holmes of the Star Wars galaxy, but Zahn is not above showing readers hisblindspots. By alternating between the “past” and the “present”, the character of Thrawn comes to life in a way readers haven’t gotten to see before. Zahn gives us his motivations and worldview in the clearest possible way by having Thrawn tell, as well as show, what they are.

But this book is not just about Thrawn. It is about the Chiss Ascendancy as well. Fans have long wanted to know more about his power in the Unknown Regions and thankfully Zahn provides an opportunity to explore them. There is a richness to having this group fleshed out and developed as deeply as any race in the Star Wars galaxy. (I could spend the rest of the review diving into everything that’s revealed about Thrawn as well as the Chiss, but honestly it’s just more fun to experience it for yourself!).

Politics

Thrawn’s biggest blindspot has always been politics. Unfortunately for him, the Chiss Ascendancy is rife with politics at every level of life. Our current climates makes this a fitting theme to explore. We live in a time when politics inserts itself into every aspect of our lives. Watching Thrawn struggle with this reality mirrors the experience of many  in our world who also struggle to come to grips with this hyper-political existence.

In many ways Thrawn is not fully aware of the depth of the political wars raging behind the scenes as he works to quell the external threats to the Chiss. What will be interesting to see, as this new trilogy progresses, is if the political nature of Chiss life emerges as a detriment to them in their quest to keep themselves safe. Politics has a bad habit of clouding the most important issues because of partisan blinders. Chaos Rising clearly shows the danger of becoming myopic through the main antagonist’s end.

Conclusion

The start to this latest Thrawn trilogy is fantastic. Zahn finally gets to run wild with his creation by digging intothe Ascendancy as well as the title character. There is so much to love about the world building on display and about a story that’s only hindrance is the canon of where Thrawn will end up. Thankfully there is so much to play with, it makes the book feel fresh and new. Chaos Rising is rated 4.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed with a review copy of Chaos Rising from Del Rey Publishing.

This review first appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Uncategorized

Free Fall – Review

iuThe character of Poe Dameron was not supposed to live beyond his salvation of Finn at the beginning of The Force Awakens, yet J.J. Abrams was so taken with the character, he worked out a way for him to survive. Fast forward to 2019 where The Rise of Skywalker finally gave fans a peek behind the curtain of this hotheaded pilot’s history by introducing us to a mysterious spice runner from his past. Now author Alex Segura bring Poe’s story to life, letting readers experience the good, the bad and the ugly of his early life choices.

In the Shadows

Poe lost his mother, leading his father to become over-protective of his free spirited son who desires nothing but adventure and the thrill of flying. This thirst for excitement leads to Poe meeting Zorii at the local bar, who along with a crew of “smugglers”, needs a way off Yavin 4, Poe’s home. It’s this fateful encounter that will irrevocably change the course of Poe and Zorii’s life.

Both of them have grown up in the shadow of famous parents. Each one of them has been raised with certain values and a feeling of destiny about their future that feels inescapable. Their chance meeting leads them to question whether these destinies are truly what they want for their lives. Is Poe really cut out to be nothing but a farmer on a backwater planet? Is Zorii always going to be a spice runner? They both wrestle with the question of who they want to be when they grow up and by the end of the book they find their answers.

For Poe, this question is accentuated with another, even more important question; does he want to live life in a completely gray world? Is a life of crime really the best use of his talents? As Poe slides further into the world of a spice running, he is confronted with the classic Star Wars theme of whether to live the selfish life or the life of selflessness. The voice of his mother Shara Bey rings in his ears, “‘You should always make your own choices, Poe, We’ll never take that from you. But we will teach you enough so you’ll know how to choose the right path when the time comes.'”

Segura does a fantastic job with the “coming of age” story for Poe and Zorii, using them as mirrors for one another that reflect the difficulty of growing up and making the hard choices of who they’ll be and how to live. Star Wars has always been about rhyming and Poe’s tale feels reminiscent of Luke, Han and even a bit of Anakin, all in one.

The State of the Galaxy

One of the best parts of this book is just how well Segura is able to lay out the state of the Star Wars galaxy in this time period. The New Republic is stretched thin as it tries to subdue the last remnants of the Empire, leaving a power vacuum that is being filled by the criminal underworld. They are finding it much more difficult to manage the galaxy than they thought it would be. This perfectly captures the milieu that is ripe for the First Order to be able to gain a foothold. Honestly this book is everything that should have been released before The Force Awakens, to lead fans into the Sequel era.

Conclusion

Segura has perfectly captured the character of Poe and Star Wars storytelling. His work feels like Solo with a little bit of the Godfather sprinkled in for good measure. He truly adds to the understanding of the characters as well as the state of the galaxy, while at the same time using the classic themes of the Saga. This is tie-in fiction at its finest, something that changes the way you view the movies the next time you watch them. Free Fall is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Free Fall provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Shadow Fall – Review

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Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

Shadow Fall continues the adventures of Alphabet Squadron as they help General Syndulla and her battle group secure the Cerberon system as well as create a plan to entrap the dangerous Shadow Wing. In many ways, Shadow Fall follows the mold of The Empire Strikes Back in splinting up the characters, as well as getting to the heart of who they are and who they are going to chose to be. Friendships are forged, alliances are shattered and secrets are revealed that will change the future of Alphabet Squadron forever.

Secrets

On of the most interesting themes in this book is the idea of just how dangerous secrets are to a group. In Freed’s first book in the series, the reader was given the true reasons Yrica left the Empire. This information is held over her like a proverbial Sword of Damocles which finally does fall and irrevocably damages her relationship with her squadron.

In a world where the past has come back to haunt some of the most famous people on the planet, the theme of secrets feels as relevant as ever. It’s a reminder that it is much better to just be forthright about our mistakes. The truth will come out, no matter how hard you work to suppresses it and when it does, it almost always has the power to destroy. There are few things worse than living in the shadow of your past and just waiting for it to fall. Honesty, truly is the best policy.

Desiring Hope

Since this book takes place not long after the Battle of Endor, it’s fascinating to see how the galaxy is responding to life removed from the oppression of the Empire. One of the most interesting ways this is happening is in the rise of cults all over the galaxy. There seems to be an explosion of religious expression following the fall of the Empire.

One of the main cults we see in this book is based on Catadra, one of the planets in the Cerberon system, called The Children of the Empty Sun. Their main teacher challenges Chass as she explains their philosophy,

“Judge us by the same standards you judged the New Republic. There’s millennia of wisdom from a hundred cultures that teach what the Force wants—the flourishing of life, tranquility, community—yet the ruling powers only fight. You don’t trust the military to turn away from violence any more than I do. They don’t know how.”

“But you know how,” Chass said. She laughed and shook her head. “You listen to the Force, so you can build a better civilization.”

“Hard to believe, but what’s more likely to work? Holding on to war hasn’t given you peace, Maya. Maybe, just maybe I’m an alternative.”

It is not hard to see why this kind of philosophy would be appealing to the people of the galaxy and why cults like this would be popping up everywhere after 30 years of Imperial rule. Rebellions are built on hope, but so are lives in general, the hope that things can and will get better. Now that the galaxy is out from under the groupthink oppression of the Empire, people have the freedom to be able to express that hope in a variety of ways. And as is true in the real world, many people turn to religious expression to find that hope. Star Wars has always had a religious component and it’s fascinating to see the resurgence of that in the post-Endor galaxy as people exercise their new found freedom of religion.

The Book

There is a lot that is good in Shadow Fall. Readers finally have some mysteries revealed, the back story of Kairos and Adan, insight into Chass past, as well as the furthering of Nath and Wyl’s friendship. The book also continues to show the New Republic as it tries to govern, while still subduing the Imperial resistance. It is also nice to see the book use some previously established characters, especially on the Imperial side to continue building the post-Endor universe.

As good as these things are, there are some issues. The book’s focus is so myopic that there is little understanding of how and why this story is important to the over all story to the galaxy. There is no indication as to why this system is important to the New Republic, as there is never any connection with anyone outside this system. This was one of the strengths of the X-Wing series in the past is it’s ability to tell a focused story that also felt important to the Star Wars galaxy.

The first book gave us just a taste of Hera. Shadow Fall does have more of her in it, but sadly she’s still not given much to do and in all honest, as neat as it is to have her in the book, the character could have been any general in the New Republic and the story would have been the same. It truly feels like a wasted opportunity in storytelling.

In conclusion, there are some intriguing themes in the book but the rest of the story just didn’t hold my attention the way I would hope it would because of the things I mentioned above. Shadow Fall is rated 2.5 out of 5 stars.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Queen’s Peril – Review

OIP.fYT3gSEF1XdmA1HgFkmcqwHaLkThe Phantom Menace introduced viewers to the youngest queen ever elected on Naboo and her loyal handmaidens who not only helped serve her, but also protector in a variety of ways. The depth and the breath of just how this group was formed and came together has often been discussed by fans since 1999. Now, the answers have been revealed, as E.K. Johnson returns to the life of Padmé, as she assumes the role of queen, in the book Queen’s Peril.

The Good

The beginning of the book picks up immediately after the election of young Padmé. She is quickly introduced to her new head of security Quarsh Panaka, who has a plan to help keep the queen safe. He wants to revive the use of a handmaiden to be the queen’s protector and when needed, a decoy. Padmé approves of the idea but also improves on it by asking for more than just one handmaiden, she asks for five, so that with her as the sixth, it will be even more difficult for people to know who is the “playing” the queen when a decoy is needed.

Padmé and the handmaidens begin to figure out how this will work between them, what their specific roles will be in the group and how they will work together to make this as seamless as possible. This is one of the best parts of the book, getting to see the team come together. It almost has the feeling of the superhero, team-up origin story, as each handmaiden discovers her talent that adds to their place in the overall group.

The beginning of the book also establishes the way in which Padmé will differentiate herself from the previous queen of Naboo, who was much more of an isolationist and jingoist. Padmé longs to have Naboo establish itself as a friend to neighboring systems and reinstitute better trade relations with them. This is not a completely an altruistic desire on Padmé’s part, since Naboo is struggling with a crop failure, which has them in need of better supply lines from other planets to make up for the loss.

Both of these things play perfectly into setting up the milieu of The Prequels. In many ways Queen’s Peril feels like a prequel to a prequel. Johnson is able to not only show the happenings on Naboo, but we get snippets of what is going on with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan as well as Darth Sidious to help round out how this all ties in to what we will see in The Phantom Menace.

The Bad

The book has such a strong, first half but sadly it does not continue the goodwill it created into the second half. The final portion of the book mistakenly plays out through the events seen in Episode I. We see the events through the eyes of the handmaidens, which does give us a slightly different perspective but it’s not enough to justify basically becoming a novelization for the movie that already has a novelization.

Not only does the second half of the book feel like a rehash, but it’s also written in a very choppy format that jumps between different character perspectives. So for example, we might be seeing something through the eyes of one of the handmaidens and then jump to a couple of lines that describe Anakin’s joy in flying, only to jump quickly to another perspective after that. The book truly feels like the tale of two halves.

Conclusion 

The first half of this book is very good and was a vast improvement on Queen’s Shadow yet sadly it all falls apart in the second half. Honestly if this story had just been a prequel to The Phantom Menace without taking readers back through the film it would have been a fantastic book. In light of what was given, Queen’s Peril is rated 2.5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Queen’s Peril provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Rise of Skywalker · Uncategorized

The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Review

iuIn December 2019, the final film in the Skywalker Saga hit theaters. Unlike the previous two films in the Sequel Trilogy, which saw the release of the “Art of” book on the same day as the film, the book for The Rise of Skywalker was delayed for almost three months. Thankfully the wait is over!

The “Art of” books for the Sequel Trilogy have taken the place of the “Making of” books common in the era of The PrequelsThe Force Awakens and The Last Jedi “Art of” books generally followed the development of the movie, through the art, in a chronological fashion. The Rise of Skywalker book starts off much like The Last Jedi edition did, giving us a look at the art from the previous film which was deemed too much of a spoiler to be released the same day the movie came out in theaters. The first section of the book is called “Return of the Last Jedi” which gives us the art for Luke Skywalker’s showdown with Kylo on Crait, the throne room battle, the mirror cave, Kylo’s memories of Luke’s attack and the Holdo maneuver.

However, after this first section, the book is organized in a less chronological format. Chapters include: “The Costume Department”, “The Props Department”, “The Creature and Droid Department”, “The Art, Set Decoration and Computer Graphics Departments” and “Industrial Light & Magic and Post Production”. This layout presents frustrations for the reader with its lack of cohesion with the text that illuminates the making of the movie from start to finish. The art and the timeline of the movie never seem in sync enough to give you the feeling you know how it all fits together. Although there are some great tidbits in the text that offer readers some idea of what the movie was like through Abrams and Terrio’s different iterations, this edition lacks the depth of the previous two books for the Sequel Trilogy.

With this book there are also a few things completely missing. There is absolutely nothing from Trevorrow’s time working on the movie no art or story ideas. The only mention, which doesn’t even refer to him by name, comes in the description of Abrams taking over the production in 2017. Exegol and Palpatine are other notable omissions. How this book can have nothing from one of the most significant portions of the movie is astounding. The addition of Palpatine to The Rise of Skywalker is legitimately the most important plot point in the whole film and the lack of any art or information on his return hurts the book.

The art itself is beautiful, as always, and the presentation of it in the quality of the printing is what one would expect. If you are a completist, this book will be a must. If you are not, this might not be something you’ll feel like you have to have. Where the novelization for The Rise of Skywalker added a great deal to the movie, the “Art of” left me wanting. The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is rated 3 out 5 stars.

This review copy of  The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was provided by Abrams Books.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Rise of Skywalker · Uncategorized

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition – Review

9780593128404The Rise of Skywalker brought the Skywalker Saga to a close. If there was any criticism this reviewer had of the film, it was that the movie should have been longer, to allow scenes to breathe more, giving us more background, as well as more character moments. Thankfully Rae Carson’s expanded edition of the novelization is here to do just that!

Novels have some distinct advantages over movies and one of the biggest is allowing the readers to be inside the minds of the characters and understand what they are thinking in pivotal scenes. The Rise of Skywalker novelization is no exception. There are many key moments where Carson has been able to expound on an important point in the film through getting inside what a characters are thinking.

Much has been made of the ways the novel is able clarify or add to the understanding of certain revelations from the movie and they’ve not been exaggerated. Almost every expanded scene in the book should have been in the movie. Most of them would have added minutes, at most, to each scene, but what they do for the story is significant. Reading the book can be a frustrating experience because it will leave you scratching your head as to why so much of this was not included into the finished film. Some of these things can be read into the movie through what is given, but the explicitness the book gives to these scenes, honestly improves the story.

Rae Carson’s lead-in to Solo, Most Wanted was a great book and her work here lives up to that. She was able to perfectly expand on The Rise of Skywalker. The Revenge of the Sith is the gold standard of Star Wars novelizations, The Rise of Skywalker is the second. The way this book adds to the movie and expounds on it, makes the film better. It is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Film · Movies · Star Wars · Star Wars Rebels · The Clone Wars · The Force Awakens · The Last Jedi · The Rise of Skywalker · Uncategorized

How ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ Helped Me Make Peace With the Sequel Trilogy: A Personal Journey

d0108c1956418882012 was a difficult year for me as a Star Wars fan. Disney bought Lucasfilm from George Lucas and the very first thing they did was cancel a show I was in love with. The Clone Wars had burst on to the big screen in 2008 and immediately captured my heart. The animation would get better as the series continued on the the small screen, but the heart of Star Wars was evident from the beginning. But with one swift stroke of its corporate might, Disney cut it down before The Clone Wars had a chance to properly wrap itself up.

In my mind this was the worst way Disney could introduce themselves as new owners of a franchise I’ve loved since I was 6. It was my birthday the first time I saw the Original Trilogy. We rented the Saga on VHS and my friends and I devoured all three films in one night. In the middle of the night I awoke, popped The Empire Strikes Back, back in the VCR and my journey toward being a fan was complete.

As 2014 rolled around, Disney released it’s first major addition to the Star Wars universe, Star Wars Rebels. I’ll admit that the first season was not it’s best. I had a hard time connecting with what felt like the Disney-ification of the Star Wars (Thankfully the series would grow and become of of my favorite things in the Saga). Which, as I looked towards the upcoming movie, The Force Awakens, didn’t engender a lot of hope.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterChristmas of 2015 arrives and so does the first film to continue the Skywalker Saga. There is an awakening of Star Wars mania, the likes that had not been seen since 1999. As the world revels in this new Episode, I struggle. I said then in my review,  “The movie is clearly more worried about appeasing fanboys than truly inspiring the next generation of fans.” I saw the movie 6 times, as I wrestled with how I felt about it and it just never settled for me. From the first viewing, to the last, I was never able to find my peace with the movie. Yet there was always hope, there were more movies to come in the new Trilogy and luckily there were also other Star Wars movies coming in-between Episodes VII and VIII.

The teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out in April of 2016 and my first reaction was not great. You can ask my friends, my first thought was, “This looks like Hunger Games in Star Wars.” I’ve never been so thankful to be proven wrong. Rogue One became one of my favorite Star Wars movies of all time. And in that, hope was kindled that Episode VIII would follow in its footsteps.

Celebration Orlando, 2017 was a difficult time for me. It was not the experience I hoped it would be. I missed out on all the exclusives I wanted as well as most of the panels I wanted to be in. The main hall was so small and because of that I would experience the Episode VIII trailer in the overflow room.  But something happened in that room, a small flame was lit, The Last Jedi looked different from The Force Awakens. It actually looked like it was going to do something new, something different! The teaser trailer made me hopeful that this new Episode would be better than VII. I believed that Rian Johnson’s indie background would be a benefit to the story by helping him do something to move the Saga from nostalgia to new territory.

I’ve never been so wrong in my life. VIII made VII look like a masterpiece to me. J.J. Abrams in a recent interview found a way to sum up my feelings perfectly when he told the New York Times, “On the other hand,” he added, “it’s a bit of a meta approach to the story. I don’t think that people go to ‘Star Wars’ to be told, ‘This doesn’t matter.’”

ILMVFX_2017-Oct-09The Last Jedi had taken all the story points from The Force Awakens and told us they were not important. Snoke – you don’t need to know about him. The mystery of who Rey is – not important. The villains like Hux that were so scary in the first movie – actually they are incompetent boobs. Luke Skywalker – not the hero you thought, actually he’s a failure who seems to have learned nothing from his experiences in The Empire Strikes Back and more importantly, The Return of the Jedi. I was devastated. My first viewing’s feelings were only confirmed with each new viewing.

Now, some of these issues were not just the problem of the filmmakers, but they’d started behind the scenes from the moment Disney bought the franchise. They had fast-tracked Episode VII but had never sat down and mapped out where they wanted this new trilogy to go. They had been given outlines from George Lucas but decided that they wanted to move in their own direction. The problem was, they didn’t really know what that direction was, (this is also exemplified in the problems they had with other Star Wars projects and the difficulty of hanging on to directors) other than wanting to recapture the “magic” of the Original Trilogy. There was no consistent creative vision behind the new movies and that became evident with The Last Jedi. With everyone trying to do their own thing, the new trilogy lacked cohesion, leaving Episode IX with the massive task of not only wrapping up this trilogy but the Saga as a whole.

In 2018, Solo: A Star Wars Story was released in theaters. It’s path had been anything but easy. It’s original directors had been fired mid-way through filming, with Ron Howard replacing them. Tasked with bringing the movie in on time, since Bob Iger refused to movie the release date, even though Kathleen Kennedy had asked, Howard pulled off a miracle. Solo was a fantastic movie, but it was not a success. Released a few short months after the divisive Episode VIII, Solo suffered. There was no marketing for the movie, not the kind we’ve come to expect for a Star Wars movie and because of the money that had been spent on extensive reshoots, Solo would be seen as a failure.

RegalMovies_2018-Apr-08Regardless of its “failure” status, Solo was a home run for me. From the moment the movie began, I had a smile on my face that never left. Not only was the movie fun, but it felt like Star Wars. It also did something that I did not think possible, it gave us new things, while at the same time respecting the past. I fell in love with Alden Ehrenreich as Han, yet more importantly, I also fell for the new characters. Qi’ra and Enfys Nest were awesome. The addition of Crimson Dawn to the underworld and the reveal of its leader, left me wanting more of this story. But it also gave me hope. The use of Maul seemed to indicate that the Star Wars films might start to embrace the larger universe as well as reward fans for their loyalty to all Star Wars had to offer. (I’m still hoping Disney will #MakeSolo2Happen)

All of this preamble, to arrive at The Rise of Skywalker. J.J. Abrams was tasked with the impossible, bring the Skywalker Saga to a satisfactory end. He’d not planned on returning, but with the loss of Colin Trevorrow, who was never able to satisfy Lucasfilm with his story ideas, Abrams became the last hope. Abrams had always hinted that he’d had ideas for where he would take the story if he had continued it. The Force Awakens itself was proof that he did, the questions the movie had asked were still waiting to be answered and now he’d been given his shot. He explained his approach well in Vanity Fair, “It felt slightly more renegade; it felt slightly more like, you know, F*%$ it, I’m going to do the thing that feels right because it does, not because it adheres to something.”

With all of the upheaval from 2012 to December 2019, I sat in the theater with absolute trepidation. Would this movie work? Would I like it or would it be another Last Jedi? To my utter surprise, I liked it, from start to finish. It did something I never expected it to be able to, it not only made me like The Force Awakens more, it actually utilized plot elements from The Last Jedi in a way that almost redeemed them in my eyes. It also found a way to bring the Skywalker Saga to a satisfactory close for me.

This last point was the one I had been the most worried about. The story for the Skywalkers seemed to have had the perfect end in The Return of the Jedi, so how could this add anything to that without ruining it?

Abrams and his writing partner, Chris Terrio found their answer in the idea of the Dyad. Rey and Ben Solo being the two that are one really resonates with the rest of the Star Wars canon. It brings to mind the Mortis Arc from The Clone Wars, the daughter and son, as well as the mural on the floor of the first Jedi Temple on Ahch-To, of Jedi Prime. It also made sense in my mind with the prophesy of the Chosen One.

Anakin was the prophesied “Chosen One”, Lucas himself had confirmed that. But was he able to fully complete the mission? I found my in. I contend that his rejection of the call on Mortis and his betrayal of the Jedi allow his sacrifice to bring balance to the Force, but not lasting balance. Now, we know that Anakin was a vergence in the Force, created by the Force itself. Whether Palpatine had anything to do with this is still a question, but we know Palpatine had a child of his own. These two powerful families in the Force destinies became intertwined.

Now without the sacrifice of the Chosen One, all would have been lost, but with his act he enables the Force to continue its work. George Lucas said of Star Wars,

Star Wars has always struck a cord with people. There are issues of loyalty, of friendship, of good and evil…I mean, there’s a reason this film is so popular. It’s not that I’m giving out propaganda nobody wants to hear…Knowing that the film was made for a younger audience, I was trying to say, in a simple way, that there is a God and that there is both a good and bad side. You have a choice between them, but the world works much better if you’re on the good side.”

Choices in Star Wars have always mattered. The choice between a selfish life and that of selflessness are at the core. Anakin’s selfless act at the end of his life continues the thread of the Jedi. That thread of selflessness runs through his son Luke, his daughter Leia and through the son of Palpatine as well. Both sides of the Dyad are drenched in selflessness and compassion. In fact, they are the very thing that the Jedi lost sight of by the time of the Republic’s end, unconditional love. Fear seems to have lead the Jedi to ban attachment. Attachment can lead to jealousy and greed, but it doesn’t have to. Anakin, Luke, Leia, Palpatine’s son, they all show the importance and triumph of unconditional, sacrificial love.

the-art-of-star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-kylo-renThe Sith longed to find the way to everlasting life, yet they were always doomed to fail because of their selfishness. The only way to save someone from death is to give up one’s own life. There is always a cost to one’s self to save someone or something else. Rey shows that when she heals the snake, Leia shows that when she uses the last of her life to bring her son back from the dark and Ben does so when he brings Rey back from the brink of death. There is a real beauty to the fact that Ben does the very thing Anakin desired in his fall, bring back the one he loved from the dead. Rey and Ben become one, the light and the dark together, fulfilling the call of the Chosen One to fully bring balance to the Force. Ben finishes what his grandfather began and again, sacrificial love wins.

This was my in. This is the way The Rise of Skywalker helped me find peace with the Sequel Trilogy, because of the way, I feel, it honors what came before, but also adds something new. It stays true to the most important theme of the Star Wars saga and the thing Lucas instilled in it from the beginning, a life of selflessness is better than a life of selfishness. Abrams and Terrio were able to use the questions raised in The Force Awakens and plot points from The Last Jedi to create something that left me satisfied and for that I’ll forever be a grateful fan.