Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi Review

Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi movie posterSynopsis
Rey (Daisy Ridley) locates Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who reluctantly trains her in the ways of the Force. Meanwhile, the First Order, led by Snoke (Andy Serkis) are hot on the trail of Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) Resistance.

Review
By now, everyone and their brother has said what there is to say about Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Due to the holidays, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and put my thoughts into written word. I did, however, give my thoughts in a podcast, which you can listen to here. I’ve made no effort to hide the fact I didn’t enjoy Star Wars: The Force Awakens as much as everyone else seems to. With a film as divisive as The Last Jedi, where do I fall on the spectrum? Somewhere right in the middle.

One of the main reasons The Empire Strikes Back is so widely loved is because of where it left the Rebellion at the end. The bad guys won. The good guys lost and were left in a very difficult spot. The Last Jedi channels that same desperation. Throughout the film, you can feel the Resistance getting closer and closer to despair. This really allows for some great character growth, particularly from Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who is learning that there are better ways of protecting your forces than just running head-first into battle.

Despite my mixed feelings about The Force Awakens, one thing from that movie I absolutely loved was its use of practical effects. The Last Jedi follows in its immediate predecessor’s footsteps and uses practical effects, uh, effectively. I don’t know what else to say other than it makes a big difference compared to the CGI-heavy Prequel Trilogy.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is one of my favorite Star Wars characters so it was great to see him in a mentor role, teaching Rey (Daisy Ridley) about the Force. Even better, I like that he wasn’t perfect. He was broken and hesitant and it made for a good relationship between him and Rey. However, I do not like his moment of weakness that drove Kylo Ren to leave the academy, but that would be discussing spoilers, which I’m not going to do.

Speaking of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he continues to be the most interesting new character to come from this new trilogy. Once you think you have him figured out, he goes and does the unexpected. Adam Driver was a great choice to play Kylo. Driver really brings out Kylo’s emotional struggle, sort of like the Anakin we never had. The relationship forming between him and Rey is something to look out for in Episode IX.

The Last Jedi newcomer Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran, was a great new addition to the cast. She really embodied the hope that the Resistance stands for and Tran played her optimism well. Her side quest with Finn (John Boyega) was a fun romp and break from the main plot line. Tran and Boyega had some good chemistry so I can’t wait to see how they’re developed in the future.

For as much as I enjoy Daisy Ridley’s Rey, I don’t feel like her character grew as much as several of the others. Coming into the film, she was strong in the Force, if untrained, determined to learn from Luke the ways of the Jedi, and optimistic about turning Kylo back to the Light Side. By the end of the film, she’s just as strong in the Force, though this time a little more refined in her training, and still has her optimism. One of my gripes with Rey, despite my love for the character, was how quickly and how strong she became in the Force in The Force Awakens. That quick growth in her first appearance doesn’t give her abilities much room to grow here.

What I can say about the story without going into spoilers is how bold it is. As I said, it takes inspiration from The Empire Strikes Back in where to take the story but how it does that is unlike any Star Wars movie to date. I appreciate it for being different and daring with its characters and story, even if I didn’t agree with all of it. That’s all I can say at this point. Most of my issues with the film go into some pretty heavy spoilers. If you would like to hear those, check out the podcast linked above.

I thought Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was GOOD 🙂 After several viewings, the best way I could describe my feelings for the film is that I like the story beats but not all the character beats. Poe finally gets the development he deserves and Rose is such a great new addition to the cast. The Last Jedi answers several of the questions laid out in The Force Awakens, but not always in a very satisfying way. All I can say for sure is that Episode IX has a huge task ahead of itself drawing this new chapter of the Star Wars saga to a close.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rian Johnson – Director / Writer
John Williams – Composer

Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Carrie Fisher – Leia Organa
Daisy Ridley – Rey
Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron
John Boyega – Finn
Kelly Marie Tran – Rose Tico
Joonas Suotamo – Chewbacca
Laura Dern – Vice Admeral Holdo
Billie Lourd – Lieutenant Connix
Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Domhnall Gleeson – General Hux
Andy Serkis – Snoke
Gwendoline Christie – Captain Phasma
Benicio Del Toro – DJ
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Jimmy Vee – R2-D2

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story movie posterSynopsis
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans for the Empire’s super weapon, the Death Star.

Review
As much as I enjoy the Star Wars films, I love delving into the Expanded Universe, exploring characters and stories that take place outside of the films. These stories help enrich the Star Wars universe, making an already great story even greater. Rogue One is unique as it is the first Star Wars live-action movie that is not an “episode,” a spin-off meant to expand on events of the main Star Wars story line. With the pre-Disney Expanded Universe out the window, Kyle Katarn is gone and in his place is Jyn Erso and her band of Rebel misfits to steal the Death Star plans for the Alliance.

One thing that the original trilogy never showed was what it meant for the galaxy to be under Imperial rule. We see their villainy through Darth Vader, Tarkin, and the Emperor but don’t actually feel their grip besides what is told to us by the characters. Rogue One shows what life for ordinary citizens in the Empire was like, having a Star Destroyer loom ahead and stormtroopers walking around city streets. The original trilogy also shows the Rebellion after its success and as the Empire begins to fall apart. This movie takes place during the height of the Empire, when the Rebellion is at their most desperate. It’s a tonal shift from the other films but works so well because it makes their accomplishments during the original trilogy mean so much more.

As I said, during Rogue One, the Rebels’ backs are against the wall, leading to a feeling of desperation. This creates a darker, grittier tone for the film. One of my favorite Star Wars video games is Republic Commando. In that game, the player is taken to the darker side of the Clone Wars, fighting battles away from the flash of Jedi lightsabers. This reminded me a lot of that. It looked at the Star Wars universe where blasters are the norm and laser swords are nowhere to be found. Although the tone was darker than your standard Star Wars fare, it never became dispiriting. Whenever things began to go bleak, there was a quip or a funny action to lighten the mood, mainly from everyone’s sure-to-be-new-favorite droid, K-2SO.

K-2SO is only one of the several new characters introduced into the Star Wars universe. Besides K-2SO, there is Jyn Erso, an Imperial prisoner and daughter of the engineer overseeing the Death Star’s construction, Cassian Andor, a Rebel intelligence officer, Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior, Baze Malbus, a mercenary and friend of Chirrut’s, Bodhi Rook, an Imperial defector, Orson Krennic, the director of Imperial weapons research, and many others. Already, you can see that it has become cumbersome. This doesn’t change in the film either. Jyn gets the most development, with most of the other characters just kind of being there. This makes them feel underdeveloped, especially since this is the first time we are meeting these characters. However, I like to think that this movie isn’t really about these characters but about the Rebellion itself and, like I mentioned before, showing where the Rebellion was before the original trilogy. Yes, it would have been nice to learn more about these new characters but I don’t think the purpose of this film is to care about the characters, it’s purpose was to care about the Rebellion. By following this line of thinking, the minimal backstories given for the characters is enough for me.

Throughout the original trilogy, every action is seen as black and white; The Empire is bad, the Rebellion is good. This film mixes that up a little bit and trots into the moral gray area of war. There is still the feeling of Empire equals bad, Rebellion equals good, but throughout the movie, there is a subtle blanket over the film that removes that cheery atmosphere from the original trilogy. This helps create the grittiness to Rogue One. Although these are Rebels, it wouldn’t be difficult to picture a few of them fighting for the Empire based on their actions and our views on Imperials developed in the original trilogy.

It is clear from A New Hope that Grand Moff Tarkin was integral in the Death Star’s history. It is also clear that the villain of this film is supposed to be Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), so the film had the difficult task of needing to have Tarkin in the story but not too much that he overshadowed Krennic. I think they used just the right amount of Tarkin to make it clear his importance to the Death Star but still allow Krennic to remain front and center as the main baddie.

Peter Cushing, the original actor to play Tarkin, passed away in 1994 so he obviously wasn’t available to reprise the role. Rather than recasting the role or using Wayne Pygram, they used a body double and CGI’d Cushing’s face onto the actor. The effect looks amazing and if you just look at him, it would be hard to tell it wasn’t actually Cushing… until he talked. I don’t know what happened, but when Tarkin talks, his mouth doesn’t move quite right and is very distracting. Not many things have pulled me out of a film but that was one of them.

Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without Darth Vader having some sort of presence. Like Tarkin, the film had to balance how much Vader was in the film to not take way from Krennic or the other characters introduced in the film. Again, he has the perfect amount of screen time. His first scene with Krennic showed us this was a return to the Vader of old, not the Vader seen at the end of Revenge of the Sith. That he was a force to be feared, even by his own men. Then his final appearance in the hallway of a rebel ship, mowing down Rebel troops was something out of a Star Wars horror movie. This is a return to form for the character, showing how badass and powerful he is.

The announcement that Rogue One would not contain an opening crawl created contention among fans. How can a Star Wars film not have an opening crawl? Everyone knows that’s how they begin. Although it is a controversial decision, I do think it worked well. The plot is pretty straightforward and first few scenes did a fairly decent job setting up the film that I don’t think not having the crawl negatively impacted the film.

Now, I will admit the film did start off rather slow. Since the movie was dealing with all new characters and they bypassed the opening crawl, it had to take the time to establish them. The second act was not much better. It still moved slowly but not as slowly as the first act. However, it did a great job of building off of what was established in the first several scenes. I think one of this film’s strong points was that it got exponentially better as the film went on, each scene improving on the last. As I said earlier, there wasn’t a whole lot of development for the new characters but this movie slowly established a connection with them and the Rebellion. So by the time the movie hits the explosive final act, I cared enough about the characters to feel some emotion towards them.

Speaking of the final act, what an action scene! Say what you will about Gareth Edwards, but he has a knack for setting up action sequences. The fight scene at the end of Godzilla was pretty epic and that pales in comparison to this one. One of my favorite thing about The Force Awakens was its use of practical effects as much as possible and that praise applies to Rogue One as well. Return of the Jedi is my favorite film of the original trilogy mostly because of the final battle on and above the forest moon of Endor and the duel on the Death Star II. There was something very similar in this movie, with Jyn and her squad battling stormtroopers on Scarif’s surface while the Rebel fleet battled Star Destroyers in space above the planet. The scale is amazing, the action is well shot, and it is easy to follow despite jumping between several places. Not only is this my new favorite action sequence from the Star Wars saga, but it is one of my favorite action sequences of any movie.

I thought Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was GREAT :-D. I’m a bit of an oddity when is comes to being a Star Wars fan. I like the prequels more than most and The Force Awakes less than most. It may then come as no surprise that I really enjoyed Rogue One. The disappointing amount of character development can be overlooked if you focus on what the movie was trying to focus on, which is the Rebellion as a whole, not the individual people within the Rebellion. When Lucasfilm announced they were doing one Star Wars film a year until 2020, I was a little skeptical. After seeing how the first two films have turned out, I’m getting more optimistic towards the future of the franchise.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Gareth Edwards – Director
Chris Weitz – Screenplay
Tony Gilroy – Screenplay
John Knoll – Story
Gary Whitta – Story
Michael Giacchino – Composer

Felicity Jones – Jyn Erso
Diego Luna – Cassian Andor
Alan Tudyk – K-2SO
Donnie Yen – Chirrut Imwe
Wen Jiang – Baze Malbus
Ben Mendelsohn – Orson Krennic
Forest Whitaker – Saw Gerrera
Riz Ahmed – Bodhi Rook
Mads Mikkelsen – Galen Erso
Jimmy Smits – Bail Organa
Alistair Petrie – General Draven
Genevieve O’Reilly – Mon Mothma
Ben Daniels – General Merrick
Ian McElhinney – General Dodonna
Paul Kasey – Admiral Raddus
Stephen Stanton – Admiral Raddus (voice)
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Guy Henry – Grand Moff Tarkin

Star Wars Christmas Special Review: Christmas in July Blogathon 2016

Welcome to day two of the 2016 Christmas in July weekend! First up today is Allie of Jenna and Allie from Flick Chicks. Allie is a huge fan of Christmas and the Christmas spirit so it brings me great joy to let her let her Christmas flag fly! Recently, she finally watched all the Star Wars films (seriously, what took you so long!?) and then took a look at the Star Wars Holiday Special. This holiday special is often looked down upon, even by George Lucas and the cast of Star Wars, and its existence is often ignored. So let’s hear whether or not Allie liked it.


Star Wars Holiday SpecialHow has it been a whole year since Drew’s last Christmas in July Blogathon?! I honestly remember writing last year’s post as if it were yesterday. Anyway, I’m so glad its back, because I need the outlet – Christmas is my favourite time of the year but no one will let me talk about it until December. Last Christmas was an amazing time for me as a movie fan as I delved into the Star Wars movies before watching The Force Awakens, and shocked myself with how much I fell in love with it.

Imagine my surprise then when I discover that in 1978, a Star Wars Holiday Special was broadcast on TV! Okay, so general consensus seemed to be that it was the worst TV movie ever made, but I couldn’t help but feel that watching it was a rite of passage for Star Wars fans. Or maybe I just like to torture myself and watch terrible movies. Who knows! I read the reviews, I read the quotes from the cast saying they wish they could forget it was ever made, and all I could think was, surely it can’t be that bad? I mean, the entire main original cast is here. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, even James Earl Jones!

Oh, I was so wrong…

So, the gist of the story is this. It’s Life Day, a holiday celebrated by Wookiees, and Han Solo is desperately trying to get Chewie home to his family in time for the celebrations. That’s right, Chewie has a family! Specifically, a father called Itchy, a wife called Malla and a son called…Lumpy. Who names their kid Lumpy? I sure hope that’s a nickname. Anyway, Malla is getting impatient and puts in a few video-calls to some friends to find out where her beloved Chewie is. One of those calls goes to Luke Skywalker himself, wearing more make-up than I do on a night out, but he knows nothing. A local trader and friend by the name of Saun Dann tries to ease Malla’s worries, and later turns up at the house (that was fast) with gifts for everyone.

Malla

At this point I should probably point out that over 50% of this movie’s dialogue is spoken in Wookiee, with no subtitles, so you kind of have to guess what’s going on. I was at least grateful for the lack of translation when Itchy was gifted with some bizarre adult-fantasy video…thing. That was disturbing. I need to try and forget that moment, erase it from my memory somehow.

I mean, on the surface of it, The Star Wars Holiday Special is like any other Christmas movie. The father of the family is late coming home, leaving a disappointed child. The family are being inappropriate and no help to anyone, and the cooking turns out to be a disaster. That part at least was actually funny, watching Malla try and follow a cooking programme to cook a stew. Turns out, it’s really difficult to mix, whisk and beat a mixture when you only have 2 arms. Who’da thunk it?

Then come the Imperial Officers, flanked by 2 Stormtroopers, here to search the property. Doesn’t anyone get a day off work on Life Day? Poor Lumpy is told to watch his cartoons and stay out of the way. Somehow, Lumpy’s cartoon happens to explain what exactly is holding Han Solo and Chewie up. It’s all a rouse played out by Boba Fett and Darth Vader! Bah humbug, guys!

Star Wars Holiday Special Boba Fett

Honestly, at this point the rest is a blur. I made myself a drink during the first 10 minutes, knowing I was going to need it to watch anymore, and I got through a lot of drinks very quickly. A lot like Christmas I guess! All I know is that it was happily ever after, and there was a musical interlude by the Cantina band somewhere in the mix.

So, lesson learnt. This really was a monstrosity. But did you know this was Boba Fett’s very first introduction? Gotta give the movie a point for that. And another for Malla’s cooking attempts. That’s all I can face giving out, though.

In true Christmas in July fashion, Drew is forming a star-studded Christmas party, and we’re all allowed to invite our favourite celebrity in the hopes we’ll catch them under the mistletoe. I feel like I should stick with the Star Wars theme, and as much as I’d like to catch Kylo Ren and warm up that icy heart of his, I worry he’ll throw one of those tempers and wreck the party. With that in mind, I certainly wouldn’t mind bumping into the best pilot in the galaxy, Poe Dameron, AKA Oscar Isaac! Swoon…

Oscar Isaacs


Thanks, Allie! I don’t think I have ever watched the whole thing. I tried a few years ago but I didn’t make it all the way through so you are braver than I am. Maybe I will try again soon.

I wouldn’t mind having Poe at our Christmas party. He would make me feel safe in case any First Order troops show up.

Stop by later today as Bex from Film Music Central discusses her favorite holiday special.

See you soon!

My Fave Five Star Wars Characters (Featuring Box Office Buzz)

There is no doubt that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a critical and box office success.  It currently has a 93% with the critics and 90% with the audience on Rotten Tomatoes.  It shattered Thursday preview records, opening weekend records, beat Jurassic World‘s box office record by 1 day, and has made nearly $2 billion worldwide! Currently, it is the third highest grossing movie of all time, behind Avatar and Titanic.

The anticipation and hype surrounding the film was like nothing cinema had seen before.  I doubt we will ever see such anticipation or excitement for an event again, at least not anytime soon anyway.  To celebrate the success of my favorite film franchise, I wanted to take a look at my favorite Star Wars characters.  I have asked fellow Star Wars fan and the mind behind Box Office Buzz, Ashley, to join me in the celebration.  You can check out her review of The Force Awakens here.  Ashley reviews all kinds of movies that are so much fun to read.  Go peruse her site, after you finish reading this article of course. 😛 Now, let’s get onto our five favorite Star Wars characters. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead. Ladies first!

Star Wars is my all-time favorite film franchise. While I love the science fiction setting “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away,” the main reason I love these movies so much is because there are so many great, memorable characters. It’s hard to narrow down my list of favorite characters to just five, but here goes…

5) Finn

I loved many of the new characters introduced in The Force Awakens, but my favorite so far is Finn. While Finn does provide some of the funniest moments in the film, his character is far more than just “the comic relief.” I love how he doesn’t necessarily start the film as a hero; he’s just a regular guy, forced into a situation he’s not prepared for, and his instincts are to simply run from danger. But deep down, he’s sensed just how evil the First Order is, and his feelings for Rey empower him to become a true hero by the end, standing up to fallen Jedi Kylo Ren even though he doesn’t have any Force powers himself. I’m really looking forward to watching Finn’s character grow in the next two movies, and I also hope we’ll learn a little more about his past.

Luke Skywalker4) Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker might not have made my top five list a few years ago, but the character has really grown on me, especially as I rewatched the original trilogy in preparation for The Force Awakens. Luke Skywalker starts the trilogy as an ordinary guy, wishing he could travel the stars. Then, he gets pulled into an adventure he never imagined, and he learns he has the power of the Force. One of the things I love most about Luke is his stubborn sense of idealism. Even when everybody else has written off Darth Vader as an irredeemable villain, Luke still senses the good in him and is willing to risk his own life to bring his father back from the dark side. I’m excited to see what happens to his character in Episode VIII, especially if he’s going to train Rey (spoiler alert — possibly his daughter?).

Ben Skywalker3) Ben Skywalker

Although in the plot for The Force Awakens, Han and Leia have a son named Ben Solo who goes to the dark side and becomes Kylo Ren, in the original Expanded Universe novels (which are now called “Star Wars: Legends” and are considered non-canon by Disney), Luke actually has a son named Ben. Ben was a great character, which is why I was a little sad when Disney ended the Expanded Universe. In the books, Ben is trained by his cousin Jacen Solo, Han and Leia’s son; like Kylo Ren, Jacen does fall to the dark side, but Ben doesn’t succumb to temptation. Like his father, he’s a powerful user of the light side of the Force; he’s determined, smart, and has a great sense of humor. My favorite moments with Ben are in the “Legacy of the Force” and “Fate of the Jedi” series.

Darth Vader2) Darth Vader

Darth Vader is my all-time favorite movie villain and has one of my favorite character arcs in the Star Wars saga. When we first meet him in A New Hope, he’s terrifying: he’s a powerful wielder of the dark side, and he appears to show no mercy to those who oppose him. Although he definitely doesn’t seem like a sympathetic character, the other films in the saga reveal a far more tragic story. Regardless of how you feel about the prequels, Darth Vader does have a really sad back story: he falls from the Jedi Order, unintentionally kills his wife, and is trapped inside a life support suit for the rest of his existence. However, he is not beyond redemption; in the end, he turns away from the dark side and sacrifices his life to save his son, Luke. It’s one of the most powerful and poignant moments in the Star Wars saga.

Han Solo1) Han Solo

When I was a kid, I thought Han Solo was pretty much the coolest person ever, and I’ve still got a soft spot in my heart for a certain scruffy-looking nerf herder. Han Solo starts off as a roguish smuggler with a devil-may-care attitude, and he’s pretty good at pretending he’s just looking out for himself. However, his friendship with Chewie and eventually Luke and Leia show he’s got a softer side, and he eventually becomes a hero in the Rebellion. Spoiler alert! He doesn’t get a happy ending in The Force Awakens, but I like how he’s willing to die doing the right thing, attempting to save his son. And he’ll always live on in the original trilogy as the fearless pilot of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

Thanks a lot, Ashley! Now it’s my turn.  I have so many favorite characters, it was hard to narrow it down to simply five. My solution to this problem is to make two lists. One of movie characters, as well as one of characters from the old Expanded Universe (where Ben Skywalker resides) and the Clone Wars television series.  First up, are my five favorite non-movie Star Wars characters.

Jaina and Jacen Solo5) Jacen and Jaina Solo

Jacen and Jaina are twins and Han and Leia’s two oldest children from the old Expanded Universe (EU), mentioned earlier by Ashley.  They both become very powerful Jedi under the tutelage of their Uncle Luke.  For the longest time, the two are inseparable.  They quickly proved themselves to be skilled pilots and duelists.  Unfortunately, Jacen couldn’t resists the temptation of the dark side and became Darth Caedus.  It falls on Jaina’s shoulders to stop her brother from taking over the galaxy in the second Galactic Civil War.  What is it with Solo boys and falling to the dark side?

Ahsoka Tano4) Ahsoka Tano

Ahsoka Tano was Anakin’s apprentice during the Clone Wars.  She is everything Anakin is: skilled duelist, great pilot, brash, and constantly spoke out against authority, which earning her the nickname “Snips” from her master.  As Star Wars: The Clone Wars progresses, the viewers get to watch her grow, both in her skills as a fighter and her wisdom as a Jedi. At the beginning of the series she has a single lightsaber.  Eventually, she begins wielding a second, shorter lightsaber and becomes very proficient using dual lightsabers.  After being framed for a crime she didn’t commit, she left the Jedi Order.  For those who watched the entire series, like myself, her leaving was a huge emotional blow.  There is a silver lining however, as since she was no longer a Jedi, she survived Order 66 and she makes another appearance as a much older and wiser Ahsoka in the television series Star Wars: Rebels.

Darth Bane3) Darth Bane

Darth Bane is notable in the Star Wars mythos because he was the Sith responsible for creating the Rule of Two: One Sith to posses the power, the other to crave it.  During his time, there were many Sith, fighting a war with the Jedi all around the galaxy.  He became fascinated with ancient Sith teachings and realized the Sith could not prosper in such numbers because of their selfishness and lust for power.  To eliminate the rest of the Sith, he tricked the leaders into using the Thought Bomb, a strong dark side technique that killed the users, as well as everything around them.  Shortly after, he took up his first apprentice, Darth Zannah.  Darth Bane was an intimidating person, standing at two meters tall! He was also very muscular from working in a mine most of his life. Often he was able to defeat his opponent simply by overwhelming them with strength. For a few years, he even had an organic suit from creatures called orbalisks, making him impervious to blasters and lightsabers.  Darth Bane is one of the most powerful Sith that ever existed, or at least he was in the pre-Disney canon.

2) Mara Jade SkywalkerMara Jade Skywalker

Mara Jade Skywalker is the reason I am so sad the EU is no longer canonical.  Hands down she is one of the most bad-ass women in the entire Star Wars universe.  When she is first introduced, she is a secret warrior for Palpatine called an Emperor’s Hand.  As an Emperor’s Hand, she traveled across the galaxy performing missions for Emperor Palpatine in secrecy.  After the events of Return of the Jedi, she fell in love with Luke Skywalker and birthed their son, Ben.  She was very strong in the force, managing to fight off an alien virus while pregnant and still was able to defeat her enemies in combat.  Talk about girl power!

Cade Skywalker1) Cade Skywalker

Cade Skywalker is hands down my favorite Star Wars character.  He is the main character of the comic series Star Wars Legacy, which takes place 137 years after A New Hope.  What makes him so fascinating is he is a Jedi who doesn’t want to be a Jedi.  Ten years before the story takes place, the Sith rise up once again and eliminate most of the Jedi Order, including Cade’s father, Kol Skywalker.  He becomes a pirate and bounty hunter and refuses to acknowledge his Skywalker heritage.  Before too long, he is once again drawn into the galactic conflict and reluctantly picks up the lightsaber.  But he doesn’t always stay on the straight and narrow.  He regularly channels the dark side, drawing from its power to increase his strength as well as heal others.  It’s a intriguing dynamic that isn’t seen anywhere else in Star Wars.

And now what you all have been waiting for, here are my five favorite Star Wars movie characters.

Darth Maul5) Darth Maul

Darth Maul is criminally underused in the movies.  He is one of the coolest characters to come from The Phantom Menace, and George Lucas kills him! Or so it would seem.  He later returns in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series with a new set of robotic legs.  Maul is one of the few in the Star Wars universe who uses a double-bladed lightsaber and time and again proved his skills with it in duels with characters ranging from Qui-Gon Jinn, General Grievous, and Count Dooku.  It was great that Maul was able to get the development he deserved but it would have been great if he would have had a bigger presence in the films.

Rey4) Rey

Rey is my favorite character to come out of The Force Awakens.  She has no problem taking care of herself in a fight, easily taking down two or three guys at once.  Towards the end of the film, she even takes on Kylo Ren, who has been trained by Luke Skywalker, and manages to hold her own.  Her heritage is a huge mystery right now.  Personally, I’m hoping there is nothing special about where she comes from and she is just a strong, force-sensitive person.  Alas, I don’t think how it will play out. Rey’s story arc is the one I am most looking forward to in the upcoming movies.

Han Solo3) Han Solo

OK, let’s be honest, what Star Wars fan doesn’t like Han Solo?  He’s the bad boy, the guy who your parents warned you about.  When Luke and Obi-Wan first meet him and his co-pilot Chewbacca, he’s only in it for the money. Han doesn’t care about anything except the check.  His charm is irresistible and he tries to play it like he looks out only for himself.  As the series progresses, we realize there is a lot more to him and he actually has a big heart.  In the end, he cares for his friends and family and dies doing what he feels is right.

General Grievous2) General Grievous

General Grievous was introduced in the Star Wars: Clone Wars micro-series that aired from 2003 to 2005, between the releases of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith (not to be confused with the series with Ahsoka I mentioned earlier).  When I first saw him, I instantly liked him.  Here was this cyborg, wielding four lightsabers, facing multiple Jedi Masters at once, and winning!  What is more bad-ass than that!?  It is hard to tell from just the movies alone, but Grievous is actually quite the skilled duelist.  Grievous and his MagnaGuard droids trained under Count Dooku.  Before he became a cyborg fighting for the Separatists, he was already an accomplished and skilled fighter on his home planet of Kalee.  Grievous is another character, like Darth Maul, who deserved more screen time to show how great he can truly be.

Darth Vader1) Darth Vader

Darth Vader is without out a doubt the coolest character in the Star Wars saga.  He has one of the best entrances in cinema, his presence alone is unnerving, he is a Sith Lord, fully in control of the dark side of the force, and his men fear him.  It is hard for me to accept that such a strong character came from the Anakin we saw in the prequel trilogy.   The entire saga is based around his rise, fall, and redemption, making it one of the most emotional film series there is.  Anakin just wanted to save the ones he loved and was willing to do whatever it took.  Unfortunately, that path lead to the dark side. Thankfully, his son Luke was able to see past that black armor and realized the good that was still inside of him.  His redemption is one of the best moments of the entire Star Wars saga.


Big thanks to Ashley for joining me in celebrating our love for Star Wars. Be sure to check out her website, Box Office Buzz.

Who are some of your favorite Star Wars characters?

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens movie posterSynopsis
Thirty years after the Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire, The First Order threatens the peace of the galaxy, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). One stormtrooper (John Boyega), defects from the First Order with the help of the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and along with the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), they join the resistance against the First Order, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Review
Star Wars is in my blood. That is as true as Han shoots first. I have been anxiously awaiting the return of Luke, Han, and Leia to the silver screen since Disney bought Lucasfilm. The last time I was remotely this excited for a film was The Lego Movie, and my excitement for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens exceeds my excitement for that (though not by much actually). Was it worth the hype? I would say yes, but not as much as everyone else seems to think so.

It is very clear that the writers wanted to return to what fans liked about the Original Trilogy. Unfortunately, that meant recycling the plot of A New Hope. The move feels too safe; It leans too much on the nostalgia factor. This type of film should want to give fan service. There are all kinds of references that are inserted into the film without feeling intrusive, which is great. However, fan service also doesn’t mean repeating the story, but with different characters and slightly different settings. Say what you want about the Prequel Trilogy, but each one was different and, for better or worse, told a unique story. When it comes to The Force Awakens, it feels like I’ve seen this story before.

When I left the theater after watching this movie the first time, it felt like there was something off but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then after my second viewing I was able to put words to what I was feeling. To me, this felt more like a middle entry of the trilogy instead of a beginning. This has more to do with Kylo Ren’s development. When we learn who he is, what he did, a certain scene over a certain bridge with a certain someone, they all felt like moments that should have been after spending time with the characters and in the new films. I want to expand on this more because but to do so would go into spoilers. If you want to discuss this more, shoot me an email.

The biggest issue I have with The Force Awakens is how many elements are introduced with very few resolutions. Again, as lauded as The Phantom Menace was, one of the things I thought it did very well was show the political state of the galaxy and exactly how different the Republic was from the Empire we met in A New Hope, although I will admit it dwelt on it too long. Regardless, we were introduced to the First Order, the Resistance, and the New Republic but not given much context how they are related. How big is the First Order? If they are a huge threat, why isn’t the New Republic fighting them directly? Or why did the Republic allow them to get so big if they came from the ashes of the Empire? Why does the resistance need to exist in the first place? I know it is meant to be only the first step in a larger journey and I expect (hope) these questions will be answered in due time but one of A New Hope‘s strong points was despite taking place across an entire galaxy, it kept its scope small and still easily set up a larger universe. The Force Awakens isn’t very self-contained and that bothers me.

I was worried that the returning cast wouldn’t be given the screen time necessary to pass the torch to the new cast. Thankfully, Han Solo has a huge, integral part to play that put those fears to bed. Harrison Ford doesn’t miss a beat returning to everyone’s favorite smuggler. Although, he does have a hard time carrying the film without his original costars, Mark Hamill and Carry Fisher, constantly by his side. This is easy to forgive because he has no problem bouncing off Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. It’s not as satisfying as his chemistry with Hamill and Fisher, but it creates some pretty funny and heartwarming moments.

Within the first few minutes, I knew The Force Awakens was going to be an exhilarating ride. As soon as the first stormtroopers rush the sands of Jakku, it barely slows down to take a breath. Every new scene either begins or ends with a big action piece. JJ Abrams and the rest of the crew are obviously fans of the Original Trilogy because they take every great action sequence from those films, throw them in here, and crank them up to ten. There are space dog fights, land battles, lightsaber duels, and even wild escapes from terrifying creatures. It has some of the best action scenes in the entire saga.

With characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, the new characters had a lot to live up to. From the opening scene with Poe Dameron, I knew they weren’t going to have any trouble living up to the legacy left behind for them. Poe is an ace pilot for the Resistance who is criminally underused. Finn, a stromtrooper with a conscience, might be the most interesting. Any previous depictions of stormtroopers show them as mindless and heartless drones. Now we actually get a look under the helmet and realize that there might actually be some morality in there somewhere. Rey is hands down the best new character to come from this next generation of Star Wars. She’s strong, smart, and knows her way around a ship. Daisy Ridley does absolutely magnificent and may be the find of the century.

When it comes to Kylo Ren, I have mixed feelings. It is clear that he is a strong force user (some of his skills include stopping a blaster bolt midair and interrogation techniques that would make Darth Vader jealous), but it is also clear that he is still just a boy with incomplete training. He has temper tantrums and doesn’t have much self-control. He is a stark contrast to Darth Vader, who was always so calm and collected while force choking someone.

Poe’s first interaction with Kylo Ren gave a good idea on the tone for the rest of the film. It is so funny! It reminds me of The Avengers where the comedy was organic and sprang from great chemistry between the characters. Nothing ever felt forced. You could tell the cast was having a blast filming. Finn had his moments with everyone. He and Poe, he and Rey, he even had a moment or two with the adorable BB-8. There are play on words, visual gags, and everything in between. There is a little bit of humor for everybody.

2015 has been a great year for practical effects. First Mad Max: Fury Road, now The Force Awakens. It makes a huge difference when compared to CGI heavy movies. When a movie uses too much CGI, it can remove the audience. While I applaud George Lucas’ willingness to fully embrace CGI in the Original Trilogy special editions and prequels, he embraces it too much, further proving that too much of a good thing can become detrimental. Remember, the special editions and The Phantom Menace were released in the earlier days of CGI (I consider the start of CGI as it is today to be Jurassic Park), so it was good on Lucas to realize what the technology could bring to films. Now, film directors, like JJ Abrams, are moving back to primarily practical effects with CGI to fill in the gaps. It makes a huge difference and greatly enhances the experience.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is GOOD :-). There is so much more I want to talk about but then I would be moving into spoiler territory. This is the story Star Wars fans have been waiting for since 1983. The return to practical effects and limited use of CGI makes it feel like I’m watching the original Original Trilogy again. Daisy Ridley is the standout performance but all of the newcomers have great chemistry together and easily fill the big shoes left for them. Great action and comedy is just icing on the cake. However, the recycled plot and introduction of so many elements with few resolutions hold this movie back from being as great as I know it could be.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
JJ Abrams – Director / Writer
Lawrence Kasdan – Writer
Michael Arndt – Writer
John Williams – Composer

Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia
Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Daisy Ridley – Rey
John Boyega – Finn
Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron
Lupita Nyong’o – Maz Kanata
Andy Serkis – Supreme Leader Snoke
Domhnall Gleeson – General Hux
Gwendoline Christie – Captain Phasma
Pip Torrens – Colonel Kaplan
Simon Pegg – Unkar Plutt
Max von Sydow – Lor San Tekka

Also read my reviews for the rest of the Star Wars saga: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

What movie do you want to view for the first time again?

Hey there, my dear readers,

As you know, unless you have been living under a rock, Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally hits theaters this Friday, or Thursday if you have early tickets like I do. To get ready for the long awaited continuation of the journey that saw the defeat of the evil Galactic Empire over 32 years ago, many people are getting Star Wars fever, myself included.  I have read more Star Wars reviews in the last week than in the 2+ years I have been blogging.  That’s not a bad thing. Quite the opposite, I love hearing what others have to say about my favorite movie saga.  This surge in Star Wars love has made me think about how much Star Wars has been a part of my life.

My feelings towards the Original Trilogy

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Star Wars.  For as long as I can remember, I was on Tatooine buying droids from Jawas with Luke Skywalker and his uncle.  For as long as I can remember, I was with Luke on his heroic run through the trench of the Death Star when he made the impossible shot through an exhaust port that was no bigger than a womp rat.  For as long as I can remember, I was with the Rebels when their base was discovered on Hoth. For as long as I could remember, I was on the Millennium Falcon as Han Solo navigated through an asteroid field. I could go on, but the point is, this epic journey has always been a part of me.

My dad is a big Star Wars fan, so I was exposed to them when I was very young, literally before my long term memory kicked in.  I just kind of knew about the films. Which means the big revelation at the end of The Empire Strikes Back is completely lost to me. It was always just a fact, so I don’t know my reaction to finding that out.  Honestly, I don’t know if I was taken aback or even if I comprehended what Darth Vader was revealing.

The best twist in cinema history.

This topic has come up in my circle of friends before and I have seen it every now and then in one corner or another of the internet but it is still an interesting concept to ponder.  The idea is this:

What movie or movie series do you want to watch for the first time again?

If you could experience that sense of enchantment by the unknown again, the wonder of what lies ahead, to see a with fresh eyes again, what would it be?  I would without a doubt choose the original Star Wars trilogy.  To relive the adventure of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia again would be a dream come true. To see the opening of A New Hope, to witness Darth Vader’s identity revealed in The Empire Strikes Back, to hear Luke declare he is a Jedi and won’t give in to the dark side of the force in Return of the Jedi would be the biggest do-over I could ever ask for.

No matter how many times I hear Luke say this, I still get excited.

What about you? If you could neuralize the memory of your first viewing of a specific film, think of a reverse Total Recall, what would it be? There are many reasons to want to forget a film and watch it again. From reliving a jaw-dropping twist/reveal, to hearing your favorite movie jokes without knowing the punchline, to experiencing a good scare, to simply going through an exciting adventure and not knowing what’s in store for the heroes, to countless other reasons.  Please leave a comment below explaining what movie or movie series you want to experience for the first time again and why.

Cheers!