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.

Book Reviews · Books · Disney · Star Wars · The Clone Wars · Uncategorized

Queen’s Shadow – Review

91JhTQBZyMLThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Attack of the Clones vaulted all of the characters from The Phantom Menace forward by ten years, leaving a gap for fans to wonder what happened in that time period to each of them that returned. One of the biggest changes was for Padmé, who had gone from being Queen of Naboo to its representative in the Galactic Senate on Coruscant. E.K. Johnson has now given fans something they have wanted for years, a book devoted to Padmé, her handmaidens and the time transitioning from planetary to galactic politics.

Connections

The strongest point of Queen’s Shadow is the way Johnson is able to flesh out the relationships that we see Padmé have with other senators in The Clone Wars as well as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. In The Clone Wars, we were introduced to people from Padmé’s early days as a senator like Rush Clovis and Mina Bonteri, which Johnson is able to finally illuminate their first interactions. There is little more exciting than seeing the connective tissue between the films and the animated series made tighter.

Other relationships from the senate are highlighted as well. We are shown why Bail Organa and Mon Mothma become some of Padmé’s closest allies in the senate. It goes a long way to understanding just how close the Organa’s were to Padmé, so that when they take Leia as their daughter in Revenge of the Sith, you can think of no one better to raise her. It also helps with understanding why Leia would feel like she felt her mother as a very young child, since her mother had been to Alderaan and stayed in the palace before, which one assumes was not just a one time visit.

Johnson is also able to make the connections to the milieu of galactic politics which leads to what is seen in Episodes II and III. She shows the way that Palpatine is already starting to control things, behind the scenes, as he keeps Padmé away from the anti-slavery committee, knowing that if she’s there, she’ll move things in a direction he doesn’t want. Johnson also shows how relevant the Prequels are as she accentuates the problems of galactic politics that’s swayed more by factions, news outlets and self interest more than what is right.

The last major connection is that of the handmaidens. Johnson is finally able to show the interworking of this group that should satisfy the most ardent Padmé fan. The way this group to talented and dedicated women work together to protect and take care of Padmé and each other is inspiring.

The Book

By the end of the book, the story does come together well, but the way that it gets there is not as cohesive as it could be. Even half way through the book, it seems to lack a clear through-line, story wise. In many ways, it feels more like vignettes from Padmé’s first year as a senator than a connected story. The thematic elements of Padmé transforming from queen to senator are there and done well, but something just feels like it’s missing.

The best example of this is the story about slavery on Tatooine, which feels like it will be a major thrust of the story early on and then just peters out unsatisfyingly. The book also has an ending that makes you think there will be a sequel, but also doesn’t feel like it fits completely with how the main trust of the story wrapped up.

In all, Queen’s Shadow is an enjoyable read that allows fans the opportunity to understand better the character of Padmé, who she is in The Clone Wars and beyond. In fact it even helps lay the foundations for her emotionally, that explain the why and the how of her relationship with Anakin. It’s this, on top of the connections made with other parts of the Prequel era that lead to a rating of 3 out of 5 stars.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Star Wars Rebels · The Clone Wars · Uncategorized

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.

Book Reviews · Books · Film · George Lucas · Movies · Star Wars · The Clone Wars · Uncategorized

George Lucas: A Life – Review

tumblr_o61hphwviy1us2txqo1_1280George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones.

George Lucas is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating people in Hollywood, although he’d probably resent that statement as his whole life has been about not being part of they Hollywood system. In this new, non-authorized biography, Brian Jay Jones traces Lucas’ quintessentially American story from humble beginnings to titan of the film industry.

The book is split in to 3 parts, Hope, Empire and Return, each on taking on a different part of George’s life and doing their best to synthesize a very full existence in a mere 550 pages (really only 470 as the last 80 pages are notations).

Hope is actually the the best section of the book, chronicling Lucas’ family and his early life as a greaser who found school boring and working for someone else even more so. This is the most formative section of the book, much of who Lucas became would be a direct result of things that happened during this period. The issues with his father (which would play in in his two biggest franchises), his desire to be completely free to do things his way and a car accident that would illuminate the truth of life’s fragility cementing his character. The reason for most everything else Lucas would do in his life could be traced back to his beginnings in Modesto, California.

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Empire tells of Lucas’ fortunes after American Graffiti as he struggle to bring his idea of The Star Wars to screen. Next to his youth, this is the the most integral to who Lucas would become. His experiences with THX-1138 and American Graffiti would set him on course to chart a future away from the influence of the studio and Hollywood system. Everything he did was a move to allow him to make movies without compromising his artistic creativity as well as building a place where others in the industry would be able to do the same. This same drive would also cost him dearly, as he neglected his wife in favor of making his movies and the neglect would cost him his marriage.

Return recounts the journey from the Original Trilogy to the Prequels and the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. It’s the weakest section of the book, feeling too condensed and too reliant on the most superficial understanding of the Prequels as well as the work that truly went into them. It sadly glosses over the importance of The Clone Wars series as well, making it feel more like a footnote than the project that helped Lucas fall in love with Star Wars all over again. Also left out is the fight with Marin County which lead Lucas to giving up his dream of making the Star Wars sequel trilogy himself and the resignation of selling the company to Disney.

The one true strength in this section is the way it highlights the correlation between Lucas, his divorce and the story of the Prequel Trilogy, especially, Anakin and his choices. After reading this book one can see how much of himself he actually poured into the story. Anakin and Lucas both have the same fall on their way to Empire-building.

lucasWith the strength of the first two sections the book is recommendable, yet it’s not without it’s faults. Frustratingly the last section does devolve into most every criticism of Lucas in the Special Edition to Disney sale that everyone has surely read online. Honestly this can be attributed to the non-authorized nature of the book and the lack of interviews, which would have helped the last section of the book specifically. Peter Jackson is quoted in the book saying about Lucas, “I can’t help feeling that George Lucas has never been fully appreciated by the industry for his remarkable innovations…He’s the Thomas Edison of the modern film industry.” In some ways the book leaves one feeling this way as well. Lucas’ accomplishments in film, his tireless struggle for innovation and consistently putting his hard-earned money where his mouth is, should be given more due. Hopefully this is just the beginning of books to come out about Lucas and here’s to hoping the next is even more in depth, but Jones’ book is a good place to start and is rated 4 out of 5 Death Stars.

 

Ahsoka · Book Reviews · Books · Podcasts · Star Wars · Star Wars Rebels · The 602 Club · The Clone Wars · Uncategorized

Ahsoka – Review

tsc-s23-th-square-1440In 2008 Star Wars fans were introduced to a brand new character that no one expected, Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, Ahsoka. She immediately polarized the fan community and it took years for some people to warm up to her. Fast forward to March 7th, 2014 where she walked away from the Jedi order in the last broadcast episode of The Clone Wars, breaking fans hearts but also relieving them as they knew Ahsoka lived. Now, with her fate in the balance once again, fans can’t get enough Ahsoka and they’ve got a new book to keep us satiated.

In this supplemental episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined by fellow Jedi Masters Bruce Gibson and John Mills to talk about the new Star Wars book, Ahsoka. We first discuss the Lando casting, our expectations coming into the book, the end of Ahsoka’s world, interludes, becoming something else, the Imperial way, stormtroopers of clones, kyber crystals, Inquisitors, a failing order and our ratings.

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Podcasts · Star Wars · Star Wars Rebels · The Clone Wars · The Force Awakens · Uncategorized

New Podcast!

AN-ReimaginedJanuary19-1400x1400-FadeI have recently begun a new podcasting adventure with my good friend John Mills called Aggressive Negotiations. It is a Star Wars podcast and yet not your usual Star Wars show. We do not cover any news or current Star Wars evens, we cover the things you talk about with your friends. We are just two guys who enjoy contemplating the silly, the serious and everything in-between about the Star Wars saga. I hope you will join us for our 30ish minute shows as we talk about a fun new topic each week. You can find us on our website as well as iTunes. Check us out, let us know what you think and help spread the word!

Film · George Lucas · Movie Review · Movies · Star Wars · The Clone Wars

The 602 Club 45: More Than a Feeling

tsc-045-th-square-1440Revenge of the Sith.

As May 19th 2005 approached, Star Wars fans eagerly awaited what was believed to be the last film in the Saga. The end had come and the only question was whether it coould satisfy the imaginations of a generation.

In this episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined by Jedi Masters Bruce Gibson and John Mills to talk about Revenge of the Sith. We discuss our Episode III experiences, the end, personal themes, the fall of Anakin and the Republic, speculation about Episode VII, in light of The Clone Wars, Mustafar scene, missing scenes and our ratings.

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