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Solo: A Star Wars Story Novelization – Revew

solo-novel-cover

This review was originally seen on The Star Wars Report.

It’s been a good year for Star Wars books. Most Wanted, Thrawn: Alliances, and The Mighty Chewbacca and the Forest of Fear are just a few examples of the good stories that have been released. This month Del Rey released the novelization of Solo and, like they did with The Last Jedi, it’s an “Expanded Edition.” An “Expanded Edition” means it contains deleted scenes incorporated back into the story, as well as extensions to existing material seen in the film. This tactic worked well for The Last Jedi, whose novelization was better than its source material.

So the question is, does it work again with Solo? Thankfully the answer is a resounding yes!

Murr Lafferty has seamlessly integrated the new material with what was seen in the movie to create something truly special. She masterfully takes what was there and accentuates everything you wanted to know more about while watching the film. Han, Qi’ra, Beckett, Chewie, L3, Enfys Nest, and almost every other character in the film benefit from added time spent with them, as well as the added bonus of being privy to their thoughts. It cannot be overstated just how much fun it is to be back in this story with new material that adds to the depth and richness of the Solo part of the Star Wars galaxy.

The rest of this review could spend the next few paragraphs laying out all the additions the novelization has, but there would be no fun in that. Part of the joy of reading this book is the delight in not knowing exactly what has been expanded. The highest praise this book could be given is how deftly it shows the fertile playground the underworld is in the Star Wars universe. It’ll leave readers longing to watch Solo again and to see more Solo films that continue the story. Solo is a must read and is rated 4.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Solo: A Star Wars Story provided by Del Rey.

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Eighth Grade – Review

EG_final-onlineBo Burnham’s directorial debut Eighth Grade is the most uncomfortable, real and important movie of the summer. The film follows Kayla Day as eighth grade comes to a close and life is on the brink of another titanic shift from middle school to high school. What follows is an intimate look at the life of kids today, who must navigate the digital deluge all while trying to figure out who they are and who they’ll be.

All Too Real

Eighth Grade is a raw movie. It offers an uncompromising and unflattering look at the state of adolescence in the United States in the 2010s. These are the children of the digital revolution, with iDevices in their hands before they can walk. For them there has never been a moment without some form of entertainment at their fingertips. Constantly inundated with images and messages, their perceptions of reality are filtered through Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. The struggle to be “cool”, with its ever-changing standard, is real. The digital domain is pervasive, so that even when these kids are hanging out with each other, it’s usually half-heartedly, lest they miss something coming in from the never-ending stream of social media conscientiousness. It’s a lonely way to live, constantly being reminded that you’re never going to be good enough, skinny enough, funny, hip or cool enough.

It’s said that information is power, yet this generation has all the information of the world in the palm of their hands but lacks the wisdom or experience to use it well. They know way to much, way too early and are in turn forced to think about and deal with things they are just not mature enough to handle. This 24/7 marination in pop culture  makes it difficult for anything else to impact them on the same level. How can parents hope to have anywhere close to the same influence when time is not on their side? The movie does not have many answers, but it does shine a light on something parents are going to have to start addressing as the film shows just how harmful these devices of unlimited potential can be on children.

Unconditional Love

Throughout the film Kayla makes YouTube videos. They are little vignettes of advice on all the things she portrays herself to be an expert on, yet the rest of the film shows she’s anything but. She’s constantly being told that she should be all of these different things through social media and, consequently, she is lost. She has no idea who she is or wants to be beyond what she’s told is “cool”. So each day she works to earn the friendship and respect of others based on what she thinks people want. It’s exhausting for her.

Throughout the film, the one person who’s tried to truly interact with Kayla has been her father. He tries to talk to her and get to know who she is, but she constantly rejects his help and love until the end of the film. When Kayla finds herself at the end of her rope, she finally asks for her father’s help to burn something in the back yard. As they sit there, watching her sixth grade time capsule burn, he asks her what they are doing. She answers that she’s burning her hopes and dreams. She then asks him if he is sad to have her as a daughter. It’s a powerful moment as he begins to tell her how much joy she brings him, how unconditionally she is loved and that he’s always been honored to have her as his daughter. In that moment she climbs into his lap and is held in the arms of love. This moment brings a change in Kayla. She lets go of her videos and the need to be “cool”. It’s almost as if her father’s words of acceptance have nestled into her heart and freed her from the need to earn the acceptance of others.

There is a bit of beautiful Biblical truth in this scene. Isaiah reminds us that all of us, like sheep have gone astray, we’ve searched for everything under the sun to fulfill us and make us whole. Yet there is only one thing that can and because of this God has laid on Christ, the sin of us all, to allow us the opportunity, like prodigals to run back into his arms. Kayla’s rejection of “cool” and acceptance of love brings to mind Psalm 139, we are wonderfully made by a heavenly Father to be something unique, fully known and fully loved by the creator of the universe. Truth and reality are not defined by the forever-changing concept of “cool” but by God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever and his love never ends.

Conclusion

If you are someone that works with youth, if you are a parent, if you have children this age or will have, this movie is one you should see. In fact, if you have children this age, you should see this movie with them and talk about it together. This is an important film that takes seriously the ways in which our changing world is impacting the coming generations. It’s painful to watch sometimes, but ultimately rewarding. Eighth Grade is rated 4.5 out of 5.

 

Mission Impossible: Fallout – Review

mission-impossible-6-posterDon’t miss The 602 Club review!

In a world inundated by franchise films, many of them failing to live up to the hype or even their predecessors, it is truly rare that a sixth movie in a series could be a contender for the of best in the series. It’s not completely unprecedented Star Trek VI is argued by many to be the best as is Revenge of the Sith, but these films are outliers in the malaise of mediocrity that is franchise filmmaking. With this in mind, if someone had told you 22 years ago when the first Mission Impossible film was released that the sixth installment would still be staring Tom Cruise at the age of 56 and that it would be the best in the series, people would have laughed in your face. Yet against all odds, this is exactly what Christopher McQuarrie has pulled off with Fallout. It is truly one of the rare sequels that not only lives up to the hype but surpasses it.

The cast is outstanding. McQuarrie has found a way to have every character in this film have a purpose, no one here is just for fan service. On top of this, Tom Cruise is like a fine wine that’s been aged perfectly, it’s hard to oversell just how good he is in this role. Plus, his stunt work is mind-blowing. His chemistry with Rebecca Ferguson is electric and she, in her own right, nails everything she does in this film. Newcomers Henry Cavill and Vanessa Kirby are outstanding. Cavill is making his case, along with his portrayal in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., for the next Bond. Kirby is delightful as the “White Widow” and worth addition to the Mission Impossible universe. In fact her scene with Cruise is one of the best of the film.

There is so much that could be said about this film, but it’s best experienced on the biggest screen you can find. Mission Impossible: Fallout is a true edge-of-the-seat triller, that will have you guessing, clenching the arm rests and feeling exhilarated as you exit the theater. Go see this movie, in the theater. Fallout is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

 

Thrawn: Alliances – Review

Dh6ituIXkAApangThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

There was, Vader had noticed, a strange sort of symmetry in the Force, a balance that often manifested in patters and resonances and strange reunions. People long separated would unexpectedly meet again; events of significance would see echos of themselves within new events; places once visited would somehow draw a person back to create new memories, whether good or for ill” (Thrawn: Alliances 254)

Vader’s ruminations are the perfect summation of Timothy Zahn’s latest book Thrawn: Alliances, which explores the first the meeting of Anakin Skywalker and Thrawn as well as a mission Vader and Thrawn are sent on by the Emperor. Loyalty is tested and secrets are uncovered as the Unknown Regions become the backdrop for two events that will help shape these men’s lives forever.

The strength of this book lies in it’s characterizations. Each main character is written so well that it’s impossible not to hear Matt Lanter or Cat Taber’s voice when reading Anakin or Padmé. James Earl Jones and Lars Mikkelsen are almost audible with every word of dialogue from Vader or Thrawn. And it’s not just the voices that Zahn captures, it’s everything the characters think or do feels completely in line with who fans know them to be. Zahn has written something that feels like an arc of The Clone Wars and Rebels all in one. Using Padmé and Anakin together was a perfect touch as they bring out the most intimate parts of the other’s personality. And their individual interactions with Thrawn give us a nuanced sense of who he truly is. Lastly, Zahn does not disappoint in his Vader/Thrawn showdown, as each man works to understand the other, seeing if they
can be trusted.

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The other thing Zahn does well is the way he weaves the mysteries of each story and the implications they have on the prequel time period and possibly the sequel era. The Clone Wars era story adds one more layer of machinations of Palpatine, adding dimension to his plans for bringing down the Republic. The Imperial era story continues to build on the mysteries of the Unknown Regions, races there, the Chiss Ascendancy and what the Emperor could be so interested in. This may be the most intriguing part of the story and it’s one that leaves the reader clamoring to know more and with the hope that all this focus on the Unknown Regions is going to pay off in the future.

Thrawn: Alliances is a book that much could be written about, but as a review, it’s honestly best left to the reader to discover. Zahn has created something wonderful here, so should you buy it, yes! Warning, it’ll leave you hungry for more, but isn’t that the hallmark of a good Star Wars book, opening the door for more? Thrawn: Alliances is rated 4.5 out of 5.

This review was completed using a copy of Thrawn: Alliances provided by Del Rey.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Review

Wont-You-Be-My-Neighbor-691x1024I grew up on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child. In fact, my mother is fond of reminding me that my love for the cardigan can be directly linked to the show and asking for the Mr. Rogers type of sweater when we were shopping. I loved this show as a child. The trolly, the props he used as representations of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the puppets and the man himself. I remember getting a lump in my throat the first time I saw the trailer for Won’t You Be My Neighbor as memories of watching the show flooded back, so I was keen to see the film as soon as I could. I’ll say right up front, it’s brilliant. I may be slightly biased, growing up loving this man and his show, but I don’t think I am. I think this is exactly the kind of movie we need at this point in time.

Love You Neighbor as Yourself

Fred Rogers was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church. He actually put  his aspirations to the ministry on hold when he saw television and was inspired to get into children’s programing. He was disheartened to see the things geared towards children and helped start The Children’s Corner, which aired on the public television station WQED. He would leave the show and finally pursue his theological degree, but he never lost his passion for television. In fact, in may ways, his pulpit for all those years was living out the first and second commandments given by Jesus in the Gospels,

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 34-40

You can see the importance of the show even being called, neighborhood. Mr. Rogers modeled the life of love and faith in the way he dealt with his “neighbors” on the show. In a world scared to go out it’s front door most of the time, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a reminder of just what we’ve lost. Fred Rogers treated everyone with the respect they deserved, not because they had “earned” it, but because they were a child of God, created in his image and therefore was his neighbor, who he was called to love. Fred Rogers may never have given a sermon, but his life was one, living out the two great commandments to the best of his ability.

Children

The most striking thing about the film is the way it shows Rogers deep and unwavering commitment to children. Even though he was in television, he actually didn’t like it all that much. He deplored the way it treated children as mini consumers, what was peddled as children’s programing and how it did more harm than good for them. He rightly understood just how impactful what a child sees, is to them.

He spoke to children about subjects many struggle to talk about, assassination, divorce, death, just to name a few. He never talked down to children, but especially through the puppets like Daniel Tiger, he was able to express the deepest feelings of their heart on a plethora of topics. The show was never slow, but purposefully deliberate and intentional. In many ways it helped foster children’s abilities to think about whatever he was saying because it was not too quickly rushing to the next thing, allowing them to ponder and truly mull the subject in their minds.

The reason for all of this was that Rogers believed completely in the solemn responsibility it was to speak into a child’s life. What a child watches, sees and hears will have a massive impact on who they become. Because of this he felt that anyone producing content for children should not take it lightly. In a society full of “children’s” programing, Won’t You Be My Neighbor asks that we as a society reevaluate what we’re allowing our children to be subjected to from the earliest age and and if it’s really appropriate or beneficial for them.

The most important message from Rogers to children ties into Jesus’ second great commandment and it was his consistent refrain at the end of every episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you/yourself. There’s only one person in the whole world that’s like you, and that’s you. And people can like you just/exactly the way you are. I’ll be back next time. Bye-bye!”

Fred Rogers understood the human dignity that was endowed by our Creator because we are image bearers of God and that each person does not have to earn love, but is loved. He showed this to  the children watching is program, everyday, for years and it’s a message needed now, more than ever.

Conclusion

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a 5 out of 5. Seek it out, watch it, encourage others to do so as well. The world sorely needs more Fred Rogers in the world, who’s kindness, vulnerability and grace still reverberate as strongly now as they did when he was alive.

 

Skyscraper – Review

skyscraper_posterDwayne Johnson has solidified himself has a massive star. He’s made his mark with the Fast and the Furious movies and had the surprise hit of last Christmas in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. This summer he looks to continue his dominance at the box office with his latest action outing, Skyscraper.

Hubris  

The movie is pretty simple in the end and it’s similar to Die Hard, man has to save his family from building, only this time it’s on fire, on top there being a band murdering psychopaths with guns on the loose. There is a nice theme in the film from the beginning, as the world’s tallest building is being revealed to the audience, of hubris. The movie even mentions the Tower of Babel as an example of man reaching for the sky and greatness. The building’s owner shows off the tower’s incredible technology that supposedly makes it the safest, most secure and advanced structure in the world. Like the Titanic, it’s suppose to be impossible to take down, even with a fire, as airtight doors are intended to keep floors separated in case of emergency. Yet like all technology, there is always a way for the unthinkable and “impossible” to become reality. It’s an evergreen message that technology is never infallible and is only safe, depending on the hands it’s in.

Family  

This might be an action movie staring The Rock, but it’s all about family. Will Sawyer is a former FBI hostage rescue team leader who was almost killed when a situation turned deadly. He almost loses his life but it’s saved by Sarah, a former Army doctor who later becomes his wife. He does have to have a leg amputated because of the explosion, but from that loss comes joy. If he’d not had something so awful happen, he admits, he’d never have met his wife or had his twins who he credits with saving his life. His family is his strength.

First, the celebration of life here, it’s ups, it’s downs is truly beautiful and the recognition that good can come from bad is relevant perspective. Second, the portrayal of family and it’s importance is wonderful. It’s nice to see a movie that upholds these virtues and remembers that they are worth honoring.

The Movie

The movie may have quite a few action flick cliches, but it also has a lot of heart. One of the best things is that Sarah Sawyer is no damsel, she’s as capable as her husband and just as determined to save her family. The movie does a great job of have them working in tandem, even though they don’t know it, from different sides of the problem to help save the day. Along with this, the films upholding of family, bravery, heroism and sacrifice are worthy of praise. It’s nice to walk out of a movie with the reminder that these things are important. It’s also a fun movie, that is something good almost the whole family, probably safe for 10 and up. Skyscraper is rated 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Rebel Dawn – Review

Rebel_Dawn_cover

Rebel Dawn arrives as the last book in A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. The series spans most of the 19 years from the end of the Clone Wars to the beginning of A New Hope. One of the greatest strengths of the series and something that’s fully on display in this book is that it’s not just a story about Solo. This series explores the underworld of the Star Wars galaxy and the beginning of the Rebellion. In many ways, this last book is less about Han and more about the pieces of the galaxy that Crispin has been playing with throughout each book.

The first of these elements is the Hutt syndicate and Jabba’s rise to power. Crispin wraps up the power struggle between the Desilijic and Besadii clans while also setting up other underworld crime bosses like Xizor of Black Sun. The series does a magnificent job of playing with these elements, depicting the way Palpatine is using them for his benefit and delving into a whole other side of the galaxy rich in characters and potential. You can see how Solo: A Star Wars Story uses some of these elements and just how ripe the underworld is for stories. Reading this series has me praying that Lucasfilm will continue to make movies with Han, Chewie, Qi’ra, and the rest of this underworld they set up in the film.

The second element that is fleshed out is the Rebellion. Bria is now a commander in one of the rebel cells, so we get to see the rise of the Alliance through her character. Rebel Dawn shows us not only the rebellion’s rise, but it tells the story of the theft of the Death Star plans and their transmission to the Tantive VI. Of course this is all before Rogue One came out and just one of a few stories in Legends on how this went down. Honestly, this part of the story, especially the theft of the plans, seems rushed and not all that satisfying. When it’s just about Bria and her part in the Rebellion it works, but the moment Crispin tries to squeeze in the Death Star plans, it just feels too cluttered.

Something I was not expecting was for Crispin to work in Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy into her narrative. This was an interesting choice and it works for the most part. Even if there are parts of the Daley novels that do not always feel completely like the Star Wars we have come to know, it’s a nice tip of the hat to the first Solo stories we ever got outside of the films.

One thing that does not work for me is Han’s relationship with Bria. Her betrayal of him and her death just feel too close in time to the events of A New Hope. It is hard to buy that Han would be interested in Leia so soon after the loss of the love of his life. It feels like this book would have better served the larger story if it had been set four to five years before A New Hope, giving Han time to move on from such a tragic loss.

Regardless, Rebel Dawn is probably my favorite book in this series. Crispin does such a good job of utilizing all the plot elements she set up in the previous books to bring this to a mostly satisfying conclusion. There are parts that feel forced to me, but ultimately they’re not detrimental to my enjoyment of this underworld of Star Wars that she’s developed through the story of Han Solo. I’ll say it again, reading this has me hoping and praying that Lucasfilm will continue what it started in Solo. This series shows just how much they could do with it on the big screen. Rebel Dawn is rated 4 out of 5 stars.