The Rise of Skywalker is a disappointing finish to the Star Wars saga

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (TROS), aka Episode IX, is a sci-fi action movie that’s the last film of the new Disney Star Wars trilogy, and ideally, it is meant to bring a satisfying conclusion to the “Skywalker Saga” that George Lucas created over 40 years ago.

Instead, it’s a movie that races at a blistering pace from the start, giving viewers no time to stop and reflect about what just happened. By the end of the film, you’re simply too exhausted to process everything. The visuals are great, and there are some decent moments in the film. This is the first film where the three major “good guys”: Rey, Poe, and Finn, spend a decent amount of time together. Despite the rumors of reshoots and multiple cuts of the film, it does manage to put together a semi-coherent, if not a very satisfying, story.

If you’re not a huge Star Wars fan and/or you just want an opportunity to shut your brain off for a couple of hours and watch a visual spectacle, then The Rise of Skywalker delivers. If, however, you really like Star Wars, or appreciate things like story and character, or if you’re not a fan of the previous Disney Star Wars films (especially The Last Jedi), The Rise of Skywalker is not going to take you to a happy place.

WARNING: THAT’S THE END OF THE NON-SPOILERY REVIEW.

What follows are my actual thoughts about The Rise of Skywalker, and I’m going to spoil the shit of it. If you HAVE NOT seen The Rise of Skywalker, TURN BACK NOW!!!

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!!

There’s a moment near the end of the film that if you blinked, you may have missed it. Two of the female characters in the film share a brief kiss. They’re not major characters at all. In fact, I couldn’t tell you who they were except that the one was an older woman who was one of Leia’s friends/co-workers in the Resistance. 

The Rise of Skywalker echoes the final season of Game of Thrones — the film is solely focused on moving you from plot point to plot point, and it doesn’t want to you think about whether it makes sense. Even when what’s happening in the scene is significant, and probably should pause and allow the audience to feel the weight of what’s going on, TROS doesn’t have time for that. Instead, TROS only slows down to introduce new characters, who are mostly there to assure the audience that Poe and Finn are red-blooded heterosexual men, and/or buy time for the bad guys to show up. 

After seeing The Rise of Skywalker, it’s clear that as much as Disney wanted to make the last three Star Wars films, they had no real plan as to what should be IN those films — other than not to use any of Lucas’ ideas. In fact, even though J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm deny it, it seems pretty clear that there were multiple cuts of this film, and the released version is just another spliced cut from prior versions. 

The net effect is that the movie feels rushed. There’s no time to explain about why this thing happened; just accept it and move on. Or, worse, things are brought up  in the film, then are simply never resolved. 

I would not be surprised, if, like Justice League, fans will eventually start demanding the release of the rumored “Iger cut” or the “Lucas cut”, hoping that a better version of the Rise of Skywalker existed at some point.

In some ways, The Rise of Skywalker, was kind of doomed from the start. After allowing Rian Johnson to have free reign with The Last Jedi, and the ultimately divisive reactions to that film, J.J. Abrams was left with a bit of bad situation. Abrams had to find a way to either a) just run with what he was given, or b) try to find a way to “undo” elements of The Last Jedi so he could tell a new story, and/or c) find a way to “redeem” the brand and bring back fans who did not enjoy either The Last Jedi or other Disney Star Wars films. Instead, he went with d) all of the above. 

Obviously, J.J. Abrams is not the guy you need if you need someone to devise a creative way out of the corner you’ve written yourself into. Sure, he can make films that are great visually, but he’s not much of an original writer. 

That said, there are elements in this film that, had they more time to be fleshed out (like say, over the course of a trilogy?), had potential. They do finally keep Rey, Poe and Finn together for a good part of the film, but there are no pauses to allow the them to really just “hang out” together, so nobody really develops any further from who they were in the first film. Rey now wants to be a Jedi, but what about Poe and Finn? Why is Chewie still around?

There’s an attempt to give Rey a story arc, to try make her less of a “Mary Sue” by having her have doubts and/or new powers that she’s not entirely in control of. However,  by the time you realize that Rey may have an actual character arc, she’s back to using powers she’s never had before. At one point she runs away, but instead of giving her a chance to express her feelings, she’s quickly given a pep talk and sent on her way. Also, her doubts/fears are never brought up when she’s facing Palpatine, who should have easily exploited such weaknesses. 

— Sigh —

Let me throw in a few things that I like about the film. 

The visual effects are top notch as always with these films — with one glaring exception. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are great given what little they had to work with. Ian McDiarmid clearly had fun with being Palpatine. Adam Driver is clearly the best actor of the group though, and I think if the films had focused more on his story than Rey’s, we might have had a much better series. The soundtrack was also pretty decent, but like the film itself, nothing memorable.

Okay, I’m just going to make a list of things I don’t like about the film:

1) The Return of Palpatine (dun dun DUNNNNNNN)

This happens in the opening crawl. By the way, Palpatine’s back. He’s broadcasting from somewhere and talking shit about a “Final Order” and making new threats. Supposedly, the good guys have some ridiculous time-table to stop him, like, 16 hours?, or something. It doesn’t matter; the time is just there to arbitrarily move things along, and the cast will constantly remind you.

Why is Palpatine back? HOW is Palpatine back? The film’s not going to tell you. 

Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (I know, right? I snickered when I saw this, too), though, doesn’t like the thought of someone challenging his “authoritah”, so he goes on the hunt for a thing – a Sith Wayfinder – that will show him the location of Palpatine. 

Kylo finds Palpatine in the unknown regions of space. Palpatine tells Kylo he’s been the voice in his head all these years; he’s been secretly running things the entire time. Palpatine says he made Snoke, and you think, oh, maybe this is figurative, until Kylo walks by a vat of fresh Snoke clones growing in a vat. Instead of killing Palpatine, Kylo decides to accept Palpatine as his new boss, since Palpatine’s got a fleet of ships that he refers to as his “Final Order”. In theory, the combined might of the First and Final Order will finish taking over the galaxy and establish a new Empire. 

But why? Isn’t the First Order basically in control at this point? The Resistance is mostly dead, so why hasn’t the First Order already established the “new” Empire? 

Anyway, Palpatine orders Kylo to go “kill the scavenger” (meaning Rey), so he goes on the hunt for Rey.

I get that since Snoke was killed in The Last Jedi, they needed a new bad guy. It was clear that Kylo was never going to be him, or at least, he was going to continue to be conflicted. But, they could have built something around that. They would have been better off introducing Darth Plagueis or some new evil entity. Simply recycling Palpatine feels lazy.

2) Rey’s Family

This was a major f**k you to Rian Johnson, but it’s also really disappointing. One of the few good aspects of The Last Jedi was setting up the idea that Rey could be this powerful while being nobody. Rey is not a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, or related to anyone from the other films. Even the last bit at the end, where the little boy appears to have Force-pulled a broom to his hand, fed into that idea that anyone could be a Jedi. 

Abrams plan? Nope. F— that, Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter. *sigh*

3) Palpatine’s Plan 

I’m not sure Palpatine even knows what his plan is in this movie. He wants to bring about a new Empire. He wants to kill the last Jedi (Rey). But, when Rey shows up, he decides, no wait, I want you to kill me. He says he’s been preparing a Sith ritual where if Rey kills him in anger, then his spirit and power would flow into Rey’s body. He’d effectively take over Rey’s body. Then, the film tries to spin this as the only way to save her friends is to complete the ritual (the scene basically echoes the same sequence between Luke and Palpatine in Return of the Jedi). Palpatine even opens up the roof to the Sith temple so he can shoot Force lightning at all of the Resistance ships and disable them (the Imper… I mean, Final Order ships, apparently had Force Lightning Plot Armor installed with their new Death Star guns). It’s meant to show Rey just how much peril her friends are in to pressure her into giving in (just like ROTJ)

Oh, yeah, the thousands of Final Order Star Destroyers all have Death Star guns on them. We don’t see this until an hour and a half into the film, and I’m almost shocked there wasn’t this brilliant bit of dialogue after the main characters learn about the guns: 

“They have Death Star guns!” 

“They have Death Star guns?”

“They have Death Star guns”

Why so many ships? The tech used in the Death Star was a HUGE deal. It was a bit of a shock that the Empire even had the resources to build a second one. Then, they built Starkiller Base, which was like Death Star 3.0, and had an even BIGGER Death Star weapon. Palpatine, though, for reasons, found a way to cram the power and tech of a Death Star into a Star Destroyer, and then made hundreds of them. Since there’s so many ships, and they all have this power, it negates the original impressiveness of what the Death Star could do in the original films.

If Palpatine announced a threat with a deadline, why isn’t he already moving his ships into position? Why are they all just sitting there waiting for the Rebels… er, Resistance to find them? 

So, first Palpatine wants Rey dead, then he doesn’t. Then, Kylo/Ben shows up to stand with Rey against him, and Palpatine suddenly realizes that Kylo and Rey are a “Force dyad” that hasn’t been seen in generations. Palpatine can use the dyad to rejuvenate himself, for reasons, so he proceeds to drain the life force out of Kylo and Rey. 

But, he doesn’t kill them.

Rey recovers, and so, Palpatine shoots Force lightning at her. She blocks with her lightsaber for awhile, then decides she needs two lightsabers. Two lightsabers, also for reasons, does the trick, and she’s able to reflect the lightning back at Palpatine. 

At this point, Palpatine should have said “ow” and stopped doing that. Instead, he keeps going and effectively kills himself. Someone on YouTube pointed out, this is the third time over the course of the Star Wars movies that Palpatine has been seriously injured or killed by his own Force lightning. You’d think he’d have learned at some point.

  • Force lightning: Good
  • Force lightning in your face: Bad

Strangely, despite the fact that Rey does kill Palpatine in the end, his life force/powers don’t take over Rey’s body, also for reasons. The entire final confrontation with Palpatine is pretty sloppy. 

Beyond that, this is f**ing Palpatine we’re talking about — the guy that was playing 10th dimensional chess around the other characters throughout the other films. Normally, we see that he’s many moves ahead of the other characters, but in TROS, he’s just making it up as he goes. 

 Then again, since Rey won, and technically, she’s a Palpatine, I guess that means — Palpatine won after all?

Also, bringing back Palpatine cheapens the end of Return of the Jedi, where Vader turns on his master and destroys him in order to save Luke. This is the most disappointing aspect of the film because it shows how little Disney cares about the original IP they invested in.

4) Rey is still a Mary Sue

Sure, they try to show her training, and failing, and she suddenly has doubts about her path, and she has a vision of “dark Rey” and all that. Again, because of the rush, there’s no weight to it. 

But, she killed Chewie, you say? Uh, no she didn’t – that was the first of many death fake-outs. Later, for reasons, she runs off to hide like Luke, but Luke appear, gives her a pep talk (with a bit of a blatant f**k you to Rian Johnson), then sends her on her way.

This time around, Rey has force healing. When she’s pissed, she can cast Force lightning. She was raised on a desert planet, but she’s able to sail a skiff on water during a storm with waves so high that even the natives wouldn’t willingly sail on it. She knows how to pilot First Order craft with no problems. She can fly an X-Wing with no training. She can Force “teleport” to send Kylo/Ben a lightsaber when the plot needs her to. When she beats up the new character, Zorii Bliss, she immediately likes and trusts Rey. 

It also doesn’t help that it feels like Daisy Ridley is phoning in her performance. It’s clear she wants to move on from Star Wars, but then again, based on recent interviews, so are the other major players.

5) The Death Fake-Outs

Ugh. The first time they try to pull this, it’s bad. Really bad. Everyone sees there’s only one shuttle that takes off from the desert planet, presumably with Chewie on board. Then, Rey accidentally blows it up. Again, there’s no dramatic pause here for effect. The characters briefly feel bad, then move on. Abrams then reveals to the audience – aHa! – It’s a trick. Hux tells General Pryde they have a prisoner, and shows us Chewbacca. When Pryde asks, didn’t the ship blow up, and Hux replies, oh, there was a second shuttle.

Riiiiggghhht.

There’s C-3PO’s dramatic sacrifice, which just felt wrong. None of the new characters really like Threepio, so really, they’re perfectly fine with wiping his memory in order to get the translation of the Sith dagger. The film lets Anthony Daniels have his dramatic exit, which was mostly spoiled in the trailer, or so you would think. By the end of the film, though, R2D2 mostly fixes him. 

Poe’s old flame, Zorii Bliss, lives on the planet that Palpatine destroys along with the little puppet droid hacker dude, so it looks like they got blasted to bits. Nope, they’re both fine and show up in time for the final fight.

Rey delivers a fatal blow in her latest fight with Kylo, but feels bad, and heals him. Later, Rey dies in the confrontation with Palpatine, which actually would have been an interesting ending. Nope, Abrams pulls a Star Trek: Into Darkness, and has Kylo/Ben crawl out of the pit Palpatine tossed him into so he can sacrifice himself and revive Rey. They kiss to please all of the Reylo fans, and Abrams can pretend that Kylo was redeemed. 

6) Kylo’s “redemption” 

Yes, Kylo has been shown throughout the new trilogy as struggling between the light and the dark sides of the Force. However, when he’s given a chance to show mercy, he doesn’t. He still kills millions of people. 

He’s ordered to kill Rey, but instead, he plots to turn her to the dark side, and together they’ll rule the galaxy, just like Vader wanted to do with Luke. 

But so did Vader, you say. True, Vader’s actions did not completely redeem him, but Kylo’s actions certainly don’t either. He did nothing in the final fight except finish off the Knights of Ren, and then, only with Rey’s help. He’s only there for the Reylo moment. 

And let’s be honest: why should Rey have the hots for Kylo? She saw him once with his shirt off? In the course of these films, he’s kidnapped her, tortured her, murdered her first father figure (Han), tried to kill her on at least two occasions (maybe more?), tried to use the Jedi mind trick to order her to bring Luke to him, and lured her to Snoke’s ship only to bring her before Snoke. In both TLJ and TROS, he’s only interested in turning her to the dark side in order to consolidate his power (before he turns to the light). 

To Reylo fans, though, this somehow makes Kylo a keeper. I don’t get it.

How about this idea? Rey sacrifices herself to give Kylo/Ben the chance to stop the Emperor, and he does, giving him some bit of redemption by stopping the immediate threat. Rey has died, and Kylo/Ben cradles her, then kisses her goodbye. 

Now, Ben has a chance to begin a true redemption arc where he dedicates the rest of his life striving to live up to to Rey, Leia, and Luke’s example by trying to do some good to make up for all of the bad things he’s done.

That alone could have been Episodes X-XII, or a new Disney+ series, although Ben living and Rey dying probably would enrage the Reylo fanbase even more.

7) Scavenger Hunt

Now, we’re on to the mystery box that Abrams loves to use in all of his films. Here, it’s a convoluted mess. First, they go to find an “ancient” Sith dagger that, for reasons, Lando AND Luke were unable to find. Then, they have to find someone to hack C-3PO in order to get him to translate the Sith runes on the dagger. 

The dagger sends them to Endor, where, you know, the second Death Star didn’t disintegrate but instead huge chunks of it crashed into the moon, and there are many sections that are mostly intact. If you happen to stand in the exact spot on the moon, and use a thingy on the dagger, it will show you the approximate location of Palpatine’s secret stash abroad the Death Star. 

All this is for one of two Wayfinders that have Palpatine’s location, which Kylo destroys just as Rey retrieves it. The only reason the Resistance is able to find the location is because Rey runs off with Kylo’s ship, which has the other Wayfinder. It’s that Wayfinder that Rey eventually uses to send the location of Exogol to the Resistance.

So, really, the entire scavenger hunt was kind of pointless. 

8) ReyLo, but no FinnPoe

The only two characters in these films that have any major chemistry together are Finn and Poe. Rey and Kylo have a bit of chemistry, I guess. But, the entire Rey/Kylo interaction doesn’t exactly represent a healthy relationship (see above).  It’s not Padme/Anakin levels of bad, though. However, if anyone in this film should have kissed at the end, it should have been Finn and Poe. 

It’s actually pretty funny how the movie goes out of its way to give both Poe and Finn love interests in this film. Finn actually spends much of the film being almost uncomfortably obsessed with Rey’s location at any given point, and yells “REEYYY!” a lot.

Hell, they wouldn’t have even needed to show them kissing. At the end of the film while everyone is celebrating, Poe gives his old flame, Zorii Bliss, this little look and head nod, silently asking “so, you wanna hook up?” Zorii shakes her helmet with an emphatic “no.” But, swap Zorii out with Finn, and Finn could just look at Poe for a long second, then shrug his shoulders, and nod, and the two of them walk off screen. Don’t show anything and leave the audience guessing. 

9) Lightspeed Skipping

It happens very early in the film, but it’s insane. The Falcon is now able to “lightspeed skip” — meaning, they make a quick jump to lightspeed, stop, then jump again, rinse, repeat. Again, never mind that this breaks all of the “rules” of lightspeed in the Star Wars universe. The worst part is that they’re being pursued by TIE fighters that are now a) capable of also flying at light speed, and b) capable of tracking them through light speed. Dumbest. Idea. Ever.

10) Leia’s Death

My biggest issue is that there’s no weight to this scene; it happens, and the film just moves on. Even Avengers: Endgame took a minute to pause once they learned of Black Widow’s sacrifice. 

I don’t mind that she used the last of her energy to reach out to Kylo/Ben, even if it just distracts him for a moment. It’s not clear if the vision of Han was Leia’s doing, and I’m sure there will be internet discussions about that. Kylo thinks it’s just a memory in his head. But it causes Kylo to switch back to the light? This is another big moment that should have been given more time/weight.

The only gut-wrenching bit in the entire film is Chewie’s reaction to Leia’s death, but nobody’s got time for that.

11) The Dagger

Part of the scavenger hunt that the gang is on is to go to a place to find a thing that will give them a clue to the location of the next thing, and they find an ancient Sith dagger. The dagger supposedly contains the location of the only other Wayfinder out there that can give them the location of Palpatine. 

So, “ancient” Sith dagger, right? They get the dagger translated, which takes them to Endor, where the second Death Star was not vaporized, but somehow massive parts crashed on the forest moon. The dagger has a thingy that, if you stand in just the right spot while looking at the Death Star wreckage (you know, something that happened 30ish years ago), you could see the exact location of the secret room where Palpatine stashed the other way finder. 

There’s more. The guy that had the dagger was sent to kidnap Palpatine’s son/daughter and his/her wife/husband and his granddaughter. The guy got the parents, but for some reason, didn’t get Rey, even though the film shows that they were all on Jakku. The guy uses the knife to kill the parents, and Rey eventually has a vision of all of this. 

Even if you ignore the “ancient” aspect of the dagger, why does the dagger exist at all? If the guy that owns it was on a mission for Palpatine, why not just give him directions on how to get back to the Unknown Region? If you don’t trust the guy, have him meet up with someone you did trust and have them fly back to you. What about all the ships what would need to deliver resources and/or personnel to build and man all of these new Star Destroyers?

Why does Star Wars need to have a Raiders of the Lost Ark moment, where you have to stand in a specific spot on land and pull the thingy out in order to see the location? Why not just put a tracker beacon on it? Or something? 

12) No Limits 

There are no limits in this film, and that alone kills much of the magic in Star Wars.

  • Kylo is able to Force teleport a necklace by grabbing it from her neck during one of their Force Skype conversations. Rey is able to send Kylo/Ben a lightsaber in a similar manner later in the film.
  • Rey is able to jump over Kylo’s TIE Interceptor, then use her lightsaber to cut through a wing and disable it. 
  • The ship crashes at full speed, rolling to an eventual stop in the desert, and Kylo walks out of the wreckage without a scratch.
  • Rey and Kylo can both Force pull a transport out of the sky. 
  • Palpatine can shoot out Force lightning that impacts thousands of Resistance ships, but no Final Order ships.
  • Palpatine has somehow built and manned a new fleet of thousands of ships, all of which have Death Star tech capable of destroying a planet. 
  • Rey is somehow, without training, able to block/absorb Palpatine’s Force lightning, then, with a second lightsaber, is able to deflect it back at Palpatine, which kills him. 
  • Palpatine is able to drain the life force from both Kylo/Ben and Rey, but not enough to kill them (for reasons). 
  • Rey is able to Force heal any wound, including a fatal lightsaber blow. 
  • Ben, now back in the “light”, can transfer his life force to resurrect Rey.
  • Force ghosts can interact with the physical world when the plot demands it. Luke appears and catches a lightsaber when Rey casts it into the TIE wreckage. He’s later able to pull a Yoda and raise his X-Wing out of the sea. Later, when it would make sense for the Force ghosts to appear and help Rey in her fight with Palpatine, they don’t. 

The Force powers are now so incredible, there are no real consequences to anyone’s actions. Even death doesn’t matter, because someone can bring you back, or, if you’re a Jedi, you can appear as a ghost and interact with the physical world.

13) Space Horses

*Sigh* Even though the Lando and everyone he brings with him have no trouble flying into and out of the space around Exogol, the Final Order ships need to be guided out via transmitters. Of course, there are only two: one on the ground, and one on the command ship. Why? Why can’t all of the FO ships just get the coordinates and go like everyone else?

Anyway, when the Resistance shows up, and the new General Pryde realizes they’re going for the ground tower, he turns it off and switches to the tower on his ship. So, General Finn, who is leading the ground assault, heads for the command ship, where he leads an attack with team of people riding “space horses” on the deck of a Star Destroyer. It’s not in space, but it is flying. None of the bad guys think to tilt the Star Destroyer over to one side and let the ground assault slide off. 

14) What did Finn want to tell Rey? Why does it matter?

It’s another example of how the film brings up something and never resolves. Early in the film, the gang is being sucked down into quicksand, possibly to their deaths, so Finn, thinking “this is it” — yells at Rey “there’s something I have to tell you” — 

But, they’re sucked down into the sand before he tells her. Of course, it turns out they’re all fine; they end up in some type of tunnel system underneath the sand. Then, Rey asks Finn what he wanted to say, and he’s like “Never mind. I’ll tell you later.” 

What? Hell, even Poe is curious, and asks Finn about it twice in the film. Finn never tells Poe or Rey what the big secret was. 

The obvious answer is that Finn has the hots for Rey, But, Abrams supposedly admitted later the secret was that Finn was “Force-sensitive.” In theory, Rey, being super powerful in the Force and all that, would likely would have known that. It’s never resolved, so why keep it in the film?

15) The Knights of Ren

Hey, look, we finally get to see the Knights of Ren. Cool, right? We’ll finally get to learn who they are and why they exist and all that, right? Nope. They chase the gang around the galaxy and generally arrive too late to be effective, and then they serve as a brief obstacle for Kylo/Ben to fight through near the end of the film. 

16) Lack of Rose Tico

There are a lot of people pissed about this, but I’m actually glad Rose Tico’s role was reduced in this film. I actually thought they could cut her entirely and it would have been fine. 

It’s not that Rose Tico is a bad character. She started off being kind of interesting. I didn’t even mind the social justice perspective she had, even though it made little sense in the middle of a Star Wars movie (especially since all of that had zero impact on the plot). I despised how they used her at the end, and the cheesy line she had with Finn after stopping him from sacrificing himself. That’s not the fault of the character or even the actress; that’s just bad writing. 

She’s only in The Rise of Skywalker at all for fan-service, and she adds nothing to the story. Either give her something to do that’s relevant to the story, or don’t put her in the film. 

17) Finn’s Force Sensitivity

It’s not that I mind that Finn is Force sensitive, but it just feels like fan service at the point it finally comes up. Of course, it’s also weird that Finn has spent a LOT of time around some  really powerful Force users that never detected it. Leia sensed who Rey was, but didn’t know shit about Finn? Come on.

18) The Rise of “Skywalker” 

As soon as I heard the title of the movie, I suspected that Rey was going to take on the Skywalker name in some way, shape or form. 

This was really just another fan service moment. Going back to Tatooine, having Rey say the name, and looking off into the twin suns’ sunset. I just don’t feel ike it’s particularly earned. I know they were going for the “ooh, look, see how we tied it back to the original film” moment, but it was still strange. Luke hated living there, and Leia had zero ties to it. 

And why Skywalker? Of the two, Rey was much closer Leia than Luke, so why not take the name Solo, or Organa? 

19) Chewie Gets a Medal

Why was this so important? 

Is that enough? I’m sure I could think of more if I have more time. I just don’t want to though. 

I had already watched a number of spoiler videos before going to see the film, so none of this was really surprising — outside of the fact that many of the spoiler sites got so much right. Most of my viewing experience was shaking my head in disbelief.

Looking back, I actually liked some of the new stuff in The Last Jedi after seeing it the first couple of times. It was interesting because someone did what I wanted: they tried to do something new with Star Wars. 

Rewatching it later, though, made it less endearing. Luke’s arc was probably the best arc, and it was clear that was the direction they were heading in from the Force Awakens. With Luke in hiding, it really meant only two things: 1) He’d been exploring the dark side and/or had grown powerful enough that he didn’t trust himself with the power and secluded himself to protect everyone else or 2) He’d failed at something, and the guilt of that failure consumed him. 

Once we learn that Kylo Ren is Ben Solo, it was pretty clear that when we saw Luke, chances are they were going to present him as a broken man. And, in TLJ, they did exactly that, but then, they gave Luke a bit of a chance to redeem himself. 

I didn’t mind bringing up the ideas of the side-effects of war, how people are suffering and others are profiting from war without being directly involved in the conflict. However, none of that had any direct connections to the overall story of the film. Both ideas would make more sense being explored in a TV series, where they have more time to build up some stories around those ideas, and even have the protagonists do something to help. 

The most tear-inducing scene to watch in these three films was Luke’s scene with Leia in The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson had the sense to pause everything and let the audience focus on these two characters for a few minutes. It wasn’t just Luke saying goodbye to his sister; it was Mark Hamill saying goodbye to Carrie Fisher. 

But, after one viewing of the Rise of Skywalker, I don’t feel anything. Or, I guess I do feel something, since I’m about 6,000 words into a blog post about what I didn’t like about the newest film.  I didn’t shed a tear for Rey’s near death, or Ben’s actual death, or any of the “deaths.” Even Leia’s death didn’t really affect me, and that was disappointing. 

 At the end of three films, I never learned anything more about the new characters to make me like or hate them any more than I did at the beginning. Sure, Kylo stopped being an emo asshole. Finn had the most complete arc in The Last Jedi, and sacrificing himself would have been a great way to complete his arc. But, they robbed him of that, and then, did nothing with him afterward.

It’s clear Disney (or at least Kathleen Kennedy) doesn’t care about the IP they bought from Lucas, which is the most disappointing aspect of all of this. 

At the time of the acquisition, Kathleen Kennedy declared that most of the novels, comic books, and other material created outside of the movies would now be separate from the Star Wars canon — the “Extended Universe.” Only the films, the existing cartoons, and any new novels and films would be considered canon. The reason, she said, was she wanted new creators to have the freedom to explore new ideas with Star Wars without being constrained by all of the material that came before them. 

For the new Star Wars trilogy, they only kind of explored new ideas in a single film. Instead of following Marvel’s example and finding people who knew the material and appreciated/loved the existing lore, they just hired a “big name” director who had zero interest in Star Wars. Instead of exploring new ideas, he mostly just re-hashed material from the original films. There were other directors attached to some of these projects, but when it was clear they were not following the “Disney plan” — whatever that was, they were dismissed. 

I don’t even buy into the age-old argument that these films were meant for 8-10-year-olds. I’ve seen most of the Clone Wars and Rebels tv shows, and both of those shows had episodes that contained more “adult” material, and still told a better story in a 23-24 minute episode than the Rise of Skywalker did in almost 2 1/2 hours.

I know that the Star Wars films, despite their groundbreaking elements, are not the best narrative stories ever put to film, and even they didn’t plan everything out between films. 

But, since 2008, we’ve been living in a world where super heroes are living on both the big and small screen. There are fantasy and science-fiction shows out there that have captured the minds of millions of fans. Look at the success of Game of Thrones (except for season 8). 

Sure, many of these shows are not for kids, but my point is, we’re at kind of a renaissance when it comes to fantasy and science fiction in film and television, and as such, we as an audience now expect more from these shows. 

I was excited when Disney announced they were going to finally make episodes 7, 8 and 9 and complete the Star Wars saga. When they announced they were bringing back the original cast, I hoped that the original cast was simply there to kind of hand things off to a new set of characters. The original cast would make cameos, but everything else would be a new story with new characters for us to learn to love as much as we loved the originals.

Sure, Disney did introduce new characters, and some had interesting back stories, but they never delivered on bringing something completely new to the table. Both Clone Wars and Rebels, where the show runners there did know and care about the Star Wars lore, did deliver on creating new and interesting stories. They even succeeded in creating a new strong, female character: Ahsoka Tano, who has become a favorite for fans of the tv shows. 

But, the newest trilogy and the new characters just didn’t have the same resonance as the original cast. So, we’ve arrived at the end of the Skywalker Saga that could have had an amazing and satisfying ending, but instead has ended in disappointment. 

So, after all of that, how would I rank the films? 

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. Return of the Jedi
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. The Last Jedi
  7. The Rise of Skywalker
  8. Attack of the Clones
  9. The Phantom Menace

If you want to add Rogue One and, *sigh*, I guess, Solo, then the list would be:

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. Return of the Jedi
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. Rogue One
  7. The Last Jedi
  8. The Rise of Skywalker
  9. Attack of the Clones
  10. Solo
  11. The Phantom Menace

The only glimmer of hope I have for Star Wars and Lucasfilm comes in form of the Mandalorian. It’s the first live-action Star Wars television series, and so far, the press has been pretty good. I haven’t watched it yet; the rumors about the Rise of Skywalker made me super-hesitant to watch anything else. Maybe I’ll be disappointed about it, too. 

However, the Mandalorian was created by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, both of whom have some great backgrounds with franchises. After all, Favreau’s Iron Man kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe, and Filoni has been behind both the Clone Wars and Rebels tv series.

Maybe, just maybe, Disney have learned their lesson with the films, and, while they take a break from creating new films, take the time to find creators like Favreau and Filoni who can both build something new with Star Wars while still respecting the canon. 

Imagine if Disney/Lucasfilm could find the equivalent of the Russo brothers who could do for Star Wars what those two did with the Marvel films. Those would be Star Wars films worth seeing!

Until then, though, it’s probably for the best that Star Wars takes a break.

Daybreak Review

Have you ever wanted a Zombie apocalypse show more in the vein of comedy-horror like Zombieland instead of The Walking Dead?

Have you ever wanted to throw in a whole bunch of teenage angst into said zombie show?

If so, then Netflix’s Daybreak might be for you. 

At some point in the near future, some world leader or leaders decide it was time to start a war, possibly via Tweet, and they nuke California (and presumably, other places). The “nukes” were destructive, but somehow only killed off most of the adult population. The rest roam the streets as “Ghoulies” – basically zombies that mindlessly repeat the last sentence they said before dying. For example, the characters encounter one Ghoulie who was thinking about “10% off yoga pants.” But, basically, the only people who survived the bombs more or less intact are all of the teenagers. 

Oh, and no guns, because California, I guess? And, pets, have mutated. The only real example they show is a pug that has mutated to maybe 10 times his normal size.

Josh, an admitted “C-level” student who moved to Glendale from Canada, has found that he may have been a bit of loner and bullied and had no friends in high school, but he kicks ass in this new post-apocalyptic world. Like Zombieland, Josh and other characters constantly break the fourth wall and converse with the viewer. Like Zombieland, Josh has a list of “rules” for surviving in this new world.

It’s been six months since the attack, and instead of uniting together, the teens have carved out territories that match the same cliques they had in school. The Jocks have taken over the high school campus, and have built a “Mad Max” inspired gang lead by the school’s best football player. The 4-H’ers are off in another part of the city. The cheerleaders have declared themselves “Cheermazons” and took over the country club. One social outcast had the foresight to take over the local mall. There’s also a mysterious boogeyman called Baron Triumph that rides a Triumph, captures kids and eats them.

Josh, though, continues to run around on his own, but he has a mission. The girl he likes, Sam, apparently left him a Post-It Note at his apartment shortly after the attack, and his mission is to find her and save her. Early on, the show is pretty vague about whether or not this is a mutual relationship.

Josh eventually does make a couple of friends. One is Angelica, a 10-year-old super-genius who is a sociopath that Josh used to babysit. The other is Wesley, a black jock who previously bullied Josh, but who left the Bro Jocks and has now declared himself a Ronin on a mission of redemption for his past mistakes. Wesley was inspired by watching “kung-fu” movies, but constantly references Japanese concepts. 

The first couple of episodes mostly establish the world, and most of the other episodes flesh out the back stories of the various characters. There’s definitely plenty of teen drama, but the show doesn’t take itself that seriously. The only “new” aspect I can say about the drama is that Josh is written with the basic premise that all white teenage boys, even the “nice” ones, are jerks. Seriously, the character feels like he’s been pulled out of an 80’s John Hughes movie dropped into a modern teenage drama, like 13 Reasons Why. It really stands out when all of the other major characters feel more “modern” than Josh, especially with regards to his relationship with Sam.

For some extra meta, Matthew Broderick appears as the boring old school principal in flashbacks, which should be amusing for Ferris Bueller fans. He probably has his best moment in episode four, where, in a flashback, he deals with parents and a kid who want to buy his way into better grades in order to maintain his football eligibility. Broderick plays the character so straight it’s hard to tell if he’s enjoying the role.

Overall, though, as long as you can set aside your suspension of disbelief (and the show will stretch it — like when the nuke goes off within visible range of the homecoming game, and everyone just ducks and covers to protect themselves from the blast winds), it is overall pretty entertaining. It has more than enough funny moments to offset the cringe-worthy ones, there are a few decent twists in the overall story, and you may only find yourself yelling at the TV a few times (mostly at Josh). 

The show also leaves itself wide open for a second season, provided Netflix gives them one.

While it doesn’t break any new ground, Daybreak is an uncomplicated comedy-horror show that’s worthy of a weekend of binge-watching. To me, after watching some of the more recent and more serious teenage dramas (13 Reasons Why, Euphoria), that’s not such a bad thing. 

Captain Marvel: Good, but Not Great

For the last ten years, Marvel Studios has done an amazing job creating a cinematic universe using “second-tier” heroes from their comic books. They’ve also done a pretty uncanny job of casting the right people as the heroes. Today, who could imagine someone besides Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man or Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America (and so on).

Although Captain Marvel is a good, decently paced, and entertaining latest entry in the MCU catalogue, it’s just misses the mark of being one of the great films. It’s like the Tony Romo of the MCU films: Good movie, great numbers ($900 million at the box office so far), but is just missing that extra something special to push it over the top.

The first part of the movie is a bit boring. Starforce member Vers (Danvers/Capt Marvel) suffers from amnesia and is haunted by nightmares. She has been a part of Starforce for the last six years and has no memories before that. She has issues maintaining control of her emotions, and is urged by her mentor and commander as well as the Kree leader she must learn to control them.

On a mission to recover a spy, Vers is captured by the Skrulls, an alien race of shapeshifters who the Kree have been at war with, and is subjected to a memory probe. Strangely, although Vers has amnesia, there’s nothing that prevents the Skrulls from scrolling through her memories with a high-tech TiVo. The Skrulls are looking for a specific Kree agent, and as luck would have it, Vers memories lead them to her. Vers escapes, but destroys the Skrulls ship, so both she and the Skrulls crash land on Earth in 1995.

Once on Earth, Vers runs into a young Nick Fury and SHIELD, and hilarity ensues as they try to track down the Kree agent on Earth before the Skrulls do.

The amnesia angle is a bit of a problem, because it seems like the writers have given little for Brie Larson to run with outside of being a stoic warrior. Once she has a chance to interact with her co-stars, she’s much better, and in some cases, her co-stars really outshine her. Larson does fine with what she’s given, though. She may be the right choice for Carol Danvers/Capt Marvel, but we’ll have to wait to see her in Avengers: Endgame to see if Larson has more to work with.

At just over two hours, the movie feels pretty well paced. As with any Marvel movie, you probably don’t want to overthink the plot too much (like a nit picky thing for me is: where is her Kree uniform? Danvers wears normal clothes during a large part of her time on Earth, but there’s no sign of her Kree outfit or some type of Kree fanny-pack that she’s wearing. Sure it’s something they could have explained in a few seconds, but they didn’t) . The 90’s references are fun, and ensures the film has a pretty great soundtrack. The movie does a decent job of introducing the Kree/Skrull conflict and throws in a few MCU connections.

The creators try to give Capt. Marvel a big “hero” moment late in the film. A lot of the elements are there, like flashbacks of Danvers struggling in moments in her past. But, there’s no real context around the flashbacks, and the stakes aren’t really established, so when she overcomes the challenge, it lacks the emotional connection they were shooting for. You can see what they were trying to do, and I think, with a few changes, they could have gotten pretty close.

Spider-Man: Homecoming borrows a scene like this directly from the comics, and they do a much better job of making the “hero” moment work.

The weakest part of the movie comes near the end. Once Capt. Marvel “unlocks” her powers, she masters complete control of her nearly apparently near-unlimited power within about 10 minutes of screen time. Up until that point, we’ve only ever seen Marvel shoot fusion blasts from her hands. The audience has no idea that she can do the other things or was even trained to do anything else with her powers.

I have no problem with Captain Marvel being ultra-powerful, but for me it’s a case of lazy writing. At least show the audience some glimpse of her doing something else with her powers beforehand.

Hopefully, by Endgame, Carol Danvers/Capt. Marvel will have her memories back and can bring more of a human element to her powers, so she doesn’t end up feeling like the Superman of the MCU. I really don’t want to see Capt. Marvel become this emotionless god-like character like DC has done with Superman in the DCCU/Snyder-verse.

The most touching moment of the film? For me, it was the opening credits. Normally, Marvel movies open with an animated logo sequence. As the 3D logo falls into place, we see animations of comic panels inside the logo related to the hero in the movie. For their 10th anniversary logo, the logo changed to splice in video clips of the heroes from the entire MCU. This year, in honor of Stan Lee (who passed away last November), the logo shows clips of all of Lee’s cameos from the MCU movies (I’m assuming only MCU, but I guess they could have clips from the older movies). At the end of the animation, the logo fades to black before displaying a single, simple message: “Thank you, Stan”.

I’ll be honest. I sorta had high hopes for this film. With this being the first major Marvel movie starring a female super hero, and Marvel knocking it out of the park in their most of their most recent films, I really hoped they would do something special with Captain Marvel.

Instead, it feels more like a standard MCU-paint-by-numbers origin story, and while the movie is good, it just misses that something extra to make it memorable.

It’ll be interesting to see if Captain Marvel becomes a part of one of the other teams (Avengers, Guardians), or if they’ll keep her solo and have a Captain Marvel sequel. Based on the box office numbers, a sequel seems like a pretty sure bet. But with the Disney/Marvel acquisition of 20th Century Fox (and the rights to Marvel’s top-tier heroes), it’s too early to guess if Marvel will re-think “phase four” of their plans for the MCU.

Thoughts on the Last Jedi

With the holidays, it’s taken me a while to get this down. To date, I’ve still only seen The Last Jedi once, so this is still based on my first take of the film. Maybe I’ll post an update after a couple of more viewings. 

First, the non-spoilers review:

Unlike The Force Awakens (TFA), Lucasfilm creators appear to have given director Rian Johnson much more creative control over The Last Jedi (TLJ), and in a lot of ways, The Last Jedi is what The Force Awakens should have been: a fresh take on the Star Wars franchise without George Lucas at the helm.

The Last Jedi isn’t without its flaws, but overall, with the exception of the lag about midway through the film and maybe just a tad too many attempts at humor, Rian Johnson delivers on giving us a fresh take on the Star Wars universe that’s both visually stunning and entertaining. 

After reading some of the complaints on the internet, I suspect The Last Jedi will become one of the most polarizing films among fans, who seem to be equally divided between loving it and hating it. I don’t think there’s one right answer, and it’s impossible to look at the new movies with the same childlike wonder that I watched the original trilogy (which naturally biases me towards those three movies).

I watched The Force Awakens last weekend, and I despise it more than I did before, mainly because of the complete rehash of A New Hope (the original Star Wars). I’d rank it just above the prequels. I’d probably place The Last Jedi just behind the original trilogy. 

!!!END OF SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

If you’re reading this far you’ve been warned. Spoilers will be rampant in 3…2…1…

TURN BACK IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST JEDI!!!

SPOILERS BEGIN NOW!!!

There’s plenty to like about The Last Jedi. Here’s a decent list of things that I enjoyed:

  • I like that they tried to give the three major characters story arcs, even if the arcs were not complete hits. 
  • I loved some of the humor – The “do you feel it now” scene with Rey and Luke still cracks me up just thinking about it. 
  • I like that the ending illustrated that “spark of hope” for the rebellion even though they’re at their lowest point by the end of the film.
  • Mark Hamill was amazing and did an enormous job of portraying Luke’s guilt and hesitation in training Rey
  • I loved the fight between Luke and Rey
  • I loved the appearance of Yoda
  • I actually like that the story didn’t follow the conventional Star Wars formula
  • I liked the new twists on Force abilities and the connection between Rey and Kylo
  • I liked that despite everything the rivalry between Kylo and Hux is ongoing, which could have major repercussions for the First Order
  • Despite the twist, I actually really enjoyed the final conflict between Luke and Kylo.
  • The “chase” sequence – Although the set up was kind of dumb, I liked where they were going with it. 
    • My take on this whole thing is that, yes, the First Order could have guessed where the ships were heading and radioed ahead to have other ships fly in to intercept the Rebel ships. But, I think the idea was Hux is a major asshole, and, knowing the Rebels were out of options, wanted to simply drag things out. He’s like a cat playing with its prey. 
  • The reunion scene with Luke and Leia. It was hard not to tear up, especially with the meta of Carrie Fisher’s death and knowing that she and Mark Hamill treated each other like brother and sister in real life.

As I’ve said, the movie is not without its flaws. Here’s my list:

I loved some of the humor, but in other places, it felt forced or awkward. Unlike Thor: Ragnarok, I think maybe they strayed a bit too far down the humor trail in TLJ.

Porgs. Meh. I just want a picture of Chewie with that one on the skewer with the caption: Porg: It’s What’s for Dinner.

The “Epic” Chase

I think this could have been set up better. I don’t think they explained why there wasn’t a tracker on one of the resistance ships. The set up was the First Order has tech that can track ships through hyperspace. The first response in the Star Wars universe should have been: Oh, they’ve got a tracker on one of the ships. Instead the characters quickly jump into a convoluted plot to “hack” the main First Order’s ship’s shields into order to slip on board and disable the tracker from that ship. 

The “tracker” story could have been interesting in its own right. If they found a tracker, then there could be a mole on one of the ships. That could have fed into Poe’s distrust of Holdo, eventually suspecting that she may be the mole.

Plus, no one on the First Order ships asks the obvious question: Why not bring in other ships to intercept the fleeing Resistance ships and shoot them all down in a crossfire. The answer, I think, is that Hux is a major asshole, and being such, opts to simply slowly continue the slow pursuit. He knows full well that the Resistance ships can’t run forever, so he wants to make his final victory last. 

A simple conversation between Hux and a junior officer could have made that clear. 

The awkward setup sticks out because this is basically the end of Act I, and the chase  is what triggers everyone else’s actions from this point, from Holdo’s secret plan to Poe/Finn/Rose’s ridiculous plan. 

The “WTF” Moment

This is the moment that made no sense to me, and it sucks because I don’t see an easy way to fix it. The hacker DJ sells out not only Finn and Rose but the Resistance as well by telling the First Order the good guys have cloaked? transports. Holdo was keeping this info on a need to know basis. She didn’t tell Poe, which drives Poe’s arc, and it drives the need for Finn/Rose to go off on their adventure. If Finn/Rose don’t know about this plan, how the hell does DJ know?

Again, it’s a problem because it sets everything up for the third act. It’s just sloppy storytelling. 

Leia Innnn Spaaaace 

For me, I really agonized about this. My first thought when this started to play out was “Oh come on!” On the one hand, I thought it was over the top, but on the other hand, I really liked seeing Leia, at the moment of nearly dying, finally connecting with the Force and saving herself. I didn’t want to see Leia go out that way, so I’m going to let it pass.

Canto Bight 

It bites. Really. I liked some of the ideas Rian Johnson introduced here, that there are people who are profiting from the war and there are people/creatures suffering because of it. It feels too much though like “let’s give Finn & Rose something to do.” It bogs down the movie and really messes with the story timeline as well. The resistance ships have mere hours before they run out of fuel, but it’s fine that Finn/Rose go off on their marry adventure. Since this introduces DJ, but Finn and Rose ultimately fail to stop the First Order, this entire arc feels out of place. 

Luke’s Bad Decision

A lot of fans are upset about Luke deciding, if only briefly, that he’s lost Ben to Snoke, and he should kill Ben while he has the chance. I agree with argument that the “Luke we knew” probably wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t give up on Ben. 

But – the “Luke we knew” was from Return of the Jedi. At the point this happens in TLJ, we’re watching a Luke Skywalker 20 plus years after ROTJ. We don’t know what’s happened to him in that time. Luke having doubts about losing influence over Ben and ultimately being betrayed by him is the beginning of the end for Luke. 

It’s that moment that consumes Luke with fear and doubt and guilt that drives him away from everyone he loves and places him in isolation on Ach-To. 

It’s a hard moment to see. To me, it’s much like finding Han basically running from Leia and going back to smuggling in TFA.

These characters were our heroes in the original trilogy, and it’s hard to see them 30 years later to find out that they’re human after all. 

At the same time though, these movies are also about passing the torch to a new generation of characters that have will bring with them a new legion of fans to the Star Wars universe. 

I hope, though, that Lucasfilm allows someone to publish a novel or two that further explores the adventures of Luke and Ben/Kylo and their relationship, including Ben’s eventual betrayal.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Knights of Ren were a no-show.

Luke’s Last Stand

I have to see the movie again, but I don’t know if they really explained why Luke’s projection was a one-time deal. I read somewhere that Kylo says something about this, but I missed it. Outside of that, I fully expect to see a Luke ghost both helping Rey and (hopefully) taunting Kylo.

Poe’s Arc

I really liked Poe’s arc for the most part. I didn’t mind that he’s left out in the cold by Holdo. I wished there was a moment of reckoning after the mutiny between Poe and Leia. I liked that he’s learning in the battle of Krait that maybe there’s a time to back off and not sacrifice forces. The problem, though, is at this point of the movie, there is no Plan B. This is a “last stand” moment, and Poe should have been all for helping Finn sacrifice himself in order to help buy them time.

Finn’s Arc

Again, Finn had a pretty decent story arc, but it felt cheated at the end because Rose kept him from making a heroic sacrifice. I would have liked to see him eject at the last second or something where he’s able to survive but still succeed in destroying the weapon. Let’s say the ship hits the weapon but doesn’t destroy it; at least it still completes Finn’s arc and it adds to his own mythology. 

Rey’s Arc 

I’m more bummed that we didn’t see Rey get more training than I am about her parents. Sure, Kylo could be lying, but I don’t think any of the other “theories” would have been better. If she’s Luke’s daughter, then we turn Luke into a deadbeat dad. Same with her being a Solo. Making her related to Obi Wan or Palpatine would only be interesting because it ties her to characters in the other movies. 

Hey, at least they skipped the “immaculate conception” this time. Making her parents irrelevant opens up the idea that anyone could be Force sensitive and evolve into a Jedi or Sith (or something else). I’m okay with that. 

Rey, though, has had less training than Luke did, and that may or may not be a bad thing. She may? have the Jedi Order books, but I think the main point is that because she’s not completely indoctrinated in either the Sith or the Jedi, Rey may ultimately become something else – a person truly balanced between the light and the dark.

Not Enough Snoke

Alas, poor Snoke, we hardly knew ye.

Maybe this will be covered in a novel, but it’s a shame that for all his power, Snoke doesn’t get enough screen time, so his eventual death feels a bit meaningless. The final confrontation between Rey, Kylo and Snoke kind of echoes Return of the Jedi, but it feels off. By the time the scene happens in ROTJ, Luke has faced Vader once, and he’s come to terms with the fact that Vader is his father. The stakes are much higher there because of the connection between Luke and Vader. The Emperor still wants to turn Luke, and catching his friends in a trap with the new Death Star, he hopes to push Luke to the dark side. 

In TLJ, Rey senses Kylo’s conflict, and like Luke with Vader, hopes to lure him back into the light. We know Snoke wants to kill Luke, but it’s never clear why. He also doesn’t seem to be as interested in converting Rey, who, with little training, should be susceptible to Snoke’s influence, just as Ben was. 

Snoke has also created a trap, but he seems to be singularly focused on killing Skywalker. Although the twist here is great, Snoke’s death doesn’t have the same impact as the Emperor’s.

I can’t place my finger on it. Maybe seeing it again will help. I like the overall sequence of events here, but it seemed to lack the same emotional impact as ROTJ.

Too Many Woman

Ugh, the dumbest thing I’ve seen in the last week or so is the political “far right” having fits about too many women in positions of power in TLJ. I honestly thought it was great to see more than one strong female character in these movies, and I think the “far right” can just crawl back under their rocks. 

Moving On 

We will always have the original trilogy of movies, and the memories of seeing those and playing with the toys and reading all of the theories about how Vader could be Luke’s father will not simply disappear because we may or may not like the direction the new films are going in. 

Note, that does NOT include the prequels, which were bad on so many levels. They didn’t destroy my childhood, but I don’t have to bother to watch them, either.

While it has its flaws, I have to give props to Rian Johnson and the Lucasfilm folks for taking chances with The Last Jedi. They’ve opened up some new ideas about what it means to be a Force-wielder (either Jedi or Sith), and they’re trying to take the world of Star Wars into new directions. The Skywalker saga is ending, but the Star Wars universe will be stronger than ever.

I only wish they had started this with The Force Awakens, because there’s so much crammed into The Last Jedi, I almost wish they had made two movies (or had simply introduced some of these things in TFA). 

My biggest worry at this point is whether or not JJ Abrams will be open to the direction that TLJ has gone, or will he backtrack and turn Episode IX into a re-hash of Return of the Jedi. 

The Martian

TLDR: Go see it! Then, go buy the book, and read it!

I’ve seen a couple of reviews compare the Martian to Cast Away, and although the premise may be similar, the comparison doesn’t really do the story justice.

Based on Andy Weir’s first novel, the movie tells the story of Mark Watney. Watney is part of a series of manned missions to Mars called Ares, but when a massive storm forces the team of astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet, Watney is struck by debris and tossed out of sight of the others. The electronics in his suit fail, making the others assume the worst. Because of the risk to their own lives, they have no other choice but to leave Mars, assuming that Watney died on the surface.

Only, (spoilers!), he didn’t die. Watney survived, but now he’s the only man on Mars, with no communications, 50 million miles away from Earth, and the next manned mission to the planet won’t arrive for another four years.

The movie is both a story of survival as Watney tries to solve the problems he’s facing on the desolate Martian landscape as well as the drama faced by both NASA and the other members of the Ares crew learn that Watney is alive and was left behind on Mars and struggle to find a way to rescue him.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney, and he does an amazing job in portraying both the humor and the emotional roller coaster Watney experiences as he fights to endure on Mars. The film balances everything well between both Mars and Earth, so viewers aren’t simply watching one man struggle to survive. They do a great job of handling the problem-solving scenes, setting up the problem, then watching as Watney or Watney and NASA work through the task at hand.

The cinematography of the vast, wide shots of the Martian landscape are gorgeous even though they serve to remind us of just how isolated Watney is.

Despite the smooth pacing of most of the movie, the film feels a bit rushed towards the end – as if someone was trying to keep the film from stretching out for three hours (which it may have if they didn’t speed things up). A couple of tense scenes from the end of the book are lost here, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story. As it is, the film clocks in at 2:14.

My only quibbles about the film are that the film ignores the fact that in the book Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. I always felt his expertise in both disciplines helped the character to survive. The film also leaves out some of the best lines from the book (which is why you should really read the book, too)

The movie is a very tense but enjoyable experience. Be forewarned, if you’re someone who gets emotional watching films, you may want to bring some tissues.

Paper Towns – An Angsty Teen Story Reminiscent of John Hughes

Somehow, I’ve learned well after the fact, I’ve managed to pick up a couple of audiobooks that are considered “teenage” books. I haven’t written a review yet about the other one (Among Others), but this one, Paper Towns, was pretty good.

If you’re a child of the 80s, you’ll fondly (or maybe not so much) remember the teen movies by John Hughes: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful. All of these movies revolved around high school and dealt with the various stereotypes and cliques in school and breaking outside those circles.

John Green’s Paper Towns reminds me of those movies. It’s a quick and entertaining read that captures the same teenage angst that those movies did even though the subject matter of a runaway teen may be a bit darker than those movies ever were. 

The story opens by introducing us to two childhood friends: Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman. They live across the street from another in Orlando and spent a lot of time together. At nine, they go to the park and stumble across the corpse of a man who has committed suicide. We see how the discovery affects both characters: Quentin is freaked out; Margo is fascinated by it. She becomes something of a young detective and learns more about the person, which she then shares with “Q” later.

The story jumps ahead to their senior year of high school, just weeks away from prom and graduation. Quentin and Margo have had little to do with one another over the years. Quentin ends up with more of the nerdy band geek crowd, while Margo has become popular. She’s more than just popular by the “in” crowd. Everyone has heard of or encountered her, and Margo Roth Spiegelman has become almost a legendary persona. 

One night Margo suddenly shows up at his window. She needs a partner-in-crime to assist her as she goes on a one-night spree of nasty pranks to get back at her so-called friends and her now ex-boyfriend, who Margo had just learned was cheating on her with one of her best friends. 

Quentin hesitates, but he goes along anyway. The all-night adventure re-ignites their friendship as well as Quentin’s crush on Margo. 

Exhausted, Quentin goes to school the next day and suffers through it, hoping that Margo will be there and hopeful that everything between them has changed. Margo doesn’t show up for school. 

He eventually learns that Margo has run away. It’s not the first time that she’s done it, though. Margo always leaves clues to her family about where she has gone, and she always returns a few days later.

This time, however, Margo doesn’t come back. After a few days, her parents file a report, and Quentin has to face questions from both Margo’s parents and the police. 

As the police look through her room, they pull down Margo’s window shade. Quentin discovers that Margo has put a Woodie Guthrie poster on the back of her shade, facing his window. Quentin believes this is a clue she has intentionally left for him to find. 

This kicks off Quentin’s quest to find Margo. He follows a number of clues with his best friends, Ben and Radar, to the point where it becomes an obsession. Quentin even wonders at one point if Margo has committed suicide and intended Quentin to find her body, just like they found the body of the man when they were kids. 

In his quest, Quentin realizes how little he really knows Margo. In fact, he learns that almost no one really knows her. Margo has created a persona, a “paper girl” that everyone sees, but she’s kept her true self concealed. While everyone else is focused on prom, finals and graduation, Quentin struggles to understand the “real” Margo, hoping that by understanding her, he’ll find her. The quest also forces Quentin to push himself well outside of his comfort zones: lying to his parents, skipping classes, etc. 

Just before graduation, Quentin finally comes across a clue that he’s certain that will lead them to Margo, and that she’s alive. He skips graduation and makes a last second cross-country road trip with his best friends and one of Margo’s friends – who has joined the group in their search. 

The story focuses on Quentin and Margo. While we learn about Quentin’s friends, Ben and Radar, and Lacey, one of Margo’s popular friends, they’re really not much more than stereotypical characters (Radar – the computer geek; Ben, the funny sidekick, and Lacey – the hot and otherwise unobtainable popular girl).

We never really learn enough about Margo to understand why she turned out the way she did, which to me weakened her character. As much as Margo complains about being a “paper-girl” living in a “paper-town” and the desire to escape where she can be “real.” the character has made every effort to keep everyone in her life at arm’s length. She seems to want someone to know the “real” her, but she prevents anyone from getting close.

Green does a good job of keeping the story pretty light-hearted, even when it seems like that Margo may be dead, or at least, gone for good. For most of the other characters and even the other kids at school, life quickly moves on. 

The only major complaint I had about the story besides understanding a bit more about Margo would have been to cut a chunk out of the middle. There’s a part to the story where the main character spends a little too much time not seeing the next clue even though the author has pointed it out to the reader.

I would have also liked to read/heard an epilogue, where the author tells us (via Quentin) where everyone ended up 10 years later. It’s not a deal breaker though.

It’s still a very entertaining story as these high school seniors deal with their last weeks in school and how much things will change in just a few months. It’s about enjoying time with friends, but also understanding that those friends will be moving in different directions and that you have to let them go.

Paper Towns is probably the closest book I’ve read that captures that same spirit of teenage angst that John Hughes did so brilliantly in his movies. 

 

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

The challenge with saying anything about Star Trek Into Darkness is to say anything about it without giving away any spoilers. 

Overall, I think if you look at the movie with the re-boot of the series in 2009, Into Darkness is a great summer action movie. The movies capture the spirit of the characters in the original series and re-creates the dynamics (and creates some new ones) between the main characters.

It was cool to see Uhura get something to do in the movie, but it would be nice to see a woman with more of a commanding role in one of these films. I think it would be fun to have Kirk have to deal with a female captain that’s almost a mirror reflection of himself. 

Benedict Cumberbatch was a great addition to the movie cast as well. I thought he was excellent in the BBC’s recent Sherlock series, and he’s a great presence in this movie. 

The story, though, is still part of the re-boot, and this one focuses on building the friendship between Kirk and Spock. It also calls to question whether Kirk is really ready for the responsibility of “the chair” – being captain of Starfleet’s flagship vessel. 

Although fascinating, seeing the “origin” part of that story between Kirk and Spock is a bit hard to imagine. If you’ve been any fan of the Star Trek series at all, these characters and their relationships have long been established in our heads. 

Yes, the movie has a few glitches (technical and story-wise) and one scene you may either really enjoy or find super cringeworthy (I fell into the latter group). For the most part, they aren’t a major distraction to the overall story.

Die-hard Trek fans may pick apart aspects of the story and the technology with regards to how things don’t fit in with the original canon. I can easily understand how that can be disturbing to fans. I used to watch Smallville and had to spend a lot of time just shaking my head as the show’s producers played drastically fast and loose with Superman’s canon. 

If there’s one nagging thing that still bugs me in these new Trek films is all the freakin’ lens flare. To heck with 3D or IMAX or whatever, let me pay for a version of the movie with 70% less flare. 

But, here’s the interesting perspective that I read about – and it may or may not help you going into the movie.

Remember – this is a continuation of the 2009 re-boot of the Star Trek movie universe. That movie involved a time-travel plot, and because of the actions in the first movie, the timeline for this version of Star Trek has and will continue to change as repercussions from elements of history changing in the previous movie.

Basically – This ain’t your father’s Star Trek. It’s hard, but try to set aside the history  from the original TV series and original movies before you see Into Darkness.

I didn’t do that, and it kind of affected my perspective on the movie.

I’ll have to go see it again with that in mind now to see if I enjoy the movie more with that in mind.

Bottom line. Give Into Darkness a chance. It’s a very entertaining movie.

Review: The Raven Boys

Even though the target audience is young adult, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys is an entertaining supernatural story that captures all of the teen angst you’d expect, but is still engaging for readers of all ages.

The story centers around Blue Sargent, a 16-year girl from a small town in Virginia. She’s part of a family of local psychics, but unlike her family, she’s not a psychic. Instead, she’s more of a psychic “energizer bunny” that boosts the abilities of the others.

Instead of feeling shunned by her “freakish” family, Blue embraces her difference and really doesn’t care about what other people think of her. Blue stays away from boys because they were trouble, and she especially avoids the boys from Aglionby Academy, “because they were bastards.” Aglionby is a nearby prep school for the privileged, and the boys who go there are called “raven boys” after the school’s mascot. We see her distaste for these rich boys early on in the story. While working as a waitress (one of her part-time jobs) at the local pizza joint, one of the boys offers to pay for her time just to so she’ll talk to one of his buddies.

During an annual ritual at a cemetery where Blue and one of her family watch the spirits of the future dead, Blue sees a spirit for the first time. She’s able to converse with the spirit, and learns his name is Gansey. While still trying to understand why she saw the spirit, things get crazier as she learns days later that Gansey has made an appointment for a session with her psychic family. Blue discovers than Gansey is the same boy who approached her at the restaurant, and his buddies are part of the that group.

She discovers that there’s more to Gansey and his prep-school buddies. They’re on a quest to find a mythological sleeping king and believe that ley lines (lines of concentrated mystic energy) are the key to finding him. Supposedly, whoever awakens the king will be granted a great favor. Despite warnings to stay away from the boys, Blue joins in on the quest and she’s quickly accepted as part of the group.

The boys themselves are a bit of a mismatched group with very different backgrounds, but all are drawn into Gansey’s quest to find the king. The reader is drawn in as well as we learn more about the family backgrounds of Blue and the boys, more about the quest, and Gansey’s obsession with finding the king. Although each is helping Gansey with his quest, they are all on their own quest to understand who they are and their place in the world.

The supernatural aspect of the story revolves around spirits, psychic visions, rituals, and ley lines and is designed to be very vague and intangible. There are no vampires or werewolves in this story which is also a nice change of pace.

There’s also not a lot of romance, either. Blue does find herself attracted to a couple of the boys in the group, it doesn’t become a central part of the story – which, after reading the whiny characters from the Twilight books, is a welcome change.

Despite having some nice effects involving one of the magical locations they eventually find, the deliberate fuzziness of what is happening, magically speaking, gets in the way of the story – especially at the climax. You’ll read through the climax and the aftermath and still be left wondering what exactly happened.

The other unfortunate aspect involves the antagonist. The reader learns and suspects who the antagonist is early on in the story, but he really doesn’t do anything to elevate the stakes for Gansey, Blue and others until very late. In fact, one of the pivotal scenes in the book the antagonist’s arrival is purely coincidental. I wish the antagonist had been more active in elevating the stakes – or at least put pressure on the others that someone is taking an active interest in their quest. That way, once the main characters learn of his identity, the stakes would be even higher.

Outside of that, I found the story to be very enjoyable. After reading the Twilight series years ago, it’s a nice relief to find a young-adult series with a strong-minded female lead character as well as Gansey and his cohorts. Despite the vagueness of the supernatural aspects of the story, I’m looking forward to picking up the next story in the series to see what happens next.

The Hunger Games – Pretty Good

The Hunger Games is a faithful adaptation of the book, and despite the comparisons to the Twilight series, the main characters are teenagers, and there’s are hints of teen romance, this movie has plenty of action (and thankfully, no sparking vampires) to keep audiences enthralled for the almost-too-quick two hour length of the film.

If you haven’t read the books, the story is pretty straightforward. In the “future,” the country Panem (a country where the current countries of North America once existed), is divided into twelve districts. After a rebellion was crushed by the Capitol, the Capitol, now in complete control of the districts, declared that each year, all districts would select one boy and one girl aged 12-18 to participate in a competition. The competition would be a televised fight to the death, and the winner would return to his or her district showered with riches and crowed winner of the Hunger Games.

The main character, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to participate in the games when her younger sister is selected. From there, she is rushed into a completely different world. We see in the opening moments that the citizens of District 12 live in poverty, and it’s not until we see Katniss board the train to the Capitol that we see there’s a drastic contrast between her livelihood and the absolute rich decadence that residents of the Capitol enjoy.

The movie stays pretty close to the book here, sending the tributes to the Capitol where they are primped and put on display for the entire country. They are provided some training, and then they are placed into the arena for the games. You might be reminded of the movie The Running Man, and you wouldn’t be wrong. There are a some similarities between the two movies when it comes to the game.

It seems that the movie is in almost too much of a rush to get to the games. The characters are quickly gathered, allowed to say goodbyes, get to the Capitol, rush through training to get into the arena. It seems like because this section is rushed that some of the nuances of strategy of playing the games are lost.

The action in the game itself flows very quickly. The movie does a great job of conveying the extraordinary aspects of the arena, how much control the “game master” has over it, and how much detail is captured and televised to audiences. One of the more heart-wrenching scenes in the book is done incredibly well.

There is a decent amount of action in the movie, and the pace seems to be pretty good. I thought they didn’t go too over-the-top with the gore factor. Remember, these are teenagers killing teenagers in a fight to the death, so the PG-13 rating is warranted.

We learn that part of the strategy for the the tributes from district 12, Katniss and Peeta, is to play the role of “star-crossed lovers.” The goal is to get audiences interested in the fates of the pair, so that “sponsors” can be found. Sponsors, we learn, can send help in the middle of the games when the players are in desperate need of aid to continue playing.

But, the movie skips over much of this development between the two characters. I think a lot of this was in part to avoid the “cheesiness” of the Twilight movies, but I think the director missed the point. The “romance” scenes here help develop the relationship between the two characters and the audience (both the actual audience and the “games” audience). Knowing that playing the “romance factor” up is a game strategy, the book leaves the readers wondering how much is Katniss “pretending” or how much does she really have feelings for Peeta. Because we don’t know who is sincere or who is just putting on a good show, the cheesiness of the romance in this story works.

Without that buildup, though, the later scenes in the movie feel awkward and forced. In fact, once the Hunger Games are over, the movie quickly wraps things up, ignoring some of the fallout of the ending. It still leaves the movie open for sequels, which, considering the Hunger Games is a trilogy of books and considering Hollywood’s general lack of originality, will almost certainly be made.

I suspect that many will not approve of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss, but I think she did an excellent job staying true to the character. Lawrence is tough when she needs to be, but she can be gentile and nurturing as well. The male leads are mostly forgettable, but Woody Harrelson does a great job of playing their drunken mentor, Haymitch. In fact, I think he’s given a couple of extra scenes that were not in the book, which helps expand on the overall barbaric absurdity of the games. Also, you may not recognize him without his trademark shades, but rocker Lenny Kravitz has a small role in the film as Katniss’ lead stylist, Cinna.

Even without the lack of romance, the movie is a very good adaption of the novel. Unfortunately, as much as the director stayed true to the story, some of the more subtle tones of the book were lost. It seems like there was a concern to distance this movie from the Twilight franchise, and there wasn’t enough faith in the material in the book to accomplish that. However, I think they could have spent a little more time, especially at the end to expand on what happened after the conclusion of the games, and to build up the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Without these, the movie still succeeds as an action/drama of a bit of a different nature, and I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more of Katniss Everdeen in the inevitable sequels.