The Last Jedi Review

I was 7 years old the first time I saw the original Star Wars trilogy.  I was with my dad and siblings at my uncle’s cottage.  We watched all three films in one sitting – and I’m pretty sure my mom was pissed when we didn’t show up at home until well after midnight.  It is one of my favorite memories.  It’s been quite some time since that night, and the memory is getting considerably hazy under a rose-tinted fog.  The feelings I had that night, though, they’re as clear to me as they ever were, and I feel the same childlike sense of wonder every time I go back and rewatch those films.

The past is important in defining who we are.  The memories we have, the mistakes we’ve made, our trials and successes, etc.  Equally important is what lies ahead.  While you can’t remain fixated on the past, it’s important to reflect on it.  Similarly, in a fictional universe, it’s important to reflect on the established canon to ensure your characters remain true to who they are so the decisions they make can be reasonably believable in the given context.

“Let the past die,” is a line uttered in a bit of pivotal dialogue, and it’s a sentiment that is stated several times in other expositional exchanges throughout the film.  It’s Rian Johnson’s ham-fisted attempt at less than subtle direction toward the audience.  The film literally urges you, through dialogue, to let go of the past – to let go of your heroes, to let go of the 40 years of established lore and development, and to embrace this new saga.  Unfortunately, it makes little effort in letting go of the past itself while doing an outstanding job of bastardizing it.

I wouldn’t be able to fault Disney for trying something new if they actually tried something new.  It’s been 40 years since A New Hope, and this time is reflected in the new films, but there’s an overwhelming familiarity with everything from the First Order and all of their weaponry to the merry band of misfits trying to take them down.  Despite the fact that the Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire and established a New Republic, the galaxy as a whole still shares the aesthetics of the original trilogy.  The First Order is, essentially, what I suspect the Empire would look like after 40 years.  That all holds true in The Last Jedi.

The opening title scrawl informs audiences that the New Republic has fallen – I am assuming that this is because the Republic Senate was destroyed by Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens.  This is fairly hard to believe right at the onset – especially given that “The Resistance” was able to deal a devastating blow to the First Order in return by destroying Starkiller Base.  However, it’s the setting we are asked to accept, so accept it you will.  So, the New Republic has fallen and all that’s left is the dwindling forces of The Resistance – and they’re on the run from the First Order to establish a new Resistance base.  This is where the film opens.

The opening scene hits all of the right notes with a highly entertaining space battle that echoes the WWII dogfight films that inspired George Lucas for his original films.  Amidst the excitement, there’s the desperate attempt to make a break for it and get out of the First Order’s sights.  It attempts to evoke the sense of loss during the scene with multiple on-screen deaths of nameless or off-screen characters, and is fairly effective with the exception of a cheap all-hope-is-lost fake out.  It’s a strong opening for what should be a strong film.

Unfortunately, the film that follows is a bloated and plodding mess lacking much in the way of plot and character growth.  Exposition is less interested in decent plot progression and character growth than it is in throwaway jokes and divvying out side quests like a poorly written video game.  Finn’s bumbling charm is overdone and strays from what made him enjoyable in The Force Awakens.  Poe’s opening gag is entertaining and mirrors his introduction in The Force Awakens, but it drags on far too long.  Additionally, his actions and decisions this go-round seem antithetical to the character that was established in the previous film.  In place of a man who put himself at risk for the good of The Resistance is an impulsive “flyboy” who is okay with executing an ill-conceived plan that will result in heavy casualties.

The damning change in character, however, is in Master Jedi Luke Skywalker himself.  Gone is the hero of the Rebellion, redeemer of Darth Vader, and last of the Jedi Order.  In his stead is a disappointing, poorly executed analogue for Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The resultant character and related subplot makes me wonder if Rian Johnson has, at all, any understanding of what Obi-Wan’s motivations were in his self-exile in addition to question his grasp of who Luke Skywalker is as a character.  There are shining moments – Luke toying with Rey when she reaches out to feel the Force oozes with the personality of Yoda on Dagobah and is one of the best light moments of the film, and his role in the film’s climax made me feel like a child watching Star Wars again – but the events that transpired between Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi (which are touched upon in flashbacks during the film) are far from sufficient for this drastic departure from the established character of who Luke is at his core.

Flaws in characterization aside, the story of the film, as a whole, seems like it would be served better as the first act of a three-act film than as the entirety of a two-and-a-half-hour film.  Aside from the Luke and Rey subplot, and a 40-minute detour filled with questionable visual gags and CG characters that would be condemned had they showed up in the Special Editions or Prequels, the entirety of the film follows the adventures of a small band of Resistance fighters looking for a new home base.  Where previous Star Wars films were epic and expansive adventures through a previously unseen galaxy, the latest entry is, at its core, a chase scene in the vast vacuum of space.

The film isn’t without it’s merits, however.  It is hard, for the most part, to fault the film’s visuals.  The use of red and high contrast in certain scenes is absolutely gorgeous.  The reds and whites of the climax are visual candy, but this scene is hindered by the fact that it is a poor reconstruction of the battle of Hoth.  The throne room is arresting in its oppressiveness, but it is also the setting for one of the most disappointing scenes of the entire film – not because of what happened, but because of how unbelievably anticlimactic it did happen.

Some of the film’s stronger points are not necessarily well-executed.  The film plays with the themes of profiteering from war and conflict – an idea that should spawn several post-film discussions.  However, the heavy-handed exposition leaves little subtlety and feels jarringly out of place.  Unfortunately, that can be said about the majority of the dialogue in the film.  There’s a disconnect between the events occurring on-screen and the behavior of the characters experiencing those events.

If this weren’t a Star Wars film, I have no doubt that I would have been able to enjoy it for what it was.  But it is a Star Wars movie, and its many sins are unforgivable.  It succeeds in evoking a lot of the emotions I have while watching the original trilogy because it does such a fantastic job of emulating those films.  But, that doesn’t make it a good movie – and certainly not a good Star Wars film.

Star Wars, to many people, is more than just a series of films – it is something that transcended the idea of what a movie could be.  It defined modern cinema and reshaped science fiction.  It gave us some of our greatest cinematic heroes – heroes that weren’t infallible, and sometimes weren’t even likeable, but they would go on to have a lasting impact on the audience long after the credits rolled.  It gave us some of the greatest large-scale battles in cinema – it gave us Hoth.  But, above all of these things, it gave us the Jedi.  The original trilogy gave us Jedi as mystical space wizards that are all but extinct.  The prequel trilogy gave us the Jedi in their prime – it deconstructed the mysticism and presented them in a way that could be seen as an analogy on corporatist religion in positions of government influence.

The Last Jedi takes 40 years of established lore and character development and discards it in favor of doing “something new” while refusing to actually do something new.  It relies on familiar aesthetics and emulates iconic scenarios in a successful attempt to evoke nostalgic feelings of joy.  What it doesn’t do is maintain consistency with its previous entry, regard canon, or respect its characters.

As a film, The Last Jedi is enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable.  It fails to establish its own identity while urging you to forget the past – meanwhile, it beats you over the head with the past with blatant mimicry.  As a Star Wars film, it’s insulting, and I can’t imagine the return of the Jedi in the next film being anything more than another play on nostalgia lacking any kind of originality or respect for the established lore.

 

1 / 3 – Bad

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Finding Dory Review

Pixar has, for years, defined quality family entertainment.  Their art direction has been emulated in several other films, and there’s a natural maturity to the films that is relatable to the countless adults in attendance.  The films are “safe” for children, even if the source material therein isn’t exactly targeted at them, though the marketing is.  Pixar is capable of creating worlds that are enticing for everyone with a beating heart and a sense of joy, with rarely a misstep between releases.  It’s no surprise, then, that Finding Dory is absolutely fantastic.

When the film was first announced, I was apprehensive.  Pixar’s last sequel, Cars 2, was one of those rare missteps.  It was a film that existed solely to sell merchandise and offered very little substance beyond that.  Not that Pixar is incapable of crafting worthy sequels, as the Toy Story franchise has proven, but the story of Finding Nemo felt complete.  I wasn’t begging for a sequel; I took the journey and was satisfied with the conclusion.  I was afraid that a sequel would be an unnecessary rehash and a cash grab.  How wrong I was.

Finding Dory opens, like every Pixar movie, with an animated short.  This one, titled Piper, tells the story of a little bird that needs to get its first meal on its own.  It’s a simple premise that is artfully crafted into one of the most charming shorts I’ve ever seen.  The animation is downright beautiful with a beach that feels real enough to walk on.  From the frothy waves lapping up on shore to the individual grains of sand that stick believably to the feathers of little Piper, the world feels so incredibly real and believable that Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating this bird’s journey to independence wouldn’t feel out of place.  It’s a charming short that tells viewers, without speaking a single word, “You can do great things.”  The cynicism that’s blossomed within me over the years got some much needed weeding from the pure joy I felt during Piper’s short runtime.  Its theme is one that fits well with the film that follows.  It’s such a beautifully charming short capable of making even the hardest of hearts laugh, if only for a moment.

Piper was such a strong opening, I had high expectations from that point forward.  Finding Dory is more as much a prequel as it is a sequel.  The story opening with a very young Dory and her patient parents as they work with her and her memory issues.  See, Dory has problems with short-term memory loss and is easily distracted.  As a result, her parents have to use shells and rhymes to embed important things into her memory, with varying results.

Throughout the film, we’re taken back to these moments as Dory encounters something that triggers her memory.  It creates a non-linear narrative that encompasses the story that was told in Finding Nemo without relying too heavily on its predecessor.  Sure, there are various callbacks to Finding Nemo, and being familiar with the characters might help the world to feel a little more familiar, but there’s absolutely nothing in Finding Dory that would alienate new viewers.  It’s a film that stands on its own, despite living in an existing universe.  There’s only a handful of characters from the first film that make an appearance, and even less that are actually featured as main characters.

The majority of the film – aside from focusing on Dory, Marlin, and Nemo – is composed of a variety of new characters.  Joining the cast of characters is Kaitlyn Olson as a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale suffering from issues with echolocation after a recent concussion, and Ed O’Neill as an ornery “septopus” who is looking for a ticket to a Cleveland aquarium where he’ll be able to live a secluded life in a box free from getting touched.

Hank is easily my new favorite character to make its way into an animated movie.  He plays the unlikely hero as he agrees to help Dory only in exchange for her tag – a ticket to Cleveland.  As he spends more time with Dory, he slowly begins to sympathize with the character, and even care about her.  It’s a fluid evolution as Hank never transitions from being a self-serving anti-social jerk to a compassionate hero.  Hank, by the film’s end, is the same as he was, at his core, when he first met Dory.  We’re shown right off the bat that he isn’t entirely heartless – in fact, he has three.  He also has a set of principles:  a deal is a deal and I’ll make sure I hold up my end of said deal.  If that deal sees him taking some unexpected detours, he’ll take them.

It’s not just his personality, though, that makes Hank stand out.  That helps, for sure, but the creative animation transforms him from being just an abrasive cynic to a truly memorable and even iconic animated character.  Hank is a ruby octopus – well, he’s missing a tentacle, so Dory refers to him as a septopus.  In addition to using his array of tentacles to walk, crawl, and sling his way around, Hank also has the ability to perfectly mimicking his surroundings with his camouflage.  This sets up some brilliant visual gags and makes the character that much more endearing.

All of the new characters, though, add something special to the mix.  From the territorial sea lions to Bailey and his use of the world’s most powerful glasses, each inhabitant of this wonderfully zany universe is memorable in his or her own right.  The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the talented cast breathes life into the characters with heart and impeccable timing.

Finding Dory is, in some regards, a similar movie to its predecessor.  You have a fish embarking on a journey to find a family that was lost.  At its core, however, it’s a much smaller, more personal tale that trades the ocean-spanning adventure of the first film for a more focused character piece.  The majority of the film takes place in a single location with only one brief scene spent getting there.  It’s less a journey of finding someone else, and more of a journey of self-discovery.  Not only for Dory, but for the characters around her.  The film poses the question of “who is Dory?”  By the time the film concludes, she’ll feel as much a part of your family as she is a part of the family she’s looking for.

While I felt that Finding Dory took a full act of its own before it really found its groove (possibly because of the impossibly high expectations I had following Piper), the story, characters, and everything in between was a joy to watch.  Finding Dory is another standout Pixar film with tons of heart.  For each moment you laugh, there will be another, perfectly fitting moment of heartfelt sincerity that yanks at your emotions.  It’s hard to find a film that’s contains such a perfect blend of contrasting emotional themes, but it’s handled with such grace that viewers will be finding Dory, her cohorts, and the heartwarming journey they take entertaining for years to come.

 

Good – 3 / 3

Netflix gets The Clone Wars

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Netflix has announced that the animated Star Wars series that originally found life on Cartoon Network (before getting a worthy finale) will be coming to their streaming service.  Additionally, The Clone Wars will also be getting a sixth season on Netflix.  The sixth season was already well into production when the show was canceled after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm.

The Clone Wars is expected to hit Netflix on March 7.

Commentary: TRON

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I’m a huge fan of TRON.  The original film helped establish me in my geekdom.  I played and loved the no-longer-canon game TRON 2.0 and was excited to see more of the property.  I squealed with a childish enthusiasm when I saw the Comic-Con teaser for TR2N and was thrilled to hear that production on Legacy was moving forward after the huge reaction to that trailer.  I played TRON: Evolution, and loved it (if you need a reference, here’s my review–it’s on Examiner, so be warned).  I love TRON.

I started watching the animated series, TRON: Uprising, when it started airing, but ended up falling behind after the show went on hiatus.  I was thrilled, then, when I saw it pop up on Netflix–I had a good reason to start the show over and finally finish the first season.  While the next installment of the film franchise is moving forward (another point I’m thrilled about–especially since I’ve developed a huge appreciation for Kosinski’s style following Legacy and his most recent Oblivion), the future of the fantastic animated interquel (set between Evolution and Legacy) remains uncertain.  It’s kinda sad.

TRONUprisingUprising didn’t really reach a huge audience.  As far as American animations go, there’s really little else I can think of that can compare with Tron: Uprising in terms of style and story.  It’s filled with social and political commentaries that are intended for older audiences and is, at times, pretty dark.  It’s not inappropriate for children, but it’s a show that’s certainly geared toward more mature audiences with many of its finer points being easily lost on the young.  Maybe that’s the show’s problem?  It’s a Disney cartoon that feels nothing like a Disney cartoon.  Kids and people unfamiliar with the property might not take an interest in the show because it is a little more “grown up” than what they’re looking for in a cartoon.  Meanwhile, adults might feel compelled to avoid watching a Disney cartoon–especially one so serious.  It’s a fantastic show, but its downfall might be being an animated show carrying the Disney label.

I’m still a few episodes away from finishing the first season, so I don’t know how it ends, but I feel pretty certain that it leaves the viewer with multiple unanswered questions.  What happens to those questions if the show doesn’t move forward?  They could answer them in the next film, I suppose, but that would feel like a cheap and unsatisfactory solution for fans of the show.  There’s a lot of complexity in the show and with hours of buildup; finishing it off in a flashback of some kind would lessen the impact of the storytelling.

Going back to Evolution, if the show doesn’t continue past its first season, I could see it doing really well as a game–one that’s not tied down to a film’s release.  As I said in my review of Evolution, the game had the stigma of being a movie-licensed title.  While a game based on and continuing the story of Uprising would still have the branding, if it weren’t released around the time of the next film and were marketed as a standalone property, I think it would do a lot better.  There are several successful gaming properties based on existing IPs and film franchises; most notably would probably be Star WarsTRON as an IP, I feel, has what it takes to exist beyond one medium, and gaming is the perfect medium for the franchise to expand.

AbraxasPlaying Evolution, I really enjoyed the Prince of Persia inspired platforming and the combat was fluid, fast-paced, and fun.  I thought, though, that the world could use more fleshing out.  Tron City is a huge place just begging to be explored, but the game confines you to linear levels that restrict your exploration of the game’s world.  It’s still a beautiful game with some great level design, but it’s disappointing to not be able to really experience the world of the Grid.  If we were to get a game based on Uprising with a free-roaming Argon City similar to maybe the new Batman games or a BioWare game, that would be incredible.  I could really see a Mass Effect styled TRON game with PoP platforming and combat being an incredible experience.  Throw in some non-linear storytelling and you may well never hear from me again.

Its doubtful that Disney would do something like that, but I honestly don’t understand why we haven’t seen more TRON in games.  The world is set within a computer system with programs being participants in games.  It’s just begging to let players explore it in an interactive medium.  I’d love to see more of the Grid in a game and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

There’s really little point to this article beyond my wishful musings on a property I love.  The future of the property is in Disney’s hands, but it’d be nice if they’d listen to the fans and give us what we want; we’re the ones who have made the franchise the modest success that it’s become and we’re the ones the future successes of the franchise depends on.  Make the fans happy, and we’ll make you happy Disney.  Give us some more quality content.  Please?

 

For the Users.

Electronic Arts will be the Publisher of all Future Star Wars Games

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After acquiring Lucasfilm, Disney shut down LucasArts as a development house and has restructured the studio as a licensing house.  First news of licensing from LucasArts has surfaced in the way of the monumental Star Wars license agreement with Electronic Arts.  EA has secured a “multi-year exclusive licensing agreement to develop and publish globally new games based on Star Wars characters and storylines.”  Fans of both videogames and the Star Wars franchise are reporting a great disturbance in the Force… as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

The good news in all of this is EA has announced that three of their studios (DICE, BioWare, and Visceral Games) are working on titles set in the Star Wars Universe.  Fans of the original Knights of the Old Republic (such as myself) are certainly hoping for a single-player continuation of that epic story while everybody else is undoubtedly clamoring for Battlefront III from DICE.  I have no idea what Visceral could be working on, but any speculation is welcome in the comments below.  All games being developed by these studios will utilize Frostbite Engine 3.

My hope in this (aside from EA not destroying the brand and milking the franchise) is that maybe 1313 will be resurrected because, well, it looked pretty awesome.

 

Source:  IGN

Two Star Wars Spinoff Films Planned

star-wars-logoWith Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, a new trilogy of Star Wars films was pretty quickly announced with Episode VII scheduled for a 2015 release with J.J. Abrams directing.  Though that is not all fans of the franchise can expect in the coming years with two spinoff films officially announced.  These films will not be “Episodes” and each film will focus on a separate character and the films will be able to stand on their own.  The intention of these films is to expand the universe beyond the current six films for movie goers.

Lawrence Kasdan (writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark) will write one of the films with Sherlock Holmes screenwriter Simon Kinberg writing the other.  These films will be released some time after Episode VII.

Source:  StarWars.com

Future Star Wars 3D Re-Releases “Postponed”

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An official statement from Lucasfilm informs readers that the planned re-releases of the Star Wars films in 3D have been postponed.  The posting specifically states Episodes II and III are the films being postponed with no mention of the films in the original trilogy.  With the statement that Lucasfilm will “focus 100 percent of our efforts on Star Wars: Episode VII,” it is entirely likely that the 3D re-releases of the original films has been altogether canceled.  Given that there has already been a lot of work done on converting the remaining prequel films to 3D, it’s a safe bet that, despite the delay, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith will make their ways back to the big screen.

 

Source:  Star Wars