Tag Archives: Star Wars

Yes, There Is A Try


Do, or do not; there is no try. — Yoda

That used to be my stuff, right there. Say it, little green man. You’re either gonna do a thing or not do a thing, so quit pussyfooting around and saying you’re gonna “try.”

Oh, you’re gonna “try” to get that job? You’re gonna “try” to write today? You’re gonna “try” to do a push-up? Like hell you are. You’re either gonna make it a priority and bend your entire existence toward it and DO IT, or you’re gonna not, and the opportunity is gonna pass you by, and here you will still be, a little bit sadder.

Except … life isn’t always that simple, is it?cx

Advertisements

Terrible Reviews: Spoiler-Free Thoughts on “Solo”


Solo!

Here’s a few non-spoilerific thoughts on the new movie. Not that you need them.

I mean, you could basically write your own review of the thing without even seeing it at this point, right? You look at reviews for The Last Jedi and it becomes pretty clear to you that people decided to hate it or love it often for reasons entirely outside of what happens on film, and I’d wager the same could be said for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Something-something jaded review here.

Blah-blah-blah overdone tropes here.

Yadda-yadda cashing in on nostalgia here.

You can say all of those cynical things, and you’d probably be right. The onslaught of Star Wars since the new saga was announced several years ago has gone from a refreshing shower to an outright deluge and now, maybe, probably, to a stagnating pool of scummy water that the waterlogged soil can’t drain away anymore. They’re putting out a new film a year, and the new films are formulaic, even if they’re sometimes clever (or maybe TOO clever) about how they thwart those formulas. (I’ll circle back to that.)

I mean, you could say the same for Marvel’s offerings, too, only more so — they’re dropping more than a movie a year, after all.

It’s true, though. The tropes are overdone. Young Han is cocky and brash, the cyborg partner is plucky and sassy and slightly malfunctional, the mentor is grizzled and grumpy and disapproving … on and on down the list. And the franchise is no doubt cashing in on nostalgia, more so I think with Solo than with Rogue One. Han Solo, after all, is basically the most universally liked character from the original trilogy, and his untimely (or all too timely, depending on your point of view ) sendoff in The Force Awakens left some fans wanting more. Everybody loves Han, so let’s give them more Han. More is better, right? Right???

Put aside all that. The problem with the recent slew of movies and people’s reactions to them is a failure to meet the movies on their own terms. Star Wars Owes You Nothing, after all. And loading down a film with expectations — be they positive or negative! — is a good way to short-circuit an objective viewing of a film. (“xxx will never measure up to the original” is a common refrain, here.) You saddle that donkey with all your personal hopes and dreams and “I woulda done”s, and it’s no wonder the thing drowns before it gets halfway across the river.

Meet the movie on its own terms, though, and it’s fine. No, not awesome. No, not terrible. It’s fine. Han is, appropriately, cocky and brash, as we expect. His mentor, as we expect, is grizzled and grumpy. And his assorted cohorts are equal parts swindlery, wise-cracky, and heart-of-goldy. It’s all fine.

But what it ain’t is a necessary addition to the series. There’s nothing, in other words, in this two-and-a-half hour adventure that you can’t live without — no revealed knowledge, no breathtaking secret that changes everything we thought we knew about the galaxy’s favorite scamp. You end the movie in the same place as you started it — knowing that Han is a swaggering, boastful nerf-herder headed to Tattoine for a rendezvous with destiny.

Which is sort of the curse of the prequel, really. You already know how the story ends, the adventure is in getting there — and for me, the problem is that there’s nothing really shocking along the way. Han starts the movie as a thief, and, well … he ends it as a slightly more jaded thief.

Problem is, there’s nowhere to be surprised in there, not really, except for a couple of (actually rather lovely) reversals that are really only delays on the payoffs you know are coming. Han tells us in the original series how he won the Falcon — how much do we gain by watching it happen? The argument can be made that we’re better off when we get to fill in the details ourselves rather than being led around by the nose, the way this film seems to do. “Look here at this thing you already suspected, isn’t it nifty?” “And this, you knew there would be something like this in the story; well, here it is.” “Yep, the Falcon has always broken down at inopportune times but it always comes through in the end; why wouldn’t it do the same when it’s new?”

In that way, then, Solo is less about telling you a new story and more about affirming things you already know.

Here’s the thing, though: affirming your suspicions is a thing this movie does really well. The performers are all excellent in their roles (Daniel Glover’s portrayal of Lando, in particular, is bloody inspired), the story clips right along at that breakneck pace Disney has decided Star Wars should run at (seriously, I watched A New Hope after TFA came out and it’s basically comparing a teenager on a Saturday morning to a spooked cheetah), and the visuals and the action sequences are just beautiful.

Is Solo a life-altering piece of cinema? Hell no. But it ain’t a bad way to spend a few hours and a few bucks.

 


Bowl-Shocked


In less than a year, two of my hometown teams have suffered two of the most embarrassing, soul-crushing losses in recent sports history.

In last year’s Super Bowl, it was my beloved Atlanta Falcons running the hated New England Patriots out of the building for three quarters, only to allow a historic comeback in the 4th that led to an inevitable loss in overtime.

This time, it was my alma mater, the Georgia Bulldogs in the CFP championship, keeping the dynastic Alabama Crimson Tide at arm’s length for three quarters, only to allow (hmm, this feels familiar) a huge comeback in the 4th that led to an inevitable loss in overtime.

It’s one thing losing when your team is bad. You accept that they’re going to suck, you don’t get all invested in them, and you move on with your life. It’s another thing when your team makes it to some of the biggest stages in sports. You believe a little more, you buy in a little more — but it’s still possible to say such aphorisms as “win or lose, it’s nice to have made it to the big game.” I started both nights — last year’s Super Bowl and this year’s Championship Playoff — with the highest possible skepticism and grizzled resolve. I fully expected both teams to lose — that’s just how Atlanta sports go — but I was just happy to see them on the big stage.

But my teams have done something worse to me. My teams gave me hope. No, worse than that, they gave me assurance: The Falcons led by 25 points, and the Bulldogs led by 10 late in the game. That’s victory! Teams don’t lose with margins like that! In the space of a few hours, both games took me from “well, they probably lose, but it’s cool to see them in this game at all” to “hey it looks like they might have a chance” to “holy shnikes, they’re actually going to do it, they’re going to win!”

A loss without climbing the mountain would have been a lot less painful. A loss even halfway up the mountain would have been fine. But to scale the summit and be moments from planting your flag in the highest peak is the worst kind of disappointment.

So I’m bowl-shocked with the rest of the Bulldog fans out there. I’m proud of my team (well, my teams — the Falcons are in the hunt again) but I feel so hurt, and for me at least, a major part of the hurt is that I allowed the game to become more than a game. I allowed it to become a story.

Crazy, right? That the wannabe writer-guy sees story in everything? But I can’t help it. I was rooting for my teams, but even more than that, I was rooting for the story.

Take Atlanta: Consistently mediocre for years. Never won the big game, haven’t even been there in two decades. Occasionally they make the playoffs, but they go out with a whimper. Then: they’ve got a new head coach, young, hungry players, and a few veterans coming together at the right time. Who do they face off against? Only the most dynastic team in the NFL, whose current QB had four titles to his name already. Four! Most players are lucky to even have a chance at a single win.

Then, UGA: Again, some local success but never making a lot of noise outside the community. They won a title back in 1980 (the year I was born — coincidence? I THINK NOT) but haven’t even sniffed the big game since then, and it might as well be an entirely different sport these days. And all of a sudden: the team has great leadership under its seniors, who forego the NFL for one last season, one last shot; and like a bolt from the blue, new talent crawls out of the woodworks under the brand new coach. And hey fight and scrap and fight and scrap and face off again — who? Only the most dynastic team in college football, whose current coach has five championships in nine seasons. Saban wins the biggest game in the country more often than he loses it, and most teams — even great teams! — never even sniff the title bout.

Both situations are a little bit Star Wars, aren’t they?

Star Wars

Scrappy underdogs taking aim at the big, bad Empire? Going into a battle that you know in your heart doesn’t favor them? But you blink, and all of a sudden, they’re winning. And not only that, they have the Emperor on the ropes, lightning spraying from his arthritic fingers, cackling madly as he falls into the reactor. And in the final moments, the Empire is smashed, the Death Star explodes, and the Emperor is no more.

That’s how the story is supposed to end.

Unfortunately, real life is not fiction. In the real world, the Empire survives, the upstarts have certain victory snatched from their fingers, and those who have had more success than anybody has any right to take home more trophies. (Fighting, fighting, fighting the urge to go political here.  HRRRGGGG okay I’m over it.)

It’s enough to make you give up on your teams.

But also unlike fiction, these “books” don’t have endings. There’s a next year, and a next, and a next, and in sports at least, there’s nothing to stop the little guys from taking shots at the Empire, no matter how long the odds.

So don’t give up on your teams, even if they lose the big game, or even if they lose a lot. Embrace the suck.

Unless you’re a Patriots or Bama fan. In which case you can GTFO.

(Image lifted from Starwars.com.)


I’ll Get Him Sooner or Later


Earlier today, we got my son a Star Wars book for early readers that makes sound effects from the movies as you read through the story. I’ve been trying and trying to get him into it — my own fandom is desperate for my progeny to love this thing that I love — but nothing has really caught fire yet, so when he pointed to it in the store and said “what’s that, Daddy,” naturally I rushed to it. “Here it is look it’s the story of the whole movie and that’s Luke and that’s Obi-Wan and in this picture they’ve got their lightsabers and if you push that button you can hear Darth Vader and isn’t that cool???”

Maybe I laid it on a little too thick, but this time it didn’t scare him off. He thought that was pretty cool, so I couldn’t get to the checkout line fast enough. (Here, please take my money for this thing, and also for anything else that my son might want while he’s giving me this shred of dadservice!)

He kept his nose buried in the book the rest of the way through the store, the whole drive home, and for his entire afternoon “quiet time” (which used to be called “naptime” but due to negative connotations with sprout #2, has been re-branded).

Currently, it’s an hour past bedtime and I can still hear the sounds of laser blasters and lightsaber clashes coming from his bedroom.

I should be angry — he’s supposed to be asleep and all.

But I think I’ll let it slide tonight.


Terrible Reviews: Rogue One (with bonus terrible review of a terrible review)


Whether the downplaying of the formidable cast’s charismatic energies is an intentional downplaying of the potential risk to the characters that they play—whether it’s a matter of not actually allowing viewers to get too attached to characters or actors, not allowing viewers to be bummed out by bad news but rather breezing past it in a spirit of fealty not to these characters or performers but to the franchise—is the kind of corporate Kremlinology that would rightly take the place of criticism in assessing the substance and tone of the movie.

That’s culled from Richard Brody’s review of Rogue One in The New Yorker, and holy crap. I mean, holy crap. That’s one sentence. One. I challenge you to read that sentence without going glassy-eyed.

But let me circle back to that review in a minute.

I saw Rogue One this weekend. It’s good. Overhyped, I felt, but then, what in the recent Star Wars universe isn’t a little bit overhyped?

The film sort of paints itself into a corner, though. It’s branded as a stand-alone chapter in the Star Wars Universe, not part of the saga, but just a story living in that particular story world. Which … kind of … okay, I guess? It was important that we learn how the rebellion got hold of the Death Star plans, maybe? I dunno. “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” was a bit too glib for some, I guess, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to tell the particular story of how they came by the plans.

Except, the story’s a bit too flat, a bit too pat, a bit too much rehashing of old tropes with not enough of the Star Wars sweeping grandiosity and magic for me. I know, I know. Rogue One‘s selling point is: no Jedi, no magic, no Skywalkers, no soup for you. Still. For me, it’s a bit of a miss, but one that still hits some targets — like aiming for that one stormtrooper that’s running right at you, but missing him and hitting the big crane behind him that dumps a big load of space rocks and crushes, like, five stormtroopers instead. Except then, you get shot down by that one stormtrooper, which is totally demoralizing, not just because you got blasted, but because you got blasted by a stormtrooper.

So let me explain (and here’s where I flash the big red SPOILER sign).

The best thing about the movie is Jyn.

Wait, scratch that. The best thing about the movie is Alan Tudyk’s K2S0, but if you’ve read any other reviews, you know that already. He’s Marvin, the Paranoid Android, of HHG2G renown, but with a healthy dose of ass-kickery thrown in for good measure, and he’s an absolute delight.

But yes, Jyn.

She’s the second heroine of the Star Wars Universe under the Disney regime, which is nice. Orphaned, scrappy, disillusioned, all par for the course; possessed of a convenient-but-not-gamebreaking skillset that will allow her to go far, but not without the help of some well-placed allies. Look, as a character, she’s fine. You’ll get no argument from me on Jyn, just like you’ll get no argument from me on Rey from TFA.

And I’ll go ahead and insert here the obligatory: the cast is diverse, which is a good thing. Female lead? Non-white males in major roles? Villains portrayed by the white dudes who would otherwise be excluded? Check, check, and check. Disney is making sure to show us that there are other things besides white guys in the galaxy. Some people might call that pandering, but for my money, there’s nothing forced about it. And that’s a welcome change.

The problem comes in, not with the actors playing the parts, but the characterization of  everybody else in the movie. I’ll be honest: I’ve entirely forgotten their names, and that’s not just because it’s two days after the fact and I’m up way past a martini. It’s because the characters are entirely forgettable.

There’s the captain of the ship, who’s tasked with bringing Jyn to a rebel leader for some help. He’s about as bland as they come, with hints of a dark past, but don’t go looking for any fleshing out of that dark past, because this is a stand-alone movie.

There’s the comedy-relief rock ’em sock ’em duo of Donnie Yen and another scraggly guy with a big heavy blaster. Yen is a blind monk who desperately wants to be in touch with the Force, and he kind of is, but not really? And his buddy is … well, he’s along for the ride, but we don’t particularly know why, and we won’t be finding out, because again, this is a stand-alone movie.

And there’s a defected Imperial pilot, who of course helps the ragtag band of adventurers sneak into the heart of the Empire to do the thing, and while it might be nice to find out why he defected or what he hopes to accomplish outside of suddenly-coming-to-his-senses-and-laying-down-his-life-for-the-good-guys, we won’t be finding that out either, because, as has been established, this is a stand-alone movie.

Look, it’s serious-spoilers-for-real time again, but remember how we established earlier that this movie painted itself into a corner? By dint of its placement (before episode IV, but after the prequels, which will not be mentioned) it practically shouts at you that none of these characters will have relevance outside of this movie. Which is shorthand for saying that they aren’t gonna make it out alive. I know, right? It’s a shock, except that it isn’t, because if Jyn and whoever the rest of these scrubs were actually played a role in the events that followed Rogue One, then where were they and why have we not heard of them in episodes IV through VI?

And therein lies the problem. We know from the start that they won’t be making it out of this — or even if they do, they retire to the edge of the galaxy and sip on blue milk for the rest of their lives — and so their stake outside of this movie is nil. Which means that, as far as an audience is invested in them, we have to make it count right away, right now, in this movie, in this moment.

But it doesn’t count. There’s no backstory for any of these guys except the standard Empire is evil, let’s band up and take them out because this is a movie and hey why not. Donnie Yen’s blind kung-fu master is awesome for a few fight scenes, but he gets himself killed because of course he does; he’s a blind man in the midst of a nutty laser battle. Then his buddy gets himself killed avenging Yen because what else is he gonna do? Imperial defector plays his role, too, and so does Captain NoName, and the bodies keep piling up.

Jyn, at least, has a lovely character arc established, and damn, if we don’t feel something when she goes. Problem is, what we feel is frustration, because we’ve been made to care about this heroine who then gets wiped off the table with all the ceremony of swatting a gnat.

So, Rogue One kinda sucks.

Except it doesn’t. It’s fantastically paced, visually striking (the overall drabness of the film as a whole contrasted with the final battle on a tropical beach planet? Superb), and witty — if mostly in the guise of the humble droid. It’s firing on many of the same cylinders as TFA, which, given it’s the second iteration of the franchise under Disney rule, isn’t surprising.

But TFA has something that Rogue One doesn’t, and that’s the give-a-fargo factor.

Rey and Finn, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Luke and Leia, Kylo Ren and Snoke? Yeah, I may be missing some backstory on some of them (*glares hard at Rey and her deliberately mysterious past*), but I know those details will be given to me in future chapters. These characters are woven from a larger tapestry, they expand beyond TFA, and that means I don’t mind being strung along a little in TFA because there’s a payoff coming. Jyn and captain guy, kung-fu dude and heavy blasters, K2s0 and imperial defector pilot? This is all we’re getting of them. There’s no more to come, so I’m not nearly as invested.

So, Rogue One, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t measure up to The Force Awakens. It just doesn’t. It’s a good Star Wars movie — I might even say it’s a decent movie in general — but TFA, for all its recycled tropes and paper-thin homages to the original films, is better in every phase of the game.

Still, Rogue One is way better than the prequels. Which isn’t much of a yardstick, but anyway.

Which brings me back to the review I quoted at the top.

The review is subtitled “Is It Time to Abandon the Star Wars Franchise,” and I know that the hotness these days is provocative, clickbait-y titles, but holy shark. Maybe The New Yorker‘s target demographic is a bit more intelligent than the average bear, but just try re-reading that sentence. Try it. That single sentence has more tentacles of dangling modifiers and criss-crossed clauses than Cthulhu, and more self-important verbal masturbation than Donald Trump’s twitter feed.

“Corporate Kremlinology”? “Time to Abandon the Star Wars Franchise”? Did I just watch another bit of fluff in the Star Wars Universe or a goldfingered treatise on socioeconomics in the alternate realities of a fascistic puppet regime?

Star Wars, for all that it’s a product of our times, and as such, has meaning beyond itself, and everything is symbolic, and yadda-yadda-English-teacher-babble blah blah blah. Fine and good. But sometimes? Sometimes we go to the movies to watch the rebels stick it to the Empire, whether the narrative is “perfect” or not, whether the movie delivers in all respects or not.

So can we maybe cool it on the microscopic overanalysis of a film which is, at its heart and core, just a bit of fluff and filler? A plate of cheesesticks and mozarella, delivered to us to keep Star Wars in our hearts in anticipation of ep VIII next year? THINGS DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO MEAN THINGS.

TFA is a more perfect piece of the Star Wars Universe than Rogue One. It handles its characters better, it plays on the motifs of the saga and panders to its audience better. It’s a bloody fantastic aperitif for the banquet that looks to be in the making. (I watched it again this afternoon. It’s still awesome. When Ren freezes that laser blast in the beginning? The literal darkness overtaking Ren before he kills his father? Rey summoning Luke’s lightsaber right past Ren before their climactic duel? I STILL GET CHILLS.)

But that doesn’t mean that Rogue One is part of the prequel dumpster fire. It isn’t. It’s savvy and sharp and compelling like TFA, it’s got shout-outs and nods to the old, grizzled fans like myself while delivering enough of its own punch to stand outside of the saga as a whole, albeit less strongly than I’d like.

All of which is to say, it’s not a perfect film, by any stretch. But it’s a damned good time, a thrilling bit of escapism. And given the 2016 we’ve all been having, a bit of escapism is exactly what we need, no matter how flawed.

I give it three out of four Imperial AT-AT Walkers in smoldering ruin.

Constrained by a flat and inexpressive script, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” lets neither its characters nor even its special effects come to life.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN OLLEY / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES / LUCASFILM LTD. / EVERETT

Anyway. I know some people out there (including my dad!) think that Rogue One is basically the best thing to come out of Star Wars, but it didn’t do it for me. Your thoughts?


%d bloggers like this: