The Last Star Wars

The new Star Wars is out in the theaters.  The commercials for Star Wars:  The Rise of Skywalker have been running for a while now, and the expected Star Wars movie hype machine is in full swing.  In one article, for example, a former Disney executive reports that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, felt “betrayed” by the studio’s plans for the last trilogy in Lucas’ contemplated nine-part opus, and fans and critics are already emotionally debating whether this latest film is a disaster or is helping to get the Star Wars franchise back on its footing.

f9c0b8_f7ef85e98f5449c6b4f994a9f6e1507fmv2All of this, I think, is part of the fundamental problem with Star Wars.  It’s clearly a “franchise,” and it feels like a “franchise.”  When the first Star Wars came out 40 years ago it was fresh and new and funny and interesting and ground-breaking in its use of special effects.  Now the Star Wars model is old and tired.  When was the last time somebody had a good laugh, or even a chuckle, at a Star Wars film?  I’m guessing it probably coincides with the last time Harrison Ford was on the screen.  And when you’ve got obsessive fans debating every instant of a film for consistency with what has gone before and comparing it to the eight prior episodes, you’re never going to achieve “fresh” and “fun” status.  Every successive film is weighted down, more and more, by the ponderousness of the Force and the Jedi and the Sith and the increasingly confusing plot lines and story arcs.  How can anybody be expected to keep it all straight?

And the fact that every Star Wars movie seems to involve a lightsaber duel between a good character and a bad character, and a Death Star plot device, and heroes saving the universe from evil and seeking redemption, doesn’t help.  Who here didn’t react to the commercials for the new film with a shrug and the rueful thought that there’s another long lightsaber duel we’re going to have to sit through — like the lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader, or the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul, or the lightsaber duel by the molten lava that caused Darth Vader to need all of his protective clothing, or the lightsaber duel in the forest.  Lightsabers are nifty, elegant weapons, to be sure, but there are only so many ways to have a lightsaber duel — and changing the setting for the duel really doesn’t change that.  I find myself longing for Han Solo to pop up during one of these interminable lightsaber duels and shake his head and say there’s no substitute for a good blaster.

I’ll go see this newest Star Wars film because I’ve seen the prior eight and I suppose I need to, to close the book on what once was great.  But I’m hoping that this latest Star Wars is the last Star Wars.  Really.  It’s time.

The Last Jedi

Yesterday Russell and I watched The Last Jedi, the latest episode in the Star Wars line of movies.  Spoiler alert:  at 2 hours, 35 minutes in length, coupled with a full 25 minutes of uninspired previews for movies I’ll never be interested in seeing, The Last Jedi will test the bladder of any 60-year-old.  As my mother would say before any family road trip, be sure you use the bathroom before you get in the car.

Other than pathetic gratitude when the movie was finally over and I could use the facilities, my overall reaction to The Last Jedi was . . . shrug.  The Star Wars films have now become so rote and trite, from the scrolling story over the starscape backdrop at the beginning, to the small fighter versus gigantic spacecraft battle scenes, to the powerful, physically disfigured, but ultimately easily fooled bad guy, you can’t help but feel that you’ve seen the movie before.  Add in a few cute creatures that have no apparent purpose other than to be cute creatures, thinly disguised rip-offs of scenes from prior movies in the triple trilogy — this time, a thrilling ride through casino town on goat-horse creatures, rather than a thrilling speedscooter trip through a forest — and a few laughs with Chewie, and you’ve got the movie in the can.

last-jedi-leiaAfterwards, Russell and I tried to talk seriously about the movie, but it wasn’t easy.  True spoiler alert:  So, raspy-voiced General Leia Organa — who I still think of as Princess Leia — can communicate over intergalactic distances with Luke, and use the Force to fly through space besides?  Why hasn’t she used her powers to find Luke beforehand, or used the Force to keep her kid from the Dark Side, or to protect Han Solo from being murdered?  Wouldn’t you think that the spunky, tough Leia of the original trilogy would have spent the intervening period at least trying to develop some mastery of her powers?  It would give her something to do besides just looking with deep concern at hologram projections of battles going bad and sighing heavily as another Rebellion ship gets pulverized.  I think Leia’s character has been wasted.

Luke’s character has been wasted, too.  He apparently has spent years on some rugged, faraway planet, poring over ancient Jedi texts, a la Obi-Wan Kenobi cooling his heels on Tatooine after Darth Vader’s emergence.  But then Luke learns from a ghostly Yoda that the sacred texts really aren’t that important, so phantom Yoda sets them and the sacred tree on fire, freeing Luke to confront and defeat Kylo Ren long distance, before vanishing and — also like Obi-Wan — leaving only crumpled clothing behind.  Luke seems a bit dense, doesn’t he?  But if I were Luke, I’d be irritated with Master Yoda.  Why don’t these ghost Jedi show up in more timely fashion and provide some prompt guidance so people like Luke can get back into the fight?  I guess Luke had to suffer, reading the useless old books in some dank tree trunk, until Rae showed up and he could yell at her and treat her three easily taught lessons.

And, now that the old characters have been addressed, let’s talk about the new ones.  Yawn.  Nah, let’s not.  Rae is good at having tears run down her cheeks and being amazingly gifted at just about anything, and Finn is pretty much one-dimensional, and Po Damron would be cashiered from any military force he was part of, and Kylo Ren is thoroughly confused and conflicted and doesn’t seem to know what he really wants.  Why did Kylo Ren kill Han Solo?  Beats me!  Maybe I would have cared more about all of this if I wasn’t feeling the urgent call of nature at the end of this very, very, very, very long epic.

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, a few days after she suffered a heart attack on a trans-Atlantic flight, came as a terrible shock.  Fisher was only 60, and she had so much to offer to the world as a writer, actor, and advocate on mental health issues.

Fisher was great in The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally, and she wrote a number of funny best-selling books, but of course she will always be remembered by many — including me — as Princess Leia of the original Star Wars films.  I’m sure that Fisher often bridled at her association with that gun-toting resistance leader with the fantastic and iconic hairstyle, but I’ll always believe that her depiction of Leia Organa was one of the things that fundamentally and forever shifted the kinds of roles that women played in Hollywood films.

Of course, women had always had some meaty roles, but in action films or sci-fi films women typically were the objects around which the action revolved, rather than the proponents of the action.  Not so with Leia Organa!  From the first moments of Star Wars she was the key driver of the plot, setting R2D2 off with the plans for the Death Star, standing toe to toe with Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, recruiting Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo to the cause of the resistance, getting tortured and firing blasters and trading insults with the best of them.  (“Could somebody get this walking carpet out of my way?”)  Princess Leia was as far from the damsel in distress as you could get.  Sure, she ultimately fell for Han Solo — who wouldn’t? — but she was always ready to strangle Jabba the Hut or blast a squadron of imperial storm troopers on a moment’s notice.  Not every actor could pull off such a role, but Carrie Fisher did it flawlessly and convincingly.

Lots of people make movies that achieve enormous popularity, but then fade over time to the point where their roles are only dimly recalled and people wonder what all the fuss was about.  Not so with Carrie Fisher.  She was a true trailblazer, in her acting, in her writing, and in her frank and always humorous discussions about her struggles with her condition, her addictions, and her weight.  She touched more people than she perhaps ever realized.

Rogue One

Rogue One tells the back story that occurred immediately before the original Star Wars movie, about how the rebels acquired the plans to the Death Star.  It’s a kind of conscious effort to knit together the original movie with the end of the three prequels, so we see older characters from the prequels, as well as characters from the original Star Wars film.  (Keep an eye out for a quick glimpse of R2D2 and C3PO, as well as the guys who are primed for a fight in the cantina at Mos Eisley.)

empire_rogueone-160822Rogue One not a great movie, in my view, but it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re a Star Wars buff.  The film is choppy, as if the goal was to show us as many different planets, moons, and other locations in the galaxy as possible, and the plot is, at times, a confusing jumble.  It’s got some memorable characters — I particularly liked the hulking, sarcastic robot turned gunslinger who is a key part of the rebel group, and the blind devotee to the teachings of the Force — but the overall tone is very dark.  We are seeing the cruel, barbaric Empire in full flower in this film.  And we also get a peek at Darth Vader at the height of his powers, before he becomes conflicted by his interaction with Luke Skywalker — the adherent of the Dark Side who can brutally cut through a dozen rebel fighters with a few gestures and slashes of his light saber.

The movie uses some kind of computer program to recreate characters from the original film — like the evil Governor Tarkin, and Princess Leia in her white Star Wars outfit.  The technology is vastly improved, but you still feel like you are looking at a computer animation, rather than a real person.  It’s kind of fascinating and creepy at the same time.

One other comment:  if you’re going, don’t waste your time with the 3D version, which is what I saw.  I didn’t see any reason why there is a 3D version.  There’s nothing hurled at the screen, and no overly dramatic vistas.  Unless you like sitting in a theatre wearing a cheap pair of glasses, I’d head to a regular screening.

Hopeless Hollywood Sameness

Yesterday Kish and I decided to go see a movie.  It’s been hot as blazes in Columbus recently, and humid, too, and the idea of sitting for a few hours in an air-conditioned movie theater watching an interesting film was very attractive.

We haven’t been to the movies in a while because, candidly, the array of films offered this summer hasn’t been very appealing.  We have a narrow window of consensus — Kish can’t stand sci-fi and superhero movies, and I groan at the idea of sitting through some deep study of dysfunctional families — but we thought we’d give Jason Bourne a shot.

rs-jason-bourne-ea2bec70-27d1-4c0a-abc0-dcd61b987aa9Several hours later, after we’d been assaulted by loud, chaotic, and grossly improbable non-stop action, we emerged with the realization that Hollywood apparently has run out of ideas.  I think I may have seen part of an actual Jason Bourne movie in the past, but I’ve definitely seen this movie before — over and over and over again.  The film is so trite and formulaic that it immediately seemed like I was watching a rerun.  Even Matt Damon, who typically makes interesting films, couldn’t salvage it.  If you’re considering going to watch it, save your money.

Take every car chase scene you’ve seen since The French Connection, Bullitt, and The Blues Brothers movie, make them louder and longer and more destructive, and move them to Athens and the Vegas strip.  Input a rote, duplicitous bad guy with absolutely no redeeming qualities as the evil head of the the CIA and expect the audience to root for him to be killed.  Take an ambitious female agent with ambiguous loyalties off the shelf.  Add in an unbeatable hero with superhuman intellectual and physical capabilities and have him tracked by another apparently unstoppable cold-blooded killer who he has to fight at the climax.  That’s the plot.  Sound familiar?

The summer movie season used to feature inventive, different movies, like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars and Forrest Gump.  That’s no longer the case.  Now we get sequels, remakes, and canned, tried-and-true formulaic crap.  It’s no wonder that the box office receipts are down this summer.  What we’re getting from Hollywood these days really sucks.

Rogue One

I learned today that there’s a new movie coming out later this year that will tell the story of some other characters in the Star Wars universe.  It’s called Rogue One, and the trailer above makes it look pretty cool.

I have no problem with introducing new characters, and new worlds, and new concepts into the Star Wars franchise.  The Star Wars universe is vast, and its about time that we got to see some different parts of it.  Years ago, after the first Star Wars came out, Marvel Comics bought the rights to tell interstitial stories about what happened in the time between the movies, and there have been countless Star Wars novels.  I haven’t read any of them, but I’ve heard that at least some of them are pretty good.

I’m all in favor of fleshing out the galaxy far, far away — especially if produces more good sci-fi films.

Ready To Be Awakened

maxresdefaultI’m thinking that I might go see Star Wars:  The Force Awakens this weekend, so that I can enjoy the film without having to dodge too much spoiler-type information.  As more and more people see it, and talk about it, it’s going to be almost impossible to avoid hearing about the plot twists and surprises and cool special effects.  So why not see it before that happens?

I’m hoping that watching the movie might recreate the excitement I felt when I saw the original Star Wars (when it was just called Star Wars, before A New Hope was added to the title as sequels were made) as a college student back in the ’70s, and was stunned by the opening scene — and then everything else that followed.   That opening scene in particular made a huge impression on me.  It remains an indelible memory, and I wrote about it one of my earliest blog posts.

Holding The Force Awakens to that same once-in-a-lifetime standard of surprise and delight probably is unfair, but nevertheless I’m hoping, almost 40 years later, to recapture even just a tiny bit of that astonished and excited feeling that I had as a 20-year-old.

 

The Force Awakens

7fhdje1It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — but who cares?  I mean, come on!  We’re less than two weeks away from the opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the geek world is in full Star Wars madness mode.

You could spend hours just surfing the internet for information about the new movie.  To save you at least part of the trouble, here’s a sampling of some of the diverse Star Wars stories out there:  an interesting BBC interview with Harrison Ford and director J.J. Abrams, a story collecting seven of the most far-out fan theories about the plot lines of the movie (Jar Jar Binks a Sith Lord?  Seriously??), and an article positing that a careful review of the Star Wars trading cards that are now being sold reveal crucial story elements.  And, of course, you can go to the official website if you want to watch the trailers a few dozen more times to get ready for the big day.

I’m not much for trying to figure things out before I go to see a much-anticipated movie, so I’m not going to actually read any spoiler reveals or try to guess what might happen to Han, Luke, Leia, and the new generation of Jedi warriors.  I’d rather take my Star Wars pure and unadulterated by anything other than approved previews.  So for now, I’ll count the days until the movie hits the theaters, check out safe stuff like the Spanish language poster printed above, and think:  that movie looks like it is going to be pretty cool.

The Force Is Strong

The new Star Wars trailer is out, and even though the release of the movie is two months away people are already buying tickets.  From a look at the trailer, I can see why:  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens looks pretty cool, and may well reinvigorate one of the greatest movie franchises ever.  Han Solo!  Leia!  Luke Skywalker!  Chewie!

As for me, the coolest thing in the trailer is the rolling ball robot with the unmoving head.  How do they do some of that stuff?

Han Senior Citizen

The new trailer for Star Wars:  The Force Awakens is out.  It gives us our first peek at my favorite character, Han Solo, and his faithful sidekick Chewbacca, who gets to utter one of his trademark worried growls.  It may as well be 1977 all over again.

Of course, Han Solo is a lot older, but he’s still looking pretty darned sprightly for a death-defying smuggler in his 70s.  And while he may be older, is he any wiser?  That’s one of the reasons why I’ll be heading to the theaters when the new movie is released.

The Real-Life Death Star

Saturn has 62 moons.  One of them, called Mimas, looks familiar to anyone who’s ever watched the original Star Wars:  it’s a dead ringer for the Death Star.

Mimas is weird in other ways, too.  It’s the smallest round moon ever discovered.  It has an apparent impact crater so large that it looks like it should have shattered the moon into tiny pieces.  And Mimas accountably wobbles, too.  In fact, it wobbles so dramatically that scientists are stumped about how the pronounced wobble could possibly be caused.  The competing theories range from some large stone under the surface of the impact crater, to a core that is unaccountable shaped like a rugby ball, to an underground ocean that is sloshing back and forth even though Mimas is so cold that it’s hard to see how liquid water can exist.  And so, the scientists argue.

Let’s see — the smallest round moon known to anyone that looks exactly like the Death Star.  Isn’t the real answer obvious?  Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi!  You’re our only hope!

 

It’s Why He’s Han Solo

Harrison Ford is 71 years old.  In June, his ankle was broken by a door on the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s ship.

There’s some bittersweet humor in Ford’s injury, because in the original Star Wars trilogy the Millennium Falcon was viewed by everyone except Han Solo as a piece of intergalactic junk.  There was always a question about whether the light drive or the shields would work, and Solo and Chewbacca and R2D2 spent hours working on the ship and trying to tie down some loose circuit or faulty system.  The fact that a malfunctioning door in the Millennium Falcon broke the ankle of the actor who plays Han Solo therefore is ironic indeed.

But here’s the thing:  Ford is back on the set after only two months, and filming has resumed.  Ford was recently seen on the red carpet at some event and was walking without a limp or any assistance.

Speaking as a 50-something guy who is still somewhat gimpy after toe surgery six months ago, I’m stunned at what Ford has done.  For a 71-year-old guy to bounce back so quickly from a broken ankle is nothing short of amazing.  It just shows why Harrison Ford was the perfect Han Solo — and also the perfect Indiana Jones, for that matter.

The new Star Wars movie, featuring all three of the actors who created the iconic characters of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, is set for release on December 18, 2015.  Mark your calendars!

 

No Good Summer Movies

Jaws was released on June 1, 1975.  Taut, believable, and  brilliantly acted, telling the story of a gigantic great white shark that terrorized a resort town and then coldly set out to kill the men who were hunting it, Jaws was perfect fare for the summer.  Anyone who saw it in a theater with a big screen, with the iconic “dun-dun, dun-dun” music playing and letting you know to prepare yourself for the awful carnage that was going to begin at any moment, will never forget it and always feel a thrill when they think of it.

Summer used to be the big season for movies.  You could relax in air-conditioned comfort, enjoy the movie, and practice the hinge move on your girlfriend in a darkened room.  And Hollywood always seemed to deliver at least one great movie that ran throughout the summer.  Whether it was Jaws, the original Star Wars movies, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, or Animal House, every year there was at least one can’t miss movie that everyone was talking about.  Watch any of those films, or the other summer blockbusters that you remember, and you’ll see well-made films that stand the test of time.

Last weekend Kish and I decided a trip to the movies was a good idea, so we checked the roster at the nearby multiplex.  Another Transformers movie.  Another X-Men movie.  A silly comedy, Tammy.  A remake of a TV series, 22 Jump Street, that we never watched in the first place.  Edge of TomorrowThink Like A Man Too.  And others, equally forgettable.  And this weekend, the big premiere is of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — another remake, one that the previews indicate is full of computer-generated scenes of rampaging apes.  We yawned and decided to pass — and we’re not alone.  With these lame offerings, is anyone really surprised that Hollywood receipts are way down this summer?

In the past, Hollywood at least seemed to make an effort to deliver summer movies that were new and exciting, well-written, well-acted, and well-made.  Now, it offers a steady diet of remakes and movies that rely heavily on formulas and special effects, explosions, and groin shot humor.  If Jaws were released this summer, it would stand out among this tired and uninspired fare like LeBron James at a junior high school game.

C’mon, Hollywood.  At least try!

Reimagining Star Wars

When we last saw Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, they were on a forest moon, celebrating the death of the Emperor and the downfall of the Empire, surrounded by happy Ewoks and the ghosts of Yoda, Darth Vader, and Obi Wan Kenobi.

Next year, they’ll be back.  The new installment of Star Wars begins filming in a few weeks, and all of the original cast members, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, as well as the actors who played Chewbacca, R2D2 and C3PO, will be back.  They’ll be joined by some new folks as well as the actor who plays the distasteful boyfriend character on Girls, who apparently will be a villain.  Obviously, the story will take place years after the end of Return of the Jedi.

When George Lucas decided to make The Phantom Menace, he was taking a risk in reinvigorating a beloved and colossally popular movie franchise — but the risk involved in reintroducing the familiar characters from the original Star Wars movies in this latest feature is even greater.  What has happened to Han and Leia?  Did they get married and have kids, or did something happen to keep them apart?  Do any of the characters die?  Whatever happens, people will be second-guessing the story, and the fact that this new film won’t be directed by George Lucas is just going to increase the scrutiny.

I loved the original Star Wars films and fondly remember watching the first movie at the old University Flick theatre next to the Ohio State campus and then going back to see it again and again.  I’m looking forward to being reintroduced to some of the most iconic movie characters of all time, but I’m warning new director J.J. Abrams — handle with care.