Tag Archives: Star Wars

‘The Force Awakens’ worth the wait

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It’s been fun and a little frustrating, as the decades pass and “Star Wars” fandom changes, to view the movie series and everything associated with it from the perspective of an original fan.

There are millions of “Star Wars” fans who never saw the original trilogy in a theater, like I did, and didn’t know what it was like to wait three years to see if Darth Vader really was Luke Skywalker’s father. In today’s world of continually-in-production genre fare, from Marvel’s movies and TV series to now Disney’s “Star Wars” sequels and spin-offs, there’s never ever again going to be years of wandering in the wilderness, wondering what was happening with the characters and story you enjoyed. Want a “Star Wars” fix before Episode 8? Well, you can see Episode 7 again in theaters now, of course, and you’ll be able to watch it on disc and streaming in a few months and you can keep in touch with the extended Skywalker family through animated and, someday, live-action shows on TV.

So it was fun to watch as the younger crowd caught onto the saga – unfortunately for them, sometimes via the prequel trilogy – and went back and discovered what had come before and made it their own.

Thats the best thing about the strongest genre stories, of course: That with decades of history, fans of “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” or any other series or movie or book or heck, I dunno, audio drama like the newly produced “Doctor Who” audio episodes, fans can jump in at almost any starting point.

It’s also frustrating because it’s easy to get spoiled and forget (I promise this isn’t a “get off my lawn” rant) that the genre – science fiction and fantasy and horror and comic-book-based shows and movies – hasn’t always been such a huge part of pop culture. I remember well getting odd looks (not from my family, thank god) and hostile comments for my avid consumption of genre fiction going back 50 years.

Now it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t consume some kind of genre work, from TV’s highly-rated “The Walking Dead” to HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Who that has Netflix didn’t have an opinion on “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones?”

As I’ve said before, my son knows Batman and Wonder Woman and Finn and Kylo Ren and Captain America and Black Widow as much from their constant cover appearances on the magazines we subscribe to as much – more, really – than their source material.

So what started out as an entry about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which I saw last night, has turned into a rumination on pop culture and waiting and not having to wait.

While one of my first thoughts about “TFA” was that it felt like old-school “Star Wars,” almost to the point that it felt as if it had been shot back-to-back with “The Empire Strikes Back” in the late 1970s, fans won’t have to wait forever, like we did back in the day, to see it again or get at least hints of what happens next time.

That’s good, because “TFA” has me wanting more, and I’m not sure I expected it to.

Don’t get me wrong. While the prequel trilogy left me mostly cold, the original trilogy left adolescent me in high anticipation of what would happen next.

“Star Wars” (later dubbed “A New Hope”) was a high-water mark, right up there with “Jaws” two years earlier, in moviegoing. It didn’t have much contemporary competition for the love and loyalties of fans. While “Close Encounters” was released a few months later, the other genre movies of 1977 didn’t have much to offer fans. I mean, seriously: “Damnation Alley?” “Island of Doctor Moreau?”

By May 1980, my friends and I were standing in line outside a 900-seat Indianapolis theater to see “The Empire Strikes Back.” We repeated that three years later with “Return of the Jedi.”

You’ll never know how long three years could seem.

So while I wasn’t avidly anticipating “TFA,” I was looking forward to it. Not quite as much as your average new Marvel movie, to be honest. When I turned out 90 minutes early for “TFA” last night, it was less about eagerness and more about not wanting to sit someplace where people would cough on the back of my head.

That worked out pretty well and so did the movie.

“The Force Awakens” did everything it set out to do. Maybe a little imitative of the original movie – secrets hidden in a droid, family estrangements to the extreme, intercut X-Wing and lightsaber battles – but director J.J. Abrams could do a lot worse than use that same template.

(I’ll go very light on the spoilers here, by the way.)

As anybody who has read this far knows, “TFA” takes up 30 or so years after “Return of the Jedi.” I think the most interesting thing about this choice, besides the fact it lets actors like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher play Han and Leia in totally sensical aging mode, is that the story lets us know that the events of that time – Luke’s defeat of the Emperor with help from his father, Darth Vader – have almost faded into the stuff of myth. The names Skywalker and Solo are familiar but hazily-remembered by people on isolated planets who heard stories told not second-hand but hundredth-hand.

So while the movie very rightly so focuses on a new generation of characters like Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the “old” cast is introduced gradually. Very gradually, in some cases.

There are callbacks and references to the events of the original story, with little jokes about Han’s troubles as a smuggler and the prowess or not of the Millennium Falcon, but there’s no doubt the movie is carried by and its heart is greatly invested in Finn and Rey and Kylo Ren.

There’s a great part for Harrison Ford as Han Solo and a number of old favorite characters are back, but this is the story of the new characters and it serves them very well. The movie is a series of funny scenes followed by thrilling scenes followed by heartfelt scenes followed by huge spectacle and it all really works.

When George Lucas’ “Star Wars” came out, people commented on it’s “lived-in universe” feel. The prequels, set at an earlier time, felt too scuff-free to me. Too full of palaces and pristine rooms and opera houses where at least it seemed understandable, if not desirable, to hear about trade delegations and midichlorians.

The new movie covers some familiar geography, from a desert planet to a snow-covered planet to one that turns out not to be a moon or even a Death Star but a big honkin’ Starkiller. But it plays with the iconography. There are Imperial Walkers, those lumbering, four-footed transport vehicles, and Star Destroyers but they’re as often as not half-buried where they fell after some long-ago battle.

I wonder if some of these settings, some of these moments, will become as iconic as those from the original films have become. There’s an enormous interior, with one of those dizzying catwalks that the “Star Trek” spoof “Galaxy Quest” made fun of, that sees one of the movie’s most dramatic confrontations played out. I’m already wanting to get another chance to peer into its darkest depths but know that I won’t be able to look away from the drama being played out in the foreground.

I’ve mentioned the main characters but a quick word about some of the secondary characters. And that word is: they all feel right, from Oscar Isaac’s pilot Poe Dameron to Fisher’s General Leia Organa to Lupita N’Yongo’s mysterious Maz. The prequels stuck us with main and secondary characters that never felt right. I’d go so far to say that “TFA” has a better supporting cast than the main cast of the prequels.

Still, there’s a lot about “The Force Awakens” that remains a mystery to me after just one viewing. What’s the story of Chrome Stormtrooper Captain Phasma? What about the spooky visions in the junky little room where Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber was stored? (They made me think of the creepy Dagobah cave/tree in “Empire” where Luke confronts the Dark Side and his destiny.)

What will happen after that sad and thrilling final scene?

So many questions, or at least intriguing mysteries. I don’t know if they’ll be answered in Episode 8, which will continue this story.

I do know, however, that we won’t have to wait three years this time. Disney has scheduled the next sequel for May 26, 2017. And less than two years is better than three. After all, who wants to wait anymore?

Fun trailer for ‘The Force Awakens’

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Today marked the beginning of the latest “Star Wars” Celebration – my attendance at the first few Celebrations is something I should get around to telling you about sometime – and today’s events were marked by a panel of actors from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the sequel – Episode VII as the titles will no doubt have it when it opens at the end of the year – and a new teaser trailer.

And have no doubt, the teaser is pretty fun.

The shot of Han Solo and Chewbacca up top there closes the teaser and, judging by the response online, greatly increased the anticipation.

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I’m looking forward to seeing some of the new cast in director J.J. Abrams’ film, including Daisy Ridley and John Boyega (above).

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But what about that narration by Mark Hamill and that shot of Darth Vader’s melted helmet?

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Goosebumps.

Here’s the teaser.

‘Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo’ by Alex Raymond

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Like Doc Savage was the inspiration for many superheroes that followed him, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were the forerunners for many science fiction stories that followed, including “Star Wars.”

So “Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo,” the first in a series of beautiful hardcover collections of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday newspaper strips, is essential perusing for anyone who wants to understand the origins of modern space opera.

The first oversized hardback collection curates Raymond’s Sunday strips from Jan. 1, 1934 to April 18, 1937 and features an introduction and appreciation by artist Alex Ross.

What’s fascinating about the collection is how quickly Raymond populated the world of Mongo with bizarre characters and creatures. By the time of the second Sunday strip – the second – Raymond had introduced giant dinosaur lizards for Flash to battle. By the third Sunday, red ape-like creatures are brought out to wrestle a Speedo-sporting Flash.

Lion Men, Hawk Men and other staples of the strip follow one after the other.

Raymond quickly grew more confident in his art. The early strips contain up to 12 panels. They’re colorful and stuffed full of wild figures and story twists but Raymond’s talents are not shown off by the cramped layout.

By the fall of 1934, Raymond had made his panels bigger – sometimes using as few as eight – and telling his story more effectively.

By mid-1935, the panels were as few as four a week. On June 16, 1935, Raymond used just three panels – one taking up much of that week’s strip – to show Hawkmen, spears in hand, buzzing out of the sky on an enemy army on the ground below.

In these first adventures, Flash and his allies war against Emperor Ming, explore undersea kingdoms and are forever being thrown into pits with reptilian beasties.

It’s all fun and, thanks to the propulsive plots and beautiful art of Alex Raymond, a classic.

‘Star Wars,’ ‘Doctor Who’ legends pass away

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A moment of thoughtful consideration, please. Two genre legends have passed away.

British makeup designer Stuart Freeborn has died at 98.

Freeborn worked on 75 movies during his career, according to the New York Times, including creating the apemen from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

But he is best known for creating the look of Yoda, the puppet embodied by Frank Oz in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Freeborn’s creation has lived on in several movies, animated series and, no doubt, future “Star Wars” movies now in the planning stages.

Freeborn famously decided Yoda’s look needed to include eyes reminiscent of Albert Einstein.

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Also leaving us was another talented Brit, Ray Cusick, who died at age 84. He created the most famous “Doctor Who” adversary, the robotic Daleks, for a 1963 episode of the series.

The world of entertainment is better for their roles in it.

Geektastic: The Force is with us

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I’ve lost track of the rumors and likely developments coming, fast and furious, at geeks and genre fans this week.

Rumors that Marvel is planning to base a lot of its Phase Three movies – following the “Avengers” sequel, a group of films to include “Ant-Man” and possibly “Dr. Strange” – on a multi-movie adaptation of the “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” comics.

Reports that Chris Pratt, the goofy guy from TV’s “Parks and Recreation” and one of the Seals from “Zero Dark Thirty,” would play Peter, the human lead of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” one of Marvel’s Phase Two tentpoles.

The announcement by Disney’s Robert Iger that, in addition to making the three “Star Wars” sequels, the studio would make stand-alone stories in the “Star Wars” universe. A Yoda movies? A Boba Fett movie? Does it sound like Disney is following the game plan established by its Marvel subsidiary?

And heck, all that’s in addition to the line-up of movies already coming out this year, from “Iron Man 3” to “Star Trek Into Darkness” to “Thor: The Dark World.”

My son doesn’t remember a time when each year wasn’t a non-stop parade of science fiction, fantasy and comic book characters on the big screen. When you couldn’t pick up a magazine and see Iron Man looking back at you from the cover.

But I remember.

So it’s a pretty damn cool time to be us, huh?

What we want to see in new ‘Star Wars’ movies – and what we don’t

The announcement that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion – and that Disney intended to release new “Star Wars” movies, beginning in 2015 – was just the beginning.

Then came news that “Toy Story 3” writer and Oscar-winner Michael Arndt was writing the first movie and, in fact, had written a lengthy treatment for all three movies.

All of a sudden the possibility of new “Star Wars” movies was real. And then word came out that Harrison Ford wasn’t actively opposed to making an appearance in a new movie, presumably as an aging Han Solo, and that Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were enthusiastic about reappearing as Luke and Leia.

So since this is really happening, what do we want to see in new movies?

Keep in mind that I’ve only read one “Star Wars” original novel, “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye,” that came out while the original trilogy was still being made. I know only a little about what happened in the later books that took the form of sequels and prequels and killed poor old Chewbacca.

In other words, I don’t know if these ideas have already been out there. I just know that they intrigue me.

Consider mixing things up in time. While the stories will likely take place after the original trilogy, it’s not a given that they take place 40 years later. Maybe recast the main characters for action that takes place right after the timespan of the original movies but have some scenes featuring the original actors playing older versions of their characters. It worked to have Ford play an older Han Solo in Lucas’s “Young Indiana Jones” TV series.

Let us have more Luke and Leia and maybe more Han Solo, even if they’re in cameos. But make it dignified and make it make sense.

Don’t bring back Darth Vader. I know it would be tempting to resurrect the former Anakin Skywalker. But the first two trilogies were all about his fall and redemption. It would cheapen everything to bring him back.

Bring back, or at least make reference to, the occasional supporting character. Lando, Chewie and others would be a nice presence.

Make the scope of the movies range from the personal to the epic. It would be great to see intimate drama and suspenseful stories about characters in the huge “Star Wars” universe, even characters we don’t know yet. Take a cue from the “Clone Wars” series here. But also consider the type of galaxy-spanning action the earlier movies specialized in as an essential element.

Maybe take a pass on the droids. We can have some robots, for sure. But I don’t know that I ever need to see C3PO and R2D2 again.

While you’re at it, lose all the cute characters. No Ewoks. No Gungans. And yes, I realize that might feel like the path to alienating the younger kids who will be the primary audience for the ongoing movies. But, again, take a cue from the “Clone Wars” animated series. They’re fun and action-filled and respect their audience.

Jedis would be good.

Lots of the Force. And not Midi-Chlorians.

Yoda. I wouldn’t mind seeing Yoda again. And yes, I know he’s a glowy Jedi ghost now. But a smart guy like Arndt can find a way to make it work.

 

Thoughts on Disney becoming the master of jedis

So you might have heard this a few days ago, but Disney – home in recent years to Pixar and Marvel – bought Luscasfilm. For a cool $4.05 billion.

Setting aside that staggering figure for a moment – hella big even though the price tag was probably a bargain – the announcement made the Internet freak out and produced wonderful memes like the one above by Geek Girl Diva.

It also left us wondering what happens next. Well, some of that we already know. Disney immediately announced it would make three more “Star Wars” films, with the first coming out in 2015 (the summer of the “Avengers” sequel). The films would be episodes 7, 8 and 9, the long-rumored continuation of the story that left off with “Return of the Jedi.” Will we see aging Han Solo? Luke leading a rebuilding of the Jedi order?

There was some degree of fanboy moaning about the news, but probably less than there might have been if “Star Wars” creator George Lucas hadn’t made so many mis-steps with the prequel trilogy beginning in 1999.

A lot of people – and I think I count myself in this crowd – think that it’s perfectly fine for somebody other than Lucas to oversee the fate of his creations, for a couple of reasons:

Lucas has been pretty tone-deaf about what’s wrong with the (particularly later) movies.

A billionaire many times over, he’s shown little inclination to make new “Star Wars” movies (maybe that’s not a bad thing considering the prequels).

I will say, however, that Lucas and his people made a very good decision regarding the “Clone Wars” animated series on Cartoon Network. The series has been far more adult, far more diverse and far more interesting than the prequel movies.

Most importantly, although 30- and 40- and 50-something fans don’t like to admit it, the “Clone Wars” series reached a whole new generation of fans.

I just asked my son if, when he thought of “Star Wars,” he thought of the movies or “Clone Wars.” He answered, “Clone Wars.” He’s seen the live-action movies on DVD but that didn’t have the impact on him that seeing the original trilogy had on me, as a teenager and young adult.

“Clone Wars” has kept “Star Wars” alive and relevant for a new generation.

Although a lot of people have complained about changes Lucas made to the original movies – the Han Solo/Greedo shootout comes to mind, of course – for subsequent re-releases, he has, at least, kept them in the public eye and at the top of fanboy discussions. When was the last time somebody had an Internet meltdown about “The Last Starfighter?”

Beyond the new trilogy, what are we likely to see?

More merchandising, of course. Not that there wasn’t plenty of that anyway.

Regular theatrical movies and new TV series and releases of original content on disc.

Someday, in the future, dramatic mashups and re-imaginings of the existing movies and characters. Disney based “Pirates of the Caribbean” on a Disney park ride, after all, so there’s a willingness to try new things if audiences will respond. Who’s to say we won’t see feature films or series based on minor characters and events from the familiar stories, ala “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?”

And that’s a good thing. There’s always been debate about whether “Star Wars” was for kids or for the general moviegoing audience or for the fans who’ve kept it alive and relevant and in the public eye for decades, even during some pretty lean times.

I think the answer is that “Star Wars” has been for all of those audiences. And Disney has the power to reach all them.