Avengers: Infinity War – Review

Infinity_War_Dolby_poster_1This review contains Mild Spoilers. Don’t forget to look for The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews out next week!

Never in the history of film has their been a build up like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For over 10 years and through 18 films, Marvel has carefully laid out the pieces to it’s master puzzle for Infinity War and the forthcoming Avengers 4. Now, part one of the juggernaut has arrived and the question on everyone’s mind is, “Does it live up?”.

Thanos

Shrouded in mystery and relegated to end-credit sequences for most of Marvel‘s ten years, he finally comes out of the aether and becomes the saga’s most formidable villain. For all the accolades Marvel has received, it’s greatest area of weakness has been it’s villains. To say this has been fixed in Infinity War is more complicated than a “yes” or “no” answer.

On the plus side for Thanos, he’s what you hoped when it comes to the challenge he presents to these heroes, especially since he does achieve his goal by the end of the film, he does rewrite the universe, leaving only 50% of it alive. The downside is the explanation as to why. Apparently, in the past, on his home planet of Titan, the population had grown too large. Thanos’ solution, just arbitrarily pick 50% of the people, from every walk of life and kill them. Shockingly enough, his people’s leaders reject this idea and it leads to the destruction of his home world.

Ergo he believes the only way to save the entire universe is to enact his aforementioned plan, but on a universal scale. So you could say it does make sense, but only from the most warped point of view and that view is compounded by his god complex. He believes himself to be a god, who is the only one willing to make the hard choice and the power to enact it. He sees his plan as a form of mercy, since those that are left in the universe will have “better” lives as a result.

This leaves Thanos as a middle of the road villain in the Marvel universe. He’s definitely the strongest and most challenging foil for the entire line up of heroes, yet his motivations only raise him slightly above mustache twirlier.

Only Part One

The most frustrating thing about the movie is that it is all set up for the coming, Avengers 4. It’s not bad, but it’s never great. No characters get to truly shine because there is just so much going on, your focus is always divided. And most frustratingly, the “gut punch” moment near the end, is moot, as we know it will mostly be washed away with the coming of part two. Sadly this film feels more mandatory than marvelous.

On top of all this, the action in the movie is rather banal, which is surprising since the Russo Brothers have given us some of the MCU’s most memorable action set pieces in Marvel. There are none of the stand out moments like the Cap vs Winter Soldier or the Cap vs Iron Man moments from Winter Soldier and Civil War, respectively. Instead the action devolves into clichéd CGI battles that lack the heart or character focus which has been a hallmark of the previous Russo entries.

The best thing the movie does is cull the hero herd for part two. Fans know, moving into this final chapter of the first ten years of Marvel, that some of these heroes will not make it past the next Avengers. With the heroes left on the board, the next film will have the time to full make their end what is should be.

Conclusion

Infinity War is a mixed bag that has the effect of one being served a gourmet burger and then only being given a minute to eat it. There is so much happening, yet there’s so little pay off, leaving the audience unfulfilled, wanting a better movie and resolution. We all know the conclusion is coming in 2019, so now that the compulsory is over, we wait and wait and wait. Infinity War is rated 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

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Last Shot – Review

91tEyqnYV6L.jpgThis review first appeared on The Star Wars Report.

As Solo: A Star Wars Story approaches, Del Rey books sets the stage with Last Shot, a Han, Chewie and Lando adventure set in the period surrounding the new movie and continuing their stories post-Return of the Jedi. What follows is an adventure as outlandish as you’d expect from scoundrels such as these.

Moving On

One of the hardest things to do as we get older is to move on and grow. Daniel José Older digs into this theme for Han and Lando in his post-Return of the Jedi portion of the book, exploring what it means for them to develop into more mature people.

For Han, he’s finding marriage and fatherhood to be a lot harder than he imagined. Nothing in his life has prepared him for how to perform either of these roles, and he’s certainly not had any good role models to look to. When he’s away from his family, there’s an intense longing to be with Leia and Ben again, yet when he’s at home, he struggles with feeling like everything he does is wrong. Older does a wonderful job of showing how difficult it is to make this kind of transition in life, to find a way through the adjustment period and develop the patience that is required from both you and your partner along the way. This is the strongest part of the book, as we witness Han take this emotional journey and come out the other side stronger for finally confronting his feelings and being willing to at least attempt to share them with Leia.

Lando’s journey is similar to Han’s. He’s finally found someone who causes him to think about settling down, and that has him scared. How does he put aside the scoundrel persona for something more stable? Is it possible to embody a little bit of both? With Lando, his characterization does feel a bit more like the comedic caricature that’s become prominent in things like The Freemaker Adventures or Robot Chicken, but Older uses this to show who Lando was, giving the character an arc.

What Older does so well is use the stories from the past to show who Han and Lando were and the seeds in their lives that have led them to be who they are becoming. It is a good reminder that for us to grow, it is our responsibility to learn from the past, using those experiences to push us forward and not letting fear keep us in our old routines.

The Book

As one would hope from a book staring Lando and Han, the story is fun. There is plenty of great banter and the book offers a unique plot that fits the characters. It’s structured into chapters that alternate between the post-Return of the Jedi story, Lando’s past, which takes place before Solo, Han’s past which is set after Solo, and our villain’s past, which seems to be set sometime before Solo as well. For the most part the book is well written. There are some times when the writing style, especially in the dialogue, feels much toomodern, which may take some readers out of the story. The style can also make it difficult to keep track of the action, but neither of these issues outweighs the positives of such an enjoyable romp through the galaxy with our favorite nerf herders. There is so much more that could be added to this review, but honestly, it’s best left to you to enjoy in the story! This book will leave you energized for Solo and wanting more books like this. Last Shot is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

The Last Jedi Novelization – Review

TheLastJediExpanded(1)This review originally appeared on the Star Wars Report.

Novelizations for films can be two things, they can be straight adaptations of a film or they can bring context to the movie in ways that only a book can. Star Wars has a good history of this with some of it’s novelizations, Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One both being prime examples. Each allowed the reader to go deeper into the characters thoughts, expand scenes or even add new scenes that gave even more connective tissue to the surrounding scenes or material outside the film with comics, short stories or other novels. The release of The Last Jedi‘s novelization has followed in the footsteps of the aforementioned Revenge of the Sith or Rogue One novelizations and expanded on the movie to give readers an even fuller understanding of characters thoughts, motivations and whole new scenes.

The Good

Jason Fry’s Star Wars pedigree is unquestionable and his work on atlas’, visual guides, short stories, novels and much more speaks for itself. Therefore he was an inspired choice to write The Last Jedi‘s expanded novelization. What really works here is the way he’s able to incorporate the ancillary materials, comics, novels, young adult books which are all represented in some way, helping to make everything that came out in the Journey to The Last Jedi feel cohesive. A specific example is the way Rose’s story in Cobalt Squadron is used to play directly into Holdo’s plan and the reason the escape craft will be invisible to the First Order. This is just one instance, but Fry weaves many of these throughout the book and they enhance the experience, especially for those who have read most of these ancillary works.

Other expansions are the added scenes. There are two that really stuck out, one is the funeral for Han at the beginning of the book. It slowed down this part of the story and instead of it being a detriment, it was a blessing. Have that feeling that this was not just seconds after the end of The Force Awakens helped with the flow, that there was time for Rey to travel to Ahch-T0 and that the Resistance would actually be able to evacuate their base.

The second added scene comes at the very end as the Falcon escapes Crait. Leia makes her way to the cockpit and has a hauntingly beautiful moment with Chewie as they break down over the loss of Han, Luke and Ben. It’s powerful and honestly should have been in the film.

The Bad

Some of this added material seemed to make this reviewer’s issues with the film even more complicated. There is a moment with Luke, as he’s on his way to Rey’s hut and when he get’s there he’s going to announce his intention to leave with her, which is amazing! Then, he gets to the hut and of course if one has seen the movie, he blows up the hut and goes right back to refusing to leave. The two scenes just don’t seem to flow together at all.

One plus is that we learn more about what Luke had been up to in the period between the two trilogies. Sadly, the impression we are left with as to why Luke restarted the Jedi Order leaves a lot to be desired. Luke still feels as incongruous with who he is at the end of Return of the Jedi if not more so with the revelations the novel gives us.

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Conclusion

Fry adds a lot to the story but in the end, he can’t change the foundation of the film so it can only help so much. For those that liked or loved The Last Jedi this is a must read. If you didn’t like the movie, Fry’s ability to weave in so many references from other works makes this worth your time. And, in fact, he blew this review’s mind with a rumination Hux has about the Jedi and their link to the First Order stormtroopers. The novelization is rated 3 out of 5 stars.

Best Books of 2017

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Making_sense_of_GodTimothy Keller cements himself with this book as the C.S. Lewis of our time. He writes to the skeptical in an age of reason by taking on Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and others. Its a book for those that may be interested in the Christian faith as well as a wonderful reminder for those that profess it. Honestly, it’s a must read.

 

under-our-skin-coverBenjamin Watson has written one of the most timely books. In an age of growing tribalism and segregation, Watson confronts race relations head on. With clarity, humility and raw honestly he dives into the issues we face, bringing light to areas we so often try to sweep under the rug. This book deserves your immediate attention.

 

9781578061259-usGeorge Lucas it not the most loquacious filmmaker and much of what he’s said over the years has been twisted to fit a writer’s preconceived ideas about him. Here, Sally Kline collects all of his interviews from 1971 through 1999. It’s fascinating to hear from the man himself, in his most formative years. The only bad thing about it is that it does not cover through is sale of Star Wars (which makes sense since it was released in 1999).

 

591b42d3aeb66.imageSasse does a marvelous job at pinpointing the major issues facing the American people in the 21st century. The book looks to begin a conversation about what has been lost in the last 50 years and some ways which we can possibly get them back. Whether you agree completely or not, it’s worth reading and thinking deeply about these issues, if we don’t, we might not like where we end up.

 

9781455540181_DemocracyHC.tifI think this is one of the most important books of 2017. Rice uses history to show the story of democracy from the American experience to it’s experiments in places like Russia, Poland, Africa and the Middle East. In each, looking at what has made it successful or lead to it’s corruption. It’s a “long road to freedom” and unless we understand what’s come before, we’ll never know how to get where we want to go.

 

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I know in my own life and faith that there are times we need the simple reminders of what we believe and why. Butler does such a good job at laying these out and reminding us that, “…God’s reckless love is on the prowl, willing to crash through our distance and crush down our idols to get to our heart. God’s divine grace bears down upon us, calling us to turn and receive his love. As his footsteps draw closer, the sound of his voice breaks through the silence, and the light of his encroaching presence begins to pierce the darkness. The question we’re then faced with is not whether we’ve been good enough, jumped high enough, or sought hard enough. . . .”

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I love this book. It speaks directly to us in the 21st century and lays out the importance of thinking deeply. Just to whet you appetite here’s a quote, ‘Why would people ever think, when thinking deprives them of “the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved”—especially in an online environment where the social approval of one’s attitudes is so much easier to acquire, in the currency of likes, faves, followers, and friends? And to acquire instantaneously?’

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The election of 2016 dominated the news and much of our collective conversation. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes spent that time interviewing those in the campaign, compiling an account of just went wrong and why. It’s an important read for all Americans.

 

 

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Carr, like Jacobs, is worried about our thinking. He looks at the history of how mind works and how we as humans have learned in the past. Each invention we create, impacts the way our brain’s behave, so how has the internet changed us and is it a good thing? It’s a fascinating read and again, one of the most important. We must think critically about these things or, “…as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

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I love Isaacson’s work. Each of his previous biographies has been brilliant and his work on Da Vinci is the same. This does differ in that since Da Vinci lived so long ago, the records about him are not as extensive, yet Isaacson finds a way to weave the narrative of his life alongside his artistic and scientific accomplishments well. Da Vinci was a man, who in many ways was before his time but his impact is still being felt. One major plus is that the book has color pictures showing you his art and sketches which enhances the experience as you can look at what Isaacson is referring to.

Honorable Mentions

There were some fantastic Star Wars books this year, Thrawn (Don’t miss my panel from Dragon con with author Timothy Zahn and Star Wars Rebels co-executive producer about Thrawn),  Inferno Squad, Rebel Rising and Phasma were all top notch. I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter’s Bookshelf as it explores the inspirations in literate to Rowling’s creation. George Perez’s Omnibus volume one for his run of Wonder Woman was brilliant.

Best Films of 2017

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This is my list of best films that I saw in the theater this year.

silence-posterSilence is one of the most challenging movies of the year as Martin Scorsese adapts Shusaku Endo’s novel about Jesuit priests in feudal Japan. It asks brutal questions about faith under fire. It’s affecting and powerful. I’d say more but I think it’s something that just needs to be experienced and digested, slowly.

 

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How do you say goodbye to one of the longest running comic book characters to grace the screen by one actor, the answer is Logan. Hugh Jackman is a revelation as a broken mutant in a world that’s turned against them. On top of his performance you have Patrick Stewart and new comer Dafne Keen who complete this film perfectly. James Mangold creates not just a good comic book movie but one that transcends the genre. Still one of the very best of the year. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it!

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It would be hard to eclipse what I already wrote about the film in my review so here is a bit of that here.

Gal Gadot is a star. She sells every moment of this film. She has a wonderful, childlike innocence that is needed to bring this character, raised in paradise to life. Diana’s transformation from innocence to a fuller understanding of the real world is powerful and moving. The chemistry she has with Chris Pine is fantastic. They are the heart and soul of this movie and luckily they do not disappoint.

The fight scenes in the movie are incredible. Many superhero movies these days seem to have similar types of set pieces, but Wonder Woman does a marvelous job of making her fighting style feel fresh, leaving you silently fist-pumping in your seat. Even the more CGI-heavy battle at the end has enough emotion built into it, to make you care about what’s happening.

One final note, Patty Jenkins direction is excellent. This woman needs to be given a sequel, as well as more movies to direct. She understands clearly how to make a superhero movie feel serious and fun all at the same time and that’s not always easy to do.

Wonder Women is the first major female superhero to be given her own movie (yes I discount Catwoman and Elektra as they are more side characters) and it’s a triumph. The film is serious in tone, but with laughs aplenty. It’s the movie we all hoped for and deserve. Wonder Woman is rated 4 and half out of 5 stars.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it here!

war-for-planet-of-the-apes-poster-5Like Wonder Woman, War is a movie I adored this year and the perfect way to wrap up the Apes trilogy.

This movie has so many other themes I could talk about, but honestly, just go see it. It’s a triumph of filmmaking. The effects are some of the best ever seen on screen. There was never a moment I didn’t believe what was happening. The music was moving and perfectly matched to the film. War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect conclusion to one of the best film trilogies in years. It’s rated 5 out of 5 Bad Apes.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it here!

bbay_vert_tsr_intl_2764x4096_master-rev-1Christopher Nolan delivers again. He subverts expectations in the best way by telling the story from three perspectives, air, land and sea. Each of these also take place over different spans of time that collide by the end. The movie left me feeling like I had actually been apart of each perspective. This is a must see from the year. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

 

blade-runner-2049-posterLike Dunkirk, this movie is a pinnacle of cinema as art. The themes resonate with the world we live in and it’s a treat for the imagination. It’s one of those movies that needs to be seen multiple times to truly soak in everything it is doing but that left me breathless in my first viewing. I believe it will only rise in people’s estimation over the coming years. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

 

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No movie was more unfairly maligned than this one in 2017. It had a lot to over come in it’s production, most of all, a studio that would not stop meddling. Yet for all of this, what we got still let me grinning.

This movie is by no means perfect. It does feel rushed at only 2 hours. There is a lot happening and it does seem like a bit more time with the stories of the villain, Victor, Barry and Arthur could have helped the audience connect even more with the story. The villain is one note, but it does leave us with more time to focus on the heroes and their journeys to becoming a team. There are places where you wish the effects team had more time with the CGI to refine it and make it better. The best comparison that I can make would be the DC animated films that have come out over the last few years or some of your favorite episodes of Justice League United, if you liked those, you’ll like this. Overall, what wins you over is the team, their dynamic and the charisma they bring to each moment. Justice League is rated 4 out of 5 resurrections.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

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I love these kinds of movies, small, intimate and affecting. I honestly cannot say more that I did in my review and encourage you to check that out.

The more I think about the movie the more I like it and that’s always a good sign. It’s well acted and moving. I highly recommend Lady Bird, it’s rated four and a half out of five stars.

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Check your cynicism at the door as Hugh Jackman and cast are the perfect antidote to the dourness of 2017. The film and it’s music are a celebration of everything that is good, true friendship, not looking to others for your self worth and not living life as a consumer but as a giver. Loved this last theme, as the movie shows Barnum almost lose everything he’s built because of his selfish using of people to prop himself up. I left the theater with a lighter step and joy in my heart.

Disappointments

2017 also had a few movies that I was looking forward to that I was disappointed in and the biggest was The Last Jedi. My review says it all and The 602 Club and Cinema Stories podcast allowed me to cover it from a few different perspectives. A few other notable letdowns are Thor: Ragnarok, Logan Lucky and The Shape of Water.

Honorable Mentions

Ghost in the Shell was surprisingly good, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 was even better than the first, I really enjoyed Alien: Covenant, Baby Driver was fun, but I did not love it like others and lastly, Their Finest was a nice companion to Dunkirk.

PS. I have have now seen Darkest Hour and Molly’s Game. They both make the list. amazing films in acting and story. Highly recommend both!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review

ILMVFX_2017-Oct-09Don’t miss The 602 Club  and Cinema Stories reviews!

Two years ago Star Wars roared back into the collective consciousness of the world as The Force Awakens dawned a new era for the saga. The installment left many viewers speechless and eagerly anticipating this return to a galaxy far, far away. Luckily in this era of Disney’s rule, the wait was only 2 years (with a nice side of Rogue One in the middle) for Rian Johnson’s addition, The Last Jedi.

Context 

First, let’s start historically. It is clear that the original “Rebel” generation was unsuccessful in passing on it’s values to the next, as the galaxy has quickly descended back into the universe of pre-prequel. A government that became ineffectual, split into populists and centrists, all the while allowing the First Order to rise, unchallenged because, they’re not really a threat. “Relax, the First Order is the JV squad”. The greed and corruption in the galaxy has returned to what we saw in the prequels, as people line their pockets with ill gotten gain, selling weapons to the highest bidder, on any side. It all boils down to this one truth not being clearly passed on, “freedom isn’t free”, and sadly there are too few in the galaxy who seem to understand that.

Where are you getting all of this, you might ask? Well, not from the movies. All of this has been cobbled together from the ancillary materials that have come out surrounding this new sequel trilogy and that’s only, vaguely been hinted at in the films themselves. The main issue here is that The Force Awakens did very little to set up the context of the galaxy and now The Last Jedi suffers even worse because of it.

Think back to the Original Trilogy, as you watch those movies, you have an instinctive understanding of who all the characters are as well as the overall context of the movies because Lucas based them on archetypes that we know. The heroes’ journey, an evil empire and a a small group of freedom fighters looking to rescue the galaxy. In the Prequels, it’s the fall of a Republic and the story of a man that cannot let go and will do anything to hold on to what he “loves”. Each of these previous trilogies gave us the context we needed to know about the universe as a whole and the characters so that we could understand the journey we were on.

And here’s where this all comes into play, not just with the world building but with the characters. Not only do we not truly understand the state of the galaxy, but we also don’t know the history of these characters and it’s clear the writers of the film don’t either. Say what you will about Lucas, he always knew the history and the future of his creation. Some details may change along the way, but the journey ended up much the same. The same can be said for Rowling with Harry Potter , she knew the end from the beginning, so she understood what each character needed to go through to get them to that end.

8d0b255a-fce7-4718-a50a-bbe1ba16d5e4-screen-shot-2017-12-05-at-121817-pmIt’s been clear from The Force Awakens and now through to The Last Jedi that there is no knowledge of what the end game is for their characters. Writing 101, if you don’t know their past and future, you don’t know how to write their “present”. You can see this in the all of the characters. Take Snoke. We have absolutely no idea who or what he is. We don’t know how he came to power or seduced Ben Solo, he’s a vague phantom menace so that when he goes out like a punk in this movie… well lets just say fans may be arguing whose death was better, Snoke or Boba Fett. Oh and remember Phasma? Well don’t worry, you don’t really need to, turns out she wasn’t all that important any way.

Ben suffers from this same problem we saw with Snoke, he’s completely ill defined and so is his “fall”. As with The Force Awakens, there is still no context to his story other than him having darkness in himself and somehow, Snoke temps him to the dark side. It’s all so nebulous that when he turns on Snoke, I don’t know what to make of it. There is no weight to his decision because I don’t know enough of the history of the character to actually care.

636357292308378766-EP8-FF-000005As bad as this issue is for Ben, my first impression was it was worse for Rey. The ultimate mystery box seemed to still be very much an enigma. The answer we get about her family was vague and unconvincing, I still don’t believe she’s a nobody and while I am frustrated that they skirted the issue of her family, I can see why they sidestepped that to make the focus, who she chooses to be. Her struggle for identity is fascinating. The questions of who we are, is it a product of bloodline, upbringing or are we a sum of our choices and experiences is brilliant. I think the movie comes down on the side of choices and experiences and the idea that personal responsibility is the answer is outstanding. Rey shows us that even though we are personally responsible for ourselves, we are also responsible for those around us, to look after one another, teach each other, guide one another, pass on hope to one another and the chance of redemption.

The most damaged in all of this is Luke Skywalker. We know Luke’s past, how he saved his father, who’d effectively become space Hitler, because he believed there was still good in him. By the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke is the culmination of the collected wisdom of Anakin, Obi-Wan and Yoda but greater because he avoids the mistakes of the past and forges a true, new path for the Jedi. But then, we get nothing. Oh we know Luke started a new Jedi Order and thought he could help Ben, only to be scared by his raw power and darkness. Wait, really? This is the same guy who redeemed Vader but can’t find a way to help Ben? Luke was right, “This is not going to go the way you think.” It’s as if the history of Luke has been forgotten. Now, I get the idea that Luke, like Obi-Wan, feels the pain of taking too much on, but at least Obi-Wan didn’t try to murder his student in his sleep and gave him a chance to change before delivering the “killing” blow.

Now, all that said, the lesson Luke learns about failure being part of life and how to deal with it, is actually a timely one. In life, failure is the best teacher. Yet, again, Luke’s past should have prepared him for this, his knowledge about Anakin and the help of force ghosts like Yoda, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, should have been able to help shepherd him through this ordeal, instead of running away to an island to die, screaming, “get off my lawn” to anyone who comes calling.

It is interesting that Kylo and Luke are actual after the same thing, Kylo wants to burn it all down and so does Luke, but for different reasons. Kylo because of his anger at everyone and everything and Luke because of his own hubris. He sees the Jedi as a failure, as well as himself, yet he’s blaming the wrong thing. In the end, it’s people and their choices that lead them to the dark or to the light, not the teachings of the Jedi. The Jedi texts and code are only a guide, that applied properly, promote peace, prosperity and hope in the galaxy. Over a thousand generations is not a bad run. Even though Luke gives Rey a lesson in humility in relation to the Force, it seems much to learn, he still has.

All of the issues I do have, stem from there being no direction for this trilogy. With no clear plan or endgame, this is what is left, each installment trying to make sense of the last, leading to it not always having fullest depth or payoff. This is post modern story telling at it’s worst, characters and plot without history and context that could have been more cohesive with planning.

Pass on What You Have Learned

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Just as the galaxy and the characters in the movie lack context, the original characters fail to pass on their wisdom to the next generation and Luke is the biggest offender here. He seem incapable of passing on what he has learned as Yoda told him to. He’s driven by fear to almost kill Ben, and then the same fear leads him to reject training Rey for most of the movie. When he finally does train her, there is no depth or true substance to what he offers. You’d think someone with access to the original Jedi texts and a few good force ghosts would be able to provide more guidance than what we see.

Just because one has talent at something, does not mean they don’t have to practice, be taught and hone their skills. Rey is never given any of this, in the end, she’s forced to intuit who she should be for herself and from who Luke was, in the Original Trilogy. This may fit into the post modern world of “make your own way and your own truth”, but it’s not Star Wars. Lucas himself said,

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.”

Lucas is clear, wisdom is meant to be passed on, the wisdom of failures and of triumphs.  It’s what both Obi-Wan and Yoda both do for Luke. Yes, they were wrong about Anakin, but that does not mean they didn’t have wisdom to share. Proverbs reminds us, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” And the place to find wisdom is through, as Job reminds us, “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” Lucas was once asked how he felt about the human condition and he said,

I am very cynical, as a result, I think the defense I have against it is to be optimistic and tho think people are basically good, although I know in my heart they’re not.

It is clear that he understands that wisdom and goodness must be passed on and taught because they are not something we are born with’. Sadly Rey is left to find her own path, alone. Hopefully the books she saved from the force temple will give her some guidance, now that she is the last Jedi.

Luckily Rey seems to instinctively understand what Luke did at the end of Return of the Jedi, the Jedi are the embodiment of hope and light in the galaxy. Rey allows people to be defined by their choices, not their bloodline or possible history. She does not lose hope in that person’s chance at redemption until they make the choice to turn away from it completely. At that point, she stands on the side of the light, in it’s defense and in the defense of others. I think this is what is frustrating, is that I still feel like Luke should have been the one to show her this and he does, it’s just the Luke from the past not the present.

The only one in the movie doing any actual mentoring is Leia. Her relationship with Poe is a good example of passing on what you have learned. She gives Poe responsibility and then takes the time to discipline him, instruct him and trust him all over again when needed. Sadly the story is muddled with the interjection of Admiral Holdo, but it’s still the best example of someone passing on what they have learned to the next generation and it actually changing the character being taught.

The Movie

The plot of the movie is all over the place. The most glaring issue is with the Resistance story line. They don’t seem to know what to do with them, in the least and it leads to the worst “chase” scenes since Speed 2. There is no logic to what is happening. In space, there is no weight, so it’s all about thrust. If the First Order ships can create enough thrust, they could catch up to the Resistance ships. Another possibility is having a ship jump into the system, in “front” of the Resistance (it’s three dimensional space so there really is no “front”) and take them out. Now here is where context comes in again. Because we have no idea how big the First Order is, are we to assume that all the ships chasing the Resistance are it? And even if they are, could they just not jump “ahead” of the Resistance fleet and be done with it?

1513223317210Another massive plot issue is why Admiral Holdo refuses to tell Poe and the rest of the Resistance her plan. Does she suspect a saboteur or a spy and that’s why? Well, we’ll never know, because the movie gives us no indication what she is thinking. It just creates a bad plot reason for Poe, Finn and Rose to come up with their alternative plan, to give Finn something to do.

As mentioned above, in the previous section, context creates a maelstrom of issues revolving around the plot points between Luke, Snoke, Rey and Ben. This leaves us with not always feeling the fullest weight behind who they are, the choices they make and who they become as the movie ends.

I enjoy the music, the effects are wonderful except that Yoda puppet, not too keen on his look. The design work is not bad here. Canto Bight is cool, but why is it in the movie and why is that not the story for the Resistance? Going to Canto Bight to try and rustle up support for the cause seems like a much more intriguing idea than the universe’s slowest chase. And would it kill the sequel trilogy to have some aliens we know from the rest of the series? What’s it going to take to get a freaking twi’lek in this series?

Another point of contention in the movie is the humor. Lucasfilm seems to be taking a page from the Marvel playbook and has inserted humor everywhere. Humor in itself is not a bad thing and the Star Wars saga is replete with funny moments, but The Last Jedi pushes it too far. So much of the humor that works in Star Wars is the dry, sarcastic kind that is exemplified in The Empire Strikes Back. Here, it feels forced in many places such as the constant porg jokes, Poe’s ribbing of Hux or Finn waking up in a clear suit and leaking fluids everywhere as he walks down the hall. It just does not feel as organic as it needs to, to truly work. The Star Wars franchise has it’s own rules on how things work in it and as Gareth Edwards said, “There’s such a fine line in Star Wars, if you go just slightly to the left it’s not Star Wars, it’s another sci-fi movie that doesn’t feel right. And if you go slightly to the right, you’re just copying what George did. So trying to navigate this thing where it’s new but feels fresh was like the dance that was the process of making the film.”

Conclusion

The Last Jedi suffers under the burden left to it by The Force Awakens. With no clear trajectory or plan for this trilogy, Johnson works to forge his own path but it’s one fraught with plot holes and many times, muddied character motivations. The universe, as it stands, lacks cohesion, history or context and it’s hurting the story. I love that Johnson tired to be different and some of it really works now that I have seen it a second time, while other parts still fall very flat. I love some of the moments in the movie, especially Luke’s noble end and the strong work done with the Rey/Ben/Luke story but Abrams has his work cut out for him with Episode IX. I never thought I’d say this, but J.J. Abrams, you’re our only hope. The Last Jedi is rated 3 out of 5 stars.

Canto Bight – Review

DelReyStarWars_2017-Sep-13This review first appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review as well!

One of the very first glimpses fans got from The Last Jedi was a menagerie of high rollers from a brand new casino planet called Canto Bight. It featured aliens of all shapes and sizes while evoking feel of Las Vegas in the 1960s. Now as the film rapidly approaches (2 days from the writing of this review), the last book in the “Journey to the Last Jedi” gives us a taste of what life is like on this “paradise”. Canto Bight is like a few of the most recent Star Wars books, a collection of short stories connected by a single theme or place. It has four different tales by four different authors, each giving us their own unique perspective on this world.

Rules of the Game

In the first story, Saladin Ahmed tells the story Kedpin Shoklop, the winner of VaporTech’s Salesbeing of the Year award. The award comes with a full, two-week, all-expenses paid trip to Canto Bight. The tale is mildly amusing. Kedpin is a trusting soul, which leads him to being a “mark” from the moment he lands on the planet. As hijinks ensue, he finds himself mixed up in a dangerous game with a corrupt police officer and the man hired to kill him. It’s a weak opening to the book, but luckily there are three more stories.

Wine in the Dreams

The second story is by Rae Carson. Her writing is exquisite, and her exquisite use of language is mesmerizing. She leaves you feeling like you understand Canto Bight perfectly when you’re done reading her installment. The story revolves around Derla, a sommelier who’s arrived in hopes of procuring one of the rarest wines in the galaxy. She finds herself in an interesting game with one of the casino owners and some twins. The theme that, “Everything is the legend. Everything is the lie,” is perfectly portrayed. Canto Bight is a beautiful lie, and most people in it are as well, and by the time this story is over you know intrinsically what that lie is all about.

Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing

The third story by Mira Grant adds the mob element that every good casino town needs. Lexo Sooger is a simple massage specialist who ends up having to relive his past in order to save an adopted daughter. The question is, just how far will he go to get her back? Carson finds that right balance between the mob and action genres to craft the perfect yarn for this “Star Wars Vegas.”

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The Ride

The last story is by a name familiar to Star War book fans. John Jackson Miller writes the story of Kaljach Sonmi, determined to make it in Canto Bight. He’s a decent card player and a proposition player employed by the casino. But that’s not good enough for him; he wants to win big. This desire puts him in debt with one of the mob bosses and he’s got just till sunrise to pay it all back. As luck would have it, he runs into “The Lucky Three” and they may just help him find the right streak.

The best thing about the story is the way it ties in the theme of losing joy in life and how many times we’re the ones responsible for killing the magic in our own lives. Much of the time, the way to get that joy back is have it shown to you by a friend. It’s not only the theme of joy that is well done, Jackson is also able to comment on the importance of places like Canto Bight existing. One of the characters sums it up best when he says,

“Of course not—because people come to Canto Bight so as not to have to think about all that.” He gestured to the casino floor, teeming with happy people. “When there’s so much bad going on, it helps to know that there’s a place where none of that matters.”

Conclusion

Canto Bight is a fun book. Three out of the four stories really work. Yet, there is still a feeling like none of them are truly essential or add anything to the mythos of Star Wars in a way you’d be missing if you hadn’t read them. It is a fun way to wait for The Last Jedi and could possibly be even more rewarding to read after the movie is out and seen. Canto Bight is rated 3.5 out of 5 stars.