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 · Movies · Rogue One · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Rogue One Novelization – Review


rogueonenovelRogue One
 brings to life the crawl from A New Hope, vividly showing us just how difficult that first victory against the evil Empire was and who carried out that harrowing mission. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has also been novelized by Twilight Company author Alexander Freed. He is the perfect choice as author, capturing all the grit of Star Wars‘ first true war film, just as he did in his Battlefront tie-in.

The goal of any movie novelization is to adequately represent the story on screen as well as give you all those little insights as only a book can. It’s here that Freed excels. The way in which he poignantly dives into the psyche of key characters gives the reader a greater understanding of the motivation as portrayed on screen, expanding the resonance of their actions and decisions. It’s wonderful to hear Jyn’s internal wrestling about her father, Cassian’s struggle as he contemplates his orders to shoot Galen or Mon Mothma’s feelings about the Rebellion and the course they are on. Each addition enhances the film and helps make this novelization worth the time and money.

The new canon of Star Wars introduced a new feature that has now been seen in the Aftermath books, Ahsoka and are featured in Freed’s novelization, interludes.  In previous books they have been used to varying degrees of success and the trend is much the same here. Some of the interludes do feel like they add to the story, but for the most part, they don’t feel necessary. Honestly the new canon authors should work harder to integrate this material into the actual flow of the stories or do without it. Here they feel more like interruptions, especially since almost everyone reading the book will be familiar with the flow of the movie.

The rest of the review can be found in it’s original location at The Star Wars Report.

Film · Hope · Movie Review · Movies · Rogue One · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Review

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“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.”

These words are the first thing that anyone ever saw of Star Wars as the film opened in 1977 and now Gareth Edwards has imbued them fully in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Hope Anew

The Rebellion’s struggle just got worse, as it learns that the Empire has created a world-killing weapon named the Death Star. The Rebellion finds itself on the knife’s edge between hope and despair. The council of the Rebellion cannot decide what to do. Do they risk it all by trying to steal the plans, or do they resign themselves to defeat and despair? Jyn challenges the council, “What chance do we have? The question is what choice”. She implores the council to remember that if they do nothing then they’ve sealed the fate of the galaxy and that evil this great cannot go unopposed. It brings to mind Edmund Burke’s famous saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” She encourages them with a refrain Cassian Andor said to her earlier in the movie, “Rebellions are built on hope”. Hope changes everything, it reminds people that the way it is, is not how it has to be. Hope is the spark that, if kindled, creates the fire of change. Change is possible, but it takes sacrifice, determination and some times, lives to see it come about. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” It takes faith, faith that a difference can be made, which births hope and it’s all because the love of something greater than themselves leads them to live out the truth that, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

The beauty of the film is that hope is not just a figment of the heroes imaginations. The Force seems quite active, even without the Jedi. It’s moving in mysterious ways and bringing people together that can make a difference. This band of rogues does the impossible, one chance at a time, succeeding in their goal and setting in motion something that will see the end of the Empire.

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The Movie

Gareth Edwards made a Star Wars movie that feels completely different and yet utterly familiar, all at the same time. Like The Clone Wars, Edwards uses cinematic inspirations to pull in the war movie genre and make it a Star Wars movie, emphasis on the war. The nods to great war films of the past are all there and they work perfectly. On top of that you feel the “Star Wars” seeping out of every single frame. The Ghost from Star Wars Rebels can be seen at least 4 times, General Sydulla is called for over the coms at Yavin 4, the sets feel like they came out of a lost arc of The Clone Wars, Saw Gerrera has an important role and so much more. The point here is that Edwards lovingly knits together the history of the Prequel and the Original trilogy and it’s seamless.

Star Wars, when it’s at it’s best, is stretching what it means to be Star Wars by taking other genres and telling a story in the Star Wars universe that aligns with the themes of the saga. Edwards achievement is nothing short of incredible, the movie feels like the Maker’s fingerprints are all over it and it’s the highest compliment that could be paid to the movie.

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The characters are outstanding. K-2so is the best new droid since R2 and Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut, Baze and Bhodi are all welcome additions to the Star Wars canon. Darth Vader’s scenes are chilling (and let’s stop here and just geek out completely that Vader’s castle is finally on screen!) and perfectly played, just enough to leave you wanting more.

The music by Giacchino feels like a welcome addition to the Star Wars franchise, it’s much like The Clone Wars music and only references familiar themes in snippets yet that’s a good thing. The movie needed it’s own identity and the themes he created feel familiar and distinct, perfectly matching the spirit of the movie.

I’ll get personal, this movie is everything I wanted a new Star Wars movie to be. Pushing the boundaries of what it means to be Star Wars while at the same time respecting the history and the franchise as a whole. Here’s to hoping the rumors of Edwards wanting to direct a Kenobi movie are true. Rogue One is rated 4.5 upside down Death Stars out of 5.

Side note, if you did not read the book Catalyst by James Luceno, I highly recommend it. It is the lead-in novel for the movie and it does a fantastic job of filling in everything you’d want to know about Krennic, the Ersos and the Death Star.

 

Book Reviews · Books · Rogue One · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Star Wars: Catalyst – Review

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The Death Star has always been a fascinating subject in Star Wars lore and it’s history just as intriguing. With additions to the story by Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Rebels, the full account has been waiting to be told, until now. Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel chronicles the development of the Death Star from The Clone Wars to the upcoming film Rogue One. Author James Luceno masterfully connects the dots, while setting up the characters that will inhabit the movie and the seeds of rebellion in the galaxy that will spawn a new hope.

The Greater Good

One of the most interesting aspects of Catalyst is the ways in which this phrase and idea is used by characters in the book to rationalize everything they are doing. Galen Erso, the main theoretical scientist behind the study of kyber crystals continually has this as his mantra, ignoring any voice inside or outside himself that would warn him about the dangers of his research. He willingly blinds himself to so much throughout the story, believing the false narratives fed to him by Orsen Krennic, head of the Special Weapons Division for the Empire, that allow him to continue his research. Krennic has told Erso that the project is meant to find a way to bring affordable and renewable power to the Empire. It brings to mind Malcolm in Jurassic Park when he says, “…but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Erso becomes so enamored with the prospect of the knowledge that he can uncover and the power that he can hopefully unleash for the benefit of the beings of the galaxy, that he doesn’t even stop to consider how his findings may be perverted for other uses. Science never happens in a vaccum.

At the same time the Empire is lying to the scientists working on project Celestial Power, about their true objective, it’s also hiding from the galaxy it’s true intentions towards “Legacy” planets. These are planets that have been supposedly set aside as sanctuaries for preservation from industrialization, like galactic national parks. Yet the Empire employs the same tactics Palpatine did during the Clone Wars, setting up the planets, making it look as though they are arming themselves, giving the Empire licence to step in an annex them. The Empire then strip mines these planets for their precious ores and metals for “the greater good”, aka the building of the secret space station known as the Death Star.  Catalyst is a reminder of the horrors that have been done in the name of “the greater good” and the slippery slope that kind of logic is.  

The remainder of the review can be found over at The Star Wars Report.

Film · Movie Trailers · Movies · Rogue One · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Star Wars: Rogue One – Trailer

r1_payoff_1sht_v6_lgSet between the time of the Prequels and firmly in the “Dark Times” of Imperial rule, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tells the daring tale of how the Death Star plans got in to the Rebellion’s hands in Star Wars. Blending the feel of The Clone Wars, Rebels and Star Wars, this could be the best Star Wars movie since Revenge of the Sith!

The movie stars Felicity Jones of The Theory of Everything, Mads Mikkelsen of Casino Royale, Ben Mendelsohn of The Dark Knight Rises, Forest Whitaker of The Last King of Scotland and Alan Tudyk of Firefly. The release date is December 16th, 2016.

Make sure you check out the Star Wars: A 602 Club Collection on iTunes for more great Star Wars reviews and conversation as well as Aggressive Negotiations: A Star Wars Podcast.


 


 

Cover Photos

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