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 · Star Wars · The Last Jedi · Uncategorized

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.

Film · Movie Review · Movies · Star Wars · The Force Awakens · The Last Jedi · Uncategorized

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 its worst, characters and plot without history and context that could have been more cohesive with planning.

Pass on What You Have Learned

ridley-hamill-last-jedi-trailer-ht-jef-171121_12x5_992

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 to 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 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Last Jedi · Uncategorized

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.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Last Jedi · Uncategorized

The Legends of Luke Skywalker – Review

Legends-of-Luke-SkywalkerWith the lead up to the new Star Wars episodes, there has been a marketing push in the literature, “Journey to” which has lead us into The Force Awakens and now is doing the same for The Last Jedi. The latest in this line is Ken Liu’s stories in The Legends of Luke Skywalker giving us a glimpse into the ways the galaxy views this hero and a few of the things he may have been up to after the Return of the Jedi.

Structure

The book is a series of stories that are being told by the work crew of a long-haul, transport barge that’s on it’s way to Canto Bight. The time period seems to be set somewhere near the new film, The Last Jedi. All the tales are of the aforementioned Skywalker, as told by different members of the crew. A couple of them are familiar but told with a twist, whereas the rest of them are new. Like the previous book of short stories, From a Certain Point of View, some of these stories soar, while others range from good to complete duds.

Stand Outs

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 4.11.35 PMThere are two of these stories that are clearly superior to the rest, the first is call “Fishing in the Deluge”. Luke is traveling the galaxy to learn all he can about the Force and arrives on Lew’el where he asks to learn about “The Tide” (their name for the Force) from the Lew’elans. They agree to teach him if he can pass three tests. This story is everything you could want from Luke learning about the Force from another culture who’s views are different from traditional Jedi doctrine. The depth of the philosophical discussions that happen transcend the middle grade level of this book. Luke humbly places himself under the tutelage of these people to unlearn what he has learned in the search of wisdom, it’s quintessential Luke Skywalker.

The second stand out is “Big Inside”. As Luke is traveling the galaxy he picks up a young biologist on her way to another planet to continue her studies. They end up following some space fireflies in an astroid field and find themselves trapped in a space slug. This story does the same thing “Fishing in the Deluge” does, in introducing us to different Force users, this time from the distant past. The story gives readers another good look at many ways the Force has been thought of and used. It connects so well with things like Mortis, the Bardottan mystics or the force priestess in The Clone Wars and leaves readers longing for more stories just like them.

Honorable mentions go to “The Starship Graveyard” and “I, Droid”. Both of these add to the joy of seeing what Luke has been doing between both of the films called Jedi.

Conclusion

The Legends of Luke Skywalker had some real joys but, it also had a couple of complete fails and that hurts the over all. While the good does outweigh the bad, a feeling of disappointment that a third of the book is wasted cannot be shaken. It’s worth picking up for the stand out stories though and is rated 3 out of 5 tall tales.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Last Jedi · Uncategorized

Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Review

Leia_-_Princess_of_Alderaan_-_new_coverListen to The 602 Club review here!

Leia is one of the most recognized and revered characters in film, yet we still know very little about her upbringing. From the time she was whisked away by Bail Organa, adopted by he and his wife and then shows up in A New Hope, we know almost nothing (we do know just a bit more now, thanks to an appearance by the rebellious princess in Star Wars Rebels). Now thanks to The Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Claudia Gray, Leia’s transition from princess to rebel is now complete.

The Cost

When Star Wars premiered over 40 years ago, the rebellion was more an ideal in the film. Even throughout the next two movies, the cost to those involved was never fully fleshed out. Leia is one of the characters that suffers most from this. She looses her whole planet and we never see the impact that has on her, at least on screen (it is seen in the Leia comic that came out a couple of years ago).

One of the highlights of Leia is the way Gray is able to explore the risks involved for people like Bail and Breha Organa in helping create a uprising against the Empire. The costs for them will be high if they are found to be peddling “treason” to the masses. Bail and Breha know that they are putting their lives and the life of their daughter on the line. In fact, through most of the book, Bail is insistent that Leia be kept in the dark about their defiant activities, with the slim hope that Leia might be spared by the Empire if they are discovered. Freedom is never free. Bail finally resigns himself to the fact that Leia will never be safe, even if she is not involved. The Empire will make an example of them no matter what, if he and Breha are caught, so they might as well allow Leia to be involved. Star Wars has done an excellent job recently of bringing to life the cost being involved in the Rebellion through Star Wars Rebels, Rogue One, Twilight Company and now in Leia.

Another price that we see in A New Hope is the annihilation of Alderaan. That loss has never feel so great till now. Gray does a magnificent job of creating a vibrant society and planet that is the jewel of the Empire, free, open and beautiful. The Organas are not just putting their lives in danger, they are risking their whole planet. If their insurgent activities are uncovered, the Alderaan that is will cease to exist. It’s eventual destruction is more poignant now that Claudia Gray enlivened it in the pages of her book.

Coming Together

Palpatine was a genius at using the selfishness of people to his advantage. His continued use of the Senate was a way of getting his hooks into systems and using their greed against each other. Pork-barrel spending and fear allow him to keep the galaxy divided against itself. Mon Mothma makes this point to Leia in the book when she says,

“More than anything else, I’m honored that you trusted me with this. The Empire’s worked so hard to destroy our faith in one another, throughout the galaxy. Only by daring to reach out will we ever make the allies we need.”

It’s a relevant point, even today. The more we are driven apart into our little tribes and groups the harder it is to benefit the whole. Making those connections, finding common ground and coming together are the only way to make a difference.

Connections

This book is under the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi banner and it uses this to familiarize readers with some things that will be seen in the film. Readers are taken to the new planet Crait, that has been seen in the trailer and also introduced to Amilyn Holdo who will be a Vice Admiral in the Resistance alongside Leia. The story also helps in building the character of Leia, showing why she would be able to recognize the danger the First Order presents to the New Republic and be willing to do whatever it takes to stop it.

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Crait and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo from The Last Jedi.

Conclusion 

Claudia Gray has already written two of the best books in the new canon with Lost Stars and Bloodline. Leia is not quite at that level, but it’s still a good book. The best thing any tie-in fiction can do is to enhance your viewing of the films or show it’s connected to and Leia does just that. In reading this book, you’ll never watch A New Hope in the same way again. Gray’s coming-of-rebellion story for Leia is wonderful and worth the read, especially before The Last Jedi. Leia is rated 4 out of 5 lost stars.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Force Awakens · The Last Jedi · Uncategorized

Phasma – Review

phasma2This review originally appeared on The StarWars Report.

Listen to The 602 Club review here.

This review does contain spoilers.

In the lead up to The Force Awakens, the anticipation for the new filmwas palpable. Fans were atwitter about everything they were seeing in the trailers, toys and through the media, including one of the most striking new characters–Captain Phasma. This chrome-plated stormtrooper had many fans asking questions about who she was, where she came from and just how awesome she would be in the movie. It’s not an overstatement to say that she was a letdown in the film as she was given nothing to do other than be thrown into a trash compacter by Chewie, Han, and Finn. Fortunately, the rehabilitation of Phasma has now begun. She’ll be back in Episode VIII, she’s starring in her own comic (where she’ll escape Starkiller Base) and her backstory has finally been revealed in the latest release from Del Rey by Delilah S. Dawson.

The Title Character

Phasma is an enigma, not only for fans but also for the rest of the characters in the latest book. She jealously guards her secrets about where she comes from and who she was before arriving with Brendol Hux at The First Order after helping him escape her home planet of Parnassos. This story offers a character study in who the “real” Phasma is.

Cardinal
Cardinal

In The First Order’s efforts at training children they have “rescued” and molding them into a stormtrooper corp, Cardinal has been acting as Brendol’s right-hand man. This all changes when Phasma arrives and he is demoted to training only the younger children while Phasma is given control over the cadets from their teens to graduation as troopers. A mistrust grows between Cardinal and Phasma in response to this turn of events. Spurred on by his misgivings about her, Cardinal begins digging into Phasma’s past to uncover exactly who she is and if she can be trusted. What he finds will change his life forever. Cardinal captures Resistance spy, Vi Moradi, who has been hot on the trail of Phasma’s history, and forces her to reveal what she knows of The First Order’s “perfect” solider.

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Vi Moradi

Vi Moradi’s story exposes the heart of who lies beneath the armor. Phasma is revealed as the embodiment of Darwinian ideology, survival of the fittest. She knows who she is, a stone-cold dealer of death, and no matter who gets in her way, she is determined to survive. Phasma adheres to no other belief system than her own survival, which is her highest ideal. As Vi weaves her tale, Cardinal realizes that Phasma is a user not a believer. She constantly looks for the next best thing to further her existence; as long as it benefits herself,that’s what she will side with. Phasma proves time and again that she will turn on those “closest” to her if it means bettering her position in life.

The most interesting thing to see is how even on Parnassos, where survival is about being the fittest, Phasma’s approach to life is viewed as an aberration. Her supreme selfishness and lack of care for others shocks those she lives with. Phasma is comfortable with who she is, yet she knows that the rest of the galaxy does not share this opinion, so she covers up her past. She makes sure that everyone she betrays ends up dead, unable to tell the truth, and in doing so, creates her own reality. Phasma truly exists as only what she allows people to believe her to be. She has exchanged the truth for a lie and that lie has become her “truth”.

The First Order 

So far, we have been shown very little about The First Order in the sequel trilogy, and luckily, Phasma lets readers get a peak behind the curtain. The character of Cardinal demonstrates just how committed the Order is to creating an army that will do its bidding, no matter what they are asked to do. Children are taken at a very young age and brainwashed through training, conditioning and subliminal messaging permeating every single moment of their lives.

When The Force Awakens was released, J.J. Abrams compared The First Order to Nazis in hiding after WWII, yet in Phasma, it comes off more like the Soviet regime. The people and military are told that they are going to be saved from the evils of the New Republic, that the corruption of the powerful will be brought down and that all will be treated with equality under The First Order. In reality, those in charge of the Order do not actually care about equality, they only care about control. Phasma explains it to Cardinal,

“Ah, Cardinal. That’s your problem. You were only ever meant to be the tool, not the hand that wields it. You’re what Brendol thought he wanted, a dull creature he crafted to do his will. But me? I’m what he didn’t know he needed. I am your evolution. And that means you’re deadweight. Extinct.”

In The First Order, there is a clear distinction between those who are in power and those who are not. The First Order and its troopers are a dark mirror for the Jedi Order in many ways. The Jedi took children to the temple with the permission of their families andraised them to adhere to the Jedi Code, a philosophy which taught them to free themselves from familial attachments so that they could best serve the needs of the Force and others. Conversely, The First Order takes children in order to indoctrinate them to think and act only according to the dogma of the Order. It squashes all of the humanity out of them, leaving only automatons to be wielded as those in power see fit. This is groupthink at its most dangerous.

FirstOrder

Conclusion

Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma is a deliciously chilling character study. Its revelations about the character and the nature of The First Order make it a perfect read going into The Last Jedi. The prose is well done and the creation of Cardinal is something that will leave the readers wanting more of him as well as Vi. Phasma is rated 4 out of 5 downed Naboo yachts.

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