Category Archives: Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens

The Last Jedi: A (Spoiler Free) Movie Review


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There were those who felt that The Force Awakens was too much a retread and homage of A New Hope. There were those who complained that the veneration of the Star Wars canon present in the movie hindered it. There were those who did not find anything particularly revelatory in the themes of that film.

They will be hard pressed to level those same sorts of criticisms at The Last Jedi.

Like all Star Wars movies before it, The Last Jedi opens with the sounds of John Williams and a terrific space battle. Unlike many of the Star Wars movies before it, The Last Jedi defies expectation at almost every turn.

Writer/director Rian Johnson has put his stamp on the Star Wars universe in a way that no director (outside of George Lucas) has been willing (or allowed) to do. And let it be said that it is clear that Johnson owns and loves animals… the Porgs and the Vultpex (the so-called “crystal critters” are delightful creations and, while they may take up the same space as the Ewoks before them, they are not as silly as those tiny teddy bears. No. This is not George Lucas’ Star Wars, nor, for that matter, is it JJ Abrams’. This is a Star Wars we have not seen much of before (save, perhaps, in Rogue One): a Star Wars where simplicity and black and white morality are eschewed in favor of complexity and thematic exploration. Some of the choices Johnson made surprised me. Some of them unsettled me. Some I will have to think about before I know how I feel.

The Last Jedi challenged me in ways I did not expect, in ways I did not know a property with which I have been familiar my entire life could challenge me.

Johnson does remarkable work with the four, core new characters and Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren (calling him just “Kylo” does not quite cut it for me). Each undergoes an arc of development in the film and each of those arcs is fulfilling. He also introduces a new Rebel in Rose and both the character and Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who plays her, are great additions to the Star Wars universe. Both Laura Dern and Bencio Del Toro deserve mentions, too. To mention more about their characters might spoil the movie, so I will refrain. Both are terrific if not quite as central as Rose.

Daisy Ridley is, again, terrific as Rey. John Boyega shines as Finn and it is his character that provides the most energy to the movie. Oscar Issac’s Poe has much more to do in The Last Jedi than he did in The Force Awakens and that is a very good thing. And Adam Driver is magnetic, surprising and, ultimately, incredibly powerful as Kylo Ren. And he is shredded (did Johnson include a specific scene in The Last Jedi because of a certain Saturday Night Live sketch?).

Yes, Johnson does wonderful work with the new characters, but it is how he handles Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa that really impressed me. These are characters with 40 year histories and characters about whom many in the audience have deep opinions. Johnson makes them fresh and new and takes Luke and Leia in directions I did not anticipate.

We know this is Leia’s last appearance as, following the death of Carrie Fisher last winter, the Star Wars filmmakers have said they will not digitally recreate her for the next installment of the saga. The Last Jedi is a fitting send off to a beloved princess and Fisher seemed to relish her role as wise, but not stolid, leader.

Relish, too, is what Mark Hamill brings to his return as Luke Skywalker. It is possible he is the best thing in the movie. Rumor has it that he was unhappy with almost every choice Johnson made with Luke. If that is the case, it does not show. He embraces his return to Star Wars and imbues Luke with pathos, grandeur and a dash of  humor.

The movie itself is surprisingly funny and Johnson balances the stakes (stakes that feel quite high) with more than enough humor and almost enough Porgs (and “Crystal Critters”) to please adults and children alike. There are laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout The Last Jedi and it is a very good thing, too, because the movie overall is dark in tone and in content. While no Empire Strikes Back homage (it actually angles a bit closer to Return of the Jedi, in fact), it does share a certain bleakness with that second Star Wars sequel – and it keeps the audience in similar suspense throughout.

The Last Jedi is a more than worthy addition to the Star Wars canon. It treats its characters and its context with the appropriate respect while moving them forward into a new and unknown future. It pays just enough – and never too much – attention to fan service including moments that simply thrilled me. It inspires the audience to ask “what comes next?” We can only hope Episode IX will be as daring…

THE LAST JEDI receives FIVE Wide-Eyed Porgs out of a possible FIVE.

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Carrie Fisher – Another Causality of 2016


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fisherCarrie Fisher was, clearly, someone special. Young, vibrant and wise beyond her years when she starred in the original Star Wars trilogy, she obviously found herself at odds with the demands of fame, the requirements of celebrity and the expectations placed upon her. So, to apply a cliched term, she rebelled. Uncomfortable in that skin, one which was false, she chose to inhabit another, one which was real. Her real identify was a writer, a wit, an unabashed critic. What is most powerful to me about Fisher is that she critiqued her own life in the harshest of manners – in the spotlight. Her autobiographical novel POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE and her first memoir WISHFUL DRINKING paint a picture of a woman who learned who she was, how to be at peace with who she was and that she didn’t give a damn about what anyone else thought about who she was. She opened doors for people to talk about mental illness and to discuss addiction. She seemed, in recent years, to be amused by her life, not at odds with it. She seemed at peace.

And, to be sure, she was the first princess this guy ever cared about.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A Movie Review (Spoiler Free)


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rogueone_onesheetA.jpgLet’s start at the end: I cannot recall a third act of a movie I found as exciting, engrossing and surprising as the third act of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I left the theater shocked by the ending of the movie and by the manner in which it concluded the stories of its characters. I left the theater considering the original trilogy in an entirely new manner. I left the theater with one desire: to watch Star Wars: A New Hope to continue the narrative so deftly charted in Rogue One.

I left the theater fully entertained and I left, in some ways, more excited about Star Wars and the possibilities of the stories which can be told in this universe than I was after the conclusion of The Force Awakens last winter.

After seeing the film twice, I can write that I found it, on both viewings, to be an exhilarating experience and one that rewards Disney and Lucasfilm for their big gamble: making a big budget Star Wars movie that features main characters not called Luke, Han, Ben, Anakin or Leia. The question was: can it captivate an audience? The answer: absolutely.

Director Gareth Edwards should be congratulated for the movie. He has created somethign that, while it is certainly of the Star Wars universe, it is also something unique. Rogue One is unlike and of the previous seven Star Wars movies, and that is a strength. While the preceding films can rightly be criticized for covering similar ground and retracing their tracks (Death Star, Death Star II, Starkiller Base, et al. – and I know there is some intentionality around this), Rogue One charts an almost entirely new course and the Star Wars universe is the better for it. It breaks with some established Star Wars traditions (if you’re looking for an opening narrative crawl, you’re not going to find one) and does not apologize for doing so. It also shies away from the Force which winds up being a very interesting choice. Rogue One challenges its audience in a way the other films do not.

If you thought The Empire Strikes Back was dark, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Rogue One is gritty. It is battle scarred. It take place at “ground level,” in the trenches, in the midst of the fighting. It makes the consequences of the war between the Empire and the Rebellion somehow more “real” than any of the other films. The stakes in the movie are high and those stakes are established from the first scene right through to the last.

There is much to love in Rogue One: Felicity Jones is a terrific heroine and her turn as Jyn Erso, a castaway, rebel by chance, leaves the audience wanting more of her. She is the heart of the film and her commitment to the role carries the movie. Diego Luna and Donnie Yen shine as Cassian Andor and Chirrut Imwe respectively. Yen is particularly engaging. Frankly, the entire cast is nothing less than stellar and Ben Mendleshon makes a righteous adversary as Director Orson Kernnic, a villain who not only has multiple agendas in play, but also has multiple adversaries to contend with, Rebel and Imperial alike. Alan Tudyk’s motion-capture performance as K-2SO is wonderful and the droid continues a pattern: like BB-8 before him, he is very worthy successor to C-3PO and R2-D2.

Rogue One deftly balances fan service (and there is a lot of fan service) with its story, never losing sight of the fact that this movie stands alone, that the call backs and cameos are nice, but there are not the focus. Rogue One tells its own story and, while that story that takes place moments before the beginning of A New Hope, its a story that has its own beginning, middle and definite end. If The Dirty Dozen had been set in the Star Wars universe, it would look an awful lot like Rogue One.

There were significant re-shoots for this movie and anyone who has paid attention to the trailers or commercials knows that some of what we thought were going to see is not on screen before us. The little we know of the scenes that were cut and re-edited suggest that Rogue One could have been a very different film. Re-shoots on this scale often suggest a troubled production and protend a sub-par film.

That is absolutely not the case with Rogue One. Whatever tightening was done, whatever plans were changed, the result is a very exciting movie, one that entertains Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans alike. Surprisingly funny, shockingly sad, it also introduces themes that resonate after the end of the movie. That’s pretty heady stuff for a Star Wars film.

I would be remiss if I did not add that, at one point during the movie, I noted that none of the heroes of the story were white men. None of them. I must say, I was pretty pleased to realize this. It was almost as if this choice was made on purpose.

Well done, Disney. Well done Star Wars.

Rogue One is terrific entertainment on all counts.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY receives FIVE KYBER CRYSTALS out of a possible FIVE. 

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The Force Awakens Home Release Review


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Re-presented is my review of The Force Awakens as the film comes home today!

Have you felt it?

Have you purchased it?

Solo Half PosterThis will be a completely spoiler free review which, frankly, will be difficult, because the “spoilers” in the movie have so much to do with the overall joyful experience of it! I’ll post a more complete review in the coming days.

For now, as you have already heard from what seems to be every media outlet in the world and unless you’ve been living in a complete media blackout for the past week, let me begin by saying The Force Awakens is a more than worthy addition to George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy and succeeds wildly in linking the past of that universe to a future that is very bright, indeed!

Director JJ Abrams accomplishes something with The Force Awakens that Lucas himself was not able to do with the prequel trilogy. Abrams has made a Star Wars movie that feels like Star Wars. This achievement cannot be overstated. The stirring opening crawl (which is almost perfectly written including lines like “Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission…”), the rousing John Williams score and the re-introduction of legendary characters that movie goers (not just Star Wars fans) have plunked down their dollars in record pace to see, The Force Awakens  immediately takes its place in the upper echelon of the seven Star Wars films.

I believe it is better than any of the prequel movies and is at least as good as Return of the Jedi. While not as good as The Empire Strikes Back and not as original as A New Hope (more on that in a paragraph or two), The Force Awakens is a wonderful movie, Star Wars or not. It is warm, funny, emotional and rousing. It is a powerful starting point for the new trilogy and terrific movie overall.

Abrams and writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have done something pretty remarkable in The Force Awakens. They have balanced the needs of the audience to see familiar faces with the need of the franchise to move forward with new faces. While allowing us to re-connect with many of our favorites from the original trilogy, The Force Awakens sneakily and wisely places the focus squarely on the new group of heroes and villains, creating characters that, in their initial outing, seem almost as compelling as the ones from the original films. That’s no mean feat as audiences have lived with Luke and Han and Leia for almost 40 years. That Rey and Finn and Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren already stand on their own feet in the company of these characters is impressive to say the least.

These new characters, particularly Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, are very compelling and The Force Awakens does something very, very smart with each of them: it does not tell the audience too much. In fact, the movie really tells the audience very little about who these characters were or what they were doing before the movie starts. Rather, we are dropped into the middle of the action and the middle of their lives. This is a great choice and it matches the frenetic pace of the movie overall. Our first experience of Finn is in battle, our first experience of Rey finds her nonchalantly risking life and limb, our first experience of Kylo Ren is seeing him hooded, menacing and marching down the ramp of a suitably imposing First Order shuttle craft. Who are these people? What are they doing? Should we care about them?

The answer to the last question is the real trick. Obviously, it’s an emphatic “yes, we should care about them.” The trick is that we do care about them before we can even ask if we should.

Daisy Ridley is so perfectly cast as Rey, it is already impossible to think of anyone but her in the role or to imagine the Star Wars universe without her presence in it. She immediately connects with the audience and we are ready to root for her from the first moment she appears on screen. John Boyega is equally good in his role as Finn and, if the character is less complex than Rey, he is certainly as engaging especially from the standpoint of injecting humor into the sometimes very dark proceedings in The Force Awakens. Adam Driver is magnetic as Kylo Ren though the less said about this character in a spoiler free review, the better. Suffice it to say that it is difficult to take your eyes off him when he is on screen whether he is masked or not. His is a powerhouse performance.

Additionally, Oscar Issac is a more than worthy Han Solo/Luke Skywalker amalgam – a true believer with the heart of a rogue. And Gwendolyn Christie (Captain Phasma) and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux) certainly hold their own in their less developed roles. At some point, the packed script had to give and, if there is a weakness for me, it’s found in the treatment of these two characters. I enjoyed them both and wanted more from them at the same time.

I wanted to see Han Solo. I got to see him in spectacular fashion. I wanted a moment of greatness from Princess… er… General Leia. It came. I wanted to be in awe of … okay, no more here. No spoilers are coming from me. Suffice it to say that I got what I wanted from all of the major characters of the original trilogy, each of whom had a special moment or two in the film. To say more would be to break the seal…

Rather than focus on the returning characters, let’s not lose sight of what Abrams and company do with the new ones. The Force Awakens places a young woman (new character), a black man (new character) and an senior citizen (okay, if you didn’t know that Han Solo was prominently featured in the movie, you really haven’t been paying attention) at the center of the action. It features women in positions of power throughout the film. It should be praised for its clearly intentional focus on creating a world that, in some ways, looks like the world in which we live – a diverse, varied and full one. Of the many ways in which the movie succeeds, this is surely one.

This movie is absolutely not a re-tread of A New Hope, nor is it any kind of remake of any of the wonderful films of the original trilogy. But it is very conscious of a central fact of the so-called Star Wars saga: the stories are mythic. They are cyclic. The themes are familiar. The tropes are comfortable. The idea is that the struggle of good vs. evil continues and, while it would be nice to believe that evil can be conquered once-and-for-all, that is not always the case. In fact, The Force Awakens actually has more to say about the nature of good vs. evil from a philosophical perspective than any of the other six films do. In the internal struggle of one character in particular, we discover that recognizing good and evil and acting upon those impulses depends greatly upon one’s point of view. This re-interpretation of the struggle is a powerful addition to the over arching themes of Star Wars.

The Force Awakens is a terrific movie. The effects are truly special. The nostalgia is wonderfully thick yet not overpowering. The performances are as good as any in the other six films. It is a self contained story that also lays the ground work for the next episode. It provides emotional closure while leaving us in anticipation of what’s to come.

May 26, 2017 GET HERE.

STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS receives FIVE BIG DEALS out of a possible five.

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The Force Awakens Deleted Scenes


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More goodies from The Force Awakens home video release. Check out snippets of some of the deleted scenes!

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Force Awakens Table Talk


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Remember, The Force Awakens comes out on home video next month. Looking for reasons to buy it? How about this: The Story Awakens: The Table Read – Cast members familiar and new reflect on the memorable day they all first came together to read the movie’s script.

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THE FORCE AWAKENS IS ABOUT TO COME HOME!


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THE FORCE AWAKENS IS ABOUT TO COME HOME!

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On April 1 (no foolin’), The Force Awakens will be available to stream and on April 4, it will be out on Blu Ray and DVD. Certainly, most people reading this post have seen the movie already, so why buy the DVD? For the EXTRAS! Entertainment Weekly revealed what those extras will be (and they sound great!):

  • Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey – For the first time, discover the complete story behind the making of The Force Awakens, revealed through in-depth footage and exclusive interviews with the actors and filmmakers in this feature documentary.
  • The Story Awakens: The Table Read – Cast members familiar and new reflect on the memorable day they all first came together to read the movie’s script.
  • Building BB-8 – See how the filmmakers brought the newest droid to the screen, creating an instant fan favorite in the Star Wars universe.
  • Crafting Creatures – Watch movie magic as the filmmakers bring a cast of new creatures to life.
  • Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight – Go deeper into the epic, climactic lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren.
  • John Williams: The Seventh Symphony – The legendary composer shares personal insights of his work on Star Wars andThe Force Awakens.
  • ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force – An insider’s look into the remarkable digital artistry of the movie’s visual effects.
  • Force For Change – Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. See how the Star Wars: Force for Change initiative has united Star Wars fans all over the globe to help others.

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