Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

star wars Archive



December 2019



Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Sinks in Familiar Territory

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There’s a line in The Last Jedi where Kylo Ren is practically addressing the entire Star Wars fandom. The suggestion to, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to,” is good advice for a franchise perpetually in love with its own lore. The sequel trilogy was designed to introduce new characters into the mix, even as the films themselves often looked like remakes of earlier, better material.

The return of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair suggested a change in course from Rian Johnson’s mandate in The Last Jedi to let go of that which came before. The Rise of Skywalker is a film all about the past. From the many cameos to the mirroring of earlier narratives, it’s hard to even discuss the film on its own merits, for it doesn’t really have any. The Rise of Skywalker is more like a greatest hits compilation than an actual movie.

Rey, Finn, and Poe were all introduced as characters with the potential to carry the franchise to fresh worlds and new adventures. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac all have obvious chemistry, characters brought together by a shared desire to belong to something greater than themselves. There could have been a point in time where a great trilogy could have been crafted all about these characters, and their adorable spherical droid companion BB-8.

The sequel trilogy always struggled to juggle its many pieces. There are the old characters, the new characters, the older plot, and the minor deviations the new narratives take to differentiate themselves just enough to justify their existence. The Rise of Skywalker can’t plot its own course because Abrams never allows it to stray too far from familiar territory. It’s hard to tell your own story when you have to squeeze in so much of earlier Star Wars lore as well.

The film does handle Carrie Fisher’s death quite well, making the most of mere minutes of footage left over from the previous two entries. It would be quite difficult to wrap up the “Skywalker saga” without Princess Leia. Abrams honors Fisher’s legacy in a way that feels vital to the narrative.

The same holds true for most of the other legacy characters. After being mostly sidelined for the past two films, C-3PO and R2-D2 each get multiple moments to shine. Anthony Daniels gets plenty to work with as everyone’s favorite mildly annoying golden protocol droid. Billy Dee Williams brought plenty of his signature charisma to Lando Calrissian, absent from the films since Return of the Jedi. Even Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, who took over from Peter Mayhew who died earlier this year) gets a meatier plotline than previous entries.

Star Wars means a lot of different things to its large fandom. There are those who appreciated Rian Johnson’s efforts to plot a new course for The Last Jedi and there are those who loathe what the film did to Luke Skywalker. Plenty of people enjoyed Abrams’ The Force Awakens, which often felt like a straight remake of A New Hope.

The Rise of Skywalker understandably carries the most appeal to fans who want a nice heavy helping of nostalgia to go with their space battles and laser sword fights. The biggest problem with this entire approach is that it robs the new characters of any chance to stand on their own feet. Rey may be the hero, but this isn’t really her movie. It’s not Luke’s either, or Leia’s or Han’s, or any other possible person the film may try and make you remember. It’s the past’s movie, your childhood memories brought back to life for the sake of another ticket sold.

Star Wars used to make its audiences’ collective jaws drop, with stunning technological feats. George Lucas may have no skill for dialogue, but the man knew how to take people to places they’d never been before. As a child I was blown away by the sheer sight of R2-D2 on the bridge of the Tantive IV in the very first film.

The Rise of Skywalker lacks any of that wonder and awe. It doesn’t make an earnest effort to try to impress anyone. Rather, a half-hearted attempt is made to reignite the audience’s faded memories of better times with better movies. Lightning may never strike the same spot twice, but force lightning seems to only know one tired story. We’ve seen this all before.


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November 2019



The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 3

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Note: this review contains spoilers

The breakout sensation that is Baby Yoda does not need much of an explanation. The audience knows absolutely nothing about this character, no name, no species, and certainly no backstory. None of that really matters since the character is one of the most adorable creatures in Star Wars history. There is perhaps another reason why this character has won over the hearts of so many in such a short period of time.

As a franchise, Star Wars evokes a lot of emotion from its fans. People passionately dissect every new minute of content entered into this canon for a very simple reason. They care.

The Mandalorian doesn’t give its viewers many outlets to channel that intense emotion. Its title character has yet to show his face. This isn’t a particularly dialogue-heavy show, dispensing character development in incredibly small doses. Baby Yoda captures the audience’s attention through its sheer cuteness, but also because there hasn’t been anything else presented to care about.

Chapter 3: The Sin was a very effective episode, delivering subtle nodes of character development while also establishing the clear arc of the narrative. Wisely, the show is doubling down on Baby Yoda, who won over the Mandalorian while playfully tampering with his ship’s controls. Every scene featuring Baby Yoda is like an instant endorphin rush.

The whole Mandalorian guild is a little silly, a bit too reminiscent of the Jedi Order. Why do all of these people wear their masks at all times? Don’t the insides start to smell?

At least we finally got a female character with a speaking role. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was the first Star Wars live action installment directed by a woman. Deborah Chow did a great job with the episode, particularly with the framing of the action sequences.

Similarly silly was the idea that asking about the bounty is against the Mandalorian “code,” something that was brought up by both The Client and Greef Karga. It’s hardly outside the norm for a bounty hunter to be expected not to care about what happens after payday. There isn’t really a need to mythologize the taboo nature of his line of questioning.

There’s still five more episodes for the Mandalorian to show his face, but it would be a misstep for the show to go the whole season without this reveal. Boba Fett may not have taken off his helmet in the original trilogy, but his father did in Attack of the Clones. The difference between those two roles is that Boba Fett was barely even a character in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, on screen for barely more than five minutes. Here, the Mandalorian is a lead character.

This episode featured a couple fun Star Wars throwbacks. A super battle droid appeared in a flashback sequence from the Mandalorian’s childhood. Best of all was when a patron of the cantina uttered “echuta” at the Mandalorian in response to his success with the bounty, a line first spoken to C-3PO by a fellow protocol droid in Empire Strikes Back. “Echuta” is probably the closest we’ll ever get to Star Wars profanity.

Thankfully, the show looks poised to head to a new planet. The dynamic on the planet that’s probably Tatooine was getting a little old, exacerbated by the lack of compelling characters for the Mandalorian to interact with. Carl Weathers is perfectly serviceable as Karga, but the character simply isn’t that interesting.

The action sequences were a lot of fun. We finally got to see a Mandalorian with a jet pack. It’ll be interesting to see how much the Mandalorian mythology comes into play now that the show is heading off planet, but there’s certainly a lot of unfinished business with regard to the fallout of the Baby Yoda jailbreak. Is the credibility of their whole group shot? Who knows, but the mystery is quite compelling.

This episode was hands down the best of the three so far. A lot of the cast has yet to be introduced, leaving plenty of plot for the remaining five episodes. This episode also put the previous one in context as a standalone adventure rather than simply stalling. As long as there’s plenty of Baby Yoda, it seems safe to say this show will continue to be a hit.

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November 2019



The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter One

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

Note: This review contains spoilers

The Mandalorian carries a lot of weight that most television series don’t really deserve. After more than a decade of waiting, the first live action Star Wars show is finally here, a drama that also happens to be the flagship offering of a new streaming service. The kind of hype that comes with this terrain would be enough to destroy a planet the size of Alderaan.

To its credit, episode one never feels like it’s trying to juggle all this weight. Instead, it’s mostly an introductory narrative, one that isn’t particularly full of answers or compelling reasons to care about the characters. With regard to the latter, it doesn’t exactly need to give a reason. Star Wars already has plenty of fans.

As a lead, The Mandalorian is a challenging character to get behind. The helmet doesn’t help, limiting Pedro Pascal’s range. As far as this episode goes, how you feel about the title character could largely boil down to how cool you find his costume.

The breakout character in episode one is perhaps unsurprisingly Werner Herzog’s Client. There’s some obvious joy to be had in seeing such an iconic director amidst a group of Stormtroopers, but Herzog plays the role with complexity that makes you wish he were in more scenes.

The first half of the episode relies a bit too much on Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) to carry the narrative. He’s funny and the perspective is helpful as a means to introduce the show, but he’s also a guest character who isn’t going to be around for the long haul. At times, it felt like the episode was kicking its feet, waiting for the big action to begin.

The sight of The Mandalorian and IG-11 fending off countless foes on Arvala-7 was spectacular. The whole sequence brings out the best in Disney+, merging high quality production values with the comfort of one’s own home. The sets are all lavishly designed, but it wasn’t until the blaster fire picked up that everything really started to feel like Star Wars.

The end reveal of a baby from the same species as Yoda, the name of which remains a mystery to this day, felt like a bit of an unnecessary big finish, like the episode wanted to end on a note that would get everyone talking. It worked. We’ve never seen a baby Yoda before, unsurprising for a species that lives for hundreds of years.

While there’s no established norm for runtime on a streaming service, at 39 minutes, episode one feels a bit on the short side for a show meant to be the premier offering for the whole streaming service. That’s not to say that the episode should’ve padded itself with extra filler, but the delivery felt a bit underwhelming. Worst of all, at times, it felt a little long. Not exactly a great sign for an episode shorter than most network TV dramas.

Chapter one was a passable episode of television that never felt like it was trying to win over viewers who weren’t bound to tune in already. Star Wars is a big deal. This episode felt small. That’s not the worst thing in the world, especially since it accomplished some world-building, but Star Wars deserves better.

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August 2019



What to Make of Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge

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The launch of Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland has had its fair share of hiccups, from a poorly implemented reservation system to the delays involving the land’s marquee attraction, Rise of the Resistance. With a construction cost of over one billion dollars, Disneyland’s first new land since the early 90s features plenty of gorgeous scenery, fourteen acres of full immersion in Star Wars lore. It’s the kind of project perfectly built for first impressions.

For an area of the park built to last for decades, first impressions aren’t the sole barometer to gauge the impact that Galaxy’s Edge will have on the Happiest Place on Earth. Much of the reported low attendance throughout the summer of 2019 can be blamed on blackout dates imposed on the lower tier Annual Passports (APs), forcing plenty of people who have shelled out hundreds of dollars to Disney to wait an additional three months to visit the new land. While every day welcomes plenty of out-of-town newcomers to Disneyland and California Adventure, the park clearly relies on SoCal residents to fill out the lines, even during the busy summer months.

Galaxy’s Edge is absolutely beautiful, a dream come true for countless Star Wars superfans. The vast land is practically sensory overload, full of droids, rebel fighters, and the Millennium Falcon itself to explore. It all seems like a lot, at first. Second, third, or fourth time through, the whole thing starts to feel a little bit smaller.

To some extent, that’s natural. Wonder and awe works best the first time through. The problem with Galaxy’s Edge is that immersion and depth are fundamentally two different concepts. There isn’t really a heck of a lot to do, and most of the activities are rather expensive.

Some of this feeling can be blamed on the delays surrounding Rise of the Resistance. The idea of Cars Land opening without Radiator Springs, or rival Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuting without Forbidden Journey, seems completely preposterous. Smugglers Run is certainly more immersive than either of those parks B-rides, but it’s still a motion simulator. There’s the thrill of riding the Millennium Falcon contrasting with the reality of watching PlayStation 3-era graphics while being distracted by the need to push a few buttons.

Smugglers Run is hardly an E ticket attraction. From seemingly all reports, Rise of the Resistance will be, but even with its marquee attraction, Galaxy’s Edge will still be a fourteen-acre park with only two rides. A trip through Olga’s Cantina will undoubtedly be an experience to remember for many, but the $42 dollar cocktails aren’t the kind of fare that many will line up to consume more than once. The same holds true for the “hand-built” lightsabers or the Droid Depot — lots of fun, but not built for return visits.

Since its debut, Galaxy’s Edge has often been compared to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in terms of total immersion. Both lands place a high degree of emphasis on the full experience provided by the land, not just the thrills from their rides. Ostensibly, you’re supposed to enjoy walking around Hogsmeade as much as riding Forbidden Journey. Disney appears to be banking on Olga’s Cantina being as entertaining as Smugglers Run, a notion supported by their similar wait times throughout the early months of the land.

Beyond the obvious cash grab that stems from elevating shopping to the same tier of experience as rides, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter provides a certain function for Universal Studios Hollywood that isn’t particularly needed for Disneyland. Walking around Hogsmeade is certainly fun, but even a packed day at Universal leaves a fair amount of time to do just that. Universal has about a third of the rides as its SoCal neighbor even before you consider California Adventure, reflected in its shorter park hours on most days. Even after seeing a show or two, there’s plenty of time to walk around and take in the sights that Hogwarts has to offer.

Though Disneyland is often open for upwards of fourteen hours, it can be very hard to fit everything you want to do in on a single day. Several of the hotel package options only give you one park a day, making it easier to get the full Disneyland and California Adventure experiences, but there’s simply so much to do in both parks. For APs, you can arrive at opening, leave at closing, and still be able to count all the stuff you weren’t able to do on both hands, even with a MaxPass.

How much idle time spent wandering around Galaxy’s Edge does someone really want to do with all that other stuff to consider? That question is a bit tricky even if you try to separate APs from people who are only there for a day or two. For the latter category, time is limited, but for APs, there’s still a finite amount of activities for any single one person to be able to do. The scenery is a lot of fun to look at, but there reaches a point where continuing to look at an A-Wing fighter comes at the cost of riding some of the park’s other marquee attractions.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, along with Cars Land and Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar, filled obvious voids in each park. These lands provided immersive places for people to check out after experiencing each park’s more limited opportunities. Disneyland has never had this problem. Well before Galaxy’s Edge broke ground, Walt Disney’s original theme park set the gold standard around the world.

The decision to base Galaxy’s Edge off a new planet, Batuu, rather than an existing world in Star Wars lore has proved a bit controversial. Enjoyment of the land requires a desire to immerse oneself in an entirely new chapter of the fandom, putting aside the presence of the Millennium Falcon and a few other familiar elements. The fact that Batuu feels a lot like Tatooine probably doesn’t help for those who would have rather seen Mos Eisley in the first place.

Cars Land is a beautiful recreation of Radiator Springs. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings J.K. Rowling’s beloved landmarks to life. Pandora reminds people of why Avatar made billions at the box office with its exquisite landscapes.

Batuu is something new, with hints of beloved lore. Segments of the Star Wars fandom have been at war with its governing body ever since George Lucas started tinkering with his movies. In the expansive community that loves this world, Galaxy’s Edge didn’t really stake out a base of support. It’s trying to build a new one, but that takes time. For Disneyland, that’s time that people need to want to take out of doing other things, including plenty of attractions designed around capitalizing on nostalgia rather than subverting it.

Much of this sentiment won’t fully apply to the version of Galaxy’s Edge opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. Unlike its California counterpart, Galaxy’s Edge has much more room to be the main attraction in a park that hasn’t been open since 1955. By comparison, Hollywood Studios opened in 1989, only four years before Disneyland’s version of Mickey’s Toontown, the last new land to open before Galaxy’s Edge.

Disneyland earned the title of The Happiest Place on Earth decades before Galaxy’s Edge came around. A couple trips through the impressive new land give the impression that it won’t soon cause people to abandon the attractions that made the magic in the first place. Galaxy’s Edge may have cost a billion dollars to build, but the behemoth it spawned proves to capture surprisingly little of the mind’s attention compared to the other lands in the greatest theme park in the world.

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January 2018



Luke Skywalker Never Changed

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Note: This article contains spoilers for The Last Jedi.

Luke Skywalker is not a great character. He whines all the time, whether it’s at his uncle for making him do chores, his teacher for making him do swamp cardio, or at his father for not being around when he was little. He is almost always the worst person on screen in Star Wars, constantly upstaged by Han, Leia, R2-D2, Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, Bib Fortuna, and the Jawas. He is by far the lamest major character in the original trilogy, beating runner-up C-3PO by a wide margin.

People are mad about the characterization of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, suggesting that his behavior was inconsistent with the earlier films. I don’t think so. Luke was a whiny little boy who grew up to be a crabby old man. What’s inconsistent with that?

Luke is a coward. He waited until everyone else had died before attempting a trench run on the first Death Star. He escaped Hoth through the back door, avoiding all the Star Destroyers that everyone else had to face. He ran away to his daddy instead of attacking the shield generator with Han and the Ewoks. It is no surprise that he refused to leave his Porg island to face Kylo Ren and decided to die rather than help his sister rebuild the Resistance, which had dwindled to a size that could fit comfortably on the Millenium Falcon. When disaster strikes, Luke has never wanted to be around.

The distinctions between Luke’s exile and those of Yoda and Obi-Wan further reveal Master Skywalker’s cowardly nature. The latter two Jedi exited stage left after becoming hopelessly outmatched against Palpatine, serving only as liabilities to those who would offer them sanctuary. Luke got upset after getting caught being paranoid about Kylo Ren and left, though presumably, the New Republic had enough firepower to deal with the budding Snoke situation, especially considering how weak a villain the Supreme Leader turned out to be. Obi-Wan returned to the fight when Leia called for him. Luke shrugged and went looking for nipple milk.

The entire plot of The Force Awakens is driven by a map to Skywalker, a man who doesn’t even want to help. What was the point of that movie? What does it really say about Luke’s character that he would allow people in the Resistance to die to protect a map all because he was too selfish to leave a forwarding address?

There is something to be said for the idea that Luke disconnected from the Force because he thought it had caused nothing but problems. He is essentially correct, though in this case abstinence would hardly be the best prevention as the Sith would still exist to reek havoc. Humanity has a lot of bad apples. We as a collective body keep going. The Force keeps going, even if Luke was too lazy to put in the effort to bring about real change. The Force cannot be bad simply because Luke does not care to be good.

The Last Jedi has its problems. The fuel shortage/slow speed chase plot is incredibly weak. Snoke is pathetic. The casino subplot was boring and unnecessary. None of these complaints have much to do with Luke Skywalker. His part was fine.

Luke had one job in The Last Jedi: to pass the baton. Luke is not the hero of Star Wars anymore. The idea of his character sticking around as a kind of mentor to Rey conflicts with his status in the franchise. As the “chosen one,” he can’t retire, not when Leia, Chewbacca, Nien Numb, and company are still in the fight. He shouldn’t be the center of attention, but it’s hard to successfully marginalize a character with abilities as strong as Luke’s in a narrative. He’d be a major whiny distraction in a franchise with no shortage of interesting new characters, even as the death of Carrie Fisher brings an unfortunate end to Leia’s arc.

Luke had a good send-off. He got to phone in a pretend battle and quietly fade away. Sure there are plenty of old fans who wished Luke could do backflips and hang upside down from ice shackles in a Wampa cave, but those days are over. There will be new adventures with new characters who don’t whine as much and certainly don’t need to go to Tosche Station to pick up power converters.

Star Wars is not about Luke Skywalker. It’s about the various predicaments that prevent C-3PO and R2-D2 from hanging out. Luke stayed consistent from his first appearance on Tatooine to his final pretend battle with Kylo Ren. His arc in The Last Jedi should be celebrated for bringing an end to a character whose immaturity has always been a detriment to the franchise. Yoda’s skepticism was well founded. Finally, we have cut our losses.

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December 2017



The Last Jedi Offers Aimless Entertainment

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Note: This review does not contain spoilers 

There’s one line in the film, “Let the past die,” that defines The Last Jedi’s internal struggle. One could look at that as a fairly ironic utterance considering The Force Awakens was essentially a remake of A New Hope and that Disney’s Star Wars seems quite poised to never die, but there is a sense of truth in this character’s statement. As the franchise tries to figure out its identity in a post-George Lucas world, Star Wars may look to its roots for narrative inspiration, but it isn’t quite sure what course to plot for its characters.

The Last Jedi does not have much of a plot. Without diving into too much detail, the main conflict between The Resistance and The First Order bears more resemblance to O.J. Simpson’s slow-speed car chase than the asteroid field that Han & friends had to navigate through in Empire Strikes Back. Rey’s visit to Luke’s island Dagobah fairs much better, but there’s still lingering questions as to what exactly happened to the world post-Yub Nub that is never really answered.

I initially faced pushback for being critical of The Force Awakens’ lack of plot explanation from people who suggested that the film already bore the unenviable task of “resetting” the franchise after the prequels, and couldn’t be bogged down with too much exposition. Supreme Leader Snoke can be added to the list of things that are literally never explained. The audience is never once told who this man is or how he came into power, and yet the film goes on as if viewers should be expected to fear a villain who serves as little more than a cardboard cutout version of Emperor Palpatine.

Darth Vader is one of the most menacing villains in cinematic history. While Emperor Palpatine’s Machiavellian mechanics were largely saved for the prequels, Return of the Jedi Palpatine had the luxury of existing in a Star Wars world where the Empire was the only “big bad” in town. The Last Jedi is the eighth movie in the main series and yet it doesn’t really have a single compelling villain. Kylo Ren is neither scary nor convincingly evil, Captain Phasma is the most useless character in the new trilogy, and Snoke is barely anything at all.

Part of the problem is that The Last Jedi has a lot of characters, but it never really seems all that concerned about doing anything with any of them. Original trilogy characters are used as little more than window dressings, which I’d be more okay with if this new trilogy had big plans for its new leads. Director Rian Johnson has commented publicly on how this is Rey’s hero story, not Luke’s, but this trilogy has never really been able to answer the question of what this story is supposed to be. The basic questions that some people don’t think need to be answered in The Force Awakens carry a lot more weight if this next film is the conclusion of this newer story. It seems very possible that this new incarnation of Star Wars could end before the audience was ever given a reason to care. We live in a world where big franchises are always playing for the next movie. The Last Jedi forgets to live in the present.

Audience members may identify more with the suave Han Solo or the powerful Leia Organa more than the whiny kid from Tatooine, but the original Star Wars trilogy belongs to Luke Skywalker. This new trilogy does not make Rey the focal point in quite the same way, but its reluctance to commit to its new heroes forces one to question how old icons like Luke and Leia were deployed to serve the film’s purpose. Carrie Fisher delivers an emotionally satisfying send-off in her final role, but Luke’s place in all of this is still treated in a fashion that “it’s not his story” never really satisfies. Some people waited thirty years to see this character on a screen again. Rian Johnson tosses this notion aside without fully considering how fans might react in the absence of an alternative nucleus.

As someone who grew up a Star Wars fanatic, who bought a Sega 32X just to play Star Wars Arcade and wrote poetry about Chewbacca not getting a medal after the Battle of Yavin, I’m increasingly okay with the fact that this Disney version of Star Wars isn’t ever going to be the thing fans spent decades speculating about. Rogue One served as the benchmark for how to enjoy a movie in a franchise I used to obsess about. I won’t be buying the expanded universe novels, or eulogizing them should Disney ever decide to retcon them again. These are movies. Sometimes, that’s enough.

Despite this fairly harsh assessment, I did enjoy The Last Jedi. I had fun sitting in a movie theatre for two and a half hours while some explosions happened and some people did some things, a low bar that Star Wars can’t help but hit. When Solo: A Star Wars Movie comes out, I’ll go and see it. I’ll write my review, if only to reflect on the time in my life when this franchise meant something to me. I’m not the person who needed every single incarnation of Han Solo action figure and Star Wars isn’t the franchise that spurs debate over the ethics of blowing up the second Death Star. The person in me who still puts Boba Fett in my mother’s terrarium can still enjoy the franchise that still has a place for R2-D2. I like that there are new Star Wars movies being told, even if I’ll spend my review point out the very legitimate issues. As C-3PO might say, wonderful!

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December 2016



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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December 2015



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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June 2014



Getting Rid of the Star Wars Expanded Universe Sort of Matters

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

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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