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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.

Farewell

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Isabella, aka Izzie, passed away in the wee hours of Friday morning, Sept 11, 2015 as her fourteen-year-old body suddenly began giving out on her.
 
She was a great cat who loved being around people, which is unusual for a cat (and a stark contrast to my other Persian – who generally only wanted attention on his terms). She was my “lap-kitty” who would curl into my lap when I sat down in a recliner to watch TV. 
 
She always made sure she was in the location of the house – anyone’s house, mine, my folks, my sister, where there was the most traffic. She’d make sure to lay down on a chair or table in the “optimal petting location” to ensure passersby could easily stop and pet her. 
 
The funniest thing, though, is that she wasn’t originally going to be my cat. 
 
Back in 2006, my sister had the bug to get a cat, and she’d always wanted a white Persian with blue eyes. Izzie didn’t have blue eyes, and she was an older cat a breeder in Dallas was selling. The original plan was for me to pick her up (this was late October) and keep her with me until Thanksgiving. I normally went home to Lubbock for the holidays, so I could just bring her home then. 
 
A white cat would have never been my first pick of hair color, but Ozzie’s personality won me over. I took her and my other cat home for Thanksgiving.
 
I left her there with my sister, but realized that I had already bonded with her and wanted to keep her as my own cat. I usually kept two cats around the house, and I had lost a kitten earlier in the year to FIV. I was down to a one cat household, and my cat adjusted remarkably well to Izzie in the house.
 
So, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the negotiations began. I had to scramble to find another white Persian cat in DFW that my sister approved of and bring it to my sister before I could take Izzie home to my house. Luckily, the breeder had a second cat, and we were able to make the swap. 
 
Of all the cat’s I’ve had since being in Dallas, Izzie was one of the most loving cats I’d ever owned. She loved attention from everyone, and she’d quickly purr and stick the tip of her little tongue out to let you know she was content while you pet her. She was loved by everyone in the family, and she will be greatly missed.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Disneyfying-Star Wars Part Two

Ok,

After reading this post by Harry Knowles of AintItCoolNews, I’m feeling a bit less pessimistic about Disney owning Star Wars.

Harry Chimes in on Star Wars

My biggest fear is that they’ll stay the course like Lucas did with the first three films and try to specifically target an 8-to-10-year-old audience.

(Of course, strangely, Lucas says he was targeting that age group, but the plot – what plot there was – really didn’t play to that age group)

The other concern was that Disney would take some of their Disney TV shows and churn out a bunch of kid-friendly shows set in the Star Wars universe. For example, they have a “sitcom” about a bunch of kids studying karate. Take that same show, cast them as padawans, put them in the Star Wars universe, and BAM! – new show!

But…

If Disney takes a more open-minded approach and opens up the Star Wars universe to both family-friendly content and more “grown-up” content, then there could be some potential for some very cool stuff. It’s certainly something Lucas would have never done.

It will be interesting to see regardless.

Moving (around)

In case anyone sees some wackiness going on here, I’m in the process of moving hosting and DNS and all sorts of technical blah blah junk.

Since I’m moving the server, chances are likely I’ll pick a new theme (I seem to do this about once every couple of years when I’m updating WordPress and am bored with whatever theme I currently have up). So that may change as well.

I have several posts I want to put up, but I need to get my hosting situation resolved first –

More to come soon.

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.

Allergies Suck!

Ugh…

Allergies are the worst. Most days, I can keep them reigned in with a daily dose of Claritin.

Other days are like today.

I spent most of the day at work with one nostril constantly running and the eye on the same side tearing up as well. I joked with my co-workers that I’m “allergic” of the office, but by the end of the day, my nose looks like I’ve spent the day auditioning for the role of “Rudolph” and my eye looks like I’ve been drinking heavily.

Even then, some days I can get lucky, and things will clear up on the way to the parking garage or on the way home.

Tonight, not so much.

Now the left side has gone on break, so it’s the right side’s time to take over. The headache has kicked in and now I’m completely stuffed up, which means I have a long restless night ahead of me.

I know, there are so many greater things that could be wrong with me. There are bigger things out there in the world that I could be thinking about.

But right now, all I can think about is laying down on the bed with a cod rag pressed against my forehead and eyes and hope that I find some way to sleep tonight.

Maybe I am less allergic to Tuesdays…