Saturday, December 26, 2015
AWAKENS is the Cliffs Notes version of the original trilogy. There is a ton of familiarity with the story and its characters. The film starts out like EMPIRE with a STAR DESTROYER sending a ship or probes out into space similar to Vader sending out probes to look for the rebels base. Then as stormtroopers land on a nearby planet they storm a village with an ensuing gun battle similar to the one at the beginning of A NEW HOPE in Leia's ship. Later we see a Yoda type character, Maz Kanata, in a bar where she crawls across a table similar to Yoda crawling around Luke's camp in EMPIRE. Shortly after meeting Maz, Rey (A new character you will like) goes into a dark area of the bar down in the lower levels and finds Luke's lightsaber and has a strange vision of the past. This dark and foreboding moment of course hearkens back to EMPIRE again with Luke going down into a dark place strong in the Darkside of the Force and confronts what he fears most. Also A NEW HOPE gets homaged with the lightsaber being kept in a trunk. Yes, I am thinking that it is why the lightsaber is in a trunk. The finale of the movie of course ends with the RETURN OF THE JEDI scenario of a group of fighters on foot taking down a shield protecting a Death Star so the good guys can fly inside and blow it up. We even have Captain Phasma as a Bobba Fett looking character being dispatched in a comical fashion similar to Fett's demise in RETURN adding in the mention of a trash compactor from A NEW HOPE.
Hitting the same story beats from the originals keeps the new movie from being completely satisfying. The film makers almost seem too afraid to make something new in case it doesn't look like something that belongs in the STAR WARS universe, See the prequels for examples of that. There are many many examples of that in those awful films.
Poe Dameron, Finn and Rey are our new main characters. Each one is fun and likable with their own roguish quality preventing them from being mere clones of the original main characters. I feel like the franchise is in good hands following these three. Of course most of the older characters show up like Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Luke, C-3PO and R2-D2. Where's Lando? You can't help but get drawn into the action as you see all of these characters work together throughout the story. One of my favorite scenes involves Finn, Han and Chewbacca being captured by the New Order. Fortunately for our heroes, off in the distance skimming the top of the nearby lake in their X-Wings comes the Resistance. My excitement was so overwhelming that when the shooting started I wanted so badly to take up a controller in my hand and partake in the action fighting along side Han and Chewy by playing STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT on my Xboxone because I am a big lame nerd that way. Scenes like this make the movie great and just about all of them have something memorable to keep the audience interested. Like EMPIRE, this is a pretty dark story but there is a lot of comedy too that doesn't take away from the drama. There is a good balance with the tone. The comedy makes us like the characters and the dark moments make us concerned for them.
In a couple of ways AWAKENS seems to throw out the prequels and t.v. shows. It states in the opening title crawl that Luke is the last Jedi. Now I am not familiar with the STAR WARS REBELS show but I do believe that it takes place between RETURN and AWAKENS and concerns some kid learning the ways of the Force. Is he dead now? On an artistic level the film falls in line with the lived in look of the original trilogy and not the soft, sterile computerized fake environments that paint the prequels into blandness. Even the "Special Editions" are not immune to J.J.'s wrath. In what I assume is a slap to the notion that Han shot second in self defense we are given a scene where Han punches and grabs a guy hiding from a rampaging monster and throws him into the mouth of the beast to save his own skin. Lucas would have had Han help him out instead of flat out murdering him. One of the first elements shown for the new movie came in a charity video featuring J.J. Abrams on set of AWAKENS. Out from behind him came a practical effects creature walking into view. It was a person in a creature costume with additional puppetry to enhance the look of being alive. It was glorious to those of us that appreciate the original trilogy. Abrams making a statement. That statement was simple but harsh if you were George Lucas. Abrams was assuring the fans that this was not going to look like the prequels. He, like us, is a fan of the originals. Abrams is us. I appreciated his use of alien wildlife to show us a living universe that isn't just a bunch of C.G.I. cartoons added to the background just so the characters can seemingly ignore. Again Abrams understands how to flesh out this universe with alien biology even adding a little bit of blood just like when that guy got his arm cut off in A NEW HOPE.
One of my biggest concerns comes from this nagging feeling in the back of my head. It's the same nagging feeling I had after THE PHANTOM MENACE. I had questions I assumed would be answered by the following films but never were. AWAKENS has one question I need answered. How was Luke's lightsaber found? That is a big deal since it was lost on Cloud City along with Luke's hand. I'm surprised there wasn't a skeleton hand in that trunk too. Will the following films explain? We will have to wait and find out.
The one thing I actually hated in AWAKENS was the death of Han Solo. Its a good moment that builds on the story of Darth Vader wannabe, Kylo Ren. However, Han is too good of a character to kill off in the cliche of dying for a greater cause. He is the biggest reason why AWAKENS is so good. He still can carry himself as the daring lovable scoundrel he was from the original trilogy. Han should have lived happily ever after with Leia. No one would expect to see that coming. I applaud RETURN OF THE JEDI for not listening to Harrison Ford when he wanted Han to die. I bet Harrison Ford only came back if he could die thus freeing himself from future excursions into the STAR WAR universe. He has no time with all this wacky sci-fi foolishness. He would rather keep on making terrible compromise Indiana Jones sequels. I am afraid the next two sequels for AWAKENS will suffer from his absence.
For the future of the franchise I really hope the film makers follow the example of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. EMPIRE built it's story on the back of A NEW HOPE without feeling the need to repeat everything we saw before. There wasn't another big ship star base thingy that needed to be exploded. The story was more personal. We are given new environments and characters to discover. There were no constant sight gags from the first movie to wink at the audience. I groaned when Fin pulled out the floating lazer ball thingy that Obi-Wan used to help train Luke on the Millennium Falcon. Please, don't give us more winks, nods, homages and big planet destroying Death Stars. STAR WARS was great because it was a new realistic universe to discover. We need more of that sense of discovery and less "It's like poetry. It rhymes...." nonsense!
I am excited by the promise of more quality STAR WARS films in the near future. I just hope it is not too much of a good thing. Do we really need a ROGUE SQUADRON movie? A young Han Solo movie is a terrible idea. We don't need a movie for every single thing that gets mentioned in the Star Wars universe. I certainly hope we never see a Bobba Fett movie just to satisfy the fan boys. Yea, I know he was all cool, mysterious and a total badass but let the poor guy rest in peace as he is being digested for a thousand years in the belly of the Sarlac Pit.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Then came the STAR WARS prequels.....
I admit that when the prequels came out I loved them. You could not find a more hardcore defender of them than me. Jar Jar even made me laugh. However the prequels bothered me somehow. I would not acknowledge the nagging feeling in the back of my head that formed after my initial viewing of them. I had questions the films never answered. What was a Sith? Are we going to learn more about Midichlorians? Who was Jedi Cypher Deus? (Name misspelled I'm sure.) Thanks to my friend from Catchaflick I was shown the Mr. Plinkett review of THE PHANTOM MENACE. I had to admit to myself that the prequels were terrible and not only that but the "Special" editions were an absolute abomination and a true travesty against the storytelling arts. It wasn't exactly that hard for me to denounce the prequels because I had the privilege of having the original unaltered STAR WARS trilogy as my childhood. Unfortunately for the kids of the 90's that grew up in the early 2000's they had the inferior prequels. That is their childhood when it comes to STAR WARS. Naturally they are going to defend their childhood inspirations and one way of doing that is coming up with fan theories. I haven't looked into these because they have no real foundation. Yet the most ridiculous one seems to be converting people as evident by people sharing the articles about it on Facebook over and over again. Now there is a Youtube video getting passed around. Apparently Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord....Say it with me in the best Mace Windu voice you can "A Sith Lord?"
The video or videos (Since there are a few on Youtube and they all say the same thing.) I am addressing assert that George Lucas intended for Jar Jar Stinks to be a Sith Lord all along. Parallels are drawn between Jar Jar and Yoda as both were kooky characters but Yoda reveals himself to be a Jedi Master. The belief is that in the following prequels Jar Jar would do the same only he would be a Sith Lord. The videos go as far as to boast that Jar Jar Binks is the master of Palpatine! All of this is obviously absurd and reeks of 90's kids trying to give credibility to their childhood by trying to make Lucas a secretly smart storyteller and not the guy who forever will be known as the man who ruined the STAR WARS saga.
Now I am not going to go into great detail taking each point the videos make about Jar Jar's secret role in the Star Wars universe. Almost all of those points are pure assumptions and stretches of the imagination. There is no need for this. Instead I will point to the movies themselves to prove that Jar Jar was just some dumb character Lucas put in to appeal to children in an attempt to make a movie that appeals to all ages and in turn bring in the most monies of all time. I knew before watching any of these "Jar Jar is a Sith Lord" videos that two key scenes would not be shown. These two scenes discredit entirely the bizarre hypothesis of Jar Jar's questionable morality and reasserts George Lucas's original intent for the character.
The first of these two scenes come from STAR WARS EPISODE 2 ATTACK OF THE CLONES. So Jar Jar is sitting in a room with Chancellor Palpatine and some blue guy with horns lamenting that if only Senator Amidala was there she could introduce legislation to create a clone army. The intent of the scene is quite clear with Palpatine clearly speaking to plant the idea into Jar Jar's tiny brain to propose the legislation himself. Jar Jar is being tricked. You can see Jar Jar realizing that he has the power to propose the legislation himself. The idea would not have occurred if Palpatine hadn't passively suggested it himself. Only Jar Jar is dumb enough to fall for such an obvious ploy. That is probably why Palpatine kept him around as some kind of puppet to pull the strings of when something important needed done and no one else was stupid enough to do it.
The second damning scene comes from George Lucas's not canon "Special Edition" fan fiction versions of the original trilogy where scenes and special effects were added to make them flow with the prequels. One such scene that has been added to was at the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI where a series of shots showing different planets rejoicing the demise of the Empire are shown including Coruscant and Naboo. During the shot of Naboo as the camera pans across the rooftops of the city if you pay close attention and listen very carefully you can see and hear (With great horror I might add.) the one and only Jar Jar Binks standing next to a steeple joining in the rejoicing by proclaiming "Mesa fwree!" I poop you not! Here we see the end of Jar Jar's story. He sounds, acts and dresses exactly as he was depicted in the Star Wars prequels. Heck, it looks like he hadn't aged a day in over 20 years! I guess the Force kept him young, right? He is the same character. No change. Why act silly now if it was done all along for an act? Why is he happy to be set free from the evil Empire if he himself set it up and is evil? Jar Jar was just supposed to be a loony Chewbacca replacement that accompanied our main characters in their adventures through the prequels. That is all.
Thankfully the creators of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS have come out and stated that Jar Jar Binks is not in the new movie. The Jar Jar theorists believed the wacky cartoon abomination would play a pivotal role in the sequels. Good grief!
I guess now the Jar Jar theorists will have to make up some story that explains the RETURN OF THE JEDI scene. Good luck with all that. While you guys are at it try explaining why Qui-Gon Jinn (Name probably misspelled but who cares?) is training Obi-Wan Kenobi instead of Yoda which was established in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Or why was Yoda using a light saber in the first place if he was an all powerful Jedi? Why use a lazer sword when your very being is far more powerful? Its like using a wooden stick to fight your battles when you can just use the gun in your holster. Or what was the ultimate point of evil Jar Jar manipulating everyone anyway? To create Darth Vader? To create the Empire? Why? The theorists don't cover that topic. Whoops...
In closing my advice is to grow up. Learn from Lucas's mistake. Here we have a great example of the difference between good and bad storytelling in film form. Its okay to like or love the prequels but don't make elaborate excuses for them. I love all kinds of bad movies. BEASTMASTER RULES!!! I just don't believe that they are secretly smart that only a few people understand. Accept and move on. No more fan theories, please.
As the old saying goes, "80's kids had THE NEVERENDING STORY. 90's kids had THE NEVERENDING STORY 3."