Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

star wars Archive

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December 2016

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Rogue One Sets A Strong Template for Standalone Star Wars Films

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We live in a post-film era for big blockbusters. Being an entertaining, self-contained, couple hours of fun isn’t enough anymore as franchises work their own larger continuities into the mix to keep fans coming to the theatres. While criticized for being a largely derivative film, The Force Awakens was praised for setting up the franchise for future annual offerings. As a standalone film, Rogue One demonstrates what a movie can be without the weight of obligation.

Rogue One takes place during the long eighteen year period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, enough for General Motti to remark, “your sad devotion to that ancient religion,” in the latter film. There’s a few familiar faces in the supporting cast, but the leads are complete unknowns. The presence of rebels not related to the Skywalker/Solo/Kenobi/Binks clans was rather refreshing as the mind tends to focus on the film itself rather than the potential parentages of the characters. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna captivate in the leading roles, never once suggesting that the two may be related or that one owned a droid built by the other’s father.

The film moves at a rapid pace, taking little time to explain who its characters are. You probably won’t remember most of their names. There is a natural inclination to knock the film for giving the audience little reason to get behind the characters, except the film’s standalone nature and lean 133 minute runtime stand in direct contrast to most action films these days. Rogue One doesn’t have the luxury of spending the entire film setting up future entries for its characters and it’s better off for not trying. I liked the characters enough to care if they survived various explosions. Isn’t that enough?

Which isn’t to say that it’s a perfect film. The cast is a little bloated and the story relies heavily on dramatic clichés to advance the plot. I’d care more, but I was having too much fun watching a movie that wasn’t trying to be a different movie or sell me on the next one.

The idea of standalone Star Wars films has existed since the Caravan of Courage/Battle for Endor duology back in the 80s. The world George Lucas created offers endless storytelling possibilities, which made J.J. Abrams’ decision to remake A New Hope and The Force Awakens incredibly frustrating. Rogue One doesn’t deviate quite as far from the original films as the Ewok movies, but certainly demonstrates what the franchise is capable of when separated from its beloved characters.

Rogue One succeeded for many of the same reasons as the original. It offered satisfying escapism with breathtaking special effects. It pays homage to its predecessors, offering numerous easter eggs for dedicated fans that don’t take away from the enjoyment of those who don’t even know what the Ewok movies even are. It doesn’t shoot for the stars, but one has to wonder if any film is going to in the Disney era. If this is as good as it gets, I’ll take it, as long as there aren’t any post-credit scenes.

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Sunday

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December 2015

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Might as Well Be Called “Marvel’s A New Hope”

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Note: This article does not contain spoilers. I will do a more in depth analysis in a few weeks once more people have seen it. To be sure you never miss an article, I encourage you to like my Facebook page or follow me somewhere else. Also, my books make great Life Day presents.

 The moment we’ve all been waiting for since the Revenge of the Sith capped off a six year long butchery of one of the most treasured cinema franchises in history is finally here. The characters we grew to love: C-3PO, Chewbacca, Nien Nunb, and Admiral Ackbar are back to make us forget about tax negotiations, midichlorians, Hayden Christensen, and Jar Jar Binks. While the internet has done a good job of hiding the spoilers, unless you’ve been living in a Wampa cave on Hoth, you’ve heard that this is a good movie. I’m not going to dispute that.

Is a great movie? No.

The bar for The Force Awakens was set pretty low. After bringing back the original trilogy’s three leading stars, it would have essentially been impossible to make a movie worse than any of the prequels. Disney and J.J. Abrams knew which mistakes not to make and wisely listened to the past decade’s worth of criticism levied against Darth Lucas.

Problem is, J.J. Abrams spent so much time trying not to be the prequels that he forgot to give the film a plot. Between the nostalgia factor and the ridiculously adorable BB-8, it can be a little hard to notice, but this isn’t really a film concerned with being a movie. Instead, it wants to give the fans what the last three entries failed to provide while it sets up the franchise for the next dozen entries or so.

Given that Disney is planning to release a Star Wars film every year from now on to presumably the end of time (alternating between the main timeline and standalone films), it’s not completely horrible that the film doesn’t really explain anything. We don’t know how the bad guys came into power or what’s happened since Return of the Jedi, but we do have explosions and Han Solo. The film doesn’t waste a minute of its two hours and fifteen minute runtime so the decision to exclude a plot might not be the end of the world. This just looks like a movie so preoccupied with not being terrible that comes at the cost of greatness.

The Force Awakens plays it safe in many ways. Without diving into any detail, there’s quite a bit of familiarity to the film that feels more derivative than nostalgic in many ways. I’d say that wasn’t a bad thing, but this isn’t a film that ever tried to make the Kessel run in under twelve parsecs. It settles for around eighteen.

The new cast do shine. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac seamlessly transition into a franchise that doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to new characters, having burned fans too many times before with the Ewoks, Binks, Watto, Nute Gunray, Jango Fett, and the fat diner owner from Attack of the Clones. The old cast fits in as well and their presence never feels obligatory. This movie works on many levels. Just not all levels.

There is one casting choice that was a clear mistake. I won’t say much for fear of spoilers, but Adam Driver is just terrible. Every fear I had from the decision to cast Girls’ leading man as the main villain came to fruition. Kylo Ren isn’t quite the next Jar Jar Binks, but he’s dangerously close.

Was the film going to satisfy everyone? Never. There will always be fans who mourn the death of the Expanded Universe (I wrote an article on that last year). You might want to lump me in that category and you’re certainly welcome to do so.

When Disney bought Star Wars, we knew the franchise wasn’t going to carry on as George Lucas intended. That’s a good thing for the most part, except Disney owns another huge, flawed franchise that mass produces blockbusters, which presents a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.

Would you rather have George Lucas’ Star Wars or Marvel’s Star Wars?

My main complaint with the Marvel movies is that they never fully live in the moment. They’re always thinking about the next installment. You’re watching a series; you’re never actually just watching a movie. First movies aren’t supposed to have all the answers, but A New Hope hardly withheld such obvious information from moviegoers.

The notion that I might just be one of those angry fans who will never be satisfied doesn’t really swirl around in my head. I’m not really annoyed. I grew up obsessed with Star Wars. I’ll always be grateful to Star Wars. Some of my closest friendships blossomed through a common infatuation with the world George Lucas created.

Now I see a franchise that aims for satisfaction instead of innovation. That’s what mainstream movies want and I’m okay with that. I just don’t see myself memorizing entire films or buying backpacks based off the new characters (and that’s not because I’m too old either. You’re never too old for Yoda). I’ll still go to see them. I’ll probably still write about them, but part of me longs for the days of Jar Jar Binks. I may have hated him, but at least he made me feel something. There used to be a time when Star Wars tried to convey emotion.

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Tuesday

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June 2014

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Getting Rid of the Star Wars Expanded Universe Sort of Matters

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Ever since it was announced that Disney would purchase Lucasfilm in 2012 with the intention of creating more Star Wars films, it was only a matter of time before something drastic changed within the Star Wars canon. The Star Wars Expanded Universe has played a big role in the lasting popularity of the franchise and is far more beloved to many fans than the prequel trilogy or the Clone Wars TV series. When Disney announced in late April that the EU would be rebooted in conjunction with the seventh film’s release in 2015, reception was expectedly mixed.

Timothy Zahn’s Grand Admiral Thrawn Trilogy is widely considered to be the EU’s finest work and was the catalyst that gave credibility to the medium. Since then, there have been well over a hundred entries into the EU with varying degrees of popularity. In addition to Zahn, writers like R.A. Salvatore and Michael A. Stackpole contributed noteworthy works that kept the EU’s popularity up in the time since Heir to the Empire made the New York Times’ Bestseller List. .

The fact that there were hundreds of entries into the EU perfectly highlights the main reason why something needed to happen. Lucasbooks has taken its own continuity very seriously, employing fact checkers well versed in the canon to help writers with their own entries. Outside of those fact checkers, I can’t imagine there are that many who possess a full spectrum of knowledge on all of these books. There’s no reason to expect future films to adhere to continuity so strict that no one would be able to catch deviations in the first place.

More importantly, the popularity of the EU has been on the decline for over a decade now. The New Jedi Order series began with the killing of Chewbacca in an odd matter that’s even confusing to explain coming from someone who actually read Vector Prime. That started a sequence of events that lead to the killing off of many of the EU’s most cherished characters including Anakin Solo, Mara Jade, and finally Jacen Solo who turned into a Sith Lord in a manner that served to emulate his grandfather’s decline.

The EU had nowhere left to go and with dozens of entries that were widely panned, it didn’t made sense to keep that timeline in the fold. Comic books do this all the time. Rebooting the EU might be frustrating, but it needed to happen.

It didn’t need to happen in a way that erased the entire universe though. We don’t know many of the details surrounding the seventh film, but it’s safe to say that Mara Jade and the Solo children will not be in it. Chewbacca is alive again, but the message was sent that the EU no longer matters moving forward. That could be a mistake.

The EU worked. More importantly, the prequel trilogy didn’t work. It’s one thing to reboot what happened, but by going in a completely different direction, Disney is failing to capitalize on what could’ve been a smart goodwill gesture to the fans. Choosing to ignore it completely disregards the fact that the EU kept the franchise alive at a time when nothing else was going on.

If Star Wars: VII is a bomb, you can bet that people will point the finger at the decision to ignore plotlines which were readily available and proven to be more successful than Jar Jar Binks and the midichlorians. As they should. Only time will tell us the full extent of the ramifications of flushing the EU away like Taco Bell twenty minutes after it’s been eaten.

I don’t mourn the loss of the EU. Rebooting the series to a time where the Yuuhan Vong and Darth Caedus never happened is fine by me. The EU gave fans more than twenty years of material to read. Anyone who has gone through all of that material is probably ready for some new books to read. Whether or not that’s the new Star Wars books is up to them.

J.J. Abrams’ new film will face a ton of scrutiny. The idea that there could be a new Star Wars film every year for the rest of eternity all but guarantees that somewhere down the road there will be a valid reason to bash the series. Rebooting the EU isn’t necessarily one of them, but wiping away so many cherished storylines and characters isn’t a great idea either.

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