Star Wars: The Last Jedi…?

I kind of wonder about the title of this one actually, it seems to be more of a tool to enforce the premise rather than a description of what happens. If we look at the other movies the titles basically cover what happens:
– The Phantom Menace – The Sith seem to be back and causing problems… a bit of a menace really.
– Attack of the Clones – Clone army built, attacks some droids to start a huge war.
– Revenge of the Sith – The Sith come back and wreck the Jedi in a vengeful manner.
– A New Hope – Stuff’s going badly, but this new kid shows up, does some stuff, and now there’s hope!
– Empire Strikes Back – Yeah, about that hope, Darth Vader just cut his hand off and your rebellion is falling apart and in hiding.
– Return of the Jedi – Luke becomes the first of a new line of Jedi so they’re back, he saves the day and it’s going to be great!
– The Force Awakens – (I’m including this for completeness, not because I consider it canon) The Force seems to be all dark but it becomes active in a girl and now it’s all going down!
You can almost make a very broad plot synopsis of the whole saga out of the other titles. ‘The Last Jedi’ only covers the bit where Luke wants to end the Jedi, it doesn’t reveal anything about the wider plot or how it all turns out.

Having written all of that for the title alone, this better be good…

In short, my opinion of this movie is that it’s a good parody. “Parody? Like Spaceballs?” Well, yes, to a certain extent. It doesn’t have any of the over-the-top humour that often characterises those movies, but it definitely leans in that direction. It forms its own plot, but the plot is made of key elements from the original trilogy. Those elements are then twisted in a comical way to add humour and make fun of what has been done before.
I think General Hux is a really good example of this. In the original trilogy we had characters like Grand Moff Tarkin, Captain Needa, etc. They were all serious characters, adding a feeling of threat and control to the Empire. General Hux is just a parody of them, an overly dramatised caricature of an Imperial officer. This is highlighted by his over-the-top sneering and snarling, and his absolute blind stupidity and willingness to engage in a prank call with a rebel fighter. Don’t get me wrong, it was funny, but that’s the goal of a parody.
There other places where the parody seems most obvious, when Rey ‘reaches out’ and then realises she was supposed to “Reach out… as in…” with her feelings. Again, this was hilarious, but not exactly the tone set in the rest of the movies. Many serious scenes were broken by humour in a similar way, not necessarily in a bad way, just not what I was looking for from a Star Wars saga movie.

With the constant feel of a parody I sometimes wonder if the writers were trying to take the originals and make some of the outcomes more ‘realistic’. The reason I suspect that this was the motivation is that Poe Dameron’s setup is in some ways similar to how Luke was portrayed in A New Hope and the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. He’s shown as being a heroic starfighter ace that people look up to and respect. However, Poe never seems to get it right this time around. He loses a whole bomber squadron against orders, he starts a mutiny over a wannabe-heroic plan, and that plan ultimately means many of the escape ships are shot down after being discovered. This approach is almost reminiscent of the feel of Rogue One, a slightly grittier portrayal of how things work out.

Many people are complaining about how Luke was written in this movie. Most prominent among those people is Mark Hamill himself, in some interviews he says “He’s not my Luke Skywalker”. He talks about how Luke wouldn’t give up, and he would help, he would fix his mistakes. I do agree with this and I think the Expanded Universe does Luke’s character far more justice than these movies do. However, I do understand, as Mark Hamill says, that this is a new Star Wars. The attempts to develop his character may not be as good as they could have been, but it is at least an attempt at having the character change over time. Personally I would have much preferred the awesome Luke Skywalker from the Expanded Universe, but Hamill’s acting is able to carry this character so that it doesn’t immediately feel out of place.

Another concern I have is that many of the key elements are seemingly ripped straight out of the original trilogy. The initial base escape seems very similar to the escape from Hoth in Empire Strikes Back, a bunch of small vessels trying to get off of a planet before the Imperial ships can get them. The scene where Luke Rey is brought by Darth Vader Kylo Ren to meet the Emperor Snoke. There were almost shot-for-shot similarities between the two scenes.
The visual design is so similar, in fact, that it could almost have been taken from the same concept art as was used for the original trilogy. I think the writers must have noticed this, otherwise why would they take an entire shot to pan to a soldier in the very familiar trenches of Hoth Krayt so that he could scoop up some of the ground covering and dramatically announce that it was salt and therefore not Hoth.
It was definitely interesting to see what the original trilogy might have looked like if it was all re-done with modern special effects and cgi, but it would have been more interesting if it was new. The prequels were in the same universe, but the difference in visual design was meaningful and showed how the galaxy was different.

The Force Awakens was just a copy of A New Hope with a couple different elements thrown in to try and hide it. The Last Jedi at least attempts to add an interesting story to the mix, but almost all of the elements are parodies or tropes of our favourite moments.

There were some new elements, we saw how things might have turned out if things went a slightly different way in key moments. What if Han had given up Luke and Obi-Wan when they were pulled aboard the Death Star? What if Darth Vader had taken less time to convince and straight up killed the Emperor? What if he then took over the Empire, falling again to his need for power and control? What if Obi-Wan had been super moody and didn’t help Luke? These are all interesting things to consider and see played out, but would it not be better to have totally new situations to play out?
Obviously, it must be difficult for these writers to avoid copy-pasting story elements when the galaxy is almost identical to how it was at the time of the original trilogy (because they hit reset rather than move on). But they could have done more.

My conclusion? It’s a fun movie, a great parody, but it doesn’t even approach the storytelling prowess of the Expanded Universe.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m a little bit angry.

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The Force Awakens. Well, actually it was already awake and is experiencing déjà vu.

You may remember my anger at the absolute obliteration of the Expanded Universe. So you can imagine my slightly biased opinion going into the all new replacement story for what was a brilliantly written universe. Fortunately for my reputation as a Star Wars fan, I wasn’t entirely wrong. As you may expect, this will contain spoilers.

Speaking of it purely as a movie, without considering that it’s Star Wars, it wasn’t all that bad. The cinematography was brilliant, as we have come to expect from JJ Abrams. As mentioned in the previous blog there are some really cool shots; the X-Wings flying over the lake are awesome, the Millenium Falcon flying crazy was fun, and there are some really cool fights. However, it was poorly paced. The first half was a bit slow, as if winding up to a big climax. The second half wasn’t exactly the climax, it was a super fast series of events that should have been focused on a lot more. For example, one of the most important characters dies in what should have been a heart-wrenching scene, but there wasn’t enough depth to it to make me feel any emotion beyond confusion. There wasn’t enough time spent on ‘Kylo Ren’ and Han Solo’s history, there wasn’t a big enough build-up to the moment and the acting wasn’t enough to carry the scene. A lack of emotion during the scene doesn’t necessarily preclude emotion afterwards, unfortunately that didn’t go so well either. There was a total of about thirty seconds spent on grief and then suddenly everyone was happy again. Your buddy, who is basically family, was just killed by his own son. Some kid you met a couple days ago (who just happened to be stealing your ship) basically just stepped right into your buddy’s shoes and is enjoying it. Would you be super happy? Probably not, you’d be torn with grief and emotion. Even Leia, his wife just looked slightly disappointed. If you read the part of the Expanded Universe in which Chewbacca is hit by a moon you’d see how Han reacted, he didn’t fly the Falcon for months, he even ran away from his own family to go on a crazy hunt. That is how you write a major character death.

Speaking of better writing, let’s move on to the bit where the movie actually is a Star Wars film. I’ll start with the good bits, the nostalgia kicks were fun! Okay, sorry, I ran out of good bits.
Firstly, there were no space battles! How can you have a Star Wars film without space battles?!
Secondly, nothing in the story was original. Literally every single plot line has already been done before in the Star Wars universe, primarily in the films themselves. To start with, the writers didn’t want to use the really cool and actually different setup of the good guys running a major government who just beat a huge evil government and have to clean up the mess. Instead, they waved some hands and reset the universe to A New Hope. Why would the New Republic not send any help to destroy a huge weapon capable of destroying multiple planets? Why is one of the most famous diplomats in the rebellion now just another General in another small resistance group? The reason that episodes 4,5,6 and 1,2,3 differed so interestingly was because the status quo changed which allowed for some more different stories. Resetting the universe like this just makes it easier for the writers.
The major things didn’t change but at least the smaller stuff could have, but once again it was a disappointment. Just compare a few of the things:
– Major rebel group attacked, a droid is given important information and sent off to deliver it. It is found by a kid living on a dusty planet who is good with tech and the force. They find someone to help deliver it who doesn’t really want to help. Done in A New Hope.
– Weak rebels can’t win an all-out fight against a huge planet-destroying weapon and have to resort to clever sneaky stuff. They end up stealing the plans. Done in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi.
– A small team of rebels is sent to destroy the shields on a planet. Done in Return of the Jedi.
– The small rebel team end up with a family confrontation. Done in Return of the Jedi.
– Han and Leia’s son turns to the dark side and kills a major character. Done extremely well in the Expanded Universe. This is also extremely similar to Anakin Skywalker.
– Big disfigured hologram guy with evil, anger-issues, helmeted minion commands a huge army from a distance. Hmmm, now where have I seen that before?
Need I go on? There is nothing actually original.

I envy those that can genuinely enjoy this movie, but I just can’t. Maybe the backstory will be filled in with the later movies and partially improve some of the huge plot problems, but this movie just feels like the pilot for a TV series, with lots of action and absolutely no resolution. Good cinematography and nostalgia kicks were just a cover-up for lazy writing and a lack of original ideas.

The new Star Wars and its issues

ss+(2014-11-28+at+06.15.46)By now you’ve probably seen the new trailer. It looks pretty cool, or at least it would if it wasn’t Star Wars. I guess the main problem is the Expanded Universe or, well, the lack of it. Let’s run through a couple of the clips, scared stormtrooper on Tatooine, hmm uhh… okay. Weird droid on Tatooine with pod-racers in the background, nothing abnormal there. Stormtroopers in a dropship, who knew the Empire wasn’t dead. Girl on a funny lookin’ speeder bike, sort of like the swoop bikes from the expanded universe of old. X-Wings flying fast over a lake… okay, that one’s just awesome. Sith, right, Sith comeback with an exotic lightsaber with… interesting SFX. Millenium Falcon with the classic theme being shot at by TIE fighters, we love that right?

Now, can you spot one thing everything has in common? It’s all been done before, in the Expanded Universe. Imperial remnant, return of the Sith, swoop bikes. There are even more from leaked possible story-lines (a return of Luke’s hand for example). Everything (except perhaps the cool cinematography) has been taken from the expanded universe. They’re not even trying to hide this:
“In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe. While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded. Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe. For example, elements of the EU are included in Star Wars Rebels. The Inquisitor, the Imperial Security Bureau, and Sienar Fleet Systems are story elements in the new animated series, and all these ideas find their origins in roleplaying game material published in the 1980s.” – Star Wars official blog

There are two types of people who will watch the Star Wars films; those that liked the Expanded Universe and those that couldn’t care less or didn’t know any of it. Firstly, the ones that like(d) the EU, removing it will annoy them (us) and everything taken from it will just haunt us with that fact. As to spoilers, who would really care that our favourite stories are being, at least partially, cinematised (not really a word but who cares)? I personally would just enjoy it for what it is and continue enjoying the EU. Those that didn’t know any of it…. hmmm, negatives? Someone could possibly tell them what the story COULD be but then that doesn’t matter, they can ignore people talking about it and can enjoy the movie as a movie. It just benefits the screenwriters. They get to make stuff up AND have a huge library of ‘ideas’ to take from.

We get a few cool shots of Star Wars stuff (in a very non-Star Wars style) but the Expanded Universe has stopped expanding, and that really sucks.