Saturday, December 23, 2017

We are what we grow beyond

Been awhile since I posted anything, eh? Haven't even written anything since The Force Awakens came out. Short update:
-I liked The Force Awakens a lot
-I liked Rogue One well enough
-Rebels has been pretty good overall
-I loved The Last Jedi

Now then, on to my actual post. Spoilers galore, obviously.

One of the things that ceaselessly impresses me about The Last Jedi is its deep focus on character. Every major character in the film, save for maybe Leia, has a notable arc.

Star Wars saga films are known for their arcs, of course, but they tend to be very surface-level, and nearly always focused on the idea of Light versus Dark. What's really powerful, though, and what makes the stories work even better, is when the characters get nuanced.

All of us grow and change as we mature; we all "arc." But most of us don't arc from hero to villain or vice versa. Real, human "arcs" involve us learning deeper truths about ourselves, the world, the universe, etc. Here's some examples of relatable, truthful character arcs:

-An egotistical boy is faced with failure and thus learns humility
-A girl who has been hurt in the past learns to let go of pain in order to move forward in life
-A man learns to let go of guilt over past mistakes
-A woman takes charge of her identity by rejecting the labels others have placed upon her

If one of these more human arcs also functions as an arc between light and dark (or good and evil), great. But light and dark in and of themselves are rather abstract concepts. This is why Anakin Skywalker's arc in the Prequels doesn't feel true. Anakin is pulled to the dark side because... he just is. There are some implications of fear and pride, but they ultimately still don't build up enough to justify child murder in Revenge of the Sith.

Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, has the most notable arc in the first six films of the saga, not because he arcs between light and dark (because he doesn't), but because he has real, honest growth. In A New Hope, he goes from naive boy to courageous hero, and by the time of The Empire Strikes Back, he's grown a sense of confidence—not realizing that in many ways, he's as naive as he ever was. In the end of Empire, Luke discovers that the universe is much more complicated than he ever thought. He can't simply rush in and defeat Darth Vader, saving his friends and avenging his father, because Vader is his father. Furthermore, Luke is faced with the reality that simply having a strong connection to the Force isn't always an instant-win button, and he pays for his overconfidence with his hand. By the time of Return of the Jedi, Luke has been forced to reevaluate his life. Instead of playing at being warrior hero, Luke offers a hand of mercy to someone who doesn't deserve it. This compassion-based decision is both a new action Luke takes in ROTJ as well as something that's completely in line with who Luke is in the beginning of A New Hope: Luke Skywalker thinks with his heart. The difference between Luke in ANH and Luke in ROTJ is that Luke takes the lessons he's learned and uses them alongside his heart in order to discover a truth that everyone else missed: that although light and dark both exist, people are rarely that simple. People are people, and people are complicated.

So how does this work in The Last Jedi? How do characters arc? Let's go down the list.

Finn wakes up in The Last Jedi apparently having been in a coma since his duel with Kylo Ren in the forest. As such, he hasn't changed one bit since then. In The Force Awakens, Finn ran from the First Order, seemingly caring only about his own life and the life of his crush, Rey. In fact, he lies to the Resistance in TFA, telling them that he can shut down Starkiller Base's shields, when in fact he only wants to save Rey and leave again. In The Last Jedi, he once again tries to leave the Resistance high and dry, just to save his own skin and Rey's. However, this begins to change once he meets Rose.

Rose is the personification of every quality that Finn lacks. Rose's sister has recently died fighting for the Resistance, and Rose understands the larger societal evils that the Resistance is fighting against. Finn apparently never saw anything outside of a First Order ship or base until the attack on the Jakku village, so he has no real context for why the Resistance are fighting aside from for their own survival. Furthermore, Finn's only real strong emotional connection at this point is Rey, who, throughout TFA, was also only out for her own survival—at least until she leaves to find Luke, which Finn wasn't there to witness. Finn's adventure with Rose is the first time he's ever spent a large amount of time with someone with a motivation larger than herself. He's friends with Poe, yes, but they don't actually spend much time together—and Poe has his own problems, which I'll get to in a minute. When Finn and Rose travel to Canto Bight, Finn begins to see the effect that war and corruption have on the peoples of the galaxy. War profiteers laugh and enjoy themselves while spending the money they made selling the very weapons that are currently killing the Resistance members in another part of the galaxy. Oh, and they own child slaves, too, if that wasn't enough. Finn's arc may also be influenced by the betrayal of DJ, who is literally nicknamed for his motto, "don't join," which could also be interpreted as "only side with yourself" and "don't believe in a cause."

Later on Crait, Finn finally decides that his life is worth sacrificing for the sake of others. Not just for someone he specifically cares about (these are the same people he tried to ditch earlier, after all), but for the cause; for what's right. But he still needs one more correction from Rose: it's not about destroying what you hate; it's about protecting what you love. Neat little thing: Rose's theme in the soundtrack is basically a gentler, feminine version of Luke Skywalker's theme, AKA the Star Wars main title. Rose represents the heroic, uplifting spirit of Star Wars, and she's exactly what Finn needed.

To summarize:
-Rose symbolizes the best of what Finn could be
-DJ represents the worst of what Finn could be
-Finn chooses to be more like Rose

This one is short, because Rose doesn't really arc, per se. She does, however, learn an arc-type lesson. She lands on Canto Bight believing that the super-rich are intrinsically evil and deserving of scorn. She learns from DJ, however, that the weapons dealers may be more accurately morally-gray (at least from DJ's perspective), and that they sell weapons to the Rebellion and Resistance as well. It figures that the one flaw of Rose's character would be the one part of herself that's focused on hate.

Poe's arc is pretty straightforward: Poe believes that he is the hero of the story; that he can jump in an X-Wing and destroy whatever he needs to in order to win the day, and that all the Resistance needs to do to win is fight harder. He's wrong, of course, and after finding out he's been a prideful idiot, he takes a step back (ironically a step forward?), learning how to be a leader rather than a hero.

Ben / Kylo Ren:
Kylo's arc is actually less internal and more external. He's being held back in his growth, both by Snoke and by himself.

Kylo Ren has been defined by his obsession with Darth Vader to an unhealthy degree. In The Force Awakens, Rey senses that this is a point of fear and inadequacy for Kylo. The helmet Kylo wears is a feeble attempt to imitate Darth Vader, and when Snoke makes Kylo take it off in the beginning of TLJ, Kylo's shell begins to crack, as he's metaphorically forced to become more defined by his own persona than by his grandfather's example.

Snoke believes that Ben is powerful, but ultimately controllable and predictable, and he tells Ben as much. Furthermore, we learn that Snoke has been purposely unbalancing Ben's mind, merely for the purposes of tempting Rey. Ben takes Snoke's manipulative telepathy, however, and turns it around, tricking Snoke instead. With Ben now free of Snoke, he's able to forge his own destiny and be his own man. This is a huge step up from the beaten-down wannabe that Kylo Ren was at the end of TFA; now Kylo Ren is the supreme leader of the First Order. In this sense, Kylo has actually gone further and accomplished more than Darth Vader ever did. Now he can actually pursue Anakin's dream of building a new Empire, no longer under another dark lord's shadow.

Near the beginning of The Last Jedi, Luke asks Rey, "why are you here?"

Although Rey has decided to stop waiting for her family to return to Jakku, she doesn't necessarily have a path forward yet, and still thinks of the universe in simple black-and-white emotional terms. Still using a survivor's mindset, she continually refers to things in utilitarian terms. She gets angry with Luke for not teaching her the things she needs to know, or coming back with her to do what she thinks he needs to do. She reaches out to the Dark Side not out of anger or hate, but because she's looking for simple answers, not realizing that there are none to be had.

Furthermore, once she realizes the difference between the light side and the dark, she naively thinks that she can simply turn Ben back to the light as Luke did Anakin. She's learned the lesson that Luke learned in Return of the Jedi—that people are complicated—but she still lacks the full understanding of what that means, and she's still thinking in absolutes. When she teams up with Ben in the throne room, she assumes that because Ben turned against Snoke, it means he's on the side of good now—but she never considered the idea that Ben could simply be on his own side. And when Kylo Ren, as supreme leader, offers Rey the chance to join him, Rey knows that there's no way she can. Rey now understands on a personal level what Kylo Ren and the First Order stand for, and she has a reason for helping to build the new Rebellion at the end.


This is the big one. It's a little tricky, since a lot of Luke's arc happens off-screen in-between trilogies. But it begins from a place of deep, understandable guilt.

One of the defining moments in Star Wars is Luke coming across the burning Lars homestead. He sees his home and family in a smoldering ruin and immediately knows that he must fight the Empire to prevent this from happening ever again. In the flashbacks of The Last Jedi, Luke once again sees his home on fire, the people he cares for dead—and this time it's his fault.

Luke had one moment of doubt, one moment of considering evil—just as he did in Return of the Jedi, holding his saber over a defeated Darth Vader—and paid for it dearly. Luke's new Jedi order was destroyed and his nephew became a dark threat to the galaxy.... none of which would have happened if Luke had never tried in the first place. From a certain point of view, Luke has now caused the same evil he fought so hard to stop in the Original Trilogy. So, out of guilt and anguish, Luke stopped trying. Once again, Luke Skywalker thinks with his heart.

Yoda, however, tells Luke that he must learn from his failures, pass on that knowledge to others, and, essentially, forgive himself. Luke has always been compassionate and forgiving towards others, but forgiving oneself is often one of the hardest lessons to learn. "We are what we grow beyond," as Luke is told.

This is where nearly all of the arcs from every character thematically combine.

Luke says that it's time for the Jedi to end, and he's not entirely wrong. But what he discovers is that the Jedi actually need to be reborn, having learned from the mistakes of the past. Rey will take the lessons of Luke's successes and failures, as well as those of the original Jedi Order, and forge them into something new. Kylo Ren strikes down Snoke and stops worshipping the helmet of Vader in order to build his own new Empire. Poe and Finn are able to see their character flaws and move forward, ready to lead a new Rebellion.

At its heart, Star Wars has always been the story of "our" generation—whichever generation it may be at the time—looking backward at the sins of our parents' generation and asking the question: "what can we do better?" It's fitting that this is the first Star Wars film since the original to use the term "religion" to describe the Jedi. The word "religion" is taken from the Latin term religare, which means, roughly, "to bind together [that which has been broken]." Every religion is meant, in some way, to illustrate for its followers how best to live; how to make oneself or one's world better. Inevitably, many of those attempts fail, as people are imperfect. But rather than stay mired in guilt and pain, it's better to trust in hope and forgiveness, always moving forward.

Star Wars is entertainment, yes, but it's at its best when it's actually about something important. How many real-world lessons can we draw just from The Last Jedi alone? How many times can we look at our own actions and realize that we're as arrogant as Poe Dameron or as selfish as Finn? How many people have, like Rey, fooled themselves into blindly supporting a politician, only to realize too late that said politician is on no one's side but his own? Why do we, like Luke, so often fall into the trap of letting ourselves become defined by our failures, rather than learning from them?

This is why Star Wars is important: because it asks us to step into the cave of the Dark Side, holds a mirror up to our faces and challenges us to look inside. This is why so many people can point to Star Wars and say "this story changed my life." And it's the kind of storytelling we desperately need more of.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Episode VII: The 2nd Teaser, Celebration Anaheim, and Vanity Fair

In April, Star Wars Celebration Anaheim took place. There we got our first real look at Episode VII, starting with the second teaser trailer.

It's funny. Much like the last teaser, this one doesn't really tell us all that much about what's happening. We just get little glimpses. It is a teaser after all, not a trailer. But those glimpses are so much more powerful and rich with detail than they were in that first teaser. But the biggest thing about the teaser isn't so much any specific detail, but the way that all the aspects of it build into one idea. I'll explain in a bit.

That voiceover. Hearing Luke's lines from Return of the Jedi again gave me all kinds of chills. Normally reused lines aren't my favorite thing in trailers, but this made it really work. Part of it has to do with the fact that it ties The Force Awakens back to the Original Trilogy in a way nothing else has yet, but there's also the fact that it seems to imply a lot about the movie's story. Luke is talking primarily about three things: the Force, family, and the idea of passing on that power to someone new.  The lines sync up with the footage and highlight specific ideas:
"My father has it" - We see Vader's burnt helmet, probably taken from the Endor funeral pyre. Who took it, and what significance does it have?
"I have it" - A cloaked figure with a robotic hand reaches out for R2-D2; almost certainly Luke.
"My sister has it" - A short alien figure passes the famous saber of Anakin Skywalker to a woman who we assume is Leia.
"You have that power, too" - This is the big one. In ROTJ he was, of course, talking to Leia, but the way the line is removed from the rest of the exchange, it's different. The screen is black, as if Luke isn't speaking in regard to anyone specific. It feels like he's speaking to us. That whole idea—"you have that power, too"—is something that was hugely important to the Original Trilogy, with Luke essentially standing in for us, the audience. We were Luke in the OT; Ben Kenobi and Yoda weren't training Luke; they were training all of us. Symbolically, the trailer seems to hand over the reins of Star Wars to the people again. It's no longer going to be us staring into windows watching monks and politicians go about their idiotic business as in the prequels; this is a story made for us, here and now. I may be reading too deep into that, but it feels right.

There's a big theme in the teaser: relationships. Not only is Luke talking about his family, but all through the trailer we see people reaching out to one another in various ways:

And, of course, it ends with the epic nostalgia moment that is seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca reunited on the Millennium Falcon.

"We're home" is that last beat that sent us all into tears of joy. And it's not just a nostalgia trip, either. Han and Chewie's friendship was never the deepest, exactly, but it always felt real. Maybe like two best friends, maybe like a boy and his dog, but it was always one of the more authentic-feeling things in Star Wars. I've written on this blog before about how Star Wars needs to be a personal story in order for it to be great, and this feels like it's going to do that exactly.

Also there's a bunch of rad stormtroopers and spaceships.

One of them is chrome and has a cape. A CAPE. And her name is Captain Phasma. It's like photon mixed with plasma. It's a cool name.

A quick, light highlight reel from the opening panel where the teaser was first shown:

Shortly after Celebration Anaheim, Vanity Fair revealed their epic photos taken on the sets of The Force Awakens.

Pretty cool stuff.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Episode VII: Title and Teaser

One aspect of the Episode VII production that I did comment on in a timely manner was the casting announcement—which you can read here—hence why I'm now skipping it and going straight to the title and teaser announcements.

Before we talk about The Force Awakens' title, let's quickly look back at all the previous movie titles. There are two things that I think are most important in a Star Wars title:
1. It must be accurate to the movie  - This should go without saying, really.
2. It needs to be catchy and/or ear-pleasing. Something that feels nice to read and hear.
3. It needs to be exciting. "Active" titles that use verbs or other words that imply action are good.

1977: Star Wars - A lot of people forget that Episode IV: A New Hope wasn't originally called that. It was Star Wars, plain and simple. Short, catchy, epic, and exciting.

1980: The Empire Strikes Back is epic. Arguably the best Star Wars movie title. It's exciting, active, and perfectly accurate to both the events and tone of the movie.

1981: When Star Wars was re-released in 81, it was subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope. A New Hope makes sense given the movie's story, but it's rather flat and boring. However, since it's only a subtitle and wasn't even used at the film's release, it kind of doesn't matter.

1983: Return of the Jedi isn't as powerful of a title as the originally-proposed Revenge of the Jedi, but it makes more sense. After all, it's not as though Luke or any other Jedi actually takes revenge at any point—unless we're counting Vader offing Palpatine at the end? In any case, Return of the Jedi sounds a little too close to the title of The Lord of the Rings' 3rd-and-final book, The Return of the King, but it's still a pretty good title overall.

1999: The Phantom Menace. Honestly, it took me a long while to figure out just what the "phantom menace" was referring to. I suppose Darth Sidious's hologram does kind of look like a ghost, but only kinda. It's also not an active title. Rather than the "phantom" attacking or revenging or actually doing anything, he's... menacing? To be fair, that's a pretty accurate picture of what goes on in the movie, but in that case I think I'd rather have a title like "Attack of the Droid Army" or something that actually describes what action there actually is in the movie.

2002: Attack of the Clones is probably the silliest title, but it's definitely active. It was said by many that the single best part of the entire film was the Battle of Geonosis at the end, so maybe it's fitting that the movie takes its title from that.

2005: Revenge of the Sith is easily the best-fitting title. Not only does it perfectly describe what happens, but it also parallels Return of the Jedi and its original Revenge title. Any Star Wars fan worth their spice knew about the Return/Revenge dichotomy, and the Revenge of the Sith title was instantly embraced.

2015: The Force Awakens.
It feels like it's halfway there. On one hand, it does have a verb—"awakens"—but as verbs go, "awakens" is about as soft as you can get. It's a bit gentle for what is supposed to be an epic action movie. TFA also uses "the Force," which is something that, oddly, no previous Star Wars film has done. It makes sense to reference the Force, so it's nice to have that in a title. On the other hand, we have zero point of reference at this point for what "the Force awakens" actually means. Was the Force asleep? Is it getting more powerful? Is it actually the Force that's waking, or are people in the Galaxy waking up to the Force? I'm left here with questions, but not in a good way. "Awakens" is just too soft a word to denote the primary action or arc of the story. Now, perhaps when the movie is out it'll all make sense. But for now, The Force Awakens is, for me, a title that works just fine, but doesn't exactly soar.

Now then, onto the first teaser trailer:

Well, "teaser" is certainly accurate. We barely see more than glimpses of anything. And here's the worst part: they're teases of things we've already seen, either through official press photos, video messages from JJ on the set, or leaks. Seriously, just about everything in the trailer short of the little ball droid and the crossguard saber were things we'd seen before. In fact, a lot of the teaser felt like a summary of the leaks so far: the stormtrooper helmets, the new X-Wing, the Millennium Falcon, the concept art of Daisy Ridley's character on her speeder, etc. However, since I haven't actually covered any of those leaks, I suppose I'll actually go ahead and give my thoughts on everything in the teaser.

John Boyega in a desert! And that's all we see. He's clearly in distress, but why? No idea.

A ball droid! Also in a desert! Also with no context. He looks good, at least.

Daisy Ridley riding a fudgesicle! I have no thoughts, really.

These new stormtrooper helmets are RAD. Seriously, they might be my favorite trooper helmets ever. Not even joking. The two shots of the troopers we see implies a heavy assault situation of some kind. I liked the intensity of it.

Oh yes. Here we go. X-Wings in flight. We have never seen X-Wings look this good before. It's a new design, but it's actually very close to the old Ralph McQuarrie concept art for the original X-Wing. And having them against the water like that shows just how fast they're going. It's really intense.

And here's a pilot guy. The Rebel pilots were my favorite part of the OT, so this makes me happy for no good reason.

And here we have the thing everybody was talking about: the crossguard/broadsword lightsaber. I like the crossguard. Star Wars has always been more fantasy than science fiction, so a medieval-style laser sword makes sense. Also, the blade looks "rough," almost like it's either a very old saber or one cobbled together without the usual expertise of a Jedi, which implies some interesting things about its origins and its wielder.

And here we have the Falcon. I'd say it's nice to see her, but for some reason this shot doesn't do a thing for me.

Last thing to mention: the voiceover. It's a dark, possibly non-human voice, referring to "an awakening," both of "the dark side and the light." So at least we know now that "The Force Awakens" is an appropriate title, probably. But we still don't know what the awakening means. Are there new Force-users popping up in the galaxy? What exactly is happening with the Force?

So, overall, what did I think of the teaser? Meh. Saber aside, it didn't reveal anything new to the hardcore fans who'd been following Episode VII news, and it "teased" mostly in ways that didn't create interest. The shots were so short and out of context that it really didn't do anything other than say "this is a movie that exists." Which we already knew. After watching the teaser, I think my interest for the movie actually went down, not up.

Bonus Round: Trading Cards!

After the reveal of the teaser, Lucasfilm released photos of fictional trading cards for The Force Awakens meant to mimic the old trading cards for the OT films. This is where most of the new characters' names were revealed.

There's not really much to say about the names, other than the fact that BB-8 is about as perfect a name as anyone could have for that little guy.

Next up: the second teaser.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Episode VII: JJ Abrams

So it occurs to me that I haven't really been writing much at all about Episode VII, despite it coming out last this year. So, starting now, I'm going to hyperspace backward in time and cover all of the big moments in Episode VII news.

I already wrote about the Disney purchase and the announcement of the sequel films themselves, so you can read that here.

First up: J.J. Abrams' announcement as director.

JJ is an interesting filmmaker. On one hand, he's a genius that makes great stories. He's had a hand in creating lots of TV shows—Lost, Alias, Fringe, etc: fantastic stuff. He's also made some great movies: Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8, etc. On the flipside, he's got a bad reputation among some fans for essentially turning Star Trek, a highly cerebral science fiction franchise, into a dumb roller coaster ride. While I do definitely agree that the two Abrams Trek films are disappointments and only hurt Star Trek (particularly the second one, I don't particularly share the concerns about his involvement with Star Wars. Here's why:

It's been said more than once that Abrams only made Star Trek in order to help his friends, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, get their Star Trek movie made. He lent his storytelling ability to the project, yes, but he was largely there to pass forward Orci and Kurtzman's vision for Star Trek. Almost every single major fan complaint about the new Trek films is due to decisions made by Orci and Kurtzman, not Abrams. While Abrams is to blame for the "style" of the new Trek films, the real problems with those films were on a script level.

Also, JJ has said repeatedly that he didn't really understand Star Trek, and did the best with what he could. And that's not a crime; countless Trek directors didn't know what they were doing when they stepped into the captain's chair. If one thing is largely true about the Abrams Trek films, it's that they're never lazy. There are countless bad story decisions for sure, but the guiding hand behind the camera is never not trying. In any case, while JJ apparently didn't "get" Trek, he certainly seems to get Star Wars.

With Super 8, JJ showed that while he may not understand Star Trek's cerebral nature, he absolutely understands the Lucas/Spielberg filmmaking style of the 80s—which, of course, includes Star Wars.  There's a throughline in all of Abrams' films: feeling. In Abrams films, what's happening in the story, no matter how trivial or how epic, always matters to the characters. Mission Impossible III was the first time in the M:I series that the characters actually cared about anything or were ever in emotional jeopardy rather than only physical. More than that, the cast actually had chemistry. They weren't just Hollywood characters running around in a generic spy plot; they were people that the audience cared about. Star Trek, for all its faults, carries that torch. Kirk and Spock have personal stakes in what happens. Perhaps that's part of the problem: Trek can't be objective and cerebral when its characters are dealing too much with emotion. But just because that style is a bad fit for Trek doesn't mean it's a bad fit for Wars. Quite the opposite, honestly.

George Lucas has said many, many things about Star Wars, but one thing seems relevant here: Star Wars is an emotional story, not a cerebral one. That isn't to say, of course, that Star Wars can't be intelligent or stimulate the audience on an intellectual level, merely that Star Wars is primarily meant to pull at the audience's heart and soul. It's the relationships between people that make the Star Wars original trilogy work so perfectly, and why the prequels often fell flat. Everything that matters in Star Wars matters because it matters to the characters. Luke joins the Rebellion not out of blind principle, but because the Empire made it personal by slaughtering his family. Han saves Luke in the Battle of Yavin because he's come to care for Luke as a friend. Luke throws aside his anger towards Vader out of unconditional love for his father. It's those personal connections that made Star Wars great, and what can make it great again.

Now, of course, you may be wondering: if JJ Abrams wasn't able to make Star Trek great despite making the story personal and emotional, how is Star Wars going to be any different?

"It's not what you say, it's how you say it."
A writer tells a story; a director determines how that story is delivered. A script sets up the drama; a director makes you feel that story. If Episode VII's story is solid, JJ can knock it out of the park. Which leads me to my next point...

JJ is not the only one making the movie. Kathleen Kennedy, a producer who's worked with Lucas and Spielberg for decades, is the current president of Lucasfilm. From a creative standpoint, she effectively has George Lucas's old job: to oversee the story and guide it, even if not directly hands-on. Furthermore, Episode VII's script is largely written by Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It's not JJ Abrams alone making Episode VII: it's a dream team of incredibly talented people who are in the perfect position to make a great Star Wars movie.

So, yes, given everything I've seen of Abrams' work (all his movies and a good chunk of his TV career), I think he's a great choice to direct the next Star Wars movie. Last thought: in Super 8, we met a cast of children who were completely unimportant, aside from the fact that they were people, and at the end of the day, that's good enough. For all the talk about destiny and the Force, if there's one thing that made Luke Skywalker a great character, it was that he was essentially just a person. If Abrams can make us care about a group of annoying kids in the 80s, I can't wait to see what he does with the Skywalker legacy.

Next up: the movie's title and the first teaser trailer.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rebels: "Spark of Rebellion"

So here we are, at the start of a new Star Wars TV series. This first episode (movie?), "Spark of Rebellion," isn't necessarily ground-breaking, but it kicks off Rebels with a pretty good start.

"Spark of Rebellion" is lots of fun, and lays the groundwork well for the characters and story. That being said, that's almost all it does. It understandably spends a lot of time introducing all the characters and setting the tone for the show. It's a fun ride, but it does definitely feel like the "spark" for what's to come later.

The music is one big standout in this show. Whereas The Clone Wars almost never used the classic John Williams themes, Rebels uses them all over the place—some might say even too much. But then again, it's probably better to have recognizable, good Star Wars music than not, so I'm not complaining.

Ezra Bridger is an interesting protagonist. Most viewers of the Original Trilogy found themselves relating to the naive Luke, but more cynical viewers could relate well to the world-weary Han. In Rebels, Ezra acts like somewhat of a combination of the two: naive and good-hearted, but often also trickster-like and self-serving. And just like Han and Luke, he finds himself in a group of rebels fighting the Empire. Ezra is just barely on this side of likable, which is good. He's certainly off to a better start than Ahsoka was in the Clone Wars movie. It's curious that they're introducing not one but two Force-users (three? four?) into Rebels already, but we'll have to see how it plays out.

The rest of the characters don't get much chance to shine, aside from Kanan. And even he seems to be somewhat of a mystery. We basically learn that he's a former Jedi and... that's it. Kanan is the former Jedi-now-turned-freedom-fighter. Zeb is the gruff muscle guy. Hera is the pilot and moral center of the team. Sabine is the explosives expert with cool armor. Chopper is a mean astromech droid. It'll be cool to see how the crew develops, but for now, they're just kinda there.

There's even less to say about the villains. Agent Kallus is a competent but generic Imperial officer so far, and we don't even really meet the Inquisitor yet. Darth Vader shows up via hologram in the extended cut of the episode, which is somewhat unnecessary aside from one interesting detail: Vader says that the Emperor wants Force-sensitive children killed only if they can't be used as weapons. It was assumed before that the Empire wiped out all the Jedi indiscriminately, but the idea that the Empire was also using Force-sensitives as tools (like the Inquisitor himself?) is a whole new wrinkle. It's not that dissimilar to Mara Jade's role as the Emperor's Hand in the Expanded Universe, but this is the new canon.

Lastly, there's one other thing to mention: Obi-Wan Kenobi's holo-message. It's implied that this is the message Obi-Wan sent out during Revenge of the Sith to all remaining Jedi after Order 66. It's also the Clone Wars version of Obi-Wan, still played by James Arnold Taylor. This is the passing of the torch from The Clone Wars to Rebels, using Revenge of the Sith as a midpoint.

At the end of the day, "Spark of Rebellion" is a fun start, but it'll be great to actually get into the meat of the story later on.



"Spark of Rebellion" on


So it's been a while since I posted anything, huh?

Now that Star Wars: Rebels has finished its first season, I'm gonna go back and review every episode of it. I'll also put "extras" at the end of those posts, like's "Rebels Recon" series.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Star Wars

The first draft of the Star Wars screenplay was famously different from the final film. J.W. Rinzler and Dark Horse Comics recently adapted that original screenplay as an eight-issue comic miniseries, The Star Wars. I read it yesterday; here are my thoughts.

First of all, it cannot be overstated just how different The Star Wars is from Star Wars. The plot barely even resembles the movie, and while many characters' names are similar, the actual characters themselves are completely different. Here's a quick list of some of the major differences:

-Versions of Luke, Anakin, and Leia are in the story, but they are all completely unrelated to one another.
   -Luke Skywalker is an older, gray-haired, battle-hardened war general.
   -Anakin Skywalker is Annikin Starkiller, a young hotheaded Jedi.
   -Leia is more spoiled and stuck-up than in the film, and she is princess of the planet Aquilae rather than Alderaan.

-The film character of Anakin/Darth Vader is actually four separate characters in The Star Wars:
   -Annikin Starkiller, the young Jedi
   -Darth Vader, the non-Jedi brutal war general
   -Prince Valorum, a Sith Lord
   -Kane Starkiller, Annikin's father, who is revealed to be more machine than man

-The Jedi and the Force are all very different
   -The Jedi-Bendu are actual knights, not spiritual monks. No philosophies of non-violence are ever mentioned.
   -The Knights of Sith, a rival sect of Jedi, are villains, but not pure evil as in the films.
   -The Force is always referred to as "the Force of others," and is never explained.
   -The Force is never said to have a light or dark side, and no morality is ever applied to it.
   -Jedi don't display any supernatural abilities other than being unusually good with swords.

   -Coruscant is named Alderaan
   -The film versions of Alderaan and Tatooine seem to be combined into the desert planet Aquilae, which somewhat resembles Arrakis from Dune.
   -Yavin is the homeworld of the wookiees, and their story is near-exactly the same as the Ewoks' story in Return of the Jedi.
   -The Death Star is merely named the Space Fortress.

   -There are echoes of the Skywalker family relationships from the films. Kane Starkiller, whose more-machine-than-man body echoes Darth Vader's, has two children, his oldest son Annikin and his younger son, Deak. Leia has two younger siblings, a boy and a girl, who are twins.
   -Leia and Annikin have a relationship very similar to the Han/Leia romance from the films, but with the added bonus of the romantic scenes from Luke's rescue of Leia in the Death Star.
   -Han and Chewbacca don't meet each other until late in the story. Also, Han is a green alien.

I could list more and more differences, but it would take entirely too long. Suffice it to say that while plenty of names are the same between versions, virtually nothing about the story or who the characters actually are is the same.

When I first began reading the story, I was completely engaged in it. It felt familiar, but a lot closer to Flash Gordon or John Carter of Mars than Star Wars ever was. It was... older; a bit more gritty. Less concerned with moral platitudes and more concerned with epic science fantasy war storytelling. As I read along, a thought crept into my head: could this story actually end up being better than Star Wars? After I finished the book, I mentally responded: Pfff, no.

The Star Wars is fascinating reading, but it has no actual story, at least not one worth telling. Two movies' worth of plot is crammed into a single story, with endless amounts of action and adventure, but absolutely none of it means a blasted thing.

Star Wars is the story of Luke Skywalker: it means something because he means something to us. Watching him grow up over the course of three movies is powerful and relatable; it gives the entire saga meaning where it would otherwise be the tale of a bunch of random people no one cares about running around and blasting each other. And that's what The Star Wars is.

There are entirely too many important characters in The Star Wars (at least 21 by my count, over Star Wars' ten) and none of them grow or change in any way whatsoever. The only development of any kind is the fact that Annikin and Leia suddenly decide they're in love with one another—not too long after he punches her in the face. It's a whole thing. Additionally, the fact that the Force almost doesn't exist is a problem. Without the Force and its literalization of good and evil, the story loses a profound amount of meaning.

So yes, I'm very glad that The Star Wars was never made in its first draft form. Epic battles and a vast universe paint a wonderful canvas, but without the character and meaning to fill it out, it's an empty canvas.